Monday, July 18, 2011


Since Benedict has become Pope, we have seen two of the three "conditions" for the reconciliation/regularization of the SSPX met; namely, the liberation of the Old Rite such that it can be used by all priests without special permission, and the lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX bishops. What remains is to sort out the "doctrinal" questions which both sides seem to have with the other. I hope this occurs sooner rather than later.

Vox Nova had a post that I commented on a while back that posited the absurd (though there is a tiny chance it was tongue-in-cheek) theory that the Pope lifted the excommunications not to actually reconcile the SSPX, but to expose their radicalism, to"marginalize" them by taking away the excommunications as a point of contention they could "hide behind" by portraying the schism as "canonical rather than theological."

The insinuation here, of course, is that the SSPX is, in fact, in some sort of "theological schism" (which can ultimately only mean heresy), and this is absurd because the SSPX simply holds the positions mainstream in the Church up until the 20th-century. The Vox Nova post mentions "teachings" on ecumenism and religious liberty, but the implication of holding these positions to be "teachings" in the sense of that the Church was in heresy until the 20th-century or that Vatican II actually somehow "changed" or introduced new doctrine.

Of course, as I've discussed before, the truth is that neither "answer" to those "questions" is dogmatic. Vatican II's position on religious liberty is, fundamentally, a pastoral stance, a prudential diplomatic decision about how the institutional Church currently chooses to deal with other religions in the "political" sphere. Then again, so was the "old" more fortress-mentality outlook. Except for a few principles, like that belief in itself cannot be coerced (not "should not," mind you, but metaphysically cannot be) and that error in itself has no rights...I'm pretty sure this can only be a question of application of principles to contingent historical situations, not of principles in themselves.

Though the decisions of the Church can "narrow down" dogma where, previously, two opinions were both tolerated (I think of, for example, the Immaculate Conception), by solemnly defining that one or the other position is, in fact, in the deposit of faith...a position officially taught at the highest levels can never be reversed like this. At most, they can say that it was merely a prudential question, but the "older" opinion at that point must always remain considered at least tolerable, not positive heresy.

I think we may see the solution to the "doctrinal" discussions between the SSPX and the CDF based on this principle that there may not be one Revealed answer to all problems or questions, that some allow for multiple interpretations or tolerated theories to explain their application. Sometimes, it turns out, on questions where the magisterium has never taken an official stance (I think again, for example, of the disputes on grace and free will)...that one side may, someday, be determined to be explicit or at least implicit in the deposit of faith (and a previously tolerated opinion no longer admitted).

In other cases, though, it seems clear that two interpretations are both compatible with the deposit of faith, not merely due to a lack of theological clarity (that might someday be clarified) but simply a lack of data in Revelation itself (most clearly exampled, I'd think, when the magisterium itself has favored both interpretations at various points in history).

The case that comes to mind for me is how Cardinal Ratzinger dealt with certain so-called "Feeneyite" groups when he was head of the CDF regarding their interpretation of the doctrine "extra eccelsiam nulla salus" (outside the Church there is no salvation).

I'm not sure this exact formulation (phrased negatively) was ever promulgated by any Pope or Council, but (formulated positively) it was (and is) certainly formally taught that water baptism (and full communion with the Church and its Supreme Pontiff) is a necessity of means (and not merely precept) for salvation.

This has long troubled Catholics, and rightfully so. Even Trent, in its formulation of the dogma in several places, is sure to say something like "without baptism, or the desire for it" salvation is not possible. Some are inclined to see in this formulation an explicit promulgation of the teaching of "baptism of desire." I am less inclined, as there are at least two ways Trent can be read that don't imply this. The first is the fact that in framing an anathema, excluding something from condemnation is not necessarily the same as saying it is true. Saying, "If anyone says baptism, or [at least] the desire thereof, is not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema" is not the same as saying that desire for sure can effect salvation, merely that saying it might is not condemned.

