Tradition's Response to Conciliar Ecclesiology

Address by the Superior General, Don Davide Pagliarani, January 2020

During the fifteenth Congress of the Courier de Rome, held on 18 January 2020 on the theme "Is there a risk of schism in the Church today?", Don Davide Pagliarani, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, gave the closing talk, entitled "The Response of Tradition to Conciliar Ecclesiology".

As the years go by, it is clear that the ongoing crisis in the Church is a continuation of the revolution wrought by the Second Vatican Council. Presently, however, there appears to be an acceleration of the revolution and a new contribution: a novelty introduced by Pope Francis. This is the subject of the first part of my conference. We shall then see how the causes of both continuity and newness reduce to a single basic principle.

Novelty and continuity in the pontificate of Pope Francis

The novelty of Pope Francis is best seen in the conclusion of his encyclical Laudato si. He synthesises this long encyclical in one principle in paragraph 245:

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 an original statement in relation to the Council and in relation to all that was heard after the Council? Yes. It is a new and original affirmation, but it is also an acceleration in the direction set by the Council, for the Council tried to push the Church in a modernist “immanentist” direction [i.e. seeing the faith and the moral law as coming from within] with a new conception of Revelation, a new conception of Faith, and therefore a new mission of the Church.

The triumph of personalism

The great intuition of the Council and the great axis of the pontificate of John Paul II is the idea that by His incarnation, Our Lord, in a certain way, united Himself to every man (cf. Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 7 December 1965, no. 22 §2). This is the underlying idea of Redemptor hominis, the programmatic encyclical of John Paul II.

If Christ is already united to every man, then the Church’s mission is simply to help all men become aware that they are already united to Christ, that they are already saved in some way. Therefore, the Church must be a witness; evangelisation properly speaking is transformed into witness, and this witness is that of the People of God which is a sacrament—a sign in the midst of humanity—of that union which the Word already has with every man.

This perspective is profoundly personalist. It emphasises the person [rather than being as the foundation of reality and morality]; the person who is already "dignified" by this union that he has, in some way, with the Word, and of which he must become aware.

This personalistic perspective produces a demanding morality because the person—in the perspective of the Council and of John Paul II in particular—is a relationship, it is a being for, it is a being that subsists and flourishes in itself in as much as it gives itself. [Therefore, to be perfect, a person must be in harmony with others by his unselfish giving to others.] In consequence, Pope John Paul II's teachings on the family are quite traditional—at least in their conclusions—if we compare them with the teachings of Pope Francis, but the general perspective is profoundly personalist [i.e. Pope John Paul II’s morality is not concerned with what a man is—his nature and hence the natural law—but how he relates to others].

From the person to the earth

Remember well this notion: the person is a relationship which means that he subsists in the measure that he gives himself; but to give himself, he must be free. Here we have—in relationship and freedom—the two great pillars of the morality of Pope John Paul II. With Pope Francis, however, this morality is outdated. There is no break [it remains personalist], but it is outdated because Christ did not simply unite Himself to every man, Christ united Himself to the earth. The problem is no longer a problem of making people aware that they are saved; it is not denied of course, but the perspective of Francis is more radical. In a certain sense, it is even simpler. The immanentist germ, one might say, produces riper fruit.

In the new perspective proposed by Pope Francis, a deeper appreciation of the connectedness of God, man and the earth gives rise to a new moral code by which the respect for nature is the same as respect for God and neighbour [because nature, man and God are all divine]. This is the great intuition of Laudato si. The forest becomes a "theological place" [a place where doctrine may be learnt]. But not only the forest, in this perspective everywhere is a theological place: the sea is also a theological place; every part of humanity is a theological place; every people is a theological place in the measure that it is considered in itself, in its true, authentic identity. The Final Document of the Synod claims that youth itself is a theological place.

The Church attentive to the environment, to youth and to the world

Thus, the model to be followed is the forest and the youth as theological places. It is necessary to be in harmony with oneself and with the environment, with nature, with the cosmos, but all from a perspective that denies original sin. The relationship of a soul to Christ is almost left out of this paradigm.

A diminution of the importance of the relationship between the soul and Christ is already evident in the perspective of Pope John Paul II, but under Pope Francis it becomes more distant still, because the most important relationship of man right now is with the earth. The moral requirement has been reduced to harmony and balance with the world—very little in the end.

It must be understood that the whole Church is expected to enter into this new perspective. The Synod on the Amazon was not just a privileged moment consecrated to the consideration of a region and its particular problems. It was a stage upon which a new paradigm was launched, a model that the whole Church must follow. It was a call to universal "integral ecology" and "ecological conversion".

