Rorate Caeli

Interview with Roberto de Mattei

Translator's Note:  We hope that our readers in Washington and New York will take advantage of hearing Professor de Mattei speak - more details in this previous post.

Let us start with your expulsion from Radio Maria, justified, in the words of the director, Father Livio Fanzaga, by an increasingly critical attitude towards the pontificate of Pope Francis.  You have been charged with not putting your great cultural qualifications at the service of the Successor of Peter(even if you have written a book on the Pope: The Vicar of Christ, published by Fede&Cultura). In the end your dismissal was justified by an incompatibility with the aims of Radio Maria, which are those of adhesion to the Magisterium of the Church and of support of the pastoral activities of the Pope.  In other words one gets the feeling, in reading the literal words within the rather stern tone, that your were no longer retained by the Director because of a question of whether you affirm the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, that is, a charge of  “not thinking with the Church”.  In fact these were the same justifications adopted for the expulsion of Alessandro Gnocchi and Mario Palmaro from Radio Maria.  What is your explanation for these measures taken against you?

I worked with Radio Maria for four years, having been invited to do so by Father LIvio. I was in charge of the monthly feature, “Christian Roots”.  More than one time it happened that I was the object of attack on the part of the secular press, but I always had the support of Father Livio.  I never criticized the Pope on my program, and, as you remember, I am the author of a book whose title is The Vicar of Christ: Between the Ordinary and the Exceptional. In this book I express all my devotion without reserve to the institution of the Papacy.  The reasons for my estrangement from Radio Maria, justified by presumed criticisms of the Pope, are still not clear to me.  Perhaps some of my initiatives, such as the gathering of signatures in support of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, were not liked by certain high ecclesiastics, who asked Father Livio for my head, after the heads of Alessandro Gnocchi and Mario Palmaro, judging us as too independent from the new course the Church is taking.  I believe, on the other hand, that, as baptized Christians, we have the duty to express, with the obligatory respect, all of the perplexities, doubts and questions that arise in us concerning certain choices made by the ecclesiastical authorities.  Obedience has its precise limits and is never servile.  It was Pope Francis himself, last July in Saint Martha, who said that if there existed an “identity card” for Christians, certainly freedom would be included in its characteristic features.

It is curious to note that whoever professes himself bound to the Tradition and, consequently, to the safe-guarding of the Tridentine Mass finds that suddenly his right of citizenship in the Catholic world is taken away, as if he were a subversive, a trouble maker, or even a heretic.  Against such a person there is no mercy, and the proof of this, for example, is what happened to a religious order among the most flourishing and growing like that of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, now having fallen into disfavor only because of their desire to orient their spirituality in the direction of the Ritus Antiquior and by this were seen to be critical of the Second Vatican Council.  What do you think about this?

This attitude characterizes the new course of the Church after Vatican II.  On one hand, in the name of mercy and dialogue with separated brethren, they preach the end of the epoch of condemnation and anathema.  On the other hand, they use a fist of iron towards those within the Church who do not want to stray from the unchangeable Tradition of the Church.  The case of the Franciscans of the Immaculate makes one ponder.  In the tragic epoch of the post-Conciliar years the seminaries emptied out, religious houses and convents were put up for sale, vocations plummeted, but no action was taken.  If, instead, a religious institute, living the theology, spirituality and the liturgy of the Tradition grows in the number of its members and houses, it is harshly struck down.  The Congregation for Religious wants the destruction of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, because a religious order that flourishes in following its fidelity to the Tradition is for the progressives a scandal.

With respect to the Second Vatican Council, in spite of the expectations and hopes of so many, the epoch that followed it did not represent a “springtime” for the Church, but rather, as Paul VI himself recognized and his successors, a time of crisis and difficulty.  And yet the post-Conciliar Church considered it as an unattackable dogma, as if the Church were grappling with a new beginning, a new life.  With your book, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, (Lindau publisher), you offered a rigorous reconstruction of that event…In a final summary, what is the right way to read what happened in the Church with Vatican II?

The contribution that I wanted to give with the volume, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten History, is not that of a theologian but that of an historian.  I wish to say that I am not interested in the hermeneutical debate about Vatican II, and I leave it to the theologians to judge whether the conciliar documents are continuous or discontinuous with the Tradition of the Church.  Whatever judgment is made on the documents of the Council, the problem at its base in not that of interpreting them, but of understanding the nature of an historical event that has marked the twentieth century and ours.  From the point of view of history the Second Vatican Council represents a whole that comprises its spirit and its documents: that which occurred in the halls of the Council, and the cultural and mass media atmosphere in which the discussions took place.  It consists of its roots and its consequences, its intentions and its results.  It is an event.  The Council of the documents cannot be separated from that of its history, and the Council of history cannot be separated from the post-Conciliar period that represents its realization.  The attempt to separate the Council from the post-Conciliar years is just as unsustainable as that of separating the conciliar documents from the pastoral context in which they were produced.

