Rorate Caeli

"Vatican II and the new liturgy have invented a new magisterial mode: dogmatic regression": Interview with Claude Barthe

On the occasion of the revised and expanded reissue of his book "Trouver-t-il encore la foi sur terre [Will He still find faith on earth?]," we interviewed Abbé Claude Barthe.

Michel Janva: The title of your book is a quotation from the Gospel. In view of the current evolution of the Catholic religion (growth in Africa and Asia, decline in Europe...), is it possible that it could disappear in Western Europe, and therefore in Rome, just as it was practically eliminated from North Africa at the beginning of the Middle Ages?

Abbé Claude Barthe: Note that Christ's question concerns the faith that could disappear, not the number of people who call themselves Catholics. It's perfectly possible to be a Catholic by identity card, so to speak, and have been shipwrecked in the faith.

What's more, if there is growth in Catholicism in Africa and Asia, it's a growth in the number of Catholics in absolute terms, but it's not a relative growth, because the population there is increasing enormously: sects unfortunately have a much greater relative growth. What's more, the orthodoxy of Asian episcopates and theologians sometimes leaves much to be desired.

In fact, the verse in Saint Luke 18:8 is very mysterious. It must be related to the predictions concerning the radical persecution of the religion of Christ by the Antichrist in the second epistle of Saint John, or by the Man of Sin in the 2nd to the Thessalonians, or by the Beast of the Apocalypse, who will be given the power to make war on the saints, and to defeat them (13, 7). The phrase should no doubt be interpreted as heralding the near disappearance of faith.

MJ: Aren't we heading for this in our Western countries, including Rome?

CB: Almost, but not quite. It's not possible for Rome to stop issuing the rule of faith. It's true that we're in a situation that Jean Madiran described as a "magisterial collapse". I'm developing the same theme, that of the "resignation" of magisterial bodies that aren't doing their job. But this situation can only be temporary.

One of the dramatic features of the present situation is that those in charge of the magisterium are no longer doing their job of defining what is to be believed and condemning those who deviate from it. "Neither dogmatization nor condemnation," said John XXIII in his opening address to the Council. As a result, the boundaries of faith have become blurred even within the institutional Church.

MJ: Our Lord promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. But does this promise apply to the Church militant? Because as far as the suffering Church and the triumphant Church are concerned, it's certain that hell can no longer do anything against them.

CB: The promise applies to the Church militant, led by the Successor of Peter and the bishops united to him in the faith. This promise is included in that made to Peter: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). But the very reason Christ saw fit to make this promise is that there have been times when it has seemed, and may seem today, that error has prevailed.

Since the French Revolution, a number of currents (Lamennais, Americanists, modernists, etc.), which can be grouped together under the general heading of liberal Catholicism, have tried to find a middle way between Catholic truth and the new spirit, with the good intention - always disappointed, incidentally - of securing for Catholicism a certain social recognition within modernity. With Vatican II, liberal Catholicism, in the form of what Pius XII called the "new theology", took the reins of magisterial power, and did so from the very first days of the assembly, in October 1962, which saw a veritable political turnaround. But not a magisterial turnaround, which would be impossible. In fact, the men of the new theology dismissed the staff of the Roman School who had surrounded Pius XII, and in short, hijacked the magisterium, putting it on the back burner.

MJ: In your book, which deals at length with the Council, you point out that the decree on ecumenism contains no definition whatsoever of this concept. In the years that followed, did Rome ever attempt to define the concept?

CB: In fact, the closest thing to a definition in the Unitatis redintegratio decree is this truism: "The term 'ecumenical movement' is taken to mean those undertakings and initiatives provoked and organized in favor of Christian unity" (n. 4). The most important subsequent text is John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Ut unum sint, which deals at length with the ecumenical commitment, but without further defining its scope. The Church was launched on a tremendous "movement", without being able to say where we were going, or towards what unity we were heading.

And that's normal, because ecumenism is typically that liberal Catholic in-between, neither really Catholic nor really heretical. The dilemma was as follows: for Protestant ecumenism, as advocated by the World Council of Churches, the unity of the Church will take place in the Church of Christ, with which no existing Church can claim to be fully identified; for traditional Catholic unionism, unity can only be achieved through the reintegration, individually or as a body, into the Church of those who have left it. Well, the ecumenism of Vatican II wanted to go beyond unionism (I heard Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Council for Dialogue, say with my own ears that we should no longer speak of "return"), without falling into Protestant heterodoxy. Square circle. I once respectfully poked Cardinal Ratzinger in the eye on this point: return of the separated to the same Catholic Church the separated left, or return to another Church? He replied: "Return to the Catholic Church, but 'forward'".

But ecumenism is not nothingness, because theology abhors a vacuum. The decree on ecumenism states that separated Christians should enjoy "imperfect communion" with the Catholic Church (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 3). Ut unum sint goes even further: it would be the separated communities themselves that would be in imperfect communion with the Catholic Church (n. 11). This is impossible: communion, founded on faith, like the state of grace, founded on charity, exists or does not exist, and one is no more half in a state of grace than one is half in communion with the Church. Protestants are not 20% or 30% Catholic, Orthodox 60% Catholic, and so on.

MJ: You also mention the reform of the liturgy, which has become as malleable as the texts of the Council. What do you think of these attempts to think of the Novus Ordo in a traditional way, as at Solesmes, in the Saint-Martin community, or, more recently, with Father Nadler's book "L'Esprit de la messe Paul VI"? Are these attempts in keeping with the "spirit of the Council"?

CB: I think these attempts, which manifest a kind of guilty conscience activated by the very real presence of the traditional rite, are futile.

At the time of the introduction of the Novus Ordo, its critics, for example in Itinéraires, were saying: "Better a traditional Mass in French than a new Mass in Latin." The problem with the Novus Ordo is intrinsic: even when celebrated with great reverence, piety and Latin, it remains defective in expressing the Eucharistic sacrifice, the hierarchical priesthood and the Real Presence. Sacrifice above all.

Even celebrated to perfection as Solesmes wants to do, and the Saint-Martin Community (Father Nadler was a novice at Solesmes), the Novus Ordo remains at best weaker than the Ordo it replaced. At best, I say, because at worst it allows all kinds of excesses. The problem with the new lex orandi (if indeed Paul VI's liturgy, with its infinite variants, is a law at all) is the same as that of the new lex credendi (the "intuitions" of Vatican II): the clear is replaced by the obscure, which we are constantly obliged to "interpret", the true by the vague. We used to speak of "dogmatic progress". Vatican II and the new liturgy have invented a new magisterial mode: dogmatic regression.