The toils of ecumenism – a new doctrine or an old policy?

The problem

A source of perplexity for many Catholics is their Church’s continuing commitment to ecumenism.  The reason is obvious.  The commitment sometimes seems to come with a degree of troubling ambiguity, even at the highest level, and even under the papacy of Benedict XVI.  A case in point has been Cardinal Kasper’s puzzling recent statement in Osservatore Romano on the strange ecclesial identity of Brother Roger – supposedly both Calvinist and Catholic – after Brother Roger’s reception of communion at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, from the hands of the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Yet among those Catholics perplexed about ecumenism, there has been an important division. So-called Traditionalism bluntly rejects ecumenism as a bad business; and does so in the name of the continuing validity of Pius XI’s Mortalium Animos of 1928.  Accordingly Traditionalism condemns Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism of 1964, Unitatis Redintegratio, and later documents as modernist departures from past Catholic teaching as well as practice.

Whereas so-called Conservatism shares Pope Benedict’s continuing espousal of the Council and its ecumenical commitment – a commitment that, it is regretfully admitted, may have led to excesses, but is in essence sound.  Sound, indeed, because it seems the Conciliar magisterium has taught the pursuit of Christian unity to be divinely mandated.  And how can a divine mandate be ignored, or the magisterium disregarded?

But the problem facing Conservatism is obvious: how can a hermeneutic of continuity reconcile Mortalium Animos and Unitatis Redintegratio?  How can what is now supposed to be a divine mandate, to pursue ecumenism, have been rejected and condemned, in 1928, by Christ’s then reigning Vicar, and in the most blunt and forthright terms?

The unity of the Church and the unity of Christians

The CDF’s note on the Church of 2007, with its official commentary, is clear.  Vatican II’s teaching that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church was always meant, and is still to be understood, in terms consistent with tradition.  The one Church of Christ subsists in no other subject than the Catholic Church, and this subsistence is a mode of identity: subsistit in implies est.  The CDF insists on the plenam identitatem, full or complete identity, of the one Church of Christ with the Catholic Church governed by Peter and his successors.  Otherwise the one Church of Christ would be divided, subsisting in a number of distinct Christian communities – which division of her unity is impossible.  As the CDF commentary on the note insists:

Contrary to many unfounded interpretations, therefore, the change from “est” to “subsistit” does not signify that the Catholic Church has ceased to regard herself as the one true Church of Christ.

Of course it is now openly admitted that, through some or all of the sacraments, elements of the Church exist and operate beyond her visible boundaries, leaving baptized members of non-Catholic communities in partial or imperfect communion with the one true Church.  There are even admitted to be local churches outside the Catholic Church, in schism from her, with their own bishops and valid eucharists.  But then, given that subsistit in implies est, these churches are in schism too from the one Church that Christ founded, and within the bounds of which He willed all Christians to be reunited.

Actually, there really is nothing new about the admission of the existence of these detached churches.  What else was Pius IX’s famous issuance, to the Eastern Orthodox diocesans, of an invitation to attend Vatican I along with Catholic bishops, but such an admission?  Or Rome’s proclamation, at the start of the reunion Council of Florence, that this was a council de unione occidentalis et orientalis ecclesiae – to facilitate a reunion of a western with an eastern church under the see of Rome (decree of the papal Legate to the Council, 8 January 1438)?  Hence, the CDF note rightly refers to the use of the term ‘church’ for the Eastern Orthodox in schism from Rome as ‘traditional’.

The as yet unfulfilled divine mandate that all Christians be one must then be understood as this: as a mandate that all Christians not yet fully her members should be united in full membership of the one Church of Christ that subsists uniquely in the Catholic Church.  And this mandate is taught clearly and uniformly by Mortalium Animos and by Unitatis Redintegratio alike.  Notice what Unitatis Redintegratio insists in paragraph 3:

Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as communities and churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life – that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.

Yet Unitatis Redintegratio teaches that besides and consistently with the conversion and return to her one by one, individually, of non-Catholics there is another possible way to this unity within the one Catholic Church – a way which is that of ecumenism.  What way is that?

Mortalium Animos and the rejection of ecumenism

In rejecting ecumenism as a path to unity, Pius XI usefully tells us what it is that he refuses.  Ecumenism is treated in Mortalium Animos as the idea that representatives of distinct Christian communities should meet as equals, and dialogue to a reunion.  Through shared reflection and better mutual understanding unity is reached at the corporate or communal level, not by way of individual ‘return’ or individual conversions from one community to the other, but by way of a final agreement to unite to which those separated communities are parties.  Notice why, according to Pius XI, this method of aiming at Christian unity was to be rejected (Mortalium Animos sections 7-8):

But, all the same, although many non-Catholics may be found who loudly preach fraternal communion in Christ Jesus, yet you will find none at all to whom it ever occurs to submit to and obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ either in His capacity as a teacher or as a governor. Meanwhile they affirm that they would willingly treat with the Church of Rome, but on equal terms, that is as equals with an equal: but even if they could so act, it does not seem open to doubt that any pact into which they might enter would not compel them to turn from those opinions which are still the reason why they err and stray from the one fold of Christ.

8. This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ.

But what is it to meet ‘on equal terms’?  In one sense, meeting on equal terms is just what dialogue is about.  Though each side may be convinced of its rightness and even of its own superiority, neither side insists on any recognition of this at the outset from the other party.  Rather each presents its own beliefs and self-conception as just one set among those to be entertained and explored.  Each side may of course hope that its own conception, being in its view true, will eventually convince the other party.  But the dialogue is not publicly and commonly predicated at its outset on any particular such outcome.

At this level, there is nothing in this dialogic equality that is inconsistent with Catholic faith.  That would be to confuse a purely dialogic or procedural equality with the admission of an actual or dogmatic equality between the Catholic Church and other churches and communities; it is the latter admission only that would be inconsistent with the Catholic doctrine of the Church enunciated above.  Nor, I think, does Pius XI confuse the two forms of equality.  Rather his claim is that ecumenical dialogue with its procedural equality just would not lead to a non-Catholic party ever acknowledging the Catholic Church’s claims.  The tendency of such a dialogue on the basis of a procedural equality would, unless it was suspended by the Catholic party first, always lead to some agreement compromising heretically in the direction of a supposed dogmatic equality:

… it does not seem open to doubt that any pact into which they might enter would not compel them to turn from those opinions which are still the reason why they err and stray from the one fold of Christ.

Mortalium Animos – one policy replacing another

But surely Pope Pius’s prediction here, even supposing it true to some extent, is not plausibly a truth of Christian or Catholic doctrine; that is, its truth is not a plausible matter of revelation.  Rather it is a psychological or social prediction – and one that might in some cases actually prove false.  It might prove false, for example, in a case where the obstacles to acknowledging papal authority were mainly emotional, and the product of some form of alienation – such as the cultural memory of rather brutal assertions of papal authority in the past.  In such a case the last way to end Christian division and to secure admission of Catholic claims would be the blunt reassertion of papal authority.  An unthreatening dialogue, on the terms of procedural equality, might be the only way to go.  As the emotional temperature lowered, so even-handed discussion of each other’s teachings might lead to eventual acknowledgment of legitimate Catholic claims, now better and properly understood by all parties, supposing these are as well-founded in Christian practice and history as Catholics suppose them to be.   It might be thought, for example, that the obstacles to Catholic-Orthodox unity are substantially of just this nature – at least as much emotional as doctrinal.  In which case, with Orthodoxy, the experiment of ecumenical dialogue, rather than mere reliance on calls to individual conversion, might indeed be recommended, perhaps even as the only sensible option.

