Many folks who follow this blog have contacted me and are wondering if my views on Archbishop Vigano and Taylor Marshall have changed in light of the most recent ecclesiastical dirt devil set into motion by Pope Francis’s lamentable comments on civil unions for homosexuals. Some people, who I greatly respect, have even suggested that I owe Archbishop Vigano in particular an apology for my criticisms directed at him. I am sorry to disappoint those folks but no apology from me is forthcoming. I stand by every word of what I wrote about both Marshall and Vigano, despite the recent papal brouhaha. In what follows I will first comment on the Pope’s statement and then clarify why I don’t think any of it in any way “vindicates” these two dissenters from Magisterial teaching.
Let me begin then with the comments by Francis on civil unions. I have been following the ebb and flow of articles, essays, and social media comments on what the Pope may have said. A lot of silly ink has been spilled parsing his words in painstaking detail, and in exposing the nefarious agenda of the documentary film maker. “The Pope was misquoted!” “He did not say what the filmmaker says he said!” “It was all a clever manipulation!” “Hooray, Church discipline has not changed after all!” And if one challenges this chorus line of high-stepping Rockettes, one is met with silence as they seem unwilling to even consider that all of their linguistic gyrations are a completely irrelevant red herring.
Because here is the deal people: as the Vatican-based journalist John Allen has noted, the Pope has not clarified his remarks in the face of almost universal agreement in the popular press, and among many Catholic activists like James Martin, that he has indeed endorsed gay civil unions. And so, until the Pope comes forward with a correction to this dominant narrative, then it is that narrative that stands. In other words, perception and reception of what he said is far more important in terms of the life of the Church than what he actually said. And if a grievous mistake has been made in the appropriation of his words then it is incumbent upon the Pope to say so. But he hasn’t. And probably never will. Therefore, I don’t care what he may or may not have “really said.” Without a correction from him then what he said is what the world says he said. And perhaps that is exactly what the Pope wants. How else to interpret his silence other than saying that it bespeaks an insouciant disregard for the public consequences of his cavalier statements?
Furthermore, as others have noted, why should we doubt that he has indeed endorsed gay civil unions when in point of fact he has already done so while Archbishop of Buenos Aires? Granted, (or so the narrative goes) he endorsed such an idea as an alternative to “gay marriage” and therefore adopted this stance as a rear-guard action to preserve the flank of the traditional teaching on marriage. But a question immediately arises – – why not oppose both gay marriage and gay civil unions if both are contrary to the moral doctrine of the Church? Is it not the role of an Archbishop to teach the truth, in season and out, rather than engage in this kind of “lesser of two evils politics”? And how does granting civil recognition to what the Church considers a sinful situation protect the traditional notions of marriage and the family anyway? Why not instead simply reaffirm the Church’s teaching – – politely, persuasively, pastorally and without pugilistic bluster – – and then let the chips fall where they may? Especially in light of the fact that an endorsement of civil unions is hardly, even on the level of political “strategy”, a long-term hedge against the slow creep of LGBTQ ideology, and is instead a nod in its direction, if not a nudge.
So instead of wasting time and energy on trying to salvage some semblance of papal integrity in the face of what is, in my opinion, a papal error of judgment, why not simply acknowledge that the Pope has made a mistake here and humbly request that he rescind his comments and that he affirm the still standing CDF prohibition against such civil unions? I for one am tired of playing these “whack a mole” games every single time another papal whammy pops into the public square only to have Francis quickly duck away into silence and obscurity. Such antics hardly constitute “confirming the brethren in the faith” which is the central duty of the papal office. So if you want to go on playing word games by all means feel free. But I am done with this game of papal Scrabble.
So what then of my criticisms of Marshall and Vigano? Have I not just signaled that I am in agreement with their criticisms of Pope Francis? Not only no, but Hell no. For starters, I don’t think the Pope is a Freemason sympathizer. Nor do I think Vatican II is a heretical and demonic Council that needs to be rescinded. Nor do I think that the entirety of modern theology, post Pascendi, should just be chucked into the circular file along with the rest of the day’s trash. Nor do I think the Pope is a heretic. Nor do I think the Church, and this Pope, are falling into religious relativism and a George Soros like globalism. Nor do I think that there is nothing of merit in this papacy on any level. Nor do I reject the notion that there is some truth in non-Christian religions and that we can merit from an honest encounter with those religions, even as we hold fast to the necessity of Christ for salvation. Nor do I think that the Church has been “infiltrated” by an evil cabal of conspirators who have created a counterfeit Church and that this “Church” is therefore a false Church, with the true Church being preserved, somehow, somewhere, by Vigano and those who think like him.
I might be critical of certain decisions and statements made by Pope Francis. But that is where any similarity between my views and those within the Vigano/Marshall circus tent of malcontents ends. Theirs is not a measured and balanced criticism, but a hyperbolic overreaction of paranoid fantasy that borders on the delusional. To accept their views one must accept that the entirety of the modern Church, from about 1910 until now, and with the full approbation of every pope of that time, is just a witch’s brew of heresy, apostasy, and corruption: a little eye of the Guardini newt here, a little wart of de Lubac there, mixed with a pinch of John Paul’s phenomenological pixie dust, and swimming in a Balthasarian broth of universalist acid, the Church of that time according to Vigano/Marshall is just a toxic elixir born of Satan. Furthermore, neither one of them offers us a positive construction of a theological alternative other than to constantly invoke the “Tradition,” as if they alone are its preservers and proper interpreters, and as if the Tradition is just an undifferentiated homunculus without nuance or breathing space. In their view, everything, absolutely everything, was “settled” somewhere about 150 years ago and one need only have recourse to Denzinger to adjudicate whatever piddling little disputes may remain on such burning topics as the propriety of certain altar linens or the number of threads in one’s phylacteries.
There are some who say I am attacking a caricature of their views, a straw man construction of my own invention, and that my snark is lacking in charity. And so I encourage everyone to read Vigano’s Molotov cocktail letters on Vatican II and the modern Church, or to read Marshall’s book “Infiltration” (borrow a copy from an SSPX friend, don’t buy it), or watch one of Marshall’s YouTube performances, and judge for yourself. I encourage you to do this most highly since there is no need to invent straw men here. These guys are already cartoonish caricatures of what a “loyal opposition” should look like. I haven’t had to invent anything.
And as for my snark? Deal with it. Stop reading my blog if you don’t like it. Because I extend to them the same charity that they have extended to others. Indeed, if truth be told, I am actually holding back harsher words and replacing them with the milder genre of “snark” because these guys are attacking my Mother, the Church. This is no mere academic disagreement but also the defense of my Mother, who has brought me to her Son, nourished me with her Sacraments, enlivened my soul with her spirituality, and elevated my mind with her teachings – – yes, even the modern ones. And I wager I am not alone in that. Well aware of the Church’s warts, mistakes, corruptions, and mind-numbing stupidity at times, she nevertheless remains my Mother. And my Mother did not become a prostitute to the times sometime after Pascendi.
Finally, I can only say that were the Church to adopt the vision and pastoral program of Vigano/Marshall it would be a catastrophe of historic proportions. Gone would be just about every Catholic intellectual of the past 150 years – – intellectuals that include far more than just theologians but also count in its ranks great philosophers, literary figures and a host of academics in various liberal disciplines. Gone would be the increased role of the laity in the Church (sorry Taylor, but your book would have been on the Index), or the explosion of Catholic growth in places like Africa and Asia, which would not have happened without the liturgical reforms – – reforms that had problems and need to be revisited in part, but which did open the door for more enculturated forms of worship. In the Vigano/Marshall universe that reform was nothing more than a Freemason plot, with Bugnini as the grand boogeyman, in need of total rejection.
And they say I am setting up straw men? There is no bigger straw man than the Church that is portrayed in the Vigano/Marshall ViewMaster slide show of alleged horrors. Like good mudslingers they throw enough crud at the wall that some of it sticks, which gives them street cred with Catholics who are rightly angry at the Church for a variety of valid reasons. But their remedy for the problem – – just burn the whole “modern thingy” down and go back to some imagined “good ol’ days” that actually never existed (another straw man of their creation) – – is honey-laced arsenic.
The Vigano/Marshall supporters are fond of reminding us that “souls are at stake!” Indeed they are, which is why it is important in these confusing and irritating times to avoid the snake oil salesmen peddling miracle cures. And the snake oil cure offered by Vigano/Marshall – – the elimination of Vatican II for its putative heresy – – is both completely unrealistic (it just is never going to happen. Ever. Full Stop) and theologically absurd. And it is absurd because whatever its demerits might be, Vatican II was attempting to address questions and issues that the Church was going to have to address at one time or another anyway. For even if you grant that the answers Vatican II gave to those questions was in grave error (and I do not grant that) the questions themselves are valid and will remain. To ignore them and to call instead for a restorationist return to a premodern “fortress Church” with its stifling clericalism, its deductive dogmatism devoid of any encounter with actual living things, and its boring-as-crap, degraded scholasticism, is just a non-starter. Sooner or later the Church needed to pose the question of modernity to herself. Because if she didn’t, the world was going to impose an answer anyway since Catholics swim in the culture of modernity and are formed by its narrative. Therefore, the fact that “souls are at stake” actually mandates the asking of those questions and further mandates, at the very least, the lineaments of an answer. That is why the Council called itself a pastoral Council. Because it knew souls were at stake. Therefore, to accuse the Council Fathers of being stooges duped by a cabal of modernist Freemasons is both a calumny and an ignorant historical revisionism.
Therefore, this is why I call their approach honey laced arsenic and snake oil. Because it comes across as reasonable in light of our modern problems and it appeals to the nostalgia in all of us that rises up in times of crisis. But this appeal must be resisted. Thus, rather than rejecting Vatican II tout court, the Church would be better served by actually doubling-down on the questions the Council was addressing. And if in the light of our own times, and with 20/20 hindsight, in answering those questions we deem Vatican II to have been deficient in spots, then by all means let’s discuss that. By all means revisit it and ask the questions anew with an even deeper awareness of why the Council was right to ask those questions in the first place.
But for the love of Christ (I mean that literally) do not reject the project itself and invent all sorts of evil conspiracies as to why it should be rejected, all the while advocating for a return to a past that never was.
Pope Francis was wrong about civil unions. And he has been wrong about some other things as well. So let’s just say I am not a fan. But if I had to choose between the modern Church – – a Church that includes Pope Francis – – or the Vigano/Marshall Church of Latter Day Arsonists – – I will choose the former with great prejudice.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó burst into international prominence in August of 2018 with the public release of his now infamous letter concerning what the Vatican knew about the sexual exploits of Cardinal “call me uncle Ted” McCarrick. It was a damning letter filled with all kinds of accusations, most of which were later corroborated as true or, at the very least, very close to the truth with allowances made for discrepancies in personal memories of events. In the letter he accused Pope Francis of both rehabilitating McCarrick, despite knowing of his sexual abuse, and of later covering it up. He concludes by calling on Pope Francis to resign the papacy.
I supported Vigano in his original ascent to fame with this open letter concerning the McCarrick affair. As a young seminarian in the early 80’s I had heard from some of my fellow seminarians whose bishop was McCarrick that he had, what they called, “zipper issues.” Furthermore, in 2002, after one of my appearances on the Fox news program “The O’Reilly Factor” (I had become a regular guest theologian to discuss the sexual abuse scandal) I was told by Bill O’Reilly that he and his staff were investigating rumors surrounding a “leading east coast Cardinal.” I said to him “You mean McCarrick.” He just leaned back in his chair and smiled.
My point in bringing up these autobiographical details is to underscore the fact that it is simply impossible to believe that members of the hierarchy, especially in the United States, did not know about Uncle Ted’s “zipper issues.” I knew in 1982 that the guy was a perv. O’Reilly was hearing fresh rumors in 2002. How could the hierarchy not know? Could they really be that obtuse? And so with regard to the original letter from Vigano I thought “Well here at last is a brave whistleblower!” Here at last the truth is going to come out! However, despite this excitement I was struck by how odd it was that Vigano was calling for the Pope to resign. I thought that seemed like overkill. It made me suspicious of Vigano’s motives and I wondered if he didn’t harbor deeper issues with the Pope and was just using the McCarrick affair to bring Francis down.
Now, with a series of further letters and interviews, Vigano has officially jumped the shark and confirmed that suspicion. He has set himself up as a magisterium of one, issuing edicts and condemnations from a clandestine location. In my last blog post I joked that he might be hiding in Taylor Marshall’s basement. Well, he is a prelate without an assignment of any kind who is in “hiding” mode and so he does seem burrowed away in somebody’s basement. He seems to appear out of nowhere, like an ecclesiastical pop-up ad, just when you thought he had finally gone away. He is either a brave ecclesiastical hero – – an episcopal Julian Assange – – exposing the heretical anti-church led by the villainous Bergoglio, or he is a wing nut. Some might argue for a more nuanced description, seeing him as a combination of whistle blower and narcissist, but I think that unlikely. Given the seriousness of his claims he is either right, and a hero, or wrong, and a dangerous fool. I think he was right about McCarrick. Too bad he did not stick with that issue. Because his current status as the darling of the closeted SSPX crowd undercuts whatever credibility he had on the McCarrick affair. The Vatican themselves couldn’t have scripted a better way to turn Vigano’s public image into that of a Right-wing loon.
In what follows I am going to focus on Vigano’s recent Molotov cocktails hurled at the legitimacy of Vatican II. It is his most serious set of condemnations to date and it needs a robust response. Of course, given his recent flurry of de fide pronouncements it would not surprise me if by the time I post this blog entry he hasn’t accused the Pope of Pachamama apostasy after the Vatican’s recent minting of that silly “Earth momma” coin. Remember… you heard it here first.
The most damning of his accusations is that he accuses Vatican II of heresy both explicit and implied. He calls on Pope Francis or a future Pope to officially suppress the Council as having no weight. He claims that the implementation of the Council, in the horrible direction it took, proves that those bishops, who were also bishops at the Council, understood Vatican II to be a rupture with Tradition. And so he has no time for folks like Joseph Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla who claimed that the Council itself was not the problem but its interpretation and implementation were. They both called for the post-conciliar hermeneutic of rupture to be rejected and replaced with a hermeneutic of reform that embraces a development of doctrine within an overarching continuity. Vigano dismisses these two conciliar participants and popes because he deems them not sufficiently “woke” to the true nature of the problem, which was Vatican II as such, whose documents are riddled with little ambiguous time bombs, planted there intentionally by liberal saboteurs designed to explode in the belly of the Church some years later. He goes so far as to call Vatican II a “diabolical Council” (Conciliabolo) that should be suppressed. He has made various comments on the Council in differing venues but you can see the clearest expressions of his views here.
Before I begin with a substantive critique of Vigano’s dissent from Magisterial teaching I just can’t help but comment on what strikes me as the arrogant elitism in these charges. His claims to some kind of superior knowledge smacks of a Gnostic illumination that he and his followers alone are privy to, but which has eluded the likes of John Paul and Benedict. I call him “Vigano the Valentinian” since his mythopoetic construction of the various “powers” that were the true ruling archons of the Council is as complex, and as opaque, as the celestial archons of the Valentinian Gnostic cosmos. Many scholars, vastly superior in intellect and erudition than Vigano, have studied the Council and its history in great depth. But they have all been wrong since they did not have Vigano’s magic decoder ring, which comes free with every box of Freemason Flakes and which can only be purchased from Vigano himself in Taylor Marshall’s basement. There … some snark for those who aren’t allergic to sarcasm.
Returning then to the Council itself let us begin with the most basic facts that cannot be denied by any responsible son or daughter of the Church. Specifically, that Vatican II was a perfectly valid Council, comprised of the world’s perfectly valid bishops, and promulgated by Popes Saint Paul VI, Saint John Paul II , Benedict XVI and Francis – – all of whom were/are validly elected popes. Given the weight of these facts you can then add one more: Vatican II is a magisterial document of a very high order and contains within its documents both Dogmatic Constitutions and various other “decrees” of a lesser magisterial order, but which, taken together, comprise a powerful body of magisterial teaching. Therefore, to deny any or all of these facts is to place oneself outside of the teaching magisterium of the Church. In short, you are a theological dissenter of an equally high order. Indeed, a dissenter whose dissent is of several orders of magnitude higher than that of, say, Charles Curran and the other dissenters from Humanae Vitae so loathed by people like Vigano.
Vigano claims that he accepts all of these facts, which is odd considering that he later goes on to accuse the Council of teaching “heresy or near heresy.” What the heck is “near heresy” anyway? He does not say what he means by “near heresy,” which is convenient for his argument since if something is “near heresy” it is, by definition, not heresy. I am reminded of the movie The Princess Bride where “Miracle Max” declares to Wesley’s friends that Wesley isn’t “really dead” but only “mostly dead.” Which is to say that Wesley wasn’t dead at all. This is a studied ambiguity on Vigano’s part, which is bizarre considering his apparent hatred of ambiguity – – except, apparently when the ambiguity serves his purpose of appearing to remain in communion with Rome when he really isn’t.
Furthermore, Vigano goes on to state, in an apparent contradiction with his claim that Vatican II is a valid Council, that if a Council teaches heresy then it really isn’t an ecumenical council after all. So here we have, once again, another example of his studied ambiguity where he claims that the Council is valid, but also, strangely, that it isn’t, and should be officially declared null and void by a future pope. Can someone please get me one of those decoder rings so I can make sense of this bowl of Fruit Loops? If I had to hazard a guess my hunch is that all of these various prevarications on his part are really just dog whistles to his followers and enablers, providing them with an intellectual matrix (such as it is) that allows them to appear to remain within the Church of Rome all the while espousing a theology that is closer to the SSPX than they want to admit.
What Vigano never addresses is the theological contradiction concerning Church authority that his position entails. The very “traditionalism” he espouses is founded upon the doctrine of apostolic succession and Petrine supremacy. And yet here he is saying that that same Magisterium has engaged in open heresy. And so he has set himself up as a grand defender of the faith but is in reality a cafeteria Catholic who is opposed to the Magisterium of the Church. And if an ecumenical council ceases to be such if it teaches heresy then what of the validity of the popes who promulgated this putative heresy? Are they now anti popes? So should a future Pope, let’s call him “Innocent Urban I,” declare not only the Council to be a heretical counterfeit whose teachings are null and void, but also declare the post conciliar popes to be anti popes whose entire pontificates should be expunged?? Vigano does not connect his own dots in this matter which is understandable considering that they are not really logical “dots” at all but a mélange of ill-assorted mental fragments. They are the “fragged” remnants of a theology having no Catholic integration remaining.
