The Debate on Tradition

I have just been reading parts of the debate at Vatican II on the sections of Dei Verbum dealing with Apostolic TraditionRatzinger summarizes the debate in his commentary, and now I have read translations of some of the actual speeches of the council fathers. Part of the debate is quite similar the discussion that has been going on in the comment thread of my post on unwritten Tradition. I have been defending there the account of Tradition developed by by Pope Benedict XVI long before he became pope. He understands Tradition as “the living process whereby the Holy Spirit introduces us to the fullness of truth and teaches us how to understand what previously we could still not grasp (cf.  Jn 16:12-13),” and the “remembering” by which the Church “can come to recognize what it had not caught sight of previously and yet was already handed down in the original Word.” Aelianus and Thomas Cordatus have been objecting that Ratzinger’s account seems dangerously close to the modernist idea of continuing Revelation. They insist that Tradition must be the handing on of definite ideas, though not in set formulas.

Very similar objections were brought up by some of the council fathers in the debate on Dei Verbum. The peritus Ratzinger had given a speech which had influenced the 4th draft of the Document–especially Article 8–and several of the fathers objected to this. Here is Ratzinger’s summary:

The dynamic concept of tradition, with which the Council here develops its positive conception of traditio, was strongly attacked from two quite opposite directions. On the one hand, Cardinal Ruffini rejected it from his position of traditionally neoscholastic theology, but on the other, Cardinal Leger attacked it from an ecumenical standpoint. In spite of the sharp division in their general theological orientations, the arguments of these two Council fathers were astonishingly similar Ruffini firmly emphasized the idea of revelation being concluded with the death of the last Apostle, rejected the idea of including disciples of the Apostles among the origins of revelation, and opposed the idea of a living and growing revelation, for, in accordance with the text of Trent and Vatican I, he considered that this should be mentioned only in connection with a strong emphasis on the strict unchangeability of a revelation that had been concluded once and for all, with which he referred to an appropriate text by Vincent de Lerins, quoted at both Councils. In the concept of the schema, and especially in its emphasis on spiritual experience as a principle of the growing knowledge of revelation, he detected theological evolutionism, condemned as modernism by Pius XII. In another tone and with other reasons Cardinal Leger insisted on the same point, He found that the Schema, especially in its idea of progress, which seemed to refer not only to the knowledge of tradition, but tradition itself (Haec … Traditio … proficit), blurred the strict distinction between apostolic and post-apostolic tradition and endangered the strict transcendence of divine revelation when it was confronted with the statements and actions of the teaching office of the Church. The Cardinal was concerned that the Church should bind itself firmly to the final and unchangeable word of God, that does not grow, but can only be constantly assimilated afresh and cannot be manipulated by the Church. The Theological Commission considered the question carefully, but decided not to make any major alterations in the text. It pointed out that the clause ” … Traditio proficit” is explained by a second clause “crescit … tam rerum quam verborum perceptio“, i.e. the growth of tradition is a growth in understanding of the reality that was given at the beginning. (Commentary pp.186-187)

A key question here is the interpretation of John 16:12-13: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” The two sides interpret these verses in almost opposite senses. Ratzinger takes it to refer to the “livingness” of tradition through all the ages, Ruffini takes it to refer to the completion of the Revelation in the Apostolic Age. Here is a translation of a translation of Ruffini:

The Divine Revelation, which we must accept with that faith which we owe to God alone, was completed with the death of the last Apostle, which the historical tradition tells us was the Apostle John. For, on the night before His death, Jesus said to His Apostles gathered in the cenacle: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” These words are as clear as the sun. If the Holy Spirit will teach the Apostles all truth, then one cannot expect any more truths after the time of the Apostles which could be part of  the depositum revelationis […] The draft says of Tradition that it lives and grows. These words the Council of Trent borrowed from Vincent of Lerins; but here in this draft the words of Trent are sadly mangled and abbreviated. Therefore I beg, for the love of truth, that the witness of Trent might be quoted in full: Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding. I will boldly speak my mind, venerable fathers […] the draft presented can scarcely be reconciled with the magnificent teaching of Trent. [For we read in the draft that] Tradition grows not only through contemplation […] but also through the interior experience of spiritual things. Such experience seems at least hardly distinguishable from the “religious sense” that the courageous defender of the Catholic Faith, Pope St. Pius X, condemned in  his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

Cardinal Ruffini’s rhetoric is magnificent, but it had hardly any effect on the final version of Dei Verbum, which left almost unchanged the passages to which he objected. Bl. Pope John Paul II saw this question, or rather the Ruffini-ite answer to it, as the main error of Archbishop Lefebvre. In the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei he has written:

The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, “comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth”.

18 thoughts on “The Debate on Tradition

  1. I’m not sure what test there is by which Ratzinger’s account of living tradition can in practice be distinguished from a claim to continuing revelation. If when the Church began teaching some ‘new point of doctrine’ (to use John Paul II’s phrase in the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei), someone were to object, ‘Hang on! We’ve never heard that before – you must be claiming a new revelation’, it would always be open to the teacher in question to say, ‘Not at all! It was always there in the deposit, it’s just that we’ve only now seen it properly for the first time.’ But if there is no empirical test by which a claim to continuing revelation can be distinguished from the Ratzingerian account, are they really different?

    The ‘growth in insight’ mentioned by Vatican II – I forget the Latin, but I seem to remember that the translation is good – enables a sharper expression of the same idea, e.g. the idea of our Lady as the New Eve being expressed by later churchmen as her freedom from the inherited sin of the race in virtue of the foreseen merits of her Son. But it can’t be used to justify a jump such as going from ‘ignorance of the Assumption’ to ‘knowledge of the Assumption’.

    In the Motu Proprio of John Paul II, the expression ‘new points of doctrine’ is, I believe, unfortunate. But we can interpret it in meliorem partem as referring simply to new expressions of doctrine,


    • Sancrucensis, do you agree with Newman’s proviso “there is nothing which the Church has defined or shall define but what an Apostle, if asked, would have been fully able to answer and would have answered”?


        • Well, I agree, as I am bound to do, with the Council of Tent! I think John 16:13 means what Ruffini says it does but it can additionally be understood to refer to the extrapolation of the logical consequences of the Deposit and to the bringing of new contingent realities into judgement before the principles revealed therein.


  2. A few hasty observations: Isn’t Lefebre’s error the assumption that to preserve the deposit of faith it was necessary to work outside of the confines of the hierarchical Church which received that deposit? That claim is not made by Cardinal Ruffini in the text cited.

    Tradition can refer to what is passed on, or to the passing on itself. Ratzinger insisted that the Latin word traditio referred to the second. But are these two meanings contradictory? The second includes more, and I think that is why Ratzinger liked to used it, but it is not clear that it always more helpful. Ratzinger also held that the whole of Revelation is included in Scripture. Tradition is the key to understanding Scripture.

    Now, just as in Scripture some things are taught but not explicitly, and these must understood through things taught explicitly, as St. Augustine and St. Thomas, and tradition generally, teach, so there are things in tradition which are ambiguous and must be understood through things which are explicit, and finally, in reference to explicit statements in Scripture. Ambiguity and room for a modernist interpretation would exist if we only had, for example, bowing and this could be considered as adoration or simple veneration or just humility, without any further reference point which might decide the question. Moreover, not all arguments give the same amount of certainty.

    The deposit of faith can be considered as an “idea” insofar as what it contains has a certain unity with given characteristics. But in fact it is a series of propositions – I remember reading this in the Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, though I don’t have with me right now (please forgive me). Either one must say that these propositions are not all explicit, or that one is referring to them thus without regard to whether they are explicit or not. To the objection that what Christ left the Church with is the mystery of his presence, which is beyond propositions, I would respond that we are united to Christ through knowledge and love, love depending on knowledge. Therefore there is something which he left us by which we are united to him through knowledge, and this I call the deposit of faith. Can I not give it some name?

    I believe it is a great danger is to think of the deposit of faith as some idea distinct from and in between the realities and the propositions by which we know those realities. I would call this at least semi-modernism. The Nouvelle Theologie theologians often speak in this way in order to explain the possibility of a plurality of theologies in the Church. But being as such is one, therefore so is its expression in truth. Theology is one science, deriving its formal unity from God revealing. Theologians can consider different truths in revelation, but there is always an order among all of them in the whole of the one science.


    • Peter, I know you are more attuned to divine things than I am, so I should probably just recant.

      On the Lefebvre thing: looking at Ecclesia Dei again the idea seems to be that his account of tradition is wrong both because it is doesn’t take the living nature of tradition into account, and because (as you say) it opposes tradition to the rulers of the Church: “The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition …. contradictory [because it] opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops.”

      You write “there is something which he left us by which we are united to him through knowledge, and this [is] the deposit of faith.” I certainly didn’t mean to deny that. What I did mean to deny is that knowledge=a series of propositions. Can you say more about why you think that is so?


  3. Well, I said they were hasty observations, so looking things over things I will have to correct a few things, and will try to be clearer in the main point. This is a fascinating topic, and I am glad that we can mutually profit from this discussion. I agree that Lebevre does not take into account the living nature of tradition. The error that I mentioned, opposing tradition to the hierarchy, contradicts this living nature. I do disagree with Ruffini when he opposes what would become the text of the Council, but I think that he is not holding anything false, but rather not seeing that there is a further meaning of progress in Tradition. The disagreement seems to be one of words, though arguably one use of these terms is more appropriate. What is passed on does not increase, but the participation of the subject does – the “perceptio.” This happens on an individual level through theology, prayer, etc. But the Church itself can increase, above all insofar as there are further doctrinal determinations. This is analogous to the individual’s increase in understanding: the Church as such has been given the deposit of faith and its magisterium is, as it were, the “mind” of the Church, since what it determines is the belief of the Church. But just as the individual’s knowledge is always derived from some first principles, likewise in the case of the Church I was thinking that there are always some propositions in which the rest are virtually contained. The error would be to treat the propositions as isolated from what they contain virtually, as Protestants treat Scripture. So I was trying to understand the deposit of faith as an ‘idea’ in this sense. True, the life of the Church is not simply propositional, but it flows from and returns to propositions, and through them, to divine realities. A non-propositional aspect of the life of the Church, with regard to its theological force, would be like the matter of a sacrament: though certainly not without significance, it stands in need of being determined by something formal, .

    This position seems confirmed by what we profess as our faith, e.g. Jesus is the Christ, Jesus rose from the dead, God is in three Persons. These are propositions united in their order to the formal cause of faith, God himself. Is there a better way of understanding what an ‘idea’ is? Certainly, knowledge is not the same as propositions. Knowledge is the presence of the known to the knower through and in propositions. Also, explicitly held propositions are not the limit to what one knows, but contain further propositions virtually, for the truth reveals itself according to our capacity, but in its richness as well.

    The distinction of the idea from the propositions not only secundum rationem, but secundum rem, would seem to lead to the danger I mentioned in the last paragraph. This kind of distinction is often used these days to make all theologies equal, giving to the parts of theology the multiplicity and equality proper to metaphors, using metaphors inordinately, and thereby creating much confusion.


  4. “What is passed on does not increase, but the participation of the subject does – the “perceptio.” This happens on an individual level through theology, prayer, etc. But the Church itself can increase, above all insofar as there are further doctrinal determinations. This is analogous to the individual’s increase in understanding: the Church as such has been given the deposit of faith and its magisterium is, as it were, the “mind” of the Church, since what it determines is the belief of the Church.” But there is not literally a mind that belongs to a literal person called the magisterium. So what would it be for the Church’s ‘perceptio’ to increase? St Thomas seems to think that grace is less abundantly present in the world the further we move away from Pentecost. Since perception of spiritual realities is dependent on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are possessed in proportion to sanctifying grace, it would follow that in some important sense, perception of spiritual truths decreases with the passage of time.

