Readers past a certain age may remember the momentous role played in our lives as Catholics by the book-length interviews released by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and, later, Benedict XVI. The first of these and in some ways the most impressive for its time was The Ratzinger Report of 1985. Reading it today can still raise eyebrows at the then-Prefect’s audacity: Vatican officials were not supposed to be telling the unvarnished truth like this! We had not yet realized that Ratzinger was the greatest theologian-interviewee of Church history—one who could, in spontaneous conversation, deliver answers with greater profundity and amplitude than any of our professional theologians with any amount of time and resources at their disposal.
The Ratzinger Report was followed by Salt of the Earth in 1996 and God and the World in 2000. My copies of these books are heavily underlined and annotated. When Cardinal Ratzinger ascended the papal throne as Benedict XVI, he did not slow down. In 2010, the interview Light of the World was published, and in 2016, post-abdication, the interview Last Testament in His Own Words, which is perhaps the most puzzling of them all, both for what it says and for what it leaves unsaid.
The genre of a book-length interview has drawn many into its alluring clutches, and understandably so: it is a relatively easy way to write a book. Just pose a lot of timely, interesting, important questions, mixed in with some prompts for welcome autobiographical ruminations, to a person who likes to talk, and voila!, within some weeks or months, a manuscript will come forth. Thus, John Paul II published Crossing the Threshold of Hope in 1994. More recently, Cardinal Sarah burst onto the scene with The Power of Silence, God or Nothing, and The Day Is Now Far Spent. Cardinal Burke joined in with Hope for the World and Cardinal Müller with the unimaginatively named The Cardinal Müller Report. Unfortunately, even Jorge Mario Bergoglio has entered the fray with meandering interviews that almost no one will read.
Unquestionably, the finest entries in the genre since Ratzinger are the book-length interviews of Bishop Athanasius Schneider, the lowest-ranking of all of the figures mentioned and yet the most bold, most logical, most comprehensive, and most traditionally Catholic of them. Perhaps being an auxiliary bishop in the Siberian region has its advantages. Bishop Schneider, no stranger to readers of OnePeterFive, first did a major interview in 2018 with Dániel Fülep, Catholic Church, Where Are You Heading? (English translation available for free here). After that, two major interviews have been released in print: Christus Vincit, with Diane Montagna (Angelico, 2019), which currently has nearly 1,000 reviews at Amazon; and the book I am reviewing today, The Springtime That Never Came, with Paweł Lisicki (Sophia, 2021). I had the privilege of reading this text before it was published and must say that it is a sheer delight from start to finish, a worthy successor of Christus Vincit that develops further the argumentation of the earlier interview and covers new ground as well. It is a must-read.
The interviewer, Paweł Lisicki, is a major journalist and intellectual in Poland, an outspoken critic of liberalism in politics and in the Church. At the same time, he is a philosophical melancholic who would fit well in a Dostoevsky tale. His personality shows in the questions he poses to Bishop Schneider, which are ruggedly honest, at times even slightly polemical, as if he wants to push the good bishop as hard as he can with the objections that can be raised either against the claims of the Catholic Church or against the solutions proposed by traditional Catholics. This is valuable: it means there are no lobbed softballs.
The “live” character of the book is well preserved. As Lisicki notes in his engaging introduction, the conversations took place in person, were recorded, and then transcribed. Pretty much everything was on the table; I cannot think of a single “hot topic” that was not broached. The book is divided—a little arbitrarily, given that certain topics resurface throughout—into eleven chapters: 1. When Misfortune Looms; 2. What About Celibacy?; 3. The Gnostic Threat; 4. The Illusion of Progress; 5. Protestant Sources; 6. The Leftist Face of the Church; 7. How Many Religions Are True?; 8. Between Heaven and Hell; 9. Automatism and Anthropocentrism; 10. The Rupture of Continuity; 11. In an Orderly Formation.
As it’s well-nigh impossible to do justice to a 300-page interview that covers so much territory, I will simply quote here a few favorite and representative passages (page numbers in parentheses). As one would expect, Bishop Schneider says some striking things. For example, he says that growing up in the underground Church in the Soviet Union made him impervious to the Western liberalism he first encountered in Germany as a teenager:
The youth Mass, with guitars and practically secular music, was a new experience [in Germany]. I remember, when I was thirteen and fourteen years old, it really bothered me. Now I can see that paradoxically, thanks to my background, to the years spent under Communist rule and to the experience of persecution there, I was immune to all this progressive ecclesial liberalism. Thanks be to God this immunity has stayed with me my whole life. (61)
Responding to the objection that Catholics who adhere to past teaching are “fundamentalists,” the bishop replies:
The Word of God was transmitted uninterruptedly from generation to generation, through bishops, popes, saints, and Doctors of the Church. This transmission of the word has also been accompanied by practice. If, therefore, the whole Church has understood the same doctrine in the same way for two thousand years and has continuously passed it on, it could not have been wrong all the time. The Church could not have been wrong all along in her interpretation. It’s the people of today, those who say that we have a new awareness, who must be wrong. They mistake their new awareness for Church teaching. In fact, it’s not new awareness, but gnosis. It’s a new Gnostic Christianity that doesn’t come from Christ’s Church. (82–83)
Lisicki plays devil’s advocate, saying that for Bergoglio’s supporters, the pope is “accurately read[ing] the signs of the times” and “represents a truly open and modern Catholicism.” Bishop Schneider exposes the fraud:
Well, the authors you mentioned at the beginning [Ivereigh, Tornielli, Englisch], those who see Francis as a prophet, would clearly want a different, new Christianity, different from the one Jesus brought, the one handed down by the apostles. They would like a Christianity in which truth is relative, and in which relativism reigns. They would like a Church that has perfectly adapted herself to the world, has rejected God’s revelation, and is creating truth for herself as she pleases. That’s why they would like the highest offices in the Church to be held by people who will carry out such an agenda of adapting to the world. This is a Christianity that will allow sin, won’t care about truth, won’t defend it, and won’t speak out against error or falsehood. Such an approach can receive approval and be supported by these authors. If it seems to them that this is how Church representatives are acting, they call them “prophets,” and in their actions they recognize signs of the work of the “Holy Spirit.” They are prophets of a fake church of this world, prophets of temporality, of what is worldly. And even if they are writing about the Catholic Church, they are talking about a different Church, not the one Jesus established and about which He taught. It’s not enough to say that something is “Catholic.” Something is Catholic only if it is in fact Catholic. (84)
Then he turns to the pivotal question of the role of a pope:
It’s not enough to invoke the expectations of our contemporaries, or cultural and social needs and developments of one kind or another. If this were done, it would be a clear abuse of power. This is precisely what these authors fail to notice. They ascribe to the pope the authority and power of a political leader who can indeed change the platform of a party, introduce new proposals, and enter into coalitions first with one party, and then with another. That is not the case for the pope. In the proper sense of the word, the pope is the man in the Church with the least power. In the proper sense of the word, he is the one who must be most obedient. Ideally, he is the one who must show the greatest fidelity to the deposit handed down to him by his predecessors—a deposit that has reached him after two thousand years. And he must continue to pass it on to those who will come after him without violating, distorting, or destroying it. Instead, these authors are writing about a prophet-pope who can make changes in the Church as if it were the State or a secular institution. (85–86)
When the interviewer suggests there is no remedy for a wayward pope, Bishop Schneider counters:
All we can do is pray that God may enlighten the erring pope or intervene in a way known to Him. That the pope may be converted and that he will start preaching the truth to the faithful in place of the previous errors. Besides, we must remember that we have sufficient means of defense. After all, in such a situation, even if the pope were to err, both bishops and priests can continue to preach the sound, true teaching that has always been preached by the Church. In this way, they remain united to the Church and to the teachings of all the popes, even if the current pope during whose reign they live is teaching falsehood. They have the means to restore equilibrium here. In such a situation of conflict or contradiction, they must adhere to the constant, immutable teaching of the Church. They can do this in sermons, they can write articles or books. They must also pray. No single pope is eternal. We must have enough faith, enough patience to endure until God summons him, or grants him conversion. History knows such cases. (89–90)
Sometimes the things Bishop Schneider says make a person want to jump up and cheer. The interviewer asks him at one point why the only bishops who seem to protest anything are from remote places with no influence in worldly terms. The bishop replies:
Keeping silent is much easier, and it’s also easy to justify it. For example, some say, “I am only an auxiliary bishop,” or, “I am very far away,” or, “I am responsible for my diocese and not for another, God wanted to put me here and not anywhere else. This is the pope’s business, not mine.” Frankly speaking, I think that such explanations are just a cheap excuse. Ultimately, we are not a secular company or society, nor are we a government in which each minister can say that he has his own domain and cannot interfere with what the others are doing. No, we are not a corporation, we are not a government, we are a living family. All of us all over the world are one Catholic family. We are one Body. As St. Paul says, if one member of the body suffers, all the others suffer with it. That is why I can’t say that I don’t care. Obviously, I can pray, do penance, make reparation for the sins committed by the bad shepherds. But the way I see it, a bishop must do even more. By his ordination, every bishop becomes a member of the worldwide college of bishops and a successor of the apostles. As the constitution Lumen Gentium says, every bishop should feel responsible for the good of the whole Church. Even if his jurisdiction is limited to his diocese, he must feel a solicitude for the whole Church. He must also help the whole Church. He must make his contribution….
If I had remained silent, I would not have been able to handle the voice of my conscience. I could not stand before God. How could I say, “I know what the German bishops are doing, but I don’t care, it’s far away, and it should suffice that I pray for them”? I don’t believe that God would accept such an explanation from me. That is why I am speaking out. I am speaking out because I am solicitous for the good of the whole Church. Since the current pope is not fulfilling his role in this regard and is keeping silent, the bishops must come to his assistance and do what is needed in his stead. This is exactly the form of collegiality that the Second Vatican Council so strongly emphasized. When we are speaking about collegiality, it’s not about the relationship between an employee and the boss. It doesn’t mean that the employee has to do what the boss says. That is how officials and employees working for companies can behave. But the pope is not the boss, and the bishops are not his employees. We are a college, we are bound to each other. The episcopate is a living body. This is the point of collegiality: if the head is showing weakness and failing to perform the task entrusted to him, then the other members of the body come to his aid. We say corpus episcoporum. They come to help and they defend the Faith. (136–37)
At one point Lisicki raises the issue of the “mass killing of unborn children” and asks about the growing radicalization of the pro-abortion movement, which in the past said abortion was a regrettable evil, but nowadays seems to celebrate it as a fundamental right, a sign of woman’s dignity and autonomy, even something liberating to boast about. The good bishop gives a profound answer:
Evil and wickedness have an inherent tendency to radicalization. If evil is not restrained, if it’s not held in check, if it’s not hindered but instead is tolerated or supported, then it reaches an extreme, an increasingly more terrifying form. Evil seeks to propagate itself. Let’s not forget that ultimately we are dealing with personal evil, with Satan. Evil wants to conquer the entire created world, to completely negate and reject it, to wrench it out of God’s hand. In this sense it tends toward some perverted form of infinity and eternity, and ultimately toward the reign of Hell. Satan is a personal being with an intelligence incomparably higher than human intelligence. He himself has chosen evil, with all its consequences. To a certain extent, evil has eternity and infinity in itself. That is what makes it radical. It seeks to transcend all boundaries, all the way to the end, down to the very bottom. It seeks to immortalize itself, to make itself eternal. Hell is immortalized evil. It is eternal.
