Peter and the Wolves

Has The Remnant gone soft,

or has it merely recognized a monumental turning point in history?

Christopher A. Ferrara

Student protestors target Pope Benedict

at La Sapienza University in Rome this week

(Posted Jan 21, 2008 As this article goes to press, the worldwide media are abuzz with unconfirmed reports that Pope Benedict will alter the traditional Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews in response to agitation from a few Jewish groups, especially Abe Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League. Foxman has been griping about the prayer ever since the Pope liberated the traditional Latin Mass from its pseudo-legal quarantine during the last two pontificates, a development that has sent tremors of alarm throughout the Novus Ordo Seclorum. Why? Because, to quote Foxman, it is “a theological setback to the reforms of Vatican II.” 

At stake in this matter is nothing less than the dignity of the papal office. Should Benedict cave in to pressure and neuter the Good Friday prayer, he will have sent the message that the Pope may be lobbied at will by groups and people demanding compliance with “the reforms of Vatican II.”  And where will it end? 

Even John Allen of the liberal National Catholic Reporter can see where this is heading, and he clearly does not like it: “The Good Friday liturgy also contains prayer for heretics and schismatics (meaning Protestants) and for pagans (meaning non-Christians). Should those prayers too be revised, since they don’t reflect the more sensitive argot of Vatican II? More broadly, some critics charge that much of the symbolism and language of the old Mass is inconsistent with the vision of the council. Should all that be put on the operating table? If so, one might fairly ask, what was the point of Benedict’s ruling in the first place?”

The demand that the Good Friday prayer be altered to suit people like Foxman is all the more intolerable when one considers that Rabbi Jacob Neusner, who has been corresponding with the Pope since 1993, has no problem with the prayer, and notes that “the synagogue liturgy has an equivalent prayer which we say three times a day, not just once a year.” (Free Republic, July 20, 2007)  Here is the synagogue prayer exactly as it is translated in The Talmud of the Land of Israel, Volume 1: Berakhot, published by University of Chicago Press and edited by none other than Neusner:

“Blessed [art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe,] who did not make me a gentile.” (p. 318).

There is another synagogue prayer, also translated by Neusner, which goes as follows: “Blessed [art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe,] who did not make me a boor.” Apparently, Foxman has never heard of that one. At any rate, the prayer mentioned by Neusner demonstrates that while Catholics pray once a year for the conversion of the Jews and their eternal happiness with God—a work of charity and spiritual mercy—observant Jews pray three times a day to thank God they are not Gentiles—an expression of racial superbia that could certainly be regarded as insulting to non-Jews.  Yet it is the Catholic Church that must change to suit the likes of Foxman, while non-Catholics, of course, remain unalterably entitled to their traditional prayers. Such is the double standard to which the Church alone is expected to adhere, proving implicitly, yet again, that Catholicism is the only religion the powers of the Novus Ordo Seclorum take seriously.

We can only hope the reports are false, or that the Pope, if he does alter the prayer, does so in a way that leaves intact the Church’s unambiguous call for the conversion of the Jewish people, no less than the other peoples of the earth.  Meanwhile, we ought to avoid the rash judgment that any amendment of the prayer would evidence a neo-modernist plot to use Summorum Pontificum as a Trojan horse to overthrow the traditional liturgy. If that were the intention, the Pope would simply have ordered use of the Novus Ordo version of the Good Friday prayer in the Motu Proprio itself, or he would do so now rather than undertaking a rewrite of the traditional prayer, as is now being alleged.  And given that Pope John XXIII did nothing more than remove the word “perfidious” from the prayer—a decision one could hardly deem an abuse of papal authority—the only prudent course is to wait and see what Benedict does.

