“Holy Revolution” or Wholly Revolutionary?

It seems there's no help on the way

-by Christopher A. Ferrara -


Catholics of good will yearn to believe that the new Pope has launched a “holy revolution” that will restore the Church. But developments so far, including the Pope’s recent address on Vatican II and religious liberty, give no cause for such optimism.


 [based on official Vatican translation]

(www.RemnantNewspaper.com) The first 100 days are over. In fact, the first 200 days are over.  There are now enough points on the map to determine the probable course of the new pontificate: due south toward that ecclesial Bermuda Triangle known as “the true implementation of Vatican II.”  While it seems the captain has reduced speed from a reckless “all ahead full” to a minimally more cautious “all ahead two-thirds,” the course itself remains unchanged.  Barring some surprise development, it appears the Church is heading deeper into the dark post-conciliar waters. Who knows what new terrors we will encounter there? As a dear friend of mine declared in a recent email: “Happy Holidays! There is no help on the way.”

Despite a few encouraging early signs, the Novus Ordo liturgy remains immovably in place, with a bit of Latin and chant during pontifical celebrations of Mass facing the people, who still receive communion in the hand. A dethroned and crownless Pope still sits in his Novus Ordo presidential chair, taking lessons from laywomen with uncovered heads, who read Scripture to the Vicar of Christ from a lectern. No longer read, of course, is St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, which infallibly conveys the divine ordinances observed for nearly 2,000 years: that women cover their heads (1 Cor. 11:10) and “keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith… For it is a shame for a woman to speak in Church” (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

Under Pope Benedict, alas, women with uncovered heads will continue to speak in the churches, including St. Peter’s Basilica.

Meanwhile, the rapidly spreading and totally out-of-control Neocathecumenal Way, founded by an “existentialist painter” and a chain-smoking ex-nun—known to the Novus Ordo world as Kiko and Carmen, respectively—will be allowed to go on with its Gnostic catechesis rife with heresies, and its Judaized Saturday night liturgies, at which Horah-dancing congregations consume hosts the size of personal pan pizzas while seated around tables in the middle of the worship space.  Concerning this Judaized liturgy, in a thundering reaffirmation of liturgical tradition the Vatican has given “the Way” exactly two years to cut it out—before further discussions on the matter, that is.  Until then, the members of “the Way” have been directed to attend Mass on Sunday at least once a month.  The toothless lion roars again.

As the Novus Ordo liturgy continues to decompose, the doctrine of Limbo seems headed for the post-conciliar memory hole. Even The New York Times noticed (with evident satisfaction) that without Limbo there is no Catholic doctrine concerning the fate of infants who die without baptism. In default of a doctrine, people will simply conclude that such infants must all be saved. So much for the dogma of Original Sin.  And so much for the teaching of the Church that “Since infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism, we may easily understand how grievously those persons sin who permit them to remain without the grace of the Sacrament longer than necessity may require, particularly at an age so tender as to be exposed to numberless dangers of death” (Catechism of the Council of Trent). This farcical “abolition” of Limbo will not, of course, be declared in any encyclical or other binding papal pronouncement. Rather, the impression will be created that the International Theological Commission’s forthcoming document on Limbo is the teaching of the Church, as opposed to the worthless opinion of a neo-Modernist think tank.

Despite the recent Vatican document purporting to bar the ordination of homosexuals, homosexuals will remain ensconced in episcopal palaces, seminaries and chanceries throughout the world. The document leaves these ecclesial termites completely unmolested, while giving a green light to the admission of a new crop of known homosexuals to Holy Orders, provided they profess to have “overcome” a so-called “transitory” predilection for sodomy during the second half of their seminary training (i.e., three years before ordination).

Some well-meaning people have tried desperately to descry a “holy revolution” in such dismal developments.  For example, one blog site (which is actually spot-on concerning many issues) declares that Pope Benedict’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia on the subject of religious liberty is an “epoch-making speech” and “the most important text of this pontificate so far,” because it supposedly puts an end to the “hermeneutics of discontinuity” which interprets Vatican II as a break with the Church’s past.

If only it were so.  But Pope Benedict’s explanation of how Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae is in continuity with the Church’s past only confirms the “hermeneutics of discontinuity.”  As the Pope declared to the members of the Curia:

The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22: 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time. The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. I Tm 2: 2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the State.

