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Pope Francis’ Misleading Appeal to Vatican II and Augustine

To justify his repeal of Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, Pope Francis charged that many Latin Mass communities were regarding themselves as superior to the Church. Francis’ letter accompanying the motu proprio is clear:

…[E]ver more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church.’

The Pope condemns those with such attitudes by appealing to the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, suggesting that these Catholics were placing their salvation at risk:

Vatican Council II, while it reaffirmed the external bonds of incorporation in the Church — the profession of faith, the sacraments, of communion — affirmed with St. Augustine that to remain in the Church not only “with the body” but also “with the heart” is a condition for salvation. [Emphasis added]

He offers no explanation of what St. Augustine meant by being a member of the Church “with the heart” yet accuses many Latin Mass communities as lacking this attribute which is vital for salvation. However, it was explained clearly in the text of Lumen Gentium:

He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart” [quoting Augustine] (Chap 2, par 14).

Inclusion in the Church and its hope of salvation requires one to “persevere in charity,” which clearly corresponds to one’s participation in the life of the Church “in his heart.” The Council document gets even more specific about what this means:

If they [“all the Church’s children”] fail moreover to respond to that grace [the “special grace of Christ”] in thought, word, and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged (Chap 2, par 14).

For support it cites the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:19:

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven (note 13).

Lumen Gentium refers to St. Augustine as support because this was his core argument against the schismatic Donatists, who believed that sacraments were invalid unless the priest administering them was morally perfect. Augustine argued that a priest’s personal behavior was irrelevant, and the validity of a sacrament depended on the “heart” of the recipient:

Certainly it is clear that, when we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body. …[S]o it is not by different baptisms, but by the same, that good Catholics are saved, and bad Catholics or heretics perish (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Bk V, chap. 28:39). [Emphasis added]

Augustine describes “bad Catholics” in the same manner that they are portrayed in Lumen Gentium,

…baptized in Catholic unity who renounce the world in words only and not in deeds. …[T]hough they seem to be within [the Church] yet persevere to the end of their days in a wicked and abandoned course of life (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Bk V, chap. 28:39).

Lumen Gentium clearly understood St. Augustine’s point: immoral conduct and disregard for the commandments of Christ (sins) lead to exclusion from the Church. A man can be a parishioner at a diocesan parish (in the “body” of the Church) but not be in a state of grace (outside the “heart” of the Church).

Pope Francis’ appeal to Augustine and Vatican II here is misleading because it invents a schism where there is none. Latin Mass communities have been successfully integrated into the Church for decades. Toward bad Catholics (like Joe Biden), who are not at all in the “heart” of the Church, Pope Francis shows none of the severity that Vatican II and Augustine show, with no public warning of the danger to their eternal salvation.

On the contrary, Latin Mass communities are very often more faithful to Augustine and Lumen Gentium, by warning Catholics about the eternal consequences of sin. This flows from the Latin Mass itself. Commenting on the differences between the old and new rite, theologian Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S. observed,

…Catholics attending the old rite heard – and still hear – a lot more about sin, judgment, wrath and Hell than their ‘Novus Ordo’ brethren, simply because post-conciliar priests, whatever the readings of the day may be, tend to avoid those topics like the plague in their bland, vacuous, and politically correct homilies.

Not only this, but scholars have proven that references to sin, hell, and wrath have been systematically removed from the Latin text of the Novus Ordo, so that only 13% of the Old Mass prayer remain “uncensored” as it were, in the new.

No wonder sin and hell are not mentioned from the pulpit.

But this emphasis, preserved in the Latin Mass, turns the faithful to the true meaning of St. Augustine and Lumen Gentium on this point: we must remain in a state of grace in order to persevere in charity (with God and neighbor) and thus in the “heart” of the Church. This excludes any sin against the bond of charity with the Church – that is, the sin of schism. If any traditional Catholics fail to live up to their own standards by sinning against charity, they can be turned away from schism by means of the very Tradition they seek to promote.

Traditional Catholics have fought for decades to be a part of the Church and have the ancient Roman Rite preserved. They have been falsely labeled as “schismatic” for years until Benedict XVI vindicated them with Summorum Pontificum. By this misleading appeal to Augustine and Vatican II, Pope Francis is attempting to break the bond of charity with loyal sons of the Church and reintroduce the old calumnies against the traditional movement. Against an imagined “schism,” Traditionis Custodes initiates a schism and weakens charity among the faithful.


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