We have here, in Pius XI’s rejection of ecumenical dialogue, not a direct doctrinal condemnation – but rather a bleak and pessimistic view of the likely outcome of such dialogue, and, based on that view, a clear policy-directive against participation in ecumenism.

It is good that Pius did not make a doctrinal condemnation of ecumenism.  For otherwise he would have been condemning the procedure of the Council of Florence of 1438, which is a clearly acknowledged Ecumenical Council of the Church, and which was directed at ending the schism of the eastern or Greek churches from Rome.  This Council did not imperiously summon the Greek bishops to convert individually to Catholicism, but called them to discuss and debate with their Latin brothers, thereby to reunite through agreement.  At that Council great efforts were made to maintain a procedural or dialogic equality between the Pope and his Latin bishops and the Greek Patriarch and bishops – as Joseph Gill’s The Council of Florence tells us.  On their arrival, the Greek Patriarch and bishops, for example, were relieved of the then strict duty of kissing the Pope’s foot as acknowledgement of his (in the Roman view) superior spiritual jurisdiction – though the Pope needed some persuading to concede on this essential point.  And at the first session the Greek representatives were so sat in relation to the Latin – at opposite north and south sides of a church – as to avoid any clear implication of a juridical superiority of the Pope and his party.  And both sides proceeded to discuss as dialogic equals, hoping to arrive at a common understanding.  And so they did, in decrees summing Christian teaching still binding on Catholics, that were only subsequently rejected by the Orthodox base.

In Unitatis Redintegratio we have not an opposite doctrine to that of Mortalium Animos, but an opposite policy – a readoption in more scattered and informal form, and for reunion with separated Christians communities generally, of the method of dialogue employed on the level of a full Council with the East at Florence.  And 1964’s reversal of the policy of 1928, which was itself a reversal of the policy of 1438 – each being policy decisions which as circumstances change it is surely perfectly legitimate for the Church to make – reflects a view of what will or will not work that is no more a matter of Christian revelation than were Pius XI’s bleak predictions.  In 1964 the clear working assumption is that the divine mandate to unity is not plausibly to be met just through aiming at individual conversions.  We must trust to divine assistance to enable us also to attain the mandated unity another way – through ecumenical dialogue between whole separated Christian communities.

What of someone who still nursed the hope or expectation, not shared by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, that, realistically, unity might still be attained most effectively and surely just by summoning individuals to convert?  Such a hope or expectation is nowhere condemned, so far as I can see, as itself contrary to Catholic doctrine.  How could such a mere prediction about what method towards unity might or might not prove effective, no matter how far-fetched, be so condemned?  But of course if contrary to the opinion of the Council Fathers it became clear that in a given context seeking individual conversions really was the only way to attain Christian unity, or even to approach its attainment – if in that context for various reasons dialogue at the communal level would never ever work – then the continuing duty to pursue unity through ecumenism would, to say the least, become much less obvious.  And herein lies an important lesson.

Ecumenism in the West

I write as a Catholic in England, designated by Pope Paul VI as ‘ecumenical territory’ for the centre-piece project of ecumenical rapprochement with the post-Reformation West – the hoped for reconciliation of Canterbury to Rome.  And here, it is now becoming clear, forty years of ecumenism have not advanced the prospects of such a reunion one inch.  True, and this is a definite and substantial good which must not be ignored, the dialogue has led to greater emotional warmth, perhaps greater than that with much of the East.  Individual converts to Catholicism no longer feel cut off from their former non-Catholic friends and family.  But unlike with Orthodoxy, the differences between Canterbury and Rome were never substantially emotional.  They have long involved, for a substantial body of Anglicans at least, profound doctrinal differences – differences which have only deepened during the last forty years of ecumenical dialogue, as with other parts of mainline Protestantism much of the Anglican intellectual establishment has abandoned any clear conception of a definitive divine revelation transmitted through Scripture and Tradition (or even just through Scripture), as also any adherence to the natural moral law, in regard to marriage and the family especially.

But this should not be a surprise.  Ecumenical dialogue is not a new ‘modernist’ doctrine, but in general form an old policy, pursued intermittently in the past, and mainly with the separated East – and one that has only ever stood any chance of securing unity under very specific conditions: where there is already substantial doctrinal agreement, and substantially shared sacramental and spiritual life, which substantial commonality is obscured mainly by the baggage of a mutual alienation at the level of culture and emotion.  As an ex-Anglican I can say that whatever may have been true of some very specific forms of Anglo-Catholicism, or of some Rome-sympathetic scholars such as Owen and Henry Chadwick – and even in the case of these two I have my doubts – there was never any such commonality between the bulk of English Anglicans and Rome.

There is only one divine mandate and one divinely imposed duty in this area: to unity in the one Church that is governed by Peter.  How one is to pursue this end and seek to fulfill this duty, whether mainly by way of attempting corporate reunions through ecumenical dialogue or else by prioritizing individual conversions, is not a matter of revelation, but of policy.  And policy must always respect and be adapted to the facts.  Contrary to Traditionalist assumptions, there is no direct divine mandate to eschew ecumenism and pursue unity through calls to individual conversion alone.  Florence did not work; but its attempt at dialogic reunion with Constantinople was not un-Catholic or un-Christian.  Nor, on the other hand, should others assume, ‘in the name of the Council’, that the Church is mandated always and everywhere to pursue ecumenical dialogue.  For in certain contexts such dialogue may be a waste of time – or even do genuine damage.  It may even reduce unity, by loss and damage to the local Catholic community involved.

The costs of ecumenism by main force

The tendency within the leadership of post-conciliar English Catholicism has been to treat the commitment to ecumenism with Canterbury, not as some provisional and debatable ecclesial policy, but as if it were some direct mandate of the divine will.  To express doubt or scepticism about this commitment is be regarded in some quarters as displaying a quasi-Lefebvrist disregard for the teaching of the magisterium – to prove oneself no better than a Hans Kung, but of the right.

And in the meantime almost every element that has historically separated English Catholics from the bulk of Anglicans, in school catechesis and doctrinal instruction, in liturgy and in spiritual devotions, has been systematically weakened and undermined from within.  A grand process of de-Catholicization has been attempted – to make it come to be true, as it clearly was not true before, that there really is a substantial unity of belief and practice between Catholic and Anglican.  In very many parishes the sacrament of penance has been downplayed, the status and dignity of the priesthood diminished, liturgy in its style and outward form substantially Protestantized, the reality of Purgatory ignored, the cult of Mary and the saints reduced and sidelined, the plain teaching of the natural law unasserted.

