Sermon – Ash Wednesday 2013
Sermon - Ash Wednesday 2013 posted in on February 13, 2013
Sermon for Ash Wednesday at St. Athanasius chapel in Vienna, VA. Given on February 13, 2013.
Sermon for Ash Wednesday at St. Athanasius chapel in Vienna, VA. Given on February 13, 2013.
It was promised that in the last of this series of “Eleison Comments” articles inspired by Dr Wolfgang Schüler’s book on “Benedict XVI and the Church’s View of Itself” its main lesson would be applied to the present situation of the Society of St Pius X. The application has already been suggested: if one can only be Catholic by belonging to the living organism of the Catholic Church, then one will become Conciliar by belonging to the organism of the Conciliar Church.
Benedict XVI holds that Catholic pieces cut off from the Catholic Church still belong to the Church of Christ. Dr Schüler, following Our Lord (Jn. XV, 1–7), argues on the contrary that the Church being a living organism, then branches cut off it wither and die, because it is the plant that gives them its life. It follows that if the SSPX is grafted onto the Conciliar plant which is wholly diseased with the Vatican II religion of man, then the Conciliar plant will transmit its disease to the SSPX. Here are three quotes of Archbishop which express this reality:—
In 1984, well before the Episcopal consecrations of 1988, he condemned in advance the illusion that the SSPX, by “getting back inside the Church would be able to fight, to do this, to do that.” He replied, “That is absolutely untrue. You don’t get back inside a structure, putting yourself beneath its superiors, and expect that once inside you are going to turn everything upside down. The reality is that they have everything they need to strangle us. They have all the authority.”
In 1988, just before the consecrations, he said, “Rome wants everything to go Vatican II, while they leave us a little bit of Tradition. ( . . .) They are not changing their position. We cannot put ourselves in the hands of those people. We would be fooling ourselves. We do not mean to let ourselves be eaten up. ( . . .) Little by little Tradition would be compromised.”
In 1989, soon after the consecrations, he answered the objection that the SSPX would have done more good for the Church by staying inside than by getting itself put outside. He replied,”What Church are we talking about? If you mean the Conciliar Church, then we who have struggled against the Council for 40 years because we want the Catholic Church, we would have to re-enter this Conciliar Church in order, supposedly, to make it Catholic. That is a complete illusion. It is not the subjects that make the superiors, it is the superiors that make the subjects. Amidst the whole Roman Curia, amidst all the world’s bishops who are progressives, I would have been completely swamped. I would have been able to do nothing.”
In conclusion, if by any practical agreement or canonical regularization the SSPX were to put itself under the Conciliar authorities of the Church that are still firmly attached to the ideas of Vatican II, as the Doctrinal Discussions of 2009–2011 amply proved, then its defence of the true Faith would be “strangled, eaten up, swamped.” Grafted into the living Conciliar whole, it could not help receiving from it the diseased Conciliar life. God forbid!
Because of the need to break a long argument into several pieces, readers may have lost the thread of the several EC’s on “Benedict’s Ecumenism.” Let us sum up the argument so far:—
EC 241 established a few basics: the Catholic Church is an organic whole, amongst the beliefs of which if anyone picks and chooses, he is a “chooser,” or heretic. Moreover, if he takes with him a Catholic belief outside the Church, it will not remain the same, just as if oxygen is taken out of water by electrolysis, it ceases to be part of a liquid and turns into a gas. Conciliar ecumenism supposes that there are beliefs which non-Catholics share with Catholics, but in fact even “I believe in God” is liable to be quite different when it is incorporated in a Protestant or in a Catholic system of belief, or creed.
EC 247 used another comparison to illustrate how parts of the Catholic whole do not remain the same when they are taken out of that whole. Gold coins may remain identical gold coins when they are taken out of a heap of coins, but a branch cut off a living tree becomes something quite different, dead wood. The Church is more like the tree than like the coins, because Our Lord compared his Church to a vine-plant, in fact he said that any branch cut off it is thrown into the fire and burnt (Jn. XV, 6 – interestingly, no living branch is so fruitful as the vine-branch, no dead wood is so useless as vine-wood). So parts cut off from the Catholic Church do not remain Catholic, as ecumenism pretends.
EC 249 would show how Vatican II documents promote these false ideas of ecumenism, but EC 248 had to issue a preliminary warning that those documents are notorious for their ambiguity, So it gave the example of how Dei Verbum (#8) opened the door to the modernists’ false notion of “living Tradition” Then EC 249 presented three Council texts, crucial for the modernists’ ecumenism: Lumen Gentium #8, suggesting that Christ’s “true” Church reaches beyond the “narrow” Catholic Church, and Unitatis Redintegratio (#3), suggesting firstly that the Church is built up of “elements” or parts that can be found the same inside or outside the Catholic Church (like coins in or out of a heap), and secondly, that these elements can therefore serve to save souls inside or outside the Catholic Church.
