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Monday, September 4, 2017

Tea With the Curate: “Do you accept the Council?”

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Do you accept Vatican II and all of its works and pomps? Do you accept Vatican II and all of its works and pomps?
First, let us define our terms

A few weeks ago, during an unexpected visit from our local curate, I realized that there might be an easier solution to converting nice young Novusordoist priests to the fullness of Tradition than I had previously thought. It dawned on me that we have a huge advantage in the polite form of combat known as “debate”; they don’t know our positions. They haven’t been taught anything at all about the Traditionalist proposals and arguments. 

During our conversation, this good young priest managed to confirm nearly everything I had expected about the quality of seminary education with regard to the issues of concern to Traditionalists. Indeed, as we talked, it occurred to me that what he had was nothing more than a set of slogans, a few lines taught to young fellows in seminaries that are more or less repeated verbatim every time one of them meets someone like me. I wanted to tell him, “You have no idea how many times I’ve heard exactly the same line. Do they teach you this in seminary?” 

In a discussion like this, if your interlocutor has, as do most remaining Mass-attending Catholics, a basically honest desire to be as Catholic as possible – a starting point that we could use as a definition of “conservatism” – your only task is to counter the slogans with facts. You must reveal the slogans as little more than shallow rhetorical talking points; essentially to force the person to understand that he doesn’t know what he thinks he knows.

Before this, of course, the task is for Trads to become better acquainted not only with the facts but with some of the classical rhetorical techniques of debate.

What did he say? All Trads will recognise it: “Do you accept the Council?[1]” And my response comes straight out of my training in politics: “Well, let’s define our terms, shall we? Be specific. What do you mean by ‘accept’?” 

“Are you asking me if I ‘accept’ that an ecumenical council was called by Pope John XXIII? That is a historical fact about which there is nothing to accept or reject. If, however, you are asking me to ‘accept’ every word that was published in its documents, we are going to have to start being very specific. There is nothing in the deposit of the Faith that requires that every word from an ecumenical council must be ‘accepted’ by the faithful. Still less is any Catholic required to ‘accept’ conflicting and confused subsequent ‘interpretations’ of a Council’s documents.

“In fact, there have been a lot of ecumenical councils throughout the history of the Church; some have defined doctrines but some were failures. In fact, one of them posthumously condemned a pope for failing to defend the Faith with sufficient zeal. So, let’s be specific.” 

(It helps at this point if you have a piercingly ironic Irish look you can give.) 

How not to get played

You don’t have to know every detail about Vatican II to go forward with a discussion, but there are some things to remember to ask about if you are accused of not “accepting the Council”. Pope John himself said that Vatican II was a “pastoral” council, that would not concern itself with dogma. This has been interpreted to mean that Vatican II would declare no dogmas for the assent of the faithful. But in fact, even he declined to define this term; no one knows to this day what the difference is and this ambiguity alone has allowed massive confusion to be fomented. 

You can ask, “If the most educated and illustrious voices in the theological discussion are still, fifty years later, arguing about ‘what the Council meant’ how am I obliged to ‘accept’ it in the way you seem to mean? Aren’t you really telling me I have to buy a car without looking under the hood?”

The play here is to try to force you onto the wrong ground. You’re supposed to react emotionally, and respond with an embarrassed yelp, “OF COURSE! I accept the Council!”[2] But once you have done that, you have conceded the ground and accepted the wrong frame of the discussion.

You are expected to hotly and indignantly deny being a sedevacantist. But this is actually a deflection tactic. What he doesn’t want to do is enter into a substantive discussion on the Council itself. You can call the bluff: “Are you asking me if I’m a sedevacantist? If I were, do you think we’d be having this conversation? Have you actually met any sedevacantists?” 

Vatican II is Catholic or it isn’t; either way, we’re covered

Your response to being asked if you “accept the Council” must always and only be, “Why? Does it propose something new? Something that contradicts anything that went before? Because if it does then I’m under no obligation to ‘accept it’. Quite the contrary. But if there is nothing new to ‘accept’ then why are you even asking?” 

In reality, “accepting” or “rejecting” the Council is not even part of the discussion. The SSPX have been repeatedly presented with the demand from Rome to “accept” or “assent” to the Council’s “teachings” and, so far, they have responded in the same way: “Please be specific; what teachings exactly?” 