Further, I've seen the interpretation that "or" (in this case, the Latin form "aut") means simply "or" and not "or else." If one says, "You cannot play baseball missing either a bat or a ball" you do not mean "without a bat or else a ball" as if the ball can substitute for the bat; rather, the point is that you cannot be missing one or the other, just as in baptism you cannot be missing either water or the spirit.

Nevertheless, though Trent is inconclusive, dogmatically speaking, on this question, it has certainly spawned a lot of speculative theology. It is a dogmatic principle, of course, that God's hands are not bound by the Sacraments in any strict sense, and theologians have long theorized about baptism of desire and of blood (the Holy Innocents have long been taken as an example of the latter, though as circumcized Jewish boys living during the Old Dispensation...I don't really think it would, in fact, apply). Later, around the 19th-century, complicated theories of "invincible ignorance" and "implicit desire" were invoked as means by which (perhaps) men of good will could be saved outside water baptism.

Of course, none of this touched on unbaptized infants, as even implicit desire was taught to involve a positive act of good will (and, thus, the use of reason). Even more "out there" theories of God enlightening the infant at the last moment to give him the choice to choose, or even somehow taking "parental desire" into account, began to appear.

In reaction against this inelegant cluttering of the theological playing field on this question (and it is inelegant and cluttered), followers of Fr. Leonard Feeney began teaching a simple rigorist interpretation of the question. They began promoting the idea that the dogma must be taken at face-value, that Revelation positively excludes the salvation of any but the water baptized, and that any of these other, less rigorist, interpretations were heresy. They were condemned by the Vatican.

However, there is some confusion, even now, about why. They were not condemned for rejection baptism of desire or the idea that God saves people outside water baptism. Rather, the reason for their condemnation was their assertion that such a position was itself dogmatic, that those who did accept baptism of desire or hope for salvation of others were heretics.

A subtle distinction, perhaps, but an important one. When Cardinal Ratzinger reconciled several Feeneyite groups to the Church as head of the CDF, the approach he took is instructive. He did not require them to accept the salvation of the non-water-baptized as a dogma, and they were allowed to continue personally holding that God didn't save any outside it. But they had to agree that their rigorist interpretation, while indeed tolerable, was not the only one tolerable. That while Revelation didn't positively include the salvation of any but the water-baptized, it also didn't positively exclude it either.

This, I think, is very elegant and gives the true sense of the deposit of faith on the question, I think; that water baptism is the only publicly revealed means of salvation, but that God's hands are not bound by the only means he has given us, and so we may hope (but not presume!) the salvation of others.

This also tidies up the theology quite a bit. Rather than trying to make Revelation say something it doesn't through looking for loopholes (like baptism of desire, blood, invincible ignorance, etc) it both allows a pretty much face-value reading of the dogma while also allowing hope that doesn't require speculation on specific means. In fact, it seems to me both superfluous and almost presumptuous to speculate on additional means when God obviously didn't publicly reveal them to us for a reason. His hands aren't tied, revealing only one means to us doesn't bind Him to not use other means (or no means at all!) so such speculation seems to be prying into business that is between Him and the individual.

And this seems to be the approach the Church has taken in its verbiage since, to simply distinguish between what has been revealed as guaranteeing a title to salvation according to God's promise, and what may be hoped for outside this. Between justice and mercy basically, the external and internal forum. For example, in the recent document on the salvation of unbaptized infants. The Church has always taught (and still teaches) that those who die with original sin on their souls, but not mortal sin, such as infants or good pagans, would go to a state lacking the beatific vision, but of at least perfect natural happiness (ie, Limbo). However, the question has boiled down to whether everyone who dies without water baptism really dies with original sin, or whether God gives some of them sanctifying grace at the last minute by other means. This is the source of all that inelegant speculation.

However, by making the distinction between what may be presumed by revelation, and what may be hoped for outside it, there is no longer any need to identify any particular means of salvation (and certainly no reason to imagine it has to involve a positive act of the will on the part of the person in question, anymore than infant baptism does) and so, in some sense, the question becomes whether we must believe God lets anyone die with original sin remaining who does not also have personal mortal sin.

