Friday, 16 September 2011

Annuncio vobis gaudium magnum!

Habemus puellam!

Born at 2.33am on 16 September and weighing in at 6lb 12oz (3.06 kilos).

Mother and baby are doing very well indeed.

The 16th September was also the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents and, spookily, my daughter is their ... 16th grandchild! Please God we can be as faithful to our vocation as my parents have been to theirs.

Many thanks to those who have sent messages of support and promises of prayers.

Very grateful to you all!

Hmmm, there will be some blogging-lite for a little time, me thinks. Not too long, I hope.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Doctrinal preambles: a question of methodology

The events of yesterday, covered so well elsewhere, are very heartening. We can only pray that the next few weeks or months will bring about a substantial change in the situation of the SSPX.

Of course the secrecy that now surrounds the doctrinal preamble spoken of in the Holy See's communiqué is rather frustrating but entirely proper and correct: in fact it is the only means by which negotiations can carry on in the serene atmosphere in which alone the voice of the Holy Spirit can be heard.

From another perspective, however, we already know what the DP contains and the communiqué said it out loud:

This preamble enunciates some of the doctrinal principles and criteria of interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary for ensuring fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and to the sentire cum Ecclesia, while leaving open to legitimate discussion the study and theological explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium that followed it.

In other words, the doctrinal preamble is a methodology; a set of rules which legitimise conclusions. Ontologically, it is the doctrines that matter; logically, it is the method by which one arrives at them which matters. I would not believe in the Gospels if the Church did not tell me they were true, says St Augustine (or something to that effect). The quid, the what of his belief is the Gospel; the quo, the by which of his belief, is the Church's teaching. The means by which we arrive at our conclusions and the importance we accord to them, are crucial when it comes to theology and faith.

In making the DP the condition of any recognition by the Church, Rome - imposing its own conditions after meeting the conditions of the SSPX - is saying that before the SSPX is approved, it has to recognise that the Holy See is the final criterion for judging whether something is in accord with the Faith. It's the methodology! The final criterion is not theological expertise, individual memory or the positivist comparison of past and present teachings.



Back to the hospital now. Thanks for the various messages of prayers. Mrs Ches is well and I hope there will be news later on.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

That fine balance

We're off to the hospital soon, we hope, but here's a final thought on today's events in Rome. As Rorate Caeli has indicated, on the one side La Porte Latine and the American website of the SSPX have posted in the last few days an excoriating denunciation of Assisi III. Now, I'm a critic of Assisi III, as I wrote here, but this text denounces it as worldly, liberal and modernist. It's pretty relentless. On the other hand, this morning on the same La Porte Latine, their Thought for the Day, drawn as usual from the sayings of Archbishop Lefebvre is the following:

Si Rome veut nous donner une véritable autonomie, celle que nous avons maintenant, mais avec la soumission, nous le voudrions. Nous l’avons toujours souhaité : être soumis au Saint Père ; pas question de mépriser l’autorité du Saint Père.

If Rome wants to give us veritable autonomy such as we have now, but with our submission, we would want it. We have always wished for it: to be submitted to the Holy Father; there is no question of despising the authority of the Holy Father

One the one hand, a clearly coordinated publication in French and English of a quite intemperate denunciation of the Holy Father, and on the other, sweet thoughts from the old Archbishop. It does make one wonder. As strong as they feel about Assisi III - and I'm with them in sentiment, though not in argumentation - is this really the time to publish such a document in the days before Bishop Fellay's meeting with Cardinal Levada? As Archbishop Lefebvre said on the day of the consecrations when the Papal Nuncio had sent a car to whisk him away to Rome, judge for yourselves the timeliness of such an intervention.

Or do we dare to suspect that a different hand is behind this publication and that its claims of approval are not true? It is very strange indeed.

Hope for the best; prepare for the worst, say I. Let us pray that wiser minds are running the show this morning.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

An SSPX deal? And a prayer request

Rumours are flying around the net of what might happen at the meeting between Cardinal Levada and Bishop Fellay tomorrow at the Vatican. The substance of the rumours is that Bishop Fellay "will be handed a two page document, containing the Church’s appraisal of the doctrinal discussions held in recent months between the Vatican and the Fraternity, approved by the Pope. It is an altogether brief but accurate document, which contains the answers to the problems raised in the discussions regarding the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council’s texts on religious freedom, ecumenism and ecclesiology." (see here) The SSPX could then be offered some kind of practical agreement.

I have been very sceptical about anything positive coming out of the recent talks, but of course Pope Benedict is the pope of surprises, and we know how committed he is to trying to solve this problem. That said, would the SSPX accept such a document? Unless it contained the beginnings of Rome renouncing what the SSPX denounces as errors against the Faith, then the likelihood is that they would not.

The tenor of the Le Figaro article referenced on Rorate Caeli today was that Rome would say that the SSPX's positions were compatible with the Faith. But anyone who thinks this is relevant is mistaken. What the SSPX seeks is Rome's recognition that its own teachings coming out of the Council are not compatible with the Catholic Faith.

I pray that the SSPX take any offer that is on the table. But I do not see how in their own logic they can do so. We should all pray very hard for Bishop Fellay and the SSPX over the next few days.


And speaking of prayers, please say a prayer for my wife as she goes into hospital tomorrow. We hope to be back home by Friday with baby in tow.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Bishop Fellay on the eve of the big match Part 2

So, we'll carry on here with the precis of his lengthy interview. The first part is to be found here.

Part 3: so what now for the 14th September?

Bishop Fellay (BF) recalls the last time things came to a head in Rome. There was talk of the SSPX having to submit to certain conditions. In the end, he simply wrote a letter to the Holy Father and talk of the conditions passed. Then there was the big SSPX pilgrimage to Lourdes. They were told that they could have the basilica at Lourdes but none of the SSPX's bishops could celebrate Mass. BF sent to Cardinal Hoyos some official Lourdes literature which showed the Lourdes sanctuary being used for Anglican services in which seven Anglican 'bishops' took part in the presence of Cardinal Kasper. The Bishop of Tarbes finally said that the SSPX could use the churches of Lourdes as long as they said they were not Catholic, a remark which spurred BF into making some caustic remarks in his next letter to Cardinal Hoyos. Yet again there was talk of condemning the SSPX but a month later after BF's letter to Hoyos there was no more talk of it.

The meeting itself on 14 September is to evaluate the doctrinal talks. Others are suggesting that practical offers will be on the table (Aulagnier and Williamson) but BF knows nothing about that. He begs people not to listen to the rumours. The doctrinal talks will bring no benefits in the short term and they have revealed the clash of two mentalities completely opposed, like knights jousting who pass by each other.

From here I want to give you BF's direct words and my translation:

La seule chose que je dis, c’est : “on continue”. Nous avons nos principes, et le premier d’entre eux, c'est la Foi. A quoi servirait-il de recevoir un quelconque avantage ici-bas si on doit mettre en jeu la Foi ? c'est impossible. Et sans la Foi il est impossible de plaire à Dieu, donc notre choix est fait. D'abord la Foi, et à tout prix, elle passe même avant une reconnaissance par l'Eglise.

The only thing I say is: 'we are carrying on'. We have principles and the first of them is the Faith. What good would it do to earn any earthly advantage if one must put the Faith at risk? It's impossible. And without the Faith it is impossible to please God, so our choice is made. First, the Faith, and at any cost. The Faith comes even before recognition by the Church (emphasis in the original).

He finishes off by saying that the SSPX must open its arms wide to welcome people, even if they are very imperfect from the traditionalist point of view. The SSPX must even go on the offensive and bring people in. All is down to grace and supernatural help and this is why BF thinks their Rosary Crusade is of such importance.

Ches's comments: I'm not the least surprised at the attitudes of the Bishop of Tarbes or the shoddy running of Lourdes. The story only goes to show once again that expecting the Vatican to micro-manage everything is absurd. Half the time, nobody knows what is going on. At the same time it demonstrates that episcopal appointments have to be a thousand times better if this kind of nonsense is to be avoided.

