Thursday, July 31, 2008

Worry is Wicked: On the SSPX and Divine Providence

By Brian Kopp

Years ago I was talking to a patient about the vagaries of life, health, family and friends. A Christian woman of the Brethren denomination, she stated flatly, "Worry is Wicked!" By way of explanation, she quoted Matthew 6:27-29:

"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these."

Worry to her was simply evidence of a lack of faith, hope, and trust in the Lord, and therefore, to her, worrying was a sinful preoccupation. That viewpoint may have been a bit extreme, but I am convinced that worry, i.e., a lack of abandonment to Divine Providence, plays a pivotal role in the anger and impatience of many within the SSPX fold.

One of the best explanations of Divine Providence from a truly Catholic perspective comes from Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (He may be better known among traditional Catholics for his steadfast opposition to the nouvelle théologie.) In his book, Providence, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange summarizes Self-Abandonment To Providence (emphasis added):

Why we should abandon ourselves to divine providence

The answer of every Christian will be that the reason lies in the wisdom and goodness of Providence. This is very true; nevertheless, if we are to have a proper understanding of the subject, if we are to avoid the error of the Quietists in renouncing more or less the virtue of hope and the struggle necessary for salvation, if we are to avoid also the other extreme of disquiet, precipitation, and a feverish, fruitless agitation, it is expedient for us to lay down four principles already somewhat accessible to natural reason and clearly set forth in revelation as found in Scripture. These principles underlying the true doctrine of self-abandonment, also bring out the motive inspiring it.


These first three principles may therefore be summed up in this way: Nothing comes to pass but God has foreseen it, willed it or at least permitted it. He wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for the manifestation of His goodness and infinite perfections, for the glory of His Son, and the welfare of those that love Him. In view of these three principles, it is evident that our trust in Providence cannot be too childlike, too steadfast. Indeed, we may go further and say that this trust in Providence should be blind as is our faith, the object of which is those mysteries that are non-evident and unseen (fides est de non visis) for we are certain beforehand that Providence is directing all things infallibly to a good purpose, and we are more convinced of the rectitude of His designs than we are of the best of our own intentions. Therefore, in abandoning ourselves to God, all we have to fear is that our submission will not be wholehearted enough. [54]

In view of Quietism, however, this last sentence obliges us to lay down a fourth principle no less certain than the principles that have preceded. The principle is, that obviously self-abandonment does not dispense us from doing everything in our power to fulfil God's will as made known in the commandments and counsels, and in the events of life; but so long as we have the sincere desire to carry out His will thus made known from day to day, we can and indeed we must abandon ourselves for the rest to the divine will of good pleasure, no matter how mysterious it may be, and thus avoid a useless disquiet and mere agitation. [55]

...All theologians explain what is meant by the divine will as expressed: expressed, that is, in the commandments, in the spirit underlying the counsels, and in the events of life. [56] They add that, while conforming ourselves to His expressed will, [57] we must abandon ourselves to His divine will of good pleasure, however mysterious it may be, for we are certain beforehand that in its holiness it wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for a good purpose.

"...a useless disquiet, precipitation, and a feverish, fruitless agitation..."

Is it fair to say that we traditional Catholics are often guilty of this latter extreme? Does not our righteous anger at the injustices of the past 40 years often decay into unjust anger, bitterness, and impatience?

Fr. Zuhlsdorf, in his emphases and comments on the recent Angelus interview with SSPX Bishop Richard Williamson, notes:

Williamson: Had the Archbishop not consecrated? We would have seen some other marvel of the Lord God to ensure that the Faith and the Church continued. [An interesting observation. In other words they did not have to defy the Vicar of Christ, and persist in defiance. I think when people offer the argument that had Archbp. Lefevbre and the SSPX not done what they did, then we would not have the older Mass today, we should reject that premise, or at least scrutinize it closely.] There can be no doubt that the bishops of the SSPX have in fact made possible the continuance of the SSPX as one bulwark of the Faith in difficult times, but the Lord God’s arm is not shortened by the wickedness of men. [True!]

