Debate on the Reactionary Group, “The Remnant”

Debate on the Reactionary Group, “The Remnant” February 17, 2016

(vs. Mark Cameron)


Is the end near? Image by “geralt”  [public domain / Pixabay]

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(24 January 2000)

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The following exchanges stem from my paper: Critique of “The Remnant”. In it, I expressed a willingness to interact with (to some extent), counter-replies. No one at The Remnant has been willing to formally debate these past three months since the critique was uploaded (or make any response whatsoever, in most cases).

Another non-affiliated, more moderate self-described “traditionalist” or reactionary (?), however (Mark Cameron), did send a very thoughtful, challenging letter. It was later posted on The Remnant website. As such it is the closest thing to a direct response I am likely to get. That’s fine with me; I’m content to let readers judge the competing visions of Catholicism for themselves. Mark’s words will be in blue.

[see my definition and analysis of my term, radical Catholic reactionary (“RadCathR” for short) ]

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Two Letters From Mainstream “Traditionalists”
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I thought this was great that you were challenging . . . the Remnant. I have been reading the Remnant for about five years and enjoy their paper; however, they do go way out in some of their thinking. I have wanted a good debate in this area for years so I welcome you to the debate! . . . I hope [they] will challenge you, in detail, so that we can all learn from this . . . You are one of the few Laymen with the gifts to be able to do this. 

While I have wavered back and forth on your assessments of traditionalists (being one myself), I must disprove your theory that we are all entrenched in our ways, and not open to change our views. You (and Father Most and Father Hardon, Father McCarthy and Harrison) have all helped me to see the illogic of many of the tenets of the more extreme traditionalism. All I have wanted was for someone who wasn’t a Modernist to disprove many of their (Remnant-type) arguments and assumptions. While I do not agree with all of your assessments in your critique, I thank you for bringing me back toward the heart of the Church. Whether I am a traditional conservative or conservative traditionalist I don’t know, but your critique has gone a long way in helping me see the illogic in many of their arguments, especially John Vennari and Michael Matt; however, unlike others, I do not systematically condemn all of their writings and opinions and do believe they are at least expressing Catholic lay opinions (not theologians) that need to be expressed.

Next are excerpts from a thought-provoking and articulate letter from Mark Cameron. I will respond to it insofar as it is directly related to my paper. 

Open Letter to Dave Armstrong: Can Traditionalists Question Magisterial Teachings and Still Remain Loyal to the Holy Father?

Mark Cameron

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NOTE: After the first round (I have edited the “rounds” together to make the dialogue flow back-and-forth), Mr. Cameron made the following statement in a letter to me:

First of all, at several points in your reply, I think that you misrepresent what I am trying to say by omitting key portions of my argument [Dave: such was not my intention at all]I hope, out of courtesy, that you will link your reply to the full text of the letter itself.

I am happy to comply with this hope: here is the link to Mr. Cameron’s complete letter:[no longer active] I remain firm, however, in my resolve to not debate every jot and tittle of this issue, per my statements in the Introduction of my original critique of The Remnant, and those above, introducing this debate. The arguments in that paper are what I am fully willing to defend and devote increasingly-limited time to. As it is, the following debate tends to “drift” further and further from my original paper, so my replies are not to be regarded as “systematic” or “comprehensive.” 

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I consider myself to be a traditional Catholic loyal to the Holy Father. I attend the traditional Latin Mass available under the terms of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei. I like your website very much, and I also like [the] Remnant Resistance website very much. Both are bookmarked, and I check both frequently. I suppose I would consider my theological position to be a little bit to the “right” of you, and a little bit to the “left” of [The Remnant]. But I think that your recent long article attacking various articles . . . fails to distinguish between legitimate traditionalist questioning of certain elements of the Vatican II documents and post-Vatican II magisterial teachings and practices, and heterodox dissent. Many faithful Catholics, “traditionalists” and “conservatives” alike, believe that the Church is undergoing a period of crisis. 

Anyone who is conscious knows that . . . 

. . . I must begin by pointing out that traditionalists are not alone among orthodox Catholics in questioning some emphases of recent magisterial teaching. For instance, some conservative Catholics have questioned the Holy Father’s adamant opposition to capital punishment. 

But this is proper and permissible because capital punishment is not an absolute evil. It can’t possibly be, since God has commanded it (and given the analogy of war and lethal force of police). So it is a “disciplinary” and socio-political question of the just exercise of this prerogative of states, and therefore, one can differ with it without being a dissenter; I agree. In any event, this is a far cry from denigrating the New Mass, and an Ecumenical Council, believing in defectibility, or quasi-defectibility, etc.; so different that it can hardly be deemed an analogy, in my opinion.

a) This is not simply a disciplinary matter (like clerical celibacy), but a matter of the correct interpretation of natural law, as was Humanae Vitae.

In this case, the application of the natural law (affecting justice and the right of states to protect citizens) has been applied differently – analogous to the varying application of the Mosaic Law, as I argue below. Contraception is far less ambiguous, as to practice. It is simply wrong, and there is no two ways about it. 

b) In saying this, you are already revealing yourself as less of a “conservative” than Russell Shaw of the Knights of Columbus, Charles Rice of Notre Dame Law School, and Our Sunday Visitor. They have all said that the recent exercise of the magisterium on the terms and conditions of capital punishment demands a religious submission of mind and will on the part of the faithful.

I would essentially agree with them (as far as I am able to speak on such technical matters). I was simply making the point that this disagreement is significantly different in type than the major disagreements which radical Catholic reactionaries (RadCathRs) express (and the spirit of disobedience they often embrace), as noted above. RadCathRs seem to habitually ignore this aspect of “religious submission of mind and will” so it is pointless for me to emphasize it in debate with them (they will just ignore it and move on). I must momentarily assume the (as I see it) “legalistic,” “hyper-technical” mindset of RadCathRs in order even to engage in meaningful conversation with them.

c) How is the “socio-political question of the just exercise of this prerogative of states” different from the socio-political question of the just prerogative of states to censor or suppress the public expression of heretical opinion, which central to the traditionalist critique of the Declaration on Religious Liberty?

It isn’t that different, in terms of the relatedness of ideas; this is a great point you make. The matter of religious liberty is indeed similar to the question of capital punishment (and the relationship to the Inquisition, etc.). I was assuming that the statements of the Holy Father on capital punishment possess less authority than those of Vatican II. The application and strategies in these areas can, and have, changed. I would argue that the so-called “innovations” of Vatican II concerning religious liberty are merely a return to the status quo of the early Church, over against the Church of the High Middle Ages. The Council, in decreeing this, lends its authority to the current “move” of the Holy Spirit towards more tolerance and ecumenism, while not compromising or sacrificing doctrine in the process. Your point is well-taken, and I appreciate it, but I don’t think it is proven by any means that the Vatican II emphasis on religious liberty is a corruption or reversal of previous Tradition, since this was the primitive (apostolic) Tradition, and since application may vary, according to times and places. 

. . . In my view, traditional Catholics do no differently, except that their disagreement is with a wider range of recent magisterial teaching.

I disagree: I think there is a qualitative difference, as alluded to above, and as argued throughout my long paper.

. . . Now, is Father Neuhaus correct that there is a right for Catholics to express their disagreement with magisterial teachings? 

On certain limited matters, with all due respect, and other times in grave circumstances, yes. The RadCathR critique, however, is way beyond (like Pluto to Mercury) a disagreement over what constitutes legal and societal justice, with regard to criminals (or, formerly, heresy). That has obviously changed, from the times of the Crusades and Inquisition, etc. But this involves no dogma of the faith, or proclamations of a complete “reversal” of doctrine and precedent.

I believe that the traditionalist critiques are on “limited” matters (innovative Conciliar or Papal teachings taught with only the authority of the authentic, non-definitive magisterium), and this because of “grave circumstances” (the crisis in the Church that you agree that “anyone who is conscious” is aware of). 

But that leads us to another topic: the authority of Vatican II, which I have dealt with elsewhere. This current exchange is supposed to have some relation to my critique of The Remnant, no?

I am not referring to schismatic traditionalists who deny the validity of the Novus Ordo, the Council, the post-Conciliar Popes, or believe that the Church has defected and Rome has become the seat of the anti-Christ. I am referring to traditionalists loyal to the Holy See who nonetheless believe that certain errors, ambiguities, and omissions in the documents of Vatican II and in recent Papal teaching have contributed to the crisis of the Faith which we all agree is occurring.

I have argued that The Remnant is both contradictory, and ambiguous on these matters. No one has yet seen fit to challenge my evidences for that assertion, thoroughly documented. I continue to deny that Vatican II itself, or the teaching of John Paul II is in any way responsible for the modernist crisis. I simply don’t locate the cause in those places (and I am as free to think that as you claim you are to assert the contrary). I think that Catholics ought to submit to the Council even if fine points of non-infallibility can be established by authorities competent to do so. My position has been falsely portrayed by RadCathRs as never allowing any criticism of the pope. The other extreme to that scenario is to – in effect – believe that no submission is mandatory unless it has to do with technically infallible decrees. This is what breeds chaos in RadCathR ranks. Infallibility and submission are two different things.

. . . it is clear that all of the teachings of Vatican II and recent Papal encyclicals fall into this category of authentic, but non-definitive teaching. 

It’s clear as mud, but I’m not gonna debate that here.

This is a rather crucial point: the degree of authority which is attached to the Conciliar documents and Papal encyclicals. However, you do discuss the issue of Conciliar infallibility below, so I will save my comments for later.

Indeed it is crucial, but again, the current debate – at least as I see it – is not about that, but about the wider issue of defectibility and the extreme nature of many statements on The Remnant web page concerning which you and I are largely in agreement.

I would add that this only applies to the new teachings of Vatican II or Papal encyclicals. When Vatican II or the Holy Father reiterates the constant teaching of the extraordinary or ordinary and universal magisterium, they are teaching infallibly. 

Ah! Okay; so we have to define “new.” If by it you mean that these teachings are corruptions rather than developments, then you would have a non-controversial point. But I deny that they are corruptions at all. Ecumenism has many seeds in the early Church (particularly in how it regarded the Donatists). Religious liberty clearly has much precedent in the early Church. The espousal of the use of force in religious matters came later. If anything was a “corruption,” that was, not the freedom of religion which the Fathers generally taught (though the issue is very complex, and I have written on this, too). 

It is very important to define what we mean by “new” teaching, I agree. The Holy Father himself said in Ecclesia Dei:

The extent and depth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council call for a renewed commitment to deeper study in order to reveal clearly the Council’s continuity with Tradition, especially in points of doctrine which, perhaps because they are new, have not yet been well understood by some sections of the Church.

So he agrees that there are new doctrinal teachings in Vatican II. That these teachings (on religious liberty, collegiality, ecumenism, the salvation of non-believers, etc.) are not obviously and easily derived from earlier teachings is apparent, or else the Pope would not have found it necessary to call, over 30 years after the Council, for a renewed study to show their harmony with Tradition.

But this does not establish the RadCathR critique at all; quite the contrary. The Holy Father is clearly using “new” in the sense in which the New Testament was “new,” or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was “new,” or the inclusion of Gentiles into Christianity was “new.” In none of these cases was the “newness” a corruption of what came before; rather they were developments. And in each case there was much misunderstanding and dissension, and accusations that the “new” doctrine had forsaken the “old” ways. Secondly, John Paul II refers to “points of doctrine,” not “doctrines” per se – which cannot happen, as all dogmatic doctrines are received from the Apostles, and cannot be changed. 

