Dietrich von Hildebrand on Church leadership June 25, 2010Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, General Catholic, scandals.
Dietrich von Hildebrand has been described by Pope Benedict XVI as the premier Catholic philosopher of the 20th Century. Initially a huge supporter and enthused about the direction of the second Vatican Council, he later became severely disenchanted and felt that the results of the Council were badly hurting the Church. I don’t have much time to write more commentary at present, but thanks to my main man Steve B, I can post the entire first chapter. The chapter deals with Hildebrand’s great concern at the direction of the Church in the years immediately following the Council, and what he felt was a profound lack of ecclesial leadership from those charged most with supporting and defending the Faith, the various bishops of the world. This is long for a blog post, but I think his words are most worth reading. This is Chapter 1 of von Hildebrand’s work, The Devastated Vineyard, entitled The Lethargy of the Guardians:
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. 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.”
It is certainly true that the lethargy of those in positions of authority is a disease of our times which is widespread outside the Church. It is found among parents, college and university presidents, heads of numerous other organizations, judges, heads of state, and others. But the fact that this sickness has even penetrated the Church is a clear indication that the fight against the spirit of the world, has been replaced with swimming along with the spirit of the times in the name of “aggiornamento.” One is forced 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 4 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.
But it is most especially infuriating when certain bishops, who themselves show this lethargy toward heretics, assume a rigorously authoritarian attitude toward those believers who are fighting for orthodoxy, and who are thus doing what the bishops ought to be doing themselves! I was once allowed to read a letter 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.
This conception of a “good” Catholic is particularly surprising at a time in which the coming of age of the modern layman is continually being emphasized. 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 uncondemned 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? Is it 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 from the pulpit which are completely incompatible with the teaching of the Church? Or when theologians are kept on as teachers who claim that the Church must accept pluralism in philosophy and theology 5 or that there is no survival of the person after death, or who deny that promiscuity is a sin, or even tolerate public displays of immorality, thereby betraying a pitiful lack of understanding for the deeply Christian virtue of purity?
The drivel of the heretics, both priests and laymen, is tolerated; the bishops tacitly acquiesce to the poisoning of the faithful. 6 But they want to silence the faithful believers who take up the cause of orthodoxy, the very people who should by 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. And should it happen that they get carried away in their zeal and express themselves in a tactless or exaggerated manner, they are even suspended. This clearly shows the cowardice which is hidden behind the bishops’ failure to use their authority. For they have nothing to fear from the orthodox; the orthodox do not control the mass media or the press; they are not the representatives of public opinion. And because of their submission to ecclesiastical authority, the fighters for orthodoxy will never be as aggressive as the so-called progressives. If they are reprimanded or disciplined, their bishops run no risk of being attacked by the liberal press and being defamed as reactionary.
This failure of the bishops to make use of their God-given authority is perhaps, in practical consequences, the worst confusion in the Church today. For this failure not only does not arrest spiritual diseases, heresies, and the blatant as well as the insidious (and this is much worse) devastation of the vineyard of the Lord; it even gives free rein to these evils. The failure to use holy authority to protect the holy Faith leads necessarily to the disintegration of the Church.
Here, as with the appearance of all dangers, we have to say, “principiis obsta” (“stop the evil at its source”). The longer one allows an evil to develop, the more difficult it will be to root it out again. This is true for the upbringing of children, for the life of the state, and in a special way for the moral life of the individual. But it is true in a completely new way for the intervention of the ecclesiastical authorities for the good of the faithful. As Plato says, “when evils are far advanced, . . . it is never pleasant to eliminate them.” 7
Nothing is more erroneous than to imagine that many things ought to be allowed to rage and do their worst, and that one ought thus to wait patiently until they subside of their own accord. This theory may sometimes be correct with regard to youths going through puberty, but it is completely false in questions of the bonum commune (the common good). This false theory is especially dangerous when applied to the bonum commune of the holy Church, involving blasphemies in public worship and heresies which, if not condemned, go on poisoning countless souls. Here it is incorrect to apply the parable of the wheat and the tares.
4. By “orthodox” we mean the belief in the unfalsified, official teaching of the holy Church. which represents the authentic, revealed Truth, guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. The expression “orthodox” in no way refers here to membership in the schismatic Eastern Church.
5. By “pluralism” I mean the notion that one can have different opinions and views with regard to defined truths of faith, or that every philosophy has a place in the Church — ultimately an absolute relativism. Of course as long as no definition has been given concerning a pure question of faith, different opinions may also be advocated by orthodox Catholics. Thus, with regard to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, contradictory opinions were held by St. Thomas and Duns Scotus. But after the definition of 1854 this would no longer have been possible. Similarly, as we will see, there are philosophical theses only one of which can be true, but neither of which is in contradiction to the Revelation of Christ. But this kind of pluralism is clearly different from the pluralism advocated by Rahner and others.
6. A shocking example of the activity of the “fifth column” in the Church are the religion books recently introduced in Austria: Glaube Gefragt (“ Faith Questioned”) and Christus Gel ragt (“Christ Questioned”). These books are consciously aimed at the destruction of the Faith in the souls of the young. This is also a crass example of the lethargy of the guardians.
7. Plato, Laws, no. 660.