Some notes on the resolution of the crises in the Church

Source: FSSPX News

Father Juan-Carlos Iscara, professor at the Seminary of St. Thomas Aquinas, in Winona (USA), has written for his colleagues and friends some personal reflections on the current relations between the Society of St. Pius X and Rome. The extract from these notes that we propose here, courtesy of the author, deals with the history lessons that give the resolution of crises that rocked the Church for 2000 years.

History tells us, not what should have happened if we were living in the best of possible worlds, but exactly what has in fact happened—reality, not idealistic constructions.

Learning from History how the crises of the Church were solved in the past, the expectation and/or demand of a total reversal of Rome’s present positions as a pre-condition to our “reunion” appear to be utopian and illusory. Some people seem to be expecting the Pope to fall on his knees, cry out his mea culpa, apologize before the whole world and retract everything that has been done since Vatican II. In fact, none of the past crises of the Church ended in such a clear-cut way. Rome has never explicitly retracted anything or admitted to having made mistakes.

Some years ago we all were justly incensed against John Paul II for apologizing for the misdeeds of churchmen in the past. Why should I now, when it suits me, demand or even expect a similar apology to end this crisis?

Mistakes and errors were certainly committed in the past, but Rome’s manner of dealing with them has been, historically, silence and oblivion, or even acting as if whatever was objectionable had never have been said or done…

For example, under Paul VI we were told that the traditional Mass had been abrogated. It seemed the end of the story. But, years later, John Paul II granted an indult to celebrate it, a “favor,” certainly, but one that implied – without asserting – its previous abrogation. Now Benedict XVI tells all of us that it was never abrogated… Has anybody heard of any apology for past misleading assertions?

History also shows us great Saints acting with prudent, patient moderation even in doctrinal matters.

For example, we have the attitude of St. Basil of Caesarea (on the picture) in the times of the Arian and Pneumatomachian heresies. The Church was in great distress due to the exile of the orthodox bishops and the persecutions. To keep his freedom and that of his church, and also to gradually bring the heretics and those still hesitant back to orthodoxy, St. Basil, while being perfectly orthodox, avoided using formulas that would arouse immediate opposition—and for that he was accused of lying and flattery, in particular when, in reference to the Holy Ghost, he used the expression “conglorificatur” without explicitly saying either “consubstantialis” or “theos” (God), based on the fact that the Council of Nicaea had not said anything on the divinity of the Holy Ghost. St. Basil was satisfied to express the homotimia (equality of honor and worship) and affirm that the Holy Ghost is not a creature. That is what St. Athanasius and St. Gregory of Nazianzus called the “economy” of St. Basil, but, in the end, his expressions would be retained by the Second Council of Constantinople.

The Church has come out of crises, guided by God through the instrumentality of men and the judgments of political prudence.

One notorious example is the end of the terrible crisis of the Great Schism, both solved and renewed by the Council of Constance-Basel. The convocation itself of the Council was made in the most unprecedented circumstances. The schism was solved with the election of Martin V, but the Council remained in session to reform the Church and rapidly drifted into proclaiming the supremacy of the Council over the Pope, thus altering the divine constitution of the Church. Martin V feebly objected, and the problem resurfaced with new intensity under his successor, Eugene IV. Confronted with the alternative of reopening the schism or submitting, the Pope very reluctantly signed the conciliarist decree, but at the same time wrote a secret document, the so-called Bulla Salvatoria, remarking that he had signed by pressed by circumstances, but that he did not intend to oppose Catholic doctrine or detract from the rights and privileges of the Holy See. When the time was ripe, he made the Bulla public, disbanded the Council and reasserted his authority.

It is worth reflecting that, at the end of almost every crisis, there has always been a small, inflexible, stricter group that has rejected the providential solution. Those groups have usually drifted into schism and ended in heresy before disappearing.

For example, the Donatists in 3rd-century Africa went into schism for their refusal to receive into communion those who had weakened and fallen during the Decian persecution – and the Luciferians towards the end of the Arian heresy in the 4th century, who adhered to the definition of Nicaea and were critical of the precisions added by the first council of Constantinople – and the bishops who later constituted the “Petite Église,” who, upset by Rome’s “betrayal” in depriving them of their episcopal sees to smooth the path for the concordat with Napoleon, went into schism and denied the papal primacy of jurisdiction.

For the true enemies of the Church, such extremist groups have not seemed to constitute a real danger.

For example, in 4th-century Antioch, Euozios, the Arian bishop, granted the use of a church to Paulinos, an extreme Nicaean bishop consecrated by the even more extremist and excitable Lucifer of Cagliari, whereas he remained most bitterly opposed to Meletius, the Catholic bishop, who, prudent and even perhaps a trifle too moderate, but upholding the doctrines of both Nicaea and Constantinople, was considered to be the really dangerous one.

(DICI No. 255 of 25/05/12)