Right in the quote (somehow you overlooked it), he refutes the falsity of your interpretation of it, since he writes of “the Council’s continuity with Tradition.” He doesn’t see any discontinuity. The “evidence” of this citation in favor of your point is exceedingly weak; almost nonexistent, in fact. Jesus spoke of the “new wine” and used other similar metaphors (see, e.g., Mk 2:21-22; Lk 5:36-39). Does this prove that He was introducing “new” doctrines “not obviously and easily derived from earlier teachings”? The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) dealt with the Judaizers. There had been some confusion and “ambiguity.” What caused that confusion, I ask you? The proclamation of the gospel itself? Paul’s preaching? Peter’s preaching? I don’t see any major differences here. I see many analogies, but none of them seem to me to support your RadCathR ideas about the causes of error being found within the documents of Vatican II.

So – as I see it – the entire debate (even as you are now framing it) does indeed hinge on an application of Newmanian development to the disputed issues. I emphasized this in my debate, but my original opponents have refused to interact with it. You have done much better (if only I had the time to fully engage this – I may do so yet, given certain conditions). In my opinion, you have to demonstrate that ecumenism, religious liberty, etc., are total corruptions of Catholic Tradition. If you cannot do that, then you have already conceded the case, by your own stated criteria, as they would then be part and parcel of the ordinary and universal magisterium.

I do not think that one has to say that these teachings are “total corruptions.” They may be partial corruptions, inexact, contradictory, ambiguous and giving rise to erroneous interpretations, etc. Surely this would be enough to justify asking for corrections and clarifications. 

Well, since the Holy Father has stated that this should take place (evidenced by your quote), then where is the beef? If the Church makes some pronouncement, but it is not infallible or ex cathedraRadCathRs will squawk about its “insufficiency” or “too little too late.” Or you will moan and groan that he is taking too long to even commence the formal process, etc. Nothing ever seems to be good enough. I continue to maintain that there is a harmful and deleterious “spirit of RadCathRism” – if you will, that runs contrary to the spirit of obedience to the pope and Church authority, and to a bright, optimistic, hopeful faith (which martyrs possess in the very worst of circumstances). The doom-and-gloom mentality, exclusivistic orientation, and tendency to resort to conspiratorial explanations for things one is unable to comprehend also typifies certain strains of political conservatism, and “fundamentalist” branches of Orthodoxy and Protestantism.

Note, e.g., a remark by Anne Roche Muggeridge (author of The Desolate City):

I try to practise the virtue of hope, but the Irish aren’t congenitally designed for it. I hope for the Church in the long run, but the dismal short run, where we are now, is exasperating and discouraging to all but the holy and the fantasists. The disaster has been so great that it is hard to believe in any extensive survival of the Church on earth, let alone a glorious recovery. (Catholic Eye, December 19, 1992).

Secondly, even if the new teachings are not corruptions but genuine developments, that would not make them part of the “ordinary and universal magisterium” automatically. The universal magisterium implies continuity in time. If the current magisterium clarifies something which the earlier magsiterium did not teach (or taught to the contrary), then the new teaching simply has the weight of the authentic magisterium unless it is proclaimed as infallible by the extraordinary magisterium.

Thus, in Pope John Paul II’s statement in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis — “in order that there remain no doubt on a question of such importance concerning the divine constitution itself of the Church, I declare, by virtue of my mission to confirm my brethren, that the Church simply does not have the power to confer priestly ordination on women and that this position must be definitively held by all the faithful of the Church.” — he reiterates an infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium, even if he does not define it as a dogma by an exercise of his extraordinary magisterium. But his statements about democracy and capitalism in Centesimus Annus or on capital punishment in Evangelium Vitae, while exercises of his authentic magisterium, are non-definitive teachings.

I agree (as far as I understand these technical canonical matters).

. . . What kind of assent does the authentic magisterium call for on behalf of the faithful? . . . In my judgment, the CRC and the Remnant sometimes fail in not showing the proper “obsequium” towards legitimate authority, but in many cases I find myself in agreement with the substance of their critiques, even if the tone is overly belligerent for my tastes.

This discussion over the precise translations of Latin words, is over my head, and beyond my purview. I will not attempt to discuss such issues and pretend that I am qualified to do so. 

I don’t consider myself to be technically qualified in this area either. I simply quoted authorities (Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ, and Bishop B.C. Butler) who are. Lack of qualifications in Latin does not usually prevent conservatives from quoting Lumen Gentium 25 to mean that traditionalists must “submit” to every novelty that comes forth from a Roman dicastery from allowing altar girls to endorsing the Lutheran-Catholic declaration on justification.

:-) You made your rhetorical point. I won’t go down this rabbit trail (one of many in this exchange).

Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913, “General Councils”), e.g., wrote about submission with regard to Ecumenical Councils:

. . . Denzinger’s (ed. Stahl) “Enchiridion symbolorum et definitionum”, under the heading (index) “Concilium generale representat ecclesiam universalem, eique absolute obediendum” (General councils represent the universal Church and demand absolute obedience) . . . before the Vatican decree concerning the supreme pontiff’s ex-cathedra judgments, Ecumenical councils were generally held to be infallible even by those who denied the papal infallibility; it also explains the concessions largely made to the opponents of the papal privilege that it is not necessarily implied in the infallibility of councils, and the claims that it can be proved separately and independently on its proper merits. The infallibility of the council is intrinsic, i.e. springs from its nature. Christ promised to be in the midst of two or three of His disciples gathered together in His name; now an Ecumenical council is, in fact or in law, a gathering of all Christ’s co-workers for the salvation of man through true faith and holy conduct; He is therefore in their midst, fulfilling His promises and leading them into the truth for which they are striving.

. . . Some important consequences flow from these principles. Conciliar decrees approved by the pope have a double guarantee of infallibility: their own and that of the infallible pope.
. . . An opinion too absurd to require refutation pretends that only these latter canons (with the attached anathemas) contain the peremptory judgment of the council demanding unquestioned submission. Equally absurd is the opinion, sometimes recklessly advanced, that the Tridentine capita are no more than explanations of the canones, not proper definitions; the council itself, at the beginning and end of each chapter, declares them to contain the rule of faith.

(the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright © 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version copyright 1996 by New Advent, Inc.)