The recent limbo document expresses this distinction between what Revelation contains and what it doesn't very elegantly by concluding,
"Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved and enjoy the Beatific Vision. We emphasise that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us (cf. Jn 16:12)."

It is this distinction that allows me to consider myself paradoxically both a "closet [soft] universalist" and a "Feeneyite" of sorts. I fully believe that water baptism is the only means of salvation, that there is no salvation outside the Church. But I take the dogma to be relative to the contents of the deposit of faith itself: water baptism is the only revealed means of salvation, there is no known salvation outside the Church.

I do not believe the deposit of faith speaks to what is beyond public revelation one way or another; I don't believe that the fact that water baptism is the only means we can find in the Deposit means that God won't use any other (unrevealed) means, but I also don't take it to mean that this is guaranteed either with the certainty of faith. I take it to mean we simply don't know, and so can hope after-the-fact (but not presume before; and so still, in our ignorance, must baptize just as urgently!) But I would also fully recognize the right of those (like the reconciled Feeneyites) to not hope (though why anyone would not want to hope where hope is allowed, I don't totally understand), to take God's silence on the matter as an indication that no one is saved beyond what he has explicitly revealed (as long as they recognize that this rigorist interpretation is not required by the data of Revelation and that my hope for the salvation of all is tolerable too).

Anyway, to bring this back to the starting point of this post, I am convinced that it is this sort of distinction that is needed to be clarified (this time, on the question of religious liberty, etc) to reconcile things with the SSPX and also to solve a lot of confusion in the Church over what some people perceive as a change (happily in the case of liberals, disturbingly in the case of trads) of teaching on this matter. It must be simply clarified that this is a prudential question, that public revelation doesn't contain any particular "political" answers on this (or other) questions and, while laying out what principles are essential and dogmatic, they should clarify that the SSPX's positions (being the "mainstream" position in the Church for hundreds of years) are completely tolerable, but that the new approach is also allowed by what the deposit of faith does contain. That like, with the question of salvation beyond water baptism...neither interpretation, more rigorist or more lenient, is dogmatic.

I think such clarity about the boundaries of intellectual freedom and diversity in the Church (and identifying them as separate from simply the current party-line) on such questions will help everyone to avoid extremes or fundamentalism, and be good for the whole Church, for "in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."


Anonymous said...

A thought-provoking post. This is the first article that I have read on this blog, and I don't have leisure now to read further, but hope to later. I would just like to comment on one thing. I don't know what pope Benedict had in mind when fulfilling two of the conditions for the reconciliation of the SSPX, but I do think that it has had the effect of dividing the traditionalist movement.

I use an anecdote, that relates very nicely to the subject of your post. Attending an SSPX mass on the continent earlier this year, I heard a sermon on the beatific vision, in which the priest openly criticised the teaching of the present sovereign pontiff on the eternal state of unbaptised infants. Indeed he used this teaching of BXVI, in contradiction with tradition, as a reason why the SSPX should remain in the 'ark of tradition' and not enter the conciliar church. This mass was actually celebrated on a boot, so it contained a very nice reference to the immediate congregation. He then recounted the need for money to purchase a property.

At least for this preacher, nothing in recent history has softened his attitude to the post-conciliar authorities. In fact, I would suggest, it has probably hardened it. Seeing that others' opinions have been softened, then there has been a real sense in which recent events have divided the traditionalist movement.

Who Am I said...

@Anonymous: That is PRECISELY what I've been saying all along. Traditionalism as a movement defines itself against what ? The Second Vatican Council ? The NOM ? Cultural Diversity ? What exactly IS Traditionalism ?

When people are capable of defining THAT, THEN and ONLY THEN will anything of value TRULY be accomplished. I still say that the FUTURE of Traditionalism in The West is a REINTRODUCTION of the once limited Rites of The West. We NEED that level of Liturgical and Cultural diversity, not Traditionalist hegemony and alienation.

A Sinner said...

I have no doubt, Anonymous, that certain traditionalists have been radicalized and that (if a large rump of the SSPX is reconciled) those radicals will be marginalized and (probably) go sedevacantist soon enough.

