1999 November/Bishop Williamson

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

It is not often that anybody high in the official Church undertakes to argue with the Society of St. Pius X, but it is revealing when they do. Each time it reveals, contrary to pious hopes and dangerous illusions, just how far apart in their thinking are the Society and the mainstream Church. Let us look at the argument of a mainstream bishop who attempted earlier this year to meet the Society on its own ground — Catholic Tradition.

Bishop Jean-Charles Thomas of the Diocese of Versailles near Paris was responding to a circular letter sent out by the Society’s District in France to some 20,000 Novus Ordo priests (yet he would accuse the Society of being closed in on itself). Here is the substance of his response:

He begins by recognizing that everybody, priests or laity, is “deeply convinced” that the Second Vatican Council was a “turning point”, or “change”, in the Church. The only question is whether this change is “a betrayal of the Church”, as the Society claims, or “a return to a greater fidelity to Tradition”, as (he says) the mainstream churchmen claim. And the answer to that question depends upon one’s scheme of reference.

The Society’s scheme of reference is certain writings of Popes between 1850 and 1950, forming “a brief, limited and recent source” of Catholic Tradition, lasting only 100 years, by which source the Vatican II change stands condemned. On the contrary the official churchmen’s scheme of reference is all of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, especially God’s Revelation through Christ, continually being renewed by the Holy Ghost in “a living Tradition now 20 centuries old”.

These two schemes of reference, says Bishop Thomas, generate two very different versions of Catholicism. On the basis of its one-century Tradition, the Society neglects Scripture, Church Fathers and early Councils. It involves few souls and only their personal salvation. It leaves out mankind and the salvation of the world, and it glorifies Pope and priests at the expense of Bishops and laity. On the contrary Vatican II’s 20-century Tradition means “the Good News of Salvation being put before all mankind”, i.e. it means re-connecting with Bible, Church Fathers and early Councils, and it involves all men without exception and the world’s salvation, in the wake of all the Church’s great Founders of Orders and in line with the Holy Ghost “renewing the face of the earth” to the end of time.

Bishop Thomas concludes that whereas the Society’s Catholicism is narrow, shut in on itself, out of touch with today’s world and condemnatory, Vatican II is wide open, apostolic, contemporary and salvatory, or, aiming to save men instead of condemn them. So he hails Vatican II ecumenism with its joyful prospect of uniting “the children of God, presently so divided”!

In brief, Bishop Thomas wishes to take the word “Tradition” away from the Traditionalists, on the grounds that it is Vatican II and not Archbishop Lefebvre or the Society of St. Pius X that is in line with the first 1800 years of Church teaching and history. Let us check this argument against the facts and against Catholic doctrine.

Firstly, as to the facts it is easy to dismiss both Bishop Thomas’ caricature of the society’s Catholicism and his rosy picture of the Vatican II religion. For instance, was Archbishop Lefebvre “narrow” when for 15 years to build up the Society he traveled all over the world to visit, confirm, and ordain? Was he “shut in on himself” when from 1970 to 1988 he kept going down to Rome, without being heard, to plead for the Church? Was he “out of touch with today’s world” when in 1988 he had 300 journalists falling over one another to get a view and report on his episcopal consecrations? And was he “condemnatory” when he thus exhausted his old age to save souls? As for the Society, his relatively young disciples may not be up to his level, but who can deny they are doing what they can to imitate his world-wide striving for the salvation of souls?

Measured likewise against the facts, Bishop Thomas’ glamorous portrait of the Vatican II religion is simply unreal. That religion is putting in front of men not Christ’s Salvation which requires penance, baptism and living to die in the state of grace, but an old error of Universal Salvation whereby everybody is saved, regardless of their religion or way of life (see the four volumes of Professor Dormann’s “Theological Journey of John-Paul II to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi”). Correspondingly, the Vatican II religion falsifies Bible, Church Fathers, etc. Nor does it follow the great Founders of Catholic Orders — we have been reminded recently how Padre Pio blasted in the name of St. Francis the up-dated Franciscans trying to win him over to the revolutionizing of their Order. And who can without blasphemy ascribe to the Holy Ghost the fruits of Vatican II ? — collapsed Mass attendance, disintegrating families, empty seminaries and convents, closed schools, decimated dioceses, etc., etc.!

Now it is true that there was a serious problem in the Catholic Church in the 1950’s just prior to Vatican II, as there was in the 1520’s, just prior to the Reformation: the Catholicism of too many Catholics had become hollow and external, like a husk without a kernel. But then as now the solution was not that of Luther or Vatican II and Bishop Thomas, to throw out the husk as well. The true solution was that of the great Saints of the Counter-Reformation, to renew the inner kernel and put vigorous life back beneath the husk, which is what Archbishop Lefebvre did, as far as he could, in our own day.

Alas, Vatican II has all the power of a dream to bewitch men’s minds and to make modernists like Bishop Thomas incapable of recognizing facts. Will any amount of ruins persuade him that Vatican II was a failure? One may doubt it. Nor is he any more real when it comes to Catholic doctrine, which he similarly presses into the service of his dream. Let us look at his argument on Tradition.

He recognizes that Catholic Tradition cannot change, because it is the deposit of the Faith, entrusted to the Church by our Lord Jesus Christ to be preserved by it intact until the end of time. But he also admits — dangerous admission for a liberal — that Vatican II was a change from what went before. Therefore to avoid admitting that Vatican II broke with Tradition, he must claim that what came before Vatican II had previously broken with Tradition, so that he can then claim, as he does, that Vatican II was a change back to Tradition. This supposed previous break he makes, naturally, as recent as he can, in order to give as little weight as possible to the great anti-liberal Encyclicals of the Popes prior to Vatican II. So he supposes the previous break around 1850.

Actually, the series of those encyclicals began at the latest in 1832, with Gregory XVI’s “Mirari Vos”, or even in 1791, with Pius VI’s authoritative condemnation of the principles of the French Revolution of 1789. But let that detail pass. The problem for Bishop Thomas is that these papal documents solemnly condemn, anywhere from 50 to 100 years in advance of Vatican II, the liberal principles which are at the heart of the Vatican II “change”. That is why Bishop Thomas is forced to claim that these Encyclicals are out of line with all previous Church teaching, so that he can claim that he is the one that is faithful to Tradition.

But Bishop Thomas is “out of the frying-pan into the fire”. For indeed the briefest study of those Encyclicals, notably Pius IX’s “Quanta Cura” and “Syllabus”, and Pius X’s “Pascendi” and “Lamentabili”, shows that those Popes not only declared that their anti-liberal doctrine was the purest continuation into 19th and 20th century circumstances of the previous 18 centuries of Church teaching, but also they put the full force of their papal authority behind that anti-liberal doctrine as being the Church’s unchanged teaching (see the enclosed flyer on “Quanta Cura”). Then if Bishop Thomas claims that the anti-liberal Encyclicals are outside Tradition, he has to claim that, amongst others, Pius IX and Pius X, a declared Servant of God and a canonized Saint respectively, did not know what they were talking about. But in that case why should any Catholic Pope know what he is talking about, including the Vatican II Popes? Then why be Catholic?

In other words, either Popes Pius IX and Pius X were right, in which case Vatican II is wrong, and one must follow Catholic Tradition in the true sense of Archbishop Lefebvre and not in the false sense of Bishop Thomas. Or Popes Pius IX and X were wrong in claiming that their Encyclicals contained unchanged and unchangeable Catholic doctrine, in which case Popes Paul VI and John-Paul II might just as easily be wrong in anything they claim, in which case there is no reason to be a Catholic. In brief, the choice is between either Archbishop Lefebvre’s Catholicism (which of course is not his), or the Church’s disintegration. Is this alternative not what we see taking shape all around us?

Cardinal Ratzinger’s solution to the problem (problem for liberals) of those anti-liberal Encyclicals was to call them “substantial anchorages” in Church doctrine and history. In other words they were good (substantial) teaching for their own time, but the Bark of Peter could no more reasonably stay at anchor with them for ever than any ship can be expected to stay at one anchorage for ever. New century, new anchorages, new doctrinal Encyclicals. But that does not solve the problem either, because Pius IX and Pius X solemnly declared that they were teaching not truths substantial for their own age, but doctrine unchangeably true for all time. If they were right, Vatican II is wrong. If they were wrong, we disintegrate as Catholics. Ah, but they were half-right and half-wrong, says the artful Cardinal. That is why we see him half-Catholic and half-disintegrating!

The truth about these Encyclicals is that just as the arrival of Protestantism in the early 1500’s created new circumstances for the Church requiring the re-statement, not change, of Catholic doctrine by new Doctors such as St. Robert Bellarmine to meet the new errors, and from then on nobody could reject his teaching (except on minor points or novelties) and still claim to be Catholic, so the mutation of Protestantism into Liberalism around the early 1800’s, in the wake of the French Revolution, required new Encyclicals from the Popes to re-state in the new circumstances the unchanged Catholic doctrine, and all those who like Cardinal Ratzinger or Bishop Thomas reject those Encyclicals denounce themselves as liberals and cannot claim to be Catholic. They are refusing the anchorage of absolute truth. Their minds are, ultimately, at sea. Ultimately, they have no idea of what it is to be a Catholic. And such men are in control of the structures of the Church!

Dear readers, pray for your part that the minds of Society priests (and bishops!) never slip anchor until God restores the Pope and Rome, not necessarily in Rome! And according to possibilities, study those Encyclicals which Archbishop Lefebvre loved and taught for exactly the same reason that Bishop Thomas rejects them – they are the most brief, profound and authoritative refutation of the errors presently savaging the Catholic Church. See advertised on the next Seminary Tapes flyer audio- and video-tapes of doctrinal Sessions held here from 1995 to 1997, precisely on those Encyclicals (“Pascendi” 1996, “Quanta Cura” 1997). Contrary to what Bishop Thomas thinks, we hold their doctrine to be indispensable not just to our own salvation, but to that of the entire world.

Most sincerely yours in Our Lord,