All of this gives off the stench of schism. He can say all he wants that he is not promoting schism, but his views directly imply schism if one but follow the logic of it all. And I have a newsflash for Vigano and his enablers: Vatican II isn’t going anywhere so if you want to continue urinating on that fire hydrant you are only going to attract other, and less savory, dogs who will do the same, or worse. And if Vigano really is leaning SSPX or even sedevacante in his theology, all the while remaining an archbishop in the Roman Church, then contrary to Taylor Marshall, I think we see who the true “infiltrator” is. The irony of course is that this kind of Golden Corral, buffet line, Catholicism is the very expression of the modernist impulse.
[Sidenote of no relevance to anyone but me: I like Golden Corral (a guilty pleasure that shows I am still in my soul just a blue-collar kid from Nebraska) and do not wish to give it a bad name. But the analogy is an apt one.]
I am sorry Archbishop Vigano, but it is you who must be repudiated, not Vatican II. Are there problems with Vatican II? Of course there are. All Councils leave in their wake certain controversies caused by ambiguous expressions in the documents. To say otherwise is either a manifest lie or a manifest ignorance of history. Vigano says Councils in the past have brought clarity but Vatican II brought chaos. He claims that previous councils haven’t required a “hermeneutic” to decipher them. My goodness, but such a statement scarcely rises to the level of nonsense. Did Nicaea end the Arian controversy? No, it taught against Arius but it did not immediately end the dispute, as Athanasius found out as he battled with Arian emperors and patriarchs suffering numerous exiles for adhering to Nicene orthodoxy. And we still have non-Chalcedonian churches who dissented from that Council. Those early Christological councils were deeply contested affairs full of episcopal and imperial shenanigans. Vigano makes a big deal out of how the liberals “manipulated” Vatican II and the documents. Oh the horror! Really? You mean there were bishops and theologians at Vatican II who weren’t above political maneuvering in order to further their side of the debate? Unprecedented! This entire line of argumentation from Vigano is as brittle as frozen glass and shatters with the slightest prodding of historical knowledge.
This goes as well for his claim that no other Council has ever required a “hermeneutic” to understand it. I hope he does not really mean that and is just trying to score some rhetorical points, because on its face that claim betrays an astounding level of historical ignorance. Those early Christological councils all revolved around heresies that were rooted in certain philosophical schools of thought such as middle Platonism. And in order to combat them the Church had recourse to other philosophical schools of thought. The term “homoousios” is itself not a theological term per se, but one drawn from philosophy and pressed into theological service. Terms such as “nature” and “person” and “substance” were hotly debated with differing schools of thought at play leading to some of the various confusions and disagreements both during the Councils and after. There were in usage both Latin and Greek terms for many of the debated concepts – – terms that many took to be equivalent to each other but weren’t – – a fact which caused many “hermeneutical” problems in how to interpret the conciliar decisions. It took centuries for the dust to settle from those early Councils and to a great extent their decisions are still being debated today among theologians.
But hey… only Vatican II brought confusion and needed a hermeneutic. Vigano is a lawyer and not a theologian and it shows. He is as good at doing theology as I am at throwing darts, which, come to think of it, is what he seems to be doing.
What this shows is that Vigano hasn’t the slightest understanding of the kind of “clarity” magisterial teaching is meant to bring. It does not mean that there will be no more dissent or controversy. Indeed, in “settling” matters by siding with one side of the dispute over others, or in charting a middle path between extremes, magisterial teaching often pisses off all of the parties involved. The clarity magisterial teaching brings is the clarity of truth no matter how it is accepted or rejected. And why it is to be counted as “truth” is precisely that it is magisterial – – a fact that should cause a loyal son of the Church to pause, step back, and to wrestle with it. But Vigano has decided that he, and not the Church, is the gate keeper of tradition and so he rejects the current magisterium rather than choosing to wrestle with it. And in so doing he rejects the internal logic of ALL magisteria in the Church from ALL times. He claims to be defending tradition. He isn’t.
One of the key sticking points in Vatican II for these dissenters from papal and conciliar teaching is the development of the Church’s doctrine concerning religious freedom found in Dignitatis Humanae. This is certainly true for the Society of St. Pius X and it is increasingly true of a growing cadre of radical right-wing traditionalists in the Church, including Vigano and Bishop Athanasius Schneider. And of course, there are the talking head blowhards in the right-wing Catholic blogosphere who are also jumping on this cause.
When I read their missives and watch their podcasts, I can only say that they clearly favor a restorationist agenda that would freeze the Church in time. Go to the Summer/Fall 2013 issue of Communio for a truly profound discussion of Dignitatis Humanae. There you will find real theology and not this mush of muddle-headed anger. There you will find serious theologians grappling with magisterial teaching seeking continuity with the past in order to forge ahead into the future. What they do not do is throw up their hands and say “this is too hard, better to just chuck the whole thing.” That is simply not an option for a faithful Catholic who is not under the spell of a restorationist fever-dream.
Vigano seems to accept the common assumption that Vatican II taught a version of religious indifferentism on the part of the State and that religious freedom is to be affirmed because of a general view of freedom as “personal autonomy.” Thus, so the narrative goes, Vatican II affirmed that the State should not be coercive in matters of religion because it violates this space of autonomy. And he is right to reject such a notion as contrary to the Tradition.
Fortunately, that is not what Vatican II taught and therefore Vigano’s claim that the Council teaches heresy in this matter is simply wrong. There were indeed liberals at the Council, and some Americans, who espoused the erroneous view of freedom in the civil sphere as simple autonomy – – with autonomy defined as the mere absence of coercion. However, despite their best efforts to spin the interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae in their direction, the Council, to its credit, went with the French bishops at the Council who, with the support of folks like Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla, taught that religious freedom must be respected in a civil sense because freedom is oriented to truth, and more importantly, truth is meaningless without freedom. Ratzinger’s cogent defense of Dignitatis Humanae hinges on this deep relation between truth and freedom as our guiding anthropological rubric. Furthermore, the Council reaffirms the traditional teaching that all human beings have a moral obligation to seek the truth about God, which is precisely why governments should give them the right to do so. Therefore, what we see is that the Council endorsed a fully orthodox view of freedom as a “right” that is rooted in a prior “obligation,” which entails a Christologically grounded positive view of freedom rather than a purely formal Liberal notion of freedom as a neutral entity that merely needs to be “left alone.”
For someone like Vigano to claim that the Council teaches that the State should be indifferent toward religious truth is a sign that he is reading the Council through the lens of his own hermeneutic of rupture because the Council, as almost all reputable theologians note, was in its essence a Christocentric one and not the liberal nightmare Vigano scopes out. Ratzinger, for example, roots his entire analysis of Dignitatis Humanae in the Council’s “Christological concentration” with Christ seen as the only proper metric for defining the true nature of what freedom is. Indeed, the title of this blog “Gaudium et Spes 22” (a paragraph John Paul said was the key to the whole Council) is a reference to the following affirmation in the document:
“The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come,(20) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.”
For an excellent summation of this conciliar trajectory you really should read the excellent article in Communioby David L. Schindler which you can link to here. You do not have to agree with Schindler’s conclusions (I do) in order to see that, at the very least, Dignitatis Humanae does not teach what Vigano says it does.
These are complicated questions, obviously, and well beyond the scope of a small blog. But for Vigano to reject Vatican II on this issue is a dangerous lean toward an older integralism that is growing again in popularity in the Right-wing Catholic blogosphere. It is also a shift back toward an older, less Christocentric theology, that was rooted in a degraded and degrading scholasticism. Vigano may want to conjure up the spirit of Cardinal Ottaviani, like Saul with the witch of Endor conjuring up the dead Samuel, but most sober theologians, who possess more than Vigano’s third grade understanding of history, understand that such a hard integralism is a dead end. History has shown that when the faith becomes, in a civil sense, merely regulative rather than transformative it is the faith that is distorted.
The fact of the matter is that Christendom failed. It failed because it lacked charity and it too often turned to the power of the State to coercively enforce orthodoxy, often in bloody ways. The rise of secular modernity is as much a result of this failure as it was a repudiation of an order that was “working.” The kingship of Christ as the crucified Lord – – abased and effaced by the power of the State – – was largely ignored and replaced with a Christ of glory who now rules with an iron fisted form of power, deeply coercive, and bristling with visions of Hell and judgement.
And please note that I am not here defending the Liberal order over all forms of integralism. Because ultimately, all governments are integralist and theological in their ultimate orientations, even if those orientations, as in Liberalism, are hidden behind the false mask of metaphysical neutrality. But even in a future post Liberal order, where the Church is more than a “voluntary society” on a par with the rotary club, there can be no question of going back to an era where human dignity in matters of religious conscience was routinely violated. Modern nations that were once the most integralist with a strong Catholic civil presence are now some of the most aggressively secular and anti-Catholic nations on the planet. And those two realities are linked in a cause-effect relationship I think. Vigano, it would seem, wants to return us to that Church of regulative coercive power. But such an approach, were it to be adopted, would be an unmitigated pastoral catastrophe.
My final point deals with the related issue of salvation outside of the visible boundaries of the Church. This is yet another area where Vigano says Vatican II teaches heresy. Sadly, it is also another example of either his ignorance or his mendacity (or, as I suspect, both). Just when you think Vigano can’t sink any lower under the limbo pole of theological dissent he gives us a reading of Lumen Gentium on the nature of salvation that is deeply distorting and false.