We can see this dynamic of evil using the example of alcoholism. The beginning seems innocent, not perilous. People start drinking little by little. Without any boundaries, they drink more and more, and with increasing frequency. And then, years later, they hit rock bottom. This is how evil works. It strives to take control of man completely, to the point of his ultimate destruction. This is precisely what happens to alcoholics. If they are not stopped, they bring about their own physical and mental destruction. It quickly becomes apparent that one shot of vodka is not enough. It has to be a whole bottle. And then two bottles. They have to drink more and more, until they literally drink themselves to death. I know one dramatic case of a man who emptied his entire house and sold everything he had to buy alcohol. That is the logic of evil. It’s the same with abortion. (152)
Raising the controversial issue of capital punishment, the journalist wonders how a teaching so consistent can be suddenly reversed—and then enforced via the Catechism. The bishop of Kazakhstan replies, without mincing words:
Certainly the pope has no right to change a teaching that is based on sources of divine revelation, the teaching that is present in Scripture itself, both the Old and the New Testaments, and that has been handed down for two thousand years in the Church. This is a revolution and a rupture. Introducing such a change exceeds the limits of papal authority. The First Vatican Council, which defined the doctrine of papal infallibility, declared that the Holy Spirit has not been given to the pope to introduce new teachings or to institute them, but to faithfully guard the deposit of divine revelation. A change in the stance on the permissibility of the death penalty is an abuse of papal authority.
Let me repeat, the pope doesn’t have the power to change the permanent doctrine of the Church. He has no such authority. For two thousand years the Church has taught that capital punishment is legitimate, of course when certain clearly defined conditions are met. This is also what God taught us in Holy Scripture. How then could Pope Francis change this? He exceeded his authority here. There is no doubt in my mind that after his death, his successors will reverse this modification. We are temporarily in a situation of some darkness. History has seen examples of popes who have abused their power. This is also the case now. This abuse will certainly be recognized and the error on the death penalty will be corrected by future popes. (157–58)
One of the events that shook the hyperpapalist worldview was the Assisi gatherings initiated and sponsored by John Paul II. I have to admit, for the record, that the full ominous significance of these events, which never escaped Archbishop Lefebvre, had escaped me for a time, until I examined more closely what had happened, and read the attempted justification offered by John Paul II. Then I realized we were dealing with grave evils that could by no means be defended. That is why, later on, I could not but question the prudence and even the validity of the canonization of John Paul II. In any event, Bishop Schneider underlines the exact parallel between Assisi and Abu Dhabi:
The very invitation that Pope John Paul II extended to each individual religious leader also demonstrated this. He invited each of them to pray in his own way. This is unacceptable. How could it be acceptable for a pope to call on everyone to pray in their own way if it meant also praying to idols? How were the Hindus or the Buddhists supposed to pray there otherwise? As a rule, they address idols in their prayers. God forbids worshiping idols and praying to them. He forbids it always and under all circumstances. Exhorting someone to pray according to his own religion, therefore, means being complicit in this idolatrous worship and supporting it. In other words, it means exhorting someone to do that which God has absolutely forbidden.
Let me emphasize: it’s not a temporary and changeable prohibition, but an absolute one. In Assisi there were also shamans and voodoo followers who worship demons. Inviting them all and having them present in Assisi was an extremely grave error on the part of John Paul II, which in principle was not different from the wording of the declaration signed by Francis in Abu Dhabi. Drawing on logic, it’s impossible to see any essential difference between the two acts—the meeting in Assisi and the Abu Dhabi declaration. (182–83)
Naturally Lisicki pounces on this response and asks how in the world this kind of behavior can be squared with traditional Catholic teaching and practice. Bishop Schneider says: it can’t be.
What is at stake here is not the understanding of the Church’s faith, but the words of the Savior Himself and the apostles, Church Fathers, and all the popes up to the middle of the twentieth century. The primary source of both the meeting in Assisi and the Abu Dhabi declaration is, as I mentioned earlier, the declaration Dignitatis Humanae and those key words that recognize the natural right of the human person to choose and to spread a religion, or, in other words, not to be impeded in doing so. This natural right is understood as something positive, as the freedom to choose a religion and the right to propagate it freely without any hindrance.
Freedom belongs to the very nature of man, it’s not a right but a faculty or capacity that everyone has. It’s a gift that God has given to everyone. The freedom to make decisions belongs to human nature. But God gave it to man—and this is extremely important—for one purpose only, namely, to choose good and truth. Just because man by nature has the ability to choose between good and evil, as we see from the example of Adam and Eve, does not mean that this choice is his natural, positive right. A clear distinction must be made between the right to something (which presupposes on the other hand an obligation to recognize and respect that right) and the capacity to do something. Adam had no right to disobey God. He had no right to transgress God’s command. And God had no obligation to respect or accept disobedience. Adam only had the ability to choose, not the right to choose evil. Adam and his descendants do not have a natural right of not being impeded in spreading a moral, spiritual, or intellectual evil (whether sin or a false religion).
That is the case with every human being. Everyone has the ability, the power to choose. He can accept or reject Christ, he can worship God or not, he can sin or not sin, but there is no natural right that entitles man to make false, erroneous choices, or to worship idols or Lucifer and not be impeded in spreading such an evil. The only natural right of not being impeded in choosing and spreading a religion refers to the Christian religion and concretely to the Catholic religion. (184)
The journalist and the bishop talk, as one might expect, about Judaism, Islam, secularism, Marxism, Freemasonry, feminism, Modernism, Vatican II, and so forth. But of highest interest to me was the lengthy and passionate dialogue on the liturgy and the liturgical reform in chapter 9. I am so grateful to Bishop Schneider for his plain-spoken judgment, based on years of researching this question, and years of celebrating both “forms” of the Mass:
During the two thousand years of the Church’s history, such a radical reform as Paul VI’s had never been carried out. After all, the eucharistic liturgy, the liturgy of the Mass, is the heart of the Church. I have no doubt that we are dealing with a revolution here. Objectively seen, it was a revolution. It was carried out with a radicalism never before known to the Church. So this is the first thing to know: it was a mistake from the very beginning. There isn’t and shouldn’t be any place for revolution in the Church. The very principle of the Church’s life, the principle that speaks of organic growth, means that revolutionary methods in liturgy and doctrine must not be used, regardless of any potential good intentions and objectives. The public prayer of the Church is such an organic, natural thing that it’s impossible to imagine revolutionary changes. (261)
There can be no talk of a positive achievement. It’s a break with a millennium-old liturgical tradition of the Church. The new rite also means a tangible Protestantization of the Mass. That applies to both the rituals and the prayers. The tendency toward anthropocentrism and toward Protestantism is indisputable. (263)
On the whole, Pope Paul VI’s reform of the liturgy was a failure. (265)
Lisicki not surprisingly wonders: “What, then, does it mean that the pope has the special protection of the Holy Spirit? How should we understand this doctrine?… Today, many Catholics believe that basically everything the pope says is right, true, and binding. What, then, does obedience to the pope consist in?” Bishop Schneider replies:
What does the rock represent? Constancy, immutability, a point of support, permanence, strength, and endurance. The rock is always the same, you can lean on the rock. This precisely is the mission of the pope. His role is to watch over and guard with the bishops that which the Lord has entrusted to him, the treasure of the Faith. Just like a rock. To pass it on unchanged, to care for it, so that everyone in the Church could lean on it, could turn toward it, orient themselves toward it, just as a sailor orients himself toward a goal and determines his course according to its position. The pope must be as firm as a rock, he must not yield or succumb to the pressure of the world. Let’s look at the sea: the waves hit the rock and crash, the wind is blowing, but the rock stands firm. It doesn’t give way, doesn’t yield under the pressure.
