Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Luther Was Not a "Revolutionary"?! Huh?!

By Dave Armstrong (4-27-04)

Many Protestants have argued that Martin Luther never intended to start a "new religion" or denomination, or to split Christianity; in fact that he never intended to leave the Catholic Church. One can quibble about when and why he intended on starting a new version of Christianity, but the fact remains that he did. It is foolish to think that the Catholic Church was supposed to simply bow to Luther's novel ideas, rather than assert its own received Tradition and demand a retraction on his part.

Luther refused to retract his revolutionary opinions, so unless one thinks that any Christian communion is obliged to bend its doctrines and beliefs to the whims of one dissenting person, then there is a sense in which Luther "intended to start his own religion" (I myself wouldn't say it is a new religion, because it is still Christianity; I prefer the terminology of a revolt against the Catholic Church and the beginning of a new denomination or form of Christianity).

It is also said that Luther's case against indulgences was clear-cut and unambiguous: that the Catholic Church was in the wrong, through and through. There were indeed abuses, and the Church dealt strongly with them -- to that extent we might be grateful to Luther, I suppose. But he wasn't content to deal just with abuses -- as true Catholic reformers all through the centuries had done. He had to "throw the baby out with the bath water," and so rejected indulgences altogether, along with many other received doctrines too numerous to mention.


One Protestant who wrote to me stated: "the Church's marketing strategy was 'as the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.' " But this is untrue. This was neither a "marketing strategy" nor does this characterization present a totally accurate assessment of Johann Tetzel's actual views: the famous figure who often represents in the mind of the non-Catholic all that is excessive, foolish, and evil in the Catholic Tradition. Luther lied when he said of Tetzel in a 1541 pamphlet: "He sold grace for money at the highest price." Tetzel's teaching was erroneous in some respects, according to Catholic dogma. But it was not identical to the silly stereotype. What have most anti-Catholics, or even non-Catholics ever read about indulgences from a Catholic perspective? If they had read much at all, they would not repeat the tired slanders against both the Church and Tetzel. But such is the way of cultural mythology and fables -- passed down for generations.

Luther (not immune to slander when it suited his polemical purposes) wrote of Tetzel:

He wrote that an Indulgence is a reconciliation between God and man and takes effect even though a man performs no penance, and manifests neither contrition nor sorrow.

In point of fact, Tetzel's teaching, which we have in written form in his Vorlegung, states precisely the opposite:

The Indulgence remits only the pain [i.e., the penalty] of sins which have been repented of and confessed . . . No one merits an Indulgence unless he is in a truly contrite state.

He did indeed exaggerate the monetary aspect of the indulgence, but not according to Church teaching. Even the silly saying about the "coffer" cannot be traced to Tetzel with any certainty. He did teach a version of what the saying conveys, but it was -- again -- not the official teaching of the Church, as is often ignorantly and slanderously implied. The view was not supported by the Papal Bulls of Indulgence, and the pope had not taught this, as Luther falsely charged.

(Background Source: Luther, Hartmann Grisar, S.J., translated by E.M. Lamond, edited by Luigi Cappadelta, London: 1914-1915, 6 volumes; taken from vol. 1: 342-344)

As for the relative "case" and justifiability of the actions of Martin Luther and that of the Catholic Church, particularly between 31 October, 1517 (95 Theses) and 3 January 1521 (Luther's excommunication), one might do well to ponder the following facts:

By that time he had written at least three scathing denunciations of the Catholic Church (all in 1520). I shall comment on two of them:

The first is To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. In this work, he invited the German princes to take the reform of the Church into their own hands. He wrote:

When necessity demands it, and the pope is an offense to Christendom, the first man who is able should, as a true member of the whole body, do what he can to bring about a truly free council. No one can do this as well as the temporal authorities . . .

(in Three Treatises, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, revised edition, 1970, 23)

This is a complete rejection of traditional Catholic authority, and a direct attempt to set up a State Church, which in fact occurred after Lutheranism became established. It is quite questionable, to put it mildly, that secular princes can do a better job at Christianity than bishops and popes. In fact, Luther and his right-hand man Philip Melanchthon admitted many years later that the jurisdiction of bishops was superior to the jurisdiction of politically- and economically-motivated princes.

So the Catholic Church is supposed to merrily accept this, as if it is not fatal to its ongoing structure? Just bow to all of Luther's demands? Of course this is absurd. No institution can operate in such a ludicrous fashion. That would change the Church into a dictatorship -- much as many Protestant denominations and split-off cults in fact become. Popes never even dreamt of the power and self-granted infallibility that Luther claimed in his own created church.

In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther called for the even more revolutionary notion of abolition of five of the seven Catholic sacraments, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. So, again, the Catholic Church was supposed to just go along with Luther's radical program of "reform," rather than excommunicate a son who was clearly obstinate and no longer a faithful Catholic? I would contend that the honest thing for Luther to have done would have been to leave the Catholic Church, since he no longer accepted its doctrines -- rather than create a spectacle and a schism that had repercussions we still live with today. Surely he must have known that the revolutionary rhetoric of his treatises of 1520 would have the effect they did. If not, then he had to be one of the most naive persons who ever lived.

Yet commonly Protestants tell us that Luther only wished to reform, not revolutionize the Church. This makes no sense, once all the historical facts are taken into account. To ditch dozens of beliefs and practices of any institution, and revise it almost entirely is not reform, but rather transformation, evolution, or revolution. I have outlined above what Luther was calling for in 1520 -- before he was excommunicated. The Church had previously operated on the principle of preserving its Tradition, received in an unbroken line from the apostles. Neither the pope, Luther, nor any other self-anointed "reformer" is at liberty to change apostolic doctrine at their whim and fancy. Luther even approached biblical books cavalierly, thinking that they were legitimate or not based on his personal opinion alone.

How in the world anyone can maintain that Luther was not a heretic (in those areas where he diverged from Catholicism), by the criteria of Catholic dogma, is beyond me. Obviously, he is not by Lutheran criteria, but if one wishes to blame the Catholic Church for excommunicating him, then they must explain how his views were not heretical by Catholic standards. This simply cannot be done; it is impossible.

As for not wanting to start his own church, I think this desire is implicit in his radical rejection of the Catholic Church. After Luther asserted in 1520 that the temporal princes ought to overthrow the rule of bishops and popes, is it reasonable to maintain that Luther thought he would play no central role in such a "counter-church"? That makes less than no sense to me.

The standard Protestant party line (which I myself used to enthusiastically embrace) is that Luther's stance in support of Faith Alone and in opposition to indulgences was heroic and altogether necessary. But I say his position on these points was folly, because the former was based on a gross misunderstanding of Catholic soteriology (that it was somehow Pelagian and rejected not only Faith Alone, but also Grace Alone), and a novel exegesis of Scripture, which many Protestant scholars and exegetes have rejected. His polemic against indulgences was also based (arguably in large part) on misunderstanding, caricature, and slander, as I have partially demonstrated above.

Another constant theme we hear from Protestants about Luther is that he was "not perfect." Of course he wasn't (who is?). My point, however, about him has been that founders of Christian churches ought to be subjected to a higher standard than the rest of us (to vastly understate it), as the Bible teaches about Christian elders, etc. The fact that Luther had many glaring and serious faults (all freely acknowledged and discussed by Protestant historians) does not bode well for the truth of his claims against the Catholic Church, in my humble opinion. True reformers are pretty holy people. A St. Bernard, a St. Francis, a St. Catherine of Siena, or a St. Ignatius Loyola immediately come to mind.

It is said that Pope Leo X was just as imperfect. This may be granted by a Catholic. But he didn't deign to create a new sect of Christianity. His imperfections had few lasting repercussions. One might argue (I think falsely) that his intransigence caused Luther to be cast out, and that therefore he started the schism (or was more to blame for it than Luther was), but I think the facts of the matter show quite otherwise. Luther had already become a heretic (by the received criteria of what constituted heresy and departure from Catholic, apostolic Tradition) before he was excommunicated.

Every Christian group has a perfect right to determine who is faithful to its theology and doctrine and who is not. Therefore, the action of the Catholic Church in excommunicating Luther is not one whit any essentially different from the Dutch Reformed Calvinists determining that the Arminians were no longer "orthodox" by their standards and separating from them, in the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).

Among the decrees made was a sentencing of the prominent Dutch jurist and theologian, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) to life imprisonment (he escaped and settled in Paris in 1621. Louis XIII provided him with a pension, but he didn't convert to Catholicism). 200 Arminian clergy were deprived of their ordination privileges, and one J. van Oldenbarnevelt was "beheaded on a false charge of high treason."

(See: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 421, 604)

How is this different in principle from Luther's excommunication (except that Luther was allowed to keep his head)? If the Catholic Church is deemed more (or solely) guilty of the Protestant-Catholic schism because of its supposed "intransigence and inflexibility and dogmatism," then why are the Dutch Calvinists not equally accused with regard to the Calvinist-Arminian schism?

Didn't they know that the Arminians possessed many truths that they were duty-bound to accept, in order to reform themselves and avoid a tragic schism? Don't they know it was all their fault, because of their 100-year process of corruption and dogmatic, self-righteous tyranny over the consciences of their subjects, and hardly at all the fault of the sincere, Bible-loving, freedom-loving Arminian "reformers" who dissented on things like God's predestination of sinners to hell apart from their free will and consent to reject God?

* * * * *

Monday, April 26, 2004

Brief Exposition on Mary Mediatrix

By Dave Armstrong (4-26-04)

What level of delegation is involved by God to Mary? The image I am struggling with is that God, after the atonement, left Mary to "mind the store", in which case it almost seems uneccesary to do any prayer apart from asking for Mary's intercession. What is more comfortable for me is to view her as more of a passive channel.

The idea is not that Mary is involved in every single intercession (from us to God); we can pray as we choose: directly to God, or asking saints to intercede for us. Rather, it is that God chose her as the vessel to distribute His graces to mankind, and she always intercedes for us. To use an analogy, He is the lake; the water is His grace. Mary serves as the conduit to get the water / grace to us. We believe that this is how God designed it. He could do anything He wanted to do. We know from revelation that He likes to involve His creatures in the redemptive process. He became a Man after all. In the OT, we see Moses interceding to make "atonement" for the people. In the NT, we see Paul speaking of being "poured out as a sacrifice" for the sake of others. It's all over the Bible.

You are right to view Mary's mediation as relatively "passive." Her involvement does not in the least mean that God's involvement is LESS. This is the mistake in Protestant reasoning, so often. They see things in an "either/or" or "zero sum game" way, and create many false dichotomies, where if one thing is emphasized, something else must be lessened (whereas Catholics think in terms of "both/and"):

1. Mary helps distribute God's grace (even up to and including every instance of it).

2. Therefore, God must be doing less in the overall scheme of things than He does in the Protestant view, where Mary plays no role in grace at all.


This doesn't follow at all, not even logically. It is a fallacy. God still does it. He is the only source of grace. He's the sole cause. It is only for Him to give, because He is God; He's the one who forgives us and enables us to become more holy. He simply chooses to distribute it with Mary's participation. He chooses to involve men and women. He always does this. He gave us the Bible through men. He gave the Ten Commandments through Moses. The gospel was promulgated by the apostles. He gave His message to the Hebrews through the prophets, and announced the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant through John the Baptist. Jesus was born of Mary. He could have simply appeared as a 30-year-old man if He so chose (like the theophanies in the OT, where God appeared as a man). But God wanted to involve human beings! It shows how highly He loves and values us.