Today there is the tendency to make a “superdogma” out of the Second Vatican Council: the expression is that of the at that time Cardinal Ratzinger.  It is a bit like what happened in the 1970s with the myth of the Resistance.  "The Resistance", wrote Augusto del Noce, "ceases to be an element that is part of history when it becomes the measure of the valuation of history."  What was yesterday, in the political arena, the Resistance, has become the Second Vatican Council: an event that becomes the measure of valuation of the history of the Church.  We have to work to break down this myth.

Today there is the conviction that one can remain a Catholic whatever one thinks or does.  So an objective morality is no longer perceived as a truth that is above and beyond man, but that everything is subjective and relative, where each person, in the end, understands freedom as the power to do what he likes.  For a Catholic who lives immersed in a vision of life like this it is even more difficult to witness to the truth, immersed in a society that seems deaf and which has taken a path that is diametrically opposite to that indicated by the Ten Commandments.  How can one in a concrete way live a life of Christian witness?  What is the task today to which the one who professes himself truly Catholic is called?

The phrase with which the French writer Paul Bourget concludes his novel, Il Demone Meridiano, (translated into Italian by Marco Solfanelli) is of note:  “It is necessary to live as one thinks, if one does not wish to end up thinking as one lives.”  This sentence contains a profound truth.  If life does not conform to thought, it is thought that conforms itself to life.  But to live well, it is necessary first of all to think well.  Life should be consistent with ideas, but the ideas must be in their turn consistent with the great metaphysical and moral principles that regulate human life.  For this reason we must be men of principle, because the world is based on principles, and the principles and laws on which the world is based have their center and foundation in God as the first principle and first cause of everything that exists.  That which is true for each man is true for human society and as well for that human-divine society that is the Church.  In the course of history it has happened that the Christians, in their personal life, have distanced themselves from the truth and the teachings of the Church.  Epochs of decadence need a profound reform, that is, a return to the observance of the principles that had been abandoned.  If this does not happen, there is the temptation to transform immoral ways of living into principles opposed to the Christian faith.  This temptation has penetrated the Church and shows itself in the formula of “pastoral practice”. The recent statements of Cardinal Walter Kasper on conjugal moral issues point to this way of thinking. Because “between the doctrine of the Church on marriage and family and the convictions of many Christians within their lives as lived, there has been created an abyss”, according to the Cardinal the doctrine and discipline of the Church needs to be adapted to the situations in which many Christians in fact live, beginning with the divorced and remarried.  It is the principles that have to be adapted to the behavior of Christians and not their conduct that has to be conformed to the principles.  One must think as one lives, and not live as one thinks.  Christian doctrine is dissolved in praxis.

Our task instead is that of professing the faith and living the truth of the Gospel, loving and observing the law that God has given us. This law is not extrinsic to us, but is incised on our conscience. In the practice and the defense of the divine and natural law our love for God and our neighbor is shown forth, and our life is lived to the fullest.

Unfortunately the value and knowledge of the past (of history) to understand the present is nearly totally undervalued and neglected.  In this way we run the risk of taking as pure gold whatever is proposed or presented to us as true, without bothering to verify its truthfulness.  But without questioning, with the desire to seek the truth, without the labor of investigating and informing oneself, we risk making great blunders.  We run the risk of giving credence to someone who proffers as truth that which is not true.  And this is the case also in the religious sphere.  Do you agree with this analysis?

Catholics must understand why historical studies are so important. Among Catholic thinkers of the nineteenth century there were great theologians, great philosophers, great masters of the spiritual life, but no great historian—great in the sense that unites to the vastness of science and knowledge the fullness of the orthodox faith.  The principal reason for this absence from the cultural ecclesiastic horizon lies, in my view, in the loss of the historical sense, that is the human events, in their causes and in their consequences, from a point of view that is above all supernatural.  At the center of history is not, as for too long has been believed, the “capital production ratio”, nor the geopolitical issues, but rather the free acts of man, under the guidance of Divine Providence.  The Catholic historian knows that nothing is irreversible in history, and, above all, that history does not create values, but history is subject to and judged by values.  Catholic thought of the nineteenth century in fact has instead a Hegelian understanding of history as “Weltgeist”,  an irresistible march of the “spirit of the world”.  History marches forward, and the Church must accompany this march.  She must adapt her language, her teachings, her religious practices to the world.  With respect to the world the Church is behind at least two centuries.  And this is the understanding of history expressed by Cardinal Martini when, in his last interview in Corriere della Sera, he affirmed that the Church “is behind 200 years”, that is, the time that separates the Church from the foundational event of the French Revolution.  This affirmation is typically evolutionist, because it implies a philosophy of history founded on an inevitable social progress that is part of a more vast movement towards the perfection of the universe.

[Source: Corsia dei Servi. Translated by Father Richard G. Cipolla.]