His second role is best described by the word “vicar.” It means “deputy.” The pope is in this sense a steward. Let’s try to think about what a steward is: someone who is not a master. He manages the treasures, the house, the property. He still has a master over him to whom he must give an account of his management of the things that are not his. The pope must be constantly mindful of the fact that the Faith is not his property, and neither is the liturgy. His role is merely to manage it and watch over it so that heresies and other evils don’t infiltrate his master’s house. And if they do, his task is to get rid of the evil and cleanse the house with which he has been entrusted. Of course, he performs this task with the help of his brother bishops. The pope should repeat this to himself over and over again: I am only a steward of an estate that is not my own. (266–67)
Bishop Schneider argues against sedevacantism by saying that it fundamentally misconstrues the finite and conditional place of the pope within the reality of the Church and, more grievously, mistrusts God’s Providence over history:
I would also say that ultimately I detect in this attitude of sedevacantism a lack of faith in the Providence of God, in the fact that God governs the world, that He is the Lord of the Church. Another error is concealed here: identifying the pope with the Church. The pope is not the Church. The pope is a member of the Church. He is a part of the Church. The Church as a whole is stronger than a heretical pope. And for a certain time, the Church is able to withstand the rule of a heretical pope. The Church is a work of God and has means of defense even against such a potential threat as a heretical pope. For example, the bishops can declare a universal crusade of prayer, acts of penance, and fasting for the conversion of such a pope. They can also clearly preach the Catholic teaching, especially on those points that were obfuscated by the pope’s heretical words. They can plead for God’s intervention. All these are means that presuppose that the Church is first of all a supernatural community. We are not a political party. If we were a party, normal secular means could be used to get rid of the leader. But the Church is not a political party. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, a supernatural community. (299–300)
I could go on quoting this book all day long, but that would obviously be unfitting for a review! My goal in sharing these quotations has been to offer a sample of the luminous clarity to be found in The Springtime That Never Came, in which we hear the voice of one who “teaches as having authority, and not as the scribes and pharisees” (Mt 7:29). If you have already enjoyed Christus Vincit, you will love Springtime. If you have never read any of Bishop Schneider’s books, you could certainly begin here, as it requires no preliminaries.
May God grant this Athanasius of the twenty-first century abundant grace and long life so that we may continue to rely on him even as Christians of the fourth century could rely on his namesake.
The Springtime That Never Came. Bishop Athanasius Schneider in conversation with Paweł Lisicki. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021 (released in 2022). 320 pages. Hardcover (ISBN 978-1-64413-513-6) $21.95; ebook (ISBN 978-1-64413-514-3) $7.99. From the publisher or from Amazon.
 That book, too, was influential for me: it came out the year I graduated from college, and added fuel to the fire of my hyperpapalism in that period of my life. The disillusionment and radical revision of views were still some years away.
 I should note that another wonderful interview book has recently appeared, this time with Fr. Gerald Murray, in conversation with Diane Montagna: Calming the Storm (Emmaus, 2022). But since I haven’t read it yet, I don’t feel qualified to make any comments except that I’m sure it’s good, based on everything I’ve seen from both Fr. Murray and Ms. Montagna. Editor’s note: our review of this text and conversation with Fr. Murray can be viewed here.
 I met Mr. Lisicki in person at an event in Krakow last November, but alas, since I had arrived very late, and he had to leave for a long drive home, we overlapped only by about fifteen minutes. It was a pity, as I had hoped to get to know him better!
 It is worthwhile pointing out that this conversation was conducted in Polish in February 2020 and was then translated by Justyna Krukowska (a former student of mine at ITI when it was in Gaming, Austria… small world!) for publication by Sophia Institute Press, so while it postdates Christus Vincit, it does not talk about any issues that have arisen in the past two years. This does not lessen its value, because the most important issues have not changed in that short span of time; if anything, they have merely served to confirm Bp. Schneider’s analysis.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism who has written many books and publishes on a wide variety of sites. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Visit his personal website at www.peterkwasniewski.com, his Substack “Tradition and Sanity,” his publishing house Os Justi Press, and his composer site CantaboDomino.