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Less Than Zero

A Reply to the Prophet Mirus

Christopher A. Ferrara POSTED: 4/23/13



Over the past fifty years we have witnessed a new and surprising vernacular liturgy (concocted under the supervision of a suspected Mason who was suddenly sacked and sent off to Iran by a horrified Paul VI); a new and surprising “collegiality”; a new and surprising “ecumenism”; a new and surprising “dialogue” and “interreligious dialogue; and even a new and surprising approval of altar girls. The result has been a less than surprising collapse of faith and discipline in the Church. Yet, after a half-century of disorienting novelty in the Church, Dr. Jeff Mirus informs us that we have not had enough in the new and surprising department.  We must allow the “Holy Spirit” to move us in still more “new and surprising ways.”

( During an all-too-brief respite from the post-Vatican II regime of novelty, Pope Benedict XVI attempted to restore the Church’s connection to her own liturgical tradition, abruptly abandoned in the unprecedented, almost apocalyptic wave of improvident innovations that swept over the Church during the ill-starred 1970s, prompting Paul VI famously to lament “a veritable invasion of the Church by worldly thinking” and even the infiltration of the Church by “the smoke of Satan.” Pope Benedict also undid the injustice of the absurd “excommunication” of the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, literally the only four clerics in the entire world to which the term “schismatic” was (and, quite perversely, still is) being applied in this strange epoch of “ecumenism” and “interreligious dialogue.”

For seven years we witnessed, if not a reversal of the post-conciliar revolution and its disastrous effects upon the Church, at least the signs that what Cardinal Ratzinger called a “process of decay” had reached its limits. But now that the Benedictine respite is over, the same neo-Catholic commentators who fell silent when Pope Benedict attempted a course correction back toward what they consider the Church’s hidebound pre-conciliar past have resumed with gusto their role as indefatigable defenders of novelty (hence the term neo-Catholic). To add to their insufferability, they believe they have the new Pope on their side.

Take Dr. Jeff Mirus, for example.  Now, Dr. Mirus is a smart fellow.  Princeton University does not hand out doctorates in intellectual history to dolts.  Yet he has consistently produced the most vexingly inane commentary on the Catholic traditionalist movement (so much encouraged by the prior pontificate) and the Council, which neo-Catholics regard as an inexhaustible source of ineffable imperatives that are somehow forever operative but never fulfilled.

With his recent piece “Pope Francis: Tough Talk About Vatican II” Mirus has outdone himself. He expatiates almost exultantly on a homily by the new Pope in which His Holiness described Vatican II as a “beautiful work of the Holy Spirit.” This papal obiter dictum, uttered during a Sunday sermon (as were the errors of John XXII concerning the particular judgment), was hardly a binding dictate of the Magisterium on a matter of faith and morals. Yet, seizing on the Pope’s extemporaneous remark, Mirus reaches new heights of neo-Catholic arrogance.

Mirus asks what Pope Francis meant when he said that the Council was “a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, what did the Pope mean, given that ecumenical councils are not oracles of revelation but rather custodians and expounders of the deposit of Faith, assisted but not directly inspired by the Holy Spirit in their pronouncements, and infallible only insofar as they define dogmas or affirm what the Church has always believed. Thus, Vatican II clearly erred, for example, when it proposed in the opening sentence of Dignitatis Humanae the purely non-doctrinal opinion that “A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man…” This is precisely the opposite of the truth about “contemporary man,” as Pope after Pope warned before the Council.

Nor do ecumenical councils have any divine commission to announce new doctrines to which the faithful must adhere. Thus Vatican II did not, because it could not, alter one jot or tittle of what Catholics must believe. As the First Vatican Council declared in a canon applicable no less to councils than to popes:  “For the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”

Since Pope Francis did not qualify or otherwise explain his reference to the Council as a work of the Holy Spirit, Mirus has done it for us, in his usual school-marmish, finger-wagging tone. Pointing to the Pope’s references in his sermon to the Pharisees called “stiff-necked” by Saint Stephen and a “brood of vipers” by Our Lord Himself, Mirus is off and running with a familiar neo-Catholic theme: it is Pharisaical to object to any of the novelties approved in the Council’s name or those that may be approved in the future. This, after all, is the essence of neo-Catholicism: a resolute defense of unheard-of ecclesial novelties no Pope before Vatican II would even have considered approving and which the pre-conciliar pontiffs would regard with horror.

Perhaps it is too easy to burst the balloon of Mirus’s pomposity, but I beg the reader to indulge the following commentary on his remarks. Justice and a respect for truth demand an answer to this Internet pontiff of the neo-Catholic constituency, from whom we have heard far more than enough already.  So let us proceed:

·         “The first thing to note is that the Pope’s remarks apply to all of us. We all tend to resist the work of the Holy Spirit; we all tend to try to remain within our comfort zones. Pope Francis was preaching on St. Stephen’s words before his martyrdom: ‘You stiff-necked people…you always resist the Holy Spirit.’ One way or another, we are all guilty of such resistance.”

What, exactly, is the “work of the Holy Spirit” that “all of us” are resisting respecting Vatican II?  The Pope offered no explanation, and neither does Mirus. What, specifically, has the “Holy Spirit” commanded us to do through the Council that we have failed to do? Again, no answer. What are the “comfort zones” Mirus would have us abandon in obedience to the Council? Mirus is mum. But these remarks are all typical neo-Catholic cant: as vacuous as they are pretentious.

·      “…. for we are ever slower than we should be to grasp and respond wholeheartedly to the will of God. And to take the Pope’s particular example, this slowness includes a failure to respond as promptly and energetically as we should to the work of the Holy Spirit as manifested through the Second Vatican Council.”

As Mirus makes no effort to identify the “work of the Holy Spirit as manifested through the Second Vatican Council,” the accusation that “we” have failed to respond to it “promptly and energetically” is as empty as the rest of his article.  But then neo-Catholicism, like the political neo-conservatism it parallels, is replete with empty platitudes.

·         “We are dulled by our attachments, we fail to trust Christ completely, we do not wish to be moved by the Holy Spirit in new and surprising ways.”

Over the past fifty years we have witnessed, in the name of the Council, a new and surprising vernacular liturgy (concocted under the supervision of a suspected Mason who was suddenly sacked and sent off to Iran by a horrified Paul VI); a new and surprising “collegiality”; a new and surprising “ecumenism”; a new and surprising “dialogue” and “interreligious dialogue; and even a new and surprising approval of altar girls. The result has been a less than surprising collapse of faith and discipline in the Church, prompting Pope Benedict to blame a “virtual Council” for causing “so many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialized…”

Yet, after a half-century of disorienting novelty in the Church, Mirus informs us that we have not had enough in the new and surprising department. We must allow the “Holy Spirit” to move us in still more “new and surprising ways.”  But how will we know that these “new and surprising ways” are actually the “work of the Holy Spirit,” given that the Council documents provide no guide to all the new and surprising things the Holy Spirit has in store for us, according to the Prophet Mirus.  Perhaps he expects us to employ the neo-Catholic equivalent of a Ouija board—appropriately blessed from the Novus Ordo Book of Blessings—whose pointer will spell out such things as “reform the reform!” or “more ecumenism!” or “intensify dialogue!”

It never occurs to the neo-Catholic mind that instead of the new and surprising, what the Holy Spirit might be prompting is a restoration of what is old and familiar—that is, Tradition. One sign of this is that there are almost no vocations in the  new and surprising Novus Ordo, while it is the traditional priestly orders, which offer an old and familiar “pre-Vatican II formation that have an abundance of vocations, with solidly orthodox priests serving chapels and parishes filled with large families. Another sign is the predominance of young people in the worldwide movement for restoration of the traditional Latin Mass, prompting even The London Economist to observe: “Like evangelical Christianity, traditional Catholicism is attracting people who were not even born when the Second Vatican Council tried to rejuvenate the church.”

The article in the Economist is entitled “A traditionalist avant-garde.” It is most ironic that Mirus and his fellow neo-Catholic diehards are the ones who are behind the times, resisting what we can be sure the Holy Spirit is bringing about in the hearts and minds of young Catholics in every nation, because what they are seeking is itself a work of the Holy Spirit over the centuries: the unreconstructed Faith of our fathers, manifested first and foremost by an ancient rite of Mass that Father Faber rightly called “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.”

To raise the irony to the level of the exquisite, this return to Tradition on the part of the young is just what Mirus professes to be looking for: a new and surprising development in the Church. But, half a century after the Council, in the midst of its evident failure to “renew” the Church, the neo-Catholic establishment increasingly appears a bastion of old fogies who refuse to admit that their nebulous progressivist vision never was and never will be.

·         “Yet we are all obliged to make spiritual progress as rapidly as possible, and so to take the Council’s message for the Church in our times to heart.”

It would be helpful if Mirus would set forth “the Council’s message for the Church in our times.” Of course we know he cannot do this, because there is no such “message” in the conciliar texts, but only the vague impressions that characterize neo-Catholic thinking about the Council.

