March 2017 Print

Catholics & Protestants Since Vatican II

by Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, SSPX

All Saints Day is one of the great Catholic feasts par excellence, in that it is a feast that only the members of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, duly instructed in the dogma revealed by God, can celebrate with dignity and without contest. This feast expresses one of the essential points of the Catholic faith—the meritorious value of good works not only for the personal salvation of the one performing the works, but also for the salvation of his neighbor. This truth is the foundation of the dogma of the Communion of Saints, and St. Augustine summed it up in saying that “God created us without our consent, but He will not save us without our consent.” The Protestant, he who is not Catholic, in as much as he is not in communion with Rome because he refuses the supreme authority of the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, cannot join in such a celebration. In fact, by following Luther and Calvin, the Protestant denies the meritorious value of good works for salvation. Thus, he denies the dogma of the Communion of Saints. So, November 1st is fundamentally an anti-ecumenical day, a day which Catholics and Protestants can never celebrate together.

Anti-Ecumenical Feast

And yet, this shared celebration is one of the principal objectives sought by Pope Francis, in keeping with the Second Vatican Council. And that is why this Pope wanted, during this vigil of All Saints, to make “a willing and participative witness” of the process begun by the Swedish Lutherans to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the protest undertaken by Luther. Speaking to the official successors of the heresiarch, the Pope said to them, “What unites us is greater than what divides us.” This was what John Paul II and Benedict XVI said before him in order to promote an ecumenism that went against the teaching of the Magisterium before the deadly Second Vatican Council.

What Divides?

In fact, what is it that divides Catholics and Protestants? Luther said it once and for all in a decisive text, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (August 1520). This text is a declaration of total war without mercy on the Roman Catholic Church, which is compared to the city of Jericho. Luther calls upon Christians to march on her so as to knock down the three walls of the sacrament of orders, the infallible teaching of the Pope, and the primacy of jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. Voila! The very declaration by Luther is what separates Protestants and Catholics: the priesthood (and with the priesthood, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass); the tradition of the Magisterium; the power of the papacy. And these are the three pivot points upon which rest the unity of the Church, desired by Christ: unity of sacraments and cult dependent upon the priesthood; unity of faith dependent upon Tradition and the Magisterium; and unity of government dependent upon the primacy of the pope. In the end, this is what separates Catholic and Protestants, the very definition of Church unity drawn from its three founding principles. These three founding principles are exactly what the new theology of the Second Vatican Council seriously weakened. For all that, this Council brought about a truly “protestantization” of Catholicism in the sense that it introduced the germs of Lutheranism into the thinking of the men of the Church.

Weakening of the Faith

The Council weakened the traditional doctrine of the priesthood. The second chapter of Lumen gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no longer makes a distinction between the priesthood of the members of the hierarchy, which is a priesthood in its proper sense, and the common priesthood of the faithful, which is an inappropriate use of the term. Pius XII affirmed that if one speaks of a type of “priesthood” of the faithful, this expression is simply an honorific title and is distinguishable from that of the true and real priesthood. This clarification disappeared in section 10 of Lumen gentium. It presents the common priesthood of the faithful as essentially different from the ministerial priesthood of the members of the hierarchy, but this difference is no longer recognized as one that exists between a spiritual priesthood and a true and real priesthood. This omission authorizes defining the common priesthood of the faithful as a priesthood in the proper sense of the term. And this is what Luther wanted: all faithful, baptized Christians are, for him, priests in the proper sense of the term, because their faith puts them in direct contact with God. After the Council, using this logic, Paul VI modified the rite of the Mass in such a way as to introduce into it this new concept of the priesthood, where the role of the celebrant is overshadowed by the communal action of the faithful. Further, because of the ambiguities of this new rite, the Mass appears to be more like a memorial meal of the Last Supper of Holy Thursday than the renewal and representation of the sacrifice of Good Friday. Again, this is what Luther wanted: to make the Mass a simple remembrance of the Holy Thursday meal so as to stimulate the faith of the people.

The Council weakened the traditional doctrine of the Magisterium and of Tradition. Section 12 of Lumen gentium puts the emphasis on the “meaning of the faith” of the people and thus on the role of the educated Church, to the detriment of the Magisterium and the teaching Church. The faithful are inspired by the Holy Spirit and so become the first depositaries of the truth revealed by God. The teaching hierarchy’s only mission is to develop the dogmatic formula required for the conservation of this original intuition. Tradition thus becomes the continuity of an experience lived in communion and the Magisterium only translates it into intelligible terms. Again, this is what Luther wanted: according to him, each of the faithful directly receives the light of the Holy Spirit, which makes him an inspired prophet.

Finally, in chapter three of Lumen gentium, the Council made the college of bishops a second source of supreme power, in addition to the pope. And in this college, the pope is no more than the head of the bishops, whereas it is the college which is the head of the Church. This principle of collegiality detracts from the papacy and the monarchical nature of the government of the Church. It conforms to the model of a representative government in which the pope is the spokesman of an assembly which is itself representative of the people. This is always what Luther wanted: not a Church society, but a democratic communion.

There is more. The fundamental principle of Protestantism is in fact the principle of personal judgment. This principle is equivalent to establishing the primacy of conscience over everything else. The rule of belief and moral action is not what is true and good, but what the conscience presents as true and good. This subjective and relative presupposition is the basis of Dignitatis humanae, Declaration on Religious Liberty. This results in the autonomy of the temporal order which is also laid down in principle by section 36 of Gaudium et spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which echoes the Protestant principle of “cujus regio ejus religio” [whose realm, his religion]. There is no State religion; there are simply as many religions as citizens. This results in ecumenism: if religion is a matter of conscience, religious unity, in and through the Church, is an ideal towards which all consciences converge, without ever reaching it. And, in reality, it is the process that inspired the Council document Unitatis redintegratio, Decree on Ecumenism.

The Council thus contributed to this war without mercy through which Protestantism wanted to put down the three powers of the Holy Church, the power of its priesthood, of its Magisterium, and of its monarchical government. It thereby became the accomplice of Luther. And it now gives to popes imbued with its teachings the means to make common cause with Protestants, by telling them, “What unites us is greater that what divides us.” Admittedly, yes, but at what price? The price of the eternal salvation of souls, who are tossed about on the winds of these new Protestant doctrines. Yet the eternal salvation of souls is the supreme law, the law which must inspire the entirety of the faith and the apostolate of the Holy Church. It presents again a requirement which renders impossible and useless the process undertaken by Francis and his predecessors.