Unfortunately in our day credentials from academia mean little. An ecclesiastical office means little. From my view, the credentials that matter most are these:
I confess the Nicene, Athanasian, Pauline and Apostles creeds in the sense and understanding which the Church has always confessed. I condemn all errors in the Syllabus Errorum of Bl. Pius IX, the Lamentabile of St. Pius X, and profess the Oath Against Modernism. I believe all matters of faith and morals that the Church has always taught according to their particular Theological Note.
I confess the Declaration of Truths of His Emminence Cardinal Burke et al.
I confess the Immutable Truths about Matrimony of His Excellency Bishop Schneider and others
I confess the Manifesto of Faith of His Eminence, Cardinal Mueller
The Second Vatican Council is the twenty-first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church.
I believe His Holiness, Pope Francis I is the Vicar of Christ on earth, to whom I submit with religious submission of mind and will. I do so with caution.
A very important motto for Catholics in our age is the phrase in essentiis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas (“In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, freedom; in all things, charity”). It is crucial that Catholics seize upon this and practice it during this crisis. The distinction between “essentials” and “doubtful matters,” however, is by degrees. The Church distinguishes these degrees by the Theological Notes of doctrine. The highest degree Note represents the highest degree of certainty and thus the greatest obligation for assent, while the lowest is the least certain and the least obligatory for belief:
- De Fide – of the faith – explicit in Scripture, Tradition, may also be explicitly defined by highest Church authority
- De Fide Ecclesiastica – ecclesiastical faith – explicitly defined by Church authority, implicit in Scripture and Tradition.
- Example: the Assumption of Mary
- Denial of any of these truths is the mortal sin of heresy.
- Sententia Fidei Proxima – proximate to the faith – teaching is generally understood by the Theologians as explicit in Scripture and Tradition but not explicitly defined by the Church
- Sententia Certa – theologically certain – implicit in Scripture and Tradition, not explicitly defined by the Church
- Sententia Communis – common teaching – this teaching is implicit in Tradition and is generally accepted by the Theologians, but is technically free opinion.
- Sententia Probabilis – probable teaching – a teaching that is well founded on good authority yet is open to question. Pious beliefs and tolerated opinions also fall under this note and have the lowest degree of certainty.
Thus we may see that in actual fact, Notes 1-4 are essentials to the faith, while 5 is technically “doubtful” (in the sense mentioned above) but only with good reason, whereas 6 is entirely doubtful matter, provided piety is observed. Thus no man can call himself Catholic and deny anything above Communis, and can only question Communis with good reason. A Sententia Probabilis alone is completely open for discussion.
Let us apply this further to current controversies. So, for example, Lumen Gentium explicitly states that the documents of Vatican II are not binding unless explicitly stated, indicating that unless they are quoting prior teachings, the documents must be held to be Sententia Probabilis or Communis. Whereas Ordinatio Sacerdotalis spoke of the male-only sacramental ordination as binding on all Catholics “This Sententia must be held definitively by all the faithful of the Church.” The former teachings have some room for discussion, whereas the latter is completely closed (including any notion of a female, sacramental deaconate).
But in all things, a grave piety must be observed regarding the Magisterium: “The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule.” Even if a man sees an issue with Vatican II, he is not permitted, through piety, to dismiss the council as a whole. Nevertheless, if the matter is not closed, reasonable and pious inquiry can be made. As Ott explains: “By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement [to magisterial documents] may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision [of the magisterium] rests on an error.” At its best, the traditionalist movement represents such a scientific investigation. At its worst, the traditionalists are sinning against charity and piety while causing scandal and schism in the Church.
Why I do not call myself a “Traditionalist”
The movement of “traditionalism” may be defined as a reaction to the Second Vatican Council and can be summarized in these general points:
- The Second Vatican Council is, at its best, a truly Ecumenical Council but an ambiguous experiment which must be overcome if we are to defeat Modernism. At its worst, it is a Modernist conspiracy to overthrow the Church from within.
- The New Mass is, at its best, a valid Mass which gives God glory yet has certain inherent defects which can harm souls. At its worst, it is a Modernist conspiracy to overthrow the Church from within.
