Ecumenism: Time to Stop the Insanity
By Edwin Faust
Editor’s note: The following remarks are taken from an address delivered at the Keep the Faith conference in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., on Sept. 21, 2008.
I first heard the word ecumenism in 1964, when I was 15 and a student at a Catholic High School in South Philadelphia. The priest who used the term — let’s call him Father T.— was the debate and speech coach and I was an avid member of the club.
Father T. was not from South Philadelphia, and he deprecated what he called our Catholic ghetto mentality. There were few non-Catholics in our working-class neighborhood of row homes, and those few we regarded with pity and suspicion.
Father T. relished the new words coming out of the Council and wanted to adopt the new attitudes they expressed. He was especially eager to engage in ecumenism. He joined the Confraternity of Christians and Jews and other organizations designed to demonstrate the irrelevance of doctrine in the performance of good works. He also became involved with the Optimist Club, which sponsored an annual speech contest for high school students in which he decided I should compete.
The Optimists are fairly indistinguishable from other such do-gooder groups that dot the American landscape — The Elks, The Moose, The Lions — but they chose to name themselves for an attitude instead of an animal.
The annual speech topic always had to do with some aspect of optimism. The topic that year was: “Optimism; Spirit of Youth.” It occasioned a considerable outpouring of sappy rhetoric and, to my shame, I must admit adding to it at the behest of Father T. I made it through several elimination rounds and was headed to the final contest and a chance to win a modest scholarship award. The grand gathering of the Optimists International, at which they elect their head man and at which I was to deliver my final speech, was to be in Atlantic City that year. I was to speak after dinner in the grand ballroom of the Traymore Hotel in front of about 300 well-fed optimists from throughout the country. Each of the elimination rounds had also been preceded by a dinner and my priest-coach always appeared very pleased to attend these gatherings at which, presumably, he could demonstrate that Catholics are ordinary, likable folks: good Americans who don’t let their creed get in the way of being good neighbors. He also wanted to cultivate my social skills. Most importantly, he wanted to bring me out of the Catholic ghetto and into the wider world.
At the big contest, we dined at the table of the head man of the Optimists International, Governor Sam, as he was called. I felt extremely uncomfortable throughout the meal, for I had little in common with these people: businessmen and their wives who were nothing like the people among whom I grew up. So, to the annoyance of my coach, I was very silent, offering only monosyllabic answers to the few questions that were put to me. I had the sympathy of the table, however, for Governor Sam’s wife, apparently feeling my unease, took it upon herself to excuse my lack of sociability by explaining to everyone that I was doubtless nervous about my approaching speech. “Butterflies in the stomach,” she said in a kind attempt to extenuate any reproach about my behaving like a dumb brick. Before the contest, Governor Sam, who was sitting across from me, was unanimously re-elected to another term of office. He was a mustached, fat man with a massive bald head who put me very much in mind of Oliver Hardy. At the announcement of the election results, Governor Sam rose to make a bow of acceptance and appreciation. Unfortunately, he rose rather quickly and at the same instant that a waiter was passing by with a tray containing the remains of several shrimp cocktails. Governor Sam’s head slammed into the bottom of the tray, knocking it out of the waiter’s hand and distributing its contents here and there. The Gov., stunned, slid back into his chair with bits of shrimp and spatters of cocktail sauce cascading from his head onto his shoulders and shirtfront. And then, I did the most unforgivable thing: I laughed. A short, loud, quickly arrested laugh, but one that was heard by all. The governor’s wife, who had been bending solicitously over her husband, turned sharply to me with a look of horror and disgust. The rest of the table shared her emotion. Of Father T’s reaction, I will say nothing, except that in recalling it I think I was in the position of that man of whom Emily Dickinson wrote: “He fell so low in my regard I heard him hit the ground.”
My name was mud.
In my defense, I can say that I was only 15 and I thought the incident the funniest thing I had ever seen. My embarrassment at the time, however, was so excruciating that every subsequent minute spent at the table was painful beyond description. Needless to say, I didn’t win the contest. It was my first loss; I was out of the competition; and I was glad of it.
