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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Francis, Congar, and The Case of Archbishop Lefebvre

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Francis, Congar, and The Case of Archbishop Lefebvre

In his October 9, 2021 address to open the Synod, Francis put the Church and world on notice that he intended to change the Church, invoking the pseudo-Catholic inspiration of Yves Congar: 

“Father Congar, of blessed memory, once said: ‘There is no need to create another Church, but to create a different Church.’  That is the challenge. For a ‘different Church,’ a Church open to the newness that God wants to suggest, let us with greater fervour and frequency invoke the Holy Spirit and humbly listen to him, journeying together as he, the source of communion and mission, desires: with docility and courage.”

 

Yves Congar
Congar True Reform

Although Congar was one of the most influential people at Vatican II (and was eventually made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II), we may be inclined to dismiss his writing on the basis that he was so clearly wrong that no serious Catholic could actually trust him. He was, as Fr. Dominique Bourmaud expressed in his One Hundred Years of Modernism, a true destroyer of the Faith:

“Like the child who takes a perverse pleasure in destroying, it seems that Congar had no greater joy in life than that of witnessing the dilapidation of the treasure of the Church and the destruction of the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ.”

In his book against Archbishop Lefebvre, Congar shows us how he advocated for replacing Catholic tradition with non-Catholic ideas through a democratic process (e.g., endless synods) which the innovators would erroneously claim to be guided by the Holy Ghost.

Unfortunately, Francis shares Congar’s “perverse pleasure in destroying” the Faith and, indeed, uses the same instruments of demolition. Thus, it would not matter if every sensible person in the entire world knew that Congar was a blind guide — the fact that Francis allows him to posthumously guide the barque of Peter means we ought to acquaint ourselves with how Congar navigated souls through hostile waters to ports of apostasy.

In his They Have Uncrowned Him, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre dedicated a subchapter to Yves Congar.

“Fr. Congar is not one of my friends. A periti at the Council, he was, with Karl Rahner, the principal author of the errors that I have not ceased combatting. He wrote, among others, a little book entitled Archbishop Lefebvre and the Crisis in the Church.”

Congar comes across like a comic book villain who, as Fr. Bourmaud described, “takes a perverse pleasure in destroying.”

This small book on Archbishop Lefebvre from 1976 — Challenge to the Church: The Case of Archbishop Lefebvre (English version) — showcases Yves Congar’s fight against Archbishop Lefebvre and traditional Catholicism, a fight that continues today through their respective spiritual and theological descendants. With his arrogance and gratuitous sophistry, Congar comes across like a comic book villain who, as Fr. Bourmaud described, “takes a perverse pleasure in destroying.” On closer inspection, we can see that Francis has adopted many of the same ideas, particularly in connection with the new Synod. In his book against Archbishop Lefebvre, Congar shows us how he advocated for replacing Catholic tradition with non-Catholic ideas through a democratic process (e.g., endless synods) which the innovators would erroneously claim to be guided by the Holy Ghost:

Tradition. For Congar, Archbishop Lefebvre represented the face of Catholic tradition in opposition to the novelties of Vatican II:

“Here we come to a decisive point. Mgr Lefebvre never stops invoking tradition. He said to the Pope, ‘Allow us simply to use the experience of tradition.’ If the only meaning of that was ‘Allow us to train priests according to the tried and tested rules of bygone days, but accepting the Council and the reforms which it got under way,’ there would be no problem.”

Congar’s mention of the Council and “the reforms which it got under way” is quite telling. Although Congar cites a number of Vatican II’s shortcomings in the book, he nonetheless insists that Archbishop Lefebvre must accept not only the specific documents of the Council but all that it set in motion. He writes that this acceptance of the post-conciliar reforms is necessary to live “in the Church’s communion”:

“What is at issue is not the use of Latin, nor the wearing of the clerical cassock, nor the regime of life at the seminary of Econe. . . . What is at issue is the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council, and its sixteen documents, signed by the whole of the Catholic episcopacy, and approved and promulgated by the Holy Father; and then the acceptance of reforms — particularly the liturgical ones — which were undertaken by the Council, formulated in Rome or worked out in detail by the pastoral authorities of each country, and approved by the Pope. Such an acceptance is necessary in order to live fully, effectively and concretely in the Church’s communion today.”

