“Benedict’s Vatican II Hermeneutic”

On the site of First Things, Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J., who teaches theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, the seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago, has a piece on "Benedict’s Vatican II Hermeneutic".

Read the article and discuss!

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  1. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    An interesting article, the key passage of which seems to be: “I sincerely hope that Benedict’s frank examination will lead to a similar searching on the part of all Catholics, very much including those who began the schism in the first place by letting themselves be ordained illicitly. But their numbers would never have grown to such an extent were it not for the woes that came in the wake of the Vatican II Council, caused not, I insist, by the Council itself but by its interpretation.”

    Perhaps the beginning of bringing the interpretive problems of the Council into the mainstream? Cf: Pope Benedict’s “those who pose as defenders of the Council”. So many problems will be fixed when we a/ accept the fact of the Council and b/ move beyond it’s “spirit” to it’s correct interpretation. One only prays recent events make this need for a correct interpretation mainstream, and a chance to heal the whole Church.

  2. vox borealis says:


    *Perhaps the beginning of bringing the interpretive problems of the Council into the mainstream?*

    The New Liturgical Movement recently posted a short article expanding on the point you have just made. It is refreshing to see and here more and more discussion–from “legitimate” quarters–about just what the Council said and and meant, how this may be at variance with what followed. The very discussion itself suggests that the Church is (finally) moving forward on the topic.

  3. David says:

    There’s a lot of problems with this piece, much of which Fr. Z has already pointed out in many, many posts to date.

    Specifically in regards to religious liberty, I think Fr. Oakes got this wrong:

    “But for the pope, this is not the fault of the Council but of a categorical mistake arising from the fact that the liberal democratic state must be neutral to religious truth claims while the Church cannot be.”

    The liberal democratic state, and I would add the word “modern”, must be neutral to religious truth out of necessity. The necessity is the current pluralism of western society. This is not a good thing, for it demonstrates the failure of Catholics over the ages to maintain Christian unity and the more recent failure of Catholics to evangelize the world in which they live.

    Pluralism is embraced by the progressivists as a signpost of the relativism they espouse. They would like the Church to adopt the same mentality. However, isn’t Oakes adopting the same mentality? Pluralism is good for society, but bad for the Church? How can that be? If pluralism is bad for the Church, a sacred society, is it not bad for all other societies that ought to have as their model the heavenly society?

    I’m not saying there isn’t room for legitimate differences and disagreements, even in the Church. However, religious pluralism in the Church and in society demonstrates a lack of consensus regarding ultimate truth, and metaphysically, a lack of consensus regarding the nature of reality. This does not build up society, either sacred or secular society. Secular society remains wounded, and the dimming of God on man’s horizon remains, as long as secular society remains pluralistic in its consensus regarding the Ultimate Truth.

    If Catholics believe what they profess, then they would be as the early Christians: courageous in proclaiming their faith and confident that it is the ultimate act of charity to bring their fellow citizens to the Truth, Who is a Person, Jesus Christ. To accept Our Blessed Lord as the absolute sovereign of every part of human life is ultimately good for every single human being in every single age of history.

    This is the point, and correct me if I’m wrong, of the SSPX bishops’ problem with the common Vatican II conception (not necessarily the conception of the Council Fathers) of religious liberty. That liberal modern democratic states, by necessity due to pluralism, have to remain to some degree neutral in regards to religion, is a situation that the SSPX bishops would probably readily admit. That is the reality of our current social and cultural Western World. What they would bulk at is considering this a good thing. They, to my knowledge, have always compelled the faithful by admonition to transform the world in which they live by their faith and piety in order to make sacred the secular.

    That’s not too far off what St. Jose Maria Escriva admonished his followers, or St. Francis or St. Dominic, for that matter, and we can see it as a central aspect of our faith, which ought to inform any efforts at religious dialogue, ecumenism, and social life. When Fr. Oakes overlooks this truth of our faith, he falls more in line with the relativists than he does with Pope Benedict XVI who has constantly called for a reinvigoration of Catholic faith and culture in Europe. Oakes would have us believe that Christ is good at Church, but not good in the streets.

    We should all have a problem with that.

  4. Luigi says:

    Excellent article. The “hermenuetic of contiuity” as Fr. Oakes points out is incomplete; the Holy Father spoke of the “hermenuetic of reform in continuity…”

    What is taking place now – the doctrinal discussion phase with the SSPX – it seems to me, is either going to result in the unity the Holy Father desires, or formal schism. I wonder how those better informed see this?? The Pope’s gestures – SP and lifting the excommunications – seems to signal that it is time to… well, let’s just say get off the pot. The status quo cannot persist; the implications extend well beyond the SSPX’s considerable numbers.

    The bigger picture is what really excites me. The progressive forces are up in arms for good reason. I think they are reading the tea leaves accurately. The very heart and soul of “new church” is at stake. On a spiritual level, all of the internal turmoil just confirms it. The Enemy knows…

    I’m not naive enough to think it will be a brisk walk in the park to call to account all – either far left or far right, if you will allow – concerning an authentic interpretation and implememntation of the Council, but it is high time to get on with a full scale battle if that’s what it takes; one that forces individuals, many of whom have been either lulled into lukewarmness or are willingly ambivalent, to be either hot or cold.

  5. Mark says:

    Speaking of a “true interpretation” of Vatican II is chasing a rabbit down a hole. It has become an amorphous holy grail, and is a quest best stopped. Because what is the “True interpretation”. Surely not the one intended by the bishops who were originally writing the documents, because we know (based on how they implemented it) that they wrote what they wrote with progressivist intent. People say the problem is with “interpretation” but it’s not like these documents floated down from heaven or were inspired by the Holy Spirit and then “misinterpreted” by the men who wrote them. They were interpreted by the very men who wrote them, the bishops at the time, and I dont see how we can argue that they didnt correctly interpret their own words. Why this obsession with salvaging Vatican II. It didnt teach heresy, it said a lot of questionable stuff in the disciplinary and prudential areas, it was deeply infected with a modern world-embracing spirit (at the council itself, not just afterward, we know this) and…meh. Why not let it slip into obscurity like the many medieval ecumenical councils you never hear anything about today? Why this obsession with the ghost of Vatican II?? I say let it rest in peace, let’s move on already.

  6. Chris says:

    “But their numbers would never have grown to such an extent were it not for the woes that came in the wake of the Vatican II Council, caused not, I insist, by the Council itself but by its interpretation.”

    This is getting old.

    Vatican II is not just being misinterpreted. And anyone who wants to debate that should first read The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber — written by the priest who was the head of the Holy See press office at the time.

    He clearly explains how those “ambiguities” in the text were really ticking time bombs planted by the German bishops who came in with a clear purpose that was, at the end of the day, a modernist agenda.

    I understand there were some gullable bishops with decent intentions yet politically weak. But there is plenty in the texts that doesn’t need someone misinterpreting it for it to be wrong.

  7. Origen Adamantius says:

    “Secular society remains wounded …as long as secular society remains pluralistic…regarding the Ultimate Truth”

    Absolutely true. If the Gospel is proclaimed well, then society should at is core build upon the truth. However, historically many people have not made a free commitment to faith but rather adopted (or forced to adopt)the religion of the state (particularly and painfully evident during the the so-called “reformation”). Many Catholics were forced into the protestanism of their ruler and Many were Catholic, not out of a free embracing of the truth, but rather, because of their ruler. The lack of freedom caused by how religion was connected to the State was very problematic. This is what VII is speaking to.

    Similarly, when the Church was identified with the State, there has been a tendency for the Gospel to become distorted by power, and the abuses of the State blamed on the Church (i.e. France and Central America)

  8. Luigi says:

    Mark and Chris –

    Whatever nefarious intentions any individual bishop or group of bishops brought to the Council sessions was a shortsighted strategy on their part. Reason being, it is not the purview of any single bishop or group of bishops to interpret and implement apart from unity with the Bishop of Rome.

    History will assess the reason things have played out as they have in the last 40 years where misinterpretation has had its day.

    As for the texts themselves being wrong, if that means ill-adivsed, OK… if it means incorrect WRT the faith, Tradition; no chance.

  9. TLH says:

    I would agree with Chris above…
    For anyone studying the Council, “the Rhine Flows Into The Tiber” essential reading but also “Iota Unum”. Both are eye openers and both basically blow the argument that it’s only a question of “intrepretation” of the Council out of the water. It’s high time for people to stop being naive and face the truth that the Holy Ghost did not appear to each of the Council fathers and alight upon their shoulders and whisper the contents of the documents into their ears as some are wont to believe…the fact is, there was alot of ill will, not only among many bishops but the periti and this played itself out in the documents themselves.

  10. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    It does not seem we can ignore the question of a correct interpretation of the Council, particularly as it is the Holy Father himself calling for this.

    History may well decide that Vatican II does not stand as a pivotal moment along with Lateran IV and Trent but, on the other hand, Vatican II may (the more likely scenario) be cited and referenced for decades, even centuries, to come. Beyond the simple fact of history, it was an ecumenical council of the Church, and cannot ever be ignored. Better then to bequeath the proper interpretation and implementation of it to the future. What we received, we passed on…let’s ensure we pass on the correct version.

  11. Somerset '76 says:

    Though this is long overdue, I sense that with recent events, the table is finally being set for an authoritative clarification of Vatican II’s place in the Church’s doctrinal patrimony.

    Fr. Oakes is right about what the central issue of our time really is: the issue of how rightly to identify “the hermeneutic of continuity in reform” within the Council’s texts and the postconciliar Magisterium. Within the content of the preconciliar Magisterium, what of it is indeed the unchangeable truth, and what of it is context-bound or what our Lord might call “the traditions of men,” … and by what criteria do we discern the difference? The relatively more “broadminded” of those in the SSPX milieu, including Superior General Bp. Fellay, do still yet have the sense of the Council as instigating a radical discontinuity with the doctrinal patrimony. For the Society, the preconciliar patrimony is all of one piece, the accumulated wisdom of the ages, to which is owed nothing other than submissive reverence, and that not only for the major articles of defined dogma but for all the “lesser” details as well, and that would include the social and political attitudes associated with the more Catholic centuries.

    Indeed, one of the Society’s other bishops, Tissier de Mallerais, is on record (and recently) as having said (and I paraphrase) that the best thing to do with the Council was to scrap it entirely and start over: as it came from a philosophical and theological mind-frame alien from the sense of the Magisterium in all the centuries prior. Society partisans even decry the very notion of speaking of Tradition in terms of a “hermeneutic of continuity,” for to them this is relativistic or Hegelian language, whereas they insist that it is impossible to have a Catholic mind if one is not a convinced Thomistic realist. I would completely expect them to insist on this in any formal doctrinal discussions.

    Believe me – these forthcoming negotiations will be more difficult than a lot of people realize.

  12. Breier says:

    I found the article very problematic. For one, Cardinal Newman’s theory of development is not a dogma of the Catholic church, yet it is often invoked as an excuse to run over past Church teaching. Where’s the Catholic sense is there in talking about the faith as “to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”? Or to say that the content of the faith is, seemingly, historically conditioned? I don’t understand how everyone is saying this is a great article, without addressing Fr. Oakes’s position that Vatican II is both continuous and a rupture with the past. He seemingly rejects Cardinal Dulles’ hermeneutic of continuity. How can this point simply be passed over?

    Contrast the First Vatican Council:

    “13. For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated.

    14. Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.

    May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding”

    With the article:

    “When reading Benedict, time and again, I am reminded of Cardinal Newman. His too was a mind subtle enough to be able to say that his whole life was a struggle against the liberal principle in religion (meaning, that all religions are the same merely because all make equally unverifiable truth-claims), and yet also to say: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

    Holding together these two axioms is admittedly a difficult challenge, but an inevitable one, automatically entailed in the concept of a definitive revelation that is also essentially historical, historical both in content and in consequences for world history. It was just this very dilemma that led Newman, while still in the Church of England, to see that the very concept of a historical revelation directly entails an infallible interpreter of that revelation. Otherwise, one will either have a Heraclitean flux and no identity, or a Parmenidean rigidity that can’t meet the challenge of ceaseless change on the historical stage.”

  13. Breier says:

    I don’t see how “ceaseless change of the historical stage” matters a wit to the *content* of divine revelation.

  14. Breier says:

    Moreover, Fr. Oakes talks about the Church being faithfully to her *identity*, even as her teaching changes. I think that theory insufficiently preserves the integrity of Catholic faith, unless he equate the “identity” of the Church with the whole deposit of divine revelation. But why not just say that then?

  15. Jason Keener says:

    Interesting article; however, I don\’t agree with the part where Father Oakes\’s says, \”The liberal democratic state must be neutral to religious truth.\” That is a John Courtney Murray understanding of religious freedom, and it openly contradicts #1 of \”Dignitatis Humane\” stating that individuals AND SOCIETIES have a moral duty towards the true religion and the one Church of Christ.

    The natural law and the divine positive law both demand that men worship God individually and also together in society. Societal living is an integral part of man\’s life, and there will always be a social and civic aspect of worship.

    It makes no difference whether or not a state is constituted as a democratic republic, oligarchy, or monarchy. The unchanging Catholic doctrine remains in effect that societies and the government leaders as representatives of society are expected to acknowledge the Catholic Faith as the true Faith.

    Having said that, it is not always possible to insist that governments in our day implement the doctrine of Christ\’s Social Kingship because of the excessive pluaralism found in most countries, a general breakdown in religious convictions, etc. This change in policy is not a renunciation of the traditional doctrine.

