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Shall We Come to the Point in the Church Where the Faithful Are Legal Schismatics and the Obedient Manifest Heretics? May 26, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, catachesis, different religion, episcopate, Francis, General Catholic, Latin Mass, Liturgy, reading, the struggle for the Church, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.

From Mitre and Crook by Father Bryan Houghton (sadly long out of print), a fictional discussion between the hero of the story, Bishop Edmund Forester of England, who in the book returned to Tradition in 1977, and another fictional bishop who took him to task for going against the plain will of the then-Pope Paul VI and the “new orientation” of the Church after Vatican II.

The argument is framed around the following declaration the critic of good Bishop Forester made to try to prove why Forester was in the wrong:

“There is only one object of the Faith: the Church.  I am baptized into the Church, and it is she who gives me Faith.  On her authority I believe all other doctrines.  She can deal with them as she likes, since she is the only constant.  Christ revealed no doctrines but a praxis: His Kingdom the Church.”

With this, I think Houghton is trying to summarize the conservative Catholic but hostile to Tradition camp – the my Church right or wrong camp.  Logically speaking, there are giant holes in the above, least of all in that it subverts constant Truth to the will of fallen men – men who have been guided for 2000 years by the Holy Spirit, but a guidance which sad experience has shown they can all too easily reject.

Bishop Forester replies at length, portions of which I excerpt below – see if you will follow his train of logic to conclude that we may well be in a time where the faithful are generally at variance to the expressed will of the hierarchy, if not “legal schismatics,” whereas most of the so-called obedient have truck with heresy:

But surely it is evident that such an argument is tautological or a vicious circle? I am to know what God has revealed by the authority of the Church.  And how am I to know that the Church has such authority?  Because the Church says that God has revealed it.  It is patently nonsense.  [This actually is a subtle and complex argument, but, in a nutshell, keeping the principle of non-contradiction and knowing that solemnly defined Dogma can never change, you can safely exclude appeals to authority such as those above when they seek to change what cannot be changed.]

……You said: “Christ revealed no doctrines but a praxis: His Kingdom, His Church.” You thereby concede that there is at any rate one object of Faith logically prior to the Church: the authority of Christ. And once you admit that, allthe rest follows.  Is His authority divine? Is He God Incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity, born of the Virgin Mary, etc?  Indeed, one of those things which follows from your prior faith in the divine authority of Christ is the authority of the Church.  It does not work the other way around: you do not believe that Christ receives His authority from the Church.  The Church is the guardian of God’s revelation but not its source.  She herself is one of the objects of Faith: I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Therein, it seems to me, lies the crux of the present crisis. I mean the crisis between honest Catholics……I am not referring to the heretics who have lost the Faith although the Church no longer excludes them……..Faced with the same crisis, we react in diametrically opposite ways.  Your immediate reaction, along with the overwhelming majority of the institutional Church, is to save the Church and the Faith will have to look after itself.  Mine, along with some laymen [and a handful of priests], is to save the Faith and the Church will have to look after herself. We cannot both be right. Indeed, each day the gulf between us is growing wider.  if we pursue our ways indefinitely we shall come to the point when the faithful are legal schismatics and the obedient factual heretics………[What do you make of that?]

……..At this moment of time it is patently untrue to say that in defending the Church one is automatically defending the Faith and this for two reasons: a) the Faith is ambiguously formulated; b) heretics are no longer excluded from the Church.  The fact is that the Faith is exclusive whereas the Church has become inclusive.  She has changed Our Lord’s lapidary sentence, “He who is not with Me is against Me” into the coward’s whine “He is my friend who bullies me.” [Think how much more boldly error is proclaimed in the highest levels of authority even than it was in the time of Paul VI.  We’re well beyond ambiguity and well into full-throated proclamation of error.]

……The fact is, and we know it, that in our own dioceses it is not we who have defended the Faith; it has been left to pathetic little groups of laity, helped or hindered by a stray priest, to do so.  

It is a very different matter when it comes to enforcing the New Outlook.  Have you ever promoted a priest who has stuck to the Immemorial Mass? Of course not……..What has been your attitude to priests who mumble that Vatican II failed to face the facts and that the post-conciliar legislation has been disastrous; who refuse to be brainwashed by attending compulsory study-days, who jeer at the Bishop’s Collegiality, the National Conference of Priests and the new structures generally; who will not give Communion standing and in the hand; who administer Extreme Unction as of yore; who still say the Breviary, the Rosary and make their meditation, who…….?  Have you reserved key positions in your administration for such men of probity and principle? No more than I have.  We have looked after the Church all right but not after the Faith.