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Thanks to Francis’s Traditionis Custodes, we now know that we have to choose between tradition (i.e., Catholicism) and the reforms of Vatican II, but Congar was savvy enough to understand that he had to argue (disingenuously of course) that one could reconcile tradition with that which apparently contradicts it:

“The Church is tradition, the handing-down of what has been given once and for all: revelation, sacraments and ministry. It’s therefore easy to understand that a sincere and faithful body of Catholics is attached to one form or another of tradition. Those who are in sympathy with categorical, trenchant declarations will give pride of place to the forms which reflect this need. But the great river of tradition is wider than a straight canal with cemented parapets. The tradition of the Fathers is richer than the tradition whose content was fixed in the face of the Reformation by the ‘Holy Council of Trent.’”

So his first approach to the problem is to argue that those attached to tradition need to consider that tradition is much broader than they envision.

Elsewhere he takes a somewhat different approach, arguing that tradition encompasses incessant innovations:

“Tradition isn’t the past, it isn’t old habits kept up by the espirit de corps. Tradition is actuality, simultaneously handing on, receiving and creating. Tradition is the presence of a principle at every moment of its development. We don’t accept the break. The Church never stops innovating, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, but she always takes from the roots and makes use of the sap which comes from them.”

So whatever we think of “tradition,” Congar wants us to know that we cannot let it lead us to reject the innovations of Vatican II. As we will see later, Congar frequently claims that the Holy Spirit guides these innovations. First, though, we must see where Congar will seek truth if not from Catholic tradition.

Yves Congar and Bennie XVIYoung Ratzinger and Yves Congar

Alternative Sources of Truth. In the last two verses of the Gospel of St. Matthew we have proof that the Catholic Church has the fullness of religious truth that Jesus Christ chose to impart:

“Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Without a doubt, we can all advance in knowledge and understanding of the Catholic Faith; but we know that our religion contains all of the religious truths that we can and should know this side of Heaven. Like so many other nominally Catholic thinkers, though, Congar looked outside the Church for religious truth:

“I want to gather up every small fragment of truth, wherever it is to be found, with the same care that I would use in picking up a tiny piece of a consecrated host. . . . And who could deny that the Protestants might possess small fragments or elements of truth? Who would pretend that we have nothing to gain or discover?”

Here we have typical Congar sophistry. Obviously Protestants possess elements of truth — after all, they believe many truths of Catholicism. But because those elements of truth in Protestant religions come from the Catholic Church, there is no sense in which we would need to look to the Protestants to discover Christian truth. We do indeed have more to “gain or discover” but that will come if we make it to Heaven, not if we make it to the local Protestant church.

For Congar (like Francis), another rich source of “truth” was condemned error:

“It cannot be denied that a text like this does materially say something different from the Syllabus of 1864 . . . But among other things, the Syllabus was trying to defend a temporal power which, taking into account the new situation, the papacy renounced in 1929. The historico-social context within which the Church is called to live and to speak has changed, and lessons had been learnt from circumstances.”

Instead of a guarantee of authority or infallibility based on the protection of the Holy Ghost, Congar speaks of a guarantee of authenticity on the basis of principles of democratic process.

In his They Have Uncrowned Him, Archbishop Lefebvre responded to this passage with his characteristic strength and Catholic precision:

“Unfortunately for Father Congar, these ‘Catholics’ are none other than the liberal Catholics condemned by the Popes; and the teaching of the Syllabus, far from being dependent on fleeting historical circumstances, constitutes a mass of truths logically deduced from revelation and as immutable as the faith!”

How could it be otherwise? If Congar was correct in thinking that the Syllabus was superseded by the same innovations condemned by the Syllabus then why would we believe anything on the basis of the Church’s authority, which could reverse its previous anathemas on the whims of those in power?

So, unmoored from tradition, the Church is now free to search for truth in the hostile waters of Protestantism, condemned errors, and the pluralist world we find today.

Finally, Congar looked to the “modern world” as a new source of truth:

“By the Declaration on Religious Liberty, by the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, On the Church in the Modern World, — a significant title, this! — the Church of Vatican II has openly placed herself in the pluralist world of today; and, without disowning anything great that there may have been, has cut the ropes which were mooring her to the banks of the Middle Ages. You cannot stay stuck at a particular moment of history.”