The last section of this quoted text was the only one you have cited that gave me pause. Of course I acknowledge that Ecumenical Councils are instruments of infallible teaching authority, but I have been convinced by reliable authorities that the Vatican II documents are worded in such a way as to make clear that the Council was not engaging its infallible teaching authority. 

But who has the authority to declare that and allow you to authoritatively believe it, as a good Catholic? You will listen to a theologian, when he contradicts what popes say about the authority of the Council? That is pure modernist methodology (inherited from Protestant notions of “authority”), as you must know.

Your last quoted sentence, however, indicates that perhaps Conciliar documents enjoy a broader kind of infallibility than I had previously been led to believe.


But when I read the section of the article in question, I find that you have quoted it extremely selectively.

Yes, precisely because the whole excerpt is reprinted in the web article referred to above, on Vatican II. I’m not about to repeat things over and over on my website, when a hyper-link can immediately take the reader to something. True, I didn’t point this out specifically above (though it is strongly implied by my introductory remarks), but now everyone knows. I figure that if I repeat things enough times, maybe some of it will sink in, and indeed some did, with you.

[I deleted citations of other parts of the article – the reader can simply follow the hyper-link above]

Since the expressed purpose of the Second Vatican Council was not to advance new doctrines, or to resolve doctrinal controversies, but to explain the traditional doctrines of the Faith in a matter suited to the modern world, it would seem that the vast majority of its statements “represent too much of the human element, of transient mentalities, of personal interests to claim the promise of infallibility made to the Church as a whole.” The Documents of Vatican II contain lengthy discussions of theological, scientific, and historical matters, but precious little that approaches a dogmatic formulation.

Again, this is exactly the sort of discussion I am not willing to engage in, as I don’t feel qualified, and since it is far from the subject of the extremity of Remnant opinions and expressions.

The part you selectively cite illustrates that the Chapters of the Council of Trent were intended to have authoritative dogmatic weight as well as the particular Canons with attached anathemas. But the Second Vatican Council avoided using the expressions which would indicate that it was undertaking any definitive act. Even in the document with the most important doctrinal content and the most authoritative weight, Lumen Gentium, the Council uses the term “decernimus ac statuimus” (We decree and establish) rather than the traditional formulation “definimus” (We define), which is found in the decrees of Trent and Vatican I.

This is all talk for canon lawyers. The pope is there for a reason, and in God’s Providence, Paul VI presided over the ending of the Council. What did he say about its authority?:


{read at the closing ceremonies of Dec. 8 by Archbishop Pericle Felici, general secretary of the council}

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, assembled in the Holy Spirit and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we have declared Mother of the Church, and of St. Joseph, her glorious spouse, and of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul, must be numbered without doubt among the greatest events of the Church . . .

At last all which regards the holy ecumenical council has, with the help of God, been accomplished and all the constitutions, decrees, declarations and votes have been approved by the deliberation of the synod and promulgated by us . . .

We decided moreover that all that has been established synodally is to be religiously observed by all the faithful, for the glory of God and the dignity of the Church and for the tranquillity and peace of all men. We have approved and established these things, decreeing that the present letters are and remain stable and valid, and are to have legal effectiveness, so that they be disseminated and obtain full and complete effect, and so that they may be fully convalidated by those whom they concern or may concern now and in the future; and so that, as it be judged and described, all efforts contrary to these things by whomever or whatever authority, knowingly or in ignorance be invalid and worthless from now on.

Given in Rome at St. Peter’s, under the [seal of the] ring of the fisherman, Dec. 8, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the year 1965, the third year of our pontificate.

That’s more than sufficient for me. You go nitpick and fuss and complain about this and that, if you wish, and act as your own canon lawyer; I will obey the Council and the pope who “approved and established” it. If you want to “play Protestant,” feel free. Having played that game myself, I have no particular need or desire to return to it at this point. If Catholic authority seems “oppressive” to you, then please read Newman’s Grammar of Assent, now available online. For readers desiring more statements concerning conciliar infallibility, see also, my paper: Conciliar Infallibility: Church Documents.

. . . Having attempted to show that there is a right for an informed Catholic to respectfully disagree with certain non-infallible teachings of the magisterium, let’s look at some of the recent teachings which particularly concern traditionalists . . . As for ambiguity, it cannot be denied that certain liberal and modernist theologians were involved as periti in the Council (Rahner, Kung, Schillebeeckx, Murray, Baum, etc.) and that they laboured long and hard to insert certain ambiguous formulae into the texts of the Vatican II documents. At several points things were so bad that Paul VI intervened to remove certain items from the authority of the Council (e.g. birth control – read the ambiguous statements of Gaudium et Spes on this subject – and Papal authority versus collegiality in Lumen Gentium, which the Pope insisted on clarifying in an “explanatory note” attached as an appendix to the document). 

But this is nothing new (why would you think it was?). This is one of the functions of the pope – to remove such errors (e.g., Pope Leo the Great did that at Chalcedon in 451: the famous 28th canon concerning Constantinople). That doesn’t prove that Vatican II is qualitatively different; quite the opposite. But the pope’s charism of infallibility enables him to weed out the errors brought in by nefarious or other means by bishops.

This is an example where I think your omissions from my text have caused my views to be misrepresented. 

I will let readers judge that, by visiting your URL if they so choose.

You argued against the traditionalist view that the Conciliar documents are laced with ambiguity. I pointed to Paul VI’s interventions to point out that he himself was aware of what the modernists were up to. 

Sure they were (and of course he knew); this doesn’t prove that the heterodox nonsense made it into the documents! I couldn’t care less about what went on behind the scenes – that has occurred at all Councils, bar none; people being people.

He prevented some of these errors and ambiguities (on Papal authority and contraception), but allowed others (on religious liberty and ecumenism) to pass.