Seminarians training for the priesthood were carefully educated into the ‘new ways of the Council’, as interpreted in England.  Any interest in Catholic tradition deemed ‘excessive’ – and it would not take much to count as ‘excessive’ – and the seminarian would be dismissed as unsuitable.  Meanwhile their ecclesiastical superiors lamented the supposed cost to vocations of Rome’s insistence on celibacy and some, even from among the bishops, called openly for married priests (‘like our Anglican brothers and sisters’).  The obsession with building ecumenical bridges with Anglicanism and adopting Anglican ecclesial models – what we might call Roman Anglicanism – has gone right to the top of English Catholicism, and was by no means ended by the Church of England’s ordination of women. It has not been unknown for a Catholic bishop to tolerate his local Anglican ‘brother’ being prayed for as a bishop along with the Pope and his own self in the Eucharistic Prayer.  (It is not hard to guess at the implications of all this for the real beliefs of some senior English Catholics on questions to do with Anglican and with female orders.)  When Dominus Iesus was issued, dislike of the declaration was evident at high levels within the bishops’ conference.

What has been the ecumenical outcome?  Still no closer to actual reunion – but instead the greatest meltdown in Catholic membership and practice in England since the Reformation.  Add to that the whole fairly brutal post-Conciliar assault on traditional Catholic liturgy and devotion did great damage (irony of ironies) to spiritual affinity with Orthodoxy, the one group of Christians that ecumenical dialogue might eventually reunite to Rome.  For there was a profound commonality between the traditional rites of Rome and Constantinople, with their shared emphasis on sacrifice, sanctuary and sacramental priesthood, their shared ad orientem worship, and their common emphasis on the overt display of reverence for the Virgin Mary and the saints.  Many Orthodox find what passes for liturgy and devotion in a typical modern Catholic parish unattractive and unworthy of a Divine Liturgy.  (If any in the current English Catholic liturgical establishment is under the illusion that Pope Benedict’s restoration of the 1962 Missal is somehow unecumenical, they would be quickly disabused by the Orthodox bishop who was joyfully in attendance with me at a recent Missa Cantata in the Old Rite at the London Oratory, and whose welcome for Summorum Pontificum was frank and open.)

The meltdown in English Catholicism and its immediate character is no secret.  The fact of the meltdown is increasingly widely admitted, right now by a shining example among the English bishops themselves – see the outstanding Bishop O’Donoghue of Lancaster’s just issued Fit for Mission? Church which eloquently and vividly portrays and analyses the English church’s present and profound unfitness.  But one of the causes of the meltdown is not yet so openly and publicly acknowledged in official circles.  It undoubtedly lies in the relentless prioritization, in the name of the Council, of ecumenism with Anglicanism.  And on this point a previously much discountenanced and disregarded group within the English Catholic church deserves a big apology.  For in fact where Anglicanism and Protestantism generally have been concerned, the Traditionalist critique of the fruits of the Council’s endorsement of ecumenism has, on the whole, been fully justified.  Even if Traditionalist theology has often been crudely unhistorical – such as treating Mortalium Animos not as a contingent and reversible policy directive, but as some sort of timeless doctrinal definition – Traditionalism’s perception of the unrealism and damage involved in much current ecumenical practice, sometimes in England approaching local betrayal of the Faith, has been spot on.

The Catholic Church’s present commitment to ecumenical dialogue with Protestantism has proved, at least as far as securing actual Christian unity is concerned, a policy failure.  It has certainly produced deeply valuable forms of local cooperation; but usually, as on life issues, between specific Protestant and Catholic groups who share firm Christian convictions on moral issues, and who share them as part of a common detachment from any theological liberalism – and who precisely for that reason are under no illusions about each other’s very differing beliefs on other questions, and fully acknowledge and respect the profoundly different theological and ecclesial identity of each.

There have of course been plenty of agreed doctrinal statements along the way.  But these agreements establish far less than the basis for a reunion.  The ARCIC statements, for example, only tell us that some not very typical Anglicans, bishops and theologians mostly selected precisely for their relative sympathy with Rome, might, in a benign mood, agree under some interpretation to many parts of Catholic doctrine.  But they tell us nothing about Anglican bishops or theologians or clergy in general.  What of Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles, or of Archbishop Jensen of Sydney, or what of the vicar down the road, who would now find the 39 Articles too demanding in its detail, let alone The Catechism of the Catholic Church?  The much celebrated Lutheran-Catholic joint statement on Justification tells us, in effect, that Trent and Luther teach alike a shared anti-Pelagian doctrine.  But what competent historian would not already suppose that anyway?  It’s hardly news that theologically the sixteenth century was one vast Augustine-fest.  To compose a joint document that effectively expresses just this common anti-Pelagian ground can be an achievement at the emotional level only.  The question has always been how an anti-Pelagian view of grace and justification is to be developed – such as with or without a positive theology of works and merit?  And on this fundamental issue, nothing has really changed.  Consider Penance, Purgatory, indulgences, and Masses for the dead, to all of which the Catholic Church remains dogmatically committed – Lutheranism is still not one step closer to accepting these.  Those who read the German press and web will well remember the sarcasm coming from leading Protestants in Germany when a plenary indulgence was offered to those attending the Cologne World Youth Day; the condescension and disdain for the superstitions of the untutored Catholics, mixed with a degree of pious outrage at ‘this blow to ecumenism’ after all the ‘good’ of the Joint Statement, would have done Adolf von Harnack proud.

These theological agreements with Protestantism are, at their best, something of a mirage.  The agreements bind no individual Protestant to adhere to them; neither do they evidence any substantial unity in doctrine between the Catholic Church and either Anglicanism or other forms of Protestantism – not even a unity inclusive at least of the broad mass of Protestants at the more senior clerical or official levels.  And at their worst the agreements even do damage.  For they can be used as yet more excuse to water down Catholic identity still further – ‘lest important ecumenical progress be endangered’.

Meanwhile in at least one part of the Catholic Church – in England – the integrity of Catholic faith and practice has been deeply damaged at its base: by the attempt to ram through on the ground, through brute ecclesial reconstruction and main force, a procedural route to Christian unity that has, from time to time, been attempted for the East, and which may yet provide further successes there – but which, beyond some increasingly marginalized remaining islands of conservative Anglo-Catholicism, lacks any real basis in the very different and more alien world of the post-Reformation West.  There is no direct divine mandate committing the Church always and everywhere to aim at securing Christian unity through the particular path of ecumenical dialogue.  And no faithful Catholic should feel it is somehow disloyal, or unorthodox, to say so.

36 Responses

  1. Tom:

    Isn’t it ironic that, just as the TAC is headed for Rome, the Catholic bishops of the British Isles are running the Church into the ground there? Maybe it’s the divine mission of the former to pick up the pieces left by the latter.


  2. Very interesting analysis. I speak of, say, the attitude of Pius X, Benedict XIV & early Pius XI to the Action Francaise as a ‘policy’ and observe – to the consternation of some dogmatic students – that the ‘policy’ changed in 1928. But it hadn’t occurred to me to think of ecumenical attitudes as likewise manifesting policy rather than doctrine per se. I always argue (against some dogmatic students) that much (not all) in the social and political teaching of the church in the 19th & 20th century is policy, not dogma – on the grounds that it’s about what we should ‘do’ and ‘do now’, not about what we think – ie, in scholastic terms, a matter of practical rather than speculative knowledge. But, because I picture ecumenism as part of ecclesiology, I hadn’t thought of as falling under ‘practical’ categories.

    I find it difficult to teach Congar. The dominant narrative, of martyr to victor, doesn’t make sense to most youngsters, because they all think ecumenism a disaster – for the reasons you give, wrecking the liturgy on its behalf etc.

  3. The dominant narrative, of martyr to victor, doesn’t make sense to most youngsters, because they all think ecumenism a disaster


    That’s been my experience too, and I find it depressing. The pendulum always seems to swing too far.

    I think there are only two forms of ecumenism worth engaging actively in: (a) theological dialogue with that minority of Orthodox who are actually interested in such dialogue; (b) joint social action with them and conservative Protestants on ethical matters we agree on. Just about everything else, at least on a corporate level, is at best a waste of time.


  4. Hi Mike, I agree on both points (the young have by definition swung too far when they think I’m a liberal 🙂 ) and where ecumenism is worth pursuing. I thought one of the interesting ideas in the article was that the ‘policy’ of friendly ecumenism would have been possible with some Orthodox, but that was messed up by the Protestantization of the liturgy and culture in order to ecumenize with the Anglicans, with whom the ‘policy’ of friendly ecumenism was a waste of time in terms of achieving reunion.

    The article brought back memories of when I was getting instruction, in Manchester (England) in the early 1980s. The priest seemed to think we’d all soon be one church, or, to put it another way, that the idea of the RC church as inherently different from the CofE was now in the past. I can remember then the later 1980s, when ARCIC was the focus of so much pious enthusiasm.

    For people of our generation who had experiences of the former sort, practically being discouraged from thinking one was ‘converting’ when one was received, I can understand anger with the VII generation. What I find it difficult to sympathize with, and perhaps it’s my problem, is much greater anger than I’ve ever felt, in people who didn’t live through the 1980s and 1990s, and are finding more and more open doors for their wish to return to ‘tradition’.

    best, Francesca

  5. Mike and Francesca:

    I am a bit sceptical about TAC cavalry riding in. There won’t be enough of them, and I fear they will be culturally rather at the margins, having little in common with most English Catholics on the ground. Only the English Catholic church can save itself. And it will, in that I think that we are in the very final stages of the disastrous attempt to Anglicanize it. The end of ‘Roman Anglicanism’ is nigh.

    One crucial factor is the increasing dominance of a highly radicalized liberal Anglicanism in the Church of England itself as well as in TEC in the US. The liberals (Marilyn McCord Adams et al) control much of Anglican Oxford now, for example. And Rowan Williams’s distance from the radicals is only procedural, for he is in his beliefs mainly on their side – a fact of which Rome is now very well aware. This radicalization is too obvious to be missed – and this has had one vital effect. From Rome’s point of view, seeing what it sees, any hope of reunion with Canterbury through ecumenism is now lost – it just looks too absurd.

    And that’s very significant. We are really now leaving the Conciliar era, or at least the Conciliar era as shaped by the policies of Paul VI, on two fronts. First Rome has effectively abandoned Paul VI’s liturgical policies. At the centre those liturgical policies are dead, in that the CDW is in fact now actively working against them – and bishops’ chanceries around the world are finally beginning to realize the deep implications of this change. Secondly, thanks to the radicalization of Anglicanism, one half of a Vatican II document – the part of the Decree on Ecumenism on pursuing unity with the Protestant west – is now also defunct. Reunion with Canterbury, Paul VI’s pet reunion project in relation to Protestantism, is just no longer being pursued by Rome. Kasper made that pretty clear at Lambeth.

    The problem is that the existing management class of the English Catholic church has been wholly formed and shaped by Paul VI’s liturgical and ecumenical visions – and it entirely lacks an alternative management strategy. So it really does not know what positively to do. It simply does not understand Benedict XVI, and is terrified (truly terrified, almost frozen with fear – I know this through conversations) of the growing conservatism, nay growing traditionalism of the young. So the management continues to pursue aspects of its old policies, but without conviction, and really only in a negative way. That is, it is no longer positively ‘Roman Anglican’ – that’s no longer a credible positive project – but is rather just anti the opponents of Roman Anglicanism. And so the management just busies itself with vicious but rather pointless slap downs of the new traditionalism it fears (as readers of Damian Thompson’s Daily telegraph blog Holy Smoke will know).

    It’s a bit like the Gallican bishops in France after the fall of Charles X. They sort of knew that the old Gallican throne and altar game was up – but they were psychologically incapable of understanding or sympathizing with the Ultramontanism of their younger clergy or laity. So they sort of carried on as before, but without much conviction, just being anti-Ultramontanes, but without any longer a positive project of their own. But that meant that Gallicanism was doomed – as is the Roman Anglicanism of the current managers of the English Church. No way can a policy gain new adherents if its existing supporters can only follow it in a negative way – as a basis just for slapping down its perceived enemies, not for doing anything positive themselves.

    So the long term victory of the younger clergy and laity is fairly assured, just as the Ultramontanes eventually were bound to supplant the Gallicans. The issue of anger that Francesca raises is interesting. Yes, there is huge anger among the new traditionalists. And that I think is partly because they now perceive the attempts to slap them down as pointless, and because pointless, deeply contemptible – and are angry that their elders do not ‘get it’.

    I think the new traditionalists will inevitably win. Also that something much harder and much less interested in intellectual dialogue than a Benedict XVI is coming its way, both for England, and I suspect for the rest of the Church. The future is not Henri de Lubac, I suspect. It is much more Garrigou-Lagrange.

  6. Tom:

    I mostly agree with your diagnosis, given what I know secondhand of the situation in England. In a lot of ways it is similar to that in the U.S. But I am bit apprehensive about this:

    something much harder and much less interested in intellectual dialogue than a Benedict XVI is coming its way, both for England, and I suspect for the rest of the Church. The future is not Henri de Lubac, I suspect. It is much more Garrigou-Lagrange.

    A swing of the pendulum back to neo-scholasticism is, I believe, neither inevitable nor desirable. I agree with Fergus Kerr that 20-century Catholic theology has made that all but impossible (though I find his distaste for “nuptial-mystery” theology disappointing.) All the same, I do agree that a return to some combination of orthodoxy and clarity seems likely as well as desirable.


  7. Although I think that G-L and the older thomists got Aquinas right on the state of pure nature, it seems to be that de Lubac was right in showing the unity of grace and nature. Plus, his methodology of going back to the sources seem to be the right one rather than manual theology.

    I, for one, think that we need to embrace the methods of analytic philosophy.

  8. Mike

    ‘A swing of the pendulum back to neo-scholasticism is, I believe, neither inevitable nor desirable. I agree with Fergus Kerr that 20-century Catholic theology has made that all but impossible (though I find his distaste for “nuptial-mystery” theology disappointing.) ‘

    I don’t necessarily quarrel about the issue of desirability. But what I said was intended as a prediction, not necessarily as an endorsement. It’s just what I think will happen, for better or for worse. Indeed it is happening already. Fergus Kerr thinks it impossible? Well I’m sure he never expected young English priests and seminarians, including in his own order, to be reading Garrigou-Lagrange again. But they are. Re-editions from TAN books now readily available in St Paul’s bookshop, Westminster Cathedral in London – on shelves once graced by the now completely vanished works of Karl Rahner. As for the second hand market, Garrigou-Lagrange regularly outprices Rahner, let alone Kung.

    I think a lot of what Fergus _writes_ has more to do with the way he would _like_ things to go. In actual fact I have reason to suppose that going by what he _says_ he is rather less sanguine in conversation than in his books.