I applaud BF's caution. Someone opined on this blog last week that there would almost certainly be an agreement after 14 September. Personally, I think it is years away, at least on the tack that the SSPX is on.

But I do think it is worth reflecting on BF's remark about the Faith:

And without the Faith it is impossible to please God, so our choice is made. First, the Faith, and at any cost. The Faith comes even before recognition by the Church.

I was amazed to read that line. I was further amazed that it appeared in bold in the original interview. It provokes such massive questions that one hardly knows where to begin, but let us begin with the simple ones.

The Faith is not a private principle but a public rule which we believe comes to us through Jesus Christ. Now what BF is saying is that insofar as they are 'carrying on' doing what they have been doing, they are obeying this principle of the Faith. Does it not follow logically, therefore, that it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep the Faith without taking the steps the SSPX are taking? Objectively, is it not the case that those who do not live by this rule are not being obedient to the Faith? Objectively, then, how can anyone else please God except those who live by the SSPX's rule? By this measure, even the Ecclesia Dei groups are unfaithful to the Faith since they have refused to take such steps.

I hardly expected this principle to come from the mouth of Bishop Fellay but he has enuciated it loud and clear for all to see. If the sufficient reason for the SSPX's action is the maintenance of the Faith, then we cannot escape the implications. But then, not content with enunciating such a principle, he goes further still:

First, the Faith, and at any cost. The Faith comes even before recognition by the Church.

These remarks were made at an apologetics summer school. But the implications of such a principle for apologetics are extraordinary. We know what the Faith is because we believe in a Church which is indefectible and visible. If what that Church now says is not the Faith - and that for over forty years now - how can the Church be indefectible and visible?

Furthermore, how can any man alive in the world today know the Faith? Surely, the logic of BF's statement is that only through the SSPX can he know the Faith. Is this what Bishop Fellay means? Is this what he really believes? And just how much in line with the Tradition of the Church does he really think that principle is?


I have been hammering this line of analysis for the last three years but to little avail. Surely, it is plain to see here that while the provocation which the SSPX has been subjected to is massive - and I have no time for the lunacy seen in Lourdes - the logical outcome of BF's position is that the Church no longer has any charism-given competence to guarantee the Faith. The SSPX claim their position is based on the Faith; what they forget is that nobody in the Church self-authenticates their own Faith. Who guarantees that the SSPX's analysis of the New Mass is in conformity with the Faith, for example?

It is about time the SSPX woke up to their own methodology. It is going to destroy any good they might do. It is compromising massively the Faith of those who depend on them in this grim and dark night in the Church. The problems of the Church are currently deep and grievious. But this response is a dead end.

In sundering the recognition of the Church from the principle of keeping the Faith, BF has explicitly turned a corner. Only time will tell whether he maintains this disastrous course.

Bishop Fellay on the eve of the big match Part 1

His "Fiskness" Fr John Zuhlsdorf, over at WDTPRS, links to a precis of an interview which Bishop Fellay gave to Fr Alain Lorans, the SSPX's top PR honcho, during a summer school in France. The translation of the interview is lamentable and the precis leaves it sounding more garbled than ever. Moreover, some of the remarks are so questionable that one really has to go back to the original.

Now, I'm not going to offer a full translation here of the original French. Life is simply too short, even if my wife and I are being made to wait by the sluggard Ches Jr. who is currently five days behind his ETA. But, rather in the old style of indirect speech in Hansard, I will offer here a precis of Bishop Fellay's replies to Fr Lorans (promoted to Abbot Lorans by the aforementioned translation) and offer my own comments thereon. I warn you the original interview is quite long (over 7000 words) but let us be patient. We're trying to understand. I'll cover the first parts now and the rest later on. I DO have a life you know!

Part 1: is the line separating the SSPX and Rome moving?

Bishop Fellay (hereafter BF) says that lots of interesting things are happening and have happened since Cardinal Hoyos and he began talking in 2001. Things moved forward notably with the pontificate of Benedict XVI and Summorum Pontificum was a milestone, especially since BXVI said the Extraordinary Form had never been abrogated. The new generation of clerics coming through is not as viscerally attached to the Council, and seminary professors tell BF their seminarians are demanding much more conservative theology in class. The progressives are wondering whether the future will be conservative or progressive. Gherardini has made the first open attacks on the Council, which he felt in conscience he had to do before he died.