He alleges that Lumen Gentium was ambiguous at best about the centrality of Christ for salvation and cites as evidence Lumen Gentium 16. Vigano takes one line from that paragraph, ripped out of its context, and claims that this is evidence of a dangerous religious relativism. Here is the line he quotes:
“But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.”
Prescinding from the question of whether or not this is an apt description of the God of Islam, one is immediately struck by what is missing in the quote. Namely, the rest of the dadgum paragraph that makes it clear that whatever truth there is in other religions it is a truth rooted in Christ, whether those religions realize it or not. The full paragraph makes it clear that Christ is the only metric for adjudicating the presence of such truths in other religions. Thus, the Council is appealing to the very ancient tradition in the Church fathers of finding “logoi spermatikoi” in the philosophical realm of antiquity and in the mythopoetic imagination of other religions. And the Council thus affirms, in accord with the tradition, that even though other religions are “false religions” in a strict sense, they are not, for all that, simply false tout court. It is truly amazing, really, that Vigano does not see this or, for that matter, that it seems he has blissfully ignored the very title of the document which states that Christ is the light of the nations. Wow, how could the Council have been so dangerously ambiguous?
If you are a Vigano sympathizer you most likely view Thomas Aquinas as the ultimate barometer of what counts as true sacra doctrina. Well then, allow me to point out that the quote from Lumen Gentium begins with an affirmation that the peoples of the world are related to Christ in various ways. And in a footnote they reference Aquinas in the Summa (ST III, Q. 8 a. 3 ad. 1). Aquinas is asking the question of whether or not Christ is the head of the whole human race or just the head of those united to him in explicit faith and sacramental baptism. And he answers that yes, Christ is the head of the whole human race and that non Christians are related to Christ in different ways. Specifically, they are related to Christ through living the moral law in a conscientious way, which he views as an implicit affirmation of the Creator, and through living a life of charity. Thus does Aquinas reject the notion that salvation can only happen in an explicit affiliation with the Church through baptism and that the power of Christ’s salvific action extends into the whole world in various ways.
It would seem, therefore, that Vigano is a lousy Thomist. Perhaps Taylor Marshall can enlighten him.
Vigano’s black and white thinking on the issue of non Christian religions is very much counter to the mainstream Tradition of the Church and thus calls into question Vigano’s self-anointed status as the defender of that Tradition. For according to Vigano, the Church should not seek dialogue with other religions or enjoin Catholics to seek out any truth in those religions, because they are, simply and without further qualification, “false religions.” One is entitled to wonder, therefore, how narrowly Vigano defines the parameters of salvation and if what he is claiming is that there is literally no salvation outside of direct affiliation with the Church. The Council affirms the Tradition. Namely, that there is no salvation outside of Christ, that the Church is the ordinary path to salvation, but that there is salvation outside of the visible Church. For Vigano to object to this conciliar teaching leaves him open to the charge of entertaining a literal understanding of extra ecclesiam nulla salus not altogether dissimilar from that of the excommunicated American Jesuit Father Feeney. Vigano loves to chastise modern popes for their deviations from the Tradition so it is instructive to note that Fr. Feeney was excommunicated under the pontificate of Pius XII. Furthermore, no less a papal monarch than Pius IX affirmed the more expansive reading of extra ecclesiam. So Vigano, in claiming allegiance to the “older” Magisterium, has immersed himself in his own boiling cauldron of oil.
Finally, on a theological level, there is grave peril in denying that humanity in general possesses a religious sense that is able to acknowledge, in however an opaque form, certain truths about the Creator. To say that only Christianity possesses truth and that the general religious sense of humanity is just a dung-heap of demonic error is to undercut the very means by which people come to see the truth of Christianity in the first place. St. Paul made use of the statue to the “unknown god” at the Areopagus to appeal to the Greek’s own religious sensibilities as a jumping off point for evangelization. And even though many early Church fathers opposed the entire State enforced apparatus of cultic paganism they nevertheless appealed to the inchoate sense of God that even the pagans possessed. One need look no further than their robust appropriation of Platonic ideas for further corroboration. Grace builds on nature, it does not violently supplant it with something utterly foreign and alien.
There is, therefore, a latent ideological violence in Vigano’s theological assault on the idea that there is truth in other religions. A violence that was the very reality that Vatican II was trying to defang. Vigano hates Vatican II and perhaps now we can see why. In a world torn asunder by balkanized violence the last thing we need from the Church on a pastoral level is an affirmation of a dangerous theological exclusivism that is really just an ideological tribalism in disguise. Vigano’s recipe for “restoring the order” is, tragically, a call to restore an order of coercion and repression whose day has long since passed.
The irony in all of this is that Vigano’s fulminations would have placed him at odds even with the pre Vatican II Magisterium. I have serious doubts that his calumny towards modern popes, and the current Pope in particular, and his rejection of a valid ecumenical council would have been ignored in the older papacies he so lionizes. Furthermore, laymen like Taylor Marshall, as my wife Carrie noted to me this morning, can do what they do precisely because of Vatican II’s universal call to holiness and the related opening up of new pathways for lay participation in the Church. Indeed, Marshall’s book “Infiltration”, with its spittle-flecked orations concerning Freemason corruptions of the Council and the papacy, would most likely have ended up on the forbidden index of books.
In conclusion I would like to address some of the criticisms a few people have sent my way concerning this whole series of blogs on the “low hanging fruit” of these dissenters. I have been asked why it is I have chosen to “go after” people who are only trying to bring people back to the faith and who are really our “natural allies” in the fight against modernism. But this bespeaks a wrong-headed “no enemies to the Right of me” mentality that would have us remain silent in the face of deep errors. Furthermore, it is a question begging criticism since I do not think these people are truly traditional in any sense and are, in fact, heretical, modernist, dissenters from Magisterial teaching. They are not trying to bring people back to the Church. Rather, they are encouraging people to leave the real Church in favor of their counterfeit Church. And THAT Church – – the counterfeit one – – is a false Church and a form of idolatry. They are all obsessed with “Pachamamagate” as a papal endorsement of idolatry. They need to look in the mirror.
This is the first part in a series I am calling “Low hanging fruit.” I call it that because I am going to be criticizing some easy targets – – people like Taylor Marshall (today’s installment), Michael Voris and Archbishop Vigano. All three claim to be in continuity with the Catholic tradition. And yet, given their frequent critical remarks concerning the Magisterium of the modern Church, their notion of continuity is most aptly captured in the image above.
But before I begin some brief remarks are in order.
This new blog is devoted to defending Vatican II, ressourcement theologie, and the post Vatican II papacies from unfair critique from mostly the far right-wing of the Church. But I want to be clear that I am not opposed to legitimate critique of all three of those realities since they do contain flaws that need discussing in a sane and measured manner. I myself have major issues with some elements of Vatican II as well as some of the post Vatican II papal antics (like John Paul II at Assisi or Francis and his “synodal way”). But there is a way to critique the contemporary Magisterium and there is a way not to. Therefore, what I will be criticizing in this series are those who engage in criticisms of the modern Church that I think are vicious, unfair, and lacking in theological nuance.
Furthermore, since I count myself as a theologian in the ressourcement tradition (I did my dissertation on Balthasar, the traditionalist’s favorite whipping boy) I consider myself a variant of the “traditionalist” camp since the very point of ressourcement thinking is that we need to “go back to the sources” in order to renew the Church. As my friend James Matthew Wilson says: “you can only make progress by walking backward.” Therefore, I think many of the hyper traditionalist critics give traditionalism a bad name. In fact, I don’t really think they are true traditionalists at all, as we shall see. So a great deal of this blog will be devoted to showing that the critics of Vatican II are, ironically, less traditional than the Council.
But let me be clear about something else before I begin. I am critical of these internet Torquemada’s like Voris and Marshall but I also have little sympathy for the therapeutic Gnosticism of modern liberal Catholicism. James Martin might be all on board the sexual revolution’s welcome wagon, but I am not. I have to chuckle when I hear naïve Catholics talk about how the Church must change in a liberal direction or die. Good Lord, what alternate universe do they live in?? They reject the authority of the Pope but accept the authority of Oprah. Poperah as I call her. They are proponents of the thinnest spiritual gruel and seem completely unable to distinguish the Gospel from an infomercial on aromatherapy and essential oils. As a Catholic Worker I do like the liberal Catholic focus on social justice, but I find that even here their concerns are mostly framed by Leftist secular politics rather than the Church. Therefore, I tend to just ignore them since liberal Catholicism is a non-replicating dead end anyway – – the gateway drug to agnosticism and indifference.
For me the really important fault lines exist within the theological topography of those Catholics who are “conservative” or “traditional”. And lately, in large part as a reaction against some of the ambiguities of the Francis papacy, there has emerged a radicalized wing of the traditionalist movement, led by people like Taylor Marshall, Michael Voris, and Archbishop Vigano, whose rhetoric has become ever more harsh in its descriptions of Vatican II, modern theology, bishops like Robert Barron, and Pope Francis in particular. I will be dealing with each of them in turn in this series. I call them “low hanging fruit” because, quite frankly, they are not hard to refute.