    Like it or not, the ideology of any of those groups within the mid-20th century Church that can be seen to have been a winning party at Vatican II seems increasingly removed from the minds of many of those young committed Catholics from which vocations are now coming. For them, increasingly, if it is theology as well as liturgy that interests them, then it really is the likes of Garrigou-Lagrange, and not de Lubac, let alone Congar, Rahner et al. that attracts them.

    To be frank, even Benedict XVI’s theology is too liberal for a lot of them. I’ve had at least one very Benedict-friendly curial official complain to me of the (in his view) theologically reactionary outlook of many current seminarians in Rome. Benedict still gets the regard from the rising neo-traddies (a) because he is Pope, and has smited in his day the real naughties, such as Kung and (b) because he is so clearly deeply opposed to Paul VI’s now much despised and hated liturgical policies, which means that Pope Benedict is, in the sense that mattters to them ‘on their side’ and that he will be forgiven almost anything. For these reasons Benedict is admitted as a sort of honorary Garrigou-Lagrange by those that like Garrigou-Lagrange. Ridiculous and quite funny really. but that’s the way things really are going as I see it.

    The real problem is simple. The reforms of Vatican II have become associated in the minds of many committed young Catholics in the UK and the US with, what can we say? – disaster, meltdown, destruction, annihilation, utter balls-up, that sort of thing. The legacy of the Council (rightly or wrongly) is increasingly discredited. Simple as that. These neo-traddies really do not want to know, except that it would be nice if such a horrible thing never happened again.

    And in many cases, they are indeed very, very angry. Fergus Kerr, I suspect, does not begin to understand this fact. But, as Francesca has sensed, the anger is deeply there, mixed in England with contempt for a local Church management that they now sense is actually beginning to be very frightened of them; and this anger will be a major shaping influence on the Church in the future, for good or ill.

  9. Tom, could you recommend any books on France after Charles X? I’m interested in what you say about Gallicanism and Ultramontanism.

  10. NB, what is CDW?

  11. Francesca

    The fascinating book on this is Klaus Schatz’s history of the First Vatican Council in the Konziliengeschichte series ( Schoeningh). In three volumes of which the first details the state of the Church 1815-1869, and details the rise of Ultramontanism. France is given particular attention. See here

    Only in German though – but invaluable. Especially as Schatz is both a good historian, but a fairly liberal German Catholic with the predictable outlook of his (now passing) generation. (He was one of many German clerics who protested at the beatification of Pius IX.) This actually makes the book more rather than less interesting.

  12. Francesca:

    ‘CDW’ = ‘Congregation for Divine Worship’


  13. On regarding Benedict as a kind of honourary G-L – I think that’s broadly true of slightly older than student age neo-traditional Thomists. With the young ones, I’m not sure, because my samples are so small. I have large numbers of very conservative Protestant students, and tiny numbers of – generally – conservative RC ones. This last year, I noticed that the conservative Protestants love reading Ratzinger, but the RCs are not especially touched, except for his being Pope. As Pope, they see him as being on their side about the liturgy, but don’t share his enthusiasm for de Lubac, to say the least. To me, the outlook of the older neo-traditional Thomisms (ie people who ought to know enough to know better) seems unhistorical. The people who carried out the reforms of the Council, including the philistine wreckage of the liturgy, had been trained in 1950s neo-scholastic Thomism.

  14. The return to GL-style neo-scholasticism is just another swing of the pendulum back too far. These young neo-trads need a good dose of the Eastern Fathers.

  15. I agree Mike, but I think that Eastern theology, patristic and modern, and ressourcement theology like de Lubac’s, and my own favourite 20th century theologian, von Balthasar, will flourish in a church in which liturgy is taken seriously, and in which the basics of doctrine are not disputable.

  16. Speaking as one who regularly contributes to a major traditionalist blog and who regularly participates in online discussions with young traditionalists, I concur with the prognosis that we are seeing the pendulum swing back into 1950’s vintage neo-scholasticism. And, yes, there is much hostiiity and unfocused and rage and anger towards Vatican II and figures such as Henri De Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar (not to speak of Congar), and even Joseph Ratzinger is only grudgingly considered orthodox by not a few of my contempoaries.

    For that matter, I am seeing a growing wave of harsh criticism and reaction aimed at the 1962 Missal and the direcives granted by Pope Pius XII from 1955-1958, which are often denounced as being “too modernist”. I recently posted an article on the 50th anniversary of De Musica Sacra and I was shocked at the angry comments against it. Some people actually think that congregational singing (even in Latin) is intolerably modernist and that only choirs should sing. Granted that some of the liturgical reforms of Pius XII and John XXIII were ill-advised and downright inorganic, the sweeping condemnations of these as “modernist” are simply excessive.

    I am saddened by the bitterness of many young traditionalists: this cannot but bode ill for the future of Catholicism. We cannot renew Catholicism on the basis of anger and rage and the sweeping condemnation of anything and everything post-1950. If the pendulum swings too far to the “right”, the Church will only be plunged into renewed civil war.

    As for introducing the Eastern Fathers, forget it: many of these youngsters regard anything that remotely smacks of Eastern Orthodoxy with suspicion. At best, they will read the Greek Fathers, but only through thick Latin and scholastic lenses, and under the impression that the Greek Fathers were basically undercards before the great triumphs of Augustine and Aquinas.

    Personally, I am filled with much foreboding these days. I myself am only 26, I am deeply attached to the Traditional Latin Mass, and I love the traditions of the Roman Church. At the same time, I have a growing appreciation of the Greek Fathers and of Eastern Christian liturgy and theology, I advocate ecumenism and dialogue with the Orthodox (although not with Protestants, at least not anymore), I read De Lubac and Balthasar (along with Garrigou Lagrange), and the CCC and the Decrees of the Council of Trent have equal honor in my library. All these, I know, make me an odd man out. I certainly have been accused of modernism myself more than once. I wonder if there will be any place for people like me in the Catholic Church of the future.

  17. Hello, I’m relatively sanguine and I think you should be too – you are probably the wave of the future reading GL and vonB. The reason is that reality is never like proportional representational voting systems – which allow very small groups to be represented because they got a tiny number of votes. In reality, none of the more conservative RC ‘schools’, like CL/Communio people or neo-traditional Thomists is large enough to function without the others. For instance, a RC High School principal whom I met had done his PhD on Adrienne von Speyr, but the people working in his school were traddies – because there are just not that many of either group, in any one place, they can’t operate a school without working together. In the future, de Lubacians and von Balthasarians will be happy to show how Thomistic they are, and some neo-traditional Thomism will take on von Balthasarian insights without saying so. That would be my prognosis for theology in 15 years time – and I’m usually a ‘dark sider’.

  18. Carlos:

    We cannot renew Catholicism on the basis of anger and rage and the sweeping condemnation of anything and everything post-1950.

    That seems spot-on to me, which is precisely why I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is going to bring us back to 1950.

    I’m what both progs and trads like to call, contemptuously, a “neo-Cath” or “conservative.” People from both wings regularly accuse me of being too slavish toward Rome. The progs dislike my Romanitas because they think Rome is too conservative; the trads dislike my Romanitas because they think Rome is too liberal. All I do, of course, is adhere to what the Pope calls “the hermeneutic of continuity.” I am far from alone in that. But that’s exactly why both progs and trads dislike us. They both accept the hermeneutic of discontinuity, according to which the “post-Vatican-II Church” represents such a decisive break with the “pre-Vatican-II Church” that one cannot speak of the former as being even doctrinally continuous with the latter. I think that’s silly.

