+St. Lawrence, Martyr+
Already we have received feedback from a disgruntled critic who demeans Msgr. Fenton by pointing out that he remained in the Vatican 2 church following John 23rd’s death and for several years of Paul 6’s reign before passing away in July of 1969. Therefore, this person concludes, God denied Msgr. Fenton the grace that would have enlightened him regarding the true situation, so ergo he must be considered a heretic and should not be quoted as an authoritative source on this site. But because Pope Pius XII was the last true pope, and personally commended Msgr. Fenton for his work, we feel no compunction whatsoever in quoting him, even up to the time he was dismissed (or resigned, as some reports state) from his professorship at the Catholic University of America in 1964.
Together with his former boss, Rev. Francis J. Connell, (who resigned from the Catholic University of America in 1958), Msgr. Fenton fought the changes that bishops and others proposed at the preliminary preparations for the false Vatican 2 council prior to 1962 and during its final session in 1964-1965. His diaries are proof that he was sickened by what was being proposed and believed that if the suggested changes were implemented it would be the end of the Catholic Church. According to an online source a reader notes below:
“After a particularly heated meeting in Rome during March of 1962, one graphic clash was recorded in the diary of Fr. Congar: “After some time, Fenton is so vile, so foolishly negative, so aggressive, so entirely out of his senses, that Msgr. Philips [Gerard Philips, a theologian at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium] stands up and says, with emotion, strongly and calmly: Under these conditions, it is impossible to work, and I retire. Because (addressing Fenton) you accuse everybody of heresy.” Fr. de Lubac’s diary offers a substantially similar account. Msgr. Fenton’s recollection of this incident in his diary is very brief: “At the afternoon meeting, Philips launched a verbal attack against me, and I replied in kind.” (Angelusonline.org).
Monsignor Fenton was not unaware of what was happening; he was simply outnumbered and helpless to do anything about it. One source reports: “Msgr. Fenton fought the Vatican 2 reforms until his death on July 7, 1969” (Carey, Patrick W. “Fenton, Joseph Clifford”. Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000, p. 192). Carey is an emeritus professor of theology at Marquette University, and a biographer of “Cardinal” Avery Dulles. In a 2018 article on Fenton’s seeming revival among some Catholics, he criticized certain aspects of his writings in light of Vatican 2.
We reserve judgment on Msgr. Fenton only because he did speak out when all others were silent, and we do not know his reasons for doing what he did. He was the last of the great theologians. And as another reader has pointed out, this situation is no different than that of the ecclesiastical writer Tertullian, whose orthodox writings are found quoted frequently in approved Catholic works despite Tertullian’s later profession of the Montanist heresy. Nor may we add, of the Church’s continued citation and use of King Henry VIII’s Defense of the Sacraments, the latest edition by Benziger Bros. appearing in 1908. In the introduction to this work we read:
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it not be with Henry.Generally he is remembered as one who ‘spared neither man in his hate, nor woman in his lust.’ But this is the roue, the non-Catholic, the Protestant, the schismatic Henry. Let us not forget that at least once he had been the beau-ideal Henry; in body, tall, straight, broad-shouldered, a master of every gentlemanly accomplishment; in mind naturally clever, an accomplished linguist, a learned theologian, a faithful son of the Church. As such he wrote his famous book, the “Defence of the Seven Sacraments.” (Editor, Rev. Louis O’Donovan, S.T.L). So let it not be with Msgr. Fenton, either. He will continue to be quoted here.
If you follow the skewed “logic” of the critic mentioned above in our opening paragraph, it will eventually lead to the conclusion that Pope Pius XII could not have been pope, for allowing liberal and Modernist bishops and cardinals to remain in the Church. This has been refuted at length before on this site, but there is another dimension to the situation of the Church in the last decade of Her existence that has not been fully considered or explored. It not only explains why Pope Pius XII behaved as he did in the final years of his pontificate, but also could explain why more conservative members of the hierarchy, Msgr. Fenton and Rev. Connell included, were at a loss regarding what was actually happening, how to proceed and what they should do.
As noted in our last blog, a massive doctrinal warfare campaign was launched against American Catholics in the early 1950s by the CIA, and this campaign successfully molded the opinions and beliefs not only of the laity but the hierarchy as well. This is best reflected in the title to David Wemhoff’s monumental work: John Courtney Murray, Time/Life and the American Proposition: How the CIA’s Doctrinal Warfare Program Changed the Catholic Church(2015). That this program reached even into the very chambers of Pope Pius XII himself is demonstrated in the article recently posted HERE. We believe this new article is essential to understanding the full import of the deception perpetrated on the entire Catholic Church, and all its consequences today.
Now we proceed to part two of Msgr. Fenton’s article on the rules for theological discourse. Comments on the passages in bold will follow the excerpt.
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Pope Benedict XV and the rules for theological discussion
(Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton, American Ecclesiastical Review, July 1956)
(2) The second lesson brought out in this section of the Ad beatissimi is that it is wrong for anyone to set aside the doctrinal decisions of competent authority within the Church because these decisions are not pleasing to him. In the AAS translation carried in this article, the sense of the Latin original in this particular part is not given with complete accuracy. According to the translation, it is wrong for anyone to disregard these commands of legitimate authority “on the pretence that he does not approve of them.” The Latin original reads: “propterea quia non probetur sibt,” which would mean merely: “because he does not approve of them.”
Actually, whenever there has been any pretense or simulation connected with the setting aside of authoritative teachings by writers in the field of sacred theology, it has never taken the form of trying to make it appear that the statements of the ecclesia docens are being passed over because the writer does not approve of them. The usual manner of acting in this way is to have some doctrinal decision which does not appeal to a particular author rejected on the pretense that the Sovereign Pontiff, in issuing this judgment, was actually referring to something quite distinct from what he said he was discussing.
Thus the text of the Ad beatissimi insists upon the need for genuine humility in all theological discussion. It tells us that the Catholic writer or lecturer must “submit his opinion to the judgment of authority, and then obey as a matter of conscience.” It is, of course, far more in accord with the dictates of pride to ignore the doctrinal decisions of ecclesiastical authority whenever these decisions are distasteful, and particularly whenever they are opposed to what the author or lecturer has hitherto been teaching. It is quite in line with the demands of worldly self-love to allege some pretext which will make the rejection of papal teachings appear as an act of virtue or as an achievement of scientific learning. But, as Pope Benedict XV pointed out in the Ad beatissimi, such is not the course of action that accords with the demands of the Catholic Church upon its theologians.
(3) Pope Benedict’s encyclical then insists that no private individual has the right to set himself up as a teacher in the Church. The translation asserts that this cannot be done “by the medium of books or of newspapers.” The Latin original makes it clear that public lectures can also be the medium for this unauthorized teaching within the Church. It likewise makes it obvious that the prohibition extends, not only to newspapers, but to all periodical literature.
Here the Ad beatissimi touches upon a point which has been much more fully developed by Pope Pius XII in the allocution Si diligis, one of his most important doctrinal pronouncements. The same section of the Si diligis, incidentally, casts important light on the previous lesson inculcated by the Ad beatissimi.
“Christ Our Lord entrusted the truth which He had brought from heaven to the Apostles, and through them to their successors. He sent His Apostles, as He had been sent by the Father, to teach all nations everything they had heard from Him. The Apostles are, therefore, by divine right the true doctors and teachers in the Church. Besides the lawful successors of the Apostles, namely the Roman Pontiff for the universal Church and Bishops for the faithful entrusted to their care, there are no other teachers divinely constituted in the Church of Christ. But both the Bishops and, first of all, the Supreme Teacher and Vicar of Christ on earth, may associate others with themselves in their work of teacher, and use their advice; they delegate to them the faculty to teach, either by special grant, or by conferring an office to which the faculty is attached. Those who are so called teach, not in their own name, nor by reason of their theological knowledge, but by reason of the mandate which they have received from the lawful Teaching Authority. Their faculty always remains subject to that Authority, nor is it ever exercised in its own right or independently. Bishops, for their part, by conferring this faculty are not deprived of the right to teach; they retain the very grave obligation of supervising the doctrine which others propose in order to help them, [and they retain the very grave obligation] of seeing to its integrity and security. Therefore the legitimate Teaching Authority of the Church is guilty of no injury or no offence to any of those to whom it has given a canonical mission, if it desires to ascertain what they, to whom it has entrusted the mission of teaching, are proposing and defending in their lectures, and in books, notes and reviews intended for the use of their students, as well as in books and other publications intended for the general public” (Si Diligus, 1954).
Occasionally, over the period of the last few years, the lesson of the Ad beatissimi has been misinterpreted. People have been led to imagine that Pope Benedict’s action in prohibiting private individuals from acting as teachers of divine revelation within the Catholic Church in some way implied a rebuke to those enemies of Modernism whom the Modernists and their sympathizers designated as “integralists.”” Nothing could be farther from the truth.
At the time Pope Benedict wrote the Ad beatissimi, and, unfortunately, even after it had been written, there were individuals who arrogated to themselves the positions of independent teachers within the Catholic Church. The Modernist leader Von Hugel was an outstanding offender along this line. He attempted to teach in the Catholic Church, not as an instrument chosen by any member of the hierarchy, but in obvious opposition to the directions of the Holy See. He disdained even seeking an imprimatur for his published works. If ever there was a private person who presumed to set himself up as a teacher in the Church outside the sphere of influence of the ecclesia docens, that person was Friedrich von Hugel. And it is interesting to note that we have never been told of any of the so-called “integralists” whoever violated this command in the Ad beatissimi in anything like the way Von Hugel violated it.
From the entire context of Pope Benedict’s encyclical letter, it is quite obvious that neither the document itself nor any particular section of it can be said to be directed particularly against these “integralists.” As a matter of fact the Ad beatissimi repudiates the errors and the spirit of the Modernists as powerfully and as bitterly as St. Pius X had ever done. It renews the condemnations issued by St. Pius X against Modernism and the Modernists. There is absolutely nothing in the document to support the contention that Pope Benedict XV meant in any way to condemn or to censure the loyal supporters of his sainted predecessor.
Certainly, when the conduct of Modernists like Von Hugel was so well known, and so completely at variance with what is inculcated in the Ad beatissimi, it would seem most probable that, if this particular teaching was directed “against” anyone, it was intended as a lesson and as a childing for the writers of the Modernist group. But, as the passage reads in Pope Benedict’s encyclical, it is simply an order from the Vicar of Christ on earth to Catholic publicists to leave the teaching of God’s revealed word where Our Lord had put it: in the hands of the apostolic collegium. It is a badly needed reminder of the fact that “Besides the lawful successors of the Apostles, namely the Roman Pontiff for the universal Church and Bishops for the faithful entrusted to their care, there are no other teachers divinely constituted in the Church of Christ.” And it is likewise a reminder that the only legitimate teaching in the Church is that of the apostolic ecclesia docens, or by some person who has been called in to aid the hierarchy in their teaching work, under their direction.
Furthermore, this section of the Ad beatissimi advises all Catholics of their duty to submit their teachings to the judgment of the authority Our Lord has established in His Church and to receive the decision of that authority reverently and obediently. The Roman Pontiff is the supreme doctrinal authority for the universal Church militant of the New Testament. When he decides to speak out on any doctrinal point (or, as the Humani generis puts it, when the Sovereign Pontiffs “in actis suis de re hactenus controversa data opera sententiam ferunt’), the others within the Church are obliged in conscience to accept this decision.
(4) The encyclical states that, where there is a question which has not as yet been decided by the Holy See, theologians may legitimately hold opposite views and may defend their own opinions. But it insists that in theological debates which are of themselves quite licit, the norms of truth, justice, and charity must always be observed.
Thus it is the teaching of the Holy See that there is a definite field within which theologians may licitly differ or debate. This field is limited to questions which have not been resolved by an act of the supreme doctrinal authority of the Catholic Church. It is quite obvious that no Catholic lecturer or writer can legitimately debate against a thesis which is taught authoritatively by the magisterium of the Church. And it is no less clearly the teaching of the magisterium that no individual theologian has any right to impose his own OPINION on others. As a matter of fact, theological debate on points which have not been decided by the Holy See can be and very frequently has been of immense value to the cause of sacred theology and to the Church itself.
The official translation reads that: “in such disputes there must be no offensive language, for this may lead to grave breaches of charity.” It does not give an exact rendering of the sense of the Latin original: “Sed in his disputationibus omnis intemperantia sermonis absit, quae graves afferre potest offensiones caritati.” What the Ad beatissimi strictly forbids is intemperate language which can be seriously uncharitable. Offensive reference to a theological opponent is always uncharitable. It is not merely something which may lead to an offense against this virtue. The point made in the encyclical is that any intemperate language in theological debate is forbidden, and may be seriously sinful. The theologian is entitled to defend any opinion of his which is not opposed to the teaching of the Holy See, but he must do this modeste, temperately. He is definitely not allowed to assert that people who oppose this opinion of his are suspect in faith or badly disposed in the line of ecclesiastical discipline because of their stand on this particular question. It is to be noted, incidentally, that the official translation takes no account of the words “hac ipsa tantum causa,” which are found here in the Latin original.
This portion of the Ad beatissimi is a clear reminder of the fact that debate or discussion in the field of sacred theology must always be conducted according to the norms of truth, justice, and charity. A theologian is not meant to debate a point in order to show that he is more intelligent or more erudite than the individual with whom he disagrees. The schola theologica is definitely not an arena for the exercise of vainglory.
