17 December 2013
By My Oath, In the Tangle of My Mind
Sir Thomas More: Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it's God's part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping. If I can take the oath, I will.
-- from the theatrical version of the great Robert Bolt play, A Man for All Seasons
A friend sent me this very insightful post on the oath with which the members of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate are threatened. It makes a good point. To what exactly, is one binding oneself? Is there a definitive interpretation of the ambiguities of the Council, one that has eluded all the Popes, theologians, prelates and lay faithful since 1965? Something neither the SSPX nor Cardinal Ratzinger could spot as self-evident in 1988?
Or is it just a promise to do whatever you are told regardless of whether it violates the faith, or a properly formed conscience, or whatever-- in other words, a pure exercise of power?
From the post linked above:
The gist seems to be, Vatican II means whatever the powers that be in Rome at a particular moment in time take it to mean. And given how vaguely worded and even self-defeating many of the documents of Vatican II were and are, this could mean enormous swings from one pontificate – or episcopate – to the next, with all the self-contradiction, confusion, and despair that implies.
One of the most tragic aspects of the materialist-oriented construct of “democratic liberalism” the vast majority of us live in today is that the “power of the people” is really an illusion, that with the undoing of the Rights of God and their replacement with the rights of man there is no solid foundation for society. We have thus devolved into a near-totalitarian construct where the only thing that matters is power, who wields it, and what they want. Is the Church to be the same? Is will to power the name of the game, now?
This post links to a post by Fr. Hunwicke at his blog, that analyzes the problem of the proposed oath in some detail, and is worth a read, too. The quest begins as follows:
It's surprising how things creep back. Ordinands of the Franciscans of the Immaculate are now to be required to ... guess what ... to swear a new oath ... but not at all the same sort of oath as the Anti-Modernist Oath. But the context for this novel imposition appears to be a culture just as ferocious as anything ushered in by Pascendi Dominici gregis: refusal to subscribe will mean instant dismissal from the Order. The required undertaking is described as "accettazione formale ... dei documenti del Concilio Vaticano II, secondo l'autorita riconosciuta loro dal Magistero". The problem that I have with this is that either it imposes an impossibly heavy burden upon those swearing it; or it means nothing.
This is precisely the point of my including the quote at the top of this post. As a lawyer who struggles to be prudent instead of foolhardy, and yet to have the fortitude to defend my faith without rationalizing it away, that quote has always struck me as particularly wise. If it is possible to take such an path, that may be prudent-- one shouldn't force one's own martyrdom. But if there is no way to take an oath in good conscience regardless of the parsing of the words, then one must refuse.
Of course, the wording of the oath is key. But it might be more than the devil himself could do to fashion a coherent oath to bind oneself to certain disputed passages from the documents of the last council. For even if the words of an oath are crystal clear, what happens if the documents to which the oath refers are not?
Wait and pray.
By the way, since we pried open the riches of the Bolt play, St. Thomas More left a message to all those professional neo-Catholic apologists of today who will justify anything to keep the boat from rocking:
Thomas More: Will, I'd trust you with my life. But not your principles. You see, we speak of being anchored to our principles. But if the weather turns nasty you up with an anchor and let it down where there's less wind, and the fishing's better. And "Look," we say, "look, I'm anchored! To my principles!”