Tradition’s Answer to the Conciliar Ecclesiology
At Courrier de Rome’s 15th Congress that took place on January 18, 2020, on the theme “Is there a risk of schism in the Church today?” Fr. Davide Pagliarani, Superior General of the SSPX, gave the final conference entitled “Tradition’s Answer to the Conciliar Ecclesiology.”
As the years go by, we can see very clearly in the current crisis a continuity with Vatican Council II, but at the same time, there is an acceleration and also a new contribution. And there are reactions to this contribution—we will explain what sort of reactions. To what extent? That is what the first part of my conference will discuss: to what extent is there continuity, to what extent is there novelty? We will see how everything that has been said today can be brought back to a single basic principle.
Continuity and Novelty in Pope Francis’s Pontificate
I think that the answer to our first question is to be found in the encyclical Laudato si’. Its essential contents have been discussed during this congress, but at the end the Pope sums up brilliantly—you have to admit—everything he has said. He presents a synthesis of his long encyclical in paragraph 245, in the form of a principle: “In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward.”
“God has united Himself definitively to our earth.” Is this a new claim compared to the Council and everything we have heard since the Council? Yes. It is a new and original claim. And this new claim gives us a clear idea of the acceleration Pope Francis has implemented.
It is obvious that an immanentist bent was taken with the Council, resulting in a new conception of Revelation, a new conception of the Faith, and therefore a new mission of the Church.
I shall take the liberty of recalling some of these ideas, even though everyone already knows them, and they have already been explained several times, in order to show the specific difference Pope Francis has introduced into them, while still in keeping with the Council.
The Triumph of Personalism
The great intuition of the Council, and above all the major focus of John Paul II’s pontificate, was the idea, as discussed in last year’s Congress, that in becoming incarnate, Our Lord united Himself to every man in a certain way. That is the major theme of Redemptor Hominis, the encyclical that announced John Paul II’s program. If Christ is already united to every man, the Church’s mission is to help all men become aware of the fact that they are already united to Christ. They are already saved, in a way, so the Church has to bear witness to this; properly speaking, evangelization becomes a testimony and this testimony is that of the People of God, a sacrament—a sign in the midst of humanity—of this union of the Word with every man. John Paul II had his own specific term for this process; he called it self-awareness, each man’s ability to become progressively aware of the fact he is already united in a way with Christ, and therefore has already entered into the mystery of salvation through Our Lord’s incarnation.
That is John Paul II’s perspective, which is perfectly representative of the entire post-Conciliar development on this major point, even though he was not, of course, the only one, and there has been a linear continuity ever since the Council between the various popes who have succeeded each other in Rome.
This perspective is profoundly personalistic. It focuses on the person; the person is already “dignified” by its union with the Word, and needs to become aware of this union. This personalistic perspective produces a morality that is still relatively demanding. Why? Because the person—in the perspective of the Council and John Paul II in particular—is a relation, a “being for,” a being that, we might say, subsists and fulfills its being to the extent that it gives of itself, hence the demanding morality. For example, all of Pope John Paul II’s family morality, all of his teachings on the family, are fairly traditional, at least in their conclusions, compared to the teachings of Pope Francis—I think there is no doubt about that—but the general perspective is profoundly personalistic.
From the Person to the Earth
Keep this idea in mind: the person is a relation, therefore it subsists to the extent to which it gives of itself, and for that it also needs freedom, since to give of itself it has to be free. And there, in relation and freedom, you have the two great pillars of the morality developed by Pope John Paul II. Pope Francis takes things much farther. There is no rupture, but he goes much farther. Why? Because Christ is not simply united to all men, Christ is united to the earth. The issue is no longer self-awareness, which of course is not denied; Francis’ perspective is far more radical. In a certain sense, it is even simpler, or if you prefer, the immanentist seed produces riper fruit.
