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November 28, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – On April 18, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, presiding over a solemn votive Mass for the election of the Roman Pontiff, preached a homily that must have sent shockwaves through the 114 cardinal electors in attendance:

How many doctrinal winds we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many styles of thought! The thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves, tossed from one end to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism, from collectivism to radical individualism, from atheism to religious mysticism, from agnosticism to syncretism.

He warned of the “dictatorship of relativism” and said that Catholics must not remain “immature in the faith, in a state of inferiority, as they run the risk of being tossed about and carried here and there by any doctrinal wind.” Most ominously, he observed that “to have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church” is labeled by many today as a form of “fundamentalism.”

Still suffering from the post-Synodal stress syndrome that has become a common feature of life under the current pontificate, I found my thoughts returning both to this homily and to an article from 2001 that disturbed me at the time and disturbs me still: “Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Fundamentalism?,” written by a Catholic bishop, Peter Henrici, SJ, and published in the journal Communio.

When I first saw this article’s title, I thought to myself: Surely, Henrici, like Karl Keating and other apologists, is going to show how Catholicism and fundamentalism (as the term is widely used in the Protestant world) are opposed to each other. 

Instead, Henrici explained the ways in which faithful Catholics are guilty of an intellectual and spiritual vice he called “fundamentalism” — a theme Pope Francis has also made his own. He was critical of those who want to cling to a plank of certainty, who cite the Catechism or other ecclesial documents without realizing that such things need to be “mediated” to them by their bishops.  

Henrici seemed to allow unlimited scope for a “development of doctrine” limited solely by a positivistic Magisterium—that is, anything can become anything, as long as the Magisterium says so. He was even critical of seeing revelation as propositional, implying that one cannot formulate truths of faith in such a way that these formulations remain permanently and universally valid. Needless to say, we have seen this Hegelian-Darwinian conception of “fluid” or evolving doctrine return with a vengeance during the present pontificate.

What I saw in his article was familiar to me from my investigations of the Modernist crisis of the early twentieth century: an implicit negation of the very reality of the Magisterium, complemented by a denial that Catholic faithful are capable of certain knowledge of the truths on which our salvation depends. Theology, for Henrici, is too subtle and nuanced for a simple Christian’s grasp. We need professional “theologians” like him to tell us what the truth is; we cannot make an act of faith except at their prompting and by their expert conducting, as though the Church were the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Herbert von Karajan.

For Henrici, Catholics who insist on unchanging dogma are mistaken because, in fact, dogma is always undergoing “development.” But this is patently false. There are dogmas of the Faith that, whether clearly stated in Scripture or later articulated by a Council under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have always been taught in precisely the words in which they were first handed down. Sometimes the Magisterium has added further explanations or illustrations or applications, but the original language and content have remained stable across the ages, repeated and never contradicted.

We can see this clearly in such documents as the Profession of Faith of the Council of Trent from almost 500 years ago, or Pope Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God. Every dogma is a “fundament,” a true foundation on which the house of the Church is safely built, a rock on which the baptized can stand firm. 

With exquisite irony, Bishop Henrici appeals to Vatican II in support of his position. But Vatican II has weight only if an Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church has weight; and any such Council has weight only if all such Councils have weight. Trent will never be left behind by Vatican I, Vatican II, or any conceivable number of future councils, any more than Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, or Chalcedon will be left behind.

Catholics are, and should be, rightly ashamed of bishops and theologians like Henrici. The world episcopate is full of such soft Modernists. They do not lead their flocks to the green pastures of true doctrine, sound morals, and abundant liturgy; rather, they fleece them in church taxes or donations, while expecting them to be submissive to their aggiornamental gymnastics. We may console ourselves with the knowledge that this era of incestuously intertwined clericalism and secularism is rapidly nearing its end.

Let us return, then, to reality. To be Catholic is to be one who is given the privilege of following Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Who gives us the way of Christian morals, ensures that we know the truth about God and about man, and communicates divine life to us in the liturgy and the sacraments. Thanks be to God, there is nothing vague or relative about Christianity. Liturgy, dogma, and morals are glorious gifts from the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who liberates us from the sins and errors that destroy man’s intelligence, integrity, righteousness, and eternal salvation.

We re-commit ourselves, with humble gratitude and zeal, to the narrow but well-worn path of the Sacraments, the Creed, and the Commandments, which God has given for the benefit of the “little ones” who put all their trust in Him and cling to His unchanging truth.

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Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website,