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Today we transition back to a “meaty” subject matter, so get ready for a bit of a literary criticism discussion. We will start today by trying to discern what constitutes a “historic” event according to an objective meaning of words and their common usage.
So let’s get cracking
For those who have been following my coverage of the Restoration that is taking place in Poland, you will no doubt recall that I have termed the visit of Cardinal Burke to Poznan and Krakow between the 6th and 8th of February of this year, as “historic”. (see here)
And as it just so happens, yesterday our bishop of Rome met with the head of the schismatic Russian Orthodox Church, one Kirill I, an alleged former KGB operative and part time “businessman”. (see here) By the way, it is reported that his code name at the KGB was “Mikhailov”. But I digress… The joint statement of the two parties was posted by very dear friends at their Eye Witness blog. This meeting also was termed as being “historic”. (see here)
Before I go further, some historical context is needed.
As a Jesuit, it is more than a coincidence that Francis would be the Roman pontiff who “arranged” this meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. It needs to be noted here, that it was the Russian monarchs, who were the head of the Russian Orthodox Church at the time, who provided sanctuary for the Jesuit order during their suppression under the brief Dominus ac Redemptor (21 July 1773) of Pope Clement XIV. After their suppression in the Portuguese Empire (1759), France (1764), the Two Sicilies, Malta, Parma and the Spanish Empire (1767), the Jesuits took refuge in non-Catholic nations, particularly in Prussia and Russia. The Jesuits were only allowed to return to many of the above mentioned countries starting in the late nineteenth century. Actually, when I heard that a Jesuit ascended to the throne of St. Peter, on a historical basis alone, I knew that this was not a good thing. But I digress…
Furthermore, if the above wasn’t enough, they met on the island penal colony commonly known as Cuba, one of the most brutal communist regimes in the history of humankind, operated by the Castro boys, brutal thugs and darling of all South American revolutionaries and the wider “progressive” , read liberation theology, world. And naturally, since Cuba has been one of the most steadfast Soviet/Russian vassal states since its 1959 revolution, Kirill also could be seen as paying off a debt by choosing this venue for the meeting. (see here)
On a personal note and in the spirit of full disclosure, I need to state for the record that as what an Englishman would term a “young kipper”, my parents, sibling and I fled communist Poland. So not only as a Catholic, but also being of Polish descent I have very little sympathy for communism. Furthermore, it also needs to be said that as opposed to Poland’s other neighbor to the west, i.e Germany, Russia, whether communist or imperial has always posed an existential threat to Poland. To this day, the old Russian foreign policy maxim states: „Kurica nie ptica, Polsza nie zagranica”. An English translation would be: A chicken is not a bird, Poland is not foreign. “Zagranica” literally means past the border, “foreign territory”) However, given the above, I can assure you dear reader that the below analysis will be dispassionate and objective. Besides, I am cognizant of the fact that you dear reader, expect nothing less of me.
So back to the subject at hand. Since we have these two “historic” events which transpired within days of each other, I will try to drill down and see if we can get a bead on what would in fact constitute “historic” and attempt to discern which of the two above named events could be considered “historic”, in an objective sense of the term.
So being the good Thomists that we are, we start with a definition from the official dictionary of the Deus Ex Machina blog’s, i.e. the Merriam Webster, for the term “historic”. Here is how it is defined:
a : famous or important in history <historic battlefields>
b : having great and lasting importance <a historic occasion>
c : known or established in the past <historic interest rates>
d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture <historic buildings> <historic artifacts>
In our case here, we are obviously concerned with definition b. having great and lasting importance <a historic occasion>. According to this definition, it would appear that both of these events fit this definition’s first condition. On the one hand, Card. Burke offered the first Pontifical High Mass by a cardinal in Poland, since the liturgical “reforms” of Vatican II in 1970. As for the bishop of Rome, he met with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. This was the first meeting of a Roman Pontiff and a Russian Patriarch, ever. So on the surface, both events can be viewed as “historic”.
Yet, due to the literal conjunction “and”, our definition places two conditions on what constitutes “historic”. The second condition is “of lasting importance”. Therefore, we need to look at what was said to assess whether anything in the content of these events could be considered “of lasting importance”.
With respect to the Francis/Kirill meeting, the joint statement can be read at the Eye Witness blog. (once again see here) Reading through the statement, it appears that while Francis has put his “orthodox” hat on for this one, there does not appear to be anything that could be considered “of lasting importance”. The reason being that if something can be considered “of lasting importance”, the principals in the agreement must be in a position of authority to effect that to which they are agreeing and will last. Rereading the joint statement, keeping in mind this criteria will bear this out. Even in doctrinal matters, Francis can’t exact change as the bi-Synod process bore out. As for Kirill, who knows what his scope of authority consists of? So what we are left with is a wish list of, to use a Donald Rumsfeld expression: known knowns. Therefore, I need to conclude that aside from the novelty effect, there is nothing of substance that would constitute this meeting to be “historic” according to our definition.
