by D. E. Romanae
The Present Hopelessness of the Semi-traditionalists
The widespread denial of the inerrancy of ecclesiastical tradition is not only based on a problematic identification of "ecclesiastical tradition" with "extrinsic tradition" (cf. "The Inerrancy of Ecclesiastical Tradition"), but on a profound ignorance of Scholastic Theology, without which it is impossible to correctly understand what the Church means, when at the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicea, in 787 A.D., the council fathers declared:"To summarize, we declare that we defend free from any innovations all the written and unwritten ecclesiastical traditions that have been entrusted to us."
For ecclesiastical tradition is from its principles incommutable, and therefore must be guarded against all innovation. But because such an endeavor seemingly runs counter to every notion of progress, it is rejected a fortiori as something not even worthy of discussion. This is evident in even the most accurate and critical assessors of the liturgical reform available on-line, "A Reform of the Reform", by Father John Parsons (Christian Order, Nov. 2001 A.D.). Father Parsons writes:If the crisis is one of confidence in the Church and its tradition, then the only way out of the crisis is via a clear, modern reaffirmation of tradition, vindicating the historic Roman lex orandi as the Catechism of the Catholic Church has vindicated the historic lex credendi. We must attempt a modern presentation of the historic Roman Rite, analogous to the Catechism's modern presentation of the historic Catholic Faith. We must negate the negations and overcome the discontinuities of the post-conciliar period, always remembering, however, that the Faith is one, while liturgies are diverse. The Catechism is for Coptic and Greek Catholics as much as for Westerners, while the liturgical families of the Catholic Church are available at choice to any Catholic who feels particularly drawn to them.
Does such a reaffirmation mean an immobile Traditionalism? Are we to press for the abolition of the 1969 regime and a universal return to the state of liturgical affairs as they stood in 1962? Not at all. The very idea that the Holy See would, or even effectively could, abolish the post-conciliar changes is absurd. In that sense, a "Reform of the Reform" is impossible. One cannot in fact expect any of the permissions, variations, exceptions, delegations or modifications made to the historic Roman Rite in order to transform it into the new set of liturgical options, or any of the ceremonial developments that have accompanied these changes, such as the introduction of communion in the hand and of female altar servers, to be reversed. If one were attempting this impossible task of compulsorily changing the existing official Novus Ordo, I would support a reform of the kind I have already outlined in the Adoremus Bulletin.
I shall pass over Father Parson's inability to extricate himself from a Neo-Modernist outlook, in saying, as he does in the above quoted passage:"We must attempt a modern presentation of the historic Roman Rite, analogous to the Catechism's modern presentation of the historic Catholic Faith."
And I will only point out here that his unanswered question, "Does such a reaffirmation mean an immobile Traditionalism?" which is so suffused with a contemporary prejudice favoring progress and innovation, radically misconstrues the very nature of ecclesiastical tradition. Indeed, though Father Parsons evidently does not deny that ecclesiastical tradition is mobile by its very nature, inasmuch as it is handed down from generation to generation, for him the mobility that is crucial and of necessity to be admitted is rather the alteration of the very contents of this tradition. No misconstruction of the essential role of ecclesiastical tradition in the life of the Church could be more radically made; for in this Father Parson's implicitly denies and excludes the very notion of the incommutability of ecclesiastical tradition, which quality along with its inerrancy, is one of ecclesiastical tradition's principle characteristics.
Not only is Father Parsons' despair of seeing the day when Rome will overturn the deleterious teaching and implementations of Vatican II awry, but in the Catholic notion of ecclesiastical tradition there is a source of hope and fortitude to rectify the profound evils of the conciliar experiment. This is so because the "imcommutability" of ecclesiastical tradition is not only not a threat to the well-being of the Church, but it is the very foundation of Her stability and fruitfulness, a stability and fruitfulness from which She can and shall draw strength, with the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit, to rout Her enemies.
To understand why this is so, it is necessary once again to approach the discussion with the help of a few distinctions drawn from scholastic theology.
