De quoi devenir chèvre…

goatThe French have a wonderful expression – devenir chèvre, become a goat – for the way a human being reacts to an impossibly complicated or illogical situation that causes frustration and anger. It is often what we are confronted with when dealing with obstructive bureaucracy designed to make us give up in our request for a derogation from the rules or the supplier of a service that has failed and will do everything to avoid giving us our money back. The image of a goat is quite telling through its lack of human intelligence and its amusing appearance.

I came across two highly significant texts this morning. One is a document by Pius IX dating from 1865 under the title Ad Quosdam Puseistas Anglicos – To Certain Puseyite Anglicans. My source points us to a pdf file. The language in this document is as if all the internet trolls, apologists and armchair inquisitors were rolled up into one person and made Pope! Usual stuff: we’re bogus Catholics and we have to convert to the true Church or else… Of course in those days, you could still find magnificent liturgies at least in the major parishes, abbeys and cathedrals. You had nasty totalitarian bishops and you also had kind saintly ones. There wasn’t the uniformity of thought and bureaucratic rule you have now. There must have been consolations to go with the bad stuff, but I suppose that most of those guys were at least truthful and honest. It’s said that Pius IX could be a kindly fellow and not that hard to get an audience with. Newman managed it, and long before Anglicans were called “Puseyites”.

Pius IX was also the Pope who “felt infallible” and said the same of Tradition as Louis XIV said about his kingdom of France – L’état c’est moi. His words would have been in Italian La Tradizione son’io. He promulgated Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of 1864 in which religious liberty was definitively condemned. It all seemed logical, and so the Church became totalitarian enough to be an inspiration for evil regimes in the twentieth century wanting to imitate it for their own ends. We can only imagine the Church of the nineteenth century from the old relics of popular devotion in parish churches, films, photos and descriptions in novels and non-fiction. As in the middle ages, there was a notion of a truth to be preserved at all costs and propagated in a rebellious and unfaithful world.

Now, those who promote this kind of ecclesiology are now on the receiving end. As I mentioned in my previous article, the Roman Catholic Church is in such a state that only the sedevacantists can express Pius IX’s ecclesiology with any real intellectual honesty – the true Church is reduced to a few communities in the USA and France. Most have a valid priesthood from illicitly consecrated bishops.

I have just discovered an article Cardinal Koch and the SSPX in the Angelus Press blog, written by a non-SSPX traditionalist. If there is anything liable to cause us to lose our tempers in the irrational and asinine way of goats on the farm, it is the way ecclesiastics try to tailor words to fit together. It reminds me of the way things go on in the Anglican Communion – formulating everything in such a way as it means different things to different people.

Fundamentally, the Society of St Pius X, like all Thomist thinkers, goes by the Aristotelian Principle of Non-Contradiction: two contradicting statements cannot both be true. One is true and the other false, or they are both false. There may be some middle ground depending on the propositions and forms of logic. The SSPX opposes Vatican II on grounds of its teaching contradicting some very solemn or even “infallible” pronouncements on ecumenism and religious freedom by popes like Pius IX, Boniface VIII and Pius IV.

Cardinal Koch, who was put into the place of Cardinal Kasper when he retired, maintains that in order to be Catholic, one has to go along with ecumenism and recognise the current teaching on the Jewish people and their faith. Being a Catholic is conditioned by following Vatican II.

Benedict XVI has been trying to put forward a hermeneutic of continuity, something like Newman’s theory of doctrinal development. The problem is that Newman set out a number of criteria to prevent the theory from becoming a device for dispensing oneself from coherence and logical thought, putting it crudely. It is interesting to read Cardinal Koch being so vague and unclear, presumably to make some sense to secular journalists. Conservative theologians like Fr Umberto Betti try to attribute infallibility to the Vatican II constitutions. Virtual infallibility is another term we find. Oh my! My head hurts!

The sloppiness of the Church these days is found in the way formal heretics remain in good standing even if they are criticised and sometimes silenced. Sister Elizabeth Johnson and Hans Küng are given as examples. The latter has formally denied papal infallibility and not simply having suggested ordaining women! Indeed the reasons for not regularising the SSPX are not dogmatic, though that would be the only reason for saying they are not Catholic. This subject has now been flogged for several decades.

What is most puzzling is the idea of a hermeneutic of continuity as Benedict XVI has tried to propose, but with ideas that are simply contradictory. It would be something like my “Celestine VI” saying that he is not infallible and remains Pope. Why pretend to be in continuity rather than say that the old teaching was wrong or that it only applied to its historical context? In an infallible Church, one contradiction or admission of error discredits the whole. This is the great Achilles Heel of Catholicism. If it can never be wrong, when it is found to be wrong, nothing is right! The sedevacantists have only taken the logic to its conclusion – the Church has to exist is a state of sede vacante, waiting for its infallible pope and not say that the pope is unnecessary except for the good of the Church. Admitting a hermeneutic of rupture puts one into an impossible position because that plays into the hands of the traditionalists – the teaching of Pius IX is of a higher authority than the conciliar texts. Rome would be shooting itself in the foot.