So why then bother with them? Why give them even more attention? Because they are deeply influential and, therefore, require a response. Ignoring them will not make them go away and there are people I care about who, sadly, have come under their baneful influence. I will begin with the lowest hanging of the fruits – – Dr. Taylor Marshall – – and then move on to Voris and Vigano in future installments.
But before I begin my analysis of Marshall and my arguments against his criticisms of Pope Francis, I want to make something very clear. In defending Pope Francis against Taylor Marshall’s criticisms I am really defending the integrity of the papacy as such more than I am defending this particular Pope and his pontificate. No Pope is above criticism, of course, and I myself have had some issues with every Pope in my lifetime. And that includes Pope Francis. As this blog post proceeds you will see what some of those issues are. But some of the current Pope’s critics seem to forget that by alleging that Francis teaches heresy the entire integrity of the papacy is called into question. It is a charge, therefore, that requires an equally serious rebuttal.
In other words, people need to get their minds around the idea that Francis really is the Pope (his election was valid as was Benedict’s resignation) and therefore what he teaches magisterially must be taken seriously. Therefore, it is incumbent upon orthodox theologians in particular to place his teaching within the broader Tradition of the Church in order to place it in continuity with that Tradition and to examine in what ways he might also be developing it in creative, if not always clear, ways. The claim leveled by many that he teaches heresy in his official capacity as Pope calls into question not only the very validity of this papacy, but it also damages the papal office in general, the concept of apostolic succession, and the very credibility of Church office to teach magisterially. Therefore, those among the Catholic far Right of the “traditionalist” movement who accuse him of heresy are cutting off the very branch upon which they are sitting. That they cannot see this is baffling unless of course they harbor and hide certain sedevacantist tendencies insofar as they openly claim that this Pope is a heretic. Because if a Pope teaches heresy in his official capacity as Pope, then he has made himself into an anti-pope, which is what I think many of his critics secretly believe. At least the openly sedevacante crowd is consistent in their awareness of what the logic of their position entails.
Now, without further delay, on to Dr. Taylor Marshall.
Marshall, as most of the readers of this blog are no doubt aware, has become an internet sensation among Right wing Catholic traditionalists peddling his witch’s-brew of quasi-apocalyptic warnings that the “Great Apostasy” is upon us in the papacy of Pope Francis. And as the years have gone by Dr. Marshall’s rhetoric with regard to Pope Francis has gotten increasingly shrill, conspiratorial, and vapid. Beyond his low quality YouTube videos (the low quality gives his videos the air of “an underground lair” vibe where the possibility exists that Vigano is actually hiding in his basement) there is his book “Infiltration” which makes all kinds of shocking, but unsubstantiated, claims that there has been a palace coup at the highest levels of the Church with “modernists” now in charge of everything. It seems there is nothing Pope Francis says and does that Marshall doesn’t melt down in his Easy Bake Oven and then recast as Freemasonry. And even when there is no way to distort some of the Pope’s clearly orthodox statements there is the constant insinuation, as I have said elsewhere, that this is just a deceptive strategic move on the Pope’s part in order to divert our attention from the Freemason flying monkeys he has sent into the Church through other doors.
Obviously, there is YouTube subscriber money to be had in ginning-up the base of pious paranoids, but there are limits to how far you can push such rhetoric and still retain your credibility as a commentator. And Marshall of late has veered ever more sharply toward a view of Vatican II, modern theology, and the post Vatican II papacies, that is, for all intents and purposes, the same as that espoused by the SSPX crowd. Indeed, he has veered so far in this direction that he lost his original Tonto-esque sidekick, Tim Gordon, over this very issue. Why he doesn’t just go over to the SSPX I do not know for sure since his theology is nearly identical to theirs, but my hunch is that it would jeopardize his popularity with, and income from, the far Right Catholics who would view such a move as a bridge too far. But how Marshall can hold that the Pope is a heretic and a promoter of idolatry (Pachamama), and who, at the very least, harbors Freemason sympathies, and remain a Catholic in communion with Rome, is beyond me.
I will take as my point of departure Marshall’s recent video analysis of the Pope’s new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. The encyclical is an encapsulation of just about everything the Pope has taught in the entirety of his pontificate and so Marshall’s commentary also allows him to cover all of his usual bases. If you can stomach it and have an hour of your life to throw away you can access his video here.
The first thing that leaps out at you are the two pictures that frame the video screen. One is of the Pope presiding over a Pachamama prayer service and the other is of him receiving the hammer and sickle crucifix that was a gift to him from the former Bolivian president Evo Morales. So one is immediately aware of Marshall’s repeated claims that the Pope is guilty of promoting idolatry and blasphemy. I too share Marshall’s distaste for the entirety of the Pachamama debacle. I wrote about the Amazon Synod and Pachamama at length here. But as I said then it is by no means clear that the Pope’s intention was to promote the idolatrous worship of a strange deity. In fact, it is almost certainly the case that he was not. As I wrote:
“… [Pachamama] was indeed handled in a ham-handed way by the Vatican at the Synod, but in my view it wasn’t so much a nod toward “paganism” as it was simply a lame attempt at inculturation that was mired in kitsch and the optics of public relations. Still, the Pope does manage a defense of the event by criticizing those who say that indigenous symbols cannot be appropriated by the Church in the service of the Gospel.”
It is true that at the prayer service there were those in attendance who bowed down before the statue in veneration or worship (?). But the Pope did not do so and at the end of the service he discarded his prepared remarks and ended the event with the simple recitation of the Lord’s prayer. It is not altogether unreasonable, therefore, to surmise that Francis too thought the event was over the top and so ended the affair with the prayer taught to us by Christ himself. That is a charitable reading of the Pope’s actions to be sure, but it is one that fits the facts far better than Marshall’s puerile suggestion that the Pope himself was going all syncretist on us. Nothing in the entire Pachamama cycle of events necessarily leads to that conclusion or even suggests it, so it would seem that it is Marshall who has a desire for it to be true, which speaks to an animus he holds against Francis that goes beyond what the facts warrant. Pachamama was indeed a silly thing worthy of criticism, but it was not the promotion of idolatry as Marshall claims.
Indeed, and not to put too fine a point on it, Marshall helped to fund the travels of the Austrian young men who stole the Pachamama statues and threw them into the Tiber. Which is, of course, a crime, with which Marshall was a complicit co-conspiritor. I hope he isn’t planning on any travels to Rome soon…
Along the same lines, the Pope’s reception of the hammer and sickle crucifix in the midst of a diplomatic meeting with the Marxist Bolivian head of State – – a crucifix Marshall labels as “blasphemous” (which it may or may not be) – – in no way implies that Francis approved of it. Pope Francis did not explicitly condemn the crucifix, but so what? Are we to leap to the conclusion that the Pope is sympathetic with blasphemy just because he politely received a gift without comment?
I dwell on these two photos at length because they speak volumes about Marshall’s hermeneutic of deep suspicion when it comes to interpreting this Pope. As I said above, I am no fan of Francis either, but he is the Pope and, therefore, out of respect for the papal office we should as Catholics seek first a charitable and expansive approach to the Pope’s words and deeds, rather than immediately assuming the worst in all cases. Because Marshall does not just assume the worst about Pope Francis in some cases but does so in all cases. And these two photos that he deliberately uses to frame his video in order to poison the well of trust from the get-go makes that clear. And it is troublesome because it seems to be a deliberate calumny completely unmoored from facts. In short, this is not how a faithful Catholic approaches the papal office and makes one wonder if a distorting and reactionary ideology is not in play here rather than a genuine concern for the integrity of the faith. For every “Pachamama event” Marshall can reference I can reference 100 statements from Francis on the centrality of Christ for salvation. In light of this fact, a devout Catholic – – and not one motivated by some kind of pseudo-traditionalist ideology – – will give the Pope the benefit of the doubt and would not immediately leap to the conclusion that the Pope is advocating idolatry.
As for the encyclical itself Marshall makes the ridiculous claim that it is not even an encyclical because the Pope does not address it specifically to the Church! He goes on at length about this absurd claim which is strange to say the least. The Pope says it is an encyclical. The Vatican says it is too. The entire Church has received it as an encyclical. But the Pope of the internet, Taylor Marshall, knows better and is here to inform his viewers that they have been duped. Marshall does not say so explicitly, but one gets the impression that the reason he harps on this is that he wants to call into question its magisterial status. But the entire diatribe is a red herring since Fratelli Tutti, no matter if it is an encyclical or not (it is) is most certainly a magisterial document since the Pope published it as an official document of his papal teaching office. Marshall also ignores Church history here since the specific thing called an encyclical has only been around for about three hundred years, with papal teaching before that time exercised in a variety of documents and venues. Indeed, much of what we would now consider binding papal teaching was promulgated in letters to local Synods or even a specific bishop. Was the Tome of Leo an encyclical? No. But it sure as heck became magisterial.
This is, yet again, just one more illustration of Marshall’s disingenuousness and/or ignorance. And if it is just ignorance it is shocking that someone taken so seriously by thousands of devotees as a grand defender of the Tradition should be so consistently fimiculous in his understanding of the same.
