Can one speak of the ‘conciliar Church’?
The Courrier de Rome of February 2013 (no. 363) published a study prepared by Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, professor of ecclesiology at the Seminary St. Pius X of Ecône, regarding the validity of the expression ‘Conciliar Church’. The author organized his demonstration in the Scholastic manner: in part I he listed the pros and cons; in part II he provided the principles for the solution; in part III he responded to each argument listed in the first section. Readers will find here extensive excerpts from this work, and will doubtless be drawn to consult the original, published in Courrier de Rome.
To facilitate comprehension for those unfamiliar with the Scholastic method, we have included, immediately after the introduction where Fr. Gleize outlines his approach, the bulk of the section on principles for solution. There follows one of the arguments against use of the expression ‘Conciliar Church’, and the author’s response to this argument, in light of the principles established for the solution.
The headings and underlining have been added by DICI. Fr. Gleize’s original article included 46 footnotes that can be found in the original text in Courrier de Rome; only the numbers are maintained here.
Can one speak of a conciliar Church? It was and is spoken of—with both enthusiasm and indignation. Some see the advantage of a realistic description; others fear a no less real exaggeration. Everyone believes they have sound reasons either to bless or reprove the use of this expression. The opposing arguments work in both directions. We will set forth the arguments here according to the tried and true method (I), before establishing the principles: it is from their perspective that we will then attempt to understand the matter in its true light (II). Lastly, we will distinguish between the true and the false in arguments that are usually only opposed in appearance (III).
Principles for the solution
19. To the extent in which a ‘change of direction’21 since Vatican II has occurred, we use the term ‘conciliar Church’. This expression is commonly understood, not as a distinct object or substance, but rather as a new spirit, introduced into the Church at the time of the Council Vatican II, and which constitutes an obstacle the end of the Church, in other words the Tradition of its faith and morals. And when this countercurrent is said to be at work in the Church, by this is meant that those who are united in seeking an end contrary to that of the Church have not openly broken the link that joins them to the other members and to their head, in the inclination of principle to the true common good. In the specific case of the pope, who himself is a part of this countercurrent, this means he has not demonstrably ceased to be pope. Even if, in acting as he does, he presents an obstacle to the Church’s end and prevents Tradition, his power remains in itself inclined to this end and to Tradition.
20. Therefore, there are not two Churches; there is only within the Church an antagonistic movement fighting the Church from within, working to neutralize the Church for its own advancement by impeding the accomplishment of the Church’s end. The most illuminating parallel is sin, which impedes the fulfillment of nature by presenting multiple obstacles to the accomplishment of its end, but without ever destroying nature in its inherent inclination to this end. The Angelic Doctor explains in this way how it is true to say that evil cannot destroy the good completely22. Evil is indeed a deficiency in the sense of the deprivation of a good. But it must be kept in mind that there are two sorts of deprivation. One is a state of total deprivation that leaves nothing and removes everything, such as blindness in relation to sight, total darkness in relation to light, death in relation to life. There is another deprivation that is always partial and limited, never removing everything, and this is how sin deprives man of his end and his perfection, not making them totally impossible, but distancing him from them little by little by accumulating obstacles. This deprivation leaves something in existence, which is precisely the aptitude and fundamental inclination of man towards his end. “From which it follows,” concludes St. Thomas, “that a third possibility can exist, like a middle ground, between the good and its total absence.”
To apply these principles to ecclesiology, we would say that an exclusively binary concept, or a sic et non approach, would not provide a sufficiently precise account of the current situation in the Church. There is indeed a third term between the good of the Church and the total evil that would be its disappearance or its replacement by a sect or another, totally different, Church. This intermediary solution is precisely the one designated by the expression ‘conciliar Church’. It is equivalent to the sin of the modernist and liberal ideology that has entered minds inside the Church. This sin diminishes and corrupts the good of the Church, in the sense that it impedes the Church’s accomplishing its end, but it leaves the inherent inclination of the Church to this end intact withal.