And what if the worst happens? Suppose the traditional Good Friday prayer is replaced with the mealy-mouthed equivocation of the risible Novus Ordo version, which prays that the Jews “continue to grow in the love of His Name and in faithfulness to His covenant” so that they “may arrive at the fullness of redemption”—as if divine redemption could be partial. Should the Pope yield to political pressure in this manner, traditionalists would have every right to offer loyal opposition to such a papal capitulation, just as they called for the restoration of the Latin liturgy while continuing to have recourse to it throughout the forty years of the legally non-existent “ban.” But even if the worst does happen, traditionalists ought not to lose sight of the fact that in the recent days of this pontificate the Church has witnessed a real and substantial change in the disastrous course set by Benedict’s post-conciliar predecessors. This development has been reflected on the pages of The Remnant, and not without controversy.

Whoever wrote the updated entry on The Remnant in the Wikipedia online encyclopedia opines that the paper “has recently become a very vigorous defender of the pontificate of Benedict XVI as The Remnant writers believe he has vindicated them on issues that have divided them from other Traditionalists and from conservative Catholics associated with The Wanderer, EWTN and Catholic Answers.”  A few critics to the “right” of The Remnant—who inhabit, one must say, a microscopic segment of the Catholic landscape—take the view that Remnant writers have gone “soft on the Pope” and are entirely too credulous in assessing his recent initiatives.  Neither view does justice to what is happening in the Church and on these pages.

First of all, as to Wikipedia’s view, The Remnant has not “become” a vigorous defender of Benedict’s pontificate. Rather, the paper has vigorously defended every pontificate during the forty years it has been in print, while also opposing and prescinding from the post-conciliar novelties—none of them ever imposed on the faithful—that have caused so much harm to the Church.  During the pontificate of John Paul II, for example, it was this newspaper that ran a five-part series against the errors of sedevacantism, defending John Paul II and Paul VI against the absurd claim that they were imposters by noting, among other facts, their defense of the deposit of the Faith in critical documents (including Paul VI’s Mysterium Fidei and John Paul II’s apostolic letter on women’s ordination) and by distinguishing from alleged “heresy” those Popes’ undeniably grave failures of prudential judgment.  In the same vein, The Remnant has consistently defended recourse to the Latin Mass in local parishes under John Paul II’s now superseded indult, even while it called upon him to declare what Pope Benedict finally has declared: that the indult was never necessary.  And, just as consistently, this paper has argued that the outcome of the battle to restore Tradition depends not on any one group, but on tradition-minded priests and faithful wherever they may be found in the Church—yes, even within the Novus Ordo constituency, where (let us face it) there are many Catholics whose piety and zeal are an example to traditionalists.  (Lest anyone think this is recent revisionism on my part, please consult pp. 15-16 of The Great Façade, published more than five years ago, where I make precisely that point.)

As to the criticism from the “right,” considerably more needs to be said.  During the long and disastrous pontificate of the Pope some would dare to call “the Great,” the impression arose in some quarters that a standing opposition to Popes is what defines Roman Catholic traditionalism.  But it was never so.  Again and again over the past forty years, this newspaper, Marcel Lefebvre, Michael Davies, Hamish Fraser, Dietrich von Hildebrand and other voices of the traditionalist “movement” (if we must call it that) made the distinction between the acts and omissions of a Pope which are objectively harmful to the common good of the Church, and therefore must be resisted, and the papal office as such.  The preservation of that distinction is essential to maintaining the difference between the Pope whose authority is invested by Christ for the good of the Church and the voluntarist caricature of the Pope—promoted by Protestants, “conservative” Catholics and sedevacantists alike—as a dictator whose will is law by the very fact of it being the papal will.  The currently reigning Roman Pontiff himself explained the distinction when he was Cardinal Ratzinger:

In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the Pope as an absolute monarch.  On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word.  The Pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not “manufactured” by the authorities.  Even the Pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity.[1]

Must it still be pointed out that Cardinal Ratzinger’s observation would have been pointless if there were, in fact, no way for members of the faithful to distinguish between good and bad, traditional and non-traditional, when it comes to what a Pope does in the exercise of his office?  When Pope Benedict declared before the astonished and agitated makers of world opinion that the traditional Roman Missal “was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted,” even though Paul VI and his successor had allowed the appearance of a papal abrogation to prevail, His Holiness provided a historically decisive confirmation that the “traditionalist” approach to the question of the limits of papal authority is anchored in the objective reality of what Christ established for His Church—a reality that could never permit any Pope to “ban” the traditional Latin Mass.

It is obvious that the “diplomatic” cover letter accompanying the Motu Proprio, aimed at mollifying liberal bishops, is far from the document a committee of traditionalists would produce. But the letter, unlike the Motu Proprio, has no legal effect. As Bishop Fellay recognized in his interview with this newspaper, despite the problems with the letter “we have to salute and to greet this date and this motu proprio as a very significant historical event in the history of the Church and in post-Vatican II history. This has to be noted. I think it is very important.”

Are we happy that the Motu Proprio itself terms the received and approved rite of Mass “extraordinary” and the newly concocted Novus Ordo Missae “ordinary,” and that both Masses are described as “two usages” of the one Roman Rite?  Of course not. But then, what did we expect the Pope to do in an unprecedented historical situation not of his making—declare that the Mass of Paul VI was a huge mistake and is now to be suppressed immediately and replaced with the traditional Mass?  Not even the Society of Saint Pius X is calling for that remedy. And given that the New Mass will continue to exist for the foreseeable future, what did we expect the Pope to call it, if not a “usage” within the Roman Rite, meaning the liturgy of the Western Church? What else could it be called, given its continued existence as the rite of Mass attended by 98% of the members of the Church?

Surely the most minimal sense of prudence would counsel us to wait and see how the regime of the Motu Proprio develops, instead of declaring that its potential problems are grounds for further suspicion of Rome. Remember the argument that the 1988 indult was “a trap” to destroy the Society of Saint Pius X and then wipe out the remaining traditionalists? That sage analysis proved spectacularly incorrect, as exactly the opposite happened:  both the Society and the traditionalist movement in general continued to grow exponentially after 1988.

In view of  the historic breakthrough of the Motu Proprio, which abolishes the indult in favor of universal access to the traditional Mass without need of permission, to persist in the attitude “We will not be deceived!” would require a cultivated obtuseness. And even if there were some new and even more sinister plot afoot—let us indeed stipulate its existence for the sake of argument—are we still unable to understand that no matter what the plotting of mere men, the restoration of our liturgical tradition is inevitable because the Holy Ghost will have it so? Do any of us really wish to persist in a kind of political intransigence that would be a one-way ticket to irrelevance for the entire movement?

Now, it is entirely understandable that the last pontificate, with its seemingly endless succession of scandalous novelties and demeaning publicity stunts—all of which the world applauded—was fertile ground for the temptation to succumb to a mental habit that obscures the difference between the Pope and his actions, and sees the Pope qua Pope as an adversary. According to this view, the successors of the last Pope (or the last two Popes) would be presumptive adversaries of Tradition until such time as they “credential” themselves with a sufficient show of militant orthodoxy and adequate acts of reparation for past papal blunders. Only then—and when that will be is anybody’s guess—can the Pope receive a kind of seal of approval—from whom is likewise anybody’s guess—that will allow him to shed his presumptive adversary status. Until that time (so the habit would counsel us), the Pope should prudently be seen as either a wily neo-modernist waiting for his chance to pounce and complete the Vatican II remodeling of the Church, or else a spiritually debilitated victim of neo-modernist thinking who simply cannot be trusted absent verification of a purging and cure of his bad thoughts. In either case, the Pope is to be examined in his every word and deed for signs of treachery or recidivism and found wanting to the extent that he does not fully and unambiguously repudiate and repeal on the spot every innovation of the post-conciliar epoch. Thus (according to this habit of mind) Pope Benedict’s liberation of the Latin Mass is no historical turning point, but at best merely good for starters and perhaps a sign of a partial papal recovery, and at worst yet another neo-modernist ploy lurking in the verbal interstices of Summorum Pontificum, whose text we must of course parse carefully for hints of the betrayal that is certain to come.  The Pope, in short, is to be presumed guilty until proven—by whom? how?—innocent.

