Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Traditionalist Ecclesiology- is there a future for Traditional Latin Christianity?

Recently, a reader commented to me that Traditionalism doesn't have much of a long term future in the Roman Church.

To draw this out a bit by way of example, consider the following reactions to a recent announcement by the Bishop of Rome that referenced the SSPX in its conclusion. What follows is an exercise in contrast:

"We have always believed that, though negotiations are important to smooth details, only a generous and kind unilateral settlement by the Supreme Legislator could get things done -- that was the only way Summorum Pontificum was promulgated as well."

--- well known Trad blog


"In the ministry of the sacrament of penance, we have always relied, with all certainty, on the extrdaordinary jurisdiction conferred by the Normae generales of the Code of Canon Law."

--- SSPX statement on the same.

Do you see the difference in ecclesiology? One looks at the Bishop of Rome as the ultimate authority. The other references a Law to which everyone is subject. Can you spot the significance?

Traditionalism only works if one accepts that papal authority has been grossly exaggerated in the Roman Church. It requires the conviction that far from being the ultimate authority, there is a code of law to which even the Pontiff is subject. This law, ecclesiastical law, belongs to the Church proper and the Church proper is subject to it. 

I have often wondered if the SSPX will, in one way or another, fully encapsulate the ecclesiology that results from their very existence. To some degree, the SSPX understands what is at stake with communion with Rome in a way that Ecclesia Dei groups do not. If the Bishop of Rome is accepted as the supreme authority, there is little justification for any dissent from the exercise of said authority. The SSPX holds there is a law higher than the authority of the Roman pontiff and said law is demonstrable in the canons of the Church. 

Bearing the above in mind, I would agree with the reader who emailed me to a certain extent. The Traditionalists that have sought and achieved communion with Rome eventually reach a point where their existence will be difficult to justify. 

Conversely, those who have broken communion with Rome have a greater justification for their existence and propagation. The resolution can only come when there is a restoration of law upon the Bishop of Rome. 

All of the above should not be construed as an endorsement of the SSPX, or at least that is not the intention. Rather, it is written with the intention of demonstrating that the current scenario of Traditionalism, concerning both liturgy and spirituality, has an end point. 

Ecclesia Dei groups have a finite amount of time. Their ecclesiology leads them to accepting Roman authority. Eventually, they will reach a point where they have to reconsider their liturgical use. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Clearly the modern Roman liturgy can carry on the Latin tradition if it is the intention of the community utilizing the books.

The SSPX, meanwhile, have followed an ecclesiology that brings them to nearer to Orthodox ecclesiology than contemporary Roman ecclesiology. Much as Rome I suspect fears, they have the ability to perpetuate until they become a Church running parallel to Rome. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, in so far as it would propel the Latin Church back to an earlier ecclesiology that had a healthy respect for the Bishop of Rome but did not subordinate the Church to him. 

While there are pockets of interest in an earlier Western ecclesiology, it takes a movement with the organization, presence, and growth of the SSPX to force events into motion. Granted, this will not make the situation in the Western Church any easier. It will, however, bring closure to certain occurrences that really have gone on long enough and risk atrophy if they continue with the status quo.


  1. There is indeed an irony in the fact that the SSPX has developed an ecclesiology of papal primacy that verges towards an Orthodox model in contradiction to what it purports to maintain. Or is it rather more simple and a case of agreeing with the papacy when it suits and ignoring it when it doesn't - like the Anglo-Catholics and Apostolicae Curae?

    1. At some point, I am not sure when or if it will be in our lives, the SSPX will have to make a firm ecclesiological decision. Their ecclesiology is a number of degrees removed from what became the normative Roman ecclesiology. They need to follow their ecclesiology where it leads - at this point, papal primacy is something of an after thought. In point of fact, there will eventually come a time when the SSPX is largely comprised of people who have never known communion with the Bishop of Rome and really don't care much at all about it. At that point, they'll effectively be another church with claims of apostolic succession. At which time you'll have a situation analogous to Catholic-Orthodox dialogue - no one really knows what it means to be in communion and, frankly, no one really cares.It becomes impossible (not to mention absurd) to avoid formulating an explicit ecclesiology that rejects papal primacy as it is conceived in the Roman Church. None of this is intended to be a value statement - simply a deduction based upon where the available evidence points.

      If that development eventually happens, it may well be beneficial - this does not, however, ignore that the SSPX will have other "growing pains" to contend with as time goes on.

  2. SSPX has always entertained sedevacante elements even while protesting otherwise all the way to Abp. Lefebvre often tailoring, if not adjusting his polemics to the audience he was talking to. Reality is somewhere in the middle.

    Ecclesia Dei's justification is that of Benedict XVI: to reunify the Roman Rite, if not pull the pendulum back away from what is arguably illicit abuse of the Missal of 1970 and returning to the Conciliar vision of Sacrosanctum Concilium that was was lost during the implementation while recognizing that the underlying substance remains the same. FSSP for example recognizes the current situation as unusual: the Missal was never frozen in amber as it is now and the example of the Eastern schismatics reminds what happens when tradition is ossified and bereft of the just and lawful Authority (per the Thomist definition).

    IOW, the New Mass returned to ad orientem worship (very much implicit in the Latin GIRM) and perhaps a Latin Canon is much much closer to the Missal of 1962 than current Use, which is distinct from a strict reading of the Missal itself. Particularly if the traditional options are exclusive and the other options in the penitential act, Eucharistic prayers, etc are abrogated.

    Readings in the vernacular make a certain amount of sense (even if they should probably chanted instead of just recited, regardless) but it never made sense for the Canon or the other unchanging parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which would be very quickly learned if they were mandated, Latin or not.