(LifeSiteNews) –– Since the Second Vatican Council and its purpose of updating the Church, change has become a myth.
Pope Paul VI made his contribution by describing the march of the contemporary world as an unstoppable evolution, as he attested in his encyclical Populorum Progressio. In the social sciences, the idea of development was imposed and progress acquired an ideological dimension. These were the years of decolonization and the newly independent nations joined the international scene, bringing with them a revolutionary movement crowned with optimism. Progressivism, whose features evoke the antecedents of the modernism of the early twentieth century, condemned by St. Pius X in the encyclical Pascendi and the decree Lamentabili, spread widely in the Church and imposed itself. The first words of these two texts show the extension of the modernist movement to the whole Church and the reproving judgment of Rome. Pascendi dominici gregis expresses the authority of the Successor of Peter and Lamentabili sane exitu the pain at the damage caused by modernism in all areas of ecclesial life.
The reality of change, not myth, is an element that integrates the reality of Christianity. But not just any change. This distinction has been clear since antiquity. In the 5th century, the Gallic-Roman monk St. Vincent of Lerins expressed it in his Commonitorium: in Christianity there is a law of evolution, which proceeds in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu, eademque sententia. Eodem, eodem, eadem: “the same, the same, the same, that is, the sameness of the homogeneous; in heterogeneity is deviation, error, heresy.” This expression has been repeatedly assumed by the magisterium of the Councils. An evolution is the law of Christianity, but not just any evolution, not mythologized change; there is a homogeneous evolution of Catholic dogma, of liturgical rites, of ecclesial institutions.
A modern model of this evolution is found in the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-1958). In the doctrinal order we have the dogmatic definition of the bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven, on November 1, 1950. As for the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, according to the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu, it is admissible to use historical-critical methods and the theory of literary genres to deepen the understanding of the biblical text. Pius XII commissioned the Pontifical Biblical Institute to make a new translation of the Psalms from the Hebrew original. This new version was incorporated into the Roman Breviary, but this operation did not prosper, because the priests were accustomed to the old version of the Jeronimian Vulgate and were displeased with the change. In the field of Liturgy the pontifical initiatives caused admiration; the Easter Vigil was restored at midnight (since the Middle Ages the Resurrection of the Lord was celebrated on Holy Saturday morning); the evening Mass was established; the law of Eucharistic fasting was relaxed; the Roman Rite shone with special solemnity.
The Social Doctrine of the Church was presented as a truly human alternative to the worldwide spread of communism. The Pope supported the 1956 Hungarian revolution against communist totalitarianism, and expressed this attitude in encyclicals such as Luctuosissimi eventus. In this question of communism, the action of Pius XI, who in the encyclical Divini Remptoris described communism as “intrinsically perverse,” is continued.
Special mention should be made of the Pope’s magisterium through sermons and speeches of great variety. The influence of the 1944 Christmas Radio Message on democracy, in which a strong distinction between “people” and “mass” appears, was resounding. It is also worth remembering the words of Pius XII on the laity and the family, and the speeches repeatedly addressed to newlyweds. An element also worthy of special reference is Pius XII’s devotion to the Madonna. I have already quoted the dogmatic definition of the Assumption. Let us note that in this case the Pontiff has made use of the charism of infallibility, which Pius IX in 1854 had exercised in defining the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of the Lord. Catholics firmly believe, as a truth of faith, that Mary Most Holy, at the end of her temporal life, was assumed body and soul into heaven. The definition hides the question of an eventual death of the Virgin. The faithful of the East speak of the Dormition. Pope Pius XII, without declaring it dogmatically, teaches the Queenship of Our Lady.
Other Mariological themes rolled around in Rome in those years, such as the Universal Mediation and the Co-redemption; Pius XII decided on the Assumption.
The incomplete data provided here suffices to disqualify the presentation made by progressivism and its myth of the change of Pius XII as a conservative and troglodytic Pope of “before the Council.” There is one element that progressivism can in no way forgive him: the encyclical Humani generis (1950) in which Pope Pius XII warns against the dangerous tendencies of the “new theology” that served as a precursor of the Council.
I have expanded here to show the continuity with Tradition of a period of authentic renewal of the Catholic religion.
The myth of change has acquired full force with the spread of progressivism, which breaks the continuity of Tradition. In the current pontificate this ideology has taken hold of Rome. A recent episode shows the seriousness of this situation. Pope Francis, according to newspaper reports, condemned the alleged backwardness of some “conservatives” in the Catholic Church in the United States. The qualifier “conservatives” is a political title; more reasonable is “traditionalists,” even considering that “ism” represents an exaggeration of what is expressed “according to tradition” in the sense of the warning of St. Vincent de Lerins; it is the homogeneous continuity that is “current” at the moment in which it is lived. The intervention of the Supreme Pontiff implies a recognition of the “deviations” that are registered among the Catholics of North America, and that are also found in the whole extension of the Catholic faithful.
Francis’ progressive fundamentalism deepens the rift in the Church and endangers its peace; it is this fundamentalism that pushes him to the attitude that La Prensa of Buenos Aires formulates in this headline: “The Pope criticizes the conservatives of the United States for being retrograde.” He disqualifies them, just as he has done with those he calls “indietristas,” those attached to the “indietro” of Tradition. The Pope pronounced these words on August 5 in Lisbon, during his trip to Portugal, in a meeting with Lusitanian Jesuits. At that meeting, a Portuguese Jesuit told Francis that he had suffered during a recent sabbatical year in the United States when he encountered many Catholics, including some bishops, who were critical of the current pontificate and of today’s Jesuits. Francis’ comments are quite revealing of his thinking. He warned that there is “a very strong, organized, reactionary attitude,” and that such an attitude leads to a climate of closed-mindedness that is a mistake; “by doing so, they lose the true tradition and turn to ideologies for support. In other words, ideologies replace faith.”
Still more: “The view of Church doctrine as monolithic is a mistake; when you go backwards you make something close, you detach it from the roots of the Church,” which then has a devastating effect on morality. This last remark is incredible; what is devastating is relativistic moralism of Jesuit flavor. A piece of fatherly advice follows: “I want to remind those people that backwardness is useless, and they must understand that there is a correct evolution of the understanding of the questions of faith and morality” that allows doctrine to progress and consolidate with the passage of time. This approach explains the confusing statements in the text of Amoris laetitia, and the hesitations about the Catholic position on homosexuality. I copy now a paragraph from La Prensa: “Many conservatives have denounced the emphasis Francis has given to social justice issues, such as the defense of the environment and the poor, and consider his inclination to allow divorced and civilly married people to receive the sacraments heretical.”
At the Lisbon meeting the Pope acknowledged the criticisms of the Americans, and jokingly declared that it is “an honor” to receive their denunciations.
It is not necessary for me to dwell now on a critique of these new declarations of the progressive fundamentalism that has its center in Rome; in numerous writings I have shown to what extent it distances itself from the great ecclesial Tradition, and professes a change whose heterogeneity distances it from the true homogeneous evolution of the doctrine, liturgy and institutions of the Church. The formula of St. Vincent de Lerins is fully valid today.
+ Héctor Aguer
Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata.
Buenos Aires, Tuesday, September 5, 2023.
Memorial of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta