From Miss Patricia McKeever, editor of Catholic Truth SIR – Hefele is correctly identified by your correspondent (January 20) as being one of two great modern scholars who challenged the authenticity of the four letters which documented the collapse of Pope Liberius during the Arian crisis (Letters, January 13).
But the arguments put by Hefele were brilliantly answered by the French Church historian Émile Amann, whose contrary opinion convinced another respected academic, the late Warren Carroll. In his History of Christendom, which is the most up-to-date of the orthodox Church histories, it is evident that Carroll has read all the literature and notes the views of Hefele and others on the one side, and the more modern and now more common opinion on the other. Despite being unequivocally not a supporter of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), Carroll concludes: “Montes Moreno, an orthodox writer, confirms the view of Amann and virtually all scholars since 1918, that the four compromising letters of Pope Liberius in this crisis are authentic.” Thus, a parallel may be drawn between the historically documented excommunications of StAthanasius, and the SSPX.
St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, taught that it is sometimes necessary to disobey a pope because obedience to the Faith is the primary virtue, not obedience to a pontiff. This truth is understood by informed Catholics, many of whom share SSPX concerns, and the necessity of such “disobedience” is acknowledged in Canon Law (1323). The Pope’s attempts to restore the Mass (he once described the new Mass as “a fabrication, a banal, on-the-spot production”) and his warning that Vatican II is “not a fresh start from zero” proves that he, too, is worried about the devastation of the past 50 years. Again, many Catholics opposed the beatification of Pope John Paul II and some – including diocesan clergy in England – signed an online petition (not organised by the SSPX) against it. Similarly, of the Assisi prayer meeting, even the wellknown anti-SSPX blogger priest Fr Z wrote: “I, too, am not enthusiastic about this idea.” It is odd that correspondents claim, calumniously, that SSPX priests make contemptuous references to Rome while ignoring the contemptuous denial of doctrines in diocesan parishes and schools.
Critics are correct, however, in reminding us that Christ will never abandon the Church. Indeed, the clearest sign we have today that Christ has kept that promise is God’s wonderful gift to His Church of a second Athanasius: Archbishop Lefebvre, and the SSPX.
Yours faithfully, PATRICIA McKEEVER By email From Mr Robert Ian Williams SIR – The differences between those of us who accept the authority of the Pope and the teachings of Vatican II, and those who challenge them, are crucially important. It would be easy to descend into a tit-for-tat dialogue, but the more nobler path, I think, is to use analogy and example.
Let us imagine that we are a firstcentury Jew who has come into contact with our Lord. We have witnessed his miracles and listened to his teaching. We have become convinced of his claims and decided to follow him. From that moment onwards, private judgment ceases and we are now disciples to be taught. So when our Lord stands before the city of Jerusalem and weeps over it and proclaims its impending destruction, it would be no use to rush up to our Lord and state: “Rabbi, you’ve got it wrong, according to the Prophet Isaiah this city has a glorious future.” There lies the flaw, for the correct response should be to bow in humility at our Lord’s words as our interpretation of the Word of God in Sacred Scripture and tradition can be wrong, but never that of the Lord who is their inspiration. History, of course, vindicates our Lord and it is fundamental to Catholic doctrine that he handed that teaching authority on to his Holy Catholic Church.
Your correspondent (January 13) has summed up well the SSPX’s way of defining Catholic truth when she states that “keeping the faith entails reminding ourselves of what is and is not authentic Catholic doctrine. It means comparing what is being taught now, by popes, bishops and priests, with what has always been taught, to enable us to recognise false teaching when we read or hear it and to avoid falling into error.” Here again is the fundamental flaw: the SSPX arrogates to itself the role of private judgment and, like Protestants, rules out the infallible living teaching authority our Lord has set over us. This interpretation and comparison of what is current and past Catholic teaching may be wrong, but never the Church’s understanding.
The choice is simple: do we follow the successor of St Peter as confirmer of the brethren or our own private judgment? For in the final analysis, despite all its Catholic trappings of liturgy, birettas and protestations of orthodoxy, the SSPX and its followers are more like Protestants in following their own private judgment.
Yours faithfully, ROBERT IAN WILLIAMS By email