With respect to the Great Cardinal’s trip to Poland, I did notice something that appears to be of a “historical” nature, i.e. “of lasting importance”. This is due to the Cardinal having a limited scope of authority over a ecclesiastical matter which he addressed at the lecture. The fourth question that His Eminence took pertained to the SSPX and the “extraordinary jurisdiction” given them during the Year of Mercy by Francis.
When answering the question: “…can we as Catholics, without fear, take advantage of the ministry of the Fraternal Society of St. Pius X?”, here is how Card. Burke answered:
“If there does not exist an absolute necessity to go to the Society of St. Pius X to obtain the Sacraments, then people should not leave their churches and their priests”.
First of all, notice the double negative. Even though the above is my translation of the translator’s Polish words derived from Card. Burke’s answer which was given in Italian, it is still very telling. If we change the above text to a positive case of the statement above, what we would get is:
“If there is an absolute necessity to go to the Society of St. Pius X to obtain the Sacraments, then people should leave their churches and their priests”.
You dear reader are probably thinking that I am parsing the “meaning of what the word is, is”?
Well, not really.
Let’s compare the Great Cardinal’s words here with the last warning received from the church hierarchy about the SSPX. It was from none other than Card. Albano Marcello Semeraro as recently as 14 October 2014, a close Francis confidant and the Secretary of the C9 group. Here is what he said (see here):
The Catholic faithful cannot participate at Mass, neither request and/or receive Sacraments from or in the Society. Acting otherwise would mean to break communion with the Catholic Church.
Now regardless of whether Francis gave the SSPX the “jurisdiction gift” which Card. Burke mentioned, the official party line of the Vatican has been that of Card. Albano Marcello Semeraro. Yes, there have been statements about whether the SSPX is or is not in schism, but the Vatican line has always been that approaching SSPX means break with communion.
Here is the last statement on this matter by the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Muller:
With the failure of discussions, what is the position of the Lefebvrians?
“The canonical excommunication due to the illicit [episcopal] ordination was lifted from the bishops, but the sacramental one remains, de facto, for the schism; because they have removed themselves away from communion with the Church. That being said, we do not close the door, ever, and we invite them to reconcile. But they also must change their approach and accept the conditions of the Catholic Church and the Supreme Pontiff as the ultimate criterion of belonging.”
This statement was from 22 December 2013, so it could seem “out of date”. However, Card. Muller has not retracted it to the best of my knowledge, so I have to assume that it is still valid.
Now why am I mentioning all this? Simply to demonstrate an area where Francis, Cards. Semeraro, Muller and Burke do have either full or limited scope of authority to exact change “of lasting importance”, thereby fitting into our definition of “historical”.
Which brings me to the Card. Burke formulation pertaining to the SSPX. What appears to have changed is that we now have a prince of the Church, and formerly the highest legal authority in the Catholic Church, one with a limited scope of authority even in his present position, making a claim that in an “absolute necessity” the Faithful can approach the SSPX for sacraments.
Why do I say that Card. Burke has limited scope of authority to exact change “of lasting importance”? Well, because Card. Burke can come out and say that after a careful review, he has come to the conclusion that the SSPX are in “full communion” with the Catholic Church.
In other words, he would just be stating an objective fact. The basis on which he would be stating an objective fact is on the “jurisdiction gift” given to the SSPX by Francis. The reason being that Francis can’t just go and give jurisdiction to clerics who are not in “full communion” with the Church, since those sacraments administered by those clerics would be licit, but not valid.
Or to put it another way, giving jurisdiction to a cleric who is not in communion with the Church, would be like giving the jurisdiction to absolve sins to Kirill I. Might be a nice gesture, but it wouldn’t mean anything.
It’s simple logic, sport fans.
Want more proof?
Notice that the Great Cardinal is not linking his “absolute necessity” test for a licit sacrament with the Year of Mercy. Please notice that his remark was outside the Year of Mercy discussion, actually preceding it.
What in fact Cardinal Burke said was that any Faithful Catholic who finds himself in a state of “absolute necessity” can approach the SSPX to obtain Sacraments.
I will end here for today. In the next post, I will try to answer the 64 thousand dollar question of what could constitute a state of “absolute necessity”. So stay tuned.
On a final note, the cartoon that I have put at the top of this post can very easily double as commentary for the reasons behind this “historic” meeting in Havana.