The fact is, I didn’t like the Optimists; I always felt somewhat foolish and more than a little phony whenever I gave my speech. And despite Father T.’s warm admiration for Governor Sam, I found the man and his whole organization a bit ridiculous. I think of this episode as my first and final foray into ecumenism. I was very glad to retreat to my Catholic ghetto mentality, which I have preserved to this day and hope to take to the grave and beyond.
For the truth is, I don’t like being around non-Catholics. I don’t feel at all comfortable or in any way drawn to people who don’t share my faith. We Catholics, the genuine, not the nominal ones, see the world in quite the opposite way from non-Catholics. For us, life is about one thing: salvation. And salvation is to be had in one way: through the Catholic Church. The possibility that we should form any deep and lasting connection with someone who doesn’t believe this is rather remote, if not impossible. For the Catholic and the non-Catholic don’t even speak the same language; we may respectively use the same words, but with different meanings. And consider the fact that for us, the most perfect life is that lived according to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. What other group of people in this country think it a blessed calling that a young man or woman should renounce possessions, embrace celibacy and live under strict obedience to a superior, following a regime of prayer and penance? Most regard such a prospect with utter perplexity and frank horror. They think it madness.
The Sin of Ecumenism
To be Catholic is to be different, now more than ever, and I think the strain of being Catholic, of always swimming against the stream of popular culture, has much to do with the surrender of our churchmen to popular ideas, which surrender manifests in the novel phenomenon called ecumenism. It is as though the popes and the hierarchy these past 40-some years want to drag us all to the Optimists Club to dine and hobnob with unbelievers and to listen to their vapid rhetoric; to plunge us into a world that does not share our vision of reality, not so that we might convert that world, but so that we might become acclimated to it.
I am not particularly interested in examining ecumenism from any sociological or psychological or historical standpoint; I want to look at ecumenism as a spiritual matter, i.e., as something that either draws us toward or away from God, who is our salvation. In other words, I want to look at ecumenism as sin.
It may sound surprising to some, and perhaps a bit radical, to talk about ecumenism as sin. We all have to some extent been influenced by the times in which we live, and these are secular times. We all have to some extent gotten hold of the notion that life contains large areas of spiritual neutrality: domains removed from the great contest waged for our souls by Heaven and Hell. I think the immense popularity of televised sports and other entertainments has to do with their superficiality. Here are domains in which we can disregard our faith and join with others in a seemingly innocent pastime. Many of us have thus become accustomed to act in the same manner as those about us for whom the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His one true church are matters of indifference. Most of life, we presume, more or less unconsciously, has no relation to sin or virtue. And so we can pass our days with little thought about whether we are advancing or retreating from our ultimate goal, which is God. And the less we think about God, the more godless we become.
The great theologian of the 20th century, Father Garrigou-LaGrange, waged a ceaseless war against this slide into secularism. He reminded us repeatedly that each day we either move closer to God or farther away from Him. There is no standing still in the spiritual life, he insists, and every willed act has its effect upon our relation to our Creator and our prospective salvation. He uses a powerful metaphor to drive home this truth. He describes a steady rain falling on a great mountain peak with each drop rolling down either one or the other of its two opposing slopes: one slope leads to a river running to the south and the Mediterranean; the other, to the north and the North Sea. So it is in our spiritual life, he says, with every act either drawing us in one of two ways: toward or away from God.
Now, I am going to argue that ecumenism draws us away from God; that it is, as I said above, a godless activity; that ecumenism is sin. One might counter this assertion by saying that the catalogue of deadly sins contains no mention of ecumenism; that moral theologians do not treat of the matter in their manuals. I say they do. And that in the catalogue of deadly sins, ecumenism comes under the heading of sloth.
Sloth is usually divided into two categories under Latin names: pigritia and accedia. Under the first heading, pigritia, are comprised those qualities that are generally regarded as the manifestations of sloth: a dislike for anything that requires arduous exertion; physical or mental; a desire for unbroken repose, idleness; what the Italians call ‘dolce farniente’ – the sweetness of doing nothing. In other words, the general disposition of most men at most times. Those of us who are parents can testify that the better part of child-rearing is a combat with pigritia: nine times out of ten, when you ask your child what he or she is doing, you will get the answer, “nothing,” and it will likely be an honest answer. Nor are we as parents and responsible adults spared the temptations of pigritia. Many days, just getting out of bed can require a Herculean exercise of will.
But pigritia is not sloth properly speaking.
In fact, the slothful man may be quite energetic, full of bustle and business; he may be a classic over-achiever. So what makes him an exemplar of a quality so terrible as to be classed among the seven deadly sins? It is this: he hates the very means offered him for his salvation. He hates God’s Providence. In the end, he hates God.
The Slothful Rebel
Now, sloth can manifest as an indifference to the means of salvation. It can be casual and only dimly, if at all, realized. Or it can be intense: a virulent hatred of the whole apparatus of salvation. And, of course, there are gradations between these extremes. The great Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh considered sloth the predominant fault of the twentieth century and observed that the slothful man, often presented in heroic terms, has become a stock character in modern literature.
Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh considered sloth the predominant fault of the twentieth century and observed that the slothful man, often presented in heroic terms, has become a stock character in modern literature.
During my years of miseducation at a nominally Catholic college, I took a theology course titled: Christian Themes in Modern Literature. It was in this course that I was introduced to the writings of the Nobel laureate Albert Camus. What claim he had to be included in the curriculum is unclear. He was avowedly no Christian and both his fiction and his essays are a repudiation of the entire religious tradition of the West, erupting at times into attacks upon the Catholic Church
In one of his novels, The Plague, the priest is presented as a fool, and even worse, as a coward in the sense that he shrinks from what are posited as the obvious facts of human existence; the priest’s creed, the Catholic faith, is condemned as a betrayal of mankind. The hero, a medical doctor treating a town full of people stricken by bubonic plague, avows that he will continue to fight against a world in which innocent children suffer and die. But that assertion begs the question: are children innocent? Was there no fall? St. Augustine didn’t think so. He points out the undeniable fact that from our infancy we give evidence of the effects of the fall; that we begin life with a screaming, crying demand that we should have what we want when we want it and with no regard for others.
But Camus does not appear to notice these fundamental flaws in human nature. We are all poor victims, as far as he is concerned; the helpless creatures of a cruel cosmic order that is bent on our suffering and destruction.
The Catholic becomes, for Camus, a traitor, one who sides with God against man. Camus was to say again and again that we have two choices: either we find man guilty and God innocent and submit; or we find man innocent and God guilty and rebel. He recommends rebellion. He says that man must become a metaphysical rebel: that is, he must oppose with all his heart and mind the very order of creation.
I am not going to examine Camas’ arguments, nor his philosophical antecedents, for I am interested in him now only as an example of sloth in its clearest, most conscious and most dramatic expression. But sloth, in our time, is a widespread condition. It is, perhaps, as Waugh believed, the master sin of the age.
Now, Camus recommends that we rebel; that we remain in a constant state of antagonism toward the whole apparatus of salvation. Such rebellion, I think, has become quite ordinary, although it is not always recognized as such. Not only society in general, but most of the Catholic hierarchy have been in this state of rebellion for the past 40-some years. But their rebellion is not as self-conscious and forthright as Camus’.
The Danish thinker, Soren Kierkegaard, made some pertinent observations about the nature of rebellion. He said that an age that is passionate and revolts will tear down all of the old structures and leave nothing standing; but an age that lacks passion and revolts, will leave all of the old structures standing but cunningly empty them of significance.
You may ask a priest these days whether one can be saved outside the Catholic Church and receive the seemingly orthodox answer, “No.” But what you may not be told is that the clergyman in question believes that all men belong to the Church. If he is a devotee of the new theology, he may have erased in his mind the distinction between the natural and the supernatural. For him, to be born is to be saved, for all men are joined to Christ in their human nature and, therefore, members of the mystical body whether they know it or not; whether they accept it or not. For him, the institutional church may be useful, but essentially gratuitous. His rebellion against doctrine thus remains covert and he can continue to enjoy the prerogatives of his office and to disembowel the old structures while masking his activity behind this verbal legerdemain. From pope to parish priest, ambivalence reigns.
Now, I have said that ecumenism is rooted in the sin of sloth.The classic definition of this capital sin is that offered us by St. Thomas Aquinas: “tiristitia de boni spiritualis.” This is usually translated as sadness in the face of spiritual good, or sadness in the face of spiritual joy. It’s a definition that requires some reflection. Why should one be sad in the face of spiritual joy? Why not embrace it? After all, who doesn’t want to be happy?
I think the best illustration of the nature of this sadness is given us in Scripture, in the story of the rich young man.
Few accounts in the New Testament are, for me, more poignant than this one as it is told in St. Mark’s Gospel. The rich young man has been listening to Our Lord and is filled with a fervent desire for the kingdom of Heaven. He approaches Jesus and says, “Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?” Our Lord tells him to follow the commandments. The young man is not satisfied. These things he has done all his life, he says. Then we are told that Our Lord, looking upon him, loved him, and said, “If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven, then come, follow me.” And then we read the terrible line, “And the young man went away sad, because he owned much.”
This to me has always been a heartbreaking story. The young man, of course, represents all of us, whom Our Lord looks on with love. And the counsel of perfection the young man receives is given to all of us, because we all own much in the way of self-will. But so many times, like the rich young man, we go away sad, because we are unwilling to follow that counsel and surrender self-will.
Now, the rich young man appears only in this one story, and we know nothing of his further history, although St. Luke, in his rendering, refers to him as one of the leaders of the people. It would be a comfort to believe that he had a change of heart; that after some deliberation, he sold his goods and followed Jesus. But let’s assume, for the purposes of understanding the progress of the sin of sloth, that he did not; that he clung to his wealth and to his way of life. How might this eventually affect his attitude toward Christ?
We know that the young man went away sad. He was offered the means of salvation, but it was not to his liking. It saddened him that it should be so. He wanted salvation on his own terms, not those revealed to him by his Lord and Creator. Certainly, when Jesus looked at him with love, the young man experienced a moment he would never forget; yet, it doubtless became a torment for him to remember it. All the sweetness he knew in listening to Jesus, in longing to be his disciple, in being enrapt in that look of love, must have come to taste very bitter to him as time passed and he became hardened in his rejection of Our Lord’s counsel.
I read somewhere that the mind is Satan’s lawyer. When we turn away from spiritual good, from spiritual joy, our mind begins the process of rationalization, of justification. No doubt, the rich young man began to convince himself that it would have been madness to follow Our Lord’s counsel.
“Sell all my goods? Give the money to a bunch of bums and ne’er do wells? Set out with no provisions, no capital, no fallback position, blindly following an itinerant preacher? No. I did the sensible thing in refusing. The responsible thing. After all, a man of property, a leader of the people like me, has duties to himself and to others. Surely, this Jesus seemed an attractive figure; said some very appealing things; sure, he had a certain magnetism. But I was young. Easily impressed. Romantic. Full of illusions. What did I really know of the world? What did I really know of this Jesus? Of course, he was found out later to be a fraud and executed in the most hideous way. Served him right, I suppose. How many fools did he ruin? How many young men who lacked my reserve and good judgment did he drag down with him? I hear from time to time of another of his deluded followers being stoned or beheaded or crucified. That might have been my fate. But, thank heaven, I was sensible. I have lived and prospered. I have my wife, my children, my good servants, the respect of my neighbors. I am a man of influence, and I will use that influence to oppose such dangerous people as this Jesus and his fanatical disciples. They lead astray the young; they wreck lives and sow discord among families. They must be stopped. Yes, I see clearly now the evil they represent and I will set my face against them.”
And so the erstwhile disciple becomes the enemy of the faith from whose demands he shrank.
This is the way sloth works.
We become saddened by the terms of salvation, for it means giving up something to which we are attached; chiefly, it means setting ourselves at odds with the world and with our own will. We look down the path of sanctity stretching before us; we want the spiritual good, the joy, that illumines that road like the sun, but we do not want the ardors of the journey, so we turn away, sad.
The Religion of Sloth
Now, Aristotle tells us in his Ethics that no man can remain for long without joy. If we are going to turn away from spiritual joy, we are going to look for joy elsewhere. And so the slothful man ends by putting something else in the place of the revealed spiritual good.