At any rate, given that the Council ended in 1965, any conciliar message “for the Church in our times,” even if it existed, would have become outdated by now.  Such is the problem with an ecumenical council that, quite unlike the twenty that preceded it, is viewed as a time-bound event focused on “contemporary man” and “the modern world.” When he was Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict wrote a devastating assessment of the Council in this regard:

“[S]omething of the Kennedy era pervaded the Council, something of the naïve optimism of the concept of the great society.  We can do everything we want to do, if only we employ the right means.  It was precisely the break in historical consciousness, the self-tormenting rejection of the past, that produced the concept of a zero hour, in which everything would begin again, and all those things that had formerly been done badly would now be done well.  The dream of liberation, the dream of something totally different, which, a little while later, had an increasingly potent impact on the student revolts, was, in a certain sense, also attributable to the Council; it was the Council that first urged man on and then disappointed him….”  (Principles of Catholic Theology, p. 372).

It seems Mirus’s neo-Catholic reading of the Council as a font of unspecified messages and yet-to-be-revealed “new and surprising” things corresponds rather closely to the delusion Cardinal Ratzinger described. But Mirus refuses to recognize what went wrong with a “pastoral” Council “that first urged man on and then disappointed him” with a rhetorical “opening to the world” that involved gratuitous and error-prone commentary reflecting “the naïve optimism of the concept of the great society.”

·         “…[O]n this level we have all those who positively set themselves against the Holy Spirit’s work through the acts of the Council. This can only refer to those who actually impede authentic Catholic renewal by denying the validity or appropriateness of the Conciliar texts.

·         “On the one hand, we have … the Modernists, aided and abetted by the lukewarm, who always use theology for their own convenience. For a time, they actually hijacked the legacy of the Council throughout much of the Church, making it very difficult for the renewal which Pope John XXIII envisioned to gather steam…

“On the other hand, we have those who claim to be more Catholic than pope or council…. Often calling themselves Traditionalists, these almost literally stand on ceremony [emphasis in original], ossifying the Church’s pre-Vatican II culture  in accordance with their own comfortable piety.”

Here Mirus recites the usual neo-Catholic folklore: anonymous Modernists and Traditionalists have thwarted “the Holy Spirit’s work through the acts of the Council,” not the popes and bishops who have actually governed the Church since 1962.  As he would have it, the successive Vicars of Christ and the entire world episcopate have been helpless before the impediment posed by these recalcitrant Modernists and Traditionalists, whoever they are. If not for these dastardly characters, we would already have “the renewal which John XIII envisioned…”

But in what, exactly, would this “renewal” consist if not the very innovations the conciliar popes have approved and the bishops have imposed purportedly under the Council’s authority, including the endless stream of novelties introduced by John Paul “the Great,” the “patron saint” of altar girls?

Now, if Mirus has no objection to the officially approved novelties of the past fifty years, including John Paul II’s altar girls, why is he complaining that the conciliar “renewal” has been thwarted? Has it not, on the contrary, been gloriously accomplished? John Paul “the Great” seemed to think so, which is why he declared on the 25th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium that

the vast majority of the pastors and the Christian people have accepted the liturgical reform in a spirit of obedience and indeed joyful fervour. For this we should give thanks to God for that movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church which the liturgical renewal represents…These are all reasons for holding fast to the teaching of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and to the reforms which it has made possible: “the liturgical renewal is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council.” For many people the message of the Second Vatican Council has been experienced principally through the liturgical reform.

Why is Mirus grumbling about Modernists and Traditionalists resisting the work of the Holy Spirit through the acts of the Council when he should be expressing “joyful fervor" over the liturgical reform as “a movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church”—the very thing he claims Traditionalists and Modernists alike have impeded? Does he not agree with the view of John Paul “the Great” that “the message” of the Council “has been experienced principally through the liturgical reform” and that, therefore, the “message” has been received loud and clear? Or is Mirus implicitly dissenting from the late Pope’s rosy assessment of the new liturgy, thus joining the very ranks of the naysayers he condemns?  But that would mean that the “work of the Holy Spirit” through the Council was impeded by none other than John Paul “the Great”! Mirus has twisted himself into a pretzel in his pursuit of “the work of the Holy Spirit” at Vatican II.

As for the Modernists, they are just as delighted with the “liturgical reform” as John Paul II was. Indeed, they would like to see it progress even further in the “destruction of the Roman Rite” lamented by Msgr. Gamber in his Reform of the Roman Liturgy (written with the future Pope Benedict’s approval). That being so, how have the Modernists interfered with the “movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church” that John Paul II extolled?  In fact, with such gestures as approving altar girls, convoking motley assemblies of Protestants and pagan idolaters, and kissing the Koran, John Paul II outdid even some of the Modernists!

And how, pray tell, have Traditionalists interfered with “the Holy Spirit’s work through the acts of the Council” when their numbers have been miniscule and their influence on the Church’s leadership almost nil, thanks in large part to their marginalization by neo-Catholic demagogues like Mirus? As for Traditionalists “standing on ceremony,” the “ceremony” in question is the traditional Roman Rite whose canon is of apostolic origin and whose overall form dates back at least to the time of Saint Gregory the Great, who really was Great.