This is absolutely classic. You sit there and blithely judge the pope – say that he screwed up, that the charism of infallibility exercised in ratifying an Ecumenical Council was only half-effective. And you will claim that this is not private judgment, and deny that it is the Protestant principle of “every man his own pope,” and you will expect me to sit here and accept your pontifications declaring that the real pope was wrong in his authoritative judgments of an authoritative Council. Flat-out amazing! One can only shake their head, and hope that readers will comprehend the manifest absurdity of such a modus operandi, especially under the assumption that it is a self-consistently Catholic approach.

Fr. Brian Harrison made a similar point regarding Michael Davies:

Michael Davies . . . there are thousands of traditionalist Catholics out there who quite literally set more store by the judgments of Davies than by those of the Supreme Pontiff. Traditionalists, it must be remembered, are by definition those who have to a large extent lost confidence in the post-conciliar papacy, because of what they see as its aberrations from Sacred Tradition. And Davies is widely seen in such circles as the most eloquent and reliable exponent of that Tradition at the present time. This means that whatever he says will have significant ramifications – for good or for ill – in regard to one of the most pressing pastoral problems in today’s Church: the centrifugal and even schismatic tendencies which prompted the Pope to set up a new arm of the Vatican to help safeguard the unity of the Church – the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

Read Fr. Wiltgen’s The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber for a definitive account of the manipulations of the liberals and modernists in their attempts to get ambiguous statements into the Vatican II documents.

[technical discussions of Vatican II teaching on biblical inerrancy deleted]

Again, that is irrelevant to the debate, if one believes that Councils are ultimately protected (primarily by means of the pope) from adopting errors arising from such wicked schemes. If you or others wish to deny this, then please get consistent and apply this analysis to the other Councils also, since this sort of subterfuge and intrigue has always been present to some extent – men being men. The most obvious example is the Robber Council of 449, which was rejected by the pope as heretical.

The Robber Council isn’t a very good example, since it was condemned by the Pope, and therefore was no true Council. 

But my point was that it was a striking example of the usual machinations and realpolitik of sinful, fallen, ambitious, prideful men. That point holds whether it was a true Council or not.

A better example is Second Council of Constantinople in 553. The Emperor Justinian, a Monophysite sympathizer with a Monophysite wife, suggested that a Council be convened to condemn Nestorianism, a long dead heresy which erred in the opposite Christological direction as Monophysitism. Furthermore, the Emperor wanted the Pope (the weak Vigilius) to condemn the “Three Chapters,” the writings of three dead theologians tainted by Nestorianism, but two of whom had been reconciled to the Church at Chalcedon. Thus, under the guise of orthodoxy, the Emperor hoped to take aim at Chalcedon. Vigilius agreed to condemn the “Three Chapters” which led to riots against him in Rome. Vigilius then retracted his signature, but in the end agreed to hold a Fifth Ecumenical Council, hoping that he could get a council to agree to more balanced language. Instead, the Council went even further than Vigilius wanted in condemning the Three Chapters. Vigilius died, but his successor Pelagius (not the heresiarch) accepted the Fifth Council as Ecumenical in order to placate the Emperor, which led to a fifty year schism between Rome and the more staunchly Chalcedonian see of Milan.

Now, was the Fifth Council heretical? No. It was formally correct in its denunciation of Nestorianism. But it had disastrous consequences for the Papacy, and temporarily undermined the authority of the Council of Chalcedon. So, here is an example of a valid, but ill advised, council, with ambiguous if technically orthodox texts, and with very negative consequences for the Church. Vatican II is not “unique,” but it is more like Constantiniople II than Vatican I or Trent. There are several other councils which seem to have had flawed elements either in the way they were called, their politicization in one way or another, or problematic aspects of their canons and decrees. The guarantee of Conciliar infallibility is limited by the same limits as Papal infallibility: a council is infallible to the extent that its canons and decrees propose to teach definitively on a matter of faith and morals in a manner binding on all Catholics.

Very interesting (as you must know by now I love analogies). I don’t really know enough about the particulars to comment intelligently (let alone for public consumption), but I would suspect that several points of your argument here could be disputed. The main thing to me is your denial that the Council was heretical. You say the same about Vatican II. This is God’s protection (all the more noteworthy given the modernist presence at Vatican II). To me that is the bottom line. The “ambiguity” is in miscomprehension and/or misapplication (or wholesale distortion and twisting) of the actual conciliar teaching. Something is either “orthodox” or it is not. “Ambiguity” is extremely subjective and not particularly relevant, in my opinion, once one concedes that a Council is orthodox in the first place.

However, I do not believe (nor do most traditionalists except perhaps among the ranks of sedevacantism) that the Council was invalid or intrinsically heretical. 

But that is the absurdity and equivocation of the RadCathR position, as I repeatedly argued. The sedevacantists are at least consistent, not having to engage in special pleading of the most objectionable sort. Not having the guts to simply pronounce the hated Council invalid, instead we receive from you guys this balderdash of “ambiguity,” which then becomes a convenient “club” to bash the Council with impunity, not allowing (like all conspiratorial theories) of any rational disproof. Thus the very methods of the enemy are adopted: the ambiguities of the RadCathRs ironically far surpass those of the modernists.

This is nonsense. You constantly imply that traditionalists would really like to denounce Vatican II, the recent Popes, or the Novus Ordo as “invalid,” but avoid doing so for purely pragmatic reasons or a lack of courage. 

I don’t know what the reasons are – that is not for me to say (though I suppose I have speculated here and there). I merely pointed out the verbal and mental gymnastics and profound wavering and self-contradiction throughout The Remnant website. One can’t fail to notice this.

Our more careful, cautious language is not motivated by fear (except maybe fear of the Lord) but because we believe Christ’s promises to his Church. We believe in the Church’s indefectibility. We are struggling to reconcile teachings and practices that seem inconsistent with the previous patrimony of Catholic tradition with the promise that “I am with you always.” And for this, we are less honest than the sedevacantists and sneakier than the modernists?