A Catholic has by definition already given his full assent of intellect and will to everything the Church teaches that is in continuity with the doctrine of the historic Faith. If, therefore, someone is asking you to “accept” or “assent to” the Council because it presents something new, something contrary to anything taught by the Church in the 1963 years before Vatican II, then your questioner is the one with the doctrinal problem. As a faithful Catholic, I am not only not obliged to assent to some new, contrary doctrine, I am obliged under pain of mortal sin to reject it

But if the Council was as innocuous as Novusordoist “conservatives” like to claim, if it “taught nothing new” – if it was only a “pastoral council” to make the Church relevant to the “modern world” … or whatever – then why do we need to continue to bother our heads about it? You could point out that if that’s the case, the “modern world” of today is rather a different place from that of 1963, therefore Vatican II by these lights is merely outdated and irrelevant. 

The contradictions of revolutionaries’ tactics are thereby revealed: either Vatican II was in complete continuity with everything the Church taught before, and is thereby perfectly Catholic and – as a non-dogmatic “pastoral” council – completely unremarkable, or it proposes something new to which recalcitrants like me and the SSPX must be forced to give our assent. They can’t have it both ways.

Bullet points!

To recap: if a “conservative” Novusordoist is asking whether you “accept the Council,” your job is to cut to the heart of the matter. He thinks he’s being clever; throw him off balance by being blunt, using forbidden words and calling the bluff.

  • Demand that he define his terms. What does “accept” mean?
  • If he is asking if you are a sedevacantist, force him to use the term and ask the question honestly.
  • Demand to know exactly which doctrines he thinks Vatican II taught that are different from everything that went before.

Your rhetorical task is to reveal that you know this is a subterfuge and force the conversation back to facts, openness and forthright honesty. Demand specifics and fear no words.

Doing this has forced your interlocutor to present something more than slogans, catchphrases and cheap rhetorical tricks. At this point, it’s your turn to ask him, “What, precisely, does Vatican II ‘teach’ that you think I need to give assent to? Let’s hear it.” Make him tell you what new doctrines he’s really talking about, make him look up the references. It’s only at that point that you can really have a meaningful and maybe even – for him – salvific conversation. 

You’re there to help him

Remember also that this is a brother in Christ you’re talking to. He thinks he’s challenging you, but you’re the one who’s out of the Novusordoist Matrix. You know more than he does and it’s your task to rescue him. You’re not there to win an argument, but to save someone who’s in danger. 

Offer to bring out the books, if you have them, or the internet if you don’t. Your tasks – two of the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy – are to instruct the ignorant and counsel the doubtful. You have now succeeded in throwing him off balance enough to get his attention. He is now going to be receptive to something new, something you have to offer. 

Moreover, in just the few exchanges you’ve had to get to this point, he’s probably learned things he’d never heard before. “Pastoral council? What’s that?” “Which council condemned a pope, and what for?” Have a discussion about the real teaching of the Church about “religious freedom;” start talking about ecumenism or the duty of all States to obey Christ; dig out Archbishop Lefebvre’s “Letter to Confused Catholics;” offer to read the Ottaviani Intervention to him. Go for broke; now’s your chance to tell a Novusordoist that he has been kept willfully in the dark all his life and offer a way out. You’ve got the Red Pill, and you’re morally obliged to offer it to others[3].

Slogans but no arguments; lessons learned from pro-life activism

For me it was a hard lesson to learn that people really don’t know very much. In 1998, I was completely green, and especially new to the world of politics. I was a very recent “revert” to the Faith. I wanted to help, but I was suffering from the foolish confidence that people who didn’t know what I knew would want to know, and would change their minds when I told them. This was a very hard idea to unlearn. 

Knowing distantly that I needed help navigating this world, I undertook training sessions in “pro-life apologetics” run by a guy who developed an entire programme to help pro-life activists develop their rhetorical skills. In these seminars I was astonished to hear that there are really only five slogans that had been to promote legal abortion. Being new, I could hardly credit that the entire global abortion industry had been founded on these five flimsy and often rationally contradictory slogans. But in the years that followed, hearing the same five tired old chestnuts dragged out again and again, I had to admit that our instructor, Scott Klusendorf, had been telling the simple truth. 

In the course of our training, Scott gave us the rhetorical tools to handle the slogans smoothly and effectively by applying one simple rule: always bring the discussion back to the thing we’re actually talking about. In the case of the early life issues, the thing we’re always talking about is whether a human being entire exists before birth. Is that living thing in there a human being? If it is, no arguments about women’s rights or poverty or overpopulation are relevant. In fact, every single one of the abortion slogans is a deflection tactic, an attempt to evade the one relevant question, against which they know they have no argument. 

What astonished me was the confidence that abortion-promoters had in their flagrantly irrational slogans. They deploy them like weapons, as though they are unassailable, argument-ending truths. I suppose they have good reason to believe this; their reliance on emotivism and bullying has accomplished everything they wanted, and then some. But the one thing Planned Parenthood and the like will never, ever do is engage in a discussion about the nature of the entity of the being inside a pregnant woman. These Sexual Revolutionaries have won the entire Culture War by crying into microphones and evading the facts. 