For the mainstream Catholic clergy, ecumenism is that something else. It is the substitute for the Divinely revealed spiritual good. It has been the driving force of every papacy since John XXIII’s; the overarching concern of most every precept and policy to issue from Rome these past 40-some years. It is the reason there is a New Mass. It is the reason we are identified as traditionalists. We are resisting the new religion fashioned by sloth. We are the declared enemies of ecumenism. We are, quite simply, Catholic.
And because we are Catholic, we are either despised or ignored by the vast majority of the Catholic hierarchy. We are not of their faith. We do not attend their Mass. And we are an irritating, hateful reminder of the spiritual good from which they have turned away.
Now, I have so far not given a definition of ecumenism. I am sure we all have a notion that it has something to do with reconciling the differences between the Catholic faith and the Protestant sects; or perhaps, we have a broader notion: that it is about finding the common ground shared by all religions. Or perhaps, it is even broader than that, ultimately transcending religion and shifting the emphasis from the supernatural to the purely natural: to urge men to work together for modest, achievable ends, such as better plumbing in third-world countries. It will bear all of these interpretations.
We have certainly been given some rather striking examples of the grand ecumenical gesture in the papacies of Paul VI and John Paul II and, regrettably, in that of the current pope.
The late John Paul II, on one stage after another, from synagogue to mosque to voodoo hutch, cheerfully proclaimed his joy that heresy, apostasy and even demonism should enrich the spiritual tapestry that is our presumably common legacy, leading us all eventually to the same beatitude.
How did such outrages become possible? How did we arrive at this juncture? What is this ecumenism that has gutted the Catholic faith and reduced popes to incoherence, scandal and absurdity?
Curiously enough, despite the voluminous documents that have issued from Rome on the subject for more than four decades, a clear definition of ecumenism has proved elusive. The closest we have come to such a definition is quoted by Romano Amerio in Iota Unum. It comes from a speech given by Paul VI in January 1969, the same year the New Mass was promulgated. Here is how the then-Vicar of Christ describes ecumenism:
“From theological discussion it can emerge what the essential Christian doctrinal patrimony is, how much of it is communicable authentically and together in different terms that are substantially equal and complementary, and how it is possible for everyone to make the victorious discovery of the identity of faith, in freedom, and in the variety of its expressions, from which union can be happily celebrated.”
It is nothing short of incredible that this gobbledygook came from the mouth of a pope and is accepted as the Church’s new mission, replacing that given by Christ, to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Now, a mercifully brief examination of Pope Paul’s statement might help to make clear this connection between ecumenism and sloth, and why ecumenism is a sin.
The pope starts out by saying that our essential Christian doctrinal patrimony can emerge through discussion. This is astounding. The essential Christian doctrinal patrimony was revealed by God and is preserved by the Church in what is called the deposit of faith. But here we are told it is something to be discovered by chatting together with non-Catholics. I suppose what is implied here is that there is a non-essential doctrinal patrimony. I was taught that all doctrine is essential; that no part of that patrimony is dispensable. What is non-essential doctrine? It’s something that can emerge apparently.
And once it has emerged, we can separate it from essential doctrine and perhaps discard it, then decide how much of the essential doctrine is communicable authentically. Now, if something cannot be authentically communicated, how can we even know it exists? How can there be essential doctrine that is incommunicable or communicated inauthentically? How can we discuss that which we cannot communicate?
Or is inauthentic communication a euphemism for falsehood? Is the late pope here referring to doctrine that is falsely communicated as an essential part of our patrimony when it is in fact gratuitous and optional? Doctrinal impostures, if you will? Who knows? But once we have chatted sufficiently with the proponents of heresy and apostasy, he tells us, we will then realize how essential and authentically communicated doctrine is expressed in different ways that are substantially equal and complementary. So, all authentically communicable doctrine, whatever it might be, can be expressed in ways that may appear contradictory but which are, under closer scrutiny, found to be substantially the same.
Now, I wonder: how many different but substantially the same ways there are to define the Trinity? How about the virgin birth? The Immaculate Conception? The Incarnation? The Fall? The Redemption? The Resurrection? Most of the essential doctrines of our faith are rooted in history; in events that occurred at a particular place and time involving particular people. They contain mysteries, certainly, but they can be simply and succinctly expressed.