    I agree with trads that some serious mistakes have been made over the past 50 years in liturgy and discipline. But Rome has been correcting them—slowly, but inexorably. I agree with progs that many of the reforms, in both theology and practice, of Vatican II were necessary. But that doesn’t mean that they are or ought to be preludes to even further-reaching reforms that would increase the distance between the Church of the ages and that of the present.

    That position puts me squarely in the center, where I can absorb the brickbats from both wings. But I believe we’ll outlive them.


  19. Carlos – We cannot renew Catholicism on the basis of anger and rage and the sweeping condemnation of anything and everything post-1950.

    Mike – That seems spot-on to me,

    I remember meeting Shirley Robin Letwin, a sort of English Gertrude Himmelfarb except she was American, in 1988. I was 28, just finishing my PhD, very conservative, and very unsure of myself.
    I must have said ‘I hate him’, ‘I hate her’, ‘I hate this and that’ much more often than I realized. Mrs Letwin said to me, ‘don’t hate.’ I wish some of these young ones could meet a Mrs. Letwin. It’s one of the reasons I’m not a fideist, that from my own experience I’ve learned so much from non-Christians, including agnostic Jews. Part of the ‘new narrowness,’ and the hatred comes from living in a postmodernist, that is Balkanized, culture.

  20. I don’t know if anyone is still interested in the ecumenism thread, but I had one final thought about it. Tom has said that the VII policy of ecumenism in relation to the Anglicans has failed, and that failure leaves the Bishops who pursued it looking like, well, failures. I began to wonder if that was the necessary outcome of the last decade. I’m reading Ronald Knox’s ‘Bridegroom and Bride’ (with the thought of writing a response to Kerr’s claim that ‘nuptial mysticism was unknown in the RC church of the 50s); and during the various Anglican travails of the summer, I was re-reading Knox’s ‘Spiritual Aenead’. Immersing myself in Knox’ milieu made me think that some of the ‘conversions’ of Anglicans of the last ten years would have been impossible in his era. I’m thinking of the conversion of whole churches, with priest and his wife, and the retention of a modified BCP in some cases, and of the potential conversion of whole dioceses and tranches of less than fully gruntled Episcopalians in the US and Australia. Perhaps ‘conversion’ is the wrong word – I’m talking about their ‘translation’ into RC priests, along with their wives and parishes. That’s unimaginable in the Church of the 1950s. My point is that the Bishops pursuing the policy of VII ‘friendly ecumenism’ could have claimed this as a victory for their tactics. The policy – eg, keeping the prayer book, that is, enabling them to maintain something of their Anglican spirituality – could have been claimed to be based on the VII’s documents reminder about the treasures in the Protestant churches.

    But those Bishops didn’t claim it as a victory for their tactics – because individual conversions, no matter how numerous, messed up what had become their overall *strategy* – what Knox called ‘reunion all round’. These ‘Anglican-Romans’ had effectively come to believe in a ‘branch theory’ of the Church. Though they probably couldn’t resist a tribal pleasure in individual conversions, or conversions of whole parishes, it conflicted with their strategy.

    Still, and particularly if arrangements are eventually sealed for a ‘TAC Uniate’ or whatever, if they had kept the original goal of union in mind, the Bps could have said, look we’ve pursued the right policy all along.

  21. Francesca:

    I’d like to see what Tom Pink says about your suggestion. Not being British, I’m not sure how much credit the British Catholic bishops can take for what’s been achieved. It might have been more in spite of them than because of them.


  22. I suspect it was in spite of them, because by that time, many had effectively gone native, as Roman-Anglicans. But it could be claimed, first, that, for the Curia if not the Bps, the acceptance of married clergy, and modified Anglican rituals – which enabled the Anglicans to bring something of Anglican lifestyle and spirituality into the RC Church – was following through the real meaning of the policy of the VII doc, and second, that the English Bps could have hailed it as a victory, if they hadn’t succumbed to anti-Romanitas. I don’t know how many actual *conversions* it enabled – perhaps they’d all have come without the possibility of becoming RC priests and keeping their liturgy, but I doubt it – but it did allow something of the treasure of Anglicanism to be re-established within the RC church. It may be that, utilising the notion that VII was promoting a policy, not a doctrine, future historians will – from their Olympic heights – note both failures and achievements in this policy. This will be especially the case if numbers now accelerate, with the increasing liberalisation of Anglicanism, which Tom notes.

  23. Certainly, William Oddie, in *The Roman Option* (1997), seems abundantly to validate the impressions, both that the English Catholic bishops (with the exception of Cardinal Hume) were signally unwilling to risk offending the Church of England leadership in the aftermath of the latter’s women’s ordination decision in 1992 by displaying any imaginative generosity in reaching out to potential Anglican converts, and that the late pope and Cardinal Ratzinger were aware of and dismayed by their indifference.

  24. Francesca

    A deeply interesting issue. I don’t really know if there’s a clear answer about whether Roman Anglicanization in the pursuit of unity has really helped win victories, albeit victories at the individual or small group level that have gone uncelebrated by the bishops (because they were not truly and properly ‘ecumenical’ and Canterbury-involving) .

    The problem is this. It’s clear that some individuals and groups have become Catholics only because of the Anglicanizing ecumenical project. But what of the many who have been put off by the project, and who might have converted otherwise – including at the level of whole groups and communities?

    And remember, we shouldn’t just compare the pre-conciliar 1950s Church with the grim legacy of Hume and Warlock and their heirs. What if the application of Vatican II had been Ratzingerian from the start? That would not have been a project of Roman Anglicanization at all. And it might have been more attractive, and more ecumenically successful at the level of attracting Anglo-Catholic subgroups from Anglicanism, than either of the other two options.

    There are various groups of people who clearly will actually find it easier to convert to a semi-Anglicanized ‘Roman Anglican’ Catholic church.

    One such group is people who would have found 1950s Catholicism too alien culturally – and possibly also too demanding (what – all that fasting in Lent, and I should go to confession weekly too?). For them it is just easier to become Catholic in a Roman Anglican way.

    Another group are genuine and outright theological liberals who just like being liberal in a bigger tent than Canterbury can provide. Not all converts want to convert to a conservative brand. One has to remember that quite a lot of the post-1968 dissenting Tablet editorship have been Anglican converts, and now there is Tony Blair as well. Roman Anglicanism is their dream solution; but I hesitate to see their arrival as worth rejoicing over, though – precisely in their case for some reason – some English bishops do seem to think otherwise.

    Then there are communities of Anglican clergy, their families and their people, fleeing the liberal take-over of their former communion. Well maybe an Anglicanizing use of ecumenism as a means of reunion has made this more possible. They can flee liberalism, without having to become too un-Anglican.

    But remember that married German Lutheran clergy were beginning, in small numbers perhaps, to move en famille to Rome in the 1950s – (wasn’t it Pius XII who first allowed the ordination of some of these to be married Catholic priests?) And plenty of conservative Anglo Catholics may have been put off coming to Rome precisely by the post Vatican II changes. Why flee one set of polyester liturgies for another, when you get told what to do by Irishmen to boot?