    Sancrucensis, in answer to your question above about whether Newman’s tests of development would allow one to distinguish continuing revelation from what I called the Ratzingerian approach, I’m not sure if I understand them well enough to know. If they are all of them meant to be true together, then since one of them is “logical sequence of ideas”, then there would seem to be no problem, if that means an extrapolation of conclusions from revealed principles. In fact, I don’t myself see any incompatibility between Newman and Archbishop Lefebvre on tradition (the latter would have agreed with the former in saying, about the prospect of disobeying a papal command, ‘unless a man can say as being in the presence of God, “I dare not obey”, he must obey’. Whether the archbishop was right in the particular case is another matter, of course; but I don’t see a disagreement on principles.)


  5. I think that there is both increase and decrease. What increases is explicit propositional knowledge, what decreases is implicit knowledge and (as it were) “intuition” into the mysteries.

    On the notes of true development: I don’t think Newman means them to be applied to each propositional statement of a truth of the faith, but rather to the “idea” of Christianity as a whole.


  6. Cordatus, you rightly ask me to explain what it means for the Church to increase in its perception of divine reality, since it is not an individual with a mind.

    When I know some truth, I may do so through my own mind and my own thought, such as when I know a conclusion of geometry. But I may know by believing another, I know through the other’s mind and thought. Therefore, I participate in that other’s mind. In the case of divine faith, I participate in God’s mind and thought (“We have the mind of Christ”). But this participation by the believer’s mind in the mind of God is brought about through the Magisterium expressing God’s thought. The Magisterium, then, mediates between two minds, and shares something of each one of them. I proposed calling it the mind of the Church by analogy, because a) like any mind, it contains truth; b) it expresses the divine Mind; and c) it causes truth in the minds of the faithful. This last point (c) is particularly worth considering. I am trying to consider the thought of the multitude of the faithful in what is common, insofar as they are believing members of the Church, and to see how this develops.

    If I know that Christ had infused knowledge of all created things, this knowledge depends on God’s mind, since it is founded on principles of faith, and through my mind, since it also depends on my reasoning. The first belongs to me as a Catholic, the second, as an individual. If I want another Catholic to agree with me, if is not enough to say that he must as a Catholic. Starting with common principles of faith, I must lead him through my reasoning, so that he also holds the conclusion through his own reasoning. But the doctrine of the Trinity, of the Immaculate Conception, and other defined doctrines, I hold as a Catholic. In these cases, the Church thinks for me. But unlike the divine Mind, there is progress in this thinking of the Church insofar as further propositions are made explicit. This progress is progress in the capacity of the Magisterium to cause truth in the minds of the faithful. The knowledge of the faithful thus becomes more explicit, immediate, and certain. More explicit, though it was always believed. More immediate, because human reasoning does not intervene. More certain, because God’s thought does not err, whereas human reasoning does. This is a difference in the manner in which the faithful are able to adhere to the truths of faith, and it changes over time. In this respect, it is much better to be in the Church later in its history than earlier. St. Thomas would have greatly liked to know about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and many other teachings that came later. Who would prefer to learn Christology in the third century rather than in the 16th? This is not to deny that the apostles had a superior knowledge in other, perhaps more important respects. Moreover, even if the Magisterium has such a capacity to cause truth, it is not always taken advantage of by the faithful. Thus, theology may flourish more at an earlier time than at a later time.

    I have been discussing a progress in the realm of knowledge, but there is another kind of progress according to the mode of inclination which St. Thomas explains in the Summa Th. I, qu.1, art.6, ad 3. This is the penetration of the faith and experience and taste of the mysteries of faith which is the wisdom of the saints. Here also there is a progress according to the perfection of love of God. But while the development I spoke of above progresses each century in the history of the Church, the wisdom which perfects charity and is a gift of the Holy Spirit progresses according to charity. It begins with the charity one has at baptism and naturally proceeds to habitual union with God and to heaven. Certainly, charity has not been greater in the Church on earth after Our Lady was assumed into heaven. Finally, it is important that that though these two kinds of wisdom are distinct, they do each contribute to the other’s progress.


  7. Given the Holy Father’s recent interview I must say the story and players Sancrucensis recites above take on something of a different light. What a change a few days make!


    • Is this the passage of the interview that you are thinking of: “St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.”?



    The Supernatural Extent of our Doctrinal Battle

    His Excellency Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X. Given at the Theological Conference of sì sì no no held at Albano Laziale (Rome), December 8-10, 1994, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the death of Don Francisco Putti, and the 20th anniversary of the Roman anti-modernist journal sì sì no no. The theme of the congress was Catholic Precepts for Remaining Faithful to the Church in these Extraordinary Times of Crisis.

    Whenever a combat takes place, we must distinguish the cause giving rise to the combat and its object (i.e., what is being fought against – Ed.). We will talk about the circumstances of this struggle, its force and intensity; and, finally, the weapons required for such combat.


    We do not need here to prove the existence of a combat in the Church, a terrible struggle in which we find ourselves actively engaged in defending the very foundations of Catholicism. Let us recall a very interesting sentence of one of the most illustrious combatants, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre:

    At the close of a long life (for I was born in 1905 and I now see the year 1990), I can say that it has been marked by exceptional world events: three world wars, that which took place from 1914 to 1918, that which took place from 1939 to 1945, and that of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.

    The disasters caused by these three wars, and especially by the last of them, are incalculable in the domain of material ruins, but even more so in the spiritual realm. The first two paved the way for the war inside the Church, by facilitating the ruin of Christian institutions and the domination of Freemasonry, which has become so powerful that it has deeply infiltrated the governing body of the Church with its Liberal, Modernist doctrine. (Spiritual Journey, Angelus Press, 1991, p.v.).

    Yes, this is war! We may even speak of a “total war,” seeing that the clash is so decisive, generalized, and widespread. Pope St. Pius X’s impressive words of the beginning of this century now echo with the clarity of a terrible reality. He also spoke of warfare,…:

    …that sacrilegious war which is now, almost everywhere, stirred up and fomented against God Such, in truth, is the audacity and the wrath employed everywhere in persecuting religion, in combatting the dogmas of the Faith, in a brazen effort to uproot and destroy all relations between man and the Divinity! (E Supremi Apostolatus, October 4, 1903).

    Although St. Pius X’s energetic actions prevented modernism from prevailing in the early years of this century, that same modernism resurfaced after World War II and has literally triumphed ever since Vatican Council II (1962-1965).


    Catholic doctrine has not been only affected by denial of those truths belonging to the deposit of faith. At this level, we already note that each and every Truth has been individually attacked, challenged and denied – from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to that of Purgatory, from the unicity (oneness) of the Catholic Church to the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today, it is not only the contents which are questioned, but revelation itself! Everything pertaining to the supernatural order as such is now attacked, refused and denied by modernist theologians who are honored by the hierarchy; modernist theologians and bishops, together with the Council, have shaken the entire supernatural order.

    Before describing this disaster, let us recall the Church’s teachings. It is a dogma of the faith that there exists a supernatural order, an order above the order of created natures.

    God, in His infinite goodness, has ordained men to a supernatural end, that is, to participate in those divine beatitudes which greatly and indescribably surpass or utterly exceed all intelligence of human thought. (Vatican I, Dei Filius; cap. II de Revelatione, DS 3005). The rest of Dei Filius proves that it is not just man’s intelligence that is surpassed by an infinite degree, but all natural capacity. God is…

    …distinct in reality and essence from the world; most blessed in Himself and of Himself, and ineffably most high above all things which are or can be conceived outside Himself. (Dei Filius, DS 3001).

    If this is true in the natural order wherein man can, nevertheless, attain to some certain knowledge of God, how much more so is it in the supernatural order which is the very order of the holy and blissful life of God Himself!

    (DTC, column 2854) The supernatural order according to substance is the disposition of all formally supernatural realities, that is, the order of truth and of the supernatural life of grace and of glory. It is in this order that man has his last end in his possession of God in the beatific vision. God is the first cause in the order of grace and glory. Man is the secondary cause due to the elevation of his soul through sanctifying grace, the infused virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The objective means (i.e., ways) offered to all men to help them attain their last end are the exterior revelation proposed by the Church, by the sacraments, and by those supernatural exterior means useful and necessary to salvation. The subjective means offered to individual men are the interior light of faith and the exercise of supernatural virtues under the supernatural influence of actual grace. The law governing this order is seen in the entirety of all of the divine positive precepts, which, if we accomplish them, lead us to our supernatural goal.


    Vatican Council I took a very strong position against those attacking the supernatural order. A large part of the introduction of the Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Filius, was dedicated to describing the attack known as the “doctrine of rationalism or of naturalism,” an attack which moved this Council to defend the supernatural order to the point of engaging its infallibility on this important question.

    This is Card. Pie’s commentary on the introduction of Dei Filius:

    Heresy turns God away from such and such a part of His kingdom; naturalism eliminates Him from the world as well as from all Creation. It is for this reason that the Council (Vatican I), speaking of this hateful error, declares that it is “on all points opposed to the Christian religion; carefully adding that, if naturalism shows such hostility to and thus challenges Christianity, that is because it is…the living supernatural in action, the supernatural made Man in Jesus Christ and then made into society and humanity in the Church. And since this is the first principle of naturalism, it necessarily follows that its fatal law, its essential need, its obstinate passion and, in the measure wherein it succeeds, its true labor is that of dethroning Christ and of chasing Him away from all aspects of everyday life, which is the task of the Antichrist as well as being Satan’s supreme ambition… One would, Gentlemen, have to know nothing of what is going on in these times of ours, either in the domain of ideas, or in that of actions and events, in order not to realize that such is the sign of this era, its characteristic note, its error, its crime as well as its evil. (Card. Pie, Synodal Instruction on the First Constitution of Vatican Council I; July 17, 1871, no. 7.)

    This was in 1871. Nowadays, it is still that very same naturalism which dominates and reigns supreme over our entire society, more than ever before in history. Although the principles remain the same as then, the difference is to be found in the intensity of their influence on the present generation and the introduction of those principles in that supernatural society which is the Church.


    modernism the culprit

    For our wrestling is…against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness (Eph. 6:12).

    Having followed in the wake of naturalism, modernism was also meant to be an all out attack upon the supernatural. Modernism simply seeks to bring everything down to man’s natural level. In fact, modernism falsely teaches that nothing transcends or surpasses man: not revelation, miracles, religion, faith, nor our Lord Jesus Christ. All of this was shown and proven at the beginning of this century by the same St. Pius X in his watershed encyclical Pascendi as well as in his condemnations found in Lamentabili Sane Exitu, his Anti-Modernist Oath.

    But what is of the greatest importance is that with the advent of modernism, naturalism [i.e., a philosophical and theological system which denies the existence of anything supernatural, with the consequent rejection of revelation, centering its foundation on nature alone, thus raising nature to the level of deity] has made its way into the Church (i.e., into the minds of those holding the highest offices in the Vatican – Ed.):

    For, as We have said, they put into operation their designs for her [the Church’s] undoing, not from without, but from within [the Church herself] (Pascendi).

    the enemy identified

    Pope St. Pins X showed modernism to be a secretly organized society:

    Modernists…have not abandoned their plans to disturb the peace of the Church. In fact, they have never ceased to seek out and to gather into a secret association new followers in order to use them to inject into the very veins of Christian society the deadly venom of their opinions… (Sacrorum Antistitum, September 1, 1910).