- The post-conciliar Magisterium is, at its best, a valid papacy which has defended the faith at times but has permitted the Euro-American Church to be ruined by Modernists. At worst, they are valid popes who attempted to blend—wittingly or unwittingly—the Modernist heresy with the Catholic faith and failed.
From the primary and secondary sources I have examined, it appears to me that, depending on the particular point in question, these three assertions are reasonable (although there are significant exceptions).
Nevertheless I do not identify as a “Traditionalist” for a few important reasons. First, these three assertions above are “doubtful matters” in the sense taken above. Thus I cannot identify myself with them since they are not essential to the faith.
Second, the term “traditionalist” itself is not traditional—it was not used by saints or doctors of the past and it is unwise to use a different term than what they used.
Third, it quickly allows other Catholics to dismiss traditionalism from the conversation about this crisis, missing the opportunity to build alliances with Conservative Catholics who may not agree with the above points but do agree on the essentials of Catholic faith and morals. (It would be unwise, too, for Traditionalists to dismiss Conservatives for what they can bring to the fight in this crisis.)
Fourth, some common beliefs among “Traditionalists” seem to evince an ignorance of the broader Church Tradition. For example the term “Mass of the Ages” should never be used in reference to the Mass of Pius V, since it ignores the other Latin rites (Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Sarum, etc.) as well as the Eastern rites (Greek, Coptic, etc.). Another example: Latin is not and has never been “the language of the Church.” Historically and theologically one could rightly say there are at least three: Latin, Greek and Hebrew. In addition, rites in other languages were also approved by the Holy See since Cyril and Methodios in the 9th century.
Fifth, traditionalists have an unhealthy habit of identifying Thomism with the faith and the faith with Thomism. It is true that Thomism above all has helped shape the faith since the 13th century and a return to Thomism is a significant answer to our crisis. But this over-emphasis on Thomism tends to exclude the other Latin philosophical schools like Scotism as well as the Greek schools like the Cappadocian Fathers and the Alexandrian school, as well as the sadly neglected Syrian school.
Finally, using the term “traditionalist” contributes to the diluting of the term “Catholic” by placing the emphasis away from “Catholic”—the truly traditional term—and hinders the proper use and meaning of “Catholic.” Thus I believe instead of “traditionalist” (or even “Conservative”) every faithful Catholic should work to reclaim the term “Catholic” and only identify himself thusly. I use the terms “Traditionalist” and “Conservative” to denote those Catholics who self-identify this way.
A Note on Modern Saints
The modern canonization process was instituted by Pope Urban VIII beginning at the end of the 16th and beginning the 17th centuries. In order to combat the Protestant and Enlightenment critique of Catholic “superstition,” the Papacy imposed a rigorous scientific investigation to prove every saint beyond all doubt. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, canonization required four total miracles which were vigorously scrutinized by the “devil’s advocate” whose job was to disprove sainthood. In 1983, Pope St. John Paul II significantly reduced the requirements for sainthood, most notably reducing the required miracles to two and minimizing the role of the “devil’s advocate.” Since that time, three popes—John XXIII, John Paul II, and Paul VI—have all been canonized, and not without controversy. Notably, neither of the miracles canonizing St. Paul VI meet the classical definition of “sudden, complete, lasting,” excluding every natural explanation, and St. John XXIII was canonized with only one miracle. Thus it has been reasonably asked: if the integrity of the investigative process is essential to the canonization, does not the reduced rigor lead to a reasonable doubt as to the certainty of the sainthood?
If we examine the process in a similar manner as the Notes above, we may suppose that the prior rigor made the matter beyond all doubt and absolutely certain, whereas the current process leaves the matter less than absolutely certain. Nevertheless, the Church cannot promulgate anything liturgically that is even venially sinful. But sainthood also does not mean that everything a saint did and said is approved. Even before 1983, there existed degrees of sanctity among the saints.
Taking these things into consideration, I do not refrain from calling these men saints out of charity and piety. As St. Thomas states, “unless we have evident indications of a person’s wickedness, we ought to deem him good, by interpreting for the best whatever is doubtful about him.” Now if this obligation holds for any man, the virtue of piety compels us to think most favorably of the Sovereign Pontiff and the Church authority canonizing him. Thus although doubts and questions remain about the words and deeds of these men, they are receiving their eternal reward. We must have reverence for the dead and reverence for the Sovereign Pontiff. I will not refrain from calling a man a saint for the bare fact that if he is a saint, I do not err is showing him due honor, and if he is not a saint, I err only in giving him greater honor that he has merited. Either way, I do not sin. As again St. Thomas observes on this subject “He who interprets doubtful matters for the best, may happen to be deceived more often than not; yet it is better to err frequently through thinking well of a wicked man, than to err less frequently through having an evil opinion of a good man, because in the latter case an injury is inflicted, but not in the former.” In our examination of the post-conciliar crisis, we must hold steadfast to charity and piety in order to avoid excess and scandal.
This term Theologians (capital “T”) is understood to mean the “scholastics” or the “schoolmen” referring to the eminent saints and scholars from 1100-1700, particularly St. Thomas, whom the Church has received as authoritative. In general, a proposition which they unanimously agree upon is infallible. See Ripperger, Magisterial Authority on the Resources page.
St. Alphonsus, Theologia Moralis, vol. II (Mediatrix Press, 2017, Ryan Grant trans.), 466ff. See also Sermon XLVII, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The virtue of piety is different than the colloquial term. It refers to the due reverence which we give to legitimate authority such as parents, superiors and Church authority. The common terms used today is religious assent of mind and will, which means essentially submission in all cases not manifestly sinful.
Concerning the Theological Note, the appendix section of Lumen Gentium addresses this and states: “Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding. The rest of the things which the sacred Council sets forth, inasmuch as they are the teaching of the Church’s supreme magisterium, ought to be accepted and embraced (excipere et amplecti) by each and every one of Christ’s faithful according to the mind of the sacred Council. The mind of the Council becomes known either from the matter treated or from its manner of speaking, in accordance with the norms of theological interpretation.” The “norms” referred to here are the Theological Notes, taking into consideration and various sources of Infallibility (Scripture, Tradition, prior Magisterium, the Theologians, etc). Since the entire worldwide episcopate (with few exceptions) accepted Vatican II, it automatically has the authority of Communis. However, since some of the subject matter is not faith and morals (politics and economics for example), these things are properly Probabilis.
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4: Hancque sententiam ab omnibus Ecclesiae fidelibus esse definitive tenendam. Ott (in 1954) states on p. 459 that this doctrine is a Sententia Certa, but we may properly speak of it now as Fides Ecclesiastica since it is defined since 1994. See also the response by the Holy Office on this point, clarifying that this teaching is to be held definitively as belonging to the deposit of faith (October 28, 1995)
Donum Veritatis, 24. Emphasis in the original
For example, Vatican II did help to make the Eastern Rite more equally valued among Latin Catholics and sought to reverse the Latinizations in Eastern Catholic Churches (and this comes out in the New Catechism which utilizes the Greek and other Eastern Rites). In addition, there were other per se good efforts which were more or less twisted into bad fruit, such as the popularizing the reading of Sacred Scripture among the faithful, the new Rite of Christian Initiation and Mystagogy, the Ecumenical dialogue, as well as a vernacular Mass (even the Fathers of the Council of Trent recognized that “the mass contains much instruction for the faithful,” Trent, 22.8). Other positive aspects include the large increase of the Church Africa and parts of Asia, as well as the large number of Hebrew Catholics. However there are other significant factors involved with this growth and it is not clear how much Vatican II played in these positive developments, although it is reasonable to assert it did have some role. (The mass conversion of Anglicans and Lutherans in the Ordinariate does not appear to have been a result of Vatican II as they do not use the Novus Ordo Mass nor was their reason for union based particularly on the Vatican II documents.)
Christopher A. Ferrera “The Canonization Crisis – Part II” The Remnant (2018)
ST II-II q60 a4. Emphasis mine