How you characterized it above, then, is not a very accurate description at all of how we view this. God is still in complete control. He gives all the grace, and it was Jesus' death on the Cross that makes salvation possible for us. Period. All Mary does is assist her Son in that process and God the Father. God does it, using Mary as a means of application. In no sense is He sitting back on His heavenly rocking chair (as the stereotype would have it; stroking His long white beard) and delegating this job to Mary as if that means He does nothing in that regard.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Epistemology of My Conversion / My (Protestant) Letter to Karl Keating in 1990 / How I Became an Apologist

This is probably the primary written document I have, pertaining to my opinions of Catholicism, as I was just starting to seriously study it. It also strongly puts the lie to claims that I wasn't a "real" Protestant (James White) or that I never correctly understood sola Scriptura and perspicuity. I did in 1990 and earlier, and was citing Hodge and Calvin.

* * * * *

EL Hamilton (evangelical Protestant) is asking the questions (in blue):

I'd be interested in knowing what teaching(s) of Catholicism you found hardest to embrace during your conversion-study period.

Papal and conciliar infallibility.

I don't necessarily mean historical "scandals" ("this Pope was corrupt", or "the Crusades were too violent"), but actual dogmatic teachings.

That stuff was highly offensive to me as well. I wrote a letter to Karl Keating complaining about all that. Here are some excerpts from it. It was dated 25 February 1990, which was near the beginning of my serious study of Catholicism (initially purely out of curiosity). I had begun my ecumenical group discussions only the month before and this was before I changed my mind on contraception. This is the first time I have ever cited this since my conversion. It may provide some insights to people who wonder how I was thinking when I was a Protestant considering Catholicism:

I am an evangelical with growing and sincere respect for Roman Catholics, largely due to my increased communion with them by virtue of the Operation Rescue movement . . . I consider Catholicism as a fully Christian faith . . . I am, with you, disgusted and scandalized by works such as Boettner's and Jack Chick's and all such ilk, which, if any works deserve to be censored, certainly qualify in the highest degree.

I then proceeded to a lengthy exposition on my disagreement with Keating's constant use of the term "fundamentalist" on the grounds that it paints with too broad a brush, and wrongly included many ecumenical evangelical Protestants (like myself at that time) in its sweeping scope. I argued that this was setting up a straw man and was, though on a much lesser scale, what the anti-Catholics did to Catholics in their literature. I suggested that he use "evangelical" or "Protestant" instead. I wrote, "I'm concerned with being lumped in with people I have very little affinity with."

After that, I objected to a subtle insinuation Keating made, that Jehovah's Witnesses were a species of Protestant, and made an argument that if they were similar to any Christian groups, it was Catholicism. I concluded:

The idea of sola Scriptura and individual conscience and study would release thousands of JW's from their spiritual bondage to false and deceitful leaders. But if it's so clear that a JW should "check up" on the validity of his leaders by reading the Bible, why should this not be the case with Catholics?


I then strongly objected to an article by William Reichert, entitled "I will be where Peter is," in This Rock, January 1990 (in retrospect this was really hitting a nerve). I responded to two paragraphs which I described as "logically outrageous," "rather foolish," and guilty of "unfounded and illogical conclusions." I stated that Riechert "betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what exactly perspicuity is." To show what it was, I cited Charles Hodge, backed up with two citations each from St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine. I wrote:

Therefore, differences over "minor" matters not necessary to salvation do not cast doubt on the concept of perspicuity by definition. Protestants are merely allowing freedom of diversity on matters such as church government, modes of baptism, views on the Lord's Supper, worship style and liturgy, etc. On central doctrines, we are indeed unified (God , Man, Salvation, Biblical Authority). So we have unity as Christians, at the same time allowing for differences of opinion on non-crucial items, and we all mutually-recognize one another as part of the Body of Christ -- something Catholics cannot comprehend because of their different view that the Church is equivalent to an ecclesiastical organization -- i.e., Roman Catholicism.

The falsity of that view is well dealt with by Calvin in Book IV of his Institutes. Although it is unfortunate that denominations (usually smaller ones) do split over much more trivial matters than those mentioned above (die to sin, to be sure, on someone's part), I still prefer this state of affairs to the purely formal "unity" Catholics have.

In theory, no diversity on doctrine is allowed, but in practice, you well know (and I'm familiar with enough Church History) that there is much dissension held privately -- notable examples today being widespread Catholic dissent concerning contraception, abortion, and even fornication, but particularly the first, because it is so summarily and disobediently broken. Likewise, theological liberalism looms large in Catholicism, despite this supposed "unity" you claim.

Human nature is everywhere the same, and there will be diversity of opinion, whether due to illogic, different perspectives, evil, conscience, or whatever. We recognize it and allow for its expression, within certain bounds, whereas you attempt to deny and suppress it, which only causes it to flourish and become rebellious in spirit (I see this in countless young former Catholics whose questions were ignored).

Further, it is true that many will differ due to ignorance (Hodge: "things hard to understand") or evil (Hodge: "all men need the guidance of the Holy Spirit"). These are not incredible assertions nor are they peculiar to Protestants, and they are quite consistent with perspicuity rightly understood, as opposed to the caricature of it by Reichert. The least one can do in "refuting" a position is to portray it accurately (another "straw man").

Catholics recognize the same two factors in their distinction between formal and material heresy, denoting evil and ignorant differences from catholic Dogma respectively. I can't resist mentioning in passing the case of Galileo, whose views which were condemned as heresy were neither ignorant nor evil -- far from either, whereas his accusers were obviously ignorant and arguably evil as well.

. . . for us, unity is not "a joke." For the invisible Church is a far more profound unity than a merely formal, artificial, organizational unity, as it is comprised of those truly in Christ, including those now with the Lord -- somewhat like your "communion of saints." You might say we value individual conscience and standing under God more than the unity you aspire to -- in fact, we regard separation from a group with which we cannot agree as a duty, not as a dreaded "schism" -- far preferable to the spectre of millions of Catholics refusing to honestly acknowledge that they are not "true" or "good" Catholics.

Lastly . . . I would like to see how you would respond to the material enclosed. Are you familiar with a book: The Infallibility of the Church, by George Salmon, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI (orig. 1888)? It is very good (from my perspective!). The photocopies are from a work very well-written and worthwhile (Salmon) -- it is not at all stylistically like Boettner. Salmon is an Anglican with much respect for Catholicism.

The fundamental disagreement between Catholics and Protestants is, I believe, the issue of Apostolic Succession, Tradition, and its corollary, Infallibility. Therefore, I've set out to show that Catholicism has in fact not been infallible historically, by means of clear logical contradictions and instances of undoubted heresy. If this is shown, then the whole edifice collapses, and you are on the same ground as we are. I think that such an utterly extraordinary and remarkable claim as Infallibility must be prepared to meet objections of example seemingly contradictory to that claim. Thus, out of motives of sincere inquiry and interest, I seek your assistance on that score. Thanks so much for your time.

With respect and sincerity,

Dave Armstrong

And did you resolve that opposition more by 1) convincing yourself that your objections were unfounded, or 2) just deciding to submit to the authority of the church even when you didn't understand it?

Both, but more so, the first. The first thing I changed my mind on was contraception, so that could be classified under "moral theology" or "the moral argument." But it also related to the history of dogma because I was shocked to discover that all Christians opposed contraception until 1930 (and Church history and doctrinal precedent were highly important to me. I had a strong "historical sense"). In my own developing moral theology (especially all the "sexual" issues which are always controversial -- for some odd reason), I had arrived on my own at positions that were invariably held by the Catholic Church all along. I increasingly felt that "here was the place where someone (at last) got it all right -- the traditional Christian moral teachings are all firmly in place."

As for infallibility, I was studying all the "usual suspects": people like Hans Kung, Joseph Dollinger, and George Salmon (precisely as the anti-Catholics do today: people like William Webster and Jason Engwer and David T. King: those who concentrate on historical critiques). I even worked up a long paper of 95 Feces, containing difficult "problems" of Catholic history and alleged contradictions and so forth, to torment my Catholic friends with, in the discussion meetings I was having at my house. So I was behaving very much like the big bad (cynically chuckling) "Catholic-slayer" and gadfly, who brings up all the "embarrassing" facts of the scandalous history of the Beast (though I was never anti-Catholic, I hasten to add; just thoroughly Protestant, through and through).

Anyway, while I was doing that, I was also fair-minded enough (at first out of sheer curiosity; never thinking I would possibly convert) to read Catholic works, like Karl Adam's The Spirit of Catholicism, and Chesterton, and Thomas Howard, and Thomas Merton, and Alan Schreck's Catholic and Christian. And then I took to studying the Protestant Reformation from a Catholic perspective. I discovered that my hero, Martin Luther, was not this perfectly noble guy who was merely bringing the "gospel" back from darkness, etc., and that the actual facts of what happened during that volatile time were immensely more complex than I had been led to believe as a Protestant: hearing only one side all those years.

At length, I read Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, which brought about a paradigm shift in my thinking. he explained all the facts of doctrinal development in a way far more plausible than I had ever heard before. It was simply a brilliant historical and analogical argument, and I found myself unable to refute it. I was honest enough with myself to admit that I could not, and had to admit that this was a huge problem for me to resolve.

My conversion, then, was a combination af the cumulative effect of three different "strands" of evidences, all pointing in the same direction. This was perfectly consistent (epistemologically) with my apologetic outlook that I had developed over nine years: the idea of cumulative probability or what might be called "plausibility structures."

So I converted (apart from God's grace; I am talking specifically about my thought processes -- not denying God's role) because I was convinced on all three grounds. The Catholic arguments were better than the ones I had been setting forth previously. I was simply ignorant about early Protestant history (I accepted what might be called "the Protestant myth of origins" uncritically); I had come to agree on my own with Catholic moral teaching, and the historical arguments of Newman blew Salmon and Kung and all their ilk out of the water, revealing them to be mostly special pleaders or sophists with an axe to grind (which is the way I myself had been acting in my arguments about papal infallibility).

All this stuff led me to the notion that the Catholic Church had a unique status, and so I accepted its authority in faith. Of course, I hadn't answered every jot and tittle of the arguments I had myself produced (no one ever answers everything; it is unreasonable to think that they can), but I had seen more than enough to come to a place where I was more than rationally justified to accept the authority of the Catholic Church and to reject the Protestant rule of faith (private judgment and sola Scriptura).

So there is faith involved; of course, just as in any religious view. I keep saying: "Christianity is not philosophy." But at the same time, I was following the direction that my mind and thinking had led me. I would never adopt a view which was contrary to my reason or thinking. Since then, I have become always more convinced, as I keep defending the Catholic faith and observing how weak or nonexistent the opposing arguments are. I didn't, for example, do all the "biblical Catholicism" stuff I do now, before my conversion. I started that right after my conversion, in an attempt to justify my change of mind to my Protestant friends, and to strengthen my own newfound, fledgling faith. It is then that I learned how very strong the Catholic biblical "case" is.

The version of my conversion that goes into the above dynamics the most, would be: "How Newman Convinced me of the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church".

Do you think one of those two approaches is better than the other, with respect to either Catholicism in particular or "mere Christian" apologetics in general?

