Realized Eschatology – Part II

18 05 2009


The Return of the Bishop

Not quite. He never really went away. From his exile in disgrace outside of London, Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St. Pius X continues to write down his thoughts for the world’s consumption. Due to this medium called the Internet, he is able to keep us informed of what he is thinking, and I would suspect that the hype has died down enough that few people are really concerned about his ideas. Being an alumnus of one of his former seminaries, I try to stop by his blog once in a while. What he wrote most recently, however, brought back some keen Lefebvrist memories of why I was once involved with them in the first place.

Here I reproduce a recent post in full:

Ever since, with the Second Vatican Council, Catholic Authority and Catholic Truth substantially parted company, the Catholics who clung to Authority have had problems with the Truth, and the Catholics who clung to Truth have had problems with Catholic Authority. What could be more logical? Catholics on both sides long for a reunion. Especially amongst decent Conciliar Catholics, this takes the concrete form of the ardent wish that Pope Benedict XVI and the Society of St. Pius X come to an understanding.

Well and good. But there is a problem. Vatican II contradicts Catholic Truth, outside of which Catholic Authority dissolves, is now dissolving, because its Divine Master, Our Lord Jesus Christ, is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn. XIV,6). For proof of the contradiction, read for instance Michael Davies’ The Second Vatican Council and Religious Liberty, where he shows that while the Catholic Church has always taught that no man has a true right not to be prevented from propagating error, Vatican II (Dignitatis Humanae”) taught that every man has a true right not to be prevented from propagating error (save public order – see Davies’ Chapter XXII in particular). The contradiction is direct.

At first sight it may seem unimportant, because what does it matter if a few nutcases more or less spout nonsense in public? But in fact the difference between the right and the non-right to propagate error is all the difference between Hollywood’s candy-on-a-leash deity, and the Lord God of Hosts, whose thunder and lightning struck terror into the hearts of the Israelites even miles distant from his flaming Mount Sinai (Exodus XX, 18-21).

For indeed all human action follows on some thought. Thought is uttered between men, or socialized, mainly with words. Thus the being and action of any human society hangs on exchanges of words. Therefore either truth and error are of no importance to any society’s existence and direction in those exchanges, or any society must control public speech in its midst, at least sufficiently to check significant transmission of significant error.

Now the only limit set by Vatican II to public discourse is that it should not disturb “public order”. So for Vatican II, any heresy or blasphemy may be uttered in public so long as the police do not have to be called in, and any deity that may exist must bow down before this “freedom and dignity of the human person”! On the contrary the Lord God of Sinai, the Holy Trinity whose Second Person is Jesus Christ, tells us we will answer for every idle word (Mt. XII, 36), and even for sinful thoughts (Mt.V, 28). So in accordance with God’s Truth (and so long as it will do more good than harm), Catholic society checks the public propagation of error against Faith or morals. Kyrie eleison.

London, England

I have recently posted some very strong polemical essays against “realized eschatology” in speaking of Wojtyla’s theology of the body and other recent theological developments. In reading this unpopular cleric’s explanation of what is at stake with “religious liberty”, I realized that the same issues are involved here as well. For some background, I will have to explain again why I got involved with the SSPX in the first place, at least on the ideological level.

I was a twenty year old atheist trying to come back into the Church, but didn’t know where quite to grab on. I really felt I needed some sort of counterbalance to the liberal ideology that I found pervasive in the Catholic Church in my part of the world. It came down to my reading of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s book, They Have Uncrowned Him, and not even in anything the “schismatic” archbishop said, but in what he quoted. He quoted a text of St. Augustine in which the Father of the Church said that one should not be worried about whether one is free, but rather about what one does with that freedom. There is no virtue in being free; the virtue comes in the actions that stem from our freedom of choice. Real freedom is the chosing of the good. I would like to think that I still hold to this position, though I will admit that because of my own lukewarm state, I have gone soft about it.

I will not here begin to discuss the issues involved in Dignitatis Humanae and the seeming about-face that the Church took in relation to conscience, religious tolerance, and the State in the 1960’s. God knows that people smarter than me have been made to look like fools trying to sort it all out. I will admit that, in some feat of logical gymnastics, people can reconcile the old with the new teaching, with very mixed results. Maybe it will have to do. No, what I want to address is the ethos behind the new vision that the Church took up before it began its new “springtime of evangelization”. Here too, I would contend, the vision of post-Vatican II realized eschatology is at work. This is the assumption that, given the opportunity to chose without any coercion, modern man will chose what is best. Even though it may not be pretty, man will chose truth over error in the end. All we have to do is show true love and tolerance to one another.

