Chartres 2006
Photo Story

Remnant Tours

Click Here to visit
THE REMNANT Scrapbook!


See Remnant


Traditionalists Attacked…Again

A Response to Francesco Arzillo’s Essay On Continuity

David Werling POSTED: 4/18/11
Guest Columnist  

(  Sandro Magister recently posted an essay by Franceseco Arzillo on his blog, Chiesa Arzillo was writing in response to traditionalist concerns over Pope Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of continuity”, particularly from traditionalists such as Roberto de Mattei, Brunero Gherardini, and Enrico Maria Radaelli.

Arzillo states that he is primarily concerned “that the question of the hermeneutic of continuity remains the subject of considerable misunderstanding”, and with the polemics that have emerged, an “ecclesial dialectic” that “tends to take on forms and methods that are more political than theological, and end up reproducing within the Church the right-left dialectic proper to modern politics”. Arzillo styles this right-left dialectic as progressives (those who see Vatican II as a break from the past entirely) versus traditionalists (those who question the whole of Vatican II and are not obedient to the present Magisterium).

Put aside for the moment that this is a gross oversimplification, equally insulting to both progressives and traditionalists alike, if Arzillo were really concerned about this unhealthy dialectic, we could expect an equal degree of criticism for both “camps”. However, Arzillo dismisses the progressives with one sentence:

Much has been said and written – and rightly so – against those who persist in seeing in Vatican Council II the new beginning that is claimed to put an end to the period characterized by the "Constantinian form" of the Church.

The rest of his piece is directed at traditionalists, which is really what Arzillo is concerned about. Arzillo gets right to it:

However, it is also necessary to censure a traditionalism which interprets the very rich heritage of classical theology with a mentality that is more Cartesian than Aristotelian, a priori taking changes of formulas as changes of doctrine, or treating theological concepts as if they were clear and distinct ideas, with a rationalistic approach that in no way resembles that of grand medieval Scholasticism, not to mention the Fathers of the Church.

What does Arzillo mean by “Cartesian” as opposed to “Aristotelian” mentalities? Is he saying that this traditionalism that must be censored is somehow dualistic? That’s not at all clear from what he wrote. Those who understand changes in formula as changes in doctrine really don’t seem to me, at least on the surface of the matter, to be dualistic Cartesians. Nor does it seem dualistic to me, at least on the surface of the matter, to treat theological concepts as if they were clear and distinct ideas. I’m not saying they should be treated as such, but it’s not specifically Cartesian to do so in any case.

I’m not at all sure what he means by this “Cartesian” traditionalism. If there is a dualistic or “Cartesian” traditionalism out there, I would agree that it needs to be censured. The problem is Arzillo simply doesn’t explain what that traditionalism is or who these traditionalists would be who hold to such a dualism, which Arzillo completely fails to explain. I think he’s more interested in scaring traditionalists into thinking that they are being Cartesian. I can think of very few things that would scare a traditionalist more, in fact. However, Arzillo’s assertion that there is a Cartesian traditionalism is rhetoric without substance.

Arzillo’s scare tactic sets up a straw man, the non-existent Cartesian traditionalist, who mistakes changes in formulas (whatever that means) for changes in doctrine, and who believe theological concepts are clear and distinct ideas, which seems to have absolutely nothing to do with traditionalism in general or with any philosophy or theology of any given traditionalist in particular. Be that as it may, Arzillo suggests that the best way to overcome this traditionalism is humility. I agree. Humility can also help knights in shining armor defeat dragons in a fantasy world if, of course, that fantasy world should exist, but, of course, it doesn’t. Regardless, in the real world or in a fantasy world, humility is a really good thing, and no one can disagree with that. However, since there isn’t such a thing as dragons, humility really can’t come to the aid of the knight in shining armor in our fantasy world. And, in the same way, since there isn’t really such a thing as Cartesian traditionalism, humility can hardly be its antidote.

Like clockwork, the old canard of disobedience rears its ugly head, and Arzillo is quick to turn to it:

Infallible or irreformable doctrines cannot be discussed. But a particular kind of obedience is also due to the ordinary magisterium. In fact, paragraph 752 of the code of canon law stipulates: "Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it."

It is therefore not possible to unshackle oneself from the established teaching on religious freedom or ecumenism by saying that these are not infallible doctrines: even if they are not believed to be such, they must be followed all the same.