    Also, if a government and state give special recognition to Catholicism, as they should, that does not mean other religions cannot be tolerated. People have a right to seek God as they know best.

    Moreover, the government cannot be too heavy-handed in endorsing Catholicism to the point where the government becomes totalitarian or to where the government coerces people to act against their own wills in matters of religion; however, people do lose their right to freedom from coercion if their religious beliefs are harming the common good and the just public order. Matters of the common good change in different situations and times and have to be looked at on an individual basis.

  16. Paul J. B. says:

    I think Oakley’s article is basically a good one. My only criticism is that, as concerns religious liberty, it seems to me he might be misunderstanding something. Oakley well notices the Church’s prescription has changed, but he seems to tend toward the interpretation this means the state necessarily must be “neutral” with regard to religious truth claims. As I read it, D. H. was asserting this with regard only to *freedom from religious coercion* of people, including in their public sphere activities. In this last mentioned phrase only, it changed the previous prescription of the Church. As D.H. itself says it does not intend to change the *positive* obligations of (Catholic) states to the true religion. I believe when Benedict speaks of a model of the modern state that the Church can make its own he is presupposing this. The question then is, how does this relate theologically to the tradition? Here, then, what the Holy Father says is, of course, quite relevant, but not exhaustive (it could scarcely be in a short address).

    One last observation: let’s face facts. To a great extent the issue is a theoretical one only these days. Without a great miracle, Western Christendom is not likely to come back anytime soon. It certainly will not be forced back into existence. Any chance of its revival requires people to want it in a positive way, since very successful models for destroying Christendoms now exist, and can easily be read about in history textbooks (see, for instance, chapters labeled “the Enlightenment” or “The Russian Revolution”). The mass of people in the West would have to *voluntarily* not employ such well-known techniques for a revival to be successful. Christendoms can still be built on a local “counter-cultural” basis, but this required peace of the Church. Hence the need for a constitutional order in which the state is deprived of the ability to coerce on the basis of religion.

  17. Jason Keener says:

    I pretty much agree with what Father Oakes says about Jewish and Catholic relations. There has been a change in the policy of how Catholics relate to people of other religions in the ecumenical movement. This change in policy, whether right or wrong, does not mean the Church has renounced her traditional and rightful doctrine as the true Church. No where did the Council approve of what is false in other non-Catholic religions. (I do not endorse the deplorable excesses of the ecumenical movement as found in the JP2 Assisi meetings, etc.)

    If earlier Roman Pontiffs approached ecumenism in more of a hands-off manner, that was more of a policy decision than a doctrinal decision. Policies can change. The essentials of doctrine cannot change.

    I also think it would be foolish for us to toss the entire Council. Did thousands of Catholic bishops come together under the Roman Pontiff and say nothing of value to the world? I think that is an untenable position to adopt.

    It is also absurd for Bishop Tissier de Mallerais of the SSPX to insist the Council is to be scrapped because not everything was said in the terms of Thomistic Realism. The Church can adopt what is true in ANY philosophy or theology. All truth is Catholic, and the Church had plenty of valuable Ecumenical Councils before Thomas Aquinas was even born.

  18. Mark says:

    Actually, State sponsorship is sociologically necessary for there to not be pluralism. A Catholic State MUST come before Catholic hegemony, not only after Catholic hegemony is (re)achieved. You cant roll the ball uphill like that. People should read Rodney Stark’s writings on the theory of religious economy. He says in his book on the Rise of Christianity that, “it becomes clear that religious economies can never be fully monopolized, even when backed by the full coercive powers of the state. Indeed, even at the height of its temporal power, the medieval church was surrounded by heresy and dissent. Of course, when the repressive efforts of the state are sufficiently intense, religious firms competing with the state-sponsored monopoly will be forced to operate underground. But whenever and wherever repression eases, PLURALISM WILL BEGIN TO DEVELOP.” He goes on to point out how paganism weakened and was eventually supplanted by Christianity in a way eerily similar to the crisis of confidence and self-assertion the Church is having today, that (for example) Mormonism is not. The Church does need funding, after all, to remain truly powerful and prestigious, and if this isnt coming from large state donations (like, 10% of the budget) things are not going to go well for it, it will decline. The things he has to say about exclusive firms vs non-exclusive firms, and what amounts to a rational cost-benefit vs risk analysis of types of religions…by all indications seem to me to say that the “isolationist” church of pre-Vatican II is by far a stronger model (though he is not a Catholic, nor did he address our case specifically). The hierarchy, at Vatican II, seems to have bought into the notion that Peace on Earth through the Church of Pluralist Democracy and Capitalism is more important than the salvation of souls, and to concede that the modern world offers hope of happiness that makes religion irrelevant. It seems they let themselves fall a little too much in love with the alleged possibilities of this life and this World. And John Lennon’s “Imagine” is only a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from that.

  19. Origen Adamantius says:

    The deposit of faith is not reducible to a list of beliefs. First and foremost it is the Father revealing himself to us through Jesus. Nothing can be added since Jesus full revealed himself. That said neither does our understanding remain stagnant. It is the person of Christ who revealed himself, understanding a person is never fully realized. Our understanding and insight into Jesus and the Father can grow and deepen. Thus we can speak of a “newness” to our belief but that newness is always drawn from the one Jesus who revealed himself, not from “other Jesus'” that people invent.

    TLH: “the fact is, there was a lot of ill will”

    No Council of the Church had the entire assembly free of personal prejudices and blindness, yet the Church moves on and is guided by each of the councils, not because of the intentionality of each individual, but rather that the Spirit guides and protects the Council as a whole and the Church. To argue otherwise seems to be arguing for a different kind of Church.

  20. Tom says:

    The post-Vatican II Popes and bishops have insisted every step of the way that their actions and novelties that they’ve introduced into the Church have Vatican II as their collective reference point.

    Therefore, we are supposed to believe that during the past 44+ years, our Churchmen have implemented Vatican II improperly?

    Our Popes and bishops have introduced into the Church prayer and worship with non-Catholics via Vatican II ecumenism and interreligious “dialogue.”

    Communion in the hand, altar girls, vernacular liturgy, pianos, drums, guitars, gutted sanctuaries…

    …Popes and bishops praying in synagogues…in mosques…on and on it goes.

    Each Pope and bishop has claimed that his point of reference is Vatican II.

    But we’re supposed to pretend that the shocking changes and novel practices that our Vatican II Era Popes and bishops have introduced into the Church are the result of our Churchmen having misread Vatican II?

  21. Origen Adamantius says:

    One could be ironic and point out the novelty of a Pope or bishop praying in a synagogue because it is something Peter and Paul would never have done and to think that these same Pope’s and Bishops would use a vernacular liturgical language as compared to the NT authors. (As a side note, Christians stopped attending synagogues, not because it was a teaching of the Church but because they were thrown out by a Judaism in turmoil which was trying to hold on to its identity).