There is a certain intellectual and theological inconsistency (not deliberate dishonesty), in my humble opinion, yes. I grant that these things are troubling to you (out of – I would say – a lack of proper understanding with regard to such matters as ecumenism and Salvation Outside the Church). The difference lies in how one initially approaches the issue. I assume, as a devout Catholic – in faith and given the evidence of Church history – that the Council is consistent with previous Catholic doctrine. I think this can be demonstrated, as well, though I may not be able to do it myself – I surely cannot, as I have said (not being properly trained for it). But others have done so (e.g., Fr. Harrison, Fr. Most, Fr. Hardon). 

Now, when you approach the Council, do you view these so-called “innovations” or “novelties” – in faith – as developments which are difficult to understand, or corruptions which are difficult to reconcile? It is all in the premise . . . To simply work out difficulties, nuances, and complexities is one thing. I believe the Bible is inerrant; that doesn’t mean for a second that there are not textual and theological and exegetical difficulties to be mulled over and worked through. 

Likewise with the Council. One has to start with either a hostile or an embracing assumption. To take the hostile assumption is to go against what the pope said about the Council, and the analogy of earlier Councils; therefore involving the utter absurdity (granting Catholic ecclesiology) of placing theologians or private persons (say, Mr. Matt or Mr. Vennari) over against the pope – precisely as both modernists and Protestants do. Thus you are to the Council what the liberal higher critics are to the Bible! Their initial hostile assumption is fallacious, so that the house of cards they build upon it is fundamentally flawed. Likewise with the  RadCathR “house.”

It is a valid council, and its documents are valid exercises of the authentic but non-definitive magisterium. 

But you have simply assumed that the entire Council is “non-definitive” in the sense of not requiring internal assent and submission. That is far from proven, in my opinion.

I haven’t simply assumed it. I have studied it and documented it, from the words of the Popes and the Council Fathers themselves.

But you selectively choose which papal words you will heed and which you reject; this is nonsensical (literally). The pick-and-choose mentality is one of the major problems here. The heretics pick and choose (as Newman would say, generalizing and making the analogy). The Catholics accept what their lawfully-ordained authorities proclaim.

Where learned Catholics have serious disagreements with its documents, based on inconsistency with previous Catholic teaching, I believe that they have the right to make these disagreements known and ask the Holy See to clarify the ambiguities, 

Again, I deny the supposed inconsistency. I’m convinced more strongly all the time that this very charge betrays an inadequate understanding of development of doctrine. In your particular case, I would have to see how you would present and define development, and how you would apply it to any of the most disputed Council teachings, in order to determine whether this lack of understanding applies to you. But I have seen too many RadCathRs (and Orthodox and Protestants) write many exceedingly ridiculous things about development to not be wary of this distinct possibility.

I hope to do so. It is far too easy to justify any and every change or innovation as a “development.” Unfortunately, modern theology tends to treat “development” in the same way that the Supreme Court of the United States treat the Constitution — looking for “emanations of penumbras” so that doctrines can come to mean the exact opposite of what was originally intended. 

I agree 100% – well-stated (as to modernism). But I don’t apply this to the Council at all, like you do.

I believe that “development” is possible, but I have yet to see some of the Conciliar novelties successfully justified as genuine developments.

So in the meantime do you consider them corruptions? This gets back to my point recently made, about your initial premises.

Many traditionalists (and by no means only Lefebvrists or sedevacantists) believe that some of the teachings on matters of ecumenism, religious liberty, and the possibility of salvation outside the Church in the documents of Vatican II and post-Conciliar magisterial teaching are not authentic developments, but innovations. 

That remains to be proven (and it interests me). In my humble opinion this is the crux of the issue, along with the closely-related notion of indefectibility. 

I would like to do so, and am currently rereading the Essay on Development to help formulate my thoughts. This will take a bit more time and thought to analyze fully, so I hope you will wait patiently for my Newmanian critique of Conciliar and post-Conciliar innovation.

Excellent. Again, this is the heart of the matter as I see it. I am more than happy to wait for someone actually willing to apply Newman’s thinking to the dispute at hand (and especially this particular book of his which was so instrumental in my own conversion). I commend you!

I do not think that some of these teachings meet Cardinal Newman’s seven notes for authentic development as explained in his Essay on the Development of Dogma: preservation of type, continuity of principles, assimilative power, logical sequence, anticipation of the future, conservative action on the past, and chronic vigour.

Now we are down to brass tacks! Good for you! I would love to see this expanded and elaborated upon and developed (pun intended).

To take the case of religious liberty, it seems to many serious critics (e.g. Michael Davies) that Dignitatis Humanae actually contradicts previously condemned propositions of Mirari Vos (Gregory XVI), Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors (Pius IX) . . . 

But these are related to the same issues as the dispute over capital punishment. It is extremely complicated, and again I don’t pretend to be an expert on these matters, but perhaps these are the sorts of things which can change, as they have to do with discipline and application of unchanging truths, just as the Law remained the same between the OT and the NT, but the application changed radically. In that case, there would be no essential change in the underlying principles; hence the development is legitimate. Also, there may very well be different uses and senses of words and phrases, just as condemnations of indifferentism are taken to mean blanket condemnation of Vatican II-type ecumenism, which is the furthest thing from indifferentism – rightly understood.

If you think that religious liberty is the same type of issue as the recent controversy over capital punishment, and you are ready to tolerate debate and discussion of the Pope’s teaching on the latter, then why are you so concerned about traditionalists who reject the Council’s teaching on the former?

Because it was proclaimed more authoritatively.

The Declaration on Religious Liberty is the most contentious item in the Council documents for traditionalists, and faced strong opposition from many bishops during the Council itself.

Even Abp. Lefebvre signed it; why?

Fr. Brian Harrison, another theologian I greatly respect, thinks that they can [be reconciled], albeit with difficulty and only by a very particular interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae (not the interpretation favoured by the John Courtney Murray cheering section on the left and right of the American Church). 

But this is precisely the kind of issue that traditional Catholics insisit that the magisterium address clearly and directly, rather than simply asserting that there is no inconsistency between the old teachings and the new.