    As far as I know, annual numbers converting to Rome in England are significantly down compared to the pre-conciliar period. If that is right – a big if, as I have no figures to hand – then Anglicanization has been net bad for individual conversion. Why leave Canterbury for something else now become rather more similar?. But if this is true of individual conversions, why cannot its also be true of reunions at the community level. And as I said, remember the Ratzingerian option that never has been available in England (until now). Perhaps if there had been a far more conservative and authentically Catholic application of the Council in this country, less centred on rapprochement to today’s Canterbury, more centred on ressourcement and rediscovery of the patristic and pre-Tridentine past, communities of Anglicans rightly horrified at the radicalization of their communion might have come over in greater numbers.

    What is true is that, possibly thanks to Paul VI’s ecumenical romanticism, the post Vatican II Roman ecumenical project always aimed at Canterbury and the Anglican communion as a whole, not at picking off Anglo-Catholic sub-groups. But that strategy of global reunion was never realistic. It was based on a huge and quite lunatic delusion – perhaps only an Italian, a foreigner like Montini, could nurse such an illusion – that none of the theological liberals, conservative Protestant evangelicals and plain vague old middle of the road Rev JC Flannels that have made up the bulk of twentieth century Anglicanism, that none of this vast army of evidently irreconcilable plain non-Catholics actually existed – as if all of Anglicanism was Henry Chadwick plus some ritualists. The whole thing was bonkers from the start. It should not have taken forty years to work this one out.

    But this raises the question – what were the English Catholics up to, who sat on ARCIC and cooperated in this madness? They were no innocent foreigners.

  25. Hello William Tighe! Remember you from Pontificator.

    Answer to Tom’s last question: Don’t like to sound bitter and hateful 🙂 but I think they were using ARCIC as a weapon against traditional English RCs and against Rome.

  26. I don’t propose to defend the English bishops, but offer for your consideration that what many here seem to perceive as an “Anglicanization” of the English Church is merely the local expression of a broader loss of confidence that afflicted the Church virtually everywhere in North America and Western Europe.

    I also suspect that this discussion may be eluding the main positive contribution of ecumenical outreach towards the Protestant world, namely the progressive decline in the demonization of Catholicism by people of faith.

    There have always been elements of Protestantism for whom the main obstacles to reunion were more emotional than theological. They may not be numerous, but what might be described as Catholicizing parties now exist in most major Protestant denominations. I ascribe this in large part to Vatican II’s openness to ecumenism. The impact of the work of the ARCIC in this area has also been significant, and will continue to bear fruit for some time. Equally significant in my view has been the agreed statement the North American Catholic and Orthodox bishops on the filioque.

    If we step back a bit and look at the broader picture free from partisan lenses, we might notice an unprecedented rapprochement of Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the more orthodox elements of Protestantism. Theological liberalism is proving to be a remarkable solvent, peeling off the tepid and leaving the fervent either to nurse their prejudices in obscurantism or recognize the unity of their shared theological heritage. Ecumenism, derided as it may be by traddies and conservatives, is progressively tilting the balance away from prejudice and towards reconciliation.

    I find it difficult to share the deep concern often expressed for liturgical minutae, and the blanket dismissal of the VII reforms as almost mandating abuses and “clown masses”. These abuses stem not from the council decrees, but from the loss of confidence which was itself not a product of the council but of the broader secularization of society the council was attempting to address. I think a lot of the analysis here confuses cause and response.

    Finally, I sense a progressive return of confidence as the weaknesses and pitfalls of theological liberalism and modernism have become apparent. I don’t see the recent crackdown on abuses and the rehabilitation of the Tridentine mass a retreat from or roll back of Vatican II, but a maturation in its articulation. I’m with ML in opposing a hermeneutics of discontinuity.

  27. I agree that VII has had good results in the ways you mention – eg, closer relations between Orthodox and Catholics, both working together with Protestants on some things, less demonisation of RCs by Protestants (although I’m not feeling that is true today, after having two posters advertising a German reading club reading Ratzer’s PhD on Augustine torn down in my University). I think it is true that, in general, Protestants are less viscerally hostile to the RC church than they were before VII.

    The original scope of the article seemed to me to be about something else. I thought it was about UR being a policy document and therefore not to be contrasted with MA. This is a bit like saying VII was a Pastoral council. There was also discussion about whether this policy worked in relation to the Anglicans. I agree that the basic point about UR being a policy document, or a Pastoral statement, gets muddles when one starts adducing evidence like the RCs using styrofoam chasubles 🙂 etc.

  28. The key “policy change” from MA to UR, I’d suggest, is simply that from seeing the glass as half-empty to seeing it as half-full. Instead of presuming non-Catholic Christians guilty of the sins of schism and/or heresy, we treat them as brethren in imperfect communion with us.

    The problem, of course, is that the hermeneuts of discontinuity can only see such a shift as doctrinal. Tom does a good job of explaining why they are wrong. But it seems that it takes his combination of logical acuity and trust in the Magisterium in order to appreciate his hermeneutic of continuity.

  29. Seriously, folks, has anybody here considered not only the negative ramifications that such Ecumenism has done to the integrity of Catholic Theology but also inter alia the utter decline in Church Music that has been the sorely case for many years on end?

    I mean, think about it:

    We went from the sheer MAJESTY of the Missa Solemnis to the Total Depravity of Hagen/Haas!

  30. Corrigendum:

    …the utter decline in Church Music that has been sorely the case for many years on end?

  31. Sir : I don’t know where to begin with my thanks and appreciation of your work ; but in your comments you’ve addressed a specific problem in the future ; the return of uniformed , somewhat presumptuous traditionalism ; one which relies solely upon moral and doctrinal catechetical sources from either a century ago or the limited populist ‘instruction’ from places like EWTN [which even I, in my limited philosophical/ theological/ ethical background; realise is severely lacking and on occasion quite contrary to official church teaching and tradition]

    Is this not the time to commence an all-out pedagogic assault ; especially in the sphere of ethics and fundamental moral theology ? It has to be conceded that the CCC has severely confused and distressed the majority of catholics on so many moral issues [e.g. it’s negligence to explain fully the principle of double-effect and its application within a daily catholic lifestyle ; using words like acceptable and permissible instead of stating an act’s objective moral disorder which may be mitigated within the double-effect [like NFP, eating meat, smacking children, white lies – all manner of daily activities] Only the other day did I have to counter the Avery-Dulles/EWTN position on capital punishment ;which is directly contrary to catholic teaching ; in that we are barred from retributive and restorative notions of death being a valid form of punishment – and rather we may only actuate self-defensive measures when we exact a ‘death penalty’; otherwise it’s judicial murder and an excommunicable offence !
    How much time is spent on NFP and Theology of the Body courses; when there is still no fundamental moral understanding among the vast majority of catholics regarding the inseparable unitive and pro-procreative aspects of human lovemaking ? Something which has torn the church asunder for forty years and led to the most abject confusion regarding our doctrinal position regarding homosexual acts, contraception, extra-marital sex etc ?
    Even now I guarantee you could refer to EWTN or another online catholic advice source and still find personal opinion and doxic ‘taste’ being promoted as fundamental catholic moral teaching – and on occasion this ignorance can cause all manner of psychological and spiritual damage.
    One crucial aspect is the simple factor that as academia and the ‘futurechurch’ magic circle hierarchy are distinctly post-trotskyite Nulabour in outlook ; and their opponents within the new traditionalism are in the main of the politically ‘conservative’ persuasion [to the point among some of being Thatcherite – the young having not dwelled within that era, the more senior having a golden-era/rose tinted spectacle moment ; forgetting the intrinsic uncatholic havoc that was wrought during that time] ; and in the meantime the good solid catholic tradition of a pseudo-‘socialist’ ‘old labour’ position which was so inherant within old urban catholic strongholds [think liverpool, newcastle, glasgow etc] where the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the sermon on the mount, etc were amalgamated with a distributist outlook together with the principles exemplified in rerum novarum and the ‘common-good’ outlook of the social preaching of the clergy etc.