    Perhaps rather than “biting and devouring” our leaders when they violate our own view of the tradition, perhaps we should be open to asking, seeking understanding, and demonstrate a willingness to listen.

  22. Larry says:

    I think you are the one who is in error. This is not the 16th Century but the 21st. Like it or not there are very few “Catholic States” the Vatican being the only one I know of. That is what Fr. Oakes is saying, the world has changed. But it has not changed in the way in which Pius IX feared it would. Although that too may be changing. Nonetheless, I notion of a neutral state has functined quite well in the United States up until very recently, and trying to make the US over into a Catholic State is naieve to put it nicely. Vatican II proposed that People are free to choose their religion. There is no where in the Gospel that Jesus says anything like: “You make them all Catholic or else.” In fact Jesus says that we, the Catholics, are to teach the faith and those who accept an are baptised will be saved and those who reject it will be condemned. By Him, not by us. Jesus want people to FREELY ACCEPT what is offered otherwise it is not valid. Forced conversions are not conversions at all. They are tyranny. But for those of you who like that State Church thing hang around for a while. The people of Islam who don’t abort their babies and don’t practice birth control will soon have the power to establish their religion as the only religion. The only problem is theirs’ is not the religion that saves us.

    As Fr. Oakes points out it is the State that is to be neutral on matters of religion; not the Church itself. That is the great error foisted off on us by Liberal theologians. That we are free to choose tha parts of the faith we like and reject the others. That is not what the Council said or intended. The Council in this document was not teaching theology but rather political science.

  23. English Catholic says:

    Larry wrote:

    “…it is the State that is to be neutral on matters of religion; not the Church itself.”

    Pope Leo XIII taught otherwise.

    See his encyclical Immortale Dei:

    “As a consequence, the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice-not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion -it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will.”

  24. David says:


    Who and what are you writing about? If you are addressing my post, then you didn’t read it very well.

    Did you think I am promoting coercing people into being Catholic? Do you think I support forced conversions? If so, you need to go back and re-read what I wrote. You are unfairly setting up a strawman argument, because I never wrote any such thing.

    Your post does demonstrate, though, a tired old canard that is often spit at traditional Catholics ever since Wiegel first penned it in his biography of Pope John Paul II. No, Larry, this has nothing to do with power politics or forced conversion. What I wrote about is transforming the world in which we live by our faith and piety. That is all, to my knowledge, that the SSPX bishops have ever said on the matter. Contrary to what you and George Wiegel think, traditional Catholics, including the bishops of the SSPX, aren’t in to forced conversions and coercion.


  25. Breier says:


    The deposit of the faith is certainly composed of dogmas. Propositional truths proposed by the church for our acceptance by divine faith. This is all clearly laid out in the First Vatican Council, which lacks the ambiguitity unfortunately present in its successor.

    Of course dogmas aren’t the totality of it, but truths of faith can certainly be put forward as a list.

    What is the creed but that?

    So I don’t think it proper to shoo-shoo propositional truths. It’s essential what we make our act of faith upon. Truths divinely revealed.

  26. Chironomo says:

    I will add my name to the list of those who say “Interesting Article: for a variety of reasons.

    While the author makes some good points, and at least has researched some of what he is writing about and seems to have a good grasp of it, perhaps from personal experience, he also seems to use the larger argument to make some “jabs” at extremists on both sides (or so it seems… there are very few on the Left who really are viewed as “extremists”), but I get the feeling that he sees Benedict’s pontificate in terms of a political administration rather than a pontificate. The truth is, none of us knows what will happen in the future as a result of this issue of the interpretation of Vatican II(how many in 2001 would have foreseen a document like Summorum Pontificum?). To claim that Benedict either will or will not “overturn” Vatican II, whatever that might mean, is a bold claim. To a certain extent, slowly but surely, a sort of “overturning” is already taking place.

    While avoiding rather obtuse philosophical/ theological language, I would say that the author doesn’t want to commit to the idea that there really is “Truth”, and that Catholics (!) believe that this “Truth” is contained in it’s entirety in the Catholic Faith and in no other. This is, in simple terms, the complaint of the Lefebvrists (and others as well…) about the post-Vatican II Church. If the Church does in fact still believe this, it certainly no longer proclaims it. And if it truly believes it, it is incumbent upon all Catholics to profess and proclaim it to all others, non-Catholics as well. To do less is to essentially deny the existence of such a truth. The above article, however, sees this as a “dispute” between the SSPX and the Church. If it is a dispute, then one side is right. Which is it? Is the side which professes and proclaims this “extremist” because their insistence is seen as conflicting with Vatican II?

    I cringe whenever I see an author describe a rather clear situation as “nuanced”…and so I cringed reading this article.

  27. rags says:

    I don’t have much time to post, but a quick response to the following comment:

    “When Fr. Oakes… falls more in line with the relativists than he does with Pope Benedict XVI who has constantly called for a reinvigoration of Catholic faith and culture in Europe.”

    I have had the pleasure of putting away some cold ones while conversing with Fr. Oakes, and I am confident that he is no relativist or an “all dogs go to heaven” kind a guy. He is steeped in Catholic culture and fits nicely into the description which you gave to Sts. Josemaria, Francis, and Dominic:

    “They, to my knowledge, have always compelled the faithful by admonition to transform the world in which they live by their faith and piety in order to make sacred the secular.”

    Don’t let the S.J. behind Fr. Oakes’ name fool you. He came through the ranks before the foot soldiers of the Pope lost their bite. I believe that Fr. Oakes would make St. Ignatius proud.

    And lastly,

    “…Oakes would have us believe that Christ is good at Church, but not good in the streets.”

    If this is what you took from this article, I suggest you reread. I think Fr. Oakes would agree – the Church IS Christ in the streets. There is no separation of the two.


  28. David says:


    If that’s the case, then how do you explain Oakes’ unqualified statement that the liberal democratic state must (he even put emphasis on the word “must”) be neutral in regards to religion?

    Without the qualification I provided (namely that this is a necessity given an evil situation), this statement can’t be explained in such a way that relativism is avoided in regards to Christ’s absolute sovereignty (and divinity).

    (Please, I did read the article, and read it carefully. Just because I disagree with you and Oakes does not mean that I didn’t read it carefully.)


  29. Paul J. B. says:

    I’m glad to hear no one in the society of SSPX wants coercion in religion! If so it seems to me there is little reason its members would want to object to D.H. on any reasonably narrow reading of it, except perhaps its rhetoric and tone. D.H. is clear that when it refers to religious freedom it refers only to freedom from coercion, broadly speaking. Accordingly, there is a much bigger difference in the practical prescriptions of the Church in the 16th century (heretics may actually be burned by the state to defend the purity of faith of Catholic society) and the prescriptions of the last several pre-VCII popes on Church-State relations, that between the latter and D.H. Most the development in the practice of these things in other words, is not at issue. The theological and doctrinal reasons for this development obviously could use some clarification, but that’s a different matter.

