Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The centenary of Pascendi

Pascendi Dominici gregis... in September of this year has passed by very quietly, with almost no notice whatever being taken at official level of so important an encyclical.

In the time of St. Pius X, modernism was an underground movement, the adherents of which had to take careful note of what they dared say or publish. To support or promote this movement in 1910 took guts; rectors of seminaries, professors of the sacred sciences, theologians and a whole host of other clergy could be—and often were—removed from their positions on suspicion of modernism. By comparison, today’s soft modernists, who seem to have discarded every last shred of the Christian faith, have it easy. They are free to say and print what they like without fear of the consequences. Only a handful of the most egregious contemporary heretics has ever been disciplined by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in almost all instances, the punishment has been far lighter than ought to have been warranted by the offence. The doyen of heretical theologians, Hans Küng, was in 1979 deprived of the faculty to teach as a Catholic theologian. This amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist, since Küng’s teaching career was not affected; he continued to teach at the same university and as a theologian—just not as a Catholic theologian. Instead of accepting the penalty and reforming himself by abjuring his errors, Küng whined and complained—just as St. Pius X had said of the behaviour of the modernists whenever they were taken to task for their crimes—that he was being deprived of his liberty. There is no doubt, however, that Küng profited from his punishment, as his standing among the theologians of the heretical community was thereby immeasurably increased. His notoriety led to increased sales of his books. He was in ever greater demand in the secular media as a spokesman on Catholic affairs. He became one of a few privileged dissenters much sought after as a religious affairs consultant by the BBC. All in all, the trifling discipline meted out to Hans Küng only had the effect of turning him into a celebrity. To this day he is canonically a priest in good standing in the Swiss diocese of Basle.

More recently, the Sri Lankan oblate Fr Tissa Balasuriya published an heretical book which, in the words of the Sri Lankan bishops’ conference, “contained statements incompatible with the faith of the Church regarding the doctrine of revelation and its transmission, Christology, soteriology and mariology”, in other words, a medley of modernist errors. When called to task for this, Balasuriya actually dared to assert that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had falsified his position. Balasuriya continued to insist that everything he had written in his book was within the limits of orthodoxy. This was denied by the Congregation.

Melancholicus is not a trained theologian, but to his mind, if there exists such serious doubt about whether a given work is orthodox or not, then it clearly isn’t orthodox. Orthodoxy should be clearly and instantly recognisable as such. Fudging and ambiguity, both in speech and in writing, are characteristic of heresy.

Balasuriya failed to satisfy the Congregation on the disputed points and was declared in January 1997 to have incurred excommunication latae sententiae.

Guess what happened?

Balasuriya was instantly lionized by the news media, the Magisterium of the Church was ridiculed, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was singled out for special attack. The excommunication was declared lifted in 1998 after Balasuriya had signed a profession of faith, even though he had not substantially modified his position, nor had admitted to the presence of error in his writings. The most he was willing to concede was that “serious ambiguities and doctrinal errors were perceived” in his writings—yes, merely perceived; not actually there. He also regretted the fuss, stating that “the entire episode has been very painful” for him, overlooking the fact that he had caused the fuss himself by publishing his book in the first place.

Balasuriya has been restored to full communion in the Church, and he continues to poison the minds of the faithful with his errors, none of which he was obliged to recant. He wormed his way out of trouble by denying that the error was there; it only appeared to be there. So the Congregation is now widely viewed as having been mistaken, not to mention dictatorial and cruel, and Balasuriya is lauded as a hero for his stand against a tyrannical Church.

That this state of affairs should even have been possible is owing to the fact that modernism—once described by Pius X as the “synthesis of all heresies”—has in the intervening decades mushroomed to such an extent that it covers the entire Church. Not even the See of Peter is immune from its poison, as the pontificate of John Paul II bears ample witness. Modernism is so entrenched that it is now the norm; orthodox Catholicism, once the faith of the entire Church, is now a minority position, widely regarded as the banner of disobedient reactionaries and dissidents on the right. The true situation is even more dire than that, as modernism is now generally regarded as the true orthodoxy, for there is something less than Catholic about the old religion in the eyes of many of our contemporaries.

Perhaps the conduct of those responsible for vigilance against modernism in the early twentieth century was, as is often claimed, over-zealous. It may be that many clerics who were otherwise innocent suffered as a result of being suspected of modernism. Persecution is not a pleasant thing; save that today, it is the modernists who hold all the reins of power and authority, and it is the orthodox who are persecuted. The wheel has come full circle.

Far from being a mistaken endeavour that damaged the Church or that restricted the researches of theologians and Scripture scholars, the encyclical Pascendi was in 1907 a necessary intervention on behalf of the supreme pastor. It is even more relevant today. It ought to be read thoughtfully and carefully by all preparing to receive holy orders or to make religious profession. It should be mandatory reading in every seminary and house of formation. One cannot do anything to solve a problem—much less a problem with a scope as vast as that of modernism—without admitting from the first that the problem exists.

It is necessary that the Church recognize that the ‘renewal’ of the Church in the wake of Vatican II was nothing of the kind, but a disaster without precedent in ecclesiastical history. It is necessary that the council be recognized as having opened the floodgates that permitted a resurgent modernism to overwhelm the Church. In the words of the Dominican theologian J. P. van der Ploeg, “the rise of neo-modernism is historically connected with the Second Vatican Council.” We shall have no peace in ecclesia Romana until this historical fact—and it is a fact, not a matter of interpretation or perspective—is finally generally recognized.

Sancte Pie X, ora pro nobis.

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