However, while the pope has condemend the hermeneutic of rupture, he spoke not of a 'hermeneutic of continuity' but of a 'hermeneutic of reform'. Mgr Pozzo of Ecclesia Dei told the FSSP priests during a talk at Wigratzbad that it is a conciliar ideology rather than the Council itself which is to blame for the post-conciliar problems. If this is true, says BF, of course Rome is responsible for letting this ideology dominate for forty years. Thus, the views of Gherardini and Bishop Schneider (who has proposed a Syllabus to clarify the Council) are positive signs that the situation is hotting up, though they do not go as far as the SSPX yet.

Ches comments: BF is being a little anachronistic here. The idea that one must attack the conciliar ideology - a meta-Council, to use the expression of de Lubac - has been around since the mid-1960s. Paul VI's Credo of the People of God was indeed one of the first major signs of Rome trying to deal with it. This is a battle which has been going on for a very long time. That said, BF is perfectly correct that Rome must share the blame for the dominance of this conciliar ideology and the damage it has wrought in the Church.

Part 2: What about the SSPX's relations with Rome now?

BF finds dealing with Rome like walking on a tightrope. He says that he is facing contradictory forces. After the lifting of the excommunications, for example, the SSPX found themselves the victims of a plot in Germany to try to get them condemned again for disobeying the local bishop's orders not to perform ordinations at their seminary at Zaitkofen. At times there has been talk of an imminent reconciliation for the SSPX, followed shortly by rumours that they would have to accept the Council. The pope tacitly seemed to accept the need for the SSPX by saying in an allocution at Castel Gandolfo on 29 August 2005 that perhaps a state of necessity existed in France and Germany. An Augustinian priest who joined the SSPX was sent a letter approved by the Congregation for Religious saying that he was excommunicated for being schismatic and losing the faith. Mgr Pozzo of Ecclesia Dei told BF that such a letter should be ripped up. At the same time, the SSPX priests who went to Rome for the talks were allowed to stay in the St Martha House where cardinals lodge during conclaves and could say their daily Mass at St Peter's. The other contradiction BF underlines is the fact that Universae Ecclesiae approves all parts of the old rite (Missal, Ritual, Breviary, Pontifical) for use by everyone but forbids its use in ordinations except for those under the umbrella of Ecclesia Dei. Mgr Pozzo told BF to tell his people that not everything coming from Rome comes from the Pope. So there is clearly a mess in Rome and it is hard to know how to deal with it.

Ches comments: On the surface of it, this seems calamitous, but on second thoughts is it really that surprising that there are forces battling it out in Rome? Things are changing in some parts of the Curia but other parts have their own agendas. The culture of the mandarin is well entrenched. On the one hand, one can understand BF's caution at not wishing the SSPX to fall victim to the vagaries of this battle. On the other hand, people who sit battles out until they are finished have generally little say about the terms of the peace.

One side of me also finds this criticism of the disorder of the pope's house a bit rich. The SSPX itself is a mass of tendencies. We all know full well that Bishop Williamson said what he liked whever he liked until 2009 when only the gravest of scandals led to his being put out to grass in Wimbledon. I also know from my many years in the SSPX milieu that one priest's position on modesty was different from another's and was applied differently to the faithful; that some colleagues could barely speak to each other; that some were close to sedevacantism while others were close to the mainstream; that some priests refused their new appointments and got away with it. Multiply this to the scale of the Vatican or the global Church, add in Pope Benedict's age, and you have to ask whether Bishop Fellay is being quite fair. He has been dealt with incompetently but surely he can understand the situation better than this.

One last remark to make here. BF portrays the terms of Universae Ecclesiae as contradictory, especially given the restriction of the use of the ordination rite. This provision, so I heard, was the fruit of pressure, but at the same time, given that use of the Extraordinary Form is often (not always) associated with a theology which questions the validity or the legitimacy of the newer rites, one could see why allowing this restriction ensures that mainstream ordinands accept the new rites fundamentally. That is not what the SSPX wants, but it is entirely consistant with Pope Benedict's agenda!

