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Interesting data, some dubious positions
on September 4, 2004
"The Great Facade" purports to be an expose of what has really been going on in the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Rejecting sedevacantism, its authors forcefully deny that the conciliar Popes have been heretics, since they do not seem to be guilty of any "obstinate post-baptismal denial or doubt of an article of divine and Catholic faith" (p12.) However, being pillars of The Remnant, a magazine that belongs to the hardest core of Catholic traditionalism, they denounce alleged "conservatives" as "right-wing liberals" who, by focusing their defense on a handful of essential doctrines, have tragically negotiated away an enormous amount of so-called "non-essentials", thereby letting the Church destroy its own immune system.
Ferrara and Woods' thesis, therefore, is that the Conciliar Chuch is not dead, it merely has AIDS : it is still the Catholic Church, since none of the "articles of divine and Catholic faith" have been rejected, but it is doing such a thorough job of self-destruction with the liturgical reform, the oecumenical movement and inter-religious dialogue that it has become necessary for true Catholics to "resist it to the face" and urge a "total restoration of the ecclesiastical and apostolic traditions ... and a return ... to the uncompromising Scholastic clarity and vigor of the preconciliar Magisterium" (p26.)
This whole position rests on the belief that the "postconciliar novelties" have failed to "rise to the level of formal, binding doctrine", thereby stopping short of heresy, but have merely gnawed away at "non-propositional" traditions. Heresy, say the authors, "is a propositional offense." Therefore, so long as you have not "declared" anything and have merely misbehaved, which is what they hold the Conciliar Church to have been doing, you cannot be guilty of it.
This, I think, is a half truth. Orthodoxy implies orthopraxy, and conduct itself may be a sure sign of heresy. A friend of mine once told me that the Conciliar Church no longer believed in the real presence. This sounded extreme to me, for I have heard few explicit denials of this doctrine from Church officials (for instance, a priest from the Netherlands once said he did not participate in processions because he could not see the point of "walking behind a piece of bread.") But then my friend said : "Just look at the way they treat the Host." That made me think. And if you do not find communion in the hand blatant enough, the authors of the book themselves have very good anecdotes about the way hosts are dealt with during the World Youth Days (p389.)
Another problem I have with the book is that it is not always fair to its opponents. For instance, quoting Ratzinger as saying that "Paul teaches not the resurrection of physical bodies but of persons" (p270), Ferrara and Woods launch into an indignant defense of the Catholic doctrine of bodily resurrection, as if Ratzinger had just denied it, while it seemed to me he had just been saying that Resurrection Day would not be a remake of "Dawn of the Dead", that we would not be zombies or revivified meat, but true persons, i.e. minds integrated to bodies.
Third, I was also appalled by the two or three pages attacking the doctrine of evolution and the idea that modern humans are bodily descendants of pre-sapiens hominids. The authors suddenly turn sarcastic and very unpleasant towards the defenders of theistic evolution, mocking the "grotesquery that Adam (and Eve) had animal parents- which would mean that Christ himself is descended from animals" (p270.) I find this attitude irresponsible in the extreme, all the more so as Mr Woods, whom I greatly respect as an economist and an historian of ideas, has written articles condemning the social doctrine of the Church in the name of Austrian economics, and thus seems to respect the authority of science within its own sphere. I for one see nothing wrong with Jesus Christ being descended from australopithecines. After all, wasn't he like us in everything but sin ?
It might seem unfair of a reviewer to condemn a whole book for a mere three pages that might be considered peripheral to its main thesis. However, I am beginning to realize that virtually all the traditionalists I know of hold to Ussher-like chronologies and consider Adam to have been created from inanimate matter around 4000 BC, with the Deluge being a complete drowning of the globe in water. I do not know if this is what Ferrara and Woods actually believe, but this is certainly what their attacks on paleoanthropology seem to entail : if Adam did not have animal parents, and he was the first human, where could he possibly have come from, except a literal lump of clay? And this, I think, is not only anti-scientific, but anti-Catholic in its dogmatic self-certainty, since even such an orthodox , pre-Conciliar work as Ludwig Ott's "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" leaves open the position Ferrara and Woods laugh at. So is it truly the "preconciliar Magisterium" they want Catholics to return to, or some sinister collection of doctrines of their own concoction ?
To conclude, "The Great Facade" has failed to convince me that the Conciliar Church is historically continuous with the Catholic Church, though it has reinforced my belief that it has done a lot of evil ; and it has made me even more uncomfortable with Catholic traditionalism, as I realize its most vocal defenders are guilty of the same denial of reality as their Protestant counterparts- including those who, like Thomas Woods, are capable of perfectly rational thinking in their own scientific fields.