I wouldn't speak of "dividing the traditionalist movement" though, as if it used to be a monolith and we need to stick together because they're trying to "divide and conquer" us. Frankly, I'd argue that MOST traditionalists have always been of the non-schismatic sort, or only reluctantly associated with irregular groups, and that most of us are quite glad that the strident radical voices are no longer being taken as representative of us.

These, however, are the fundamentalists I'm talking about. This SSPX priest criticized the Pope's teaching on unbaptized infants, but his teaching is actually just that there is no teaching!!! The document itself says that we have no sure knowledge, merely hope.

The SSPX can continue to believe that unbaptized infants go to limbo, Revelation certainly doesn't exclude that possibility, in fact it seems to be the "default" assuming no unrevealed actions by God (though, why should we assume that?) But it doesn't exclude hope either.

The Vatican should admit that the more rigorist positions are tolerable. And that should be enough. No one should expect the Vatican itself to dogmatize the more rigorist interpretations, however, that would be untraditional too.

Who Am I said...

"I wouldn't speak of "dividing the traditionalist movement" though, as if it used to be a monolith and we need to stick together because they're trying to "divide and conquer" us. Frankly, I'd argue that MOST traditionalists have always been of the non-schismatic sort, or only reluctantly associated with irregular groups, and that most of us are quite glad that the strident radical voices are no longer being taken as representative of us."

Isn't the use of "us" and "we" contradicting the notion of
The Traditionalist Roman Rite Movement not being monolithic in nature ? At its core Traditionalism as a movement in The Roman Rite IS monolithic. Namely in that most if not ALL Traditionalists within The Roman Rite have the SAME goal in mind. The goal being the restoration of The Roman Rite to its former glory. The means taken to achieve that end are what divide us. However as a political block, both pro Roman liturgical restorationists (Perhaps that would be the more fitting title ? (Then again, that isn't the SOLE aim of EVERY Traditionalist.)) and its detractors utilize the term for a myriad of factions under that umbrella term, ALL geared towards that end.

"The Vatican should admit that the more rigorist positions are tolerable. And that should be enough. No one should expect the Vatican itself to dogmatize the more rigorist interpretations, however, that would be untraditional too."

Then what exactly is the difference between The FSSP and The SSPX ? Isn't The FSSP pretty much a regularized current of The SSPX ? Namely they adhere to the same values but agree to disagree or as you put it tolerate positions that aren't dogmatically defined anyway. For that matter, why was the FSSJ started anyway ?

You might think I'm being difficult in this post (or perhaps you have another choice phrase for me :P), but I'm genuinely curious on your thoughts in this regard.

Who Am I said...

So... any bites ?

Anonymous said...

I think it is valuable to have traditionalist orders and groups that are fully legitimate. Why should one have to associate with groups that are irregular and lacking in faculties if they want to be free from the crazy that is many regular parishes? That is precisely why the FSSP was started-men in the SSPX did not want to go along with Archbishop Lefevbre in consecrating bishops without a proper mandate-which has always been an excommunicatable offense. As to what they hold on matters doctrinal, the SSPX is not really problematic there. Their main (only?) problem is that they operate in a sort of shadowland not quite out of the Church but not quite in it either.

Who Am I said...

So pretty much the same thing I stated here:

Then what exactly is the difference between The FSSP and The SSPX ? Isn't The FSSP pretty much a regularized current of The SSPX ? Namely they adhere to the same values but agree to disagree or as you put it tolerate positions that aren't dogmatically defined anyway. For that matter, why was the FSSJ started anyway ?"

That being the case, what exactly distinguishes both groups ? Has The SSPX adopted OTHER positions since the regularization of The FSSP that makes their regularization difficult ? I'm still curious about The Society of St.Josaphat and why it was founded given that it concerns Byzantine Christian Traditionalism in relation to Romanizations.

Leo said...

"What exactly IS Traditionalism ?"

Which presupposes the question, "What is Tradition ?"