Sunday, September 10, 2006

On Ecumenism and Clearing Up Certain Presumed Inconsistencies:
(A Response to John TOP)

Prefatory Note:

In light of Joe's recent piece on ecumenism and catechesis, I decided to respond to someone in the comments box of that thread by digging into my writing archives and pulling up some of the material I wrote years ago on the whole subject of presumed "magisterial inconsistencies" viz. Unitatis Redintegratio and Mortalium Animos. The material excepted below is from an essay drafted in early 2001 and published in September of that year. The words of my interlocuter in that writing (Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP) will be in fire coloured font whereas any sources I quoted in the text will be in darkblue with source citations noted and hyperlinked where applicable. My other words will be in blue font.

This has had several effects on the members of the Church. The first is that those things, which pertain to the extrinsic tradition and do not touch upon the intrinsic tradition, are ignored. This manifests itself in the fact that some ecclesial documents today do not have any connection to the positions held by the magisterium prior to the Second Vatican Council. For example, in the document of Vatican II on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, there is not a single mention of the two previous documents which deal with the ecumenical movement and other religions, viz. Satis Cognitum by Leo XIII or Mortalium Animos by Pius XI. The approach to ecumenism and other religions is fundamentally different from the approach of the Vatican II document or Ut Unum Sint by Pope John Paul II. Moreover, the problem is not just with respect to magisterium prior to Vatican II but even with the magisterium since the Council.

The approach to evangelization and inculturation before the Council of Trent was different than it was afterwards. The Church historically has made paradigm shifts in emphasis before and thus to postulate this as it occurs today as some kind of "problem" is to not be completely consistent. Ecumenism is conducted today differently for a reason: the Church is again in the mode of evangelizing nations and no longer playing the "Fortress Catholicism" mentality which set in after the Council of Trent. We no longer live in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth centuries. As circumstances and situations change, the Church adapts her approach. This is by no means a novelty despite how it might appear. The pope has the right to set the tone for what is proper in our day and age as far as the approach that will be undertaken (much as his predecessors did before him in their respective periods). The self-styled 'traditionalist' though does not seem to understand this as they often confuse policy with doctrine consistently — which it seems at times that Fr. Ripperger does in this essay.

Between pre and post-Vatican II doctrinal teachings on ecumenism, there is nothing contrary. The difference is in emphasis. The Church handled herself as she always has done when approached with new philosophies and movements. The first step is negative in the sense that she outlines what is not acceptable within the given philosophy. This is usually in the form of condemning erroneous core doctrines in various philosophical approaches. (Pope Gregory XVI, Bl. Pope Pius IX, Vatican I, Pope Leo XIII, St. Pope Pius X, and Pope Pius XI all did this.) Once the areas of a philosophy that are not acceptable are outlined, it is from there that the Church looks at what is acceptable. In doing this, she incorporates the acceptable elements along with principles that enable the good elements of the particular erroneous philosophy to be harnessed in the service of the Gospel. (Pope Pius XII, Bl. Pope John XXIII, Vatican II, Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II have all done this.) As this writer noted in his treatise on the subject of ecumenism:

Vatican II (VC II) defined the term "ecumenism" and outlined an acceptable policy for Catholics to follow in this endeavour: embracing what was good in the previous errors while reaffirming what was condemned. The core doctrinal teaching of Pope Pius XI's Encyclical Letter Mortalium Animos (MA) - that reunion cannot come at the expense of truth - was reaffirmed in the Decree. The errors outlined in MA §7 are worth noting in brief. Among them include (i) the idea that Our Lord's prayer for unity was merely an expression or desire that still lacks its fulfilment (ii) the opinion that the unity of faith and government, has hardly ever existed and does not currently exist (iii) that the unity of faith and government may one day be attained but in the meantime can only be regarded as an ideal. Further still, (iv) the Church either itself or its nature is divided into sections comprising of several churches or communities that remain separate, and though there are agreements on some doctrines and disagreements on others, that all of them enjoy the same rights (v) that the Church was one until the first Ecumenical Councils. Not only that but (vi) controversies must be entirely set aside and (vii) of the remaining doctrines "a common form of faith drawn up and proposed for belief, and in the profession of which all may not only know but feel that they are brothers" (cf. MA §7). Since every single one of these errors is directly opposed to the teaching of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, there is no reason to quote that encyclical letter in the Decree itself. (The policies of MA were modified because the Church unlike in the time of Pius XI was becoming an active partner in the ecumenical movement. However, the methodology of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio was far removed from the methodology of the Pan Christian methods condemned by Pope Pius XI.)

The Second Vatican Council marked a definitive turning point in the realm of ecumenism wherein the Catholic Church "committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture" (Ut Unum Sint §3) and outlined the principles that would guide her in directly involving herself in the ecumenical movement. Pope Pius XI did not set any sort of policy but was instead aiming to condemn certain errors at the heart of the Pan Christian movement for unity. The core error of course was indifferentism - an error that Unitatis Redintegratio declared was "foreign to the spirit of ecumenism" (UR §11). However, Unitatis Redintegratio sought to formulate an active policy for working towards Christian unity. By contrast, Mortalium Animos took the approach of reiterating the same "come back to Rome" speech which is hardly an approach that had any hope of working as long as every jot and tittle of orthopraxy was treated as immutable. (Not to mention the clergy of the Church continuing the charade of blaming the non-Catholics for leaving without taking any responsibility for the schisms herself because of certain actions committed by prelates in the past.)

