Friday, February 13, 2015

Pope Francis and A Bridge Too Far: Danger of Schism?

Everyone I know loves Pope Francis.  Everyone in my parish loves Pope Francis.  Everyone I work with loves Pope Francis.  Everyone in the barbershop loves Pope Francis—his picture is on the wall.  We all see in him the hope of a renewed and energetic Church. Catholics love him.  Jews love him.  Protestants love him.  Non-believers love him.  He is the best Pope ever.  But I read some of the Katholic Krazy blogs and no one loves Pope Francis.  Everyone hates Pope Francis.  Everyone is convinced that Pope Francis is leading the Church on the path of self-destruction.  This is the worst pontificate ever.  Pope Francis has squandered the prestige of the Papacy.  Pope Francis has lost the respect of the Church.  In the end I realize that we all hang with people who think like we think and value what we value.  Catholicism exists in two parallel universes.
Here is the problem.  It does. 
Those of us “of a certain age” grew up in a Church that was shaped, even defined, by the Council of Trent.  The theology used by Trent was the Aristotelian based Scholasticism developed by Saint Thomas Aquinas and other medieval theologians and passed on into the Renaissance and the Catholic Reformation (aka The Counter-Reformation) of the sixteenth century.  A nineteenth century revival of scholastic thought, often referred to as Neo-Scholasticism, was given the status of official Catholic thought by Leo XIII as it was seen to be the Catholic contrast to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant which was the philosophical basis for so much of the Modernist thought that Leo and his successor, Pius X, saw as undermining Christian orthodoxy. 
In the inter-war period in European thought a new theological movement developed referred to, quite appropriately, as the nouvelle theologie  (the new theology).  It was not, in fact, new at all but a desire to re-appropriate for its time the theology of the Church Fathers (Patristic Theology) much as Neo-Scholasticism had aimed at re-appropriating the thought of Saint Thomas for its time.  Most of those involved in the movement rejected the term nouvelle theologie and preferred the appellation   ressourcement theologie (return to the sources theology, the sources being the Church Fathers).  Among the theologians involved were Henri de Lubac, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, Jean Daniélou, Romano Guardini, Odo Casal and others.  These were the minds that shaped the Second Vatican Council. 
This shift from Neo-Scholasticism to Ressourcement Theologie was a drastic step for the Church to take.  It is not unlike the decision of a nation to move from the Imperial/US Customary System to the Metric System.  There are those who cannot conceive of our Catholic Faith except in Neo-Scholastic concepts and there are those who cannot conceive of our Catholic Faith in what we might call—to avoid a constant return to the French terminology—Neo-Patristic thought.  Lest this seem as an abstraction we should look at some concrete examples. 
In Neo-Scholastic theology the Church is looked at primarily (though not exclusively) as a Hierarchial/Monarchial Institution.  The emphasis is on authority/power and the reference point is Canon Law.  (Canon Law, of course, must be aligned with doctrine so I am not excluding doctrinal orthodoxy as the main reference point but only saying that where the rubber hits the road in this model is: “what does the law say?”) The Monarchial structure of the Institution places the Pope at the head with the bishops receiving their authority from him at the local level.  The Church is One, located in the Person of the Pope and is localized in his delegates, the bishops.  There are Seven Sacraments as defined by the Fourth Lateran Council.  One of these Sacraments, indeed the chief one, is the Holy Eucharist.  The Holy Eucharist is the true Body and true Blood of Jesus Christ made physically present under the appearances of Bread and Wine by the words of the priest at Mass as he repeats the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, or more precisely as Christ pronounces these words through the mouth of the priest saying the Mass, the bread and wine change to become the Body and Blood of Jesus, the same Body that hung on the Cross and the same Blood that flowed from his pierced heart. 
Ok.  No problem with that.  But let’s look at now the Neo-Patristic understanding treats the same mysteries.  The Church is primarily the Risen Body of Christ, comprised of the faithful who have been baptized into death with Christ and raised in baptism to newness of life.  As such, the Church itself is the fundamental Sacrament, the Visible Reality of the Invisible Christ who is head of the Body.  The seven sacraments flow from this fundamental Sacrament even as the Church takes its sacramental nature from Christ who is the Visible Manifestation of the Invisible God and thus the Sacrament of God even as the Church is the Sacrament of Christ.  The Holy Eucharist is the Sacramental Presence of Christ that draws the many members of this One Body (The Church) into One even as the myriad of grains become, when mixed with water (think Baptism) one Bread and how the many grapes become the one Wine.  This Church does have an institutional manifestation but it is centered primarily in the local Church gathered around its Bishop who receives his power and authority from Christ whose Symbol (think theologically here, means sacrament) he is.  The Churches are gathered into One around the Bishop and Apostolic Church of Rome whose first bishops were the Apostles Peter and Paul.  The Pope, as successor to these Apostles at Rome, is the guarantor and focus of the unity of the Churches. 