The Necessity of Scholastic Theology in the Formation of the Hierarchy
That the restoration of the teaching of Scholastic Theology is essential for a restoration of the Church in our day, is not the intellectual preference of the antiquarian, but rather the teaching of the Church Herself. It was Pope Sixtus V, one of the greatest figures of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, who himself taught in an admirably catholic and decisive manner the importance of scholastic theology in the service of the Church Militant:"Finally the utility of the universal Church moves Us . . . especially when the ambushes and the diabolical machinations of heretics, by which they oppose most vehemently in this sad age that Sacred Theology, which is called Scholastic, admonish Us greatly, that We should retain, explain, and propagate this same theology, as something which nothing can be more fruitful for the Church of God. For with the divine gift of Him, who alone gives the spirit of knowledge and wisdom and understanding, and who furnishes His Church throughout the lifetimes of generations, as is needed, with new benefits, and who provides Her with new supports, there has been discovered by Our ancestors, most wise men, Scholastic Theology, which by two Doctors glorious above all, the angelic Saint Thomas, and the seraphic Saint Bonaventure, the most brilliant professors in this capacity, and first among those, who have been registered among the number of the Saints, with excellent genius, assiduous study, great labors and vigils, have refined and decorated it, and have passed it on, to those who would come after, optimally arranged and in many ways very clearly explained. And indeed by such a salutary understanding and practice of this science, which spread abroad from the richest sources of divine letters, the Roman Pontiffs, holy Fathers and Councils, could certainly always bring the greatest assistance to the Church, either to understand and interpret, truly and sensibly, the Scriptures themselves, or to read through and explain the Fathers more securely and usefully, or to detect and refute the various errors and heresies. Truly in these last days, in which already there has come those dangerous times described by the Apostle, and the blasphemous, proud, seductive men who advance to what is worse still, erring and sending others into error, this (kind of theology) is necessary to sensibly confirm the dogmas of the Catholic Faith and confute heresies. And the state of affairs is such, that the judges are the very enemies themselves of the truth, by whom Scholastic Theology has become dreadful to the greatest degree, who scarcely understand, by that apt and inner connected coherence of things and causes, in that order and arrangement, as by the training of soldiers in fighting, with those lucid definitions and distinctions, by that firmness of arguments and the sharpest disputations, that light is distinguished from shadows, and the true from the false, and their mendacity, involuted with many deceptions and fallacies, like a vestment borne away, is brought to light and stripped bare. Inasmuch, therefore, as these men begin to fight and overturn this most fortified citadel of Scholastic Theology, so much more does it befit us to defend this unconquered defense of the Faith, and both to conserve and keep safe the inheritance of Our Fathers, and to embellish, as much as we can, the keenest defenders of the truth with merited honors." (Triumphantis Ierusalem, March 14, 1588 A.D., § 10. )
This is a critique and encomium in which any student of the history of Sacred Theology in the 20th Century will not fail to see the cogency and applicability to our own day.
The Nature of the New
Continuing then, in order to correctly understand the nature of the imcommutability of ecclesiastical tradition, let us first turn to understand more precisely the Catholic notion of "innovation". Innovation is a word of Latin origin, meaning "to introduce something new", using "new" in the Latin sense of something "recent, fresh, young". What is "new" is by definition not "old"; we see this sense in the Church's designation of the Canon of Sacred Scripture, where the Bible is divided into the Books of the Old and the New Testament. This is precisely why the Gospel is called the "good news", since it is a "new" message of salvation, which had not been previously revealed.
What is, therefore, "new" is something which by definition has not been "handed down from the past" and since "tradition" by definition is "what is handed down from the past" what is "new" is by definition "what is not part of tradition".
Is everything that is new-in-some-sense foreign, then, to "tradition"? If this is the case how can one admit such devotions as the Rosary or 40 Hours Devotion as part of ecclesiastical tradition, in the proper sense, since these are historically verifiable introductions of new forms of Catholic worship?