I don't think we have to choose; consistent with my long-term apologetic outlook. One ought to always have a reasonable faith, supported by as much evidence as one can find (I thoroughly oppose fideism or "pietism" -- which attempt to remove reason from the equation). We accept in faith what appears most plausible and likely to be true from our reasoning and examination of competing hypotheses and worldviews. We are intellectually "duty-bound" to embrace the outlook that has been demonstrated (to our own satisfaction, anyway) to be superior to another competing view.

Is that absolute proof? No, of course not. I think "absolute proof" in a strict, rigorous philosophical sense is unable to be obtained about virtually anything. But one accepts Catholicism in and with faith, based on interior witness of the Holy Spirit and outward witness of facts and reason and history; much like one accepts Christianity in general or how the early disciples accepted the Resurrection and the claims of Jesus.

* * * * *

I have been doing apologetics since 1981 (initially influenced by C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Walter Martin). I was a full-time campus missionary as a Protestant from 1985-1987 and then part-time till 1989. After I converted in late 1990 I kept writing, but had no intention to publish at first (I was writing strictly for my Protestant friends, then, in order to explain / defend my conversion). I happened to meet Fr. Peter Stravinskas in Steubenville at the Defending the Faith Conference in 1992, and gave him copies of some of my writings on Martin Luther. He liked them a lot, and so an article on Luther in his magazine, The Catholic Answer, in 1993, was my first published piece as a Catholic.

So I kept on writing and seeking publication. I got my conversion story in This Rock in late '93 and then in Surprised by Truth in 1994. The latter, of course, gave me much name exposure (though not one penny in royalties), as it has sold some 200,000 copies.

It is really the Internet that has made so much possible for me. The first, much larger draft of my first book (about 750 pages), A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, was completed in 1994. Fr. John A. Hardon, one of the most respected and orthodox catechists in America, whom I had met in 1990 and with whom I attended many "Ignatian Catechist" courses, recommended it and wrote a foreword. Of course that was a big boost and vote of confidence.

I went online in March 1996 and was active in the Compuserve Religion Forum (where I had the pleasure of meeting the winsome anti-Catholic, David T. King). I started posting excerpts from my book, and shorter articles there. In February 1997 I began my website, where a virtual explosion of writing was able to be promulgated. People like Scott Hahn and Marcus Grodi were saying nice things about my writing, which confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing. After that I just worked worked worked!

My first book (revised, shorter version) was done in May 1996 but was turned down by five publishers. One had actually accepted it (I had a signed contract and an advance), but then business problems set in and they never published it. So -- exasperated and absolutely disgusted with publishers -- I decided to do it myself with 1stBooks Library in October 2001. It sold well, so that eventually I convinced Sophia Institute Press to pick it up, in 2003. So basically it took me seven years to get published by a "real" publisher.

I lost my delivery job in December 2001 through no fault of my own (they went out of business), -- a month after my daughter was born --and so I decided to see if it was feasible for me to be a full-time apologist (which is all I had really wanted to do with my life, since 1981). I was getting good royalties from my book (perfect timing!) and received many donations when I announced what had happened on my website. So I have succeeded as a full-time apologist since then. I've also tried to network with virtually all the apologists I know of, by sending out my monthly updates, and keeping in touch, making links, meeting them at Steubenville and other conferences, etc.

I've gotten to the place where I am through endless hard work -- much of it without any remuneration at all -- (basically, I had to wait 20 years to really be able to devote myself totally to my calling in life), determination, and a spiritual assurance that this is my vocation. I have tried to simply do my writing and let whatever value it has speak for itself, with a bare minimum of "begging."

But I do need contributors badly, and I hope whoever reads this and whoever likes my work, or has been helped by it in some fashion, will prayerfully consider becoming a monthly supporter or one-time contributor, or buying one or more of my books. I have to feed my family, and the Bible says that "the laborer is worthy of his wage." By contributing, you help to make possible, conversions and a rejuvenated faith-life for many people (I know, because I get letters from folks saying how their lives have been changed, by God's grace, helped in some small way by this unworthy vessel). Thanks!


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Dialogue: Radical Catholic Reactionaries and the Dreadful Malady of the Mind and Scourge of an Optimistic Faith in God's Protection of His Church (vs. Mario Derksen)

Mario's  words will be in green. Some time after this dialogue, he became a sedevacantist.

I have a challenge for you guys. The reply could come back from the sisters that they are only being "ecumenical" by allowing the use of their facilities by Wiccans. . . . Add to this the fact that Pope John Paul II was publicly present with African and North American animists and Zoroastrians at a religious gathering in Assisi in 1986.
Here's the unfolding news on our coven of witches. We have sought to get the bishop to place the Franciscan Spirituality Center under interdict if they persist in hosting the Wiccan coven. But when I spoke to one of our most orthodox priests to get his support for that idea, he resisted it by bringing up the example of.....you guessed it, the Holy Father's hosting of pagans at Assisi, including his allowing them to use Catholic facilities for pagan ceremonies.
I told him that I believe that this is precisely why the Holy Father should not be involved in such things as the gathering at Assisi and that it is an example of ecumania rather than true ecumenism.
You asked for it! Are you sitting down? :-) I guess so, if you're at your computer . . .
I agree with you (based on what I know from your report) that what is going on in your area with the witches is weird and scandalous and disgraceful, for whoever is allowing it. I disagree (surprise!) that this is the equivalent of, or consistent with, or logically flows from, legitimate Catholic ecumenism or the Assisi meeting. Why I think that has been well laid-out in my papers on ecumenism; I need not reiterate it here (nor do I wish to). But I have more than enough to express in this letter nonetheless. In my last exchange with you guys I expressed what I feel are the glaring logical fallacies and extremities of a hostile opinion towards (real Catholic, Vatican II) ecumenism.
I don't think you guys "get it" with regard to ecumenism. You don't seem to make the necessary (elementary) distinctions, and you jumble things and ideas together that don't belong together (even though liberals and suchlike often join them, to the detriment of everybody - to that extent, you repeat their errors, though for much different - far superior - reasons and motivations). There are liberal lies about and distortions of ecumenism, and there are "traditionalist" lies about and distortions of ecumenism. The liberal "useful idiot" buffoons get more and more heterodox and wacko and New Age, and the radical Catholic reactionaries (RadCathRs) get more and more conspiratorial and exclusivistic; almost Pharisaical at times, in their strong tendencies towards absurd, short-sighted hyper-legalism.
Some RadCathRs I've seen (not you guys, I hasten to add) make the John Birchers look like flaming Leninists. LOL Many would have been Arians or Nestorians or Monophysites in the old days, I am quite convinced (or Old Catholics, with Dollinger in 1870): fighting the "liberal" innovations and corruptions of Nicaea and Ephesus and Chalcedon alike, which (so they would tell us) "threaten passed-down orthodoxy." Down with development! Down with new and fresh approaches from the same orthodox Catholic standpoint (e.g., St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Therese of Lisieux, Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Pope John Paul II, etc.), in order to deal with and better reach modern man and the secular society we find ourselves in. Down with increased sophistication and nuance and a proper, orthodox sense of social and theological progressivism.


Such nay-saying is, I think, the equivalent of anti-intellectual Protestant fundamentalism, stuck (in their case) in the 1890s, unwilling to admit that there has been such a thing as the 20th century, or a Bible translation other than the King James.
St. Paul must have been a modernist and dreaded "ecumenist," too, I guess, when he sought to approach people differently, based on their place in the scheme of religions and ideas. "I have become all things to all men, that by all means I may save some." He paganized himself in the market square at Athens, referring to weird false gods and even pagan poets. What an indifferentist, he! Obviously compromised . . . clearly he would have kissed the Koran too. Tsk, tsk, tsk! Shame on him. How did he make it into the Bible anyway? Maybe the liberal Chalcedonians screwed around with the "real" Bible so Paul could get in . . . . . .
[don't make the mistake of thinking that my sarcasm does not have a deadly serious meaning underlying it. Some ideas require sarcasm to be refuted - pure, non-acerbic reason not having worked very well]
And then there is simply orthodox Catholic ecumenism, standing in that glorious position of the "middle" or the mainstream, which Chesterton refers to often (in different terms) in his book Orthodoxy.
Why is this so difficult to comprehend or to accept? You want to put the Holy Father out on the extreme fringes of ecumenism (in the wider, not always orthodox sense of the word)? Go ahead . . . I think it is nonsense (in fact, not because I am some sort of "papal slave," as those obedient to the pope are often falsely accused of being), and I think you make yourself look foolish in so doing.
I have always said that radical Catholic reactionaries of the common sort today exhibit a problem of faulty thinking, perhaps foremost, but also of a loss of supernatural faith (in the full Catholic sense). It blends (quite ironically and astonishingly) the Protestant principle of private judgment with the liberal principle of (arbitrary) pick-and-choose. I see both of you falling into these traps, to some extent, the more I read about what you believe. It is distressing. Do I have to observe the tragic spectacle of one or other of you going SSPX one of these days? I guess human nature is prone to separatism, disobedience, and the creation of conspiratorial theories.
Once a false idea takes hold in a group, it spreads like wildfire or cancer. This RadCathR stuff reminds me (sociologically) of my former days in the charismatic denomination Assemblies of God. Though it formally decried the "name-it-claim-it, hyper-faith, God always heals" heretical nonsense of Copeland, Hagin, Tilton et al (i.e., the fringe elements of pentecostalism), yet there were people everywhere to be found within A/G ranks who believed this claptrap, because it was tolerated and not severely rebuked. That led me to do a huge refutation of it way back in 1982, but I had little success with individuals, once they had "caught the disease" of the so-called prosperity gospel. It was never an intellectual process to begin with for these people, but an ear-tickling and narcissistic path, so Bible-quoting and reason was of little use.
I made a similar point when I critiqued The Remnant. I argued that technically the views expressed might be orthodox and non-schismatic, but when you come right down to it, the views were so close to schism and disobedience (and the pope and Vatican II railed against so incessantly), that in a very real practical (or what one might call a psychological) sense, there is virtually no difference. And this "ultra-conservative" mindset seems impervious to all reasoning and appeal to any Church teaching whatever (at least in my experience). In fighting so hard against the liberals (for which you have my highest commendations), you have, strangely enough, adopted a hybrid persona of liberal Catholic/fundamentalist Protestant/"orthodox Catholic" - having assimilated key ideas and premises from all three camps, yet not seemingly aware that you have done so.
There is an old saying: "scratch a Protestant and you get a Nestorian." I think there is a lot of truth to that. Well, now I suspect that if you scratch a RadCathR you may wind up with a closet-SSPXer (i.e., schismatic). The behavior of those in the Remnant subsequent to my critique spectacularly confirmed my thesis in that paper, I think. The quasi-schismatics either did cross the line or got dangerously close to it (e.g., the ISOCC video), while Stephen Hand started to see the writing on the wall and got out. I'm not saying at all that I caused all this with my paper (of course not! LOL). I'm just making a sociological observation that what I warned about indeed occurred (sociology was my major, after all, and I do manage to utilize a wee bit of it every now and then :-).
Anyway, that's how this stuff strikes me (in my analogical mind). None of this is intended to be personal at all. As always, I am strictly criticizing ideas and what I see as tendencies and trends of thought (which necessitates much generalizing and broad analysis), without ever implying obstinacy or lack of intelligence or bad motives or anything of the sort. I hope you guys know me well enough to know that. But you asked my opinion, and I have given it. :-)
You guys have been pretty silent on this. Anybody agree with me? Disagree with me?
Speaking for myself, that is because I am sick and tired of this so-called RadCathR debate. I was sick of it before I did the piece on the Remnant over a year ago. I only did that because it was sort of a "deal" I made with [Name; one of the correspondents]. I think it zaps energy, creates needless animosity, is one of Satan's clever schemes to divide the Church, and detracts from the truly important business of sharing the Gospel and the truth of the fullness of the Catholic Church with Protestants and infidels alike. And it takes people away from other far more important issues such as charity, social and pro-life activism, and family and devotional time.
Wish I'd shut up? ;o)
No, I would never tell anyone to do that (well, maybe Jesse Jackson), being the Socratic and passionate advocate of free speech that I am. :-) My wish for you is that you could straighten this out for yourself, stop being so "troubled" and attain to the trust and comfort that God is in control of His Church, warts and all, 100% sinners and all, and that the present Holy Father is one of the greatest popes in history. That's my wish for you two, and others of like mind. Pray for real problems, do all you can to resolve them, rebuke (real) hypocrisy as you wish, but please, stop being so "troubled." You ought to be at peace with yourself, your God, and the Church. If you wanted to continue worrying about everything, you could have stayed in man-centered Protestantism, where there is every reason to be concerned about any number of heterodoxies and morally relativistic beliefs.
I think that ultimately it is a matter of faith, and that RadCathRs - somewhere along the way - have lost some of this faith in indefectibility and ecclesiological infallibility and the Holy Spirit's guidance of Holy Mother Church in all times and places.