We have two very different languages.  We have two very different—though not inherently contradictory—theologies.  Granted the Neo-Scholastic formulation is simpler but the Neo-patristic is more dense in meaning.  (In theology dense in meaning is good because it preserves the mysterium, the ineffableness of the Reality.) 
The problem is the same problem we would have if we joined the rest of the world in the Metric System.  There are people who will only think in quarts and pounds and feet.  They cannot make the switch.  Of course, just like Nona spoke only Italian and Mama spoke both Italian and English, and Luigi here speaks only English despite his perfectly good Italian name—it is so disappointing that Americans insist on being monophones—one would expect that my generation of Catholics would cling to the Neo-Scholastic model, the next generation would be comfortable with the ambiguities, and the third generation would comprehend what the Second Vatican Council was envisioning.  Alas, that is not happening because a second Church has sprung up alongside the Catholic Church of Vatican II that rejects the Council.  It provides a refuge from the Neo-Patristic theology of Vatican II and clings to the Neo-Scholasticism of the 19th and early 20th centuries.   It is not a big Church.  It may be about 3% of active Catholics in the United States with similar percentages in Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium and Germany.  France might be 5-7 % of Mass attending Catholics but only because Mass attendance is so poor there.  There are minuscule representations of it Latin America, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.  It is virtually unknown in sub-Sahara Africa or most of Asia as the mission work there has introduced mainline Catholicism.  The strongest representation of this Neo-Scholastic alter-Church would be the Lefebvrist movement (The Society of Saint Pius X)  which, while its leaders are no longer excommunicate is still in formal schism.  The various Sede-Vacantist groups, while not as theologically sophisticate as the SSPX, would fall in this category as well.  But there are a considerable number of groups still within the Church that tacitly—and some openly—reject all or some of the Conciliar teaching.
I won’t name them—they are easy enough to identify—but earmarks of such individuals or groups would be
1.     Refusal under any or most circumstances to participate in the Mass, Sacraments, and Rites of the Church in the “Ordinary Form.” 
2.     Rejection of the Post-Conciliar Rites and not only the Mass but especially an insistence that Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, and funerals be performed according to the pre-conciliar ritual.  Some extremists would also insist that Holy Orders be administered according to the pre-conciliar rites. 
3.     An insistence that children be catechized according to the pre-conciliar catechism (in the United States, the Baltimore Catechism).
4.     A conviction that the (traditional) Catholic Church is the One True Church founded by Jesus Christ and is the exclusive channel of Christ’s grace outside of which salvation is impossible or, at the very least, unlikely. 
5.     A conviction that the Church and “the world” are at enmity and that the Catholic minimize contact with the larger culture; collaboration of the Church for some supposed “common good” with those outside of the Church, either secular or believing but non-Catholic being against the mission of the Church.
6.     A conviction that the Church, as the Kingdom of Christ, “is not of this world” and therefore has no business in politics, economics, or other social spheres. 
There are, I suppose other markers and it is not necessary that an individual subscribe to each and to all of these markers to adhere to a pre-conciliar Catholicism.  During the years immediately after Vatican II and the final years of Paul VI it looked as if some schism might result in the tension between the two differing theologies at work in Catholicism.  Indeed, under the leadership of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre such a schism did take place.  Various groups, even more extreme (and far less theologically grounded), broke with the Church and moved into sede-vacantism claiming that Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and their successors had fallen into heresy and were not valid popes.  Under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the papacy moved back a bit from the brink and the danger of schism became less acute.  Pope Francis has steered away from direction his two immediate predecessors had led the Church, however, and gone more in the direction of the Council and Paul VI.  Consequently the heat has been turned up and the pot is roiling.  Some voices in the Church are warning that any change in policy about the eligibility for the sacraments on the part of the divorced and remarried or those in “irregular unions” (read same-sex marriage) is a bridge too far and will lead to break. 
I think we got out this far on the limb because of some very unwise leadership of the Church in the decades following the Council.  The attempts to appease those who would not accept the Council and its changes, and especially those who rejected the liturgical changes of the Council, permitted this secondary, shall we call it “Extraordinary” Church to grow up alongside the primary “Ordinary” Church.  The dissent from the Council was allowed to coalesce and form a Church within the Church.  When that secondary Church sees something as “a bridge too far” the danger will be a formal split.  That could be perceived as Francis’ legacy, but in fact it will be the inheritance of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  