So, unmoored from tradition, the Church is now free to search for truth in the hostile waters of Protestantism, condemned errors, and the pluralist world we find today. Indeed, we can look for truth anywhere other than in the traditions of the Church!

Democratic Process. Having abandoned the protections of Catholic tradition and embarked on a voyage to seek truth in hitherto forbidden places, what would guarantee the success of the Council and its subsequent reforms? Congar answers with a description of the Council’s “authenticity”:

“Vatican II wasn’t perfect, in the eyes either of the ‘conservative’ elements or of the ‘progressive’ elements; but, more than any other ecumenical council in history, it had all the guarantees of authenticity. Like no other, it brought the whole Church together in the person of its pastors. It was far more heedful of the minority which was conservative, than Vatican I had been. . . . The Holy Father did everything he could, even going so far as to run the risk of unpopularity, to create conditions in which the anxieties of the minority would be calmed and the final vote of the assembly would be as nearly unanimous as possible.”

Instead of a guarantee of authority or infallibility based on the protection of the Holy Ghost, Congar speaks of a guarantee of authenticity on the basis of principles of democratic process. Certainly there would have been no inherent incompatibility between the protection of the Holy Ghost and the agreement of the assembled Council Fathers. But the fact that the “progressive elements” of the Council proceeded by means of deception, intentionally abandoned the traditional protections of the Faith, and explicitly refused to define anything new, vitiates claims that the novelties of Vatican II enjoy authority or infallibility.

To borrow an expression Francis has given to the Church and world, Congar effectively asked that we all be open to a god of surprises who will manifest itself when we set aside the settled truths and let the world, flesh, and the devil guide us.

So, Congar makes a few appeals to the results of the democratic process to counter Archbishop Lefebvre’s misgivings about the Council and its reforms:

“Mgr Lefebvre actually wrote to the Abbe G. De Nantes on 19 March 1975: ‘I would have you know that, if a bishop does break away from Rome, it won’t be me.’ By that he understands faithful (according to his lights) Rome, ‘Eternal Rome,’ not the Rome of Vatican II or the Rome of the Missal of Paul VI. But how can one claim to be right and claim to conduct oneself as part of a whole when one objects to the Eucharist that 700,000,000 Catholics, 400,000 priests and 2,550 bishops celebrate in union with the successor of Peter?”

“In dialogue, I would accept a discussion . . . so long as my fellow-debaters did not exclude in advance a possibility which is actually the conviction of 2,500 bishops, 400,000 priests and hundreds of millions of the faithful.”

Innovators like Congar point to these numbers as a guarantee of the “authenticity” of Vatican II’s reforms and then think nothing of seeing those numbers decimated over the years as an unmistakable fruit of Vatican II’s reforms!

Congar and others wanted collegiality — as expressed in synods for example — to supplant the Church’s traditional exercise of authority.

If we wonder why Congar defends Vatican II on the basis of its resemblance to a democratic process rather than its standing as an ecumenical council of the Church, we find our answer in his advocacy for the Council’s innovations regarding collegiality:

“Mgr Lefebvre is not the only one to have drawn attention to the existence of a danger: that the personal exercise of authority will be diminished because of conferences, commissions, centralized organizations, national chaplaincies, etc. It really does not appear that collegiality and setting up of synods have overshadowed papal authority.”

Congar and others wanted collegiality — as expressed in synods for example — to supplant the Church’s traditional exercise of authority, so we can appreciate his motivation to characterize Vatican II as having more “guarantees of authenticity” than any other council because it was more democratic.

Congar goes on to mock skeptics of collegiality as conservative, paternalistic, and apparently critical of the French Revolution and Russian Revolution:

“Men imbued with a conservative and paternalistic spirit have a kind of ‘gut repulsion’ for words like ‘grass-roots,’ ‘the people,’ ‘democracy’ . . . . This repulsion is a reaction governed by temperament and political persuasion. But the Church has its own order of things, and its essential nature — communion — goes back more than seventeen centuries before the time of the French Revolution and nineteen centuries before the Russian Revolution.”