    In spite of all of the Church’s prohibitions and condemnations, this evil continued making more open and bold progress.

    “new spirit” triumphant

    It is very interesting to read Professor Peter Henrici, now Auxiliary Bishop of Coire (Switzerland), describing how the “new spirit” was introduced into and later invaded the seminaries, that same “new spirit” which was later to triumph at Vatican Council II:

    To seminarians who showed the greatest interest in Theology, the Prefect of Studies would recommend the first two chapters of Henri de Lubac’s Supernatural – the most forbidden of “prohibited books”! This was followed by his Corpus Mysticum which claims that similar expressions could have, in other times and contents, theologically different meanings. Meanwhile, in our course of Fundamental Theology, another professor was discussing the possibility of the evolution of dogmas; the meaning of “living tradition”…In ecclesiology, we soon learned how to sympathize with the concept of “the Church” in the East, and that Mystici Corporis had evidently established the boundaries of the Church in a too restricted or narrow a manner; that Vatican I definitions were in need of additional information; that the collegiality of bishops fundamentally belongs to the very structure of the Church. Yves Congar’s True and False Reform in the Church, together with his Outline for a Theology of the Laity were compulsory reading…. The courses in Dogmatic Theology were in the same vein. They were based on the historical research of the early critics: de Battifol, Rivière, Lebreton, up to and including the more recent works of Henri Rondet to Karl Rahner’s famous History of Penance. (Das Heranreifen des Konzils, p.44-45 from the book Glauben DenkenLeben, Communio 1993, Cologne).

    “Living tradition, history of dogma” – This principle is one of the working marks of modernism. Bishop Henrici again testifies:

    In Dogmatic Theology…those interdicts and condemnations of the early 1950’s should have stood as insurmountable barriers [protecting Dogmatic Theology]….Such was, in fact, not the case [as] proven by the above mentioned list of modernist theological literature which was so easily available and so widely read at that time.

    Fr. Henri de Lubac
    One name which has stood out through the heterodox [erroneous] positions on this question, is that of Fr. Henri de Lubac, elevated [just before his death] to the cardinalship for his “eminent theology.” No one can deny his influence was a very determining one at the Council. In Gaudium et Spes, for example, the famous passage saying that through the revelation of the Father, Christ reveals man to himself, we find an almost literal phrase from his book Catholicisme, written in 1938:

    In revealing the Father and being revealed by Him, Christ ends by revealing man to himself. In taking possession of man, in seizing him and penetrating him to the very depth of his being, He forces man to enter deeply into himself in order to abruptly discover within himself those regions heretofore sealed and unsuspected. In Christ man is an adult and emerges definitely from the universe (Henri de Lubac, Catholicisme, les aspects sociaux du dogme, édition du Cerf, Paris, 1938).

    On this very subject, Card. Siri raises a timely as well as truly pertinent question: “What can possibly be the meaning of such an affirmation?” and, in answer, he concludes:

    Either Christ is only a man or else man is divine (is God). These conclusions can be expressed less clearly, no doubt, but they still nevertheless fix or determine that notion of the supernatural as far as it is implicated in human nature itself, and from this point, whether we be conscious of it or not, the road to fundamental anthropocentrism (i.e. man as center of all things) is seen to be wide open (Gethsemani, Tequi, Paris, 1980, p.60).

    And Pope Pius XII’s condemnation in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis was not enough to bring those modernists back to reason:

    Others deform the true notion of the free gift [gratuitousness] of the supernatural order when they claim that God is unable to create intelligent beings without calling or ordaining them to the Beatific Vision” (DS 3891).

    Following de Lubac’s book, Surnaturel (Supernatural), published in 1946, there was his Mystère du Surnaturel (Aubier, Paris, 1965). The theory is unchanged, but more “prudently expressed”:

    As a matter of fact, from the moment I came into existence, all indetermination is removed, and, no matter what could have been or come before, or no matter what could have been in an existence otherwise realized, it seems that there is no other finality possible for me hereafter than that one which is now to be found engraved in the very centre of my nature; there exists but one sole end (or finality) of which, by that very fact, I, conscious of it or not, have the natural desire (op. cit. p.82).

    Fr. Karl Rahner

    In the case of Karl Rahner, that other great instigator of Vatican II, the argument is almost identical [namely, that man’s nature cannot exist without supernatural grace, or, better said, that man’s nature includes by necessity supernatural grace – Ed.]:

    Man’s spirit is impossible in substance without that transcendence which constitutes his absolute fulfillment, that is to say, grace. (Nature et grâce, Ed. Paoline, Rome, 1969, p.118).

    It is quite obvious that such ideas could not have unwarily passed at the Council. Nevertheless, their influence is quite clear in Dei Verbum wherein the desire of breaking away from traditional doctrine was so strong as to shun the very word supernatural. Concerning man’s final goal, de Lubac made the following commentary in his book Revelation divine, p.206:

    …[S]cholastic terms were avoided, so that the Council (Vatican II) would not seem to engage in subtleties of schools of thought nor seem to be closing the door to research by adopting overly specific theologies.

    Elsewhere, two other liberal theologians are quoted:

    Now, Vatican II, moreover, makes very little use of the word supernatural, and in this, as a matter of fact, we may legitimately see at least vaguely, an intention of thrusting aside everything and anything which might seem to favor explicitly one or the other side of those parties recently in dispute. It would be reasonable to say that the Council has broken with that extrinsicism which was the illness of modern Catholicism in this matter and which, for so long, had failed to appreciate the full extent of nature’s promise or assurance (Yves Congar).

