I will take up this distinction a bit further below, but I first need to take up the case of Lefebvrism, which can perhaps illuminate my point better than I have so far been able to do. On that issue, I see no substantive difference between myself and Stephen Barr, as he too declines to tar them with the charge of heresy, and for reasons he too can’t quite put into words. For those like me and Dr. Barr, who don’t quite know how to categorize Lefebvrism, Pope John Paul II comes to our rescue here. In his officially promulgated Apostolic Letter, Ecclesia Dei, given on the occasion of Archbishop Lefebvre’s unlawful and schismatic ordination of four bishops on June 29, 1988, in Ãƒâ€°cone, Switzerland, the pope magisterially declares:
The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, “comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on.” (Emphases in the original.)
Ironically, it is out of precisely that defective understanding that the Lefebvrists were led to accuse the popes of heresy. But their own positive assertions of doctrine are not so much wrong per se (the way Haight’s are) as they are defective. In that regard, there are also many crypto-Lefebvrists inside the Catholic Church, among whom I would include–and their name is legion–any and all self-styled traditionalists who haven’t bothered to learn the tradition they claim to be defending. They take a snapshot, so to speak, of some period of church history and then judge all that follows as heretical.
But history always defeats them; and I mean by that not just the movement of history forward in time but also the study of past history. In a famous observation in his Essay on Development Cardinal Newman said that “To be deep into history is to cease to be a Protestant.” Whether or not he was being fair to the Protestantism of his time, I cannot judge. So let me revise his line for the contemporary intra-Catholic scene: To be deep into history is to cease to be a Lefebvrist, a crypto-Lefebvrist–or a Pitstickian.
Interesting, nicht wahr?