As long as self-styled 'traditionalists' continue to prooftext documents instead of actually reading them, they will continue to tilt at windmills ala Cervantes' "Don Quixote" and fight a figment of their own imaginations. [I. Shawn McElhinney: "A Prescription Against 'Traditionalism'" (c. 2000)]

The major paradigm shift at the Second Vatican Council on the subject of ecumenism was to take the ecumenical movement seriously after watching its progress for some time. That many have disregarded what the Council actually taught is unfortunate; however the recent Declaration Dominus Iesus was issued to correct these misunderstandings and assert the authentic understanding of VC II’s Decree on Ecumenism. Not surprisingly, the response to this reaffirmation was that the Vatican was "abandoning the ecumenical movement" for "pre Vatican II policies". Of course this was not true at all. Nonetheless, such outbursts did highlight just how far from the straight path that many people had actually tread. (Some of good will and others of repute that is more dubious.)

To touch on a pre-Vatican II example of ecumenism, the 1595-96 Treaty of Brest with the Ruthinian church comes to mind. Here was an Eastern church which presented their own "requirements" for reunion which Pope Clement VIII accepted. Consider some of those "requirements" as compiled by the Ruthinians:

3. That the Mysteries of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ should be retained entirely as we have been accustomed until now, under the species of bread and wine; that this should remain among us eternally the same and unchangeable.

4. That the Mystery of Holy Baptism and its form should remain among us unchanged as we have served it until now, without any addition…

7. That we should not be compelled to take part in processions on the day of Corpus Christi - that we should not have to make such processions with our Mysteries inasmuch as our use of the Mysteries is different.

8. Likewise that we should not be compelled to have the blessing of fire, the use of wooden clappers, and similar ceremonies before Easter, for we have not had such ceremonies in our Church until now, but that we should maintain our ceremonies according to the rubrics and the Typicon of our Church.

9. That the marriages of priests remain intact, except for bigamists…

22. That the Romans should not forbid us to ring bells in our churches on Good Friday, both in the cities and everywhere else.

23. That we should not be forbidden to visit the sick with the Most Holy Mysteries, publicly, with lights and vestments, according to our rubrics.

24. That without any interference we might be free to hold processions, as many as are required, on holy days, according to our custom. [Treaty Of Brest Document: "Articles Concerning Union With The Roman Church" (c. 1595)]

Now Fr. Ripperger would probably claim that these were eastern "extrinsic traditions". However, any knowledge of Church history would reveal to him that these matters of western practice were still ones in which some in the west sought to impose on the east. (An example of untraditional theological and disciplinary uniformity which they sought to impose on the east for which the west should be ashamed.) This is one of the elements that led to the schism between east and west. It also fed into the polemical attitudes of many of our eastern brethren who speak so derisively of the traditions and practices of the west. They did not like having their liturgical, theological, and disciplinary "extrinsic traditions" expunged by the Latins and the resentment has reverberated as a result for over nine hundred years. (And it was a strong undercurrent behind the failure of the General Councils of Lyons II and Florence to reunite the west and east.)

And now we deal with the Latin obsession with legalities and find that since the Popes possessed the authority to make modifications to the various parts of the ceremonial (mass, sacramental forms, etc.) we find that the west modified the forms in accordance with the times, circumstances, and places. The east never saw this policy as a viable one for to them the "extrinsic tradition" was part and parcel to the Great Tradition as a whole. Consider the irony here for a moment.

The modification of various customs over time played no small part in the rift between west and east because in the east there is often not a distinction made between doctrine and practice. (Much akin to the problems in the self-styled 'traditionalist' movement as few make the kinds of distinctions that Fr. Ripperger is seeking to make here.) Bearing that in mind, we must apply these principles consistently. If the current magisterium is at fault for this than consistency demands that the magisterium in previous eras be chastised as well. Of course this will not be done by the self-styled 'traditionalist' for whom consistency is a foreign concept.

It does not take too long to unscramble these eggs if one reads with the eyes of faith and trusts that even if they do not fully understand the rationale that God protects the Church in these instances. That does not mean that the judgments made are necessarily the best ones but that can be said about any period in history where such modifications were made. There is no justification for presuming that the Tridentine modifications were the apex of disciplinary manifestation. And thinking that today's disciplinary provisions are superior would not constitute a de facto getting into bed with the Modernists either. On the topic of ecumenism this principle of altering the policy while reaffirming the doctrine comes to mind. Ecumenism as Vatican II defined the term was practiced at Brest. This differs markedly from the kind of Pan-Christian false ecumenism which the popes before Vatican II condemned (and which Vatican II and the subsequent popes have likewise condemned). [I. Shawn McElhinney: Excerpt from the Essay Distinctions of Outlook (c. 2001)]


I later on dealt with the issue of ecclesiology with greater precision in writing on various ecclesial models but at the time the above material was written, I did not have as precise an understanding in this area as I would later have. Nonetheless, what is revisited above hopefully dispels with the notion that there is any kind of doctrinal "reversal" or "correction" by Vatican II of post magisterial teaching.