    By deliberately avoiding the vocabularies of the two sides, it has, in reality, taken an extremely important position (Mouroux).

    Card. Ratzinger, commenting on this same article concerning Dei Verbum, informs us that Vatican II…:

    …did not only avoid the technical term, supernatural, which belongs too much to a physical idea or thought, but did, in fact, take a direction contrary to that of Vatican I: it develops Revelation starting from its Christological milieu in order to then establish, in an all-encompassing dimension, the inalienable responsibility of human reason. Thus it is now seen that man’s behavior in relation to God does not consist in something added to two more or less independent pieces, but constitutes rather a unique and inseparable entity….

    It is now unmistakably clear that for the modernists Dei Verbum is a great victory. Revelation, dynamic tradition, living, Holy Scripture are all treated in a crafty and subtle modern sense to such a degree that, to give an example, Card. Ruffini was compelled to intervene and attack the theological evolutionism of article 8 (of Dei Verbum), which gives a dynamic [i.e. ever-changing] conception of Tradition, condemned as being modernist by Pope St. Pius X. Considering how Holy Scripture is treated nowadays, we may be sure that the third chapter of this Constitution dealing with the divine inspiration and interpretation of the Bible can also be set down as yet another of the modernists’ victories. Card. Ratzinger, in his commentary on the first two chapters of Dei Verbum (Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, tome XIII, pp.504-505 et seq.), gives the following explanation to the phrase, “Conciliorum Tridentini et Vaticani Primi inhaerens vestigiis” (Adhering to the path laid down by the Councils of Trent and of Vatican I”):

    Does such a phrase not constitute a refusal to try to go beyond those two previous Councils (Trent and Vatican I)? This being so, did not the last Council itself require a backward-looking interpretation of the text? Regarding the history of the text itself, to which the reference to the Council of Trent was added only in Part G, let us say that the formula “inhaerens vestigiis” (“adhering to the path”) was essentially meant to establish, against all the apprehensions and fears of the conservative group of cardinals, a continuity of the Church’s teaching, a continuity of Vatican II with those two previous (infallible – Ed.) Councils, but yet a continuity not marked by a rigid exterior identity but rather by a conservation in progress….Our Constitution represents a “re-reading” of the corresponding texts of Vatican I and of Trent in which things of the past are to be read in the context of and manner of the present day. In this way, that which is regarded as essential together with that which is considered to be inadequate or insufficient has been interpreted and seen in a new manner.

    What a world of difference with the way Vatican I expressed its continuity with the great Council of Trent [in this particular case regarding revelation and the interpretation of Sacred Scripture (DS 3007) – Ed.]: “Nos idem decretum renovantes hanc illius mentem esse declaramus.” (“We, renewing the same decree, declare this to be its intention….”)

    Ever since Vatican II, the authors of these [modernist] theories have been promoted to the highest ranks in the Church. From being simply experts and theologians at the Council, they have become cardinals and even pope. It is from the very heights of the Church that such [modernist] doctrines are today everywhere spread more and more clearly, even in the official documents coming from the Holy See. Is there yet to be found a seminary still free of these interpretations, which attack both directly and indirectly the point at issue: the supernatural?

    Be it the mysteries of the Church, revelation, Holy Scripture itself or Biblical exegesis in particular; be it the question of grace and thus the question of justification and of salvation followed by the question of missions and of missionaries: in every one of these spheres we behold the triumph of naturalistic modernism.

    Unfortunately, the idea of going beyond the bounds of the duality of two opposite terms is to be also found in Pope John Paul II. This idea shows up in most of his speeches and writings, making it plain that he is also to be counted amongst the disciples of the New Theology. Pope John Paul II’s two key phrases have both come directly from Gaudium et Spes:

    For, by his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man.

    …and …

    …Christ…in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself.

    It is thus obvious that the Holy Father sees in the Incarnation a way of uniting or combining nature and grace. It is true, of course, that in the Word made Man (Christ) both His divine nature and His human nature have indeed been joined together, but this does not mean, as Pope John Paul II seems to say, that all of the natural order has thus been once and for all united without any possible distinction to the supernatural order through the “recapitulatio in Christo” (“retoration in Christ”) [Eph 1:10 – Ed.]. Here is an extract from his Dives in Misericordia (1,4) clearly exemplifying this disciple of de Lubac:

    All the more the Church’s mission concentrates itself on man, all the more it becomes, so to speak, anthropocentric, all the more it must also show itself to be theocentric and prove to be so in truth, that is to be directed in Christ toward the Father. Although in the past as well as in the present, various currents of thought inclined to separate theocentric from anthropocentric, and even to put them in opposition to one another, the Church [now] is striving, and in this is simply following Christ, to show forth their strong organic link in the history of mankind. This also constitutes a fundamental thought, maybe the most important one in the teaching to come out of the last Council.

    If, in this present phase of the Church’s history, we perceive our primary duty as being to bring about the teachings of the last Council, we must turn to this fundamental thought with faith, with all our heart and spirit….

    It is always the same question of merging, of intermingling nature and the supernatural (here theocentric and anthropocentric) by way of fusion (con-fusion!), and this is presented as the most important thought coming from the Council, and, we might add, the most important one of John Paul II’s pontificate. This is the one constantly recurring theme dominating, directing and explaining his mysterious pontificate. It is also this basic idea which dictates the new manner of defining the Church, its ecumenism, the Assisi affair, as well as relations with both monotheist and non-monotheist religions and the Church’s new relations with the world. We must repeat – The present Pope’s theology is not to be considered as a case apart, but must be seen as part and parcel of Vatican II’s new dominant theology, the same one which Msgr. Henrici has described as being the “New Theology,” and what he freely admits was officially condemned under Pope Pius XII’s pontificate. The present Pontiff is simply repeating that which he was himself previously taught by his [modernist] masters: de Lubac, Congar, etc.

