Exposing the SSPX’s Rejection of the Hermeneutic of Continuity Part II

 

Exposing the SSPX’s Rejection of the Hermeneutic of Continuity

Part II

 

John F. Salza, Esq.

June A.D. 2022

 

     Recall what we learned in Part I of this article, that Fr. Reuter’s (and the SSPX’s) position is that it is impossible to interpret the documents of Vatican II in confirming with traditional doctrine (a hermeneutic of continuity, proposed by Pope Benedict XVI, is not possible, they say). Fr. Reuter articulated this position in Episode 30 of the Society’s Crisis in the Church series, called “Hermeneutic of Continuity: Big Word, Big Logical Leap.” However, as we have consistently seen in other podcasts of this series, when SSPX priests attempt to prove their thesis, they immediately contradict themselves, by referring to examples of someone’s faulty interpretation of the council, and not their analysis of the actual text. We saw this repeatedly in Fr. Wiseman’s podcast (Episode 48, “The 4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself about the Crisis”), which I exposed in my article “A Refutation of the SSPX’s Four Answers on the Crisis.”[1]

In his podcast, right after Fr. Wiseman alleges that the crisis in the Church was caused by the errors in the Vatican II documents, instead of quoting the alleged error and explaining why it is wrong, he appeals to what he calls “the testimony of Pope after Vatican II” who, he claims, “justified reforms or scandalous doings or saying (contributing to the loss of faith), precisely by appealing to the documents of Vatican II.”  He then quotes non-Vatican II statements such as Pope John Paul II’s statement to the Cardinals in 1986 in which he says “All authentic prayer is inspired by the Holy Ghost,” as if this statement suffices as proof of an error of Vatican II. It is unclear why Fr. Wiseman objects to the statement itself, that “all authentic prayer is inspired by the Holy Ghost” (actual grace), but whatever his reasoning is, the fact remains that statement in question is from John Paul II, not Vatican II.  If Vatican II is really “full of errors and heresies,” let the Society quote it directly and explain why the teaching is false.  Would Fr. Wiseman be satisfied if a Protestant quoted a statement of Pope Francis to prove that the Council of Trent contained errors, or an Old Catholic quoted John Paul II as to prove Vatican I “was full of errors.”  Of course not. He would demand that the heretic quote the actual conciliar text.    

       Fr. Reuter Uses the Same Flawed Reasoning 

          Fr. Reuter uses the same faulty reasoning. Rather than pointing out the alleged heresies or positive errors in the Vatican II documents to justify their rejection, Fr. Reuter refers to a “para-conciliar spirit” that hijacked the council’s “ambiguous” texts, even stating that “ambiguities were weaponized to implement radical changes.” We agree with Fr. Reuter that the Modernists indeed weaponized the ambiguities of the conciliar documents to implement their liberal reforms, but this is not the same thing as saying the texts themselves teach heresy or error to justify their outright rejection, much less the rejection of a Catholic hermeneutic to interpreting them.

To confirm we understand Fr. Reuter correctly, he again states that “the documents are ambiguous and the fruits are poisonous,” and “not just a few lines are ambiguous; the documents are ambiguous.” Again, Fr. Reuter claims that the documents of Vatican II themselves are the “proximate cause” of the crisis because of the errors they teach, but he does not prove his case by actually quoting the alleged errors in the documents. Rather, he dismisses his case by settling to call the documents “ambiguous,” and admitting that the ambiguities were weaponized by the Modernists. Indeed, ambiguities, and not direct errors, were also the object of concern for the council fathers, who used such terms as “lack of clarity,” “lacking distinction,” “insufficiently clear,” and “greater precision needed,” to describe some of the ambiguous texts.[2] Again, Fr. Reuter contradicts his own thesis.

One also questions whether Fr. Reuter has read all (or any) of the documents of Vatican II in their entirety, given that he characterizes all of them as “ambiguous,” and “not just a few lines.” If anyone actually reads the documents of the council, he finds that the documents are almost entirely orthodox (it is reported on the Society’s own website that Bishop Fellay said the SSPX accepts 95 percent of the council’s teaching),[3] and that the ambiguous statements are quite limited. Admittedly, several documents are written in a style impregnated with the Liberal spirit, but the style of writing is one thing, error and heresy are another.