The crowning example is Archbishop Lefebvre.  He has been attacked from all sides, yet nobody has dared impugn his Faith and accuse him of being unorthodox.  In fact, if only he would utter the tiniest, wee little heresy, authority could indulge in charity and all would be forgiven.  The trouble is that the old devil won’t, so there is nothing to forgive.  Thus, he gets suspended and threatened with excommunication on a trumped up charge of disobeying ecclesiastical law.

……..Up to and including the Council, Catholics were bound to believe in all defined doctrines and to obey the commands of the Church’s Magisterium.  Now, apparently, [quoting Paul VI] we are expected to submit to “an outlook.” We must all look in the same direction as the reigning Pontiff: “Company, eyes left!”…….Paul VI is absolutely right – the new look in the Church is due precisely to the substitution of a human outlook for Divine Revelation.  [Paul IV proclaimed that] Vatican II has no less authority than Nicaea and in many respects is more important.”  Exactly.  Nicaea merely defined the Divinity of Christ, whereas Vatican II has given rise to an “orientation,” an “outlook.”  As a matter of fact, Lefebvre is defending the decrees of all Councils, from Nicaea to Vatican II inclusive: he is defending decrees as against “orientations.

————End Quote————-

Well, what do you make of that?  Any thoughts? Do you think we are headed – or already well at – a time when the faithful are at least opposed to much of what the institutional Church does, and where the “Catholics” with ecclesiastical approbation are often practical heretics?  Or you think that’s been the case for 50 years?

Does not this point up the ultimate divide between the loosely defined “conservative” and “traditional” camps?  At least how they define each other, if not themselves?


1. sixupman - May 26, 2017

Are we not already at that point, depending upon which diocese you are in?

2. Tim - May 26, 2017

Short answer: YES

3. Richard Malcolm - May 26, 2017

If the answer is yes, the question which troubles my mind: Are we still the Church if we no longer have a real hierarchy?

Even the Japanese Christians, in their long years of isolation, could rest confident in the knowledge that somewhere in the world, there was still a hierarchical Church which still kept the faith, even if they were not in regular contact with it.

MrT - May 26, 2017

Christ promised the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. The Church existed before Church buildings existed.

Richard Malcolm - May 26, 2017

Yes, that’s true. But when we say “the Church,” we include the hierarchy. If the Catholic Church came formally into existence at the first Pentecost, that included the visible hierarchy of the Apostles.

Whereas what we could be faced with is a (very tiny) remnant Church, which has some buildings here and there, but no hierarchy as such. Perhaps a few bishops, yes, but no longer a functioning Magisterium, or a Pope, for all intents and purposes.

I don’t think Tantum is pushing a sedevacantist line here (I know he is not one), but the situation he is describing is an extraordinarily difficult one, and without precedent in the history of the Church. It’s worth noting that Fr. Houghton (who eventually despaired even of Lefebvre) died quite pessimistic, but steadfast in faith, writing, “Here I am, a priest rejected, unusable even as a curate or convent chaplain, utterly good for nothing.”

MrT - May 27, 2017

If Christ promised something, I believe it. There will be Church and will be a Rock for that Church.

MrT - May 27, 2017

Happy Easter and a round of Whataburgers for everyone. 🙂

skeinster - May 29, 2017

Japan was the example I was thinking of, myself.
At what point would we be reduced to the Protestant definition of a universal spiritual only church?
Because that is the logical end of the process.

4. senrex - May 26, 2017

We are in the era of anti-Church.

5. Camper - May 28, 2017

A council needs to be called that would define Catholicism as whatever it has traditionally always been, not whatever a Pope defines it to be.

Tim - May 29, 2017

And you would trust Francis & company to call and implement it?

Camper - May 29, 2017

Of course not. But you know where I go to Mass, don’t you?

6. FrEdwardus Meikle - May 29, 2017

A very thoughtful reflection, thank you. God Bless and Protect you.

7. Lester - May 30, 2017

Too deep for me, a Lutheran, coming into the Roman Rite. This message while important will make the “average” Catholic roll his/her eyes . Cut to the the chase and present your views in a way that the typical “uneducated” Mass goer can comprehend. Using words and phases that are rarely used/heard cause most to dismiss the entire discussion out of hand.

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