    Let us compare the present situation, if you will, to a naval battle: the Church being a warship floating and making its way through a terrible storm…Not only has it the raging elements to contend with but also finds itself virtually surrounded by enemy ships pounding her mercilessly with their heavy-caliber guns. These are the heresies which are meant to destroy such-and-such part of the vessel. This kind of warfare the Church has experienced from its very beginning. But now, with modernism and the very negation of the supernatural order. the enemy is no longer content to simply fire on the ship (i.e., the Church), he is now trying to destroy her by destroying not only the ship itself, but also that which holds her up – water, and the sea itself which we can call the preambula fidei. [i.e., the preambles of faith. These are those things which we know by human reason about God, such as His existence and goodness, which help enable us to make an act of faith by His grace. – Ed.]

    It is precisely upon the preambula fidei that the modernists have set their guns and have been able to wreak havoc on such an unprecedented scale. For example, when they are dealing with truth and therefore with the philosophical question of knowledge, they begin with the principle of the evolution of a truth which would be defined as the “adequation” with life. [i.e., that truth, mimicking life, must change so it becomes a perfect “adaptation” to life. – Ed.]

    Modern theologians do not only reject the vessel and the ocean upon which it floats, but are also now rejecting the planet Earth itself, through their new philosophies, including what is called existentialism as well as through their new theory concerning language itself. They have now made of every being and even of each word an absolute sufficient unto itself.

    Card. Siri, referring to this question of language in his book, Gethsemani, makes the following observation:

    It is now quite common for us to be in the presence of some perilously unsuspected word prestidigitation or word trickery: being, existence, interpretation, comprehension, hermeneutics, language, tongue, word, substance, essence, subjectivity, objectivity, structure, identity, praxis, orthopraxis, liberation, inculturation, as well as many other words both old and new, even some of major importance, are all subject to an unending change of resonance, of meaning, putting us in mind of the changing chameleon as it passes from sunlight to the shade of the forest. From one school to another, from one chapter to another in the same book words scud and run before the fickle winds of change, ever slithering with various implications and insinuations in such a way as to leave in their wake no principle, no notion, no concept nor any kind of stable fundamental meaning. In the name and for the sake of change in words and in speech, we are now witnessing a re-evaluation, a polyvalency and an anarchical dispersion or breaking up of any and all essential order of words (p.137).

    When modernists launch a general attack on language itself, thought and the theory of knowledge will inevitably also be left in ruins. They end up with a new nominalism wherein the essence of things are always unattainable, and universal or general propositions, concepts or ideas are left without any meaning at all and are held to be utterly vain. Thus are the blind modernists left with quantity bereft of form and of sense.

    It is now crystal-clear that for Karl Rahner…:

    …the office of Peter, accepted with faith, can no longer be received nor explained due to the impossibility of covering (or taking in) the vast extent of knowledge required to synthesize today’s mentality with the Faith (Karl Rahner, Motivation de la foi aujourd’hui, p.27).

    In the circumstances where every being and event is considered to be an absolute in itself, modernists inevitably end up with this “historical evolution.” Schillebeeckx claims in his book:

    We have never had a “totally” uniform and metahistorical expression of the Faith; we have never had an expression which was not historical, we must always be rethinking the Faith according to modern circumstances (La fide nel pluralism della culture, Cittadella, Assisi 1979, p.254).

    Said Card. Siri:

    Historicist thought and mentality cannot help but go, more or less directly or intensely, inevitably toward that mirage of justification and salvation by means of man’s autonomy and historical activity through history. Another equally inescapable fact is that such an orientation, acknowledged or not, seals the doom of the essence as well as real mystery of Revelation (p.355). Modern theologies, implicitly or explicitly, express an ever-increasing tendency towards transcendental pluralism, that is, a pluralism throwing into confusion any and all distinctions and limits coming from stable criteria. This holds true with regard to the starting point of these tendencies as well as to that orientation pre-established by the will together with that which concerns terms, language and previous verbs. It is not at all a question of a pluralism of expression or of the means of expression, nor of a pluralism of images or of parallelism. It is a question of total pluralism, as if each person could constitute a starting point with his own thoughts and will, and, being absolutely autonomous or self-sufficient.

    From innumerable works, like from those of Karl Rahner, for example, has come a doctrinal pluralism which, henceforward, allows no objective base whatsoever for a Christian theology based on divinely received Revelation. Neither shades of meaning or nuances, nor everything which remains indefinite or indefinable, nor everything remaining unknown, nor all the inspirations and artful works of man, can justify in any possible way such a pluralism which simply annihilates every notion of universal truth in view of method as well as essence. Such pluralism simply annihilates the very foundations of intelligence, of any understanding in our relationships with God, as well as with our dealing with other individuals making up our human society (Card. Siri, Gethsemani, 1988).

    The theology of the future will be characterized by a considerable and henceforth insurmountable pluralism of theologies, in spite of the unique Church’s unique profession of Faith (Fr. Karl Rahner, Sacramentum mundi, tome VIII, col. 345).

    These modern theologies, in their frenzied attacks on super-nature, have not only destroyed supernatural order, they have gone on to sabotage and undermine nature itself to the point of leaving nothing except the folly of a mind which can only get excited about itself.


    It is certainly obvious that we cannot fight them down at their level. Have we, on our side, proportionate weapons enabling us to carry on a successful attack against such neo-modernist thoughts? Here again, we must have recourse to supernatural weaponry, without, of course, neglecting natural action and effort. Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.

    Thus did Pope St. Pius X strongly recommend to all schools teaching philosophy, the teaching of the 24 Thomistic Theses in Philosophy. (Doctoris Angelici, June 29, 1914; Décision dela Congregation des études, July 27, 1914). These 24 theses lay down or impose absolutely fundamental distinctions which all utterly contradict the modernist idea of fusion/confusion.