    Let’s be ready to put this matter behind us then. It may be that a Catholic “hegemony” in a society is more stable if there is some kind of coercion, but once a model of a Christian society is created, it can establish itself without it (example: Early Medieval Ireland). Our job anyway is not to build Catholic hegemony per se, but to help save souls and build up the kingdom of God to the extent we’re able in the concrete situation we find ourselves in.

  30. Mark says:

    True, for the people in the pews, some theory of Church-State relations that we can do nothing about given the practical realities of our situation may not be the most pressing issue, and yet the Church’s abandonment of Christendom as at least an IDEAL leads to all sorts of changes in tone, attitude, and practice. Look at John Paul’s Assisi. Look at the hypersensitivity about the Jews. Look at how the advancement of democracy is part and parcel with the Vatican party-line when it comes to, say, maligning the legacy of Franco. There are places a Catholic State could have been maintained (Latin America, for example) where the Church specifically worked for the dismantling of that. I mean…the way the Italian-Vatican concordat was reworked in 1984 so that Catholicism was no longer the State Religion…was the initiative of the Vatican, not Italy. There is a clear change in tone between Pius IX and Leo XIII…and DH and its Popes. One is clearly the application of the Church’s “political teachings” as it were, from the time of Constantine, to the present situation (which indeed isnt our current situation anymore, but it would still be possible to apply the same abstract principles to our current situation). Whereas DH is a full-fledged buying-into of the notions of Classical Liberalism, Enlightenment indifferentism, and American Protestant secularism in general, where religion is there to provide some vague comfort in the face of death, and as a platform for Social Justice, and as such is tolerated as long as it doesnt challenge anyone or threaten the materialist order of capitalist consumerism and the happiness it offers (to those in the Core of the world system, at least). It’s as if they lost confidence in the teaching that only the supernatural can offer true salvation and happiness, at least a little bit, and gave in to the empty promises of modern technology, liberation, etc. As if we might be able to create heaven on earth. This must be thoroughly rejected, and yet it is the attitude of bishops and priests today, even neocons. Take abortion for example, no one is willing to suggest some sort of mass physical resistance. Or politicians not being denied communion who support it, even. People seem “embarrassed” by glories of our history like the Crusades, the Inquisition, the expulsions of the Jews from various Christian lands. Of course there were abuses, there are in democracy too, and many more! But the fact that even the theory behind all that has been repudiated is very troubling.

  31. Jason Keener says:

    (Apologies to my fellow grammarians here. Earlier today, I accidentally typed “Father Oakes’s” instead of “Father Oakes” in my first comment. Proofread before you post! Mea culpa!) :-)


    I think you bring up some good points. We have seen some real problems with abuses in the Liturgy and definite excesses in the ecumenical movement, even by Pope John Paul II. It doesn’t seem to me, though, the Council ever advocated these abuses even if some of the clergy use the Second Vatican Council as their reference point. These clergy members are probably misinterpreting the Council or going beyond anything the Council taught.

    Out of charity, I also think we have to cut Pope John Paul II some slack. The prayer meetings at Assisi, for example, were definitely misguided, but I don’t think the Holy Father attended these meetings to water down the Catholic Faith or confuse the faithful. The Pope was trying to be a good human being and foster positive relations with people of other faiths. Perhaps the Holy Father believed these warmer relations would assist the non-Catholics in seeing the goodness and truth of the Catholic Faith.

  32. Jason Keener says:

    Hi, Mark.

    I don’t think the Church has revoked the idea of Christendom or revoked the Social Reign of Christ the King.

    “Dignitatis Humane” maintained that individuals and societies have a moral duty towards the true religion and the one Church of Christ. (#1)

    Paragraph 2105 of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states, “The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially. This is “the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.”30 By constantly evangelizing men, the Church works toward enabling them “to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and mores, laws and structures of the communities in which they live.”31 The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church.32 Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies.”

    Also, concordats signed with Colombia and the Dominican Republic after the Council contain traditional language that favors the Catholic Faith as the true religion.

  33. David says:

    Paul J.B.,

    I wish it were that the simple. But DH didn’t stop at condemning forced conversion and coercion. Language such as this:

    “Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.”

    … raises eyebrows, and at the very least, opens the door for all kinds of wacky interpretation. To what does this refer? Is a state, based upon Catholic principles, required to enter into dialogue with error to find some kind of truth that can only be found by dialoguing with error? Is truth revealed, or is it something manufactured in the course of men explaining it to one another?

    I’m not saying that the above passage is erroneous. I’m saying it needs clarification. Putting this statement in a document concerning the state’s obligation to protect the basic human right to freedom of religion can at least appear strange.

    Also take for example the following:

    “Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. However, it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious.”

    This language goes beyond the mere protection of civil and human rights, or condemning coercion. This language seems to imply that all governments must favor all religions.

    Of course, I read this differently, as the government should encourage religious practice of the citizenry in general, and should not be read as the government has the duty to promote any and all religions. A government can promote religious practice in general, and still govern according to Catholic principles and even accept Catholicism as a state religion. This, however, is not how the majority of progressivists read this passage, and to be fair to them, it isn’t clear at all. This is in need of serious clarification.

    This matter will only put behind us once these statements are clarified by competent authority.

  34. rags says:


    I want to make sure I understand what you are saying:

    “The liberal democratic state, and I would add the word “modern”, must be neutral to religious truth out of necessity. The necessity is the current pluralism of western society. This is not a good thing, for it demonstrates the failure of Catholics over the ages to maintain Christian unity and the more recent failure of Catholics to evangelize the world in which they live.”

    I strongly agree that the current pluralism of western society is not a good thing. I also agree that the primary responsibility for this pluralism lies at the feet of Catholics who have not been courageous enough in proclaiming Christ from the rooftops (myself included). But you opened this statement (and correct me if I’m misinterpreting) by saying that it is precisely this sorrowful reality that necessitates that the liberal democratic state must be neutral.

    I don’t presume to know the mind of the Council or of Fr. Oakes, but it seems reasonable to think that both assessed the reality of pluralism as the mindset of the West and conceded the neutrality of the modern State. However, when I read his statement I see the force of his thought in his conclusion – “the Church cannot be.”

    In fact, just prior to the quote we are discussing, Fr. Oakes identifies “the essential principle of the modern state” as the source of the “resurgence of relativism inside the Church.” And immediately following, he criticizes (with a touch of rhetorical sarcasm) those theologians who use this secular neutrality to dilute the constant teaching of the Church.

    In light of Fr. Oakes’ statement, I still find it difficult to understand how you grouped him among the relativists.

    If I may, I’d like to get more into the heart of our discussion. We both agree that religious pluralism is not a good thing b/c it exemplifies the reality that not all men have come to know Christ, nor have they been incorporated into His body, the Church. But is it possible that religious liberty at the state level is indeed a good thing?