The Three Kinds of the New
A thing, philosophically, can be "new" in three senses. These three senses of the "new" correspond to the three manners in which any two things can agree. According to Aristotle these three manners of agreement are as follows:"For just as agreement in substance constitutes identity, and agreement in quantity equality, so agreement in quality similitude" (Metaphysics, Book 4, chapters 9 and 15)
And thus, just as something can be introduced that disagrees in substance, quantity, and/or quality, so there can be "newness" according to substance, quantity, and quality. What is new according to quality is either an improvement or deterioration of what already exists, as improvement there is authentic progress, as deterioration a true digression. What is new according to quantity is either an increase or decrease of the magnitude of what already exists, as an increase it is a multiplication in members or in examples or dimensions, as a decrease it is an diminution in members or examples or dimensions. But, what is new according to substance is the introduction of what transgresses the limits of identity and these are true innovations. And this is why the Rosary or 40 Hours devotions, which embody the identical catholic beliefs and prior practices of ecclesiastical tradition regarding Our Lady and the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, are not innovations in the sense decried by Nicea II.
The Nature of the Imcommutability of Ecclesiastical Tradition
As we have seen (cf. "The Inerrancy of Ecclesiastical Tradition"), ecclesiastical tradition in its proper sense, is inerrant by virtue of the principles which bring it into being. It is The Work of the Church who, being indefectible and infallible by Christ's gift, faithfully hands down the Deposit of Faith from Christ and His Apostles until the end of time, contemplating and putting into practice all its requirements, fulfilling in Herself all its aspirations, retaining accurately and authentically its proper, historical-supernatural signification. Ecclesiastical tradition is inerrant because the Deposit of Faith is inerrant and because the Church Herself is infallible and indefectible and perfect in the understanding of this Deposit. The Deposit of Faith is that from which ecclesiastical tradition takes its exemplar and form; the Church is that from which ecclesiastical tradition is born and nurtured and that by which it is preserved and continued in being.
Likewise ecclesiastical tradition in its proper sense is imcommutable by virtue of its principles. It is not immutable in the sense that is undergoes no change according to quality and/or quantity; quality in the sense of progress in clarity and application, quantity in the sense that there is an increase in the number of things and words in which it is passed on. It is imcommutable, however, in its identity, since inasmuch has it has always the same principles, it retains the identical substance it had from the beginning. For this is what "incommutability" means: the ability not to be commuted into an other.
The Consequence of This Imcommutability
In declaring their intention to "defend free from all innovation" the ecclesiastical traditions which they had received, the fathers of the Second Council of Nicea infallibly taught that the content and identity of ecclesiastical tradition's substance was to be preserved, and that therefore the principles of ecclesiastical tradition must remain forever constant.
The content of ecclesiastical tradition's substance are all those extrinsic traditions which are part of ecclesiastical tradition in its proper sense, that is, as said previously, which must not be despised or rejected, whether they are in written or in unwritten form. The principles of ecclesiastical tradition are the Church, as infallible and indefectible, and the Deposit of Faith, especially under its aspect as a "body of revealed knowledge expressed in human language, whether written or unwritten".
The very great goodness and utility of ecclesiastical tradition is manifest in its characteristic imcommutability. For just as one finds stability not only in unchanging truth and goodness, but by the profession of it and adherence to it in word and deed, so the Church is not only stabilized by Her attachment to the Deposit of Faith through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, but in practice by Her cultivation and retention of Her own ecclesiastical traditions, by which She binds Herself to the Deposit, and which She Herself has brought into being by Her fidelity to this very Deposit. Hence it is an essential duty of the Church Herself to accept and approve of Her own ecclesiastical tradition; if She fail to do this, She will fail in Her fidelity to Her own identity, and like a Mother who murders her own children, She shall destroy Her own identity as a faithful and loving Bride.
The Church in response to assaults against Her ecclesiastical traditions has always responded decisively. At Nicea, it was the production and veneration of Icons, which the Church defended against those innovators who sought to exclude from the life of the Church the proper use of images in Christian worship. It was the immemorial tradition of the Church that images could be licitly used in the worship of the True God, this pertained to Sacred Tradition, and that their manufacture and veneration was suitable and praiseworthy in ecclesiastical worship, this pertained to ecclesiastical tradition.