The work of theology is the investigation of divinely revealed truth, so that God’s message may be ever better known and loved. Victory is achieved in theological discussion or debate only when the light of theological evidence is attained. A man wins in a theological discussion when, by means of the varying theses considered and the arguments alleged in their favor, he is able to understand what the resolution of the problem should really be. And, if a man is a loyal theologian, genuinely and sincerely loyal to the directives of the Holy See, this is the victory he seeks. It matters little, except to the cause of personal pride, whether the correct resolution of the problem turns out to have been the one originally proposed by oneself or by another.
When it insists that theologians should uphold their own opinions modeste, Pope Benedict’s encyclical takes direct cognizance of the basic reality of a theological opinion. By its very nature an opinion of the type being discussed in the Ad beatissimi is a thesis which has not been directly supported by the authoritative magisterium of the Catholic Church. If a man holds it and defends it, he does so, in the last analysis, because it appears to him to be the correct solution to a theological problem. The very fact that other men, presumably as well versed in the science as he is himself, refuse to accept it, should help him to realize that his own resolution of the problem may be objectively inaccurate or inadequate. If he is defending what is merely a free opinion, something which can be contradicted as licitly as it can be upheld, he should realize that his original position may turn out to be untenable, and he should be loyal and intelligent enough to recognize and accept the truth even if it appears in his opponent’s position.
In the history of the Catholic Church, the violation of the command set forth here in Pope Benedict’s Ad beatissimiappears as one of the most tragic factors. In very considerable measure the heresies which have ruined the spiritual lives of so many thousands, and the evil doctrinal tendencies which have harmed so many more have been due to the obstinacy of theologians who have upheld what they first considered free theological opinions long after any support of these theses was excusable. Pope Benedict XV did the cause of sacred theology a great service when he warned theologians to defend even legitimate free opinions modeste.
To use a man’s support of a free theological opinion opposed to one’s own as a reason to impugn the genuineness of his faith and loyalty to the Church is always an evil tactic. To use intemperate language towards an opponent in theological discussion is always deplorable. And, if that intemperate language is meant to bring others to dislike or to despise that opponent, it is both unjust and uncharitable. (End of Fenton article excerpt)
Comments on Msgr. Fenton’s article, (2-3) above
— “It is wrong for anyone to set aside the doctrinal decisions of competent authority within the Church because these decisions are not pleasing to him… The usual manner of acting in this way is to have some doctrinal decision which does not appeal to a particular author rejected on the pretense that the Sovereign Pontiff, in issuing this judgment, was actually referring to something quite distinct from what he said he was discussing.”
T. Benns: How often have we seen this tactic applied in argumentation presented by Traditionalists? It is practically their stock in trade. Another ruse they use is to pretend that some decision rendered in a document issuing from the ordinary magisterium does not bind in conscience, even though such a document is entered into the Acta Apostolica Sedis and has been declared authoritative and binding by actual theologians, even Holy Office officials, writing before the death of Pope Pius XII. When such subterfuge is employed, and the one asserting such things does not desist when advised that they are in error, the rules that apply in theological discussion regarding mere opinions and matters not yet decided by the Holy See do not apply. For then it becomes the duty of those defending the truth to expose and rebuke the person who is scandalizing others by refusing to obey the Roman Pontiffs.
— “The Catholic writer or lecturer must “submit his opinion to the judgment of authority, and then obey as a matter of conscience… No private individual has the right to set himself up as a teacher in the Church” (be this in newspaper articles, books or private lectures).
T. Benns: But as pointed out in several articles on this site, this is true only when such Church officials unquestionably exist; physical impossibility excuses us today. Catholics are obligated to defend the faith when it comes under attack, and it is under attack everywhere. For as St. Thomas Aquinas states: “In cases of necessity where faith is in danger, everyone is bound to proclaim his faith to others, either to give good example and encouragement to the rest of the faithful or to check the attacks of unbelievers…” (II-II Q3, A2, reply 1). Pope Pius XII explains in his address, The Mission of Catholic Women, Sept. 29, 1957, entered into the AAS:
“The initiative of the lay apostolate is perfectly justified even without a prior explicit mission from the hierarchy… Personal initiative plays a great part in protecting the faith and Catholic life especially in countries where contacts with the hierarchy are difficult or practically impossible. In such circumstances the Christians upon whom this task falls must, with God’s grace, assume all their responsibilities. Even so nothing can be undertaken against the explicit and implicit will of the Church or contrary in any way to the rules of faith or morals or ecclesiastical discipline.” While many complain that the articles on this site are too long and technical, it is precisely because we must strictly abide by what Pope Pius XII dictated here, documenting how things should proceed from the teachings of the Continual Magisterium, Canon Law and the moral theologians.