More later. Unless labour begins...!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Belloc Blog

A correspondent brings to my attention a blog devoted to the writings of Hilaire Belloc. It looks like a very worthy project and includes a number of useful links, not the least of which leads to some recordings of Hilaire Belloc available on Youtube. Never more than when he was singing did Belloc realise that saying of his great friend G. K. Chesterton that 'if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly' (just think about it).

On this recording below, he sings four songs. Tough it out if you can since the last of the four is the best sung of them all.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The End of the Affair? What next for the SSPX?

Everybody and his dog now knows that Bishop Fellay will be received by Cardinal Levada on 14 September this year, and Bishop Fellay has sketched out what the meeting will be about:

The truth is that Cardinal Levada has called me to Rome and it appears that it will be around the middle of September. That’s the only thing I know. It’s about the discussions we had with Rome. After these discussions, it had been said that “the documents will be given to the higher authorities.” These are the exact words. That’s the only thing I know about the future. All the rest is made up. Please don’t run after these rumors.

Dici, the SSPX's information outlet, gives more details here about the meeting which, it says, will aim 'first to make an assessment of the theological discussions conducted by the experts of the Congregation for the Faith and of the Society of Saint Pius X over the past two academic years, and then to consider the future prospects' (emphasis in the original).

With our baby due imminently and a new job just started, I won't have time to blog about this nearer the date, so these few lines are simply to reflect on what this meeting might signify.


Nobody knows yet exactly what the talks have covered, apart from the basic topics. For all we know, the papers are unlikely ever to be published. What we want to know, however, is what is going to happen now. The SSPX stipulated quite some time ago that no practical agreement with Rome was possible without there being a serious discussion of doctrine. Indeed, while this stipulation might have been couched in rather diplomatic language, the real meaning of these talks for the SSPX was that they would show Rome what the errors of the Council are, i.e. what the errors of the current incumbent of the Holy See and those under him actually are.

This is an important nuance to grasp. While he believed there were errors in the Council, Archbishop Lefebvre talked about the possibility of understanding the Council 'in the light of Tradition'. Bishop Fellay and the SSPX's theologians have believed for some time now that understanding the Council thus is not even possible since the least admixture of error with truth unavoidably harms the truth. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais has even talked before about erasing the Council from the history of the Church.

Now, - and I realise I'm going on a dangerously speculative limb here! - if we take it for granted that the SSPX's dream solution is not about to be realised by the highest authorities of the Church, and if we likewise take it for granted that the SSPX is not about to change its tack and admit that Rome has the final word on matters of doctrinal dispute, what else might happen at the end of these discussions which are by their very nature surely unique and unrepeatable? Several possible scenarios spring to mind:

1. Absolutely nothing. The SSPX are not about to change their modus operandi, their interpretation of the Council or their rejection of Vatican II with all its works and pomps. The Vatican, for its part, is known to be gifted at the long game and may choose simply to let things be until a new generation takes over the leadership of the SSPX - one not directly and personally implicated in the episcopal consecrations of 1988. The problem with this solution from Rome's point of view is that, sooner or later - probably within the next ten to fifteen years - the SSPX will again consecrate its own bishops. It is already operating with only three of its usual four, and none of them are getting any younger.

2. A CDF analysis and condemnation of the SSPX's theological position. In spite of the culture of admonishing rather than condemning, over the last few decades the CDF or the Holy Father have issued analyses and condemnations of various theological positions, notably liberation theology, the theology of Jacques Dupuis, the various ethical theories condemned in Veritatis Splendor and in other encyclicals, etc. The CDF is now in a better position than it ever has been to explain and analyse the SSPX's theology, so why not tease out exactly what has gone wrong with it? Indeed, why not use such an analysis to highlight what they have got right? The problem with this eventuality is that the traditionalist movement is a hodge-podge of views, and such a clarification might only be able to hit certain targets. I also doubt the Pope's willingness to have recourse to such a step if it were judged that most of the SSPX's followers would simply ignore the condemnation anyway. And as Pope Benedict knows, when it comes to condemning theological errors, there are many bigger fish out there to fry.