Marshall then lashes out at the titular theme of the encyclical and states, absurdly, that the Pope’s concern for the fraternal unity of the human race is rooted in the unity we all share with Adam and not that of Christ. He therefore accuses the Pope of ignoring human sinfulness and that Francis is rooting his observations in the Freemasonic ideals of the French Revolution rather than that of the Trinity! This completely stupid reading of the document is a pure fantasy-camp concoction of the fever swamps in Marshall’s conspiratorial imagination. Many popes have reminded us of the importance of human solidarity in the bonds of charity and such reminders in no way imply that this solidarity bypasses Christ, even when those same popes do not explicitly mention Christ. But in Marshall’s febrile mental world such calls for solidarity by this Pope are evidence of Freemasonic perfidy. The Pope has admonished the world to love one another!! Oh my!! This is what Fatima predicted! Sometimes I really do wonder if Vigano isn’t really hiding in his basement.
The Pope does indeed quote the motto of the French revolution (Liberty, equality, Fraternity). I wish he hadn’t, if for no other reason that it gives ammunition to people like Marshall for attacking the Pope’s motives. But if one places the Pope’s quote in the broader message of the encyclical it is hard to see how Francis can be accused of secretly harboring the ideals of that revolution. In fact, the entirety of the Pope’s message makes it clear that it is exactly that kind of political violence that he is arguing against. In a very real sense therefore it would be more in keeping with the facts to view the Pope’s quote as an attempt at taking these ideals back from the revolutionaries and reclaiming them for Christ. Only someone intent on vilification and calumny would see here evidence of Freemasonry. As I have said elsewhere, the only thing people like Marshall have not accused the Pope of (yet) is the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby. But that might be next.
Part of the problem is Marshall’s reliance upon word count exegesis of the text. He points out that terms like “God the Father,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Holy Spirit” are rarely mentioned in the document. The implication, of course, is that the document is lacking in a specific Christian orientation and is, once again, an example of this Pope’s usual insouciance toward the faith. But this ignores the broader history of social encyclicals as a genre where popes are engaged in a natural law analysis of human social relations rather than a straight-up theological accounting of the same. When you apply this same word count nonsense to those encyclicals (e.g. Rerum Novarum) one finds the exact same linguistic patterns as in Fratelli. So once again Marshall is being either disingenuous or ignorant or both. Furthermore, the terms “Father” and “Jesus” and “Spirit” do show up in the encyclical with some frequency so Marshall is guilty of a bit of sleight of hand here. But such clever legerdemain is unbecoming in any serious attempt at grappling with the text charitably. Which of course, this isn’t.
[Side note]. In a wonderful article over at the blog “Where Peter is” (which you can link to here) there is a masterful takedown by Mike Lewis of just this sort of word search exegesis. I highly recommend it as an adjunct to this blog post of mine. You can find it here. In the interest of proper attribution I want to acknowledge my debt to Mike Lewis in this part of my analysis.
At every turn Marshall finds nothing but a dangerous globalism, relativism, and a false humanism in the Pope’s message. Fratelli Tutti’s call for sovereign States to be more welcoming of immigrants and aware of our moral obligation to share our largesse with those who have nothing – – a call which is clearly rooted in the Catholic teaching on the universal destination of goods – – is caricatured, and then lampooned, by Marshall as calling for an end to all borders tout court. But the Pope says nothing of the sort. This is just an empirically false claim. Marshall then throws out the usual canard about the Vatican City State having borders and wonders, in a snotty and condescending tone, if he could just drop in on Francis for lunch, given the Pope’s putative call for an end to all borders. The Pope is not arguing for the erasure of all borders. What he is saying is that borders are not absolute and that in a humanitarian crisis the moral law requires the sharing of goods to the extent that we are able. Can one imagine Jesus saying otherwise? So now I am just going to say it: Marshall’s analysis here is just mendacious Right wing bullshit dressed up as a defense of the Catholic faith.
Marshall, in an attempt to avoid criticism, then feigns a concern for immigrants and wants to make it clear that we should help the less fortunate. But only outside of our borders. As he puts it “that is what foreign aid is for.” Which ignores the fact that foreign aid is often sent into a black hole of corruption and embezzlement and never reaches the people in need. Which is why those people are on the move in the first place. And there is also the sad reality of war (as in Syria or Libya) which is a further cause of emigration. I hope Taylor Marshall never comes to my door asking to borrow a cup of sugar because I will send him away with the reminder that that is what grocery stores are for. Care for the stranger at our door is a central biblical concept in both Testaments and is a core teaching in several forms of Catholic spirituality – – most notably the Benedictine Rule – – but for Marshall such wacky ideas are the fruit of George Soros and his allies in the “infiltrated” Freemason Vatican.
What is it with these “rad traddies” and their fixation on a certain kind of Right wing, populist, politics? The sheer chutzpah of someone like Marshall in accusing the Pope of a dangerous globalism all the while pushing his own brand of nativist nationalism as the “Catholic way” is astounding and disgusting. But it explains a lot since Marshall’s “theology” is in reality the usual amalgam of Catholic restorationist delusions and the politics of a resentful bourgeois pettiness. The fact that this amalgam is not really theology proper but an ideological construct can be seen in the fact that in this instance (immigration) Marshall actually uses his so-called “theology” to argue against a core Gospel concept. But what the heck, it caters to a certain flag-waving crowd of Americanists whose nationalistic idolatry makes the Pachamama affair look like mere amateur hour theatrics.
Marshall then criticizes the Pope’s statements on racism as being the same, ideologically, as the Black Lives Matter movement. Why does he claim this? Because the Pope dares to point out that the insidiousness of racism resides in the fact that even when it is not conscious and overt it can go underground, so to speak, and manifest itself in other ways. Marshall sees this as dangerous and false and that it is somehow rejecting the possibility of true conversion away from sin. The reality, of course, is that the Pope is correct in his insight and is in no way saying that conversion is impossible. But like a good doctor diagnosing hidden disease, many spiritual masters in the history of the Church have pointed out how our sins can elude us, since we are masters of self-deception, and that we need, therefore, to constantly examine our consciences in a thorough manner and perhaps even with a good spiritual director. As Christ says, some demons require intense prayer and fasting to expunge, beyond the normal routine of our quotidian spiritual exercises, precisely because they are embedded deeply, and often in hidden and deceptive ways, in the warp and woof of our souls. Marshall is thus grossly unfair to the phenomenon of hidden racism that the Pope is referring to here and is clearly just on a fishing expedition to find some dirt in the encyclical that will appeal to his constituency in the torch and pitchfork brigade of extraordinary ministers of the inquisition.
But once again we see Marshall’s politics in play as well. So what if the Pope’s insight on racism is also shared by the Black Lives Matter movement? Is that movement wrong about everything? Might there not be some truth in their statements concerning racism in our culture? One does not have to buy into the whole agenda of that movement to agree on that point. I could just as easily point out to Marshall, following his own logic, that when he prays the rosary he is using prayer beads. Muslims use prayer beads too. Uh oh.
But what Marshall is banking on here is that the mere mention of BLM is like red meat tossed out to his YouTube subscribing, and therefore lucrative for him, clientele. And this is precisely why his message isn’t just wrong or uncharitable to the Pope, but insidious and malicious. Tagging the Pope with the smear of being a BLM sympathizer and a devotee of their critical race theory, without a shred of evidence, in order to gin up his base bespeaks a fundamental desire to manipulate, which is the mark of a demagogue.
But Marshall isn’t done with his manipulations. He goes on to accuse the Pope of religious relativism simply because Francis is big on “dialogue” with non-Christian religions and that we should acknowledge that there is truth in other religions. Yes, I agree, the Pope butchers the history of Saint Francis’s meeting with the Sultan and downplays the true motivation of that meeting as a desire to convert. It is the worst part of the encyclical in my view and does show why Francis is at times too loosey-goosey with facts just to fit his narrative of peace and harmony. I also think the Pope’s signing off on the Abu Dhabi statement was scandalous and wrong. Just as I found Pope Saint John Paul’s kissing of a Koran and his interreligious prayer meeting in Assisi to be a scandal. But I think in all of this we are not witnessing a papal endorsement of syncretistic relativism so much as we are seeing a silly attempt at a kind of superficial amity and hospitality toward different houses of faith. Both John Paul and Francis have made it abundantly clear that Christ is central to salvation. So all of this other stuff is to me just so much papal diplomatic puffery. It is important, but not in any determinative way.
All that said Marshall goes further and states that these other religions should not be acknowledged as containing truth because only Christ is the truth. And Catholicism is the one true religion with all others being nothing more than “false religions.” But this scorched earth “either-or” approach is contrary to the Catholic faith and is, once again, ignorant of the Church’s history. For it is simply not the case that the Church teaches that there is no truth worthy of commendation and study in other faiths. Yes, Catholicism is the one true religion insofar as it and it alone has been vouchsafed the fullness of Revelation. But our understanding of that Revelation is not complete and develops over time as the Church encounters new cultures and situations. And so any insinuation that we should just condemn all other religions and to ignore them is a vision of theology that is insular and stunted in the extreme. Were one to pursue that path it would actually harm the faith, not help it.