This diminishment of the good, St. Thomas23 continues, cannot be understood as a subtraction, as for quantities, but by the weakening or progressive decline of a tendency. This decrease in capacity is explained by the inverse process of its development. Capacity is developed by dispositions which continually prepare the subject better and better to receive its perfection. Inversely, capacity is diminished by contrary dispositions: the more numerous and intense they are, the more they hinder the subject from receiving its perfection. In this way, if these opposing dispositions can be indefinitely multiplied, the inherent aptitude of the subject to receive its perfection can be in itself indefinitely diminished or weakened. However, this aptitude will never be totally destroyed; its root, the substance of the subject, will remain. For example, if opaque objects were indefinitely interposed between the sun and the air, the air’s capacity to receive light would be indefinitely diminished; but it would not lose this capacity, because air is translucent by nature. In the same way sin could build upon sin, and weaken the soul’s aptitude for grace more and more, since sins are obstacles interposed between us and God. However, they never destroy the aptitude for grace entirely, because it is inherent in the nature of the soul.
The reality of the conciliar Church is, therefore, the reality of a falsified concept of the Church which has seized the minds of Churchmen. This falsified concept engenders a persistent counter-government, which paralyzes or halts the normal functioning of Catholic society, by hindering the Church from attaining its end. It interposes in this way obstacles between the Church and its good, but without ever being able to eliminate the inherent inclination of the Church to this good.
21. We know, moreover, by faith that because of divine promises, this countercurrent will never be able to take over the Church entirely, no matter how invasive it may be. Why a counter-church within the Church, and not simply another Church? Because the pope, although he may be complicit in the subversion, or even its leader, remains, until indubitable proof to the contrary, the earthly representative of the only Supreme Head of the Church. This Head is Christ, and His representative, as long as he claims the title, cannot constitute the head of another Church. Whatever obstacles the pope may set in the path of the normal exertion of the papacy and the accomplishment of the Church’s end, the inherent inclination to this exertion and this end remain in the papacy, as Christ willed it, depending on His own power.
There is here a fundamental principle, of which Cajetan reminded the schismatics of his times in these words, “Christ instituted St. Peter not as His successor, but as His vicar24”—which is why the institution of the papacy took place the day after the Resurrection, and was carried out by Christ, immortal from then on, living forever. A supreme Head who will live forever has no successor. At the limit, He may have a vicar. And He remains the Master, whatever the wanderings of His vicar. Only this supreme Head would be able to depose His vicar and exclude him from the Mystical Body, and nothing in Revelation authorizes us to believe that Christ would have decided to take such an exceptional measure in order to protect His Church from the contamination of modernism. Rather, we have reason to believe that Divine Providence will not allow such contamination to the point of the extinction of the Church. The Gospel does not say the gates of hell will not attack the Church; it says precisely that whatever the virulence of their attack, the gates of hell will not prevail25.
22. Two contemporary theologians, both appalled by the ‘conciliar revolution’ and the mass subversion that followed, are here to give us confirmation of this exegesis. (…) Here Fr. Gleize quotes Fr. Julio Menvielle, before referring to Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel:
23. “No pope will be able to betray the Church to the extent of explicitly teaching heresy with the fullness of his authority […] but Revelation nowhere indicates that a pope, when he exerts his authority without the protection of infallibility, will not play into the hands of Satan and encourage heresy up to a certain point28.” […] “The modernist system, or more accurately the modernist device and procedures, offer the pope an entirely new occasion of sin, an opportunity to equivocate with his mission with which he has never yet been presented. […] This destructive consequence has followed: apostolic Tradition in matter of doctrine, morals, and worship has been neutralized, although not obliterated, without the pope, officially and openly, having had to deny all of it and proclaim apostasy. […] The pope has never said, and has never needed to say, “Everything that was taught, everything that was done before Vatican II, all doctrine and worship established before Vatican II, I hereby strike with anathema.” However, the result is plainly to be seen… To arrive where we stand, it was enough that the pope, without taking measures against the previous tradition of the Church, allowed modernism free rein29.” Free rein: not blocking the countercurrent inside the Church, but nourishing it.
Conclusion on principles for solution
The expression ‘Conciliar Church’ is therefore legitimate, but within certain limits. As with all rhetorical language, it expresses reality in succinct and concrete terms, more convenient to the speaker’s mind or more accessible to the listener’s. There is both the advantage of a synoptic shortcut and the disadvantage of a formulation that like all of its type cannot (and does not pretend to) express all aspects. Such expressions remain circumstantial, in the sense that their premises are known or commonly agreed on in a given context, but unknown or hotly disputed in another. Prudence therefore suggests use of the expression according to the context. A shortened expression, such as ‘conciliar Church’, may present the advantage of summarizing all the necessary implications and allowing the speaker or the listener to avoid listing all the factors involved every time it is mentioned.