The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith—a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience.


This view does not correspond to the truth of Western history or the constant teaching of the Roman Pontiffs on the theological (not to mention logical) imperative of the Catholic confessional state. While the early martyrs rejected the state religion of pagan Rome, they hardly rejected the idea of the State professing the religion established by Christ in the Catholic Church. Nor did these saints in any way offer their lives for “freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith.”   They died simply and only for the sake of the true Faith; and it was the very blood of the early martyrs that converted Rome from a pagan into a Catholic state.

Professing to see “continuity” between Vatican II and “the martyrs of the early Church,” however, Benedict asserts that at Vatican II the Church “recovered” her “deepest patrimony,” which we are apparently expected to believe had been lost since the time of the early Church. This amazing statement simply ignores the entire history of Christendom after the Roman persecutions ended miraculously with the conversion of Constantine.

The Edict of Milan and the Theodosian Code were only the beginning of the age-long process by which what A.J. Penty has called “the common mind” of Christian civilization was embodied in Catholic confessional states.  As Penty observed, for the State to profess the religion of the people and defend it against attack is simply normative human behavior in society. Even the pagan Romans themselves, like the Philosophers of Athens, would have regarded as absolute madness the novelty of the modern secular state that refuses to profess and defend the common religion of the people.

With the coming of Christ, grace perfected the insights of human reason, and the result was precisely Catholicism as the religion of the State—that is, Christendom. None other than St. Augustine, of whom Pope Benedict is said to be a devotee, provided Christendom’s intellectual foundation when he argued in City of God that the only truly just commonwealth is the Christian commonwealth.  As Christopher Dawson observed, City of God was “one of the books which did the most to form the mind of Western Christendom…” In the mind of Western Christendom the normative human connection between the religion of the people and of the State was so intimate that, as Dawson put it, “Christianity was the law of the land.”

It is quite beside the point to argue, as Pope Benedict’s address does, that the profession of “one’s own faith” is “a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience.”  There is a world of difference between the State professing and defending the Catholic religion of the people and the State “imposing” a profession of faith.  It is the difference between Christendom, on the one hand, and the modern liberal caricature of Christendom on the other.  One would have hoped that the Pope would recognize the difference rather than implicitly dismissing the entire history of Western Christianity as an unfortunate detour from the path rediscovered at Vatican II.

One would never know from reading Benedict’s address that Catholic confessional states in one form or other perdured in Europe for nearly fifteen hundred years, until Woodrow Wilson made the world safe for democracy by insuring the destruction of the Hapsburg Empire during World War I. A Catholic confessional state continued to exist in Spain until as recently as 1975, when the Spanish constitution was amended in keeping with the supposed dictates of Dignitatis Humanae; and Catholic states survived even longer in Latin America.

One can certainly make a case for the practical necessity of tolerating modern pluralist regimes as an unavoidable evil, given the destruction of Catholic social order over the centuries following the Protestant Revolt.  But if we are to be faithful to the  Church’s divine commission to make disciples of all nations, and to reason itself, we must hold with Pope Leo XIII that “although in the extraordinary condition of these times the Church usually acquiesces in certain modern liberties, not because she prefers them in themselves, but because she judges it expedient to permit them” (Libertas), nevertheless Catholics are obliged “to make use of popular institutions, so far as can honestly be done… to bring back all civil society to the pattern and form of Christianity which We have described (Immortale Dei).”

That is, Christendom is always something to be recovered, never something to be abandoned as outmoded; for Christendom—the embodiment of Christianity in the form and pattern of the State—arises from the very nature of man as a social being whose highest good is his participation in the eternal society of the beatific vision. The abandonment of Christendom can thus be seen only as the gravest form of social disorder, a severance of political society from man’s summum bonum in consequence of the destruction of the common mind of Western civilization. 

The West has literally lost its mind, and yet some Catholics defend this madness as “the only alternative.” One prominent Catholic who considers himself a traditionalist recently suggested to the editor of this newspaper that traditionalists ought not to express contempt for the advocacy of pluralism, even if they don’t favor it themselves, because pluralism at least preserves “social peace.” But what sort of “social peace” results in the death of 35 million unborn children, the destruction of the family and the utter ruin of public morality? The loss of Christendom is precisely the loss of any prospect for a social peace worthy of the name.  As Etienne Gilson aptly observed in his introduction to City of God: “It is completely useless to pursue a Christian end except by a Christian means.  If we really want one world, we must first have one Church, and the only Church that is one is the Catholic Church.”

But Benedict’s address, and indeed his pontificate thus far, gives no sign of a recognition that the right ordering of society at its most fundamental level—that of the humanly necessary organic relation between Church and State—has been lost and must be recovered if the West is to avoid self-annihilation.  In attempting to explain how at Vatican II “the deepest patrimony of the Church was recovered”—a patrimony that mysteriously excludes fifteen centuries of Catholic social order, and with it the greatest achievements of Western civilization—Benedict offered this astonishing opinion: “The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.” This the Council did, said Benedict, by going back to the witness of “the martyrs of the early Church” and their supposed cause of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, which the Church finally took up again at Vatican II.

So it seems that the very man who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, assured us that Vatican II was not “a new start from zero,” now argues that at least the Council’s teaching on religious liberty was precisely that: a rolling back of the whole history of the Church to the time of the early martyrs, when the purity of the Faith (so the argument goes) was unsullied by the idea of a State religion. We have seen elsewhere this appeal to “the early Church” over and against all ensuing Church history; we have seen it in the opinions of the Modernists. False antiquarianism is, in fact, a staple of Modernist thinking. Irony of ironies, in a speech defending alleged “doctrinal development,” Benedict would dispense with the entire developed doctrine of the Church on her divinely ordained relations with the State, as concretely realized in the long and glorious Church-State alliance that was Christendom, which Benedict seems never to mention.

As for the constant teaching of the Popes that the State has a duty to profess and defend the Catholic religion, Benedict suggests, but never explicitly states, that this teaching was merely “historical decisions” which have been “reviewed and even corrected” at Vatican II. That would make Vatican II the first and only council in Church history to correct Church teaching. But notice we are never told precisely which “historical decisions” of the Church were reviewed and corrected at the Council, whose decrees nowhere state they are revising or correcting anything. Quite the contrary, for all its confusion and ambiguity on the subject of “religious liberty,” Dignitatis Humanae expressly affirms the “the traditional teaching of the Church on the duty of men and societies toward the true religion and the one true Church of Christ” (Article 1). As always when it comes to the supposedly “distinctive teachings” of Vatican II, nebulous assertions replace clear doctrinal statements. We are left with the impression, but no actual evidence of, an unprecedented repeal of the Church’s settled doctrine.

In defending the “apparent discontinuity” of the Council’s teaching on religious liberty with the prior teaching, Pope Benedict suggested that the change has occurred only in the realm of “historical situations and their requirements,” but that “continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned.”[1]  He added:

It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters—for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free in the Italian: liberale or liberal] interpretation of the Bible—should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself

Is it really reasonable to expect anyone to believe that since 1965 Catholic churchmen “understand more practically than before”—i.e., the previous nineteen centuries—that certain of the  Church’s “decisions” are mere contingent judgments rather than settled Catholic doctrine?

Here there is an implication—but again, no particulars whatever—that the condemnations of liberalism and liberal interpretations of the Bible by such Popes as Blessed Pius IX (in the Syllabus of Errors) and Saint Pius X (in his own syllabus Lamentabili Sane, Condemning the Errors of the Modernists) were subject to “revision and even correction” by Vatican II because those condemnations “related to a reality itself changeable.” I cannot see what other decisions the Pope’s address could have had in view, especially given the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s declaration that “there can be no return to the Syllabus, which may have marked the first stage in the confrontation with liberalism but cannot be the last stage.”[2]

But the great anti-liberal Popes before the Council did not condemn “changing realities,” nor did they present their teaching as a passing “stage” to which there “can be no return” today. They condemned false principles and false propositions as such, and with the full authority of their office they forbade the faithful to hold these errors.  Indeed, Blessed Pius IX began Quanta Cura (to which his Syllabus was appended) by stating his intention to “unveil and condemn all those heresies and errors which, being adverse to our Divine Faith, to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, to purity of morals, and to the eternal salvation of men, have frequently excited violent tempests, and have miserably afflicted both Church and State.”  In other words, the Church’s condemnation of the false principles of liberalism was a condemnation of errors against the Faith, which, by their very nature as error, could never cease to be false if there is any such thing as objective truth.

It is impossible for any Catholic to accept—nor could even a Pope require us to accept—that what the Magisterium has once condemned as “heresies and errors” could ever cease to be heresies and errors. Even to admit such a notion into Catholic thinking would be to destroy faith in the Magisterium itself. But if this notion is not what Benedict is suggesting, then what is he suggesting?

As the crisis in the Church enters its fifth decade, the faithful are entitled to clear answers to some simple questions. One of these questions is: Are we really expected to believe that any of the specific errors condemned by the Popes before Vatican II are no longer to be considered errors?  If that in fact is what Benedict is saying, then the faithful have the right to contradict him in keeping with the teaching of Pope Paul IV that while a Pope “may be judged by none in this world, [he] may nonetheless be contradicted if he be found to have deviated from the Faith.” (Ex Apostolatus Officio [1559]). If the truths of our religion have any objective meaning, Catholics would have no choice but to contradict a reigning Pope who would deviate from the teaching of his predecessors—a possibility Paul IV clearly envisioned at a time when the open revolt against Christendom had just begun.

Meanwhile, we are asked to believe that Benedict’s line of argument in defense of Vatican II refutes the “hermeneutics of discontinuity”! But the suggestion that there can be “innovation in continuity” in doctrine and doctrinal continuity despite “apparent discontinuity” has no precedent in the teaching of the Church; and (one must say it) this affirmation borders on the nonsensical. Never before Vatican II have the faithful been asked to believe such a thing, for no previous ecumenical council had ever given rise to the impression of “discontinuities” in Catholic teaching.

When closely examined, therefore, the Pope’s address to the Curia is no more a cause for rejoicing then the other developments mentioned here. On the contrary, it is cause for alarm. What we have seen thus far in the new pontificate is no “holy revolution.” It is, at most, a slight reduction of the momentum of the unholy revolution that began when a young Father Ratzinger and his fellow periti arrived in Rome for the Second Vatican Council to engineer the great “opening to the world” that afflicts the Church to this day.  And we cannot forget that, much later on, it was the former Cardinal Ratzinger himself who adamantly affirmed that traditionalists must not be allowed to get away with questioning the wisdom of the great conciliar leap forward, that there must be no room in the Church for any discussion of turning back:

Was the Council a wrong road that we must now retrace if we are to save the Church? The voices of those who say that it is are becoming louder and their followers more numerous. Among the more obvious phenomena of the last years must be counted the increasing number of integralist groups in which the desire for piety, for the sense of the mystery, is finding satisfaction. We must be on our guard against minimizing these movements. Without a doubt, they represent a sectarian zealotry that is the antithesis of Catholicity. We cannot resist them too firmly…. [Principles of Catholic Theology, p. 389]

So, Catholics who decline to embrace unheard-of novelties and who band together to maintain the sources of piety and mystery in the Church—which is to say, the faith of our fathers—are now to be viewed as sectarian zealots deserving of repression by ecclesiastical authority. The Church is being sacked from within by Modernist revolutionaries, but it is traditionalists who cannot be resisted too firmly in their attachment to the Church’s unbroken historical past. Such was the opinion of Cardinal Ratzinger in 1988. And it seems this Jacobinical spirit will continue to dominate the postconciliar landscape.

It is a sad and terrible thing that mere lay people, such as this writer, have to speak this way about the condition of their own Church. We yearned for a Pope who would take decisive action to make things right, and we sincerely hoped that Pope would be Benedict, despite everything he had said when he was a cardinal and a priest. But what is manifest is manifest. At the moment, humanly speaking, there is no help on the way.  Quite the contrary, it appears likely that further persecution will be our lot.


[1] An earlier version of this article employed a defective translation of the Pope’s address, wherein the Pope is quoted as stating that there had been actual discontinuity at the level of principle.  According to the official Vatican translation [both English and Italian], the Pope did not, in fact, say this and my article has been revised accordingly.   The revised article reflects the official Vatican translation throughout.

[2]Ibid., p. 191.