In this “ecological conversion” we see yet another difference between Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis: the mission of the People of God becomes passive. With Pope John Paul II, we still have a Church, a People of God that has the mission to be a witness of something to humanity, to bear witness to Christ's union with each person. Today, with Francis, the Church becomes a disciple, it is a Church that no longer has anything to teach, it is a Church that listens, it is a Church that observes. It is always a sacrament of something, yes, but this time it is in a much more passive way. It is a Church that must undergo an "ecological conversion". It is a Church that must convert itself and not others; it must convert itself in order to be able to listen to others. And therefore, its exemplary role, its role as a "sacrament of the human race", to use the Council's expression, becomes a role of listening. She sets an example because she is the first one who listens.

Consequences of the doctrine of Pope Francis

The Church must assimilate the phenomena of the world

If Christ is united to the earth, Divine Revelation through the earth continues. God continues to reveal Himself, not only in the consciousness of men, as post-conciliar tradition would have it, but in the very life of the world in which there are so many “theological spaces”. The Church listens to the world, always ready to introduce into its structures, into its way of thinking, what emerges from the life of the world. A concrete example of this listening to the world might be seen in the debate surrounding the role of women in the Church. We may disagree, but we cannot deny that contemporary and revolutionary culture has given women a completely new role [which is regrettably against her nature]. As a listener to the world, the Church accepts what she hears from the world as revelation. Consequently, she has worked hard to introduce women into the organisation of the Church [and even into the sanctuary], giving them leadership roles and positions of authority [and ministerial functions]. The Final Document of the Synod on the Amazon concludes with a whole chapter devoted to women. It is "the time for women’s presence” says the Document, in Chapter 5, which then proposes "new paths for synodal conversion.”

Desacralisation of what the Church holds most dear

Another consequence of this new perspective is seen in Pope Francis deliberate attempts to desacralise the sacred and use expressions that shock. For example, he said, in a sermon in December 2019, that Our Lady as Co-Redemptrix is nonsense! He also insulted missionaries of the past by saying that their preaching of the Gospel was like throwing stones instead of listening... These expressions are shocking. What should we think of them?

We must understand that Pope Francis does not have a simple desire to shock or to show contempt; it goes much deeper than that. In any revolution, it is necessary to desacralise a respected object in order to overthrow it. Desacralisation of what is sacred in the Catholic religion helps men liberate themselves from the idea that they must give account to a transcendent God. Instead, they must look for God within themselves. This is Pope Francis’ intention.

The desacralisation of the Pope’s authority and prestige is another example. If the Church is to be a listening Church rather than a teaching, governing and sanctifying Church, then it has no more use for the Pope’s authority and prestige. This explains Pope Francis’ shocking gestures; his behaviour is not the consequence of simple vulgarity, or excessive simplicity, but of calculated disrespect. Another object of desacralisation is the priesthood which is being transformed from something holy into to something political.

To conclude this section, we see that there is continuity with the Second Vatican Council in the teachings of Pope Francis, but we also see the emergence of the most radical sort of immanentism which assimilates God to His creation making the adoration of God impossible. It is tragic, but it is logical.

Man truly does have a place in creation, but a special place, because he is different from other creatures: man is created with reason in order that he may worship God. Man is not God; God transcends man and all creation. In so far as I recognise the abyss between God and the world, I am able to worship God. And if God became man, it was to teach us to how best to worship Him as the transcendent God

Moving away from fables and returning to the mission of the Son of God

What did Our Lord do in his humanity? What is the purpose of his priesthood? He says it himself; these are the first words of Our Lord as soon as he enters the world: "Behold, I come to do Thy will, O God" (Heb 10:9). It is in the accomplishment of the Father's will that Our Lord, man and priest, submits himself totally to the Passion and Cross.

The whole life of Our Lord is a long uninterrupted act of adoration. It is magnificent! It is the exact opposite of the perspective into which the Church is entering with this "ecological conversion" [which is adoration of the earth]. It is not just a mistake, it is not just a deviation, it is an abomination! We ourselves cannot calculate the gravity of this, nor even find the words to express it. And they would have us believe that this is the only way the Church can go today, that there is no other possible way. It is written.

It would seem that these words of Sacred Scripture may be applied:

For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. Be sober. (4 Tim 4:3-5)

Here we are. This whole Laudato si encyclical is a fable: hundreds of paragraphs, hundreds of fables. The highest authority in the world teaches all men— all men without distinction—fables. It is unbelievable!

Tradition's triple response to the conciliar crisis

Now, let us discern the answer of Tradition. It will be articulated in three parts.

Our Lady of the Rosary and the Salvation of the Church

The first answer is the Blessed Virgin who crushes all heresies with the Rosary. We must not commit an error analogous to that of the modernists who seek new answers to new errors. Errors are new, yes, but the germs that produce them are always the same, and therefore the remedy is the same: the Rosary. It is to Our Lady that Our Lord entrusted the Church and entrusted the Faith. It is she who crushes, who will crush all heresies. When? We do not know. Maybe we will have to wait a little longer. Have we hit rock bottom?

What is certain is that the solution will be through the Blessed Virgin and the Rosary; we have a part to play here, a very important part.