EC 251 came at last to the ecumenism of Benedict XVI in particular. Quotes of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger given by Dr. Schüler in his book Benedict XVI and the Church’s View of Itself,” showed how the young theologian in the 1960’s thought entirely along the lines of golden coins in or out of the heap. Later quotes indeed showed that the older Cardinal and Pope has continually tried to keep his balance between the Church as a heap of coins and the Church as an organic whole, but as Dr. Schüler argues, this very balancing act presupposes that half of him still believes in the Church as a heap of coins.
Unless readers demand textual quotes of Joseph Ratzinger to prove that these are not being twisted or taken out of context, the last EC in this series will conclude with an application of its lessons to the situation of Archbishop Lefebvre’s Society of St Pius X. On the one hand the SSPX is part of the true Catholic whole, “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.” On the other hand it had better avoid making itself part of the diseased Conciliar whole. As a healthy branch grafted onto the unhealthy Conciliar plant, it would necessarily catch the Conciliar disease. No way can a mere branch heal that disease.
The Catholic Church has always taught that it is Jesus Christ’s one and only true Church, so that even if the mass of believers leave it, as will happen at the end of the world (cf. Lk.XVIII, 8), still it will not have lost its unity. Thus St Cyprian said that the unity of the Church arises from a divine foundation knit together by heavenly sacraments, and it “cannot be torn asunder by the force of contrary wills.” Souls may fall away or tear themselves away, but the Church they leave behind remains one. On this view “Church unity” can only mean souls coming back one by one into the one true Church.
That is not Vatican II’s view of the Church. By saying (Lumen Gentium #8) that Christ’s Church “subsists in” the Catholic Church, the Council opened the door wide to distinguishing between the two, and to pretending that Christ’s “true” Church is broader than the “narrow” Catholic Church. On this view there are pieces of Christ’s true Church scattered outside the Catholic Church, whereupon “Church unity” means putting these pieces together again without individuals having to convert one by one. This was certainly the view of the brilliant young Council theologian, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, as is shown by astonishing words of his from soon after the Council, quoted with references in Dr. Schüler’s Benedict XVI and the Church’s View of Itself, pp. 17–19. A brief summary highlights their drift:—
Wherever there is Bishop, Table and Word of God, there is “church.” This true broad Christian communion has been gravely narrowed down over the centuries by Roman centralization, which drove the Protestants to break with Rome. The doctrinal differences should have been lived with. So return-to-the-fold ecumenism needs to be replaced with co-existence ecumenism. Churches must replace Church. Catholics must open up. Conversion will be only for the individual who wishes. Protestant errors are, virtually, Protestants’ rights.
But where is the Faith in all this talk of Church and churches? Or doctrine? Apparently nowhere. And what kind of unity can exist between souls that have beliefs as contradictory as those of Catholics (old-fashioned) and Protestants? It can only be a quite different unity from that of the pre-conciliar Church, and therefore quite a different Church. Indeed young Fr. Ratzinger was working towards the Newchurch. However, the Newchurch’s unity became a problem. Firstly, the unity of the Church is a dogma. And secondly, as Cardinal and Pope, Joseph Ratzinger found himself having to defend Newchurch unity against even wilder Revolutionaries than himself (e.g. Fr. Leonard Boff), for whom the Newchurch “subsists” all over the place, in many different pieces.
So Schüler quotes the Cardinal arguing that the Church of Christ has its complete realization in the Catholic Church, but not so as to exclude its incomplete realization elsewhere (but then how is it one?). Similarly the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church is substantial but not exclusive (but how can identity be anything other than exclusive?) Again, the complete being of Christ’s Church is in the Catholic Church, but it also has incomplete being elsewhere (but how can a being be complete if part of it is elsewhere?). And so on.
In brief, Benedict XVI’s Newchurch includes elements both Catholic and non-Catholic. But even partly non-Catholic is not Catholic as a whole. Therefore Benedict’s ecumenical Newchurch is, as such, not the Catholic Church.
In these “Comments” two weeks ago was the promise to look at three quotes from Vatican II which have done much to dissolve the Church of Jesus Christ, which is the Catholic Church. And one week ago was the warning that the texts of Vatican II are ambiguous, so that they can always be made to look as though there is nothing wrong with them. But only one of their two possible meanings is innocent. The other meaning is deadly for the Catholic Church, as the last forty years have proved.
The first quote comes from Lumen Gentium #8. Here it is: “The one Church of Christ . . .constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by Peter and the bishops in communion with him.” Now what does that word “subsists” mean here? The ambiguity is that it can mean either that Christ’s Church exists mainly and only in the Roman Catholic Church, which is what the Church always taught up to Vatican II, or it can mean that Christ’s Church exists mainly but not only in the Catholic Church, in which case Christ’s Church also exists partly outside the Catholic Church. This opens the door to the Conciliar ecumenism which breaks down the Catholic Church’s dogmatic claim to be the exclusive ark of salvation: “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.”
The problem here is that it is also a dogma that the Church is one. At every Sunday Mass we hear or sing that we believe in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Then how can Christ’s Church be divided amongst several more or less churchlike communities? If the Church is one, it cannot be several. If it is several, it cannot be one. In his book on Benedict XVI and How the Church Views Itself, Dr. Wolfgang Schüler gives a series of quotes of Joseph Ratzinger to show how as a theologian he enthusiastically promoted the breaking down of the Catholic Church’s exclusivity, but as a Cardinal and Pope he has struggled to maintain also the Church’s oneness.
The second quote comes from Unitatis Redintegratio #3: “Very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.” Now the obvious meaning of these words is that as gold coins build up a heap but can also be found as gold coins outside the heap, so Church elements listed by the Council such as “faith, hope, charity and other gifts of the Holy Spirit” can be recognized existing as such outside the Catholic Church. But Our Lord said that branches cut off his vine wither and die (Jn. XV, 6). What is his vine if not his Church?
The third quote draws the logical conclusion, just a little further in the same document (U.R.#3):” The churches and communities separated (from the Catholic Church) have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation . . .” But as Archbishop Lefebvre said: “No community insofar as it is separated from the Catholic Church can enjoy the support of the Holy Ghost since its separation means resistance to the Holy Ghost. He can work directly only on souls, he can use directly only means, that show no sign of separation.”
Vatican II essentially misunderstood the Church. Let us next see with the help of Dr Schüler how Benedict XVI has applied both brake and accelerator to that misunderstanding.
As in any dispute involving the dreadful ambiguities of Vatican II, it might take long and scholarly articles to prove, or attempt to disprove, what Dr Wolfgang Schüler puts forward in his book of 2008 on “Benedict XVI and How the Church views Itself.” However, his main line of argument is clear enough, and it is well worth presenting to readers of “Eleison Comments,” to help them to see clear amidst much confusion. In this respect, comparisons have their limits, but they do help.
A whole can be composed of parts in two different ways, like a living tree, or like a pile of coins. Either the whole is primary and the parts are secondary, as with a tree, or the parts are primary and the whole is secondary, as with a pile of coins. The tree as a whole is primary because parts like branches may be cut off, but the tree continues to live its life as a tree and grows new branches, while the branches cut off lose their life and become something quite different, like a log or a chair. On the contrary each coin separated from its pile of coins remains exactly what it was in the pile, and if only enough coins are taken from the pile, it is the pile that perishes.
Now, is the Catholic Church, taken as a whole, more like the tree or the pile of coins? The Catholic Church is that special society of human beings who are united in that society by three things: the Faith, the sacraments and the hierarchy. To all three life is given by God himself. Faith is a supernatural virtue of the mind which God alone can give. The sacraments use material elements like water and oil, but what makes them sacraments is the supernatural grace they carry, that can only come from God. Likewise the hierarchy consists of natural human beings, but if these had no guidance from God, they could never succeed by themselves in leading souls towards Heaven.
Therefore the Catholic Church is much more like a living tree than like a pile of coins, even golden coins. For just as every living organism has within it a principle of life that gives it its existence and unity, so the Catholic Church has within it primarily God himself, secondarily his hierarchy, giving to it existence and unity. When what was a part of the Church cuts itself off from the hierarchy by schism, or from the Faith by heresy, it ceases to be Catholic and becomes something else, like the schismatic Orthodox or heretical Protestants. True, Orthodox believers may have kept valid sacraments, but since they are no longer united with Christ’s Vicar in Rome, nobody in his right mind calls them Catholic.
But now comes Vatican II. It changed the view of the Church, as it were, from that of a living tree or vine-plant (Our Lord’s own comparison: Jn. XV, 1–6), to that of a pile of golden coins. From the desire to open the Church to the modern world, the Conciliar churchmen began by blurring the frontiers of the Church (L.G.8). That enabled them to pretend that there are elements of the Church outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church (U.R.3), like gold coins separated from the heap. And since a gold coin remains a gold coin, then they could further pretend (U.R.3) that what were elements of salvation inside the Catholic Church remain such outside also. From which the natural conclusion drawn by countless souls is that I no longer need to be a Catholic in order to get to Heaven. This is the disaster of Conciliar ecumenism.
We must present these texts of Vatican II in a little more detail before we pass on to Pope Benedict’s efforts to combine the ecumenism which divides the Church with the Catholic doctrine that unifies it.