    You stated that the SSPX Bishops would bulk at this notion. And so did I at first glance. I even considered it more of a concession, but let me throw this out there for consideration. If God Himself granted us free will, and desires us to freely come to Him and worship and serve Him, would it not follow that the state should also honor the free will of all men? Is it better to have a state that imposes proper belief and worship, or a state that allows for man to come to know, love and serve God of his own free accord?

    These are just some thoughts. I’m not trying to say that I know for certain the answer to this question. And, of course, I am asking on the premise that a secular state would uphold the dignity of the human person and the common good according to the Natural Law (and we all know that is an issue that needs some attention).

    But what do you think? In matters that can only be known through the light of Divine Revelation, is it better for governments to allow man to come to this acceptance through use of his own free will, or through state legislation?

    Peace be with you, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  35. Ma Tucker says:

    Nothing in the created order works better without Christ. There is no such thing as religious freedom in any state. You might be able to tolerate a little difference for a relatively short period but eventually a uniform value system will be imposed by the State. To pretend otherwise is very blind and flies in the face of reality both historical and present. You must claim the vineyard for Christ. Certainly, it is true that man must be free to seek Truth, however, Cardinal Newman did say,(and I think this is very true) very few men do. Most people throughout history do not concern themselves in the least with Truth. Most men simply live out their lives according to the prevailing culture. As Catholics our job is to shape that culture so that the average joe soap can pop his clogs in a state of Grace without a great deal of thought. I cannot see how love of neighbour can be otherwise. This translates to states organised along Catholic principles surely.

    As regards Fr Oakes, here’s a test
    I am a Jew in WWII. I am desperately seeking shelter in Nazi Germany. I walk down a street where in House number 20 resides Bishop Williamson, in house number 30, Fr Oakes. I am familiar with the writings of both these people. In which house would I, as a Jew feel most safe from betrayal? Based on what Fr Oakes has written above and the writings of Bishop Williamson some crazy others interesting, I would, if I were that Jew, pick Bishop Williamson. Strange choice given Fr. Oakes sees him as an anti-semite. As a Jew I would’nt trust Fr Oakes to live up to his faith in extremis because it appears to me the man does not have a clear idea what the Catholic Faith is. As regards Bishop Williamson, I know he despises my rejection of Christ, but he appears duty bound by a firm faith to defend me with his own life. If such a man passes for an anti-semite and an outcast these days, then these days are very strange indeed and not very safe for any Jew.

  36. Paul J. B. says:

    Hello David,

    I don’t think we’re in much of a disagreement, but I think many of the passages you quote were meant to, and in practice do, benefit the Church and its evangelization today more than they hurt on the “narrow” constitutional questions. And as concerns doctrinal matters, it’s my understanding magisterial statements are generally intended by those who formulate them to be taken narrowly, i.e. concerning only the very particular issue they are concerned with. Many “liberal” interpreters of this document certainly forgot that. I certainly agree, though, clarification of D. H., etc., to the effect it was not meant to be taken as a call to embrace indifferentism etc., would be very helpful.

  37. David says:

    The current situation, which I think we all concede, is that the modern state’s neutrality is a necessity that is lamentable. Where the disagreement and confusion, perhaps, lies is that even though it is lamentable, it is amendable. The early Christians no doubt lamented the state religion of the Roman Empire, as did many non-Christians as well, but obviously given the ascendancy of Christianity, that situation was definitely amendable.

    There’s no reason to believe that society and culture today can not be amended in such a way that the absolute sovereignty of Christ and His Church is once again recognized and that from this society flows government based on Catholic principles and that favors the Catholic Church. Such a society may never exist but as an ideal only. What may be achieved only similitude. But this ideal and this similitude is a model, I think, for which we should strive, as something that necessarily follows from our faith in the divinity of Christ.

    The end isn’t government, though, as some would have us to reduce the SSPX argument (I’m thinking specifically of George Wiegel who unfairly reduced the SSPX argument to a kind of pseudo-Napoleonic power politics in his biography of Pope John Paul II). The end, as pointed out above by someone else, is the salvation of souls. By resigning ourselves to the concession, we risk trivializing our faith as relevant only for the pew. We can not resign ourselves to accepting the evils that are prevalent in the modern world. The whole point of the Second Vatican Council was (or should have been?) to challenge the modern world and its constructs and its “givens”. When we should be presenting the alternative, we concede. We ought to be transforming the secular world around us by our faith and piety. This admits of no concessions with the world, and I think this is the core of the SSPX position as I understand it.

    From this perspective I’m reading Oakes’ statement. Conceding the lamentable as the non-amendable implies either the realm of secular society is beyond Christ’s sovereignty, or secular society is beyond all hope.

    Does D.H. actually use the phrase, the neutrality of the modern democratic state in regards to religion? I do know that somewhere it actually makes provision for government that espouses a state religion.


  38. Tom says:

    Jason wrote: “We have seen some real problems with abuses in the Liturgy and definite excesses in the ecumenical movement, even by Pope John Paul II. It doesn’t seem to me, though, the Council ever advocated these abuses even if some of the clergy use the Second Vatican Council as their reference point. These clergy members are probably misinterpreting the Council or going beyond anything the Council taught.
    “Out of charity, I also think we have to cut Pope John Paul II some slack. The prayer meetings at Assisi, for example, were definitely misguided, but I don’t think the Holy Father attended these meetings to water down the Catholic Faith or confuse the faithful.”

    I agree that Pope John Paul II didn’t intended to confuse the Faithful. He simply adhered to Vatican II teachings. Rome and the bishops have implemented the Council.

    Vatican II called for the Mass to be simplified. Vatican II permitted the introduction of “innovations” into the Mass.

    Our post-Vatican II Popes and bishops have linked the following to Vatican II:

    “Ecumenical” Bibles. Joint Catholic-Protestant parishes. Non-Catholics may perform liturgical functions at Mass. Installation services for Protestant “bishops” have been performed at Catholic Churches. Prayer and/or worship with Eastern Orthodox and Protestants and prayer at synagogues and mosques.

    The complete revision of liturgical books. Vatican II called for “legitimate variations and adaptation to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands. In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed.”

    What we have today from Rome and our bishops is the vision of Church that flowed from Vatican II. We have a disaster on our hands.

    Many conservative Catholic are similar to liberals in that they are unable to bring themselves to acknowledge the source of said disaster. Vatican II is untouchable to conservatives in liberals.

    But conservatives have formed the reform-of-the-reform movement as their solution to the post-Vatican II crisis of faith.

    Rather than truly confront Vatican II and the “time-bomb” texts, many conservative Catholics have floated the following strategy:

    Let us insist that the Conciliar texts are fine…but that Vatican II was not implemented correctly.

    Oh, okay…sure. Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II…our bishops…everybody failed to interpret and implement the Council correctly.

    Example: Popes Paul VI and John Paul II insisted that the Novus Ordo Mass flowed from the Council. However, we must now pretend that the Novus Ordo did not flow from the Council…the Council’s texts regarding the liturgical reform were misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly.