— “Besides the lawful successors of the Apostles, namely the Roman Pontiff for the universal Church and Bishops for the faithful entrusted to their care, there are no other teachers divinely constituted in the Church of Christ. But both the Bishops and, first of all, the Supreme Teacher and Vicar of Christ on earth, may associate others with themselves in their work of teacher, and use their advice; they delegate to them the faculty to teach…”
T. Benns: Si diligus, from which the above quote is taken, was written in 1954; The Mission of Catholic Women in 1957. Si diligus addresses the protocol for when there are valid bishops in communion with a canonically elected Roman Pontiff; the later address to women considers the situation where there are no hierarchy to consult. The two cannot be said to be the same, and it is the pope himself who makes this distinction.
— “It is simply an order from the Vicar of Christ on earth to Catholic publicists to leave the teaching of God’s revealed word where Our Lord had put it: in the hands of the apostolic collegium. Besides the lawful successors of the Apostles, namely the Roman Pontiff for the universal Church and Bishops for the faithful entrusted to their care, there are no other teachers divinely constituted in the Church of Christ.” And it is likewise a reminder that the only legitimate teaching in the Church is that of the apostolic ecclesia docens, or by some person who has been called in to aid the hierarchy in their teaching work, under their direction.”
T. Benns: Here is a pointed reminder that it is the Apostolic College, with St. Peter’s successor at its head, who possess the teaching authority in the Church; not the bishops alone. As stated above, the Pope himself has called in the laity to do the work of the hierarchy when bishops and priests are unavailable.
Comments on Msgr. Fenton’s article, (4), above
— It is quite obvious that no Catholic lecturer or writer can legitimately debate against a thesis which is taught authoritatively by the magisterium of the Church. And it is no less clearly the teaching of the magisterium that no individual theologian has any right to impose his own OPINION on others.
T. Benns: And yet Traditionalists debate theses taught authoritatively by the magisterium every day, both on the Internet and in public debate forums. Despite being presented with overwhelming evidence, they refuse to desist from their heresies and schism. This hinges mainly on the fact that they deny the necessity of the papacy for the Church’s very existence and the inability of the Church to operate as such at all during an interregnum, under Pope Pius XII’s Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis.
— “What the Ad beatissimi strictly forbids is intemperate language which can be seriously uncharitable. Offensive reference to a theological opponent is always uncharitable… Any intemperate language in theological debate is forbidden and may be seriously sinful. The theologian is entitled to defend any opinion of his WHICH IS NOT OPPOSED TO THE TEACHING OF THE HOLY SEE… To use intemperate language towards an opponent in theological discussion is always deplorable. And, if that intemperate language is meant to bring others to dislike or to despise that opponent, it is both unjust and uncharitable.”
T. Benns: Once again, no theologian or anyone calling himself a Catholic writer has any right to defend error, and no one writing today is a theologian anyway. And yet Traditionalists defend error on a daily basis. Those defending even opinions proscribed by the Holy See cannot be allowed to prevail without being publicly corrected. And those defending even tolerated opinions must not accuse their opponents of heresy or other errors for holding the opposite view. Some Traditionalists defend their abuse of opponents by stating that they are allowed to point out unfavorable facts about their person, and in certain cases this is true, (if it could affect the truth of what their opponent is saying, or if they justifiably question their motives). But if they proceed to an ad hominem attack without ever answering the legitimate argument presented by an opponent, resorting to the personal attack instead — justified or not — then they are still guilty of violating charity. And this has been the case for decades.
— “In very considerable measure the heresies which have ruined the spiritual lives of so many thousands, and the evil doctrinal tendencies which have harmed so many more have been due to the obstinacy of theologians who have upheld what they first considered free theological opinions long after any support of these theses was excusable.”
T. Benns: Many examples of what Msgr. Fenton states above could be offered here, including the definition of infallibility, which includes teachings of the ordinary magisterium entered into the Acta Apostolica Sedis; the validity of episcopal consecrations during an interregnum without the papal mandate, a teaching contrary to Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis; the heretical Gallicanist proposition that bishops (who are not even bishops) have any sort of authority whatsoever without being united to a canonically elected Roman Pontiff; the heresy that jurisdiction during an interregnum is supplied by Christ Himself and many others that could be mentioned here. Yes, thanks to evil theologians and pseudo-clergy pretending to be knowledgeable in theology, thousands and thousands have been deceived. All thanks to the Modernists Msgr. Fenton so relentlessly condemned. (To be concluded next week.)