    Is this not the time to go for an all-out assault on educating ? So many in our disenfranchised nation – even among the nouveau-trationalists – are little more than well-meaning pagans who presume so much of that which they were never taught – even on positions such as the fall , original sin , monogeny etc – all stuck in the rut of humani generis without any consideration to his Holiness’s and von Balthasar’s work on the diachronicity of both grace and sin and our own conspiracy within the fall and its consequences for natural moral disorder and our scarring.
    I was at a deanery evangelisation day last year – and was astounded to discover that not one of the priests – and they were some of the most informed in the country [having licences, doctorates etc ] – could explain why the consecration at the last supper was valid ! something my children could have explained to them while they were in primary school – they knew all about the diachronicity of calvary leading to anticipation on Holy Thursday, The Immaculate conception etc .
    When I was a director of religious education in the US I belonged to one of those dioceses that banned Ignatius press catechetical resources – the fact that it was some of the only material which informed and taught the kids was seen as an irrelevance ; the issue was always ideological – of course we have the same thing here with the reprehensible ‘catholic christianity ‘ and sacramental preparation which doesn’t tell the kids what the sacrament entails ; and confirmation preparation which is 90% psychobabble which practically forces the adolescents into nervous breakdowns by compelling them to analyse their family,peer,social and sexual identities…
    I won’t start on RCIA ; but is this not the time to publish – publish – publish ?
    Flood the market – educate, evangelise, catechise ?
    The hierarchy won’t do it – the new traditionalists will do it – isn’t it a critical moment to ensure that the new batch of traditionalists are informed enough to teach authentic catholic doctrine and morality and social teaching ?

  32. Francesca:

    What I find it difficult to sympathize with, and perhaps it’s my problem, is much greater anger than I’ve ever felt, in people who didn’t live through the 1980s and 1990s, and are finding more and more open doors for their wish to return to ‘tradition’.

    As one of those who have recently converted and found in the traditional liturgy true spiritual food I must say that I share this anger. Why? Partly because I have been received into the Church and found that those who should have guarded the purity of its doctrine and the beauty of its traditions have done neither. And that, furthermore, they view the obvious disaster of the last 40 years in terms of measurables (Mass attendance, adult converts, religious and priestly vocations) with indifference. Even worse than that, so determined are they to perpetuate the veneer of a ‘new springtime’ that there has developed a culture of bullying within the Church where priests who in word or action contradict this fictitious, imposed reality are ostracised, penalised, or reprimanded.

    This is why we are angry. Also – don’t be taken in by the faux-Buddhist idea that anger is in itself wrong or unhealthy. It is an appropriate reaction to something that was perpetrated against Christ’s own Church.

  33. Listen, the nonsense posted here is breathtaking. It difficult to know where to start but I have to resist starting with Paul Priest – I only hope he’s not a real priest cos he’s certainly not a sound one.

    I’ll limit my comment to denouncing the falsehood that the Church of the past supported the heresy of ecumenism. Lots of muddying of waters in Pink’s article such as the nonsense about “policy” being prohibited not the “doctrine” (of the heresy of ecumenism). Here’s a key extract from Mortalium Animos, 1928 that don’t sound like no “policy” to l’il ole me…

    “…Meanwhile they affirm that they would willingly treat with the Church of Rome, but on equal terms, that is as equals with an equal: but even if they could so act, it does not seem open to doubt that any pact into which they might enter would not compel them to turn from those opinions which are still the reason why they err and stray from the one fold of Christ.

    8. This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ. “

    That sounds like a clear rejection of ecumenical dialogue to me, and believe me, there’s plenty more where that came from. I was spoiled for choice when trying to decide precisely what to quote from that crystal clear document and do you know what? I noticed that there was no accompanying letter to explain what it meant! Roll on the day when we have popes like Pius XI, X and XII (not to mention Leo XIII) who wrote in plain language, said what they meant and meant what they said.

    Policy? In Mortalium Animos? Sometimes I think men buy Vatican documents in the same place as they buy their driving licences – the local market.

    For some rather more informed discussion on this topic, visit

    Those of our bloggers, who are NOT of the liberal mindset (yawn, yawn) including priest bloggers, know what they’re talking about. Go, learn!

  34. It hardly sounds to me like ‘a clear rejection of ecumenical dialogue,’ unless ‘ecumenical dialogue’ simply has to mean ‘dialogue undertaken on the assumption that the Roman Catholic Church is not correct on those issues which separate it from other Christian denominations.’ That does seem to be what plenty of people have in mind when they talk about ecumenism, but it hardly seems necessary. Simply because I maintain that I am right and you are wrong does not mean that we cannot engage in dialogue, or that I have no alternative but to assert my correctness and your wrongness rather than, say, listening to what you have to say, acknowledging those points on which you are correct, and providing arguments to convince you that you are incorrect when I think you are. Ecumenism in a lot of people’s minds also involves attempts among Christian churches to work together on various projects despite their disagreements. Again, I see no reason why Rome has to somehow implicitly or explicitly deny the superiority of its claims to truth by cooperating with other denominations. You’re right to stress that ecumenism of those kinds isn’t a genuine option. But I don’t know why you think that everything done under the banner of ecumenism meets that description. As it is, I’m having a hard time figuring out how you don’t consider Rome to have been overtaken by heretics, since we have a Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which engages in what I and plenty of people I know would call ecumenism.

  35. It hardly sounds to me like ‘a clear rejection of ecumenical dialogue,’ unless ‘ecumenical dialogue’ simply has to mean ‘dialogue undertaken on the assumption that the Roman Catholic Church is not correct on those issues which separate it from other Christian denominations.’ That does seem to be what plenty of people have in mind when they talk about ecumenism, but it hardly seems necessary. Simply because I maintain that I am right and you are wrong does not mean that we cannot engage in dialogue, or that I have no alternative but to assert my correctness and your wrongness rather than, say, listening to what you have to say, acknowledging those points on which you are correct, and providing arguments to convince you that you are incorrect when I think you are. Ecumenism in a lot of people’s minds also involves attempts among Christian churches to work together on various projects despite their disagreements. Again, I see no reason why Rome has to somehow implicitly or explicitly deny the superiority of its claims to truth by cooperating with other denominations. You’re right to stress that ecumenism of those kinds isn’t a genuine option. But I don’t know why you think that everything done under the banner of ecumenism meets that description. As it is, I’m having a hard time figuring out how you don’t consider Rome to have been overtaken by heretics, since we have a Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which engages in what I and plenty of people I know would call ecumenism.

  36. […] Dr. Bill Tighe, in an email to several of us bloggers, brought my attention to this 2008 post by Thomas Pink at Philosophia Perennis entitled “The toils of ecumenism: a new … […]

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