    Oh, okay…sure.

    The bottom line is that the Vatican II program that has flowed during the past 40+ years from Rome and our bishops has flopped.

    I believe that the reform-of-the-reform will flop.

    Only the restoration of the Traditional Mass and traditional manner in which Rome had carried itself prior to Vatican II will end the crisis of faith that has engulfed Holy Mother Church.

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the Holy Father and bishops are ready to embrace that course of action.

    I believe that our Pope and bishops are holy men who, sadly, will continue to mix Tradition with disastrous Vatican II-Era novelties…and the post-Vatican II crisis of faith will continue unabated.

  39. Somerset '76 says:

    To illustrate the point I made earlier about the considerable difficulties there will be in any Rome-SSPX discussions, let me call forth a forum post by someone who I think is one of the best articulators anywhere of a hardcore SSPX Weltanschauung, in which he is reacting to this same article.

    On Fr. Oakes’ explanation of the Pope’s use of the term “hermeneutic of continuity”: Alas, meet Pope Benedict the Historicist. The idea that the articulation of principle is substantially subject to ‘concrete historical situations’ is a heathen concept. Did God not send his Son to earth at the most perfect time, during the Pax Romana ? Was the timings of everything vain and coincidental ? Did the Lord God not know of the barbarian dissolution of the Western Empire ? Was the conversion of Constantine the Great just a good thing but ultimately not very important ? The idea that the Church lived, acted, wrote prayers into the Mass, and prescribed canonical laws for 1500 years according to a mere ‘concrete historical situation’ that is ultimately false, precedent of the lives of Catholics during those times, and not intrinsically viable is ridiculous on its face, if not blasphemous.

    I see him contending that one cannot read Church history as merely a sequence of human events in reaction to human exigencies – and that is reasonable enough. But for him, the supernatural realm is so integrated into that history as to require the Church to revere the legacy its history leaves, consider it sacred … and therefore not dare to tamper with it. For this school of thought, the actions of the Church in the centuries when it vigorously asserted its prerogatives and rights, and the forms society took and the social attitudes that developed under its influence, were the best they could have been; to speak of them as needing critical analysis or purification is tantamount to blasphemy.

    On Fr. Oakes’ explanation of the Pope’s understanding of “true reform”: Historicism and now a sort of Hegelianism, as Revelation was objectively completed but has only gradually been actually subjectively known by men. A pattern of modern philosophical thought justifying Vatican II’s infidelity to the apostolic Faith is emerging….

    He goes on to roast Fr. Oakes at length for the latter’s writing that it was Bl. Pius IX who put in place the “fortress mentality” from which Dignitatis Humanae had broken. The commenter’s point: Pius IX was not the first to assume that posture; his predecessor Gregory XVI had done so more vociferously, and indeed, in doing so these Popes took a stand that is deeply rooted in the Church’s doctrinal patrimony.

    Pope Benedict’s own words about DH (from 22nd Dec. ’05) were quoted in the article, and the commenter responded sarcastically, among other things, that “somebody should inform those simpletons, St Augustine and St Leo the Great, that they had a less authentic understanding of the Faith than the modern churchmen do. After all, they have not had the same experiences…. Modern nuance derived from those great and saintly Catholic icons, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington, has made St Augustine obsolete and Blessed Pius IX vain.”

    The entire post, and some of the supportive comments that followed it, are worth the attention of anyone who really wishes to get the sense of what the SSPX intends to bring to the discussion table.

  40. Robin Lennon says:

    There is so much wisdom here, but also the narrowness that Benedict sees the Church afflicted with. Jesus taught us to have faith, and interpret all things through Him.

    His miracles are testaments to God using created things to effect His Love in this world. He even works through sinful, broken people and I, for one, trust that that is exactly what the Holy Spirit did and is doing through VII.

    I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is transcendently greater than the ill-will of individuals attending a legitimately-convened Council of the Church. Do I believe that the progressive elements were/may have been written in by sinful men who may have willed THEIR ideas into the Council? Absolutely, but just as God wrote His Truth in men’s lives and words in the OT over and through that which the men writing the Scripture may have known and understood, I believe that that is indeed how God works in our lives.

    Even when I have “aha” moments and think that I see God’s will and actions in my life, time sometimes shows me that what I thought was a wall was in actuality the side of an elephant, and sometimes, I never can see God’s view of events in my life. That does not mean that I doubt His Love, Will, and actions in my life.

    I believe that the true unity to be found between VII and the Church will be found only if and when we can at least strive to determine God’s intent. I believe that God wills and permits all things for the good of those who love Him, and that includes sins in my past that have allowed me to help and love others through difficult times in theirs, and it includes the blessings and the difficulties that have arisen from VII(the difficulties and bad liturgies of which arise, I believe, from men imposing their will upon the Church instead of seeking to implement God’s).

    To absolutely reject a Council of the Church instead of seeking God’s Truth revealed therein and trying to reconcile our actions and interpretations of VII) skirts dangerously close to rejecting the Holy Spirit Himself and the good that He seeks to give us through Holy Mother Church.

    We are truly blessed in the leaders of the Church that God has given us, and I pray for many more who truly love our Lord and seek to love us and others through Him. But if one lost sheep was brought home because of Assisi and the like, then I rejoice with God, and pray that all those things which trouble me today will one day be explained and celebrated.

  41. David Kastel says:

    This is a sickening essay.

    Fr. Oakes displays his knowledge of lots of words. True genius explains difficult concepts using simple terms. I conclude that Fr Oakes is no genius.

    Here is one gem from this essay: “I also want to wean everyone, and not just journalists and deluded schismatics, from tiresome and jejune binary categories that have too long hampered a proper interpretation and application of Vatican II.”

    “Jejune binary categories” ??? I consulted “dictionary.com” and found that “jejune” means
    1. without interest or significance; dull; insipid: a jejune novel.
    2. juvenile; immature; childish: jejune behavior.
    3. lacking knowledge or experience; uninformed: jejune attempts to design a house.
    4. deficient or lacking in nutritive value: a jejune diet.

    I assume this is a reference to the “hermenuetic” of continuity vs. that of discontinuity.
    But, never mind that, you shouldn’t choose between a Heraclitean flux or a Parmenidean rigidity either:

    “…the very concept of a historical revelation directly entails an infallible interpreter of that revelation. Otherwise, one will either have a Heraclitean flux and no identity, or a Parmenidean rigidity that can’t meet the challenge of ceaseless change on the historical stage.”

    If you’re a Catholic priest, why quote Our Lord about the man who built his house on a solid foundation or a reed shaken by the wind, when you can work “Parmenidean rigidity” and “Heraclitean flux” into your essay?

