May 2020 Print

The Church Is Greater Than the Pope

(Even though She is ruled by the Pope)

By Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel, O.P.

Some thoughts to help sanctify oneself in the Church when the conduct of the (visible and temporary) leader of the Church is dizzying because he has let himself be caught up in the modernist system. The Faith of the Church (just as the Faith of the Pope insofar as he is truly acting as Pope) is not subject to dizziness.

The Lord rules His Church, which is His Mystical Body, His spouse, by a special Providence. It is not part of the providential designs of the Lord for His Church to give her ordinarily as a visible leader, as a vicar invested with the primacy, incapable or bad Popes. If, in the second millennium of the history of the Church there is not a great number of canonized Popes, we still would not say that bad Popes are the general rule. This would go against history, and it would go against the Divine Revelation on the Lordship of Christ, on the society of grace that He has instituted and directs. Portae inferi non praevalebunt. If the general rule of the government of the Church were bad Popes, the gates of hell would soon prevail.

The Church Lives Past the Pope

In any case, the Church is greater than the Pope. The Church does not die when the Pope dies. The Church does not stop believing even when her Vicar is inconsistent or cowardly in defending the deposit of Revelation; the Church is still burning with love even when the love of Christ and souls is stifled in the heart of a Pope by ambitions, illusions and worldly and globalist dreams. The Pope is the head of the Church, but before being her head he is her son like each of us. Before keeping and interpreting with authority the deposit of Faith that comes to him, as to us, from the tradition of the Church, he has to receive this deposit and faithfully believe it. Before introducing, if need be, some homogenous reforms in the rites of the sacraments, he has to, like us, receive them humbly from the Tradition of the Church. His one and irreplaceable responsibility is to preserve for all, to preserve as the leader assisted by the Holy Ghost in a privileged way, what he receives as a son just like every one of us. If he happens not to be a good son, he could, alas, not be a good leader. And in any case, he never has the right, as leader, to try to introduce another way of behaving like a son; that would be innovating in the order of the Apostolic Tradition, instead of preserving it and clarifying it homogenously. We should say trying to innovate, for we are sure that he will never be able to do more than try. The privilege of infallibility will always preserve the Pope from formally changing the religion. But even without a formal change, the attempts or complicity or cowardice can go very far and become a very cruel trial for Holy Mother Church.

The Error of Modernism

The modernist system, or more precisely the modernist device and procedures, offer the Pope a new occasion of sin, a possibility of equivocating with his mission that had never before presented itself. Granted the double modernist principle: first of all, universal reform, especially for the liturgy, in the name of a more open pastoral approach to the modern world, and secondly, the dispossession of the regular and defined authority to the benefit of hidden, elusive, anonymous authorities typical of collegialities; in a word, this double principle having penetrated into the Church, the following destructive consequence has been the result: the Apostolic tradition in doctrine, morals, and worship has been neutralized, although it has not been killed—without the Pope having had to officially and openly deny all of Tradition and therefore proclaim his apostacy. He did not need to and he did not declare enormities such as: henceforth you are bound under pain of excommunication to bring the language, forms and rites of the Mass into line with the Protestant Cenacle; henceforth, priests, under pain of being forbidden, will act like Protestant pastors; henceforth the catechism taught to the little ones will be either Lutheran or shapeless. The Pope never said, never had to say: everything that has been taught, everything that has been done up until Vatican II, all the doctrine and worship anterior to Vatican II is anathema. And yet we have the result before our eyes… To reach the point where we are now, it was enough for the Pope, without doing anything to strike down the former tradition of the Church directly, to let modernism do its work. He could doubtless say: I did not forbid anyone to do the opposite of what is being done in these invalid Masses and heretical catechisms.