I would agree with that. I disagree with the notion that there could be no conceivable reason not to make such a clarification immediately. In a nutshell, I trust the Holy Father to do what is right and best. Mr. Matt and Mr. Vennari and their comrades-in-arms obviously do not. But I’m all for further explanation, myself. I’m trying to do it – as a lowly amateur lay apologist; why not the pope? But in the meantime, I don’t wring my hands in despair and believe that the Church is near collapse, in ruins, shambles (and all the other illustrious, dramatic terms which The Remnant habitually employs).

You agreed at the outset that the Church was in crisis. Now it is healthy and fine. Which one is it? 

Don’t be silly. The fair-minded reader can clearly see the distinctions I was making above, and read my earlier comments about the crisis.

If the Church is in crisis, then the Holy Father and the bishops have a responsibility to do something. 

They are doing plenty; you guys just don’t like it, because it isn’t done in your way, according to your thinking, and your timetable. Luther had to have it his own way, and Calvin and Zwingli and Henry VIII. The Catholic, on the other hand, humbly bows to the will of Holy Mother Church, and trusts that God is in control, despite all.

Most conservatives are not reluctant to question their local diocesan bishop when he errs (even though the bishop too is part of the Church’s magisterium). Why can’t we question the Pope if we are concerned that his teachings or actions are not adequate in response to the crisis?

One can question to an extent (especially matters of discipline: how to deal with the liberals) within a posture of obedience and deference, as I have said all along. I object to the flat-out disobedience and overriding characteristic of overwhelming, unedifying and never-ending criticism, which I so often observe in RadCathRs – as exemplified at The Remnant.

It is my sincere hope, and the hope of a great many traditionalists, that the Holy Father, the Curia, and the bishops will begin to take seriously the challenge of reconciling the new teachings and practices of the post-Vatican II Church with the perennial Catholic tradition. In asking for such a reconciliation, traditional Catholics may not have always expressed their disagreement with the deference due the august person of the Holy Father. 

You sure got that right! But haven’t you read any of the apologetics on the subject? Don’t they help you to reconcile these supposed contradictions at all?

You have some very good stuff on your website, but I think that your grasp of traditionalism is one of your weak spots. 

Good! Does that mean I can move onto other things, soon, since my arguments are so weak? :-) As Engelbert Humperdinck sang: “please release me; let me go . . . ” 

The only convincing efforts I have seen to reconcile “conservative” and “traditional” beliefs is in the work of Frs. McCarthy and Harrison of the Roman Theological Forum. They are willing to give traditional Catholics the benefit of the doubt about their being in good faith, will admit it when faced with a strong traditionalist argument, and are very sympathetic to many traditionalist demands, if not necessarily to all of their beliefs. They also admit that there are conciliar “ambiguities.” Unfortunately, they seem to me to be mostly alone among conservative theologians in treating traditionalist positions seriously.

I think their work is excellent, too. I have had a link to this site for some time now. I readily attribute good faith to RadCathRs – as far as that goes. I don’t get into inner motives; just the beliefs that people hold. I might observe actions and tendencies, but I try my hardest not to speculate about the inner intentions.

The history of the persecution of traditional movements and of the suppression of the traditional Latin Mass, including by persons within the Curia and the hierarchy, have contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust that makes respectful dialogue difficult. (Even in recent weeks there have been new challenges to the integrity of the traditional religious institutes established under the terms of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei).

I don’t follow all the political machinations, but I agree with your general principle that respectful dialogue is crucial. My own bishop doesn’t allow the Tridentine Mass in my archdiocese – which reticence I strongly oppose, but I myself prefer the Novus Ordo Latin Mass, so am not personally affected. I’m all for liturgical diversity; I think the Eastern Rites are great, too (though they are not to my taste).

I’m all for liturgical diversity, too. For any approved rite of more than 600 years duration ;-) But you do see the problem. On the one hand, ecclesiastical bureaucrats (not excluding those in the Vatican) relentlessly harass anybody who has the temerity to ask for a Tridentine Mass, even denying people funeral requiems. 

I think that is atrocious, and pragmatically ridiculous as well. Clearly, the Tridentine Mass is needed, if for no other reason than to prevent further schism and scandal among the RadCathRs and mainstream “traditionalists.”

On the other hand, when it comes to doctrinal matters, we are supposed to believe that these same people are infallible instruments of divine teaching authority, and are expected to docilely accept every new theological whim. 

More caricature of true Catholic obedience; common in RadCathR rhetoric.

The actions of the recent Popes and the Curia (and a fortiori the actions of the bishops) have caused traditionally minded Catholics to lose the automatically deferential attitude towards Church authority that had characterized Catholic laity since Vatican I. We still believe in Papal and Conciliar infallibility and the authority of the magisterium, but since we have experienced injustice in the exercise of the Church’s disciplinary authority, we have come to view the Church’s teaching authority within its proper, theologically defined limits, rather than simply ascribing quasi-infallibility to any and all statements of the teaching Church.

It’s not “quasi-infallibility”; it is the duty of routine obedience and submission.

These difficulties do not excuse the attitude of some traditionalists, but neither does it diminish the pastoral responsibility of the Holy Father and the bishops in union with him to engage in a dialogue on these serious matters. 

I agree.

It is also to be hoped that “conservative” Catholics can contribute to and learn from this dialogue rather than simply denouncing traditional Catholics who are attempting to make their objections to certain teachings known to the Holy See as heretical or schismatic. 

I don’t apply those terms to RadCathRs of your sort (I do for the sedevacantists and SSPX). I speak sometimes of the “schismatic spirit,” just as you might speak of the “modernist” or “ambiguous” spirit. So once again, the RadCathR often criticizes the Church severely for not engaging in dialogue, etc., then does the same thing himself. “Identifying with the oppressor”? I highly respect your reasoned, calm approach to this – though we, too, have profound disagreements. It has been a pleasure interacting with you. On the other hand, your positions (and rhetoric) are not nearly as extreme as those to which the bulk of my critique were directed. Those outrageous statements remain undefended against my criticisms, but I have done my part, in any event.