Inasmuch as innovation means the introduction of novelty, that is of something of a new identity, such innovation excludes the prior identity in its substantial being. This is why those who sought to exclude the veneration of Icons, were iconoclasts, that is, image-breakers. This is why the adherents of liturgical innovation are wholly opposed to the unaltered continuance of the Traditional Roman Rite, so much so, that they have fashioned a New Rite and have in practice forbidden and most severely restricted the Old Rite, and even tolerate this only with the admission that it is transient step to the New, for those who are "incapable" of accepting the latter at this time. It is not unreasonable or un-catholic therefore, to conclude, that just as the iconoclasts of old, by their refusal of veneration of icons and especially by their destruction of them, were rightly recognized as heretics and rebels against the Catholic Church and Faith, so today those members of the Sacred Hierarchy and clergy who refuse the use of the Traditional Roman Rite personally and who forbid its use to others, are rightly also recognized as heretics and rebels.
How to Recognize Novelty in Extrinsic Traditions
What is genuinely an innovation has a distinct and different identity. This comes about in a being in virtue of having a distinct and different principle or principles. Innovation in ecclesiastical tradition, therefore, is something which does not have the Church as its Mother and the Deposit of Faith as its origin; it is something which therefore must exclude what has come before, and that is why Nicea anathematizes all who despise and reject what is already included in ecclesiastical tradition.
Inasmuch as a thing can proceed from members of the Church, not imbued or lead by Her Spirit, it can appear to be from the Church, though it is not of it. Likewise, inasmuch as a thing can be taken from the Deposit of the Faith, in a sense disconsonant with the tradition of ecclesiastical interpretation, so it can appear to be from the Deposit of Faith, though it is not of it. In either of these two manners, a thing can be an innovation as regards ecclesiastical tradition.
Now just as the being of a thing is founded upon its substance, manifested in its operation, and brought to bear in its relation with other things, so what is foreign to ecclesiastical tradition is recognized, in novel content, novel operation, and novel orientation. Novel content are things introduced into extrinsic tradition which supplant the contents of ecclesiastical tradition; these include new teachings, new forms of sacraments, new forms of virtues, new forms of theology, new forms of ritual and liturgy, new forms of religious life, art, music, etc.. Novel operation are things introduced into extrinsic tradition which supplant the order of things found in ecclesiastical tradition; these include new forms of the exercise of hierarchical authority, sacerdotal responsibility, and lay participation, new forms of ecclesiastical discipline. Novel orientation are things which supplant the relations to the world, the flesh, and the devil which are found in ecclesiastical tradition; these include a new orientation to non-Catholic religions, a new orientation to society and culture, a new orientation to moral ethics, etc..
According to the infallible teaching of Nicea II, all those who despise or reject any written or unwritten tradition of the Church ["tradition" here in the sense of "ecclesiastical tradition" in its proper sense] are accursed by God, for this is the meaning of "anathema sit." In classical Catholic theology, what is anathematized is formally heretical. A person is guilty of the moral crime of heresy, however, only when he pertinaciously denies a defined truth of catholic faith; and hence not every member of the Sacred Hierarchy or clergy who accepts the notion of the aggiornomento is by that very fact a heretic; but rather only those who do so in that sense in which they advocate the despising or rejection of what pertains properly to ecclesiastical tradition, when they know by having been shown, what ecclesiastical tradition is, and what their obligation in virtue of the teaching of Nicea II is of retaining and accepting it. For this is what it means to be pertinacious, to stubbornly refuse to admit the truth of a thing after it has been manifested to one as true.
The Restoration of Ecclesiastical Tradition does not mean therefore a return of the Church to Her traditions, because She has never left them; but rather a return by the Sacred Hierarchy, the clergy, the religious and the laity to an acceptance and use of these along with a concomitant rejection of the errors that lead to their rejection. Essential to the resolution of this most profound crisis in the Church is the definitive confrontation of those who are anti-traditionalists with the dogmatic teachings of such councils as Nicea II, and the unanimous denunciation of all pertinacious denials and deny-ers in this regard. Today, on account of the very widespread confusion and weakness of the Hierarchy, this is a task every more urgent for the laity to take up, in virtue of the law of subsidiarity.
May the Holy Ghost grant the Catholic Faithful the fortitude and devotion to promote the restoration of the Church in our day, and may they go forward with the blessing of Almighty God and His Immaculate Mother!