What we have to understand is that in the new perspective offered by Pope Francis, all of morality is contained in the idea of being in harmony with nature, with the earth. Why? Because Christ is already united to the earth. The pope insists greatly upon the unity and connection between God, man, and the environment. As man and the environment are creatures of God, a whole new code can be written, or, if you prefer, we can rewrite the entire moral code based on this respect we owe to the earth and to nature. For “everything is connected.” By respecting nature as fully as I should, I also respect the law of God and my neighbor; that is the great intuition of Laudato si’, hence the fact, as was discussed this morning, that a forest becomes a theological topic.
I am going to quote for you a passage from the Final Document on the Synod in which youth itself is considered as a theological topic! And yet youth is dependent, for especially since the creation of the world and original sin, it needs the care of others, the care of adults, teachers, parents, the Church, the State, because it is a difficult age. Teenagers also sometimes need the example of simplicity and purity set for them by younger children. But no! For the synod, youth is also a part of nature and therefore a theological topic. I quote: “Young people want to be protagonists—we already knew that—and the Amazon Church wants to offer them room and accompany them in listening, recognizing youth as a theological topic.”
Youth is a theological topic; in other words, theologians are to draw the principles of their theology from their observations of young people’s behavior. And I continue to quote: “as ‘prophets of hope,’ committed to dialogue, ecologically sensitive and attentive to our common home.” In fact, as they have no memory, these young people are ideal revolutionary subjects. And we could give many other examples.
The Church Is Attentive to the Environment, Youth, and the World
So, the forest and youth are to be our model, they are both theological topics. In other words, we need to be in harmony with ourselves and the environment, with nature, the cosmos, but in a perspective that denies original sin. With Pope Francis, this relation with Christ becomes more distant, for our immediate relation is with the earth. This can be seen in the great attention paid to the “Common Home,” this preoccupation with the “Common Home,” which makes the relation even more universal than ever. Moral requirements are reduced to this harmony and balance, which, when it comes down to it, are nothing much.
We have to understand that the entire Church is supposed to adopt this perspective. The Synod on the Amazon was not just a special moment dedicated to that part of the world and its particular problems; it is a paradigm, a model that the entire Church is supposed to follow. That is why there is talk of “integral ecology” and “ecological conversion.”
In this ecological conversion, we also see another difference—to keep it simple, I will say between John Paul II and Pope Francis: the mission of the People of God becomes passive. With John Paul II, there was still a Church, a People of God whose mission was to bear witness to something for humanity, to bear witness to Christ’s union with each man. Today, with Francis, the Church has become a disciple; she is a Church that no longer has anything to teach, a Church that listens, a Church that observes. She is still a sacrament of something, but much more passively now. And therefore, her exemplary role, her role as “sacrament of the human race,” to use the expression of the Council, becomes a listening role. She sets the example because she is the first to listen.
Why does her role inevitably become passive? By listening to the world, she recognizes that the world, inevitably, always has something to teach that the Church does not yet know. For example, in scientific areas, the men of the world are generally more cultivated and better prepared than the men of the Church. In the Final Document of the Synod on the Amazon, the Church speaks of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide, moderating our consumption of fish and meat. She reminds us that we should plant trees. She inevitably degenerates into triteness and makes a fool of herself. Why? Because there are institutions in the world that know how to do this far better and far more professionally. So again, the Church inevitably listens to a world that is superior. She wishes to discuss and devote herself to the things of the world, she seeks to sacralize worldly elements on which others are far more competent than her. That is what a Church attentive to the world does.
Three Concrete Consequences of Pope Francis’s Doctrine
If Christ is united with the earth, this revelation through the earth continues. God continues to reveal Himself, not only and simply in man’s conscience as we had grown used to hearing, but now in the very life of the world, and therefore everything can become a theological topic. The Church commits to receiving everything that may appear in the world as an element of revelation. And above all, this attentive Church, this observant Church, is a Church that has to always be ready to introduce into her structures and her way of thinking whatever emerges in the life of the world and the life of humanity.