These events are not symbols, but realities. They do not yield to different forms of expression unless they are turned into symbols; that is, unless we subordinate and possibly discard the historical fact, regarding it merely as a convenient vehicle for a larger idea, which idea offers a great deal of flexibility in the way in which it may be understood and expressed.
But the late pope believes that there are different ways of expressing essential doctrine and that, when we realize this, it will bring us to the victorious discovery of the identity of faith, in freedom. I suppose the phrase ‘in freedom’ implies that one need not be bound to a particular doctrinal definition, an idea that runs counter to the entire history of the church and its magisterium. This would seem to mean that Catholics and non-Catholics, and perhaps non-Christians, will come to recognize that we all have our own way of speaking but we are all saying the same thing; that our past differences were the result of unexamined speech, mere verbal confusion, which can be cleared up by a friendly and attentive look at our variety of expressions. Then, we will be able to laugh at our foolishness in thinking we had real disagreements and, as the late pope says, our union, a union that embraces everyone, can be happily celebrated.
Now, if this had been said by Oprah, or by some moonstuck new ager, one would merely smile at the naivetČ, ignorance and presumption contained in the statement and wonder at the human capacity for delusion. But this was said by a pope.
And it has since given direction to the Church: all aspects of Catholic life were from that time were to be oriented to the ecumenical goal of a universal faith, or an egalitarian acceptance of all religions as differing superficially but as essentially the same. Liturgy, theology, catechetics – all have assumed an ecumenical posture. Pope Paul’s friend and biographer, Jean Guitton, tells us that the late pope saw the New Mass as a vehicle for drawing Catholics and Protestants closer together and, to that end, it was fashioned along the lines of Protestant worship services, particularly Presbyterian and Anglican rites. In other words, the late Holy Father imposed upon the Catholic world a Mass designed to please those who reject the very definition of the Mass as the unbloody re-enactment of the sacrifice of Calvary; he imposed a Mass designed to please those who deny the priesthood, the doctrine of the Real Presence, of expiation and of sacramental grace. All for the sake of this vain fancy called ecumenism.
Now, these theological discussions from which the genuine Christian doctrine is supposed to emerge are open to representatives of any and every creed, just about. I say representatives, but really, who do the discussion partners from non-Catholic sects represent? They have no creedal authority; there are no doctrines, no precepts to which those of their various sects must give assent. Should one of them agree with the Catholic faith on some particular point, who else is bound by that agreement? No one. They represent themselves, really, and no one else. I also used the phrase “just about,” for there are certain people who have never been welcome in the ecumenical chat room: Traditional Catholics.
The reason is obvious. If you are going to pretend that Christianity must be discovered through discussion; if you are going to pretend that Christianity is not identical with the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church; if you are intent upon pretending that heresy and apostasy are not real, but simply verbal misunderstandings, then the last person you want at your kaffeeklatch is an Archbishop LeFebvre.
The postconciliar popes have been only too glad to beam benevolently at every representative of heresy, schism and apostasy, but they have coldly averted their eyes from those loyal to the faith, which cannot accommodate their new religion of ecumenism.
The New Evangelism
John Paul II, of course, saw himself as the great apostle of ecumenism, a new St. Paul carrying a new faith to the four corners of the Earth. I first became aware of this when I was working on the copy desk of a newspaper in 1988 and supplementing my meager income by writing a weekly feature for the religion page, which was published every Saturday as a sop to those of our subscribers still benighted enough to cling to the notion of a deity. The features editor came to me one week and asked whether I knew anything of this French archbishop who had just been excommunicated for some reason. I said no, but I’d find out and squeeze an article out of it. I had just come back to the Church after many years in the spiritual wilderness and was still trying to figure out the lay of land, which had changed so dramatically since my departure in the late 1960s.
In my rapid-fire research – I only had a few days to write the article – I came across some wildly contradictory statements by John Paul II. He said that Archbishop Lefebvre’s consecration of bishops without his permission was gravely displeasing to God. He made this statement as he was setting out on a tour, one might say a pilgrimage, to Lutheran churches in Germany and Scandinavia, and he was at the same time full of praise for Martin Luther. He or someone in his entourage even made the cryptic statement that Luther’s excommunication did not extend beyond his earthly life. What did that mean, I wondered?
Now, Archbishop Lefebvre pointedly did not confer any jurisdiction on his bishops, as that was the prerogative of the pope and he wanted to make plain that he was not challenging papal authority; that he did not intend to establish a parallel and contending magisterium. He was acting, as he insisted, on the basis of a case of necessity, rooted in Canon law, for the good of souls, which is the supreme law of the Church. One might disagree with the archbishop’s reasoning and disapprove of his actions, but certainly one can find no part of Catholic doctrine from which the archbishop dissented. The same cannot be said about Luther, nor about those who still adhere to his heresies.
So, I wondered at the time, how is it that the pope has nothing but good things to say about Martin Luther, but refers to Archbishop Lefebvre in the darkest, most dour manner? How is it that he implies a posthumous lifting of the excommunication of Luther, who gave no signs of final repentance, but has no qualms about booting out of the church the greatest missionary bishop of the 20th century?
Luther called the Mass an abomination and heaped upon it unspeakable insults; yet, the pope was pleased to kneel in a Lutheran cathedral in Denmark, where he was, incidentally, forbidden to preach, but condemned Lefebvre, whose real crime was his loyalty to the Mass and his insistence that the Catholic Church, and only the Catholic Church, was founded by Christ and given the exclusive, Divine mandate to save mankind through her sacraments.
Lefebvre, it struck me, was excommunicated for refusing to give his assent to the new religion of ecumenism, not for disobeying the pope. If it were his rather limited and arguably justifiable refusal of papal authority that was gravely displeasing, why was not the absolute and complete refusal of that authority by the Lutherans, the other Protestant sects, the schismatic orthodox, the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindus and the worshipers of the Great Thumb even more gravely displeasing? The pope seemed to have no problem with their disobedience.
It became very clear to me that the archbishop was targeted by the big guns in Rome for being an apostate from the new ecumenical faith being preached by John Paul II and by the vast majority of his bishops and clergy. The archbishop was despised by the hierarchy because the faith he still preached and practiced had been discarded by them and was also now despised. He was a man of zeal in a Church given to sloth. He was the descendent of the apostles; the hierarchy had become the progeny of the rich young man. And it was now the chief concern of that hierarchy to suppress that faith they had formerly sworn to preserve and propagate.
It is interesting to note in passing that the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, issued by John Paul II, in part to justify the heavy-hand with which Rome had dealt with the archbishop, is concerned not so much with papal disobedience, but with what the pope calls Lefebvre’s defective understanding of Tradition. John Paul II coins the phrase “living tradition” to explain and, it would seem, justify those changes in the church, notably ecumenism, that the archbishop found diametrically opposed to Her perennial teaching. The purpose of Ecclesia Dei appears to be to demonstrate that you can have your Latin Mass so long as you swallow the new religion of ecumenism along with it.
Now, we have made some progress in the 20 years since Ecclesia Dei and we are all grateful for Summorum pontificum. It is not quite the writ of manumission we had hoped for, but despite its ambivalence and some non-sequiturs, it is a big step in the right direction. But it tries to effect a marriage between contradictory things: between the traditional faith and its denial. And such a marriage can never be a true one.
So long as there are two religions contending for the heart and mind of the Church, there will continue to be two Masses: the novus ordo missae, the rite of ecumenism, and the Tridentine Mass, the rite of the Catholic faith. The two cannot coexist peacefully; there can be no liturgical detente, despite the hopes and preferences of some people for such a peace. So we must be prepared to stand fast for awhile.
The slothful men who hate the faith and the Mass and us and who now run the curia and the chancery offices are growing old. In another generation, say 15 or 20 years, most all of these bishops and their entourage will be dead. And with them will die the religion of ecumenism they have so fatuously proclaimed as the new springtime in the church. Then, we will have a real springtime, a genuine renewal of the faith. Then, the true Mass will no longer be extraordinary, except in its sublime beauty, and those cherished words, “Introibo ad altare Dei,” will resonate wonderfully in all of our sanctuaries.
the November 2008
Catholic Family News
MPO Box 743 * Niagara Falls, NY 14302
CFN is published once a month (12 times per year)
Subscription: $28.00 a year.
Request sample copy
Home • Audio Cassettes & CDs • New DVD Offer • CFN • Subscribe on line