As we have seen, if we find a statement that is ambiguous and which could be used to obscure Catholic truth, we must read it in light of Tradition (worst case scenario, we withhold assent if the statement is non-definitive, without tossing out the entire document or indicting the authority of the Church). As Pius VI taught, when confronted with a “suspected error or danger under the veil of ambiguity,” we are to “denounce the perverse meaning” that camouflages Catholic truth. We do this by employing a hermeneutic of continuity which interprets the ambiguity in light of Tradition. Fr. Reuter actually sees the problem (which are the ambiguities of the conciliar texts), but rejects the true solution (which is to interpret them in a Catholic sense), and ends by proposing a false solution (which is to reject the documents wholesale).

Finally, even if one were to take the position, as the SSPX does, that actual errors in the texts exist and are the cause of the crisis (which has not been proven), it goes without saying that such erroneous formulations from a council or Pope would not allow any priest who opposes them to lawfully set up shop and operate without canonical mission. If errors in a conciliar text did justify such actions, any priest, validly ordained, could start his own “mission church” without the approval of ecclesiastical authority to combat the alleged errors that he personally identified in any Church teaching or practice.

This, of course, would be absurd. Even many Catholics who frequent SSPX chapels would see a problem with this approach. And yet the Society priests are in a similar condition as this hypothetical priest, because they too are not incardinated as required by canon law (c. 265), and their bishops do not have canonical mission. The alleged “errors of Vatican II” certainly do not provide the Society of St. Pius X what is necessary for them to lawfully minister in the Church. 

             Fr. Reuter Claims a Hermeneutic of Continuity is Impossible                  

Toward the end of the podcast, the host asked Fr. Reuter the following question: “Is there any way we can agree with the Progressives, with the Conciliar Church, that there is a proposed solution to interpret the documents in the light of Tradition?” Fr. Reuter responds by saying: “The proposal of Pope Benedict, the hermeneutic of continuity, proposes some real difficulties.” Fr. Reuter then went on to explain two reasons why Pope Benedict’s solution must be rejected.

For the first reason, Fr. Reuter claims that the “documents carry with them the spirit of Vatican II…you need to do violence to the documents to understand them in the light of Tradition.” He also says we cannot employ a hermeneutic of continuity without doing “violence to reality.” Unfortunately, Fr. Reuter does not provide a single example of such an erroneous text to prove his assertion. Indeed, if the crisis-causing texts of Vatican II taught such blatant and incontrovertible error that couldn’t possibly be reconciled with Tradition without “doing violence to the documents,” then why wouldn’t Fr. Reuter present the evidence? Isn’t it a “logical leap” to make such a bold assertion, and back it up with nothing? Actually, the notion that Catholics should not strive interpret the teachings of an ecumenical council in light of Tradition does violence to Catholic reality. As Catholics who hold the Profession of Faith, we affirm that it is absolutely necessary to employ a traditional hermeneutic when reading non-definitive teachings of the Magisterium. 

In the podcast, Fr. Reuter was quick to emphasize the necessity to “always examine the terms” of the Modernists when addressing their arguments, but he evidently doesn’t believe it’s necessary to do so to support his own arguments. Instead of providing concrete examples of how the conciliar texts cannot be interpreted in a Catholic sense, Fr. Reuter appears to take refuge behind the invisible “spirit” that allegedly permeates the documents. This seems to be a cop-out. In fact, attributing a “liberal and Modernist spirit” to the documents themselves was the argument of Archbishop Lefebvre. While the pastoral documents of the Second Vatican Council certainly read differently than those of a dogmatic council, a “spirit” that would exist within the Vatican II documents is not something that can be seen. Hence, the argument does not (and cannot) prove that the conciliar documents could not be interpreted using hermeneutic of continuity.

When I was in law school, during a class on Real Property, I recall a student attempting to argue to our professor the meaning of a contract, based on what he referred to as the “spirit” of the contract, as opposed to the actual language in the contract. The professor interrupted the student, put up his hands as if to fend off a ghost, and said, “Booo….spooky! The spirit of the contract!!!” The student was embarrassed and we all got a good laugh out of it. But the professor’s point was made. We argue our case by referring principally to the tangible, objective evidence of words and their meanings. Appealing to subjective elements outside the “four corners” of the contract only reveals the weakness of our case.

Indeed, words have substance and accidents, not spirits. The substance is the meaning; the accidents consist of the terminology used to express the meaning. Traditional theological terms have fixed theological meanings. Novel or new terminology does not communicate the same fixed and known meaning. Consequently, when novel terminology (accidents) is employed, as is the case in the pastoral documents of Vatican II, the substance can become obscured. In such circumstances, we do not assume the faulty interpretation, but rather assume what is meant (substance) is traditional Catholic teaching. And if this is difficult or even impossible (which may be the case for non-definitive, pastoral statements), we may reserve judgment or even dissent, without having to justify our position by appealing to an evil spirit, or rejecting the document as a whole, much less the Magisterium who gave us the document.

    For the second reason, Fr. Reuter claims that we cannot use Pope Benedict’s method of interpreting the Vatican II documents in light of Tradition, because the Pope does not understand what Tradition is. This is like saying to someone who is lost on the highway, not to use the map he received from person X, because person X does not know how to read the map! It is a fallacious argument. Of course, accusing Pope Benedict and the rest of the conciliar Popes of having a Modernist notion of Tradition (which may be the case) does not prove that the hermeneutic of continuity is an invalid approach to interpreting the documents of Vatican II, much less that the documents contain errors which have directly caused the crisis.

 Even though this argument is not relevant to whether the hermeneutic of continuity is itself a legitimate solution, Fr. Reuter quotes the Pope’s 2005 Christmas address, to “prove” Pope Benedict has a false notion of Tradition. The Pope said: “The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Declaration on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church.” Once again, Fr. Reuter refers not to a text of Vatican II, but to a statement made 40 years after the council closed, about a text. Nor does the statement prove the Pope has a Modernist notion of Tradition. In reality, the Pope’s statement is consistent with the Church’s Tradition, if we understand that the “essential principle” in question refers to man’s right to immunity from coercion in the modern State, particularly with the rise of totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century (a point that Archbishop Pozzo also made). This was a principle articulated in the very earliest centuries of the Church during the persecutions and, hence, part of her “deepest patrimony.”

Evidently, the SSPX did not think Pope Benedict had a false notion of Tradition when, in connection with Summorum Pontificum and his desire to preserve the Traditional Mass, he wrote his brother bishops: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”[4] Again, this is meant to show that the solution to the crisis is not to accuse Pope Benedict of having a false notion of Tradition, or reject his hermeneutical approach, but rather to interpret any ambiguous statements of the Vatican II documents in light of the entirety of the Church’s teaching. 

                                   Closing Remarks 

To his credit, Fr. Reuter concludes the podcast by saying “The solution has to come from the Church, it has to come from the hierarchy.” We certainly agree. But it seems odd that Fr. Reuter would then quote Archbishop Lefebvre’s 1974 Declaration, of all statements, in which Lefebvre refused to submit to “neo-Modernist” Rome, which led to his expulsion from the hierarchy, beginning with the Society’s suppression in 1975. Notwithstanding the many efforts of the Pope and his curial officials to keep Lefebvre inside the Church, Lefebvre chose to fight the crisis outside “the Church and the hierarchy.”

Once this happened, Lefebvre’s errors began to multiply. He not only rejected any possibility of interpreting Vatican II in light of Tradition, but accused the council of creating a “new religion,” just like the Protestants.[5] Indeed, this is the danger of rejecting the hermeneutic of continuity. Here is just a sampling of statements from the founder of the SSPX:


I am not of that religion, I do not accept that new religion. It is a liberal, modernist religion. Christians are divided… priests no longer know what to do; either they obey blindly what their superiors impose on them, and lose to some degree the faith, or they resist, but with the feeling of separating themselves from the Pope. Two religions confront each other; we are in a dramatic situation, it is impossible to avoid a choice.[6]

 

We are not of this new religion! We do not accept this new religion! We are of the religion of all time; we are of the Catholic religion. We are not of this “universal religion” as they call it today – this is not the Catholic religion any more. We are not of this liberal, modernist religion which has its own worship, its own priests, its own faith, its own catechisms, its own “ecumenical” Bible. We cannot accept these things.[7]

 

Now they are guided by other principles, by what is a truly other religion, absolutely.  And that is much more grave, again because, there where the faith diminishes, one can hope to be able to revive it, to restore life, but when one replaces one religion with another religion, then it is much worse:  in that case there are considerable consequences.[8]

 

This is why Catholics in this latter part of the twentieth century have a duty to be more vigilant than their fathers were. They must not let just any idea be imposed upon them, in the name of the new theology or the new religion: for what this new religion wants is not what the Church wills.[9]

 

Let us take up where we left off. Christian common sense is offended in every way by this new religion. Catholics are exposed to desacralisation on all sides; everything has been changed.[10] 

 

The current Pope and bishops no longer hand down Our Lord Jesus Christ, but rather a sentimental, superficial, charismatic religiosity, through which, as a general rule, the true grace of the Holy Ghost no longer passes. This new religion is not the Catholic religion; it is sterile, incapable of sanctifying society and the family. [11]

Ironically, it was Lefebvre who could be accused of creating a “new religion.” In this new religion, clergy do not have to be part of the juridical structure of the Church to be “in the Catholic Church.” In this new religion, clergy do not have to have a canonical mission to be lawful, Catholic ministers. In this religion, clergy do not have to believe in the Church’s Profession of Faith to actually hold the Catholic Faith. They also do not have to have ordinary or supplied jurisdiction to perform acts of governance. In this Lefebvrian religion, clergy can publicly propagate errors against the Faith (e.g., on the Profession, sacramental intention, Collegiality, jurisdiction, etc.) and even set up a tribunal to perform acts that are reserved to the local ordinaries or the Holy See (condemned by the council of Trent), and still be “in communion” with the Church. In short, in this religion, clergy can completely withdraw submission from the Holy Father, separate from the hierarchy and establish chapels throughout the world in opposition to the local bishop, and still be true, Catholic ministers, so long as they “profess the true faith” (so they think), say the traditional Mass, and “reject Vatican II.” That is the “new religion” founded by Marcel Lefebvre.

While there is a crisis in the Church, the Society of St. Pius X has overreacted to the crisis, which began with its founder. The solution is not to leave the Church, and then attack her with accusations of error and heresy, as her enemies have always done. The solution is not to advocate for a total repudiation of an ecumenical council, along with a practical repudiation of papal authority. These are errors of excess. At the same time, we do not deny that there is a crisis, or that the ambiguities of the Vatican II texts have given rise to the crisis, through heterodox interpretations (e.g., universal salvation) and liberal implementations (e.g., ecumenism, sacrilegious liturgies). These are errors of defect.

Rather, the truth is “in the middle,” as it often is, since the cardinal virtue of prudence, enlightened by the true teaching of the Church, strikes at the mean between excess and defect. Instead of throwing out the council, or accepting every liberal interpretation of it, prudence, informed by charity, dictates that the teachings of the council must be harmonized with Tradition, as was the original intention of the majority of the council fathers who approved the documents, including Lefebvre himself. This could happen through future definitive statements of the Magisterium, guided by the Holy Ghost, rather than the murky, non-definitive statements so common of the post-conciliar era, which are not infallible. This would also restore the confidence in the Magisterium by those who have been scandalized and have even left the Church in search of a solution.

In this way, we fight this battle within the Church, as the wheat among the chaff.  We remain at the foot of the Cross like Our Lady and St. John, during this mysterious Passion of the Church. We maintain our communion with the Roman Pontiff and the Holy Catholic Church, “outside of which there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins.” In doing so, we will secure our Election by demonstrating our fidelity to Christ and His Church, according to the words of St. Peter, who said: “Wherefore, brethren, labour the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election” (2Pet. 1:10).

 



[1] The article can be read at www.trueorfalsepope.com.

[2] “Council Fathers on Ambiguity in Vatican II,” www.unamsanctam catholicam.com.

[3] “Is Recognizing the SSPX Questioning Vatican II?,” www.sspx.org.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, “Letter to Bishops on the Occasion of the Publication of Summorum Pontificum,” July 7, 2007, www.vatican.va.

[5] For many quotations from the 16th century Protestants accusing the Church of creating a “new religion,” please see my article “Does the SSPX Have an Extraordinary Mission?,” at www.trueorfalsepope.com.

[6] Lefebvre, 1986, “Open Letter to Confused Catholics”

[7] Lefebvre, Ordination Sermon, June 29, 1976.

[8] Lefebvre, Before the last spiritual conference for the seminarians at Econe before his death, February 11, 1991.

[9] “Open Letter to Confused Catholics.”

[10] Ibid.

[11] Lefebvre, Spiritual Journey, p.9.

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