July 2017 Print

Magisterium or Living Tradition? A False Dilemma

by Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, SSPX

Editor’s Note: During a conference entitled “Magisterium or Living Tradition” given on January 25, 2012, in Sion, Switzerland, Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, Professor of Ecclesiology at the Ecône seminary, made several clarifications with respect to his study, “A Crucial Question” that appeared in the December 2011 issue of the Courrier de Rome, which together with the response by Bishop Bernard Fellay addressed the Doctrinal Preamble (see DICI, no. 247, 12-23-2011, and DICI, no. 248, 1-13-2012). Below are the most significant excerpts from this conference.

A False Dilemma

Their objection to our position, in short, is that the only living magisterium worthy of the name is today’s magisterium, not yesterday’s. Only the magisterium of today can tell what conforms to Tradition and what is contrary to it, for it alone represents the living magisterium, the interpreter of Tradition. And therefore we must choose one of two things: Either we reject Vatican II, judging that it is contrary to Tradition, but at the same time contradicting the only possible magisterium, the living magisterium, which is today’s [the magisterium of Benedict XVI], and we are not Catholics but Protestants. Or else we decide not to be Protestants and we are obliged to accept Vatican II so as to obey the living magisterium, which is today’s, declaring that the Council is in conformity with Tradition. This is a dilemma—in other words, a problem with no apparent solution besides the two that are indicated: if we try to avoid one of the two horns, we will not avoid the other. But in reality this dilemma is false. For there are such things as false dilemmas.

The two alternatives are avoidable, both at once, for there is a third solution: It is possible to reject Vatican II without being Protestant and while obeying the magisterium; it is possible not to be Protestant and to obey the magisterium without accepting Vatican II…. The dilemma is false because an indispensable distinction is omitted. If we make the distinction, we find the way out of the dilemma, because we show that there is a third alternative. Our response therefore consists in making that distinction.

Living Magisterium Clarified

The expression “the living magisterium” does not mean “as opposed to the past magisterium”; it means “as opposed to the posthumous magisterium.” This living magisterium is the magisterium of the present, but also that of the past. The objection to our position consists of combining ‘living magisterium’ and ‘present magisterium’ and of setting this ‘living magisterium’ in opposition to the past magisterium. This combination occurs because they situate themselves exclusively within the subject’s point of view. They no longer distinguish between two points of view: that of the office or function (in which the living magisterium is at the same time present and past) and the point of view of the subject (in which the living magisterium is present only). The two points of view are confused and thus they reduce the living magisterium to the present magisterium.

The sophistical argument used against us consists of confusing the two meanings of the adjective “living” when it is attributed to the magisterium. We say that the living magisterium includes all of the past and present magisterium, and thus we take the right point of view, which is the perspective of a constant function that is always in force, a function whose act is defined by its object. Those who object take the point of view of the subject and claim that the living magisterium coincides exclusively with the magisterium of an individual who is presently alive.

The Source of the Confusion

Why this confusion? Why reduce the living magisterium to the magisterium of the present? Because since Vatican II they have been trying to invent a new magisterium. The magisterium is redefined, because its task [now] is to express the continuity of a subject and no longer the continuity of an object. The continuity of a subject, Benedict XVI tells us in his 2005 Address to the Roman Curia, “which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.” For Rome, the living magisterium is precisely the magisterium of Benedict XVI, as opposed to the magisterium of St. Pius X or of Pius XII. And this magisterium is current [actuel] because it is subjective, because it expresses the continuity of a subject. This is one of the presuppositions of the living Tradition in the 2005 Address.

The magisterium is no longer defined in terms of the eternal, timeless truth of revelation (which remains the same, whether it is past, present, or future). This new magisterium redefines itself in terms of the present authority [Benedict XVI], who is himself the spokesman of another more fundamental subject which is the one People of God journeying through time. The living magisterium is always the magisterium of this present time, because it is situated in reference to the People of God as it lives in this present time. The role of the magisterium is to assure the continuity of an experience, it is the instrument of the Spirit who nurtures communion “assuring the connection between the experience of the apostolic faith, lived in the original community of the disciples, and the actual [i.e., current] experience of Christ in his Church” (Benedict XVI, “Communion in time: Tradition,” Address to the General Audience, April 26, 2006).

(Sources: FSSPX/Ecône—DICI, no. 249, 2-3-2012)