It is nonetheless true, as we can clearly see, that we are drawing closer every day to the point we would have reached if the Pope had declared Apostolic Tradition anathema. We should not be frightened, however, for we shall never reach that point, for several invincible reasons. Things may be happening as if there had been a formal order from the Pope, but this order does not exist and will never exist. Our consciences therefore remain free. And it is clear that as the reforms are opposed to all of tradition, they are null and void. We are not pretending to be the Pope or falling into free interpretation when we declare: the Church has never reformed the Catholic rites of the sacraments to conform them to the rites of those who reject the Faith in the sacraments. Saying this is the same thing as saying: I believe in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. It does not matter at all if the Pope allows or seems to allow such a perverse reform, if the Pope does this or not: every Christian can see that this sort of reform is not Catholic; he is therefore not bound to obey; or rather, he is bound to stick to tradition even if it makes him look disobedient. A Pope who becomes a prisoner of modernism would come fairly close, simply due to the nature of the modernist system, to the inaccessible point of which Lucifer never ceases to dream, in an ever-sterile dream: the point of ruining the Tradition of the Faith and the sacraments. Resisting such a Pope would nonetheless be difficult, precisely because he would not officially impose, under pain of anathema, a religion contrary to that of the entire Church prior to his pontificate. He would not have to impose it, it would be enough to let the modernist device work with its double power of destruction: universal reform demanded by a pastoral approach of adaptation to the modern world, and a dissimulated dissolution of the regular hierarchy.

Neither the death of the Pope nor the powerlessness of such a Pope, nor even this very specific defection made possible by the appearance of modernism, in a word, no fault of any given Pope, even as a religious leader, can ever keep us from living in Christ, in His Church, in communion with Peter as Peter, with the peaceful certitude that when a given successor of Peter faints, it is only an exception and for a short time.—The Faith teaches us to see Peter in the Church, for the protection and defense of the Church, rather than seeing the Church as subject to the possible failings of Peter and as variable depending on his changes.

I Believe In the Holy Church

The current trial of the Church is profound and universal. To such an extent that the prelates and theologians who were still so unbelievably optimistic yesterday, are now beginning to show a certain amount of worry in their conversations, conferences or articles. Doubtless the Church, born out of the side of Jesus opened on the cross and assisted by the Holy Ghost, can never be abolished; and the misery of our times, the weakness of men and the rage of the devil will never keep her, even today, from making saints blossom in every condition of life. Perhaps we have tangible proofs of this rare marvel. Nonetheless, the Church’s trial affects our soul deeply, wounds us, bruises us. Faith, courage, the decision to persevere in the Tradition received from the Apostles is not enough to take away the pain and sometimes the anguish. In these conditions, our reader will forgive me for beginning ex abrupto.

Let the deceived clergy dare to express clearly what they insinuate with such reticence, let them proclaim, if they have the courage, that they are reciting and singing an updated Credo and let them say: I believe in a mutant Church that needs to catch up with history and convert from her sins; for us, inserted as we are in the tradition of two millennia, we continue to believe in the holy Church, one throughout all the ages, that never commits any faults and has no need to convert, but rather never ceases to make more effective the conversion of those to whom she has given supernatural life; a Church that is never behind in bringing salvation to sinners; a Church whose movement and forward march are not guided by history but by the Spirit of God; (history is an occasion and not an efficient cause).

Let the illusioned clergy, who have never borne the weight of any Church institution, parish or monastery, school or orphanage, let the clergy with no experience, no suffering from any real reform, feverishly scribble down on paper (which accepts everything) plans and theories that are both simplistic and complicated, if not heretical, rejuvenations and arrangements, corrections and updates; for our part, we continue to think that true and holy reformers begin by reforming themselves, respect the heritage of the centuries incorporated into the ecclesial treasure, truly bear the weight of souls in order to answer their spiritual needs; these needs that are always fundamentally identical, even though certain needs are more pressing at certain times.

Some Christians who were complaining of sclerosis and abuse yesterday now find themselves disconcerted in the face of reforms undermined by subversion, like an organ by the cancer that is devouring it. Are they going to lose their footing, give in to the dizziness of doubt or perhaps of despair? Let them rather take heart and be reassured, and we ourselves with them, reaffirming our faith in the holy and indefectible Church, remembering that she has everything she needs to defend us today from the false reforms, just as she defended us before from sclerosis and routine; she defended us, but our heart was not always pure enough to realize it.

The protection of the Church, today as yesterday, will become effective for us if we first ensure our interior reform, if we preserve with love the inalienable deposit that has been transmitted to us. A break, a rift, a dislocation is occurring and slowly growing wider, between those who believe in the Church of all times and those who, willingly or unwillingly, have accepted to revise the article of the Credo on the Church.