It should hardly be necessary to say that this way of looking at the Pope, however understandable its emergence has been in the midst of the postconciliar debacle, is not and never was the traditionalist way. In essence, if not in degree, it is the way of the sedevacantists, who have rendered themselves incapable of giving their loyalty to any Pope other than the one they will inevitably have to elect at their own conclave (or rather conclaves). I hasten to add that to hold this view of the Pope is not in itself to be a sedevacantist.  But it is to think with the mind of one, while rejecting the final conclusions that follow from this way of thinking.  This habit of thinking like a sedevacantist while refusing to be one is a source of great delight for the pundits of the sedevacantist camp, whose main activity seems to be poking fun at Catholics who are not as “logical” as they.

Has The Remnant, then, gone soft by expressing support—and, indeed, encouragement to continue— for Pope Benedict?  No, The Remnant continues to do what it has always done: to support the Pope not by hailing his every word and gesture, which is mere sycophancy, but by standing with him whenever and wherever he stands for Tradition, and also (following the example of Catherine of Siena and other saints) by conscientiously calling upon him to do what ought to be done for the sake of the kingdom over which he rules. This is the way loyal Christian subjects, as opposed to craven vassals, are supposed to behave with respect to their king. As the Pope’s loyal subjects know, to repeat the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, “the Pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition…”—not Tradition to the Pope’s authority.

Hence, in keeping with the right and duty of the faithful to express a loyal opposition to papal actions they believe in conscience to be harmful to the Church, this newspaper did express disappointment and even pessimism over Benedict’s pontificate during its early days, which were marked by a series of  bad appointments, Benedict’s continued invocations of the fruitless “ecumenism” that still weighs on the Church like a blanket of chains, and the scandalous visit to the synagogue in Cologne in imitation of John Paul II. And, should it come to pass, the proposed “ecumenical chapel” in Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls would be an abominable development every Catholic would have a duty to protest as a sacrilege the Pope must remedy. 

But the idea of loyal opposition to such abuses presupposes loyalty in the first place, rather than a presumption that the Pope is an evil change agent whose every move is part of a preconceived plan to destroy traditional Catholicism. If we mean it when we say, with Sister Lucia, that “diabolical disorientation” afflicts the Church today, then it is disorientation, not some coldly calculated neo-modernist master plan, that would account for how a Pope like Benedict would make dramatic moves toward Tradition even while he carries the baggage of his predecessor and the whole post-conciliar aggiornamento.

That is why, these days, the pages of The Remnant are filled, not with opposition, but with expressions of support for the Pope. For over the past year the early signs of a continuing disaster have given way to multiplying reasons to believe that the Pope recognizes even more clearly what he recognized as Cardinal Ratzinger—the failure of the aggiornamento—and that he knows it must be undone. At a time of diabolical disorientation in the Church, this Pope, at long last, is making serious and truly historic moves in the direction of a restoration that, mirabile dictu, have earned him the world’s nearly hysterical opposition, instead of the applause so generously bestowed upon his predecessor.  The pattern of recent events is undeniable:

·  the Motu Proprio, a fulcrum on which world history will undoubtedly turn;

·   the Pope’s directive to correct the mistranslation of “pro multis” as “for all” in the Novus Ordo consecration formula, and the mistranslation of “Credo”  as “we believe” in the Creed;

·    the removal of Piero Marini as master of ceremonies at the Vatican and the abolition of his ludicrous and appalling “papal liturgies;”

·    the repeal of John Paul II’s liberalization of the rules for the papal conclave, returning to the traditional requirement of a 2/3 vote;

·  the coming issuance of new and stricter rules for beatification and canonization, accompanied by the near shut-down of the “saint-making factory” that operated during the prior pontificate (a stupefying 483 saints in 27 years, as compared with 14 canonizations overseen by Benedict since his election nearly three years ago);

