"Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas." - Acts 16:6-8
There are times that something that would seem opportune to those of us who are concerned with the advancement of the cause of Christ, but the time is just not ripe, and the Holy Ghost says no. Whether that "no" comes directly through Divine Intervention or through the Church's conventional channels of authority, the result is the same. Good things (eventually) come to those who wait on God.
Part 2 of this book continues with a discussion of the "una cum" Vatican leader issue. In this one case we find ourselves in an unusual position. For most things, my bishop (and more specifically his delegates) who have reviewed some of my pieces whenever requested by my editor Michael Cain, has long been content to guide with a light hand, either trusting that what I as a layman would write would be acceptable, or else at least allowing whatever I write to stand or fall on its own merits. In this one particular topic however, there exists an episcopal direction and understanding (to all laity of his flock, which thereby includes myself and my editor) not to publish articles discussing the "una cum" issue while it is under discussion among the various prelates and clergy within the universal Traditional ranks.
So many times I have spoken of the authority of our traditional Catholic bishops. Here is an example of an exercise of that authority, and of the fact that my editor and I, as loyal sons of holy Mother Church, are obedient and faithful. As a result, the issue of "una cum" Masses as discussed in the SSPX book will go unaddressed in this series.
However, there does remain one small side point within the section which discusses a separate question, and one which I believe can be sufficiently detached from that topic, and addressed on its own as its own little issue. In the course of the SSPX book's discussion of the "una cum" topic, mention is made of the observation to be made that the Church has been forced to go through a gradual process of discovering the true nature of the canonical situation She now finds Herself in. The one paragraph bringing this up reads thus, in full:
The only way to respond to this objection, [for sedevacantists] as to other questions about the lack of an initial challenge to the authority of Paul VI, would be to admit that the Church progressively and with some delay became aware (in the persons of the sedevacantists) of the situation in which she found herself. This would be a sort of progressive self-consciousness of a typically modernist kind, a very grave matter if one considers that the problem at hand is considered to be of the greatest importance. Perhaps some sedevacantists are prepared to embrace such an interpretation, although it seems hardly worthy of consideration.
What a clever way to conceal from consideration the very idea that sedevacantists would have long ago done well to address formally and thereby put to rest a thousand stupid and misdirected arguments! Just lump any realization of the fact that the Church most certainly HAS had to go through a slow and gradual process (with still very much a long way to go, especially on the part of certain individuals) of discovering the nature of Her circumstances all together with the patently absurd modernists concept of "Church gradually gaining self-consciousness over the ages."
Well of course no Catholic, sedevacantist or not, would ever want to be lumped in with the Modernists or to be accused in any way of being a Modernist or in sympathy with Modernism. How easy it is therefore for any sedevacantist writer to simply go along with the idea that such a gradual realization is "hardly worthy of consideration" and thereby pass up an important concept in understanding the true nature of our present circumstance. That stratagem does not fool me. It is in fact very much "worthy of consideration," and hence this article shall do so.
First of all we must put to bed the Modernist bugaboo. It is, after all, a correct and valid fact that we Catholics would not ever want to be mistaken for Modernists, so let us glance briefly at what the Modernists mean when they speak of such "gradual self-consciousness" of the Church. For the Modernists, "gradual self-consciousness" of the Church is another primary excuse for all the "changes" they have been doing in the Law of Prayer and of Belief, all the watering down and dumbing down of anything and everything found in the domains of Faith and Morals.
To put it all in a very tight nutshell (though I admit no Modernist would dare to phrase it so boldly or directly), the Church originally (and in fact until Vatican II) saw Herself as a mere "handmaiden" of the Lord, obeying Him as supreme, never asking questions, never doubting anything that has been taught from on High. But now, thanks to Vatican II, now that She is "all grown up" and "enlightened" by modern (Modernist) reasoning, She is now able and worthy to question authority and challenge anything and everything that was previously accepted from on High, as She can now decide for Herself what is to be considered right and wrong, even in defiance of God's teachings.
For them, Vatican II was the "coming of age" of the Church, only now at last "mature" enough to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with impunity, and in fact even to gain a godlike status from doing so. "All of those repetitive prayers and Latin in the Mass? We think we can cut that all out and speed it up. All of those tough rules on fasting and abstinence? We think we can virtually do away with that. All of that scholasticism that used to define the Church's theology? We think we can scrape that all aside as we have something brilliant and new to say. All of that humility we used to have? We think we are much smarter now and happen to be quite proud of our new brilliance. All of that hard work to try to convert the world to the Faith? We think it is time to stop making Catholic children of God all around the world and instead start growing us all out of our simple and childlike Catholic Faith and into..." - what? What indeed!
Of course no one with even the faintest trace of a life in God could ever consider going along with such a fallen path to eternal darkness. And in such a scheme, "progress" is all about graduating from humble obedient children to proud rebellious teenagers. For these types, it is quite easy to confuse this type of "progress" with the progress in technological prowess of which they had no contributing part. "You [scientists and technicians and engineers] make the technological progress while we make the theological progress." And as one is progress then so must the other be, as they see it.
So where does gradualism come in to play with this Modernist miserific vision? The facts of the history of theological development are obviously not the least bit helpful to the modernist's cause. Yet to admit that their "progress" all came at once, during Vatican II, would be for them to admit that their "evolving Church self-consciousness" has in fact no "evolutionary" history to it at all, no root in any history older than 1962. While they may pride themselves on their innovativeness, as though they just invented a better mousetrap, one thing they fear to be accused of is that of introducing theological novelties in the negative sense of what that has always meant. In this they are like the low-life cheap hood that robbed a liquor store, and who fears accusations of armed robbery far more than accusations of insider trading. They fear the accusation of introducing (heretical) novelties precisely because it is true.
So how do they pretend to a gradual "evolving Church self-consciousness" that patently never occurred? I can think of about three basic strategies, though perhaps a thorough perusal of their works might dig up a few additional methods or variations of equal disingenuousness. The first and most obvious is merely to refer to it in general terms, as if it is a confirmed historical fact, accepted by all. In this vein they might write something like "At this point, in Vatican II, the Church's evolving self-consciousness had finally progressed past an important threshold, such that it was finally able to question its most basic operating premises." In this way he seems to end up with nothing he needs to have to prove.
The second would be to cite the Church's concept of the "development of doctrine" in the sense propounded by Cardinal Newman, as if one could, in deepening one's understanding of all the reasons that two and two make four, finally advance to the discovery that two and two don't make four. As it stands now, I cannot even imagine the exact manner of scholastic dishonesty and legerdemain it would take to graft the Vatican II "theological progress" on to over nineteen centuries of real theological development that had already flatly contradicted everything unique to this new "progress." The third would be to induce confusion between the historic doctrine of Baptism of Desire (which teaches that God can grant sanctifying grace and even ultimate salvation to those truly doing their best to seek Him, even if they have no contact with the Church) and the Vatican II ecumenism (which teaches that any and every sort of minister or what-have-you can impart sanctifying grace and even ultimate salvation to those merely seeking any of them, since all of them are parts of the Church). Not many are aware of that fundamental distinction, and the scholastically dishonest modernists often take advantage of that unawareness on the part of many.
No, obviously the Church has truly and fully understood Her full nature from the moment that Jesus Christ founded Her. No real Catholic (and especially not any of us most Catholic sedevacantists) would ever be a willing part of that patent and ludicrous heresy of the modernists.
Nevertheless, can it not happen that the Church could find Herself in a situation that takes some time to discern the nature of? It is more than possible; it has already happened any number of times. Whenever there was an antipope, the question legitimately arose: Which pope (if any) is it? Without any legitimate doubt as to which one, how could any one of them arisen? Think of the First Great Western Schism. Did the papacy remain in Rome? Many had found the actions of Pope Urban VI to be quite offensive, sufficiently as to raise doubts as to the validity of his election. Did the papacy return to Avignon? The papal electors, by and large, for the most part thought so. So convincing was their case that even the miracle worker St. Vincent Ferrer and other saints threw in with both feet in favor of the Avignon "pope." But with the popes who succeeded Urban VI in Rome, the Roman succession gradually regained its reputation. Or perhaps the Pisan election at last restored the papacy? Who could really be said to know? The Church, as an entity, most certainly did not.
Even the conclusion of the problem (with the election of Pope Martin V) only provided a means for the Church and everyone in it to go forward. It still took a much longer time to sort out whatever questions have been sorted out, and some may well still remain. Was any one of the "true" succession? And if so, then which one? (I realize that things seem to have gravitated towards believing that the Roman succession was the true one, but I know of no one who has ever shown or definitively declared with authority that to be the case.) Or were none of them true popes? (All were, in view of the circumstance at the time at least, doubtful popes.) Or might they all three have been popes in some sense? (Probably not, at least in any sense I can think of).
See here however that this was not a question as to the nature of the Church as founded, but only as to the nature of a peculiar circumstance that She had somehow found Herself in. So one can easily see that there is most certainly precedent for the Church to be in a situation that She has yet to assess properly or completely. So the distinction here is between having to go through a significant learning curve as to understanding Her own intrinsic nature (as the modernists assert) versus having to go though a learning curve as to understanding a mere external and peculiar circumstance that She has somehow arrived at in a particular point in history. To claim the former is heresy, but to claim the latter is historical truth, and already quite well supported by numerous precedents. It is therefore quite proper for sedevacantists (and all other Catholics for that matter) to state that the Church has been obliged to go through some learning curve as to Her present status.
Another example would be the missionary who is explaining the Gospel to a small group of eager listeners. That he knows what Gospel he is preaching one may not doubt, nor talk about "learning curves" while he is preaching, as if he were making it up as he goes along. But that he may have a significant "learning curve" regarding the motivations of his eager listeners, as to whether they want to be saved or else if they are merely looking for some excuse to hang him, there is nothing incorrect about positing that possibility. He knows his Gospel upon going in, but the nature of his circumstance has yet to be revealed to him.
This in turn accounts for the continuation of the Church through whatever years between the loss of the papacy itself and the first clerical discovery of that fact. The Church does not stop being the Church merely through ignorance of Her peculiar circumstance. But individual persons and portions thereof most certainly do cease to be the Church through their defection from the eternal truths that the Church has infallibly defined for all time. Even though those earliest traditionalists required some duration to pass before questioning the status of their putative leader in the Vatican, they knew better than to follow the new directions that at least seemed to emerge from that direction. It is no discredit to those earliest traditionalists that it took time to trace the source of the errors to the top, and from there to deduce something about the status of the man there.