As for the view that Traditionalists are guilty of “ossifying the Church’s pre-Vatican II culture in accordance with their own comfortable piety,” this is neo-Catholic hubris at its most intolerable.  What, pray tell, is the Church’s “pre-Vatican II culture” if not her perennial doctrine and praxis during the nineteen centuries that preceded Vatican II?  The “comfortable piety” at which Mirus sneers, with typical neo-Catholic disdain for the faith of our fathers, is the same liturgy that provided the foundational unity of an entire civilization and produced legions of saints for the Church Triumphant.

And how would Mirus describe the post-Vatican II “culture” of the Church? It might be amusing to see him give it a whack. I would also like to see his authority for the concept of changing “cultures” in the Church. Mirus seems to think the Church undergoes cultural evolution in the manner of a merely human society.  But that would make him a Modernist, which is what neo-Catholics tend to be, even if their strict doctrine as such may be orthodox. They exhibit several of the characteristics of what Pope Saint Pius X called “the modernist as reformer,” whose “reforming mania” demands, among other things, that “regarding worship, the number of external devotions is to be reduced, or at least steps must be taken to prevent their further increase”; that “ecclesiastical authority must change its line of conduct in the social and political world; while keeping outside political and social organization, it must adapt itself to those which exist in order to penetrate them with its spirit”; and that “[t]he clergy… return to their ancient lowliness and poverty.” (Pascendi, n. 38).

·         “Just as the Modernists ignore the Magisterium as a relic of the past, replacing it with the spirit of the current age, the Traditionalists ignore the contemporary Magisterium, replacing it with the spirit of some previous age.”

So much confusion, in so few words.  The Modernists ignore the Magisterium, says Mirus, whereas the Traditionalists ignore the contemporary Magisterium—but not the Magisterium as such?  Are the Magisterium and the “contemporary” Magisterium two different things? If not, then why does Mirus qualify “Magisterium” with the superfluous adjective “contemporary”? He does so because he cannot get around the fact that traditionalists adhere faithfully to the Magisterium.

Yet, the neo-Catholic polemic requires a moral equivalence between Modernists and Traditionalists, leaving neo-Catholics as the only loyal members of the Church.  So, Mirus must posit a Magisterium from which traditionalists, like Modernists, dissent.  But he cannot call this simply the Magisterium, because there is no dissent from the Magisterium as such among traditionalists. So he posits a “contemporary Magisterium,” or what we can call M1, as opposed to the Magisterium simpliciter, which we can call M.

But what does Mirus suppose to be the content of M1 compared with M as a quantity of doctrine Catholics must accept as true? Since he offers no evidence of any difference in doctrinal content, it would appear that M1 = M, so that M1 M  = 0.  Or if M1 is viewed as a smaller quantity than M, because it does not contain all but only some Catholic doctrine, then M1 M = < 0.  And zero, or less than zero, is the merit of Mirus’s argument.

And what can Mirus possibly mean by the statement that traditionalists replace the “contemporary Magisterium” with “the spirit of some previous age.”  What spirit? What previous age? The contention is utter nonsense.  But so is the rest of Mirus’s article.


The end of the Benedictine respite leaves the Church in a state of grave uncertainty. We miss Pope Benedict, a rather meek and humble Roman Pontiff whose humility did not consist in the shoes or vestments he wore or in the residence he chose.  We miss him because, precisely in his humility, he was willing to admit and correct the catastrophic mistake of prudential judgment that resulted in an astounding attempt to suppress the liturgical tradition of the Roman Catholic Church—a blunder the neo-Catholics obtusely continue to defend. But now we wonder if there will be a return to the upheaval and confusion of the 1970s, which left Paul VI weeping and wringing his hands over the very forces he himself had unleashed upon the Church.

For half a century, roughly the duration of the Arian crisis, the Church has been bedeviled by the pernicious obscurantism on display in Mirus’s article.  He writes with the suave assurance of one who knows, but in fact, like neo-Catholics generally, he is deeply confused about the nature of the most fundamental elements of our religion: the liturgy, the Magisterium, Tradition. His confusion is symptomatic of what Sister Lucia called “diabolical disorientation” in the context of the Third Secret of Fatima.

People like Mirus would love to see people like us consigned once again to the ghettos we were forced to inhabit before Pope Benedict ended our confinement and exposed the fraud of the “liturgical reform” with four simple words concerning the traditional Mass: “never abrogated” and “always permitted.” But traditionalists are coming out of the ghettos now, as the ancient Mass restores the life of the Church in place after place where it was once outrageously forbidden within her official structure.  That the neo-Catholic establishment exemplified by Mirus is disturbed by the spread of this healing balm for a gravely wounded Church is a telling indication of where the Holy Spirit is not at work in the Church today.

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