The debate is not principally about the pastoral approach, “the man of today” and the historical future, or even about rejuvenation. The present quarrel is actually about faith in the Church. For some, and we are with them, thanks to God, it is granted once and for all that the Church founded by Our Lord with the marvelous growth she has accomplished, especially when she was able to unfold as a perfect society—the holy, Catholic, apostolic and Roman Church—no matter the time period and even in modern times, has never failed in her mission, has kept inviolate the purity of the evangelical source, has fulfilled her pastoral charge suitably, visibly and fruitfully. However, other Christians have begun to doubt the perfection of the Church. According to them, she offers manifest proof in every sector of her insufficiencies and incapacities. As a remedy, they seek to provoke changes whose end they do not allow themselves to fix, or rather, the only end that can be fixed is the constantly revised demands of a better world to be built. In reality, they do not believe in a free Church independent of history that transcends and judges the world in order to be able to save it. They believe history imposes itself upon the Church, dominates and transforms her.

What are we to do in this disarray? First of all, persevere in the Faith that has been transmitted to us, with its definitions and anathemas. They may promote reforms, but if they disregard defined dogmas and the condemnation of errors—as if the world had ceased to be the world—these reforms no longer deserve their name and become subversive movements. What else are we to do? Having attached ourselves to the Faith of all times, convert; do penance, for the Kingdom of God, that is to say the holy Church, has truly come and it is in our midst; seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice and the rest, especially the strength to persevere, will be given to us.

Lastly, the third attitude in the face of a reform that has fallen into the hands of subversion: keep a living fidelity to the age-old heritage of the Church. They claim to bring us back with their evangelical “rejuvenation” to the forms of Christian life before it was fully explained. They would like to abolish dogmatic formulas, strictly codified discipline, the ascetic state of life for the clergy, Gregorian chant, a specific liturgical language, the determination of the Church’s rights in civil society. They intend to “rejuvenate” us by going back to a source that is apparently the true and only evangelical source, but that did not give birth to the river that is carrying us. But it is an absurd interpretation of the Gospel that begins by refusing the developments that proceed from it and that, for example, on the pretext of going back to the worship in spirit and truth promised by Christ to the Samaritan, rejects the form of Catholic worship that began to be established in the 5th century; as if the countless number of holy priests who have celebrated the Mass according to the Canon did not render to the Lord a worship in spirit and truth.

This type of “rejuvenation” has a name: it is Protestantism; the Gospel without the Church; or more precisely, an arbitrary interpretation of the Gospel that decides to ignore the Church, her growth, her heritage, her legislation. True “rejuvenation”—if we must use this word—is that which, having first received the heritage of the Church with great piety, delivers it if need be from an overcharge that deforms it, brings out all its beauty; and that in keeping with tradition and not based on the demands of History. We have admirable signs of this living fidelity to the evangelical source, ever flowing from a growing Church. Think of disciplinary documents like the Motu Proprio of St. Pius X on Sacred Music at the beginning of the century, and more recently, John XXIII’s Constitution Veterum Sapientia on the Latin language. The reformers who were saints, the only ones to whom we are attached, all proceeded in the same way. Whether they were reforming an Order, the clergy of a given country, the Church government, they all first sought their own personal reform; then, in keeping with the legitimate Magisterium, they declared the world, its maxims and its institutionalized scandals anathema; lastly, they maintained with a living fidelity the sacred heritage of a Church that has grown according to the Gospel since her first steps in Judea and Samaria, since the first recognition of her rights and privileges after the great Roman persecutions.

The type of reform that they want to introduce into the Church now can only lead to terrible destruction because it is ruled by false principles: they presuppose either that the Church with her disciplinary, dogmatic and cultual developments has ceased over the course of the centuries to be in keeping with the Gospel, or that she is guilty of sin, and in particular that she is lazy and behind in bringing heavenly goods to the world.

These presuppositions come from a very insufficient faith in the Church, a diminished, degraded faith that is unaware of the elevation and supernatural purity of its mystery. But the Church is a truly supernatural, truly holy society—the Mystical Body of Christ, the perfectly faithful Spouse of Christ, as faithful as the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is, in every century, with no exception and until the end of the world, Jesus Christ spread and communicated. That and nothing else.