But it takes next to nothing – a mere puff of logic – to reveal the slogans as empty. All it really takes to do it is nerve. The Revolutionaries – whether in the Church or in the secular world – have won by intimidation, bullying and doing everything they can to erase reality. In short, they’re bullies who rely on the emotional and intellectual weakness of their victims to get what they want. Stand up to them, start picking apart their slogans, their assertions, and asking for specifics, facts, and the entire edifice will collapse[4]. No revolution is ever won by creating clearly defined doctrinal positions, backed by facts and rational arguments.

And this is the case every time there is a set of slogans being employed. The purpose of a slogan is not clarity, it’s not truth, it’s not to get to the heart of the matter; it’s to shut someone up. Millions of Catholics have picked up a set of slogans regarding Vatican II, the new Mass, “religious freedom,” “ecumenism,” and the whole playlist of the Novusordoist proposal. They have picked it up from their priests, who were taught it all in seminary. And for the seminarians it was often made rather forcefully clear that any awkward questions on such topics would place their entire future in question. 

What was being recited to me by my young friend in my kitchen that morning was, in effect, a kind of litany of slogans. (I add that it was doubtful that my friend the curate understood that this was what he was doing. It was clear that these were “talking points” he had learned somewhere and assumed were unassailable, without troubling about much rigorous inquiry. Traditionalist positions aren’t much discussed in seminaries, except perhaps to mock and quickly dismiss them.) What was clear was that he had never really stopped to think about what he had been taught, and this is obviously the most common situation in the modern Church. 

The changes we have seen in the Church’s doctrines have been brought about by stealth, by erasure and the creation of a powerful system of “omerta.” That which is never, ever uttered or mentioned or alluded to by anyone, ever, will soon pass into the Memory Hole. The revolutionaries took Orwell’s lessons to heart; you will never succeed in eradicating a culture by responding to its assertions. To erase something forever you first diminish it by ridicule in public (backed up with an iron discipline, as tradition-minded seminarians have learned,) and then make sure no one ever talks about it again.  

Fabled lost kingdoms 

The other day Aaron Seng wrote about his own experience of learning that there is an entire lost ancient kingdom under the false floor of the New Catholicism, a vast and unimaginably richer treasure that has been forgotten because it has been deliberately buried. 

He writes[5], “Rather than overtly proclaiming a firm doctrinal content that contradicts the Deposit of Faith (although this is beginning to occur in some sectors), the approach has been to simply keep quiet on some of the more unfashionable Catholic doctrines, or to so bury them in theological qualification and psychobabble that they lose their Gospel clarity and vivifying power.”

Catholics who start to investigate this lost world, “are often surprised to find en route that before the mid-twentieth century, the Church universal spoke with clear and consistent voice on doctrines that one rarely hears (if one hears any doctrine) from the pulpit today.” 

What Scott Klusendorf taught us in our training was that when we are in a confrontation, we are not looking for an immediate conversion. In most cases in a face-to-face discussion there’s too much emotion going on too rapidly to allow it. The one thing you’re looking for from your interlocutor is, “You know, I’ve never thought of it that way before.” That is the sweet, sweet sound of a key turning in a lock.

[1] They will often phrase it as an assertion, “Vatican II was valid,” but the response is the same: define “valid” please. 

[2] For some reason, they expect ordinary Catholics to be as emotionally invested as they are in supine submission to the status quo. Even more than knowing your stuff, it’s important to keep your emotions out of it. Keep your head. You can sometimes throw him off his game just by not responding emotionally.

[3] Pro-tip: don’t ever try to do this in a commbox, Facebook thread or Twitter. There is something about having an unseen audience that makes it nearly impossible to back down. I’ve had useful discussions on private messages, by Skype or email, but never in a public comment box. Face to face is best. It’s incredibly easy to forget that you’re there to help the person you’re talking to if you’re doing it online. 

[4] I don’t actually recommend confrontations with the secularist-sexual revolutionaries. Since I took this training that world has morphed bizarrely into something actually physically violent and quite dangerous. Leave it to the professionals

[5] Mr. Seng includes a helpful bullet-point list of Catholic teachings that have been deliberately memory-holed since The Council, as well as a valuable reading list for those who want to learn more. 


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Last modified on Monday, September 4, 2017
Hilary White

Our Italy correspondent is known throughout the English-speaking world as a champion of family and cultural issues. First introduced by our allies and friends at the incomparable, Miss White lives in Norcia, Italy.