This blog post - which will not be long, have no fear - has been some time in coming. After all the tumult of mid-May, Pentecost has come and almost gone without any sign of the SSPX-Rome situation reaching its climax. Many people I have spoken to are exhausted! It's a measure of the high stakes of the affair, of the fact that resolution or disaster will effect major life choices and orientations, and of the disorientation which a change in this part of the Church's map will necessarily induce.
Thomas Pink's work on religious liberty. I've been testing out the claims of Bishop Tissier de Mallerais about Pope Benedict's theology (so far, so weak). And I've been taxing my wife's patience with my preoccupation with it all.
I have hesitated to write this particular blog, but it seems to me now that we need to start shining a light on this issue, without prejudice to the decisions which many will yet have to make. I suppose what concerns me at the moment is how this current crisis could affect the terrain on which the traditionalist cause is located. I have written quite often about what the endgame of the SSPX's situation might be: of what process or dynamic would mark the end of its separation from the mainstream Church (whether one frames that separation as unjustified or justified). In this regard, I have frequently argued that ultimately it is Rome which must pass judgment - since that is how the Catholic Church functions! In reply, my SSPX interlocutors have generally sidestepped this requirement, and have repeated often the rather vague formula: Rome must return to Tradition. What they don't say - but what they most certainly mean - is: Rome must return to Tradition, and we'll be the judge of whether it has or not!
But this traditionalist ground is now represented by two positions which until now were not so clearly distinguished. The intellectual position of some in the SSPX (let us not yet class what their party is) is that there are problems with the Council (and of course with its lamentable application), and that these must be resolved in the light of Tradition (code for the reform of reformable teachings!). That seems to be where Bishop Fellay is (though he has not said a great deal about it yet, aapart from the CNS interviews). In contrast, the intellectual position of others has as its central tenet those words of Archbishop Lefebvre in his conference of September 1990: Vatican II does not involve a few isolated errors but is a complete perversion of the mind.
What is the relationship of Vatican II to Tradition? The first party judge it to be in some precise respects inconsistent with that Tradition but - if I have rightly understood them - still capable of recuperation through correction. Presumably, they are likely to be allowed to operate under the Roman umbrella with what officially might be classed as 'sententia tolerata' (tolerated opinions), and work to help shape the debates which concern the questions on which they believe the Council was wrong. The idea that they would not be able to criticise after an agreement is fanciful: they will be able to criticise, though they must do it like brothers, not like haridans.
The second party claim that the Council's intellectual genealogy lies entirely in Enlightenment thought, and that, therefore, it is doubtful whether it can even be classed as magisterial in the first place. The first party seem to be saying that they accept 95% of Vatican II (Bishop Fellay's own words) because they judge them to be in line with that Tradition. The second party say they cannot accept even 1% of Vatican II because even what is materially in line with Tradition is formally characterised by what some rather clumsily call 'modern philosophy'. If you know your St Thomas or your scholastic philosophy, you will understand that this is all about your 'formal object quo'. For the first party, we can recuperate the Council from the angle (formal object quo) of Tradition, even though some of it needs correction. In the latter case, since the Council's conscious formal object quo is 'modern philosophy' (or so we are told by certain SSPX experts), we are obliged not to read the Council with any other hermeneutic; indeed, we are obliged, thereby, to seek its complete repudiation. If you know your St Thomas, you will also know that the business of the Catholic mind is to distinguish, to identify and to recuperate the truth wherever it is. Omnia vera de Sante Spiritu veniunt, as I think St Ambrose said: all truth is from the Holy Spirit.
Some will doubt that the division emerging in the SSPX is as sharp as I have just described it. When finally the canonical proposals for the SSPX do become public and people start taking up their positions publically, I will be more at liberty to name names and talk openly about this.
My apologies: what was supposed to be a short reflection about this waiting time has turned into something else. This period should be one of reflection and prayer for everyone concerned by the outcome of this astonishing turn of events. The Veni Sancte Spiritus was never prayed with more fervour.