The Church Must Assimilate the Phenomena of the Contemporary World
Let’s take a concrete example: women’s role. Women’s role is a typical element of the so-called rehabilitation of woman that is supposed to be accomplished, a typical element of contemporary culture. One can disagree with it, but it cannot be denied. We have to say that our contemporary revolutionary culture has sought to give women an entirely new role. In this context, the Church has to accept the fact that humanity has placed women in the spotlight, and she has to welcome this element of the life of humanity and make it an element of revelation. Consequently, she, too, needs to introduce women into the organization of the Church, for example, by giving them a position of authority. The pope has just done this, he has just placed a woman in a high-ranking position in the Secretariat of State. The Final Document of the Synod on the Amazon ends with a chapter on the role of women. It is “time for women’s presence,” says the Document in chapter V that presents “New Paths of Synodal Conversion.”
Living Tradition, to use a typical post-Conciliar expression, is therefore not only the experience Pope Benedict XVI spoke of. He used the image of a river that passes on the same experience that the Apostles had at the beginning of Christianity when Our Lord rose from the dead. Here, with Francis, the water continues to flow, but it is enriched with something that has nothing to do with the experience of the Apostles when Our Lord rose from the dead. It is enriched with the values of the world. Why? Because it is in the life of the world that God continues to reveal Himself. So it is clear that Pope Francis is in continuity with the seed of immantentism that was already present in the Council, but he goes much farther. We are harvesting the truly ripened fruits of the Council.
The Desacralization of Everything the Church Holds Dearest
Another consequence of this new perspective is that Pope Francis—I think we can say—gives the impression of desacralizing, by using shocking expressions. For example, he said in a sermon in December that the coredemptive role of Our Lady is foolishness! It really is going very far to say something like that, or to make a caricature of the attitude of missionaries, as if in preaching the Gospel they were “casting stones” instead of listening. These expressions are shocking. What should we think of them? It is not simply a desire to shock or show a certain scorn, it is something far more profound.
In every revolution, desacralization has an educational function: one has to desacralize little by little, progressively, in order to do away with what is considered to be a prejudice. Desacralization helps men to rid themselves of the idea that they have to answer to a transcendent God. Everything sacred reminds man of transcendence; there is someone to whom I have to answer, someone who is going to judge me. Desacralization helps to get past this disposition that is a natural disposition, confirmed by the Faith, to believe that there is a God above me. Why? Because everything is reduced to an immanent vision, in the most radical way.
A similar consequence affects the authority of the pope and his prestige. Does Pope Francis realize that he is losing his prestige, that the papacy itself is losing its prestige? This, too, is part of a naturalistic perspective, the perspective of a Church that is listening. Paradoxically, authority’s role today is no longer to teach, to impose facts and truths, on intelligences. Therefore, if authority no longer has this role, its only purpose is to self-destruct, to disappear in order to teach by doing so that there is no longer any need for a magisterium in the traditional sense of the word. The Church has to listen, to convert in order to learn to listen; the Church has to unlearn in order to learn all over again, she is a disciple Church, a sister Church.
Absorption of the World and the Desacralization of the Priesthood
If we wish to grasp the perspective of Pope Francis, who shocks with some of his moves, we have to consider him in the light of everything we have just considered. It is not just vulgarity or an excessive simplicity on his part, no, it is something far deeper. We might say that the priesthood is completely absorbed in a role, a mission that has become political.
In conclusion, before we go on to see how we should respond to this new phase into which the Church has entered, we can see that there is a continuity but there are also new elements, and they explain the reactions that the pope is currently causing. In a word, with this radical immanentism—this project of placing man in harmony with nature, with the environment, because God is united with the earth and we are each an integral part of this earth—with this immanentism, it becomes impossible for man to accomplish the religious act on which all other acts depend: adoration. It is tragic, but it is simply logical. That is why I think it is important to bring everything back to a few very simple principles.