·  the Pope’s express recognition of the Institute of the Good Shepherd's right—the right of all Catholics—to engage in “constructive criticism” of Vatican II, thereby implicitly confirming that the Council documents have deficiencies warranting criticism (deficiencies the Pope himself critiqued as Cardinal and Father Ratzinger);

·    the papal admonition to the new head of the Jesuits that “total adhesion to Catholic doctrine” is expected of the order;

·    the Pope’s wearing of the miter of Blessed Pius IX and his return to the usage of a papal throne, instead of the upholstered chair favored by his predecessor;

·    the Pope’s celebration of Mass versus Deum in the Sistine Chapel;

·   the consistent references to Benedict as “Supreme Pontiff;”

·    the Pope’s abstention from the “ecumenical liturgies” and other ecumenical and interreligious spectacles of which the last Pope was so fond;

·    the absence of any “cult” of Benedict, who shuns the limelight, yet is attracting more Catholics to his audiences than John Paul II did;

·     the dramatic reduction in papal travel to mass events of dubious accomplishments;

·    the abandonment of all references to Vatican II as a “renewal,” “springtime,” “New Pentecost” and so forth;

·    the urgent petition of Anglican clergy representing 400,000 Anglicans for a return to communion with Rome, submitted directly to Benedict rather than the worse-than-useless Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, because the Anglicans know that Benedict is favorable to the reunion and hope to avoid a roadblock by the Vatican bureaucracy;

·   a major thaw in relations with the Orthodox that is clearly the result of the Motu Proprio;

·     the Vatican’s call for an international revival of Eucharistic adoration to combat the now-admitted crisis in the priesthood, with the project, launched December 8, to highlight the Virgin Mary’s special role as the mother of every priest.

And, almost as important as the Motu Proprio, an entire encyclical on the supernatural virtue of hope, Spe  Salvi, that says nothing, absolutely nothing, about Vatican II and even passes over in silence the Council’s very document on hope, Gaudium et Spes.  Indeed, with its dismissal of the cult of human “progress” through the apotheosis of “reason” as seen in the thought of Bacon and the other apostles of the Enlightenment, Spe Salvi is practically a refutation of the “optimism” of Gaudium concerning the “modern world.” Without allotting so much as a footnote to Gaudium, the Pope instead cites Theodor Adorno for the proposition that the progress in which modern man places so much faith is essentially “progress from the sling to the atom bomb.” And, by the way, the only ecumenical council the Pope does cite in Spe Salvi is the Fourth Council of Lateran in 1215, convened by Pope Innocent III to affirm the dogmas of transubstantiation, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, and the papal primacy and to restore the discipline of the priesthood.

In Spe Salvi His Holiness calls for nothing less than “a self-critique of modernity” and “a self-critique of modern Christianity,” which has lost sight of the true “substance” of hope in the Thomistic—yes, the Thomistic—sense of the word. The Pope also calls for the reunification of Christian faith and reason, the severance of which was the basic Enlightenment project. And the Pope concludes by redirecting the Church’s attention to Purgatory and the Four Last Things, ending the encyclical with these words addressed to the Blessed Virgin: “Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!”

Could the signs be any clearer? Benedict is trying to undo the liturgical revolution and move the Church beyond the debilitating miasma of the “spirit of Vatican II” without having to repudiate the Mass of Paul VI or the Council as such.  And what is wrong with that?  Since when has Roman Catholic traditionalism stood for the proposition that the Pope must abolish the Novus Ordo and formally recant the “errors of Vatican II,” as opposed to repairing the damage to the Church by simply liberating the traditional Mass while putting the Council in its proper place: not a “New Pentecost,” but, to use Cardinal Ratzinger’s own words, “a merely pastoral council” whose documents change nothing of the Faith and whose ambiguous formulations are open to criticism.

Let us pose a few questions to ourselves:

·   Is it not completely obvious that the Motu Proprio effectively ended the liturgical revolution by declaring that the traditional Latin Mass “must be given due honour for its venerable and ancient usage” and that every religious institute and parish in the Church is free to adopt it, so that now it is quite impossible for anyone to say that the Novus Ordo liturgy is “the” liturgical future of the Church?

·    Are we really incapable of perceiving that our “movement” has been vindicated by the Pope himself with the Motu Proprio’s admission that the traditional Mass was never abrogated—an admission that validates not only traditionalist opposition to the liturgical revolution, which at least had the false appearance of legality, but also our objections to “ecumenism” and “dialogue,” mere words that have no legal weight or doctrinal content?

·   Can we not see that the Pope, with a stroke of his pen—and certainly His Holiness knows this—has radically altered the standing of traditionalism from a movement of reaction at the margins to a legally recognized and protected “mainstream” participation in the official apparatus of the Church? 

·     Haven’t the Pope’s own “signals,” including his express recognition of the right to engage in constructive criticism of the Council, shown that the spell of the Council was broken with the death of John Paul II?

·     If the Pope is no longer talking about the “mandate” of Vatican II but rather of the Council’s continuity with the past, why would we want to keep the issue alive by acting as if Benedict were intent on stealthily implementing the Council’s non-existent mandate, when all of his major initiatives suggest the opposite conclusion?

·    Are we not perceptive enough to recognize a turning point in the battle for Tradition, and thus a turning point in world history, even if the end of hostilities is still a long way off?

·     Why would we be so perverse as to decline to help keep events moving in the right direction by recognizing that the Pope has shown that to a great extent he is with us, and by suspending criticism in order to get behind his initiatives—unless and until some papal act or omission, such as a real capitulation on the prayer for Jewish conversion, compels us to voice a loyal opposition?

·    Or is it that we prefer to remain on the margins, reacting from a merely critical vantage point, even though we now have a Pope who, with gesture after gesture, is clearly calling upon traditionalists—the Catholics who have not changed—to step forward and join him as the reinforcements he desperately needs in a Church whose human element he clearly knows is falling to pieces?

Even the world can see the dramatic difference, a difference it fears, between this papacy and the last one. Consider that no less than The New York Times ranked the Motu Proprio as one of the most important news stories of 2007. And as Michael Matt points out, “Newsweek, US News and World Report, USA Today, the LA Times, The Washington Post and dozens of major news organizations have front-paged this apparent return to Tradition as a seismic shift inside the Church…” Abe Foxman’s hate-mongering ADL, decrying “a theological setback to the reforms of Vatican II,” has listed Summorum Pontificum as one of the “Top Issues Affecting Jews in 2007.” John Allen notes that ADL puts the Pope—our Pope—“on the same list of anti-Semitic offenders as Iranian President Mahmoud.” ADL’s list of alarums includes Foxman’s complaint that “Religion was thrust front and center in the race for the presidency, with some of the candidates openly professing their faith on the campaign trail… By the end of the year some candidates were making references to Christian beliefs and values… These appeals to religious Americans were a major concern of Jewish organizations and others who saw a troubling precedent in such an open discussion of faith and the potential implications for church-state separation in the United States…” An “open discussion of faith” during a political campaign is deemed a threat to the good order of the Republic!

Meanwhile, the Pope was forced to cancel his address at La Sapienza University, in Rome itself, after 67 professors, following the lead of the communist journal Il Manifesto, demanded that the rector’s invitation be withdrawn, while students occupied the rector's office in an effort to force him to allow a disruptive demonstration during the Pope’s speech. And the Pope’s offense? He had dared to say, speaking as Cardinal Ratzinger back in 1990, that “in Galileo's time the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself.”

With communists, liberals, secularists and Christophobic fear-mongers combining against this Pope, isn’t it time for everyone who calls himself a traditionalist to recognize that even if Benedict is not (or at least not yet) the next Saint Pius X, he is nonetheless on our side, not the enemy’s, and that we have a duty to defend our Pope, who is under attack? By its approach to Benedict and to the Christ whose Vicar he is, the world reveals that the “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion” condemned in the Syllabus of Blessed Pius IX are, as that great pontiff saw, nothing but disguises for the tyrannical suppression of Roman Catholicism by what the moderns call Liberty, the jealous goddess who will not have Christ or His Church before her. If the world is able to note with alarm that Benedict is kicking against Liberty’s goad by reconnecting the Church to her own liturgical patrimony while trying, however tentatively, to offer opposition to what he so aptly calls “the dictatorship of relativism,” what excuse can we traditionalists have for failing to see it?