* * *

[exchange with a second RadCathR]

I much appreciate your cordiality, as always, if not several of your ideas. I will make a few replies, because - as you know - I try to avoid lengthy dialogues on this topic. I have more than enough on my site, and not much to add to them, at least at this point in my life. But this very letter is a case in point, for one of my gripes. If I wasn't doing this, I would be writing to a Lutheran friend who may convert. In my opinion, that endeavor would be far more important than this little debate. I'm tired tonight and don't know how much writing I will be able to get done. But here I am because you're so nice and I wanted to at least offer some response. :-)
I don't think that this was really [Name's] point. I think the real point was that, de facto, the Assisi event is USED to explain and justify such Wicca events within Catholic territory.

So what? People commit fallacies all the time. If I tried to refute all of those I would do nothing else (actually, I think I do do quite a bit of that, come to think of it LOL). But I was trying to get at the deeper, underlying assumptions, as is my custom and usual methodology.

OK, shift back a few gears concerning your word choices now.... :-)

Hey! I resemble that remark! (making my best Curly-face) LOL

The fact of the matter is that the traditionalist realizes that the perhaps intended ecumenism of a few orthodox Cardinals in the Vatican just isn't there. It's not practiced. You may point to this and that document pointing out that, doctrinally, the idea is orthodox, but DE FACTO, it just doesn't happen.

So ECT wasn't real? The Lutheran Agreements weren't real? Or the many agreements with the Orthodox? Or the siding with the Muslims at one of those feminist world conferences? I guess we really do live in two different worlds, my friend.

The Vatican may say something about religious liberty, and the world takes it to mean indifferentism.

Why should I care what the world thinks? They think a lot of false things. It matters not what the Church does. It will always be wrong in the world's eyes, either triumphalistic or touchy-feely inclusivistic (sometimes both simultaneously, so we are told by our holier-than-thou secularist critics).

Sorry but I can't help putting these words now: BLAH BLAH. That "middle" ground may exist on paper, but not in the real world. It's just not there.

It certainly is. The center ground is orthodox Catholicism, which has always existed, and always will exist. My primary point was concerning orthodoxy, and if you claim that it has ceased, then you have accepted defectibility and are no better than an Anabaptist.
Who cares about Spong and McBrien? See, this is part of your problem. You are concerned about the buffoons, whereas anyone who has any sense of the perspective of history knows that their time has long passed, and that they are living fossils (just like the stubborn and persistent Marxism at American universities). You are trapped in your own time - the current zeitgeist -, like a fish in a dinky tank. This is why history is so important, among many other reasons. And Church history is more exciting than any other.

"clearly-schismatic Remnant"?? I think it's bold enough for Stephen Hand to claim it's schismatic, but now you're saying it's CLEARLY schismatic??

Yes; not that I am an expert, but from what I have seen, it is quite sufficient to convince me that they are schismatics, at least in spirit, if not in letter, per my reasoning all along. The spirit comes first. One has a spirit of lust before one commits the act of adultery. Adultery of the heart comes before adultery of the genitals. One has a spirit of division (Luther in 1517 / Lefebvre, Dollinger, Kung, Curran, and Matthew Fox) before one actually splits "in the real world" (Luther, 1521). This shouldn't be any sort of controversial observation on my part. But to one who is a canonical, liturgical, and conciliar hyper-legalist, I suppose it would seem that way.

(The SSPX, by the way, was allowed to say Mass on some of the side altars during the Jubilee Year---perhaps this is one of Rome's ecumenical favors).

Indeed it would be that. There is a place for prudence and diplomacy, in the attempt to win people back to the Faith and the Church.

Ah, there we go! That's precisely what I think about the so-called "middle ecumenism." Technically, it may be correct and praiseworthy, but it ain't there in practice.

So, according to you, all ecumenism (in reality, in practice) is wacko indifferentist, touchy-feely, liberal, modernist, relativism. Is that what you wish to contend?

Hold it right there, Dave. Let me show you what the problem is with your position here. We
cannot heal anyone else or convert anyone else before we haven't solved our own problems.

If that were true, then we would have done no evangelism for 2000 years, because there have always been problems in the Church, due to sin (not in its dogma). You're digging yourself deeper and deeper, my friend. This is utterly nonsensical. I'm really surprised you would make such a weak and pathetic argument as this.

By converting a Protestant to Catholic, you're doing a great thing, but it doesn't take long and he'll realize that there are tremendous problems in the Church, and if he realizes this soon enough, he may not even convert to Catholicism!

How, then, can it be that there has been a tremendous number of converts despite your Chicken Little scenarios about the current-day Church? Hmmmmmmmmmm????????????? Were all us converts dupes who should have stayed in the "conservative" denominations? I'm here in the Church because it taught against contraception, like all Christians did before 1930. How many Catholics disbelieve the teaching was absolutely irrelevant as to my decision to convert or not. The doctrine was correct. Same thing with divorce. Same thing with abortion. This is what attracted me to the Church, because moral laxity can be found anywhere (original sin). But true, traditional, unchanging Christian moral teaching is only found in one place.

That's what I had been seeking for, for ten years as a serious Christian. I found it, and here I am, and quite glad to be here, thank you, and not at all constantly "troubled" like you two seem to perpetually be. It must get very tiring. I've found the pearl of great price. You guys seem to want to prove that the pearl is really a jagged, stinky lump of coal, or worse (an almost-dead jellyfish, perhaps?). You won't succeed with me; I'll tell you that right now.

So we're supposed to stop making converts and devote ourselves to house-cleaning exclusively? Yeah, right. Where in the world do you find that in the Bible or in the Church's directives to laymen? My vocation is as an evangelist and apologist. By definition the former is to the non-Catholic, and the latter is primarily to be used as a method of clearing roadblocks to the Faith (though it is useful for bolstering the faith of Catholics also - but that, too, has nothing to do with most of the RadCathR critique). These offices and tasks don't cease because there are "problems" in the Church - as if that is some new thing that wasn't always there.

If the Protestant-turned-Catholic reads what we believe about the Eucharist, it won't take long for him to ask, "Wait a minute, why do you give it in the hand? And why doesn't Father take more care in handling the Body and Blood of Christ?" It is such things that, IF NOT WORKED OUT, will STOP people from converting.

Again, this was not at all true in my case, and I don't think I am all that un-representative of the average fairly-educated convert. We all know (and knew) that there are problems of liberalism in the Church! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Liberals (like the poor) will always be with us. But - again - only one Church has true doctrine in toto, true moral teaching, the most sublime spirituality, saints and miracles and all the rest, and the unbroken history to verify those. That is what brings converts in, because we are well-acquainted with the absolute chaos and anarchy in Protestantism.

So, in short, I think you conservatives are still living in a fancy wonderland of "everything's alright with the Church,

Doctrinally, yes. In practice, we never reach perfection, and will always fall short as a group. Whoever says "everything is alright" (which I have never done nor would ever dream of doing), is the one in a wonderland, not a realist so-called "conservative" such as myself. If I thought there were no problems how could I give you RadCathRs such a hard time, as one of the "problems" I would identify? Why would I have a page on modernism? Etc., etc. C'mon! You can do better than this. I believe the doctrines are very much "alright," and infallible.

and John Paul will be called 'the Great'

He will indeed, as (I believe history will record) the vanquisher of modernism, Communism, the culture of death, and unisexism, if not many more things.

and a new Springtime is ahead in the Church".......

Absolutely. This has always been the case in the next century after a terrible one, as Chesterton loves to point out ("the Church has gone to the dogs at least five times. In each case the dogs died"). The 20th has been the worst in history, by far. So the 21st century (if history teaches us anything) will be a time of one of the greatest revivals in the history of the Church. This is what the late Fr. John Hardon (flaming modernist that he was) believed. The pope believes it. So do I. If you want to sit around and moan and groan and cry in your beer and be a pessimist and a cynic and a doomsayer while revival breaks out all around you, go ahead. You won't take away my excitement when I start to see it. No way! In fact, I say that the seeds of the revival are all well-planted already. We will see the growth soon, no more than 20-40 years away at the latest, I would speculate.

unfortunately, the doctor who can't figure out what's wrong with the patient until he's almost dead will have a much harder time healing him.

If the Catholic Church were "almost dead," we would look a lot more like Anglicanism or even more far-gone denominations like the United Church of Christ. You want some profound deadness? Grow up in Methodism in the 60s as I did. Deader than a doornail (at least the church I attended). I don't think you have the slightest inkling of what real "near-spiritual death" looks like. Whole denominations which fully accept abortion and fornication and homosexuality. And you're most concerned about Catholic ecumenism???!!! Good heavens! What a waste of energy and emotion . . .

This is depressing . . . the only thing that cheers me up in such a discussion is pondering the revival that will almost certainly occur in this century. I used to think (as an evangelical dispensationalist enamored of pop prophecy) that the world would end in 10, 20 years. I'm glad that I take a much longer view of Church history now, rather than dwell in this sort of doom-and-gloom conspiratorial apocalypticism which is yet another hallmark of RadCathRism.

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 21 January 2001. Revised (terminology) on 7 August 2013.


Dialogue on the Radical Catholic Reactionary Group, "The Remnant" (vs. Mark Cameron)

The following exchanges stem from my paper: Critique of . . . The Remnant, with Copious Documentation. In it, I expressed a willingness to interact with (to some extent), counter-replies. No one at The Remnant has been willing to formally debate these past three months since the critique was uploaded (or make any response whatsoever, in most cases).

Another non-affiliated, more moderate self-described "traditionalist" and RadCathR (?), however (Mark Cameron), did send a very thoughtful, challenging letter. It was later posted on The Remnant website. As such it is the closest thing to a direct response I am likely to get. That's fine with me; I'm content to let readers judge the competing visions of Catholicism for themselves. Mark's words will be in

* * * * *

Two Letters From Mainstream "Traditionalists"
    I thought this was great that you were challenging . . . the Remnant. I have been reading the Remnant for about five years and enjoy their paper; however, they do go way out in some of their thinking. I have wanted a good debate in this area for years so I welcome you to the debate! . . . I hope [they] will challenge you, in detail, so that we can all learn from this . . . You are one of the few Laymen with the gifts to be able to do this. 

    While I have wavered back and forth on your assessments of traditionalists (being one myself), I must disprove your theory that we are all entrenched in our ways, and not open to change our views. You (and Father Most and Father Hardon, Father McCarthy and Harrison) have all helped me to see the illogic of many of the tenets of the more extreme traditionalism. All I have wanted was for someone who wasn't a Modernist to disprove many of their (Remnant-type) arguments and assumptions. While I do not agree with all of your assessments in your critique, I thank you for bringing me back toward the heart of the Church. Whether I am a traditional conservative or conservative traditionalist I don't know, but your critique has gone a long way in helping me see the illogic in many of their arguments, especially John Vennari and Michael Matt; however, unlike others, I do not systematically condemn all of their writings and opinions and do believe they are at least expressing Catholic lay opinions (not theologians) that need to be expressed.
Next are excerpts from a thought-provoking and articulate letter from Mark Cameron. I will respond to it insofar as it is directly related to my paper.


Open Letter to Dave Armstrong: Can Traditionalists Question Magisterial Teachings and Still Remain Loyal to the Holy Father?

Mark Cameron
NOTE: After the first round (I have edited the "rounds" together to make the dialogue flow back-and-forth), Mr. Cameron made the following statement in a letter to me:
      First of all, at several points in your reply, I think that you misrepresent what I am trying to say by omitting key portions of my argument [Dave: such was not my intention at all]. I hope, out of courtesy, that you will link your reply to the full text of the letter itself.
I am happy to comply with this hope: here is the link to Mr. Cameron's complete letter: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/3251/armstrong1.html [no longer active] I remain firm, however, in my resolve to not debate every jot and tittle of this issue, per my statements in the Introduction of my original critique of The Remnant, and those above, introducing this debate. The arguments in that paper are what I am fully willing to defend and devote increasingly-limited time to. As it is, the following debate tends to "drift" further and further from my original paper, so my replies are not to be regarded as "systematic" or "comprehensive." 

* * *

I consider myself to be a traditional Catholic loyal to the Holy Father. I attend the traditional Latin Mass available under the terms of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei. I like your website very much, and I also like [the] Remnant Resistance website very much. Both are bookmarked, and I check both frequently. I suppose I would consider my theological position to be a little bit to the "right" of you, and a little bit to the "left" of [The Remnant]. But I think that your recent long article attacking various articles . . . fails to distinguish between legitimate traditionalist questioning of certain elements of the Vatican II documents and post-Vatican II magisterial teachings and practices, and heterodox dissent. Many faithful Catholics, "traditionalists" and "conservatives" alike, believe that the Church is undergoing a period of crisis.

Anyone who is conscious knows that . . . 

. . . I must begin by pointing out that traditionalists are not alone among orthodox Catholics in questioning some emphases of recent magisterial teaching. For instance, some conservative Catholics have questioned the Holy Father's adamant opposition to capital punishment. 

But this is proper and permissible because capital punishment is not an absolute evil. It can't possibly be, since God has commanded it (and given the analogy of war and lethal force of police). So it is a "disciplinary" and socio-political question of the just exercise of this prerogative of states, and therefore, one can differ with it without being a dissenter; I agree. In any event, this is a far cry from denigrating the New Mass, and an Ecumenical Council, believing in defectibility, or quasi-defectibility, etc.; so different that it can hardly be deemed an analogy, in my opinion.

a) This is not simply a disciplinary matter (like clerical celibacy), but a matter of the correct interpretation of natural law, as was Humanae Vitae.

In this case, the application of the natural law (affecting justice and the right of states to protect citizens) has been applied differently - analogous to the varying application of the Mosaic Law, as I argue below. Contraception is far less ambiguous, as to practice. It is simply wrong, and there is no two ways about it. 

b) In saying this, you are already revealing yourself as less of a "conservative" than Russell Shaw of the Knights of Columbus, Charles Rice of Notre Dame Law School, and Our Sunday Visitor. They have all said that the recent exercise of the magisterium on the terms and conditions of capital punishment demands a religious submission of mind and will on the part of the faithful.

I would essentially agree with them (as far as I am able to speak on such technical matters). I was simply making the point that this disagreement is significantly different in type than the major disagreements which radical Catholic reactionaries (RadCathRs) express (and the spirit of disobedience they often embrace), as noted above. RadCathRs seem to habitually ignore this aspect of "religious submission of mind and will" so it is pointless for me to emphasize it in debate with them (they will just ignore it and move on). I must momentarily assume the (as I see it) "legalistic," "hyper-technical" mindset of RadCathRs in order even to engage in meaningful conversation with them.

c) How is the "socio-political question of the just exercise of this prerogative of states" different from the socio-political question of the just prerogative of states to censor or suppress the public expression of heretical opinion, which central to the traditionalist critique of the Declaration on Religious Liberty?

It isn't that different, in terms of the relatedness of ideas; this is a great point you make. The matter of religious liberty is indeed similar to the question of capital punishment (and the relationship to the Inquisition, etc.). I was assuming that the statements of the Holy Father on capital punishment possess less authority than those of Vatican II. The application and strategies in these areas can, and have, changed. I would argue that the so-called "innovations" of Vatican II concerning religious liberty are merely a return to the status quo of the early Church, over against the Church of the High Middle Ages. The Council, in decreeing this, lends its authority to the current "move" of the Holy Spirit towards more tolerance and ecumenism, while not compromising or sacrificing doctrine in the process. Your point is well-taken, and I appreciate it, but I don't think it is proven by any means that the Vatican II emphasis on religious liberty is a corruption or reversal of previous Tradition, since this was the primitive (apostolic) Tradition, and since application may vary, according to times and places. 

. . . In my view, traditional Catholics do no differently, except that their disagreement is with a wider range of recent magisterial teaching.

I disagree: I think there is a qualitative difference, as alluded to above, and as argued throughout my long paper.

. . . Now, is Father Neuhaus correct that there is a right for Catholics to express their disagreement with magisterial teachings?

On certain limited matters, with all due respect, and other times in grave circumstances, yes. The RadCathR critique, however, is way beyond (like Pluto to Mercury) a disagreement over what constitutes legal and societal justice, with regard to criminals (or, formerly, heresy). That has obviously changed, from the times of the Crusades and Inquisition, etc. But this involves no dogma of the faith, or proclamations of a complete "reversal" of doctrine and precedent.

I believe that the traditionalist critiques are on "limited" matters (innovative Conciliar or Papal teachings taught with only the authority of the authentic, non-definitive magisterium), and this because of "grave circumstances" (the crisis in the Church that you agree that "anyone who is conscious" is aware of).

But that leads us to another topic: the authority of Vatican II, which I have dealt with elsewhere. This current exchange is supposed to have some relation to my critique of The Remnant, no?

I am not referring to schismatic traditionalists who deny the validity of the Novus Ordo, the Council, the post-Conciliar Popes, or believe that the Church has defected and Rome has become the seat of the anti-Christ. I am referring to traditionalists loyal to the Holy See who nonetheless believe that certain errors, ambiguities, and omissions in the documents of Vatican II and in recent Papal teaching have contributed to the crisis of the Faith which we all agree is occurring.

I have argued that The Remnant is both contradictory, and ambiguous on these matters. No one has yet seen fit to challenge my evidences for that assertion, thoroughly documented. I continue to deny that Vatican II itself, or the teaching of John Paul II is in any way responsible for the modernist crisis. I simply don't locate the cause in those places (and I am as free to think that as you claim you are to assert the contrary). I think that Catholics ought to submit to the Council even if fine points of non-infallibility can be established by authorities competent to do so. My position has been falsely portrayed by RadCathRs as never allowing any criticism of the pope. The other extreme to that scenario is to - in effect - believe that no submission is mandatory unless it has to do with technically infallible decrees. This is what breeds chaos in RadCathR ranks. Infallibility and submission are two different things.

. . . it is clear that all of the teachings of Vatican II and recent Papal encyclicals fall into this category of authentic, but non-definitive teaching.

It's clear as mud, but I'm not gonna debate that here.

This is a rather crucial point: the degree of authority which is attached to the Conciliar documents and Papal encyclicals. However, you do discuss the issue of Conciliar infallibility below, so I will save my comments for later.

Indeed it is crucial, but again, the current debate - at least as I see it - is not about that, but about the wider issue of defectibility and the extreme nature of many statements on The Remnant web page concerning which you and I are largely in agreement.

I would add that this only applies to the new teachings of Vatican II or Papal encyclicals. When Vatican II or the Holy Father reiterates the constant teaching of the extraordinary or ordinary and universal magisterium, they are teaching infallibly.

Ah! Okay; so we have to define "new." If by it you mean that these teachings are corruptions rather than developments, then you would have a non-controversial point. But I deny that they are corruptions at all. Ecumenism has many seeds in the early Church (particularly in how it regarded the Donatists). Religious liberty clearly has much precedent in the early Church. The espousal of the use of force in religious matters came later. If anything was a "corruption," that was, not the freedom of religion which the Fathers generally taught (though the issue is very complex, and I have written on this, too).

It is very important to define what we mean by "new" teaching, I agree. The Holy Father himself said in Ecclesia Dei:
    The extent and depth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council call for a renewed commitment to deeper study in order to reveal clearly the Council's continuity with Tradition, especially in points of doctrine which, perhaps because they are new, have not yet been well understood by some sections of the Church.
So he agrees that there are new doctrinal teachings in Vatican II. That these teachings (on religious liberty, collegiality, ecumenism, the salvation of non-believers, etc.) are not obviously and easily derived from earlier teachings is apparent, or else the Pope would not have found it necessary to call, over 30 years after the Council, for a renewed study to show their harmony with Tradition.

But this does not establish the RadCathR critique at all; quite the contrary. The Holy Father is clearly using "new" in the sense in which the New Testament was "new," or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was "new," or the inclusion of Gentiles into Christianity was "new." In none of these cases was the "newness" a corruption of what came before; rather they were developments. And in each case there was much misunderstanding and dissension, and accusations that the "new" doctrine had forsaken the "old" ways. Secondly, John Paul II refers to "points of doctrine," not "doctrines" per se - which cannot happen, as all dogmatic doctrines are received from the Apostles, and cannot be changed. 

Right in the quote (somehow you overlooked it), he refutes the falsity of your interpretation of it, since he writes of "the Council's continuity with Tradition." He doesn't see any discontinuity. The "evidence" of this citation in favor of your point is exceedingly weak; almost nonexistent, in fact. Jesus spoke of the "new wine" and used other similar metaphors (see, e.g., Mk 2:21-22; Lk 5:36-39). Does this prove that He was introducing "new" doctrines "not obviously and easily derived from earlier teachings"? The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) dealt with the Judaizers. There had been some confusion and "ambiguity." What caused that confusion, I ask you? The proclamation of the gospel itself? Paul's preaching? Peter's preaching? I don't see any major differences here. I see many analogies, but none of them seem to me to support your RadCathR ideas about the causes of error being found within the documents of Vatican II.

So - as I see it - the entire debate (even as you are now framing it) does indeed hinge on an application of Newmanian development to the disputed issues. I emphasized this in my debate, but my original opponents have refused to interact with it. You have done much better (if only I had the time to fully engage this - I may do so yet, given certain conditions). In my opinion, you have to demonstrate that ecumenism, religious liberty, etc., are total corruptions of Catholic Tradition. If you cannot do that, then you have already conceded the case, by your own stated criteria, as they would then be part and parcel of the ordinary and universal magisterium.