    In creation and in different levels, is to be seen a necessary distinction between action and potential, between essence and existence, between body and soul, between an ability and its action, the action of a faculty and its object, etc. Any denial of these distinctions renders reality utterly unintelligible and will quickly set us on the road to pantheism.

    We must call for an unceasing return to the supernatural order, as the Catholic Faith has always taught. Since the supernatural order is an extraordinary gift of God, there is an essential distinction between the natural order which is proportioned to human nature and that supernatural order which is the order of God in His Life. It is an order which infinitely surpasses the natural order, and which only the omnipotence of God can enable us to share, in spite of the fact that men have absolutely no right to it, and also in spite of the fact God is not at all compelled to do mankind such a favor.

    By whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature…(II Peter 1:4).

    I am the vine, you the branches: he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

    Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man, speaking by the Spirit of God saith Anathema to Jesus. And no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost (I Cor. 12:3).

    Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings (Romans 8:26).

    Vatican I underscores the creature’s complete submission to God in these vivid terms:

    Since man is wholly dependent on God as his Creator and Lord, and since created reason is completely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound by faith to give full obedience of intellect and will to God who reveals (DS 3008).

    This confession of Faith is of extreme importance. We are engaged in a unique and gigantic battle where simply adopting a “human” position against those errors will never do. It is absolutely necessary that we attack these errors. These “assassins of the Faith,” as Msgr. Lefebvre once called them, must be unmasked. This is exactly what Pope Saint Pius X called for in Pascendi.

    But all of these actions are primarily acts of Faith. This constitutes that anagogical act so heartily recommended by all of the Apostles:

    Watch ye, stand fast in the Faith, do manfully, and be strengthened (I Cor. 16:13).

    Whom resist ye, strong in Faith (I Peter 5:8).

    For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world: and this is the victory which overcometh the world, our Faith (I John 5:4) animated by Charity (Eph. 4:15).

    God has raised up saints who were instrumental in resolving the Church’s crises, who labored to correspond to God’s will through a most profound union with God. I well recall a colleague who went to visit a minister of a former Catholic State who was eager to do something positive for his people by offering to help this priest. “What do you need to begin?” The priest said: “Twenty men in the state of grace.” In proposing this solution and these weapons, we stand in good company. At the end of his work De Gratia, Rev. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange describes the present situation:

    How is the Church going to recover from such an unprecedented fall? How is she to recover her unity of thought and life in the midst of such a diversity and complexity of unsolvable questions? The answer can only be found in a return to Christian principles. And in particular, priests and religious must make these same principles part and parcel of their daily lives. It is to this end that the Holy Ghost and His seven gifts have been given to us.

    St. Thomas teaches that, in difficult times, we need these seven gifts in order to remain docile and unresisting to those inspirations of the Holy Ghost. These inspirations are given to help those virtues which are only too liable to suffer from human weakness and which lack sufficient promptitude in the service and love of God….

    But it is often found that these Gifts are held back within us and are thus unable to go forth and receive the impulsive and vivifying force of the Holy Ghost. These seven gifts are hindered by innumerable venial sins (of which we are often quite unconscious) which bind up our spirit to exterior things as well as to our own selfishness. In these circumstances, we are no longer guided by the Holy Ghost but by our own selves, by our own poor reason wherein lies our own weak judgment and not at all in accordance with the judgment of God. (De Gratia, Berruti, Turin, 1947, p.402 seq.).

    St. Thomas also urges each and every Christian to base all his life on the fundamental principle of divine adoption, by unceasingly placing himself under the guidance of the Spirit of adoption of the children of God, that is, of the Holy Ghost.

    Whatever word or expression or means we use in the present grievous circumstances, they must be of the supernatural order, that same order which is under attack and being destroyed by modernism. The fount of grace is to be found in Holy Mass.

    From a human point of view, we should never succeed in this great battle: the enemy is too strong, too numerous and have also been joined by the fallen angels or demons. For our part, we must also seek angelic support. Let us enter into an alliance with all those friends of God, with those whose duty it is to watch over Holy Church, all of the holy angels and especially the Queen of Angels. Signs point to the decisive role being played by the Holy Virgin Mary in these apocalyptic times.

    In the Apocalypse, St. John shows us a great sign appearing in the heavens; a Virgin surrounded by the sun, the moon beneath her feet in a deadly struggle with the ancient dragon. By this we understand, as an echo from the Book of Genesis, that our Lady is playing a major role in this battle against Satan. At the time when naturalism and its followers have come upon the world stage, Divine Providence has twice caused to appear this great sign in the firmament of the Catholic Church’s doctrine. We had the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and that of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (1950). The signum magnum has arrived and we now are living in apocalyptic times, a period of extraordinary struggles where God has not failed to provide us with a proportionate and necessary remedy: Ite ad Mariam! (Have recourse to Mary!) May she deign to protect us as well as the whole Church.


  9. I am a catholic but i admit i hardly u understand the meaning of Tradition when the Church says Tradition is equal to Scripture. And based on your writings and opinions/ideas presented, there seems to be really different understanding of Catholics and non-Catholics of what Tradition is based on Church”s definition. It seems that even among the members of the Church’s Magisterium, there is no unanimous pronouncement or definition of Tradition that it claims to be of equal status to that of scripture. In some catholic forums, when meaning of Tradition is being asked, the respondent comes up with the list of statements of early church fathers on some doctrinal issues. It appears therefore that Tradition includes those what the early church fathers believe. Why is there no simplified definition of Tradition that the Church can come up with. If bishops are guided by the Holy Spirit, why are they not always one in understanding the Scripture? I think some catholic apologists also ask this question to our protestant friends: If protestant pastors claim they are being guided by the holy spirit as their authority to preach, then why are there thousand of protestant churches having different interpretations? So i ask if the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, why is there no unanimity in the magisterium? Please enlighten me on these questions. Thank you.


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