Q: Do you see the situation with Rome as more or less encouraging after these past 20 years?

Williamson: I am afraid the situation with Rome is still more discouraging than 20 years ago. [One would not think so, unless one has an abiding problem with the person of Papa Ratzinger. Perhaps the abiding problems is, in this case, fear. Williamson would not be capable of "winning" an argument with Papa if it really came down to the serious doctrinal dialogue the SSPX claim they desire. So, perhaps constantly kicking sand at the eyes of the "summits" is their best strategy right now.] As Our Lord says in one of His parables, “Some enemy hath done this.” Some enemy, very clever and cleverly hidden, is at work. [A diabolical conspiracy. Still, I find it ironic that he cites a verse from Scripture which Augustine used when refuting the theological positions of the Donatists, who set up altar against altar, defied legitimate Catholic authority, and believed in a Church of the pure only. Ironic.] Notwithstanding, the Lord God is in control. [For someone who makes statements about abandonment to divine providence, there sure is an extreme need to be in control, isn’t there?]
Williamson: The most important development of the last 20 years would seem to me to be no one event in particular, but rather the advance on every front of evil in general. We are surrounded. [I want to give him the benefit of the doubt here, but a close read might suggest to some that he has just including the election of Benedict XVI and the issuing of the Motu Proprio as part of the "advance of evil". I get the impression that this fellow thinks that the MP was a Trojan Horse. Bp. "Cassandra" is therefore warning against any close dealings with the "false Rome" or those at "the summits".] Humanly, we are going under. [Is there a bit of a dualism behind this statement?] But God is God! [Again the reference to divine providence.]
Fr. Zuhlsdorf makes an important point here. Bishop Williamson and other SSPX members routinely make reference to divine providence, but seem to be living the (non-scriptural) adage that "The Lord helps those who help themselves."

Dr. Brian Sudlow's recent post, Confessions of a Nobody or why I quit the SSPX milieu, examines what he views as the primary error of the SSPX theses:

...I began to recognise the one error that ran through all the SSPX theses: a kind of privatisation of judgment. I’ll say it again: they live by a privatisation of judgment in their canonical, theological and liturgical life which leads them into an autonomous situation with regard to these three areas of ecclesial life. It is well meant. It is an instinct of self preservation. It seems to be the most logical and the most effective means of keeping the faith in a time of serious disintegration. But it is, nevertheless, a line of thought and conduct which is self-authenticating.

Can this self-authenticating privatisation of judgment in canonical, theological and liturgical life be reconciled with the demands of Self-Abandonment To Providence?

Looking back to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, we read:

These are the principles underlying the doctrine of trusting self-abandonment. Accepted as they are by all theologians, they express what is of Christian faith in this matter. The golden mean is thus above and between the two errors mentioned at the beginning of this section. By constant fidelity to duty, we avoid the false and idle repose of the Quietist, and on the other hand by a trustful self-abandonment we are saved from a useless disquiet and a fruitless agitation. Self-abandonment would be sloth did it not presuppose this daily fidelity, which indeed is a sort of springboard from which we may safely launch ourselves into the unknown. Daily fidelity to the divine will as expressed gives us a sort of right to abandon ourselves completely to the divine will of good pleasure as yet not made known to us.

A faithful soul will often recall to mind these words of our Lord: "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me" (John 4: 34). The soul finds its constant nourishment in the divine will as expressed, abandoning itself to the divine will as yet not made known, much as a swimmer supports himself on the passing wave and surrenders himself to the oncoming wave, to that ocean that might engulf him but that actually sustains, him. So the soul must strike out toward the open sea, into the infinite ocean of being, says St. John Damascene, borne up by the divine will as made known there and then and abandoning itself to that divine will upon which all successive moments of the future depend. The future is with God, future events are in His hands...Daily fidelity and trusting self-abandonment thus give the spiritual life its balance, its stability and harmony. In this way we live our lives in almost continuous recollection, in an ever-increasing self-abnegation, and these are the conditions normally required for contemplation and union with God. This, then, is the reason why our life should be one of self-abandonment to the divine will as yet unknown to us and at the same time supported every moment by that will as already made known to us.

Obviously, we must abandon ourselves to the divine will in all things (and this includes the time and ways God chooses to restore traditional Catholicism):

In what matters we should abandon ourselves to divine Providence

Once we have complied with the principles just laid down, when we have done all that the law of God and Christian prudence demand, our self-abandonment should then embrace everything. What does this involve? In the first place, our whole future, what our circumstances will be tomorrow, in twenty years and more. We must also abandon ourselves to God in all that concerns the present, in the midst of the difficulties we may be experiencing right now; even our past life, our past actions with all their consequences should be abandoned to the divine mercy.

We must likewise abandon ourselves to God in all that affects the body, in health and sickness, as well as in all that affects the soul, whether it be joy or tribulation, of long or brief duration. We must abandon ourselves to God in all that concerns the good will or malice of men. [58] Says St. Paul: [59]

If God be for us, who is against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things?... Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulations? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecutions? Or the sword?... I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Could there be a more perfect self-abandonment in the spirit ; of faith, hope, and love? This is an abandonment embracing all the vicissitudes of this world, all the upheavals that may convulse it, embracing life and death, the hour of death, and the circumstances, peaceful or violent, in which we breathe forth our last sigh.

...What is our practical conclusion to be? It is this, that in doing our utmost to carry out our daily duties we must for the rest abandon ourselves to divine providence, and that with the most childlike confidence. And if we are really striving to be faithful in little things, in the practice of humility, gentleness, and patience, in the daily routine of our lives, God on His part will give us grace to be faithful in greater and more difficult things, should He perchance ask them of us; then, in those exceptional circumstances, He will give to those that seek Him exceptional graces.

Few traditional Catholics would argue that the words and actions of Archbishop Lefebvre -- up till 1988 -- were those of an exceptional man working under and through the influence of exceptional graces under exceptional circumstances. The question then is one of the words and actions of the SSPX from the 1988 consecrations up to the present.

Anger and Impatience

For years, I've had an ongoing debate over the proper "role" of anger in traditional Catholic debates online with a dear friend who attends an SSPX chapel. In our most recent exchange, he stated,

I'd like for you to consider the following quote I found on one of the threads:

St. John Chrysostom wrote:

"Only the person who becomes irate without reason, sins. Whoever becomes irate for a just reason is not guilty. Because, if ire were lacking, the science of God would not progress, judgments would not be sound, and crimes would not be repressed.

Further, the person who does not become irate when he has cause to be, sins. For an unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices: it fosters negligence, and stimulates not only the wicked, but above all the good, to do wrong."

(Homily XI super Matheum, 1c, nt.7)

I replied,

As far as anger goes, I'm not saying that any person who gets angry is guilty. We know better than that. And your quote here really hits home. Just anger obviously has a big role to play in the defense of the Faith as well as the defense of the Faithful.

But a steady diet of anger cannot and will not sustain any apostolate or individual soul. Anger might be a good and just motive for Catholic action, but it cannot sustain it, and it will always destroy the soul. Other virtues must come into play once just anger plays its role.

The soul whose primary motive is anger is what they call in the spiritual classics a "retarded soul." And when anger is permitted to seethe and permeate the soul for long periods, it leads to real guilt, and destroys virtue in the soul.

In this latter case, the anger is a sign of refusal to accept God's Active and Permissive Will. Its a sign of refusal to abandon one's soul to Divine Providence. It is a lack of patient resignation to God's Holy Will.

[From] the old Catholic spiritual classics, and the lives of the saints, [you] realize real quick that anger was never a primary motive of any of the saints. It may be a transient motive that leads, by the Grace of God, to other motives and virtues. But left unchecