Comment: Dechristianization, the subsistit in, and the motu proprio according to Cardinal Schönborn

Source: FSSPX News


Q. The next congress for the new evangelization – of which Vienna was the cradle in 2003 – will take place in Budapest from September 16 to 22. Is it an efficient remedy for Europe’s dechristianization?

Cardinal Schönborn: I think we must coolly realize the situation of the Church in Austria and in Europe at large. We are witnessing a full-speed process of dechristianization of daily life. I observe this in Austria, but it is the same in France and in other European countries.

Until recently, most young people had at least grand-parents with Christian roots and some knowledge of the catechism. Nowadays, for most populations, such links with Christianity do no longer exist, or they are infinitesimal. This is a new situation, because it is obvious that the Catholic Church especially, and also the Orthodox churches and the Protestants in some measure, formed the main patrimony of European culture. Tourists go to France not to see the Grand Arch of La Défense, but Notre-Dame of Paris and Mont St. Michel – and the same holds true all over Europe. On the other hand, Christians who live with an active awareness of their faith are actually a minority. There is nothing frightening in this: just think that at the time of the Emperor Constantine there were perhaps 20% Christians in the Roman Empire.

Today, the greatest challenge, which the Holy Father is meeting, is the deepening of the faith of those who are graced to have received it. It is to make them more apt to be witnesses in a society, which, as a rule, is not even hostile anymore to Christianity, because it hardly knows this religion. Our great chance, is that we are living what Christianity experienced in the Roman Empire: Christianity as a novelty, as a discovery and a surprise; the Christian faith as a true alternative to a society which has values of its own, but which is confused and seeking its own identity.

Cardinal Schönborn considers that the state of the first Christians who had just discovered the faith is similar to that of the Western populations which have apostatized this same faith. He does not oppose the conversion of the former to the perversion of the latter. For him Christianization and dechristianization are one and the same thing! With an astounding irenicism , he does not see much hostility against Christianity in our contemporary world, but only a novelty, a discovery, a surprise offered to a society which is “confused and seeking its own identity,” and nevertheless has “values of its own.”


Q. At a time when is evoked a possible ecumenical meeting between the pope and the patriarch Alexis II, the Congregation for the doctrine of the faith has just reaffirmed that the Catholic Church was “the unique Church of Christ.” Don’t you think that observers are right when they point out a contradiction?

Cardinal Schönborn: Let them read and study the Second Vatican Council! The document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released on July 10, strictly makes its own, and with even more clarity, what was said by the Second Vatican Council. It explains, even more explicitly than Dominus Iesus the relation between the Catholic Church and the other Christian communities. It is truly the sober and perfect expression of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching.

This teaching is simple and is entirely summed up in the refusal of two extremes. On the one hand, ecclesial relativism – all Churches have the same value and are more or less successful prefigurations of the heavenly Church. And on the other hand, the affirmation that there is only the Catholic Church and that the rest is not Church. Some monks on Mount Athos, for instance, very explicitly deny the validity of Catholic baptism, and hence they do not even consider us as Church. Such is not the position of the ecumenical patriarch nor of the majority of Orthodox theologians, yet it is a position which exists among Orthodox with somewhat hardened opinions.

Now, the Second Vatican Council’s position is very clear: it says that the Church of Christ can only be one, and this unique Church of Christ subsists and is concretely achieved in the Catholic Church united to the successors of Peter and the legitimate bishops. But, the Second Vatican Council adds that this does not prevent the existence – outside of the visible communion of the Catholic Church – of a great number of elements of sanctification and truth which are part of the unique Church of Christ and tend towards Christian and Catholic unity. Thus, with this new Roman document, the elements of ecclesiality which exist in Protestant churches are acknowledged, but at the same time it is also said that these churches still lack the essential elements, which, in our opinion, constitute the Church, i.e. apostolic succession and the fullness of the Eucharistic sacrament.


To be sure, this is only an interview and not a rigorous theological study, yet we can’t help being surprised at hearing the archbishop of Vienna speak of Protestant Churches, whereas the recent Roman document on the subsistit in denies the character of Church to the various Protestant denominations. We are likewise astonished to hear the Austrian prelate affirm that “Church of Christ subsists and is concretely achieved in the Catholic Church” and immediately after declare that, according to the Second Vatican Council, there are, outside of the visible communion of the Catholic Church, a great number of elements of sanctification and truth which are part of the unique Church of Christ and tend towards Christian and Catholic unity. As the Roman document here quoted acknowledges, such a paradoxical presentation rests upon the desire to reject two extremes: ecclesial relativism on the one hand, and the affirmation that there is only the Catholic Church and that all the rest is not Church, on the other hand. But when you reject this latter affirmation, you reject a dogma: Outside of the Church there is no salvation.


(…) Q. What is your answer to French people who see the motu proprio on the liturgy as being essentially a step backward?

Cardinal Schönborn: The situation in France is somewhat particular. Primo, what the motu proprio means in the daily practice of the Church is not very clear as yet. With the Holy Father, we will evaluate this practice over a three-year period. Secondly, we must remind ourselves once again that the Catholic position is not vel/vel  (either, or) but et/et (and, and). It is not either one or the other, but both, not in the name of a certain relativism or indifference, but because the reality is more complex.

The Holy Father is fully aware of this when he speaks of the old and new use of the unique Roman rite. I am a Dominican, I grew up in the old Dominican rite, one of the many rites of the Latin Church, like the Carthusian rite, the Ambrosian rite, and others. The Roman rite never was monolithic. The Holy Father reminds us that the Roman rite is a whole, while having in itself a real diversity. Look at the discussions about the liturgy of the Neo-Catechumenal Movement. It has liturgical practices of its own, which the Holy Father, the supreme authority in the Church, has just recognized as legitimate forms of the unique Roman rite, under certain conditions. We must look at the issue of the motu proprio from the same angle.


According to Cardinal Schönborn, there is not more difference between the old and the new Mass than between the Roman rite and the Dominican or Carthusian rites. We really wonder why, then, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, in the“Ottaviani intervention” denounced the Novus Ordo Missæ as straying “impressively as a whole as well as in details from the Catholic theology of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, as it had been formulated in the 22nd session of the Council of Trent, which, by definitively establishing the “canons” of the rite, had raised an  impassable barrier against any heresy which could impair the integrity of the Mystery.” Why, then, if it were merely a question of differences in rubrics and not of a doctrinal opposition?! Besides, for the archbishop of Vienna, the Motu Proprio places on a par the Mass of all times and the most questionable liturgical practices of the Neo-Catechumenal Movement. They are all forms of the unique Roman rite: you have the ordinary form (Paul IV), the extraordinary form (St. Pius V), and now the Neo-Catechumenal form of Kiko with Flamenco-style songs… That is what you call the expression of unity in diversity!


Q. Where does the Church in Austria stand in this liturgical quarrel?

Cardinal Schönborn: Austrians are a little less Cartesian than the French. At the time of the liturgical reform, they were less radical, less intransigent than some in France who, I think, wrongly exasperated those who found it hard to accept the liturgical reforms, and besides they, themselves did not even faithfully follow the ritual of Paul VI but invented all sorts of things. The pope speaks about this openly in the letter which accompanied the motu proprio. Cardinal Kœnig, who was my pre-predecessor in Vienna, was a liberal in the right sense of the word; he was very open-minded and generous. He never thought of abandoning Latin completely in his cathedral. After the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy, he obviously maintained a Mass in Latin in his cathedral. And every Sunday, half a dozen churches celebrate Masses in Latin, among them at least one in the 1962 rite, in usus extraordinarius as the Holy Father would call it. I think that there was no problem, because we were more tolerant. The motu proprio is not really for us in Austria.

Tolerance! Must the Tridentine Mass be tolerated as a lesser evil? Cardinal Schönborn does not even take into consideration the close link which unites the lex orandi to the lex credendi, prayer to the faith. All forms, whether ordinary, extraordinary, or Neo-Catechumenal can cohabit in a climate of tolerance where doctrinal unity becomes diluted into liturgical diversity.