Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Wanderer Schism and Latinism

Ann Barnhardt, All-American Schismatic.
(Image source:
For almost fifty years, The Remnant has been the leading voice of Catholic traditionalism in America. Founded by Walter Matt, who left The Wanderer after a dispute with his co-founder brother Alphonse, it now publishes under the guidance of Matt’s son Michael. Over the last few years, especially after the election of Pope Francis, the tone of The Remnant’s articles have become increasingly shrill, denouncing “neo-Catholics” (i.e., anyone not identifiably traditionalist) and “Bergoglio” with a regularity verging on monomania.

A “Bastion of Orthodoxy” Calls For Schism

The venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once wrote, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” A radical traditionalist (that is, the most extreme kind of traditionalist) differs in that, being in love with what he thinks the Church used to be, he hates what he thinks the Church has become in the wake of Vatican II. At its worst, it approaches anti-Catholic Protestantism from the right.

Wryly comments theologian John Médaille, “One would hope that a publication that claims to be a bastion of orthodoxy would not be a place to find a call for schism.” But that’s what happened: in a featured article written by Ann Barnhardt, The Remnant has called for an “Imperfect Ecumenical Council” to depose and anathematize Pope Francis as a heretic.[*] Furthermore, the call goes out to “those bishops remaining who still hold the Catholic faith” — implying, of course, that many if not most Catholic bishops don’t hold the faith, at least as Barnhardt and The Remnant define it.

I leave to John Médaille the ugly but necessary business of taking apart Barnhardt’s silly, meretricious babble. I also leave to Daniel Schwindt the half-fun, full-earnest task of comparing The Remnant to FOXNews. I just want to make a couple of general points:

1) Schism Doesn’t Work

In his encyclical Cum Multa, Pope Leo XIII said concerning Catholic writers in Spain:

We exhort them to remove all dissensions by their gentleness and moderation, and to preserve concord amongst themselves and in the people, for the influence of writers is great on either side. But nothing can be more opposed to concord than biting words, rash judgments, or perfidious insinuations, and everything of this kind should be shunned with the greatest care and held in the utmost abhorrence [bold type mine.—ASL]. A discussion in which are concerned the sacred rights of the Church and the doctrines of the Catholic religion should not be acrimonious, but calm and temperate; it is weight of reasoning, and not violence and bitterness of language, which must win victory for the Catholic writer. (CM § 15)

Factionalism has been part of Church life from almost the very beginning. And yet, it remains no less a shame and a scandal than when St. Paul scolded the Corinthians, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13) The task of the Catholic writer is to build up the Body of Christ, not to encourage dissention and polarization; his duty is to correct error and instruct the ignorant, not to call out “fake Catholics” and kick them to the curb. And it is certainly not his duty to call for the ouster of the current Successor to Peter.

Having said that, I must point out that history shows schism doesn’t work. Even if The Remnant and their ideological skainsmates, such as Rorate Caeli and The Eponymous Flower, managed to pull together a handful of cardinals and bishops to “depose” Pope Francis, the rest of the Church would be under no legal or moral obligation to pay them any heed. (I wonder: just how would they go about evicting Francis from Vatican City?) They could set themselves up as a competing True Church, just as every Protestant denomination has done, complete with their own anti-pope … though I don’t think Avignon would be enthusiastic to host them. However, such a move would not be a “reform” of the historic Catholic Church in any meaningful sense; it would be accounted a failure even if it managed to survive more than a century.

2) The Latinist Heresy

In The Other Blog I’ve discussed the three conditions of membership demanded by Ven. Pius XII in Mystici Corporis: Baptism, confession of Faith, and obedience to Church authority. Concerning the third point, Pius accounted them members of the Church who “have not cut themselves off from the structure of the Body [of Christ] by their own unhappy act …”. (MC 22) His predecessor, Benedict XV, had possibly a more lenient attitude: “There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim ‘Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,’ only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.” (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24)

To refuse submission to the current occupant of Peter’s Chair is to be in schism by definition: “Anyone becomes a schismatic who, though desiring to remain a Christian, rebels against legitimate[†] authority, without going as far as the rejection of Christianity as a whole, which constitutes the crime of apostasy.”[1] Said St. Augustine of Hippo, “But heretics, in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself; while schismatics, on the other hand, in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe.” (On Faith and the Creed, 10:21)

Per Canon 1364.1, schismatics incur excommunication latae sententiae; that is, not by judicial decree but by the fact of the delict itself. This is so because part of being a practical Catholic within the Latin rite is to be in communion with the Holy See; by rebelling, the schismatic puts himself out of that communion (ex communione). So far as excommunication is a legal penalty, it simply recognizes a break that already exists, rather than creating a rupture where none was before.

I’ve just said it’s not the duty of Catholic writers to say that anyone else is “not a real Catholic”. Yes, mea culpa, I’ve done it in the past, and I hope I’ve reformed. It’s possible that Pius wasn’t speaking of schism but rather of apostasy; the indirection of his statement allows for either interpretation.

However, as St. Jerome said, “Between heresy and schism, there is this difference, that heresy perverts dogma, while schism, by rebellion against the bishop, separates from the Church. Nevertheless there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church.” (Commentary on the Letter to Titus, 3:10).[2] Private interpretation, whether of Scripture or the apostolic tradition, is the mother of all heresies. Zeal for the Latin Mass and the ways of the pre-Vatican II Church verges most nearly on sinful idolatry when it leads to failures of respect for Church leaders and charity for fellow Catholics. When it leads to open rebellion, we can call it a heresy: Latinism, separate and distinct from mere traditionalism.

Is it a failure of charity, then, to say that the Catholicism of the Latinists is defective, or merely a recognition of the truth?

“Liturgical Correctness”

In proposing the definition of “Latinism” as a heresy, my aim is not to tar those people who have an authentic, ordinate reverence for the Latin Mass and other older traditions of the Church. On the contrary, I would most likely attend a Latin Mass myself, if one were celebrated within a reasonable distance from my home.

I simply don’t believe the world — or the West, at any rate — will be ready for a full return to the TLM for many years to come, if ever. Nor do I believe that it would be a sovereign remedy for all the ailments of the Church. More to the point, I hold that the mark of a true Catholic Christian lies not in some kind of “liturgical correctness” but in his ability to live the Gospel message.

The value of the liturgy lies in whether it facilitates or hinders that life. If the only end to observing the Latin Mass is to become a kind of Überkatholik — that is, to exercise in the devotée an elitist mentality at odds with Christian humility and charity — then one is better off attending a Novus Ordo Mass with the rest of us “neo-Catholics”.

[*] Why “imperfect”? Because by definition such a council could not be in communion with the Holy See.
[†] It should go without saying that it takes more than a quotation of St. Robert Bellarmine or the opinion of a canon lawyer to de-legitimize the reigning Pope.

End Notes

[1] Forget, J. (1912). “Schism”. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved March 31, 2016 from New Advent:
[2] Cit. in Forget (1912).