Reading this article, we can understand why Benedict XVI has seen such importance in reconciling the SSPX with Rome, but the contradictions remain for as long as the teachings of Vatican II relativising extra ecclesiam nulla salus remain in force, namely ecumenism and religious freedom, recognising any element of truth outside the institutional Roman Catholic Church. The choice is clearly between Vatican II and the SSPX, relating to the modern world or returning to the Counter Reformation fortress and bankruptcy.

This has clearly been the heaviest cross for Benedict XVI to bear, as the Church divides into the diametrically opposing extreme political positions of two contradictory infallible conservative and liberal certitudes.

If you really want to become a goat, consider this. You have to submit to the “true Church” because of what popes like Pius IX said and accept the teaching of Vatican II that contradicts that teaching without contradicting it, by virtue of truths that aren’t true but which are infallible. In an episode of Star Trek an android is defeated through the famous liar’s paradox known to the ancient Greeks. The android works on the logical clashes, overloads its processors and short-circuits itself.

There is no via media.

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11 Responses to De quoi devenir chèvre…

  1. Sandra McColl says:

    I am not programmed to respond in the areas that you have traversed. But I remain a happy little Puseyite, having lost all hankering for the grass on the other side of the fence.

  2. Michael Frost says:

    When looking at or inside the RCC I think we sometimes focus way too much on the mess at the top and miss the muddy reality in the pews. The foundation and superstructure are falling apart one brick at a time from the bottom and working its way up. By this I mean the average Joe or Jane RC in the pews (those who still actually go to mass more than infrequently) no longer sees much difference between themselves and their Lutheran, ECUSA, PCUSA, Methodist, etc. neighbor. Most of the real distinctiveness is gone. Liturgy, vestments, architecture, hymns, etc. The old disciplines like fasting are gone. Who wears a scapular? Where are the rosary beads? Who even sees a nun in habit any more? And inside the mind, Joe and Jane have stopped believing as RCs. Whether it is a daily ongoing rejection of moral issues (regulation of childbirth, fornication, homosexuality) or the loss of belief in what once were dogmas that hit home (e.g., When was the last time any of them thought of purgatory like Dante or the medievals did? Or heard a sermon on indulgences and went out to earn some?), the average member can’t hardly tell what it even means to be actively distinctively RC and mean it. About all they “really know” they “have” is a pope. But they don’t appear to believe he is infallible and they prefer to see him rather than listen to him?

    I guess it is somewhat like defining What is Britishness? Who is British? People used to think they knew even if they couldn’t quite exactly define it. But now, in a secular multi-cutural era without Empire, does anyone know? Is it Downton Abbey? Doctor Who? Jeeves? The Queen? Prince Harry? A Mini with a Union Jack on top in downtown LA? House of Commons? Lords? Modish PMs?

    • Britishness, now there’s a sticky question. Living outside England, one side of me feels nostaglia and the other side is aware of the reality of a country that could quickly become a very unpleasant place to live in. I try to console myself with Stiff upper lip, Jeeves and a world that disappeared a hundred years ago. I posted something a while ago on the Great Invisible Empire of Romantia. Sometimes, I would feel more patriotism on a boat at sea and away from any nation. My idea of Englishness doesn’t even seem to be the same as that of my father and siblings! Perhaps for me, listening to Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams whilst looking at pictures of the Cotswolds or the Lake District conveys something more. I don’t think my England exists on earth, but in heaven!

      • Michael Frost says:

        My point exactly about Roman Catholicness…What does it mean today in the pews to be RC? And more specifically, what does it mean to be RC in Britain? France? USA? Brazil? Philippines? Congo? Whatever it means today, it certainly doesn’t mean what it meant in 1959. Or 1659. Or 959.

        As for Britishness, my daughter spent a month in England over holidays. She brought me back a few trinkets she bought at the “Cool Britannia” store. Logo is bulldog, wearing crown, proudly standing on all fours in front of Union Jack. Guess John Bull is gone? (Reminds me a bit of George C. Scott’s Patton, with silver helmet, speaking in front of our Stars & Stripes.)

  3. Stephen K says:

    As the companion/master of three (pet) goats, I must protest the saying. Goats are smart and know how to take advantage of the least flaw in one’s gate-keeping or fencing: they will get through if they can! They know what they like to eat and are discerning enough to reject rubbish or ignore pasture if they can get to the leaves and shoots and branches of fruit trees, strawberry leaves, grape-vines, and the bark of any fruit tree. (Hence the fencing!). They love thornless rose-bushes. They will eat pasture at a specific time of their day when the scent and pheromenes of the grass is just so and generally not otherwise. They don’t like rain and need and appreciate a safe, warm (or cool) straw-filled barn. They like and need companionship and feel more comfortable when their goatherd stands with them, but the male will swipe if you don’t show respect or if you show fear.

    The goats are entitled to want to eat the fruit and the delicious nutritional things growing in the garden, but left to themselves, they’d ring-bark the very source of their desires, so the provision of good things has to be managed sustainably.

    There is religious parallel enough in all of this. Although it must be said that a key difference is that the master/goatherd is of a different order and nature to his goats; human shepherds are not.

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