3. The transformation of the FSSP into an ordinariate. I am told that the SSPX has already said no to an ordinariate as a purely practical solution of their situation. Well, if that is so, why couldn't Rome grant to the FSSP the same status, with bishops and canonical self-sufficiency, by way of launching the traditionalist lifeboat that the SSPX has already said no to? It is not so long since Rowan Williams woke up to find the tanks of the Vatican parked on the lawns of Lambeth Palace. It would be entirely in keeping with Pope Benedict's ability to hatch dramatic coups to offer to the FSSP what the SSPX have already turned down and look like they will never accept, unless it is on their own fanciful terms. The problem with this is that it would signify a clear break with the body of estranged traditionalists in France (not to mention Germany), many of whom regard the FSSP as a gang of spineless ralliés. I'm sure the Pope is intent on trying to recuperate as many people - to rescue as many sheep - as possible from this sorry mess, not least because the SSPX's priests could be an immense force for good in a Church where error, ignorance and irregularity can be found from Poland to Brasil. Surely, there would also be opposition from within the Church to this eventuality. Solving the SSPX's situation is about solving a tangible division; boosting the FSSP's position might look like undue favoritism.


Well, those scenarios far from exhaust the possibilities. Who knows eventually what will happen except for God? My certainties are

1. that the SSPX will not change or even mollify their position and,

2. the Vatican will not throw out the Council.

And so, we come back to the endgame which I wrote about in February. This clash of wills cannot be resolved except by a solution which allows for the Holy See to serve the Church as it is meant to: by having the final word. There is no other solution attested by history:

The final criterion is what it has always been: the final criterion is the faith of the Church of Rome articulated by the Bishop of that holy, ancient See. This is not primarily a juridico-canonical category - though it is that - so much as the corollary of a charism which the Church perpetually needs. We are not talking about a production line of infallible statements here, but just the practical acceptance that the Magisterium of the Pastors (notably of the chief pastor) has priority over the Magisterium of the Theologians (be they in the SSPX or Tubingen); it is the practical acceptance that all charismatic action in the Church (which we might kindly interpret the SSPX's action to have been) must be subject to the hierarchy. Under that umbrella there is immense freedom to criticise, debate and discuss. With that umbrella, indeed, we can have a thumping great debate about the new liturgy, religious liberty and ecumenism, as long as the rules of charity, honesty and patience are observed.

But without that umbrella there is never ANY endgame to ANY doctrinal discussion. Without that umbrella, discussion is only over when I, me, moi, your truly - or every individual from Bishop Fellay to Hans Kung and Mrs Miggens of The Tablet - say it is over.

In other words, without that criterion in the Church we are condemned to fragmentation. This is the lesson of history.



I have just read another Dinoscopus letter from Bishop Williamson talking about the Vatican Insider's view of the outcome of the doctrinal talks. Therein Bishop Williamson again repeats his view that the issue is one of Catholic Truth. According to his rather threadbare metaphor, the SSPX believes 2+2=4; the Vatican believes it equals 5. Bishop Williamson repeats this ad nauseam and never seems to show the least sign of realising that he is turning the theological differences between Rome and the SSPX into a blackbox the inside of which we cannot examine.

So let us take just one example and try to explain the complexity of the issues to the good bishop and those who agree with him:

1. There is no definitive Magisterial teaching which condemns the New Mass. Fact.

2. Everyone who finds fault with the New Mass must therefore make a theological argument based on other teachings about the Mass and apply those teachings to the New Mass.

3. Where there is a theological argument, there is room for individual error and there is the potential for theological disagreement.

4. When there is theological disagreement in the Church, and this disagreement reaches critical proportions, it is the Holy See which has the final say.

5. The final say on the Catholic character of the New Mass rests with the Holy See.


It is entirely a misrepresentation of the problem to reduce it to some simple mathematical equation.