In reality, man does have his place in creation, but it is a specific place, for he has a specific difference from other creatures: man is created as a rational being and he is such in order to be able to adore. The ultimate specificity of man as a rational creature is the ability to adore, to worship God voluntarily. This presupposes a distinction between the rational creature and a transcendent God, whom we know, adore, and recognize not in nature but above nature, above creation, absolutely distinct, separate from creation, absolutely infinite. We are able to adore only insofar as we recognize this abyss between God and the world. And if God became man, it was in order to teach us to adore. The humanity of Our Lord was not the means of uniting Himself to the earth but the means, the exemplary cause to teach men to adore.
Away with Fables, a Return to Christ’s Submission to His Father
What did Our Lord do in His humanity? What is the purpose of His priesthood? He says it Himself, with His very first words upon entering into the world: “Behold, I come to do thy will.” In accomplishing the will of the Father, Our Lord, as man and priest, submits Himself entirely to the will of the Father, and He knows very well that this submission includes the Cross and the Passion. And this first act of Our Lord in the Incarnation is in perfect continuity with the Cross. Our Lord’s entire life was one long uninterrupted act of adoration. It is magnificent! It is the complete opposite of the perspective the Church is adopting with this “ecological conversion.” It is not just an error, it is not just a detour, it is abominable! We cannot measure the gravity of this, or even find the words to express it.
How should Tradition respond? That is the title of this conference, but I think that we first have to consider the response of Sacred Scripture.
First of all, is there a response in Sacred Scripture? Yes. “Ad fabulas convertentur. They will turn to fables.” That is what we are seeing. This entire encyclical Laudato si’ is a fable: hundreds of paragraphs, hundreds of fables. The highest authority on earth teaching fables to all men, all men without distinction. It is unbelievable!
Tradition’s Threefold Response to the Conciliar Crisis
Now, let us consider Tradition’s response. There are three aspects to it.
Our Lady of the Rosary and the Salvation of the Church
The first response is the Blessed Virgin who crushes all heresies, and she crushes them through the Rosary. We must not commit an error similar to that of the modernists and seek new answers simply because the errors are new. The errors may be new, but the seeds that produce them are always the same, and therefore the remedy is the Rosary. Our Lord entrusted the Church and the Faith to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the one who crushes, who will crush all heresies. When? We do not know. Perhaps we will still have to wait. Have we touched bottom? That has been said so many times!
What is sure is that the solution will come through the Blessed Virgin Mary and through the Rosary; and we have a role to play in this, a very important role. It is through this prayer that God is going to restore life, miraculously no doubt, for humanly speaking, there is no hope. But God has His hour, His plans, His way, as we have already experienced; we know that if we know the history of the Church. God wishes to show the divinity of His Church and He always does so by leaving us in humanly inextricable situations for a while; yes, that makes the sanctity of the Church shine out so much more.
But I think there is also another figure who can help us and who deserves to be mentioned this evening: the figure of St. Francis. Our pope is a Jesuit, but he chose the name Francis. We can see why; after a few years it has become clear. The Synod on the Amazon began on the feast day of St. Francis. The great encyclical we have been discussing, a central element of Pope Francis’s pontificate, begins with the words of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures: Laudato si’. Its intention is clearly to claim as its own a great saint of the Church, a great founder, and I would like to stop to consider this for a few moments. There are truths and conclusions to be drawn.
For the Honor of the Poverello
The fate of St. Francis these past 50 years has been tragic: his image has been completely disfigured. It is a tragic fate that has not been inflicted upon St. Bernard or St. Ignatius or St. Benedict. Why St. Francis? Because he received a very specific mission from Our Lord. It was the beginning of the 13th century. St. Francis was the perfect prototype of a reformer in the Church; that was his charisma, a special grace he received from Our Lord. He received the mission, but he also received the grace he needed to accomplish this mission. The figure of St. Francis thus reformed the Church. He was a reformer first of all in the order of being, he was the exemplary cause of the reform. He incarnated the Gospel perfectly and received from Our Lord the mission of reforming the Church, and because of this, his figure had an impact, an influence capable of changing all of Christianity.