I do not think that one has to say that these teachings are "total corruptions." They may be partial corruptions, inexact, contradictory, ambiguous and giving rise to erroneous interpretations, etc. Surely this would be enough to justify asking for corrections and clarifications. 

Well, since the Holy Father has stated that this should take place (evidenced by your quote), then where is the beef? If the Church makes some pronouncement, but it is not infallible or ex cathedra, RadCathRs will squawk about its "insufficiency" or "too little too late." Or you will moan and groan that he is taking too long to even commence the formal process, etc. Nothing ever seems to be good enough. I continue to maintain that there is a harmful and deleterious "spirit of RadCathRism" - if you will, that runs contrary to the spirit of obedience to the pope and Church authority, and to a bright, optimistic, hopeful faith (which martyrs possess in the very worst of circumstances). The doom-and-gloom mentality, exclusivistic orientation, and tendency to resort to conspiratorial explanations for things one is unable to comprehend also typifies certain strains of political conservatism, and "fundamentalist" branches of Orthodoxy and Protestantism.

Note, e.g., a remark by Anne Roche Muggeridge (author of The Desolate City):
    I try to practise the virtue of hope, but the Irish aren't congenitally designed for it. I hope for the Church in the long run, but the dismal short run, where we are now, is exasperating and discouraging to all but the holy and the fantasists. The disaster has been so great that it is hard to believe in any extensive survival of the Church on earth, let alone a glorious recovery. (Catholic Eye, December 19, 1992).
Secondly, even if the new teachings are not corruptions but genuine developments, that would not make them part of the "ordinary and universal magisterium" automatically. The universal magisterium implies continuity in time. If the current magisterium clarifies something which the earlier magsiterium did not teach (or taught to the contrary), then the new teaching simply has the weight of the authentic magisterium unless it is proclaimed as infallible by the extraordinary magisterium.

Thus, in Pope John Paul II's statement in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis -- "in order that there remain no doubt on a question of such importance concerning the divine constitution itself of the Church, I declare, by virtue of my mission to confirm my brethren, that the Church simply does not have the power to confer priestly ordination on women and that this position must be definitively held by all the faithful of the Church." -- he reiterates an infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium, even if he does not define it as a dogma by an exercise of his extraordinary magisterium. But his statements about democracy and capitalism in Centesimus Annus or on capital punishment in Evangelium Vitae, while exercises of his authentic magisterium, are non-definitive teachings.

I agree (as far as I understand these technical canonical matters).

. . . What kind of assent does the authentic magisterium call for on behalf of the faithful? . . . In my judgment, the CRC and the Remnant sometimes fail in not showing the proper "obsequium" towards legitimate authority, but in many cases I find myself in agreement with the substance of their critiques, even if the tone is overly belligerent for my tastes.

This discussion over the precise translations of Latin words, is over my head, and beyond my purview. I will not attempt to discuss such issues and pretend that I am qualified to do so. 

I don't consider myself to be technically qualified in this area either. I simply quoted authorities (Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ, and Bishop B.C. Butler) who are. Lack of qualifications in Latin does not usually prevent conservatives from quoting Lumen Gentium 25 to mean that traditionalists must "submit" to every novelty that comes forth from a Roman dicastery from allowing altar girls to endorsing the Lutheran-Catholic declaration on justification.

:-) You made your rhetorical point. I won't go down this rabbit trail (one of many in this exchange).

Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913, "General Councils"), e.g., wrote about submission with regard to Ecumenical Councils:
    . . . Denzinger's (ed. Stahl) "Enchiridion symbolorum et definitionum", under the heading (index) "Concilium generale representat ecclesiam universalem, eique absolute obediendum" (General councils represent the universal Church and demand absolute obedience) . . . before the Vatican decree concerning the supreme pontiff's ex-cathedra judgments, Ecumenical councils were generally held to be infallible even by those who denied the papal infallibility; it also explains the concessions largely made to the opponents of the papal privilege that it is not necessarily implied in the infallibility of councils, and the claims that it can be proved separately and independently on its proper merits. The infallibility of the council is intrinsic, i.e. springs from its nature. Christ promised to be in the midst of two or three of His disciples gathered together in His name; now an Ecumenical council is, in fact or in law, a gathering of all Christ's co-workers for the salvation of man through true faith and holy conduct; He is therefore in their midst, fulfilling His promises and leading them into the truth for which they are striving.

    . . . Some important consequences flow from these principles. Conciliar decrees approved by the pope have a double guarantee of infallibility: their own and that of the infallible pope.
    . . . An opinion too absurd to require refutation pretends that only these latter canons (with the attached anathemas) contain the peremptory judgment of the council demanding unquestioned submission. Equally absurd is the opinion, sometimes recklessly advanced, that the Tridentine capita are no more than explanations of the canones, not proper definitions; the council itself, at the beginning and end of each chapter, declares them to contain the rule of faith.
(the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright 1996 by New Advent, Inc.)

The last section of this quoted text was the only one you have cited that gave me pause. Of course I acknowledge that Ecumenical Councils are instruments of infallible teaching authority, but I have been convinced by reliable authorities that the Vatican II documents are worded in such a way as to make clear that the Council was not engaging its infallible teaching authority. 

But who has the authority to declare that and allow you to authoritatively believe it, as a good Catholic? You will listen to a theologian, when he contradicts what popes say about the authority of the Council? That is pure modernist methodology (inherited from Protestant notions of "authority"), as you must know.

Your last quoted sentence, however, indicates that perhaps Conciliar documents enjoy a broader kind of infallibility than I had previously been led to believe.


But when I read the section of the article in question, I find that you have quoted it extremely selectively.

Yes, precisely because the whole excerpt is reprinted in the web article referred to above, on Vatican II. I'm not about to repeat things over and over on my website, when a hyper-link can immediately take the reader to something. True, I didn't point this out specifically above (though it is strongly implied by my introductory remarks), but now everyone knows. I figure that if I repeat things enough times, maybe some of it will sink in, and indeed some did, with you.

[I deleted citations of other parts of the article - the reader can simply follow the hyper-link above]

Since the expressed purpose of the Second Vatican Council was not to advance new doctrines, or to resolve doctrinal controversies, but to explain the traditional doctrines of the Faith in a matter suited to the modern world, it would seem that the vast majority of its statements "represent too much of the human element, of transient mentalities, of personal interests to claim the promise of infallibility made to the Church as a whole." The Documents of Vatican II contain lengthy discussions of theological, scientific, and historical matters, but precious little that approaches a dogmatic formulation.

Again, this is exactly the sort of discussion I am not willing to engage in, as I don't feel qualified, and since it is far from the subject of the extremity of Remnant opinions and expressions.

The part you selectively cite illustrates that the Chapters of the Council of Trent were intended to have authoritative dogmatic weight as well as the particular Canons with attached anathemas. But the Second Vatican Council avoided using the expressions which would indicate that it was undertaking any definitive act. Even in the document with the most important doctrinal content and the most authoritative weight, Lumen Gentium, the Council uses the term "decernimus ac statuimus" (We decree and establish) rather than the traditional formulation "definimus" (We define), which is found in the decrees of Trent and Vatican I.

This is all talk for canon lawyers. The pope is there for a reason, and in God's Providence, Paul VI presided over the ending of the Council. What did he say about its authority?:

{read at the closing ceremonies of Dec. 8 by Archbishop Pericle Felici, general secretary of the council}
    The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, assembled in the Holy Spirit and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we have declared Mother of the Church, and of St. Joseph, her glorious spouse, and of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul, must be numbered without doubt among the greatest events of the Church . . .

    At last all which regards the holy ecumenical council has, with the help of God, been accomplished and all the constitutions, decrees, declarations and votes have been approved by the deliberation of the synod and promulgated by us . . .

    We decided moreover that all that has been established synodally is to be religiously observed by all the faithful, for the glory of God and the dignity of the Church and for the tranquillity and peace of all men. We have approved and established these things, decreeing that the present letters are and remain stable and valid, and are to have legal effectiveness, so that they be disseminated and obtain full and complete effect, and so that they may be fully convalidated by those whom they concern or may concern now and in the future; and so that, as it be judged and described, all efforts contrary to these things by whomever or whatever authority, knowingly or in ignorance be invalid and worthless from now on.

    Given in Rome at St. Peter's, under the [seal of the] ring of the fisherman, Dec. 8, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the year 1965, the third year of our pontificate.
That's more than sufficient for me. You go nitpick and fuss and complain about this and that, if you wish, and act as your own canon lawyer; I will obey the Council and the pope who "approved and established" it. If you want to "play Protestant," feel free. Having played that game myself, I have no particular need or desire to return to it at this point. If Catholic authority seems "oppressive" to you, then please read Newman's Grammar of Assent, now available online. For readers desiring more statements concerning conciliar infallibility, see also, my paper: Conciliar Infallibility: Church Documents.

. . . Having attempted to show that there is a right for an informed Catholic to respectfully disagree with certain non-infallible teachings of the magisterium, let's look at some of the recent teachings which particularly concern traditionalists . . . As for ambiguity, it cannot be denied that certain liberal and modernist theologians were involved as periti in the Council (Rahner, Kung, Schillebeeckx, Murray, Baum, etc.) and that they laboured long and hard to insert certain ambiguous formulae into the texts of the Vatican II documents. At several points things were so bad that Paul VI intervened to remove certain items from the authority of the Council (e.g. birth control - read the ambiguous statements of Gaudium et Spes on this subject - and Papal authority versus collegiality in Lumen Gentium, which the Pope insisted on clarifying in an "explanatory note" attached as an appendix to the document). 

But this is nothing new (why would you think it was?). This is one of the functions of the pope - to remove such errors (e.g., Pope Leo the Great did that at Chalcedon in 451: the famous 28th canon concerning Constantinople). That doesn't prove that Vatican II is qualitatively different; quite the opposite. But the pope's charism of infallibility enables him to weed out the errors brought in by nefarious or other means by bishops.

This is an example where I think your omissions from my text have caused my views to be misrepresented. 

I will let readers judge that, by visiting your URL if they so choose.

You argued against the traditionalist view that the Conciliar documents are laced with ambiguity. I pointed to Paul VI's interventions to point out that he himself was aware of what the modernists were up to. 

Sure they were (and of course he knew); this doesn't prove that the heterodox nonsense made it into the documents! I couldn't care less about what went on behind the scenes - that has occurred at all Councils, bar none; people being people.

He prevented some of these errors and ambiguities (on Papal authority and contraception), but allowed others (on religious liberty and ecumenism) to pass.

This is absolutely classic. You sit there and blithely judge the pope - say that he screwed up, that the charism of infallibility exercised in ratifying an Ecumenical Council was only half-effective. And you will claim that this is not private judgment, and deny that it is the Protestant principle of "every man his own pope," and you will expect me to sit here and accept your pontifications declaring that the real pope was wrong in his authoritative judgments of an authoritative Council. Flat-out amazing! One can only shake their head, and hope that readers will comprehend the manifest absurdity of such a modus operandi, especially under the assumption that it is a self-consistently Catholic approach.

Fr. Brian Harrison made a similar point regarding Michael Davies:
    Michael Davies . . . there are thousands of traditionalist Catholics out there who quite literally set more store by the judgments of Davies than by those of the Supreme Pontiff. Traditionalists, it must be remembered, are by definition those who have to a large extent lost confidence in the post-conciliar papacy, because of what they see as its aberrations from Sacred Tradition. And Davies is widely seen in such circles as the most eloquent and reliable exponent of that Tradition at the present time. This means that whatever he says will have significant ramifications - for good or for ill - in regard to one of the most pressing pastoral problems in today's Church: the centrifugal and even schismatic tendencies which prompted the Pope to set up a new arm of the Vatican to help safeguard the unity of the Church - the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
Read Fr. Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber for a definitive account of the manipulations of the liberals and modernists in their attempts to get ambiguous statements into the Vatican II documents.

[technical discussions of Vatican II teaching on biblical inerrancy deleted]

Again, that is irrelevant to the debate, if one believes that Councils are ultimately protected (primarily by means of the pope) from adopting errors arising from such wicked schemes. If you or others wish to deny this, then please get consistent and apply this analysis to the other Councils also, since this sort of subterfuge and intrigue has always been present to some extent - men being men. The most obvious example is the Robber Council of 449, which was rejected by the pope as heretical.

The Robber Council isn't a very good example, since it was condemned by the Pope, and therefore was no true Council. 

But my point was that it was a striking example of the usual machinations and realpolitik of sinful, fallen, ambitious, prideful men. That point holds whether it was a true Council or not.

A better example is Second Council of Constantinople in 553. The Emperor Justinian, a Monophysite sympathizer with a Monophysite wife, suggested that a Council be convened to condemn Nestorianism, a long dead heresy which erred in the opposite Christological direction as Monophysitism. Furthermore, the Emperor wanted the Pope (the weak Vigilius) to condemn the "Three Chapters," the writings of three dead theologians tainted by Nestorianism, but two of whom had been reconciled to the Church at Chalcedon. Thus, under the guise of orthodoxy, the Emperor hoped to take aim at Chalcedon. Vigilius agreed to condemn the "Three Chapters" which led to riots against him in Rome. Vigilius then retracted his signature, but in the end agreed to hold a Fifth Ecumenical Council, hoping that he could get a council to agree to more balanced language. Instead, the Council went even further than Vigilius wanted in condemning the Three Chapters. Vigilius died, but his successor Pelagius (not the heresiarch) accepted the Fifth Council as Ecumenical in order to placate the Emperor, which led to a fifty year schism between Rome and the more staunchly Chalcedonian see of Milan.

Now, was the Fifth Council heretical? No. It was formally correct in its denunciation of Nestorianism. But it had disastrous consequences for the Papacy, and temporarily undermined the authority of the Council of Chalcedon. So, here is an example of a valid, but ill advised, council, with ambiguous if technically orthodox texts, and with very negative consequences for the Church. Vatican II is not "unique," but it is more like Constantiniople II than Vatican I or Trent. There are several other councils which seem to have had flawed elements either in the way they were called, their politicization in one way or another, or problematic aspects of their canons and decrees. The guarantee of Conciliar infallibility is limited by the same limits as Papal infallibility: a council is infallible to the extent that its canons and decrees propose to teach definitively on a matter of faith and morals in a manner binding on all Catholics.

Very interesting (as you must know by now I love analogies). I don't really know enough about the particulars to comment intelligently (let alone for public consumption), but I would suspect that several points of your argument here could be disputed. The main thing to me is your denial that the Council was heretical. You say the same about Vatican II. This is God's protection (all the more noteworthy given the modernist presence at Vatican II). To me that is the bottom line. The "ambiguity" is in miscomprehension and/or misapplication (or wholesale distortion and twisting) of the actual conciliar teaching. Something is either "orthodox" or it is not. "Ambiguity" is extremely subjective and not particularly relevant, in my opinion, once one concedes that a Council is orthodox in the first place.

However, I do not believe (nor do most traditionalists except perhaps among the ranks of sedevacantism) that the Council was invalid or intrinsically heretical. 

But that is the absurdity and equivocation of the RadCathR position, as I repeatedly argued. The sedevacantists are at least consistent, not having to engage in special pleading of the most objectionable sort. Not having the guts to simply pronounce the hated Council invalid, instead we receive from you guys this balderdash of "ambiguity," which then becomes a convenient "club" to bash the Council with impunity, not allowing (like all conspiratorial theories) of any rational disproof. Thus the very methods of the enemy are adopted: the ambiguities of the RadCathRs ironically far surpass those of the modernists.

This is nonsense. You constantly imply that traditionalists would really like to denounce Vatican II, the recent Popes, or the Novus Ordo as "invalid," but avoid doing so for purely pragmatic reasons or a lack of courage. 

I don't know what the reasons are - that is not for me to say (though I suppose I have speculated here and there). I merely pointed out the verbal and mental gymnastics and profound wavering and self-contradiction throughout The Remnant website. One can't fail to notice this.

Our more careful, cautious language is not motivated by fear (except maybe fear of the Lord) but because we believe Christ's promises to his Church. We believe in the Church's indefectibility. We are struggling to reconcile teachings and practices that seem inconsistent with the previous patrimony of Catholic tradition with the promise that "I am with you always." And for this, we are less honest than the sedevacantists and sneakier than the modernists?

There is a certain intellectual and theological inconsistency (not deliberate dishonesty), in my humble opinion, yes. I grant that these things are troubling to you (out of - I would say - a lack of proper understanding with regard to such matters as ecumenism and Salvation Outside the Church). The difference lies in how one initially approaches the issue. I assume, as a devout Catholic - in faith and given the evidence of Church history - that the Council is consistent with previous Catholic doctrine. I think this can be demonstrated, as well, though I may not be able to do it myself - I surely cannot, as I have said (not being properly trained for it). But others have done so (e.g., Fr. Harrison, Fr. Most, Fr. Hardon). 

Now, when you approach the Council, do you view these so-called "innovations" or "novelties" - in faith - as developments which are difficult to understand, or corruptions which are difficult to reconcile? It is all in the premise . . . To simply work out difficulties, nuances, and complexities is one thing. I believe the Bible is inerrant; that doesn't mean for a second that there are not textual and theological and exegetical difficulties to be mulled over and worked through. 

Likewise with the Council. One has to start with either a hostile or an embracing assumption. To take the hostile assumption is to go against what the pope said about the Council, and the analogy of earlier Councils; therefore involving the utter absurdity (granting Catholic ecclesiology) of placing theologians or private persons (say, Mr. Matt or Mr. Vennari) over against the pope - precisely as both modernists and Protestants do. Thus you are to the Council what the liberal higher critics are to the Bible! Their initial hostile assumption is fallacious, so that the house of cards they build upon it is fundamentally flawed. Likewise with the  RadCathR "house."

It is a valid council, and its documents are valid exercises of the authentic but non-definitive magisterium. 

But you have simply assumed that the entire Council is "non-definitive" in the sense of not requiring internal assent and submission. That is far from proven, in my opinion.

I haven't simply assumed it. I have studied it and documented it, from the words of the Popes and the Council Fathers themselves.

But you selectively choose which papal words you will heed and which you reject; this is nonsensical (literally). The pick-and-choose mentality is one of the major problems here. The heretics pick and choose (as Newman would say, generalizing and making the analogy). The Catholics accept what their lawfully-ordained authorities proclaim.

Where learned Catholics have serious disagreements with its documents, based on inconsistency with previous Catholic teaching, I believe that they have the right to make these disagreements known and ask the Holy See to clarify the ambiguities, 

Again, I deny the supposed inconsistency. I'm convinced more strongly all the time that this very charge betrays an inadequate understanding of development of doctrine. In your particular case, I would have to see how you would present and define development, and how you would apply it to any of the most disputed Council teachings, in order to determine whether this lack of understanding applies to you. But I have seen too many RadCathRs (and Orthodox and Protestants) write many exceedingly ridiculous things about development to not be wary of this distinct possibility.

I hope to do so. It is far too easy to justify any and every change or innovation as a "development." Unfortunately, modern theology tends to treat "development" in the same way that the Supreme Court of the United States treat the Constitution -- looking for "emanations of penumbras" so that doctrines can come to mean the exact opposite of what was originally intended. 

I agree 100% - well-stated (as to modernism). But I don't apply this to the Council at all, like you do.

I believe that "development" is possible, but I have yet to see some of the Conciliar novelties successfully justified as genuine developments.

So in the meantime do you consider them corruptions? This gets back to my point recently made, about your initial premises.

Many traditionalists (and by no means only Lefebvrists or sedevacantists) believe that some of the teachings on matters of ecumenism, religious liberty, and the possibility of salvation outside the Church in the documents of Vatican II and post-Conciliar magisterial teaching are not authentic developments, but innovations. 

That remains to be proven (and it interests me). In my humble opinion this is the crux of the issue, along with the closely-related notion of indefectibility. 

I would like to do so, and am currently rereading the Essay on Development to help formulate my thoughts. This will take a bit more time and thought to analyze fully, so I hope you will wait patiently for my Newmanian critique of Conciliar and post-Conciliar innovation.

Excellent. Again, this is the heart of the matter as I see it. I am more than happy to wait for someone actually willing to apply Newman's thinking to the dispute at hand (and especially this particular book of his which was so instrumental in my own conversion). I commend you!

I do not think that some of these teachings meet Cardinal Newman's seven notes for authentic development as explained in his Essay on the Development of Dogma: preservation of type, continuity of principles, assimilative power, logical sequence, anticipation of the future, conservative action on the past, and chronic vigour.

Now we are down to brass tacks! Good for you! I would love to see this expanded and elaborated upon and developed (pun intended).

To take the case of religious liberty, it seems to many serious critics (e.g. Michael Davies) that Dignitatis Humanae actually contradicts previously condemned propositions of Mirari Vos (Gregory XVI), Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors (Pius IX) . . . 

But these are related to the same issues as the dispute over capital punishment. It is extremely complicated, and again I don't pretend to be an expert on these matters, but perhaps these are the sorts of things which can change, as they have to do with discipline and application of unchanging truths, just as the Law remained the same between the OT and the NT, but the application changed radically. In that case, there would be no essential change in the underlying principles; hence the development is legitimate. Also, there may very well be different uses and senses of words and phrases, just as condemnations of indifferentism are taken to mean blanket condemnation of Vatican II-type ecumenism, which is the furthest thing from indifferentism - rightly understood.

If you think that religious liberty is the same type of issue as the recent controversy over capital punishment, and you are ready to tolerate debate and discussion of the Pope's teaching on the latter, then why are you so concerned about traditionalists who reject the Council's teaching on the former?

Because it was proclaimed more authoritatively.

The Declaration on Religious Liberty is the most contentious item in the Council documents for traditionalists, and faced strong opposition from many bishops during the Council itself.

Even Abp. Lefebvre signed it; why?

Fr. Brian Harrison, another theologian I greatly respect, thinks that they can [be reconciled], albeit with difficulty and only by a very particular interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae (not the interpretation favoured by the John Courtney Murray cheering section on the left and right of the American Church). 

But this is precisely the kind of issue that traditional Catholics insisit that the magisterium address clearly and directly, rather than simply asserting that there is no inconsistency between the old teachings and the new.

I would agree with that. I disagree with the notion that there could be no conceivable reason not to make such a clarification immediately. In a nutshell, I trust the Holy Father to do what is right and best. Mr. Matt and Mr. Vennari and their comrades-in-arms obviously do not. But I'm all for further explanation, myself. I'm trying to do it - as a lowly amateur lay apologist; why not the pope? But in the meantime, I don't wring my hands in despair and believe that the Church is near collapse, in ruins, shambles (and all the other illustrious, dramatic terms which The Remnant habitually employs).

You agreed at the outset that the Church was in crisis. Now it is healthy and fine. Which one is it? 

Don't be silly. The fair-minded reader can clearly see the distinctions I was making above, and read my earlier comments about the crisis.

If the Church is in crisis, then the Holy Father and the bishops have a responsibility to do something. 

They are doing plenty; you guys just don't like it, because it isn't done in your way, according to your thinking, and your timetable. Luther had to have it his own way, and Calvin and Zwingli and Henry VIII. The Catholic, on the other hand, humbly bows to the will of Holy Mother Church, and trusts that God is in control, despite all.

Most conservatives are not reluctant to question their local diocesan bishop when he errs (even though the bishop too is part of the Church's magisterium). Why can't we question the Pope if we are concerned that his teachings or actions are not adequate in response to the crisis?

One can question to an extent (especially matters of discipline: how to deal with the liberals) within a posture of obedience and deference, as I have said all along. I object to the flat-out disobedience and overriding characteristic of overwhelming, unedifying and never-ending criticism, which I so often observe in RadCathRs - as exemplified at The Remnant.

It is my sincere hope, and the hope of a great many traditionalists, that the Holy Father, the Curia, and the bishops will begin to take seriously the challenge of reconciling the new teachings and practices of the post-Vatican II Church with the perennial Catholic tradition. In asking for such a reconciliation, traditional Catholics may not have always expressed their disagreement with the deference due the august person of the Holy Father. 

You sure got that right! But haven't you read any of the apologetics on the subject? Don't they help you to reconcile these supposed contradictions at all?

You have some very good stuff on your website, but I think that your grasp of traditionalism is one of your weak spots. 

Good! Does that mean I can move onto other things, soon, since my arguments are so weak? :-) As Engelbert Humperdinck sang: "please release me; let me go . . . " 

The only convincing efforts I have seen to reconcile "conservative" and "traditional" beliefs is in the work of Frs. McCarthy and Harrison of the Roman Theological Forum. They are willing to give traditional Catholics the benefit of the doubt about their being in good faith, will admit it when faced with a strong traditionalist argument, and are very sympathetic to many traditionalist demands, if not necessarily to all of their beliefs. They also admit that there are conciliar "ambiguities." Unfortunately, they seem to me to be mostly alone among conservative theologians in treating traditionalist positions seriously.

I think their work is excellent, too. I have had a link to this site for some time now. I readily attribute good faith to RadCathRs - as far as that goes. I don't get into inner motives; just the beliefs that people hold. I might observe actions and tendencies, but I try my hardest not to speculate about the inner intentions.

The history of the persecution of traditional movements and of the suppression of the traditional Latin Mass, including by persons within the Curia and the hierarchy, have contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust that makes respectful dialogue difficult. (Even in recent weeks there have been new challenges to the integrity of the traditional religious institutes established under the terms of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei).

I don't follow all the political machinations, but I agree with your general principle that respectful dialogue is crucial. My own bishop doesn't allow the Tridentine Mass in my archdiocese - which reticence I strongly oppose, but I myself prefer the Novus Ordo Latin Mass, so am not personally affected. I'm all for liturgical diversity; I think the Eastern Rites are great, too (though they are not to my taste).

I'm all for liturgical diversity, too. For any approved rite of more than 600 years duration ;-) But you do see the problem. On the one hand, ecclesiastical bureaucrats (not excluding those in the Vatican) relentlessly harass anybody who has the temerity to ask for a Tridentine Mass, even denying people funeral requiems. 

I think that is atrocious, and pragmatically ridiculous as well. Clearly, the Tridentine Mass is needed, if for no other reason than to prevent further schism and scandal among the RadCathRs and mainstream "traditionalists."

On the other hand, when it comes to doctrinal matters, we are supposed to believe that these same people are infallible instruments of divine teaching authority, and are expected to docilely accept every new theological whim. 

More caricature of true Catholic obedience; common in RadCathR rhetoric.

The actions of the recent Popes and the Curia (and a fortiori the actions of the bishops) have caused traditionally minded Catholics to lose the automatically deferential attitude towards Church authority that had characterized Catholic laity since Vatican I. We still believe in Papal and Conciliar infallibility and the authority of the magisterium, but since we have experienced injustice in the exercise of the Church's disciplinary authority, we have come to view the Church's teaching authority within its proper, theologically defined limits, rather than simply ascribing quasi-infallibility to any and all statements of the teaching Church.

It's not "quasi-infallibility"; it is the duty of routine obedience and submission.

These difficulties do not excuse the attitude of some traditionalists, but neither does it diminish the pastoral responsibility of the Holy Father and the bishops in union with him to engage in a dialogue on these serious matters. 

I agree.

It is also to be hoped that "conservative" Catholics can contribute to and learn from this dialogue rather than simply denouncing traditional Catholics who are attempting to make their objections to certain teachings known to the Holy See as heretical or schismatic. 

I don't apply those terms to RadCathRs of your sort (I do for the sedevacantists and SSPX). I speak sometimes of the "schismatic spirit," just as you might speak of the "modernist" or "ambiguous" spirit. So once again, the RadCathR often criticizes the Church severely for not engaging in dialogue, etc., then does the same thing himself. "Identifying with the oppressor"? I highly respect your reasoned, calm approach to this - though we, too, have profound disagreements. It has been a pleasure interacting with you. On the other hand, your positions (and rhetoric) are not nearly as extreme as those to which the bulk of my critique were directed. Those outrageous statements remain undefended against my criticisms, but I have done my part, in any event.

Personal Letter to Mark Cameron: 20 October 1999

(selective; omitting personal material)
I think that in the course of this dialogue we have narrowed our differences on several points, and I hope we can both agree that whatever differences we may have, these are differences between Catholics in good faith, and not on either side matters of orthodoxy or heresy.

For the most part, yes. I continue to believe, however, that the strains of RadCathRism which violate any of the six tenets I outlined in my Introduction to the long Critique are seriously in error, and therefore harmful in some real sense. As far as I know, you agree with me on most (all?) of those.

Clearly, we cannot both be correct, but we have reduced our differences to grey areas where people can disagree in good faith and where the magisterium has not acted decisively.

I wouldn't go that far, either. Suffice it to say that I regard this exchange as substantive, mutually-respectful, and amiable, and that is very important itself. I enjoy it a lot.

I am still disappointed that you do not put my remarks in their complete context.

That's because I made it clear from the outset that I was not willing to engage every jot and tittle of the RadCathR debate. That's just how it has to be. For that reason, I don't cite the entire article (otherwise I would, as I do in virtually all my posted debates). I'm trying to keep it focused on the areas I consider central, as much as I can (I don't mean at all to be unfair to you, or maliciously or evasively selective). 

You have generally done a good editing job, but you leave some important things out.

They may well be important in many ways, but I feel that they are too far off the immediate subject, as I see it (or involving technicalities I am not qualified to determine anyway - such as the "inerrancy" argument you made). And we are usually far from any relation to The Remnant, which the web page I post this on is ostensibly dealing with.

My next piece will be an article on applying Newman's theory of development to Vatican II. This will be a more serious piece of work, and may take a couple of weeks.

I will count the days! I am extremely interested in this, and I thank you for your work on it.
[that piece and my reply to it will be on another web page, to be linked from this one once it is uploaded. But I have been waiting three months, as of this writing]

At the outset, what is striking is that in many respects today's traditionalists are closer to Newman - looking at the continuities in the Church's perennial magisterium - while today's conservatives are closer to the Ultramontanists like Manning, Talbot, and Ward - supporting a view of Papal authority at odds with traditional understandings, and summed up in Pius IX's statement "La tradizione son' io." Temperamentally, Newman is more like a moderate liberal theologian like Congar, while we traditionalists have to love the brashness of a Cardinal Manning. But theologically, I think the tables have turned. Anyway, more on this in a couple of weeks.

I myself am infinitely more like Newman (he is my all-time favorite "intellectual" Catholic - even more than Augustine and Aquinas) than like the Ultramontanists, who suffered a moderate defeat in Vatican I, after all. I love your analysis of this, though. It appeals to the "sociologist" in me (that was my major).

You make an interesting point about the pessimism of trads, summed up with your quote from Anne Roche Muggeridge . . . First of all, I recently learned that Mrs. Muggeridge recently suffered a severe stroke, and is quite incapacitated and unable to talk. Your prayers for her and her family would be appreciated.

I'm sorry to hear this, but thanks for telling me. I will include this request in our Rosary intentions. Have you heard about Dr. Warren Carroll's stroke, too?

[as of 10 November 1999, Dr. Carroll is at home and improving, but still in need of prayer for further recovery to normalcy, as much as possible]

. . . I began to think that the Church that I had read my way into no longer existed. I wondered what had gone wrong. Then I found a copy of Anne Roche Muggeridge's The Desolate City.

I read that after my conversion. I was confused about the modernist crisis. I also read The Ratzinger Report and Neuhaus's The Catholic Moment at around the same time (early 90s).

Believe it or not, this book confirmed me in my desire to become a Catholic, because I began to understand the sources of many of the problems, and how it was possible to believe that this was still Christ's Church despite the mess it was in.

Well, yes; indefectibility is retained, but it seems as if it hangs by a hair's thread in her book, and many RadCathR utterances. This is why I will talk about the "spirit" of RadCathRism" or schism at times - because it is so close, even if not technically heterodox or schismatic. I argue the slippery slope . . . 

So you see, curmudgeonly, angry traditionalists can actually help some people find their way into the Church.

:-) Well, as you probably know, people to the "left" of me often denigrate apologetics as an exercise in the same sort of realistic, tough love, exclusivistic outlook. But I think it is clear that apologetics helps prospective converts.

Our dooming and glooming turns some people off, but others find it to be refreshingly honest and realistic.

One can be both realistic (about human reality) and optimistic (with the eyes of faith). I would like to think that is how I am. 

Our message is "Climb aboard the barque of Peter and help us start baling."

LOL Well, we all have to deal with scandals in the Church. I have never sought to deny them when talking to possible converts (that sets them up for horrible disenchantment). But I go on to say that there have always been problems, as there were in the Corinthian and Galatian churches, and the churches in the book of Revelation.

Many of the lapsed and fallen away find that they cannot stomach the "soft" Church of today, but can come back if they find a Latin Mass.

Well, I can relate to that. I despise liturgical and architectural and theological and spiritual mediocrity myself.

In other words, we trads have an evangelistic mission to our fellow curmudgeons. We even have our patron curmudgeonly saints (Saint Jerome, Saint Columbanus, Gregory VII, Pius IX, etc.) proving that God can draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

LOL. I love this! Of course I knew that there would be exceptions to what I would see as the "rule" of doom and gloom among RadCathRists. You are surely one of them. But again, I keep pointing out that your "brand" is not nearly as offensive to me as The Remnant's is.

Part of the reason that we insist on maintaining the traditional liturgy, customs, and teachings of the Church is that in the economy of grace, perhaps we are still needed to carry on this "old evangelization."

Interesting . . . 

Thanks for your wonderfully warm and personal letter. I feel like we are becoming friends to some extent now, which is great. We have far more in common than what divides us.

In His Church,


Revised by Dave Armstrong: 24 January 2000. Terminological update: 14 August 2013.