    He is clear in some passages, but, unfortunately, in those, he is lying. Such as the 10 times he uses the word “schism” in reference to the SSPX (5 of which are prefaced by the pejorative “Lefebvrist”) which, Rome has said for many years, is not in schism.

    Here’s more unsubstantiated invective thrown at SSPX: “The lonely Lefebvrist schismatics sulk in notorious dissent—precisely because of their purblind refusal to distinguish rapprochement from relativism.”

    A broad-brush accusation which ignores the evidence. The SSPX does not “refuse to distinguish rapprochement from relativism.” They believe that the Jews need to be proselytized so that they will be converted to Christianity and baptized so that they can be saved. They criticize the inter-religious dialogue movement for being more concerned with secular politics than with the salvation of souls. I have to assume Father is writing more out of malice than ignorance, because SSPX does not hide that this is their belief.

    Immediately after this false charge against SSPX, is an even worse one against the Roman Catholic Church Herself (pre-Vatican 2):

    “…changed circumstances forced the bishops at Vatican II to reassess long-held presuppositions. And by drawing on her ancient charters (especially Romans 9-11), the Church was able to distance herself from prior hostility”

    The Church “reassessed long-held presuppositions” and “distanced herself from long held hostility”? The Church has existed for 2,000 years for the salvation of souls, Jew and Gentile alike, and he throws this at Her? In other words, the Church has been anti-semitic for 2,000 years, but that changed at Vatican-2. Simply gross!

    I think I should be given kudos for reading to the end of this unfortunate work.

  42. Paul J. B. says:

    “There’s no reason to believe that society and culture today can not be amended in such a way that the absolute sovereignty of Christ and His Church is once again recognized and that from this society flows government based on Catholic principles and that favors the Catholic Church.”

    I agree, if it were possible, a full-fledged Christendom with an established church is marginally better for the salvation of souls than a liberal society with a counter-cultural Church, or a very marginal Catacombs Church, although Christendom has disadvantages too (to cite just one example: surely it’s no accident the faith has survived best in North Europe on the popular level precisely in Ireland and Poland, where a religiously based nationalism was *at odds with* the state for a signficant length of time?) Christendoms do open extra pathways to salvation for mediocre souls, which is why I love them. (As a professional historian of old Europe, I know of what I speak!)

    I have a hard time believing, barring a miracle, any full-fledged Christendom is possible anytime soon, *no matter what the Church does or says.* I believe secular liberalism, as a kind of Christian heresy, is a much more formidable intellectual and spiritual opponent that many good Catholics “traditionalist” or “conservative” are willing to admit. It is so because its humanitarianism is such a good counterfeit of Christian charity. Good enough to fool the many, at any rate. And it has shown repeatedly that a little of its leaven, with time, can destroy Christendoms pretty consistently. And it is, so to speak, always on guard for any resurgence of Christendom. If you don’t believe me just look at the way the media treats to pope. Can the Church do anything to quicken its demise? Perhaps, with God’s grace. Its false charity can be shown up for what it is–a manifestation of pride–by a true charity of humility–the charity of the cross. Therefore if we look at the greatest Crusader of old–St. Louis–his deportment in his humiliating captivity, I think, shows us the way we need to walk today, far more than his swashbuckling. And this is all the kingdom of Christ needs, at minimum, to reign in hearts, and whatever part of society is willing to listen to him.

    To hope for more in this age is sheer romanticism!

  43. little gal says:

    I’m disappointed at the numerous negative comments that appear to be more personal in nature re: Fr. Oakes. I wonder if folks don’t know the difference between personal attack and a vigorious intellectual discussion of a topic? I previously attended a parish where Fr. Oakes is a weekend celebrant. His homilies were some of the best prepared and most spiritually inciteful I have ever heard. I have learned much from him thru whom there is no doubt IMO that the Holy Spirit is working.

  44. Sal says:

    The notion that secular society is “neutral” with respect to religion is completely wrong. John Courtney Murray, S.J., was mistaken about this and so is Fr. Oakes. Parts of “secular” Europe are actively hostile to Catholicism; the United States is not hostile, but is informed by a cultural Protestantism.

  45. John the Convert says:

    Wow, Fr Z, your comboxes are wild. Between this post and the one a few days ago on Weigel’s article, the ‘biting and devouring’ is a bit much to take. From the content of the harshest posts, I can only assume that the posters are SSPXers smarting at the possibility of any compromise with Rome. Reminiscent, actually, of the vicious hardcores on the left. Was it Chesterton that said if one group thinks you are too tall, and the other that you are too short, perhaps you are just right? May God continue to bless our Holy Father as, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he navigates these dangerous waters. And may we all be inspired by his charity and humility.

  46. Brian Mershon says:

    The Social Reign of Christ the King? Other than SSPX and some of the FSSP, never heard it anywhere from ANY priest in the Catholic Church.

    Micheal Davies’ books on this are a good read as well as Fr. Fahey’s.

    Phenomenal and clear.

    Thank God a “nuanced” understanding of religious liberty is not necessary as a matter of Faith and Morals so shouldn’t be too much of a holdup in the doctrinal talks.

    God is King! Man is not. The “modern republican/democratic state” is often held too highly by many of our Churchmen, I fear.

  47. Brian Mershon says:

    From the late William Most and his Theo 603 Course on the level of authority of the Document on Religious Liberty:

    “Conclusion on teaching level of Vatican II. Paul VI said
    it falls on Ordinary Magisterium level, as in the quote above
    from audience of Jan 12, 1966. This means we have nothing on level
    l, solemn definitions. But we can find things on levels 2, 3, or
    4. An item that is quite new, never taught before, such as some
    things in the Declaration on Religious Liberty, probably are on
    level 4.”

  48. David Kastel says:


    “From the content of the harshest posts, I can only assume that the posters are SSPXers smarting at the possibility of any compromise with Rome. ”

    Yeah, SSPX’ers are smarting at the “SSPX compromising with Rome”. The SSPX has been vindicated on several items already and have not yielded on anything of substance. They have promised not too act so mean. Hardly a compromise.

    It’s time for Fr. Oakes to stop being dishonest, get in line with Rome, and stop calling the SSPX “schismatic” (among the other unfair attacks he has written here.)

  49. Daniel says:

    The attacks upon the Holy Father and, for that matter, Holy Mother Church, were orchestrated by various radicals…namely: ecumenical/anti-TLM Catholics, Jews and anti-Catholic media types.

    The most telling aspect to the “controversy” was that more Jews apparently rushed to Pope Benedict XVI’s defense than Churchmen.

    How many bishops rushed to the Holy Father’s defense? How many dioceses organized events to pray for and defend the Holy Father/Holy Mother Church?

    How many bishops asked the Faithful to pray for the Pope/Church and “X” date?

    By the way, where were our Eastern Orthodox and Protestant ecumenical “friends” when the vicious attacks in question were unleashed?

  50. Daniel says:

    That should have read as follows: How many bishops asked the Faithful to pray for the Pope/Church on “X” date?

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