But the same expression may present the disadvantage of disconcerting someone who is unaware of the complexity of the problem, or even of scandalizing him by suggesting an entirely false approach to the issues at stake. For a new—and inevitable—factor has entered the scene since the death of Archbishop Lefebvre: time. Time, indeed, has passed. Referring to the conciliar Church within the context of a subversion that is recent and obvious to everyone entails no risk. Several decades later, when the encroachments of the revolution have become more or less the norm, and have taken on the convincing guise of resolute conservatism—it could lead to misunderstandings and even mislead the one using it. It is enough (but essential) to instruct with greater care and to explain the meaning of the expression and all the ideas involved, before making use of the term to summarize them. The expression of ‘conciliar Church’, if properly understood through proper explanation, maintains its advantage, which is the translation in accessible terms of a double reality: that of the unprecedented crisis currently ravaging the Church and also that of our assurance of the promises of indefectibility.
An argument against the expression “conciliar Church” and the response
11. Eleventh, Bishop Fellay9 recently stated that the contemporary Church, as represented by the Roman authorities, remains the true Church, one, Catholic, holy, and apostolic. “When we say extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, out of the Church, no salvation, it is indeed to the Church of today that we refer. That fact is absolutely certain. We must cling to it. […} Going to Rome does not mean we agree with them. But Rome is the Church, and the true Church10.” He speaks further of “the Church, which is not an idea, which is real, which stands before us, which we call the Roman Catholic Church, the Church, with its pope, its bishops, debilitated as they may be11.” Therefore, the official Church cannot be referred to today as a conciliar Church distinct from the Catholic Church.
34. To the eleventh argument, we answer that Archbishop Lefebvre nevertheless affirmed on several occasions the reality of what he called the ‘conciliar Church’, and it seems most unlikely that his successor would have had the intent to contradict him. Bishop Fellay’s remarks, therefore, mean no more and no less than that the representatives of the hierarchy retain possession of their power, even if they are filled with errors that lead them to act against the good of the Church. In the Paris sermon that the eleventh argument also refers to, Bishop Fellay also stated with regard to Vatican II, “This council was a determined effort to do something new. Not just something superficially new, but profoundly so, in opposition, in contradiction to what the Church had previously taught and even condemned.” Comparing the novelty that entered the Church with the cockle sown by the enemy in God’s field, Archbishop Lefebvre’s successor concluded, “This council sought harmony with the world. It allowed the world into the Church, and now we are faced with disaster.”
And at Flavigny, Bishop Fellay clarified his thoughts in words that are an accurate reflection of Archbishop’s Lefebvre’s. After emphasizing the fact that the Catholic Church is the Church of today, contemporary and concrete, the Superior General of the SSPX added, “However, it is made up of an entire organization. One the one hand we must call this organization holy, and on the other it shocks and scandalizes us to the extent that we wish to say, ‘We want no part with those people. It is impossible that these two aspects should go together! Men of God, who lead Christians, the children of the Church, to loss of the Faith? It does not make sense.’ And obviously these errors must be rejected with horror.” The emphasis on the concrete reality of the contemporary Church is only intended to show that in spite of everything, the Church holds the promise of eternal salvation. “In rejecting what is wrong, we must not reject everything. The Church remains one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. […] When we reject the evil found in the Church, we must not conclude that it is no longer the Church. Large parts of it are no longer the Church, true. But not all of it!” These words do not contradict those we quoted in response to the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh arguments. In different terms, they express the same idea to which the Society of St. Pius X has always referred with the expression ‘conciliar Church’: the dual concept of the invasion of liberal and modernist ideas in the Church, and the fundamental indefectibility of that same Church.
And the same dual concept is expressed in the metaphor of an invalid, as used by Bishop Fellay at the last Congress of Courrier de Rome: “The Catholic Church is our Church. We have no other. There is no other. The Good God has allowed it to become diseased. For this reason we try to avoid contagion ourselves. But for all that we are not trying to form another Church. […] The disease is a disease; it is not the Church itself. It is within the Church, but the Church remains itself. […] Certainly, we must fight the disease. But this diseased Church is indeed the Church founded by Our Lord. It alone holds the promise of eternal life. To it alone has been promised that the gates of hell will not prevail42.” We can therefore speak of a ‘conciliar Church’, in order to indicate that among the leaders of the Church and among many of its faithful there is an orientation or a spirit that are foreign to the Church and obstruct its good.
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(Source: Courrier de Rome – DICI 09/03/13)