It is through this prayer that God will give life again—in a miraculous way no doubt—because humanly speaking there is no hope. But God has His time, His plan and His way; we have already experienced it, we know it if we know the history of the Church. God wants to show the divinity of His Church and He always does this by leaving us for a time in situations that are humanly inextricable; yes, this brings out the holiness of the Church more.

St. Francis of Assisi

But there is also, I think, a figure that can help us and who deserves a word, and that is the figure of St. Francis. This Pope, despite being a Jesuit, chose the name Francis. We understand why; after a few years, we understand him well. The synod for the Amazon began on the feast of St. Francis. The encyclical we have spoken of—the central axis of Pope Francis' pontificate—begins with the words of the Canticle of the Creatures of St. Francis' Laudato si. He has the very clear intention of appropriating a great saint of the Church, a great reformer, and I would like to dwell on this for a few moments. There are truths and conclusions to be drawn from this.

St. Francis has been much abused in the last fifty years because he was given a specific mission from Our Lord at the beginning of the thirteenth century to reform the Church. He was given a charism, a special grace, from Our Lord to accomplish that mission. He was a reformer par excellence primarily by the example of his life: he perfectly embodies the great ideals of the Gospel, and his influence was capable of changing all of Christianity.

Now, the charism proper to the figure of St. Francis is inexhaustible: the example of the life of St. Francis and his writings will have a capacity to transform souls and to transform the Church until the end of time. He is a charismatic figure and his charism transcends time. Everyone is touched by this charism; it provokes conversions even outside the Church; it has an aura. Now, since one cannot deny the force of this charism, the only way to arrest its influence is to denature it: it must be channelled towards an end other than that for which it was given to St. Francis. The same thing was done to the figure of Our Lord. Our Lord could not be denied; the historical figure of Our Lord cannot be denied at all, but there is a whole rationalist exegesis that tries to diminish the figure of Our Lord in order to deny His miracles, to deny His divinity and subvert His mission.

St. Francis, therefore, has been made the saint of ecology and nature, channelling his charism to something completely foreign to the person and mission of the Poverello. But St. Francis shows us the error of Pope Francis. St. Francis possessed the supernatural gift of science [knowledge] to an exemplary degree and the gift of science has two sides. The gift of science is that motion of the Holy Ghost that takes us, when admiring nature, immediately to the Creator, but at the same time it makes us grasp the inanity of creatures: this is something that the modernists do not say. Creatures are beautiful in the measure that they reflect the perfections of God, but they are nothing in comparison to God. While Pope Francis would like to appropriate St. Francis to lead souls to earth to listen to creatures, we must follow St. Francis in his conformity to Christ so that those same creatures may lead us to heaven.

The Society of St. Pius X

The last response is particular to the Society of St. Pius X. What can we do as a Society? As individuals, of course, we must seek holiness, but what can the Society do? We have seen various conservative reactions to the radical changes over the last few years, but these reactions are disparate. Is there anything that the Society can do to encourage all of these disparate conservative reactions together?

Considering that the reactions are diverse, each one has its time and its own perception of the crisis in the Church. The answer is very simple: all these reactions and all those that may come in the future need a reference that does not move; they need an exemplary cause [a perfect example]. We must not think that in order to encourage reactions against the various manifestations of the revolution, we need to lower the bar a little. No, because if we lower the bar, if we remain silent over a certain issue to appeal to one group, for example, we relinquish our position as an exemplary cause of Tradition. The greatest, most precious service that we can render to the Church at this moment is to offer an example of integral Tradition: to show it in its entirety and to preach it in its entirety without diminishing it in any way. We must not move; this is what those who are reacting now need. And afterwards, each one will walk at his own pace.

Our role is not a purely human role: we are called to be an instrument in a work which is beyond us. It has been said that the Rosary should be recited because it is the means given to us by Providence to combat heresy. How it works to crush heresy is beyond us. We should simply pray it as requested. Similarly, we should adhere to integral Tradition because God is asking us to be the example by which we help the Church and by which souls are saved. We are not the ones who are going to resolve the crisis of the Church, but Providence has put us in this position in spite of ourselves. Ours is indeed a privileged position that allows us to freely witness our faith and to freely shout out our attachment to the Church of always and to her Tradition.

Let us think of those souls for whom Catholic life is no longer possible in parishes. We must be realistic, it is impossible to have a Catholic life if one follows the encyclical Laudato si, putting into practice its principles. Living life of the integral faith is the most precious service we can offer to these souls.

Sometimes we are accused of not having a sense of the Church, we are accused of looking at ourselves, at our chapels, at our own development, without worrying about the need that the Church has to re-appropriate Tradition, without looking at the need that souls have to re-appropriate and benefit from the Tradition of the Church. This accusation is not true. It is because we love the Church that we cannot move a millimetre. It is not only to preserve our communities, but it is to preserve something that we have received, which does not belong to us and which we must offer to all without distinction, and that is why we must not change one iota.

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