Perhaps this is just the firebrand impulse in me surging again ten years later, but I am beginning to realize that this simply isn’t going to happen. Given the perfectly uncoerced choice between God and the alternative, man is more likely to chose the golden calf every time. People’s intellects are darkened, and their wills are so weighed down by malice that they need all the help they can get in chosing what is right, even if that help takes the form of shunning or even chains. The Church before took man’s salvation so seriously that it saw it perfectly legitimate to curtail “freedoms” here in via in the name of the freedom to live with God in patria. To pretend that the best course of action is to give man as much freedom as possible in chosing his eternal destiny is “realized eschatology” in the political realm. It assumes that man is what he is not: an angel.

The issue of consent cannot merely be reduced to being “uncoereced”; people believe for all sorts of reasons that stem from habit, culture, personal taste, etc. The idea of man as “inviolable citizen” is one that comes out of the Enlightenment, and it is not easily reconcilable with a Christian perspective. “Coerced belief” can easily become “authentic” in the context of a society where belief is needed for the common good. Indeed, the common good is the greater player in the Christian body politic, not the “rights” of any one individual, and the common good of the body politic is the salvation of souls. Salus animarum supremus lex.

(This of course applies strictly speaking to the public exercise of religion. While members of the Church did force conversions at many points in history, the consensus now is that such conversions are indefensible from a theological perspective. What we are talking about here is the restricting of the spread of error by mildly coercive means, i.e. regulating where sects can build their temples, spread their message, etc. Bishop Williamson clarified this position in this post.)

Of course, I will be more than willing to admit that the Church is in no position to impose these principles on society in our current situation. I will also admit that I am far from comfortable with the idea of giving clerics such powers because clerics would be just as infected with malice of the will. Anyone given the power over human beings to use the rack and the stake in the defense of truth will no doubt commit gruesome attrocities at some point. But there has to be a middle ground between Inquisition and absolute license. This is perhaps merely a theoretical question, but it is an important one nonetheless.

I can only think that I have been too lenient in my own “perrenialist” tendencies as of late. I wouldn’t want to become like Catholic “traditionalist” ideologues and use the principle of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” to condemn outright every non-Catholic manifestation of religiosity as the work of the Devil. At the end of the day, however, they are, though the end of the day isn’t here yet. To echo the good bishop, ideas have consequences, and error has consequences. To pretend otherwise is to give up the fight and surrender, and I am not willing to do that.



4 responses

19 05 2009

Orr, nice point, as usual.

18 05 2009
Fr. Anthony

This subject is a tremendous challenge both to our intellect and our faith. See under today’s date (May 18th) with quotes from Oscar Wilde and Nicholas Berdyaev.

Fr. Anthony

18 05 2009

…Vatican II contradicts Catholic Truth…

I wonder if the leap is ever taken to consider whether other, particular supposedly Ecumenical Councils convened by Rome were wrong, e.g., Vatican I, Florence, Lyons? I just think it interesting that the most recent one is the ‘problem’; if an EC approved by the Pope can be wrong, then why not any one or many or all of those in the past? I wonder what the line would be for one to remain a ‘good Catholic’? I guess the Eastern Rites are allowed to essentially ignore anything past the Seventh (or the 4th or the 3rd for some of the other de jure churches). Does non-recognition of these Councils leave most Roman Catholics agnostics, Orthodox, Episcopalians, or something else? I wonder if anyone even thinks of it in these terms in the RC world – including SSPX.

18 05 2009

Assuming that the traditional teachings regarding religious freedom and conscience had remained intact, what exactly would the effect have been? I completely agree that when given the choice between God and the golden calf, 99% of people will choose the latter. Given this and the Church’s greatly diminished role even in traditionally Catholic countries (e.g., Spain, France, Portugal), reiterating the old teaching would be (and is) considered a dying institution blowing out more hot air. During my more cynical periods, I take the view that the bishops present at Vatican II realized their weakened conditions and put forth the new teaching on religious tolerance as a survival mechanism. It’s probably not true though…

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