Arzillo completely misses the point of the traditionalist argument. Traditionalists aren’t being disobedient to the Church’s Magisterium, especially when it comes to the issues of ecumenism and religious freedom. Traditionalists are simply pointing out the fact that the Church’s Magisterium has contradicted itself. Present teachings from the ordinary Magisterium of the Church regarding ecumenism and religious freedom are at best contrary to what the Church has always taught before the Second Vatican Council. It isn’t a matter of disobedience to the Magisterium, it is a matter of being obedient to which Magisterial teaching. Do the present Magisterial teachings abrogate prior teachings? If so, why hasn’t this been clearly stated? If not, what is the reason for the contrarieties?  How are the faithful to interpret these seemingly contrary Magisterial teachings?

Arzillo gives us a clever answer. We have to employ an interpretive methodology. Silly me! Why didn’t I think of that?

To simplify, let's say that I have a classic dogmatic assertion A and a conciliar doctrine B, which is subject to two interpretations: B1, or an interpretation compatible with A; and B2, or an interpretation not compatible with A (this ambivalence is not rare, because of the "pastoral" language used by the last Council and by part of the recent magisterium).

The hermeneutic of continuity, then, requires that I select interpretation B1. This is not, however, a voluntaristic and positivistic imposition. On the contrary, it presupposes the logical principle of non-contradiction, the non-irrationality of the thing revealed, and the theological and ecclesiological principles distinctive of Catholicism, which are aimed at safeguarding the unity-continuity of the Church in time.

So, in other words, to arrive at the proper interpretation of the modern Magisterium’s contrarieties, one must employ a rigorous methodological comparison between classic dogmatic assertions and the admittedly unclear “pastoral” conciliar doctrines. Once the faithful do this in harmony with the principles of non-contradiction and non-irrationality, then all is well!

Is Arzillo really suggesting that in order for the faithful to understand the teachings of the modern Magisterium the faithful must jump through all these intellectual hoops? No, it may not be a “positivistic imposition”, but it is an imposition of the highest magnitude, nonetheless. It should not be the place of the Magisterium to place this imposition on the faithful. The Magisterium of the Church ought to teach clearly and precisely the truths of the faith, not make the faithful puzzle through esoteric pronouncements that require such a laborious interpretive process.

I think Arzillo realizes this difficulty, and the novelty of his position. This laborious interpretive process simply can’t be justified, so he is inclined to posit, as a last resort, blind, unquestioning obedience as the final solution.

One could reply: but what if I see a contradiction that prevents me from giving assent?

Help in this regard could come from a saying of Ignatius of Loyola, according to which "in order to be certain in everything, we must always hold to this criterion: I will believe that the white I see is black, if the hierarchical Church establishes it to be so. In fact, we believe that the Spirit who governs us and guides our souls to salvation is the same in Christ our Lord, the bridegroom, and in the Church, his bride; because our holy mother Church is guided and governed by our same Spirit and Lord who gave us the ten commandments."

The assent of the intellect, which stems from accepting this position, does not remain without fruit, because it purifies the will and predisposes the reason to a more attentive consideration of the question and permits, in the final analysis, the culling of the motives of perplexity that seemed invincible but in reality were dictated by prejudices.

The obvious problem in quoting St. Ignatius in support of Arzillo’s argument is that the whole concept of having to apply an interpretative methodology to Magisterial pronouncements would have been as alien to St. Ignatius of Loyola as Ignatian spirituality was an alien notion at the last three General Congregations of the Jesuits! Indeed, the problem of St. Ignatius’ day wasn’t interpreting esoteric pronouncements from the Magisterium to determine what one must be obedient to; rather, it was a general disobedience to the clear and precise teachings of the Magisterium. These are two very different things.

Indeed it is rather unfair to quote St. Ignatius in this context at all. It is hard to fathom exactly how St. Ignatius would react if he were to be transported into our times and into this present crisis. Ińigo de Loyola was a decisive and practical man, with a clear insight into the realities of the world and human nature. How would he react to Arzillo’s argument? I’m not so sure he would be all that congenial toward it. I find it hard to believe that this saint who instructed his fellowship to convey the Gospel without alloy would revel in imprecise and unclear Magisterial pronouncements, much less impose on the faithful such a burdensome interpretive methodology.

But are we really being told that the black in front of us is white? No, we are not. I only wish it were that simple! Today’s “pastoral” pronouncements don’t approximate that level of clarity.  What we are really being told is quite different, and much more complex. We are being told that the black in front of us was black and is now white, but hasn’t ceased being black, and you would know this if you would only juxtapose the former notion of black with what we are now saying is white, and then draw a correct interpretation according to the principles of non-contradiction and non-irrationality. When you do all that, then you will understand what we are saying. Easy as pie, no?


  HOME    |    PRINT SUBSCRIBE    |    E-EDITION    |    ADVERTISE    |    NEWS    |    ARTICLES   |    RESOURCES    |    ABOUT    |    CONTACT
Web Format and Content   ©  1996-2010 Remnant Press