Personal Letter to Mark Cameron: 20 October 1999 

(selective; omitting personal material) 

I think that in the course of this dialogue we have narrowed our differences on several points, and I hope we can both agree that whatever differences we may have, these are differences between Catholics in good faith, and not on either side matters of orthodoxy or heresy.

For the most part, yes. I continue to believe, however, that the strains of RadCathRism which violate any of the six tenets I outlined in my Introduction to the long Critique are seriously in error, and therefore harmful in some real sense. As far as I know, you agree with me on most (all?) of those.

Clearly, we cannot both be correct, but we have reduced our differences to grey areas where people can disagree in good faith and where the magisterium has not acted decisively.

I wouldn’t go that far, either. Suffice it to say that I regard this exchange as substantive, mutually-respectful, and amiable, and that is very important itself. I enjoy it a lot.

I am still disappointed that you do not put my remarks in their complete context.

That’s because I made it clear from the outset that I was not willing to engage every jot and tittle of the RadCathR debate. That’s just how it has to be. For that reason, I don’t cite the entire article (otherwise I would, as I do in virtually all my posted debates). I’m trying to keep it focused on the areas I consider central, as much as I can (I don’t mean at all to be unfair to you, or maliciously or evasively selective). 

You have generally done a good editing job, but you leave some important things out.

They may well be important in many ways, but I feel that they are too far off the immediate subject, as I see it (or involving technicalities I am not qualified to determine anyway – such as the “inerrancy” argument you made). And we are usually far from any relation to The Remnant, which the web page I post this on is ostensibly dealing with.

My next piece will be an article on applying Newman’s theory of development to Vatican II. This will be a more serious piece of work, and may take a couple of weeks.

I will count the days! I am extremely interested in this, and I thank you for your work on it.
[that piece and my reply to it will be on another web page, to be linked from this one once it is uploaded. But I have been waiting three months, as of this writing]

At the outset, what is striking is that in many respects today’s traditionalists are closer to Newman – looking at the continuities in the Church’s perennial magisterium – while today’s conservatives are closer to the Ultramontanists like Manning, Talbot, and Ward – supporting a view of Papal authority at odds with traditional understandings, and summed up in Pius IX’s statement “La tradizione son’ io.” Temperamentally, Newman is more like a moderate liberal theologian like Congar, while we traditionalists have to love the brashness of a Cardinal Manning. But theologically, I think the tables have turned. Anyway, more on this in a couple of weeks.

I myself am infinitely more like Newman (he is my all-time favorite “intellectual” Catholic – even more than Augustine and Aquinas) than like the Ultramontanists, who suffered a moderate defeat in Vatican I, after all. I love your analysis of this, though. It appeals to the “sociologist” in me (that was my major).

You make an interesting point about the pessimism of trads, summed up with your quote from Anne Roche Muggeridge . . . First of all, I recently learned that Mrs. Muggeridge recently suffered a severe stroke, and is quite incapacitated and unable to talk. Your prayers for her and her family would be appreciated.

I’m sorry to hear this, but thanks for telling me. I will include this request in our Rosary intentions. Have you heard about Dr. Warren Carroll’s stroke, too?

[as of 10 November 1999, Dr. Carroll is at home and improving, but still in need of prayer for further recovery to normalcy, as much as possible]

. . . I began to think that the Church that I had read my way into no longer existed. I wondered what had gone wrong. Then I found a copy of Anne Roche Muggeridge’s The Desolate City.

I read that after my conversion. I was confused about the modernist crisis. I also read The Ratzinger Report and Neuhaus’s The Catholic Moment at around the same time (early 90s).

Believe it or not, this book confirmed me in my desire to become a Catholic, because I began to understand the sources of many of the problems, and how it was possible to believe that this was still Christ’s Church despite the mess it was in.

Well, yes; indefectibility is retained, but it seems as if it hangs by a hair’s thread in her book, and many RadCathR utterances. This is why I will talk about the “spirit” of RadCathRism” or schism at times – because it is so close, even if not technically heterodox or schismatic. I argue the slippery slope . . . 

So you see, curmudgeonly, angry traditionalists can actually help some people find their way into the Church.

:-) Well, as you probably know, people to the “left” of me often denigrate apologetics as an exercise in the same sort of realistic, tough love, exclusivistic outlook. But I think it is clear that apologetics helps prospective converts.

Our dooming and glooming turns some people off, but others find it to be refreshingly honest and realistic.

One can be both realistic (about human reality) and optimistic (with the eyes of faith). I would like to think that is how I am. 

Our message is “Climb aboard the barque of Peter and help us start baling.”

LOL Well, we all have to deal with scandals in the Church. I have never sought to deny them when talking to possible converts (that sets them up for horrible disenchantment). But I go on to say that there have always been problems, as there were in the Corinthian and Galatian churches, and the churches in the book of Revelation.

Many of the lapsed and fallen away find that they cannot stomach the “soft” Church of today, but can come back if they find a Latin Mass.

Well, I can relate to that. I despise liturgical and architectural and theological and spiritual mediocrity myself.

In other words, we trads have an evangelistic mission to our fellow curmudgeons. We even have our patron curmudgeonly saints (Saint Jerome, Saint Columbanus, Gregory VII, Pius IX, etc.) proving that God can draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

LOL. I love this! Of course I knew that there would be exceptions to what I would see as the “rule” of doom and gloom among RadCathRists. You are surely one of them. But again, I keep pointing out that your “brand” is not nearly as offensive to me as The Remnant‘s is.

Part of the reason that we insist on maintaining the traditional liturgy, customs, and teachings of the Church is that in the economy of grace, perhaps we are still needed to carry on this “old evangelization.”

Interesting . . . 

Thanks for your wonderfully warm and personal letter. I feel like we are becoming friends to some extent now, which is great. We have far more in common than what divides us.

In His Church,


Revised by Dave Armstrong: 24 January 2000. Terminological update: 14 August 2013.
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