At the very moment the traditionalist cause is finally receiving papal sanction, we risk descending into buffoonery if, instead of coming to the Pope’s defense, we confine ourselves to serving up the latest commentary on the problem with paragraph such-and-such of the latest less than perfect Vatican document of less than clear doctrinal import.  Given the unprecedented ecclesial disorientation remarked by Sister Lucia, of course there is a place for reasoned criticism of the conciliar and other documents that continue to be a problem for the Church.  The Pope himself has said as much. But we are not a movement of doctrinal commentators, and never have been. We are a movement of Catholics who still believe in the Church Militant and the monarchical papacy, and we have long been waiting—haven’t we?—for a Pope willing to govern the Church and at least attempt to restore good order, instead of frittering away the Church’s credibility with cheap apologies for the sins of dead Catholics who cannot defend themselves, dialoguing endlessly with people who have no interest in the truth, and hailing a conciliar “renewal” that was never anything but a delusion fed by cheering crowds of teenagers who liked the Pope who liked rock music. Now we have a Pope who needs defending by militant Catholics against the very forces that only yesterday were hailing the crowd-pleasing novelties of his predecessor. And what are we going to do about it?  Issue a checklist of the remaining tasks Benedict must accomplish before he receives our grudging approval?

“Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” With that recognition of the threat he faced at the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI immediately set himself apart from his predecessor. Benedict, who has read the Third Secret of Fatima in its entirety and now stands at the cusp of eternity, sees that wolves, not admirers, surround the Pope and the Church he leads, and that the Church is in grave danger, not in the midst of “a new Pentecost.” The man who has the grace of the papal state is no longer the man he was as Ratzinger. There is no way that he could be. Whatever might have savored of “the new theology” and its method in the writings of the former Ratzinger, it is the Augustinian Platonism so apparent in Spe Salvi that has come to the fore as Benedict faces the “modern world” from the See of Peter. Benedict, whose encyclical cites Plato’s Gorgias for its anticipation of the revealed truth of Purgatory, surely understands that the West now finds itself in the condition of Plato’s Athens after its fall in 404 B.C. The Athenian “catastrophe,” writes Werner Jaeger in Paideia, “shook all moral laws; it struck at the roots of religion.” At that point Greek philosophy, rejecting the political “realism” of the Sophists (the Lockean liberals of their time) and seeking to rebuild on the proper foundations, “soared high above the here-and-now” in the realization that “a new and higher ideal of state and society was necessary,” which led in the end to “the search for a new God.” The preparation for the Gospel that is the philosophy of Socrates and Plato emerged, as Werner says, in “a battle against the whole world with life as the stake.”  Following the preparatio evangelica, Christendom found that new and higher polis for which the Greeks were seeking. And then came Luther, and Locke, and the “Enlightenment,” and the Masonic age of “democratic revolution” that installed Liberty on her throne.

Today, with Christendom only a memory, Pope Benedict XVI looks out over the decadent and dying empire of Liberty, the god that failed modernity even more catastrophically than the gods that failed Athens. And though he is aged and has the retiring disposition of an academic, Pope Benedict knows that once again truth must battle the world for the life of man. Does he speak in the manner of Pius IX, hurling thunderbolts against modernity? Hardly. Nor, it seems, has he yet concluded that the battle for the world must begin with the Consecration of Russia. But what Benedict has said and done is more than enough for traditionalists to see, as The Remnant has seen, that this is a Pope who has not blinded himself to the reality that the Church and the world are in the midst of an epochal crisis against which he must somehow take a stand.  And we must help him.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), pp. 165-66.