Just as a person learns a great deal about his or her own language by studying another, so too can one learn about the Christian faith by studying the religious sense in general, how this sense has been instantiated in various mythopoetic schemes, and the many ways Christianity has fulfilled, deepened, and corrected them. In fact, I would further claim that one cannot understand Christianity in any great depth at all unless one does such an analysis. Marshall’s insipid insistence, therefore, that we can safely ignore all of these other false religions is the theological equivalent of the “speak English here damn it or get out” mentality. It is a kind of theological nativism that is arrogant and ignorant. And there is nothing more annoying than a blowhard know-it-all who is simultaneously in possession of both those qualities.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says that our awareness of God has come to us in three ways. First is the moral conscience. Second is what he calls “good dreams.” And third is through the Jewish tradition – – which of course includes Christianity. But what Lewis means by “good dreams” is the religious and mythopoetic imagination of humanity. Yes much of that imagination is distorted – – and some even demonic – – but some of it isn’t. And unless humanity had already been in possession of a genuine religious sense then it would never have seen the truth of the Gospel as the fulfillment of that sense. It would have been like asking someone who has been blind from birth if they would like a pair of binoculars for Christmas. Grace builds on nature and so too with Revelation. Like Paul at the Areopagus all Pope Francis is saying is that we must be ever on the look-out for the logoi spermatikoi littered throughout the human religious landscape.
Therefore, because he rejects this teaching of the Church I accuse Taylor Marshall of infidelity to the Catholic Tradition. The Pope is right and Taylor Marshall is wrong. Full stop. And it exposes Marshall’s so-called “traditionalism” as no real traditionalism at all. What he is instead is just an extremely superficial proponent of a small slice of post Tridentine Catholicism in a mostly Euro-American, twentieth century, suburban, bourgeois register. He was upset, for example, that the encyclical was published in Italian instead of Latin. Oh the horror. Get over it.
Finally (thank God) Marshall goes after the Pope’s statements on war and the death penalty. Many others have also expressed concern over the Pope’s stance toward capital punishment as standing in possible contradiction to previous Church teaching. It is a complicated issue which I discuss in an article of mine on Fratelli Tutti which you can access here. Suffice it to say that I reject the notion that the Pope has contradicted past teaching and affirm instead that he is doing nothing more than doubling-down intensively on the teaching of John Paul on that topic. He studiously avoids the language of “intrinsic evil” in condemning the death penalty which I think is important. Perhaps both Francis and John Paul are wrong (I don’t think they are) but what they teach is certainly not heretical nor is what they teach put forward as infallible and unreformable. And so it is yet another red herring of Marshall’s to bring it up as further evidence that this Pope is a dangerous innovator. The issue is a complex one, but Marshall splits hairs with a dull axe and offers nothing of value in his analysis of the topic.
Similarly, Marshall trashes the Pope’s teaching on war and his call for international cooperation in order to avoid it in the future. Marshall becomes unhinged and quite sarcastic as he imagines putting Francis in a time machine and transporting him back to confront Moses, King David, the Maccabees, and Charlamagne on the topic of war and imagines him enjoining them all to merely “dialogue” with their enemies in order to pacify disputes. Forget for a second the sheer nastiness of this thought experiment and focus instead on the anachronistic, puerile, nonsense that undergirds it. It seems to have escaped his notice that war has changed in the modern world from what it was in the ancient past. The weapons of mass destruction in modern arsenals, possessed by even impoverished States, and the vast, vast increase of the destructive power of modern warfare, as well as the manipulative mendacity over the sources of information that governments wield today, make modern warfare uniquely troubling in a moral sense.
Thus, Pope Francis is doing nothing more than continuing a trajectory of papal teaching that began with Paul VI, who he quotes: “No more war!” Nowhere does the Pope openly embrace a total pacificism. Nowhere does he condemn the principle of legitimate self-defense. His voice instead is a prophetic one, issuing a strong warning on just how perilous modern warfare has become. Marshall does not seem the slightest bit troubled by war and falls back on the usual bromides that only someone who has never experienced war would say. My father was in combat in the Korean war. My father is very conservative. And my father hates war. Hates.War.
There is also the fact that preparation for war-making has become a central component of many economies, most especially the United States. We sell to the world tanks, planes and bombs without blinking an eye, as if what we are selling is no more significant than a freighter loaded with candy and condoms. We wage wars, destabilize countries, topple governments, assassinate foreign operatives, rain death from above with drones, all in the name of making the world safe for our pornified culture of consumeristic acquisition. And Taylor Marshall wants to know what the Pope’s beef with war and its attendant war industry is?? Marshall claims that Pope Francis is not too fond of the United States. Neither am I. And our war industry is a chief reason why. But thankfully, loving what America has become is not a Gospel category.
Marshall makes a big deal over the fact that Francis states in footnote (#242) that we can no longer hold to St. Augustine’s development of “just war” theory. I admit that I too find that statement a bit strange, but more for being cryptic than for anything else. Marshall states that he alone seems to have taken notice of this footnote and uses it to condemn the Pope and submit him to his fanciful time machine travel. But in reality it could just be the Pope’s way of saying what many others have said – – very orthodox theologians among them. Namely, that just war theory has deep flaws owing to the fact that many of its criteria involve the use of prudential judgments that are in turn based on conjecture and speculation. For example, the criterion that the war in question cannot cause more damage and harm than the evil that is being confronted. It is often impossible to know such things in advance. There is also the demonstrable fact that every government that desires to go to war can find a way to justify it within just war criteria. So how is something so plastic and so open to polyvalent, prudential interpretation useful any longer as a moral tool for helping us adjudicate these matters? It may the case that just war theory is per se true, but also so open to abuse as to be virtually a tool in the hands of the powerful for covering their various wars with the mantle of moral respectability. And finally, there is the fact that modern wars have simply gotten so destructive that we have reached a tipping point where the presumption against war is virtually always stronger than the presumption for it. And even if just war theory is thus questionable, it still doesn’t mean that a total pacifism is true either. It just means that our analysis of the issue, in the light of modern warfare, needs a new metric.
This, it seems to me, is very similar to what John Paul also taught. But for Marshall, the verdict is in: Pope Francis is a pacifist who has once again contradicted a core aspect of Catholic moral teaching. The fact that what Francis is saying is hardly more than what Paul VI and John Paul had said leads one to suspect that Marshall’s broader dispute is with the entirety of the modern magisterium, including Vatican II, on these and other issues. The fact that ALL of his criticisms are of post Vatican II popes, with Francis as the capstone malefactor, indicates a not so hidden rejection of the modern magisterium. So it seems for Dr. Taylor Marshall that the “infiltration” of the Church by modernists and Freemasons means that the Magisterium is no longer a living Magisterium, but something instead that is frozen in time somewhere in the past. And he thinks the Pope needs a time machine? His whole mind is in a time machine. He is a theological Marty McFly stuck in his broken-down DeLorean somewhere on the via della conziliazione in 1962.
Is Fratelli Tutti a great encyclical? No. I don’t even think it is a particularly good encyclical. But it is an encyclical and it is magisterial. Nor does it teach heresy. It doesn’t even come close to teaching heresy. Insofar as it doesn’t really break any new ground on anything, and insofar as its analysis of contemporary issues is rather thin, cliché, and unfailingly boring, I suspect it will be largely forgotten years from now.
And, one hopes, that will also be true of Taylor Marshall.
“After one has rendered unto God what is God’s, there is nothing left for Caesar”. Dorothy Day
I choose to call this blog Gaudium et Spes 22 because the entirety of my theology and thinking is Christocentric. Gaudium et Spes is a document of the Second Vatican Council that sought to find new ways for the Church to relate to the modern world. It is both central to the conciliar project and increasingly controversial among conservative Catholic commentators. Pope Saint John Paul II identified the 22nd paragraph of the document as the hermeneutical key to the whole. That paragraph has been described by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI as a “christological concentration” since it states that the only proper understanding of human nature must begin and end with Christ. That may sound rather boilerplate and obvious coming from the Catholic Church, but in reality the theology of the Church from the Council of Trent forward had become overly rationalistic and theocentric rather than christocentric.
Beginning in the late 19th century a theological renewal began in the Church that eventually led to what is called the “nouvelle theology” (the “new theology”) that was opposed by many of the hard line Neo-scholastics. Nevertheless, this new theology, also known as “ressourcement theology” (a return to the sources), pressed forward and eventually became the dominating theology of the Council and of all of the Popes since the Council.
But lately this theology, its papal promoters, and even the Council itself have come under increasing attack, especially by elements of the Right wing Catholic blogosphere. Therefore, I decided to start a blog to defend both this theology and the Council. And so I introduce to you Gaudium et Spes 22:
If you are reading this then it means you are probably bored during the Corona virus lockdown and decided to take a look at yet another blog. Or perhaps you have stumbled upon this by accident while surfing the internet in search of a new supply of Ramen Noodles and hand sanitizer. Some of my former students might be checking this out just to make sure that I am not dead, in which case there will probably be widespread disappointment at the discovery that I am very much alive, and still the curmudgeon that they remember. Of course, some of you are reading this because I posted it on Facebook, which, as we all know, is THE source to go to for truth and reasoned commentary. In any case, welcome to this new venture.
But why another blog? That is a really good question since I have to admit at the outset that I tend not to like blogs, and I am also a bit of a luddite (well, more than a “bit” actually). Indeed, I was very disappointed when I discovered, like Homer Simpson, that the internet is on computers now. I also harbor a special disdain for many of the blogs currently fashionable among traditionalist American Catholics, which is odd since I, like Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, am a traditionalist Catholic myself. But I find most of these traditionalist blogs to be facile and pinched-up enterprises loaded with the lard of theological and historical ignorance. Part of the reason for this is that nobody reads books anymore, least of all traditionalists it seems, and most of these bloggers clearly spend the vast majority of their time online, surfing the internet in order to find materials to blog about. And even here, the topics appear to be chosen based on their clickbait value rather than on their profundity, with an eye toward attracting the internet rubber-neckers who only want to read about the latest ecclesiastical car wrecks. As such they are little more than forums of gossipy Jabberwocky and echo chamber ramblings. It really is a rather lazy form of discourse since it mostly entails looking at the day’s headlines and then commenting on it with a spittle-flecked, Ignatius Reilly, hortatory style. They are thus kind of like the old Jack van Impe bible prophecy shows, only with incense and “I hate Pachamama” emojis.