Of course collegiality was not the ultimate goal for Congar. As we see from the following plea to those who might oppose democracy in politics, he merely wants us all to give “the Gospel a transcendence and freedom” to operate in the Church:

“A Catholic may certainly be opposed to democracy as a political regime, provided he uses his intelligence in adopting this position. He may be ‘of the Right’ with the same proviso, and also on the condition that he is prepared to let a living sense of the Church and a lively sense of the Gospel govern his group reflexes. . . . I ask only that a person should be clear about himself, intelligently critical concerning his conditioning; and I ask this from the point of view of an ideology which mingles with our most strongly-held beliefs — that in the final analysis we should allow the Gospel a transcendence and a freedom of which the Lord Jesus is forever the example and the source.”

Congar has managed to cajole well-meaning but gullible Catholics into believing that the Holy Ghost really has caused the Church to adopt beliefs and practices that are absolutely inimical to what the Church has taught for nearly two-thousand years.

To borrow an expression Francis has given to the Church and world, Congar effectively asked that we all be open to a god of surprises who will manifest itself when we set aside the settled truths and let the world, flesh, and the devil guide us.

Movement of the Spirit. One of the most instrumental and offensive aspects of the Vatican II reforms has been the blasphemous blaming of the Holy Ghost for these adulterations of the true Faith. For Congar, the “spirit” is in the “heart of all,” which explains (for him) why the democratic process allows the Church to remain “authentic” while it seeks its tradition in previously condemned sources:

“The Church is in fact a communion: a spiritual communion through the faith and love that the Holy Spirit, the one and the same spirit, places in the heart of all.”

“The Church is the love that the Spirit of God puts into our hearts — a love which seeks reconciliation and unity; an active love, inventive in initiatives of service; a deep love which in the compassion of God takes upon itself the pains of men by prayer and intercession. . . . And the Church is mission — which is not the same as propaganda or proselytizing.”

It is of course true that faithful Catholics are guided by the Holy Ghost to do God’s will but it is preposterous to believe that the Holy Ghost is given to us for the sake of changing the Faith into something radically incompatible with what it has always been.

And it is this same mentality and process that Francis is deploying with his new Synod. As he said to open the Synod, he is following Congar’s inspiration to develop a different religion.

Congar himself acknowledges that this so-called guidance of the spirit leads to results that diverge from historical Catholic teaching. Writing specifically about the ecumenical movement that would eventually give us the Prayer Meeting at Assisi, Congar blames the Holy Spirit for his own open-minded acceptance of attitudes that would have been disapproved in the past:

“Anyone who has become involved with the ecumenical movement, who has encountered serious and committed Christians there, cannot but believe that in our century, so problematical regarding the faith, God has raised up this movement like a huge tide that proclaims the attraction of a supreme heavenly body, the Holy Spirit, the ‘Unknown beyond the Word’, whose nature it is to concentrate together people, energies, and initiatives which do not even know each others’ existence. . . . something comes from God: its the fact of the Holy Spirit, setting my open-mindedness in motion, who justifies my having a different attitude towards non-catholics from the attitude approved and practiced in the past, even by authorities whom I revere.”

Using this reasoning, Congar and so many innovators like him have managed to cajole well-meaning but gullible Catholics into believing that the Holy Ghost really has caused the Church to adopt beliefs and practices that are absolutely inimical to what the Church has taught for nearly two-thousand years.

And it is this same mentality and process that Francis is deploying with his new Synod. As he said to open the Synod, he is following Congar’s inspiration to develop a different religion. Archbishop Lefebvre’s words about Congar apply to Francis and his collaborators: “We are dealing with people who have no idea of truth, no concept of what can be an immutable truth.”

Faithful Catholics, especially those in positions of leadership, must defend the Catholic Faith assiduously against everything Congar and Francis represent in the Church. While Francis and his fellow destroyers take inspiration from Congar, we can find our own inspiration in the closing words of Archbishop Lefebvre’s They Have Uncrowned Him:

“As for me, I will not resign; I will not content myself with being present, my arms dangling, at the death-throes of my Mother the Holy Church. . . . In spite of everything I am not a pessimist. The Holy Virgin will have the victory. She will triumph over the great apostasy, the fruit of Liberalism. One more reason not to twiddle our thumbs! We have to fight more than ever for the social Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Our Father, Thy Kingdom come! Long live Christ the King! Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of Thy faithful! O Mary, be our Queen, we belong to Thee!”

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Last modified on Sunday, October 24, 2021
Robert Morrison | Remnant Columnist

Robert Morrison is a Catholic, husband and father. He is the author of A Tale Told Softly: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Hidden Catholic England.