  1. BRAVO...truer words were never written, JP2 and BXVI did this to our Church...they have divided one the lungs in half.....May good pope St John XXIII intercede for us!

  2. I have always been struck by the parallels between the so-called Modernist crisis of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The sainted pope of the time, Pius X, by this analogy corresponds to the canonized John Paul II; the enforcer Cardinal Merry del Val to Cardinal Ratzinger; the Oath against Modernism to the presently mandated Oath of Fidelity along with the "mandatum" required of theologians teaching in Catholic schools; the Index of Forbidden Books and the delations of professors to the Holy Office to the many theologians censored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, etc. The Second Vatican Council, as you described it, was essentially an attempt to consolidate and move beyond this "crisis" -- something undertaken initially (and tentatively) by Pius XII. John XXIII signaled his intention to reverse course when, early in his pontificate, he telephoned the censured Yves Congar to tell him personally that his silencing had come to an end. Congar, of course, along with most of the resourcement theologians were the movers and shakers at Vatican II who served as the bishops' periti. The central difficulty with the Council, in my opinion, is not about the rupture-continuity polemic but the fact that the Council, in attempting to resolve the Modernist crisis was too late. The Church was by then in the throes of a Postmodernist Crisis. Without going into too much detail, this crisis finds the church at a loss in dealing with the massive epochal shifts in global culture, one of whose hallmarks is the collapse of authority and consequent fragmentation of various societies -- including and perhaps especially the formerly monolithic Catholic Church. Ironically, the fragmentation of the church you refer to as the split between Ordinary and Extraordinary sectors is itself a reflection of this postmodernist situation in which we find ourselves. Pope Francis is, moreover, by this read our first postmodern pope, but it will take another ecumenical council perhaps at mid-century to respond more effectively to the "signs of the times."

    On two other items, if you will permit: first, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist influenced by Thomistic philosophy is not a physicalist understanding of the real presence, but a metaphysical one. Secondly, the theological ferment prior to the Council was not only neo-patristic. It was also neo-Thomist as exemplified by the great Karl Rahner.

    1. I think you have made some excellent points that I need to consider further. Your point about the challenge of post-modernism to the Church in particular seems to be spot-on. i think I am going to be rather busy this weekend pondering your remarks and realigning some of my own ideas.

  3. "A conviction that the Church, as the Kingdom of Christ, 'is not of this world' and therefore has no business in politics, economics, or other social spheres."

    I feel as if something must have been lost in translation here...

    And a thousand other citations like it.

    1. no, nothing is lost in translation here. The Remnant, as you know, represents the views of many of those who reject the Second Vatican Council and its teaching and is committed to the neo-scholastic theological models of which I wrote. Most of those who are of this persuasion reject the social magisterium of the Church--Rerurm Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, Mater et Magistra, Popolorum Progressio, Gaudium et Spes, etc. and want the Church to stay out of questions such as income inequality, immigration reform, ecological responsibility etc. claiming that such topics are outside the Church's mission. Michael Davies, on the other hand, like Michael Voris and some other kooks on the extremist end of the anti-Vatican II spectrum is advocating a Christian Monarchism that is also drawn from the writings of Saint Thomas and which had some validity for his day (13th century) in which the State is subject to the authority of the Church and under a Catholic Monarch who represents Christ in the political order even as the Pope is his vicar in the spiritual order. The Catholic Church was committed to the ideal of Christian Monarchy up until the pontificate of Leo XIII and his permission for French Catholics to participate actively in the Third French Republic. However it was only at Vatican II with Dignitatis Humanae that the Catholic Church abandoned the claim that the the State should be subject to the Church and that there should be the free practice of religion for all subjects of the state regardless of belief or lack thereof. While Archbishop Lefebvre was not in favor of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II what his main objection to the Council was the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae, In the system that Michael Davies supported the Civil Power--an absolute monarchy--and not the Christian citizen would be responsible for the maintenance of a just and responsible social order, the Church and the faithful could concentrate on spiritual things dealing with eternity. Unfortunately for his thesis, Louis IX died and his successors didn't do all that well in Christian governance. In the late 19th and throughout the 20th century the Catholic Church gradually came to peace about the emergence of democratic governments and since Leo XIII has concerned itself with the civic responsibilities of citizens--not monarchs--to insure a just and peaceful society with Christians playing their role as citizens to shape a society according to Christian values. It may not work but it can't be any worse than absolutism, even Catholic absolutism.

  4. There's a lot to think about here - far more than I want to key in on my iPad so as to comment - but the one thing that I want to add is that Pope Francis has shown diplomatic and pragmatic skills in his actions. There may be a schism, but it be because he hasn't tried to avoid it.

  5. This is certainly the most clear and cogent summary of the current division in the Church that I have read - and all in a few hundred words! Thanks for sharing it. It has helped me organize my thoughts on the Church and given me more to think about.