Now, you might say that all sounds rather judgmental. And it probably is, but I don’t really care. This is my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. I will be offering up many such “judgmental” statements as the blog rolls along and I make no apologies in that regard. And that is because our culture and, to a great extent our Church, has lost its mind. Blunt talk, even biting, satirical, and harsh talk, within the bounds of reason and civility, are needed. Therefore, I want to address and dismiss the issue of “being judgmental” at the very beginning of this endeavor. Because often today what passes for a concern for “judgmentalness” is really just a thinly veiled attempt at muzzling and domesticating the Christian evangel in order to secure the blessings of bourgeois suburbia. Accusing someone of “being judgmental” is one of those weaponized simulacrums of Christian virtue used by the champions of technocratic, secular modernity to silence anyone who is critical of their totalizing and, ironically, judgmental agenda. Which is to say, they use such counterfeit virtues to domesticate Christianity and to turn it into the religious equivalent of an aroma therapy boutique.
And all of this is done with great deception, manipulation, and mendacity, lest we figure out that the end-game the secularists have in view is the reduction of society to what I call a “collective of concupiscence”, the goal of which is the furtherance of an alliance between surveillance Capitalism (thank you Shoshana Zuboff for that phrase), the national security State, and the corporate production of shiny things to delight our senses and to entice us into consuming the honey coated arsenic of a million useless products we have been convinced that we need. The hypocrisy is immense, as we are daily lectured, to cite one example by the fundamentalist, secular prophecy crowd on the coming climate apocalypse, even as they vigorously promote the very technocratic and industrial civilization that created the crisis in the first place – – a crisis that is very real but which will never be solved by doubling-down on yet more technocratic solutions to our tech-induced problems. It is like taking LSD to help me get over my nightmares only to discover a whole new level of haunting phantasms.
So I am going to proceed under the assumption that the world, as Peter Maurin noted, has gone crazy. I am also going to proceed under the assumption that I am right about everything. Because, and I say this with the deepest modesty and humility, I usually am. Therefore, I thought of naming this blog after a favorite book of mine: “My Correct Views on Everything” by Leszek Kolakowski. He was a half-crazed Polish philosopher, and I am half Polish, so I am one quarter crazed, assuming of course that “Polishness” is the mark of insanity that I suspect it is. But in all seriousness, and all joking aside about crazy Poles, this does cut to the heart of why I am starting yet another blog. Namely, that I think I have something worth saying that not many people are saying.
I am a bizarre combination of factors: I am a Catholic traditionalist, a theologian and retired theology professor, the owner and manager of a Catholic Worker Farm, a writer, a Romanticist (Romanticism is our only hope by the way), and a selfish blackhole of simmering resentments and not-so-veiled hostilities toward almost everyone. I have also now reached an age (61) where I truly don’t care about such things as my career, reputation, or “standing” in the scholarly community. These days I find most academic writing to be unbearably tedious and, quite frankly, mendacious in a politicized way. In other words, I find most of it, as the Irish say, “pure useless”. And that is not an anti-intellectualist stance. Quite the opposite actually insofar as there is really very little genuine intellect in any of it in the first place. So my blog is not an academic enterprise in the modern sense of that word and seeks instead the recovery of the ancient language of “wisdom”. I hasten here to add that I do not possess such wisdom myself and I am certainly not going to pretend that I do. Indeed, it is my own lack of wisdom, infected as I am with the same bacillus that has driven the modern world insane, that compels me to seek this wisdom elsewhere. And I think that is the same path that was trod by countless others, up to and including Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.
And, at age 61, I also do not care whether or not I can make a living off of this venture by becoming a clickbait, Catholic YouTube star. I couldn’t anyway, even if I wanted to. I might podcast on YouTube someday, but God save me from descending into the madness I see there among some Catholics. The professional, podcasting Catholic chatterers have a vested financial interest in ginning-up “apocalypse fever”. It is indeed true, of course, that we might be living in apocalyptic times, but these MacBook prophets of doom are no Jeremiahs, and are actually nothing more than the Catholic internet equivalent of a supermarket tabloid. If they could cross Archbishop Vigano with Bigfoot and somehow develop a Pachamama UFO connection, they would complete the circle and strike internet gold. The more successful talking heads even come with a kind of Catholic Art Garfunkel sidekick who is just talented enough to say something coherent, but not so talented as to eclipse the host. But it is really all just carefully crafted to create the echo chamber consensus so needed by these festering cankers to gain legitimacy.
And this is one of the other primary reasons I desire to start a new blog. Because devout, traditionalist Catholics who are true traditionalists are being ill-served by this gaggle of self-appointed Torquemada’s. As I said above, I have reached a stage in life where I really don’t care about things like reputation, money, scholarly standing, or whether or not I am a “player” in the game of ecclesiastical Twister. In other words, I think I have something unique to say and I feel like saying it. I hope it isn’t a mere vanity or conceit on my part to think such things, but it really is not often that you find a Catholic Worker who is also a theological traditionalist with an ability (or so I think) to bring those two worlds together. My motives are therefore focused on that specific agenda – – to recover the hyper-traditionalist Catholic vision of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and to show why it is more relevant today than ever (I will elaborate more on what I mean by that below). If you are even mildly interested in that project, I invite you to read what will probably be my thrice weekly ramblings. If you are not, then you can always find other diversions like quilting or socially distanced Mahjong via Zoom. I think those are your primary alternatives but, admittedly, that list may not be exhaustive.
As I noted above, the only reason why I would start yet another stupid blog is that I want to do something in the blogosphere that has not yet, to my knowledge, been done. Namely, to recover the true Catholic charism of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in all of its radicality as a form of hyper traditionalism. And by “hyper-traditionalism” I don’t mean some uber conservative, Tridentine, restorationism on steroids, but rather as a deep “ressourcement” that transcends the tiresome, moribund, and useless debates between SSPX types (which I think most so-called traditionalist Catholics secretly are) and the sexually obsessed so-called progressive Catholics who are really just a conclusion (“the modern secular Left is correct about sex and gender and the Church is full of crap”) in search of ad hoc theological “arguments”.
But presenting my own views as charting a path “between these two facile and related extremes” can itself be a tiresome exercise in setting up false, straw man polarities and then patting myself on the back for being so sane and rational as to avoid them. I always hate when scholars make this rhetorical move since it is so self-serving and usually masks the fact that the author really does sympathize with one side over the other, but is so enthralled by the faux “objectivity” of the academic world that he or she will not make their commitments plain. Sadly, it is kind of built into the DNA of the system since it is the stock-in-trade of most theological dissertations. So I will be clear where my sympathies reside. Despite my often bitter and harsh criticisms of the Catholic Traditionalists, my sympathies lie with their intuition that the modern world has gone off the rails. I just generally think that they get the solutions wrong insofar as their notion of Tradition is theologically thin, myopic, and is often illegitimately used to support other “right wing” causes which they conflate with “orthodoxy” (e.g. the death penalty, capitalism, war, and the downplaying of the environmental crisis). Therefore, in the end I think they give traditionalism a black eye and end up doing more harm than good. As for the other side of the polarity – – Catholic “progressives” – – they are just a silly embarrassment, like an old man who tries to be “hip” but who is always 25 years behind in his perception of current fashions. I have zero patience for such nonsense, having lived through Catholicism’s post Vatican II silly season as a young man. I mean, there is only so much liturgical dancing by maladroit octogenarians in diaphanous outfits that one can take.
Therefore, when I say Dorothy and Peter represent a deep ressourcement that transcends facile categorization I mean it in a truly decentering way. I propose it as a challenge to all of us to think openly and without guile, with deep honesty and a self-introspection rooted in a constant exposing of our motives to the light provided by the crucified and risen Christ. And I hope, therefore, that I too come to be so decentered as I ponder these things and engage in the actual process of writing. The late, great, Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar (on whom I wrote my dissertation) once said that to be “concentric with Christ is to be eccentric to the world”. I forget where he said this, and I am too lazy to look it up. But trust me, he wrote that somewhere. And that is precisely what I seek in my efforts here to explicate the significance of Dorothy and Peter for the modern world.
Hopefully, enough fellow travelers who are also interested in that project will take the time to read. Indeed… to read and even contribute if you are so moved. I invite others to blog in this space as well. Feel free to send me submissions to that end.
One final note and I will end this already too long introduction. Some of the blog posts will be short and mainly meditations on some idea that struck me while engaging in some frivolous, time wasting, dissipation. Other posts will be long and more oriented to a systematic analysis of some issue that I have deemed to be more important than it probably is. Which is to say, you probably won’t read them, but they will be posted all the same and stand as eloquent testimony to my having kissed the Blarney Stone. But whatever the length, all of the posts will be pure genius and worthy of a Pulitzer. If, after reading a few of the posts, you disagree with that assessment and decide to read no more of my deep thoughts then … well … there is always quilting and Mahjong.