Now this specific charisma of St. Francis is inexhaustible. Until the end of time, the example of the life of St. Francis and his writings will have this ability to transform souls and transform the Church. When you are faced with a charismatic figure, you cannot deny the charisma. Why? Because everyone is affected by it, and that is the case with St. Francis. He affects even people outside of the Church; he causes conversions even outside of the Church, he has an aura. Since this strength cannot be denied, it has to be disfigured, it has to be channeled into something foreign to it. It is exactly the same fate that has affected the very figure of Our Lord in a similar way. Our Lord cannot be denied, the historical figure of Our Lord cannot simply be denied, but there is a whole rationalistic interpretation that seeks to diminish the figure of Our Lord in order to deny His divinity and His miracles.
Something similar has been done for St. Francis; he has been turned into the saint of ecology and nature, as everyone knows. And this is extremely serious: it is not right to manipulate charismas that have an impact on the Church and on souls and channel them into something completely foreign to the person and mission of the Poverello. St. Francis offers us the answer we are looking for in this conference.
St. Francis was the perfect reproduction of Christ. Yes, the perfect reproduction of Our Lord through his sanctity, his stigmata. And if St. Francis was that, we can say it was a consequence of the Incarnation. If God became incarnate, it was not to unite Himself with the earth; if God became incarnate, it was to offer men in His humanity an example they can imitate. And who have succeeded in imitating Him? The saints.
This imitation, which is a consequence of the Incarnation, is possible thanks to the Incarnation. This perfect reproduction of Our Lord is the driving force behind reform, it is the continuation of Our Lord in souls. That is the true and most complete response that Tradition offers us to the current cataclysm. I wanted to mention this this evening because this abuse of his charisma, this disfigurement, has cost him dearly. Once again, sanctity is accomplished through the Cross; assimilation to Our Lord is accomplished through the Cross.
The Response of the Society of Saint Pius X
The final response is the specific response of the Society of Saint Pius X. What can we do as a Society, as simple priests, religious, and faithful? Like we just said: try, to the best of our ability, to imitate the saints and to imitate them all the more today when they are no longer known. But what can the Society do as such? There are several reactions in the Church, but they are reactions that can go in varying directions, and above that can go at their own pace, sometimes with a few steps backward. Positive reactions overall, yes, but with shortcomings, reactions that generally still have a hard time going back to the causes.
What can the Society do, then, to help these reactions, all of them without exception, granted that they are diverse, that each has its own rhythm, its own perception of things, and also of the crisis. The answer is very simple: all of these reactions and all of the reactions to come need a reference point that does not change. They all need an exemplary cause that remains what it should be. We must not think that to encourage these reactions we need to lower the standards a little. No, because if we lower the standards, if we keep quiet for example, these reactions from well-meaning souls will no longer have an exemplary cause in which they can see, in a way, what Tradition is in its integrity. That is what souls need. The greatest, most priceless service we can render—and it is our duty to the Church at present—is to offer this integral Tradition, to show it in its integrity, to preach it fully, without diminishing it in any way. We must not change, and that is very important; that is what those who are currently reacting need. And after that, each will walk at his own pace.
It is Providence itself that has placed us in this position in spite of ourselves; a privileged position that allows us to freely bear witness to our Faith, and to freely proclaim our attachment to the Church of all time and her Tradition.
How shall we conclude? Let us think of these souls, of all these souls for whom a Catholic life is no longer possible in their parishes. We have to be realistic, it is impossible to have a Catholic life if we follow the encyclical Laudato si’, if we put its principles into practice; it is impossible, and, I repeat, a true life of the Faith is the most precious service we can render the Church.
We are sometimes accused of not having a sense of the Church, we are accused of focusing on ourselves, our chapels, our own development, without worrying about the Church’s need to recover her own Tradition, without considering souls’ need to readopt and benefit from the Tradition of the Church. This accusation is false and unacceptable. It is because we love the Church that we cannot budge an inch. It is not only to preserve our communities but to preserve a treasure we have received, that does not belong to us, and that we must offer to all indiscriminately, and that is why we must not change an iota.