Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand on the Lethargy of the Guardians December 10, 2013Posted by tantamergo in abdication of duty, Basics, catachesis, disaster, episcopate, error, General Catholic, Papa, persecution, reading, scandals, secularism, the return.
Years ago, one of the first books I read on the crisis in the Faith was Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s The Devastated Vineyard. My friend and reader SB gave me a wonderful first edition copy in hardback. I did not get far in the book. Much of it was frankly beyond me, at that time. But I have recently returned to it, and I am enjoying it immensely. The book begins with Dr. von Hildebrand’s assessment of the state of the episcopate as it was in the early 70s, 40 years ago. It is a searing indictment, and even more apropos today. For those who do not know, Dr. von Hildebrand was one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of the 20th century, winning huge accolades from Venerable Pius XII and many others. The excerpt (with my emphasis and comments):
One of the most horrifying and widespread diseases in the Church today is the lethargy of the guardians of the Faith of the Church. I am not thinking here of those bishops who are members of the “fifth column,” who wish to destroy the Church from within, or to transform it into something completely different. I am thinking of the far more numerous bishops who have no such intentions, but who make no use whatever of their authority when it comes to intervening against heretical theologians or priests, or against blasphemous performances of public worship. [The national conferences play a certain role in this. While a bishop is always free to act in his Diocese regarding denouncing error and heresy - as Bishop Bruskewitz demonstrated to a degree - there are powerful pressures via the national conferences against doing so. Such bishops who were to, for instance, formally excommunicate a pro-abort katholyc politician would find their ambitions blocked and themselves ostracized.] They either close their eyes and try, ostrich-style, to ignore the grievous abuses as well as appeals to their duty to intervene, or they fear to be attacked by the press or the mass media and defamed as reactionary, narrow-minded, or medieval. They fear men more than God. The words of St. John Bosco apply to them: “The power of evil men lives on the cowardice of the good.”
…….this sickness [all the disturbing cultural trends] has even penetrated the Church, and is a clear indication that the fight against the spirit of this world has been replaced with swimming along with the spirit of the times in the name of “aggiornamento.” One is force to think of the hireling who abandons his flocks to the wolves when one reflects on the lethargy of so many bishops and superiors who, though still orthodox themselves, do not have the courage to intervene against the most flagrant heresies and abuses of all kinds in their dioceses or in their orders. [One could hope most bishops were orthodox in personal belief in the early 70s, due to formation prior to the 1960s. But today, with almost all bishops formed after the Council, such an assumption may be less well founded]
But it is most especially infuriating when certain bishops, who themselves show this lethargy toward heretics, assume a rigorously authoritarian attitude towards those believers who are fighting for orthodoxy, and who are thus doing what the bishops ought to be doing themselves! [Have you ever personally experienced or witnessed the above? I have!] I was once allowed to read a leter written by a man in high position in the Church, addressed to a group which had heroically taken up the cause of the true Faith, of the pure, true teaching of the Church and the Pope. This group had overcome the “cowardice of good men” of which St. John Bosco spoke, and ought thus to have been the greatest joy of the bishops. The letter said: as good Catholics, you have to do only one thing: just be obedient to all the ordinances of your bishop.
[The most important part.....] This conception of a “good” Catholic is particularly surprising at a time in which the coming of age of the moderns layman is continually being emphasized. [Obviously, 40+ years of experience has shown that only a certain kind of outspokeness from the laity is desired. In fact, clericalism is at least as strong, if not far more so, than it was before the Council. It is simply clericalism of a different kind.] But it is also completely false for this reason: what is fitting at a time when no heresies occur in the Church without being immediately condemned by Rome, becomes inappropriate and unconscionable at a time when uncomdemned heresies wreak havoc within the Church, infecting even certain bishops, who nevertheless remain in office. Should the faithful at the time of the Arian heresy, for instance, in which the majority of the bishops were Arians, have limited themselves to being nice, and obedient to the ordinances of these bishops, instead of battling the heresy? Is not fidelity to the true teaching of the Church to be given priority over submission to the bishop? It is not precisely by virtue of their obedience to the revealed truths which they received from the Magisterium of the Church, that the faithful offer resistance? Are the faithful not supposed to be concerned when things are preached form the pulpit which are completely incompatible with the teaching of the Church?……[Exactly. We are in a crisis unprecedented in the history of the Church. Many devout souls have pointed to the laity as the source of any possible restoration. While we must always act with charity and prudence, I do not accept blanket condemnations of any criticism of ecclesiastical superiors by the laity as being inappropriate or "unCatholic." There is a nuance involved, of course, and some go too far, but in this present crisis, it is our duty as faithful Catholics to adhere to the Faith of our fathers and to fight error and abuse everywhere it appears.]
…..The drivel of the heretics, both priests and laymen, is tolerated: the bishops tacitly acquiesce to the poisoning of the faithful. But they want to silence the faithful believers who take up the cause of orthodoxy, the very people who should be all rights be the joy of the bishops’ hearts, their consolation, a source of strength for overcoming their own lethargy. Instead, these people are regarded as disturbers of the peace……This clearly shows the cowardice which is hidden behind the bishops’ failure to use their authority. [Hard words, especially considering the impeccable credentials of the source. Dr. von Hildebrand was a friend of many popes, including Benedict XVI. His criticisms cannot be dismissed as some emotional rantings of the unhinged. Many years have passed since this was written, and some things have changed, but not many. I think much of the reaction against the faithful (which includes general opposition to the traditional Mass and the traditional practice of the Faith in general) is driven by shame. At least certain behaviors and some of the vindictiveness we see seem inexplicable without a powerful emotional driver, like shame.]
I strongly recommend Dr. von Hildebrand’s works. It is a shame, and a sign of the crisis in the Church, that he is most well known for his two books analyzing the crisis (Devastated Vineyard, and The Trojan Horse in the City of God), when he wrote at such depth and eloquence on very deep theological topics.
His wife, the estimable Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year. This other Dr. von Hildebrand helps keep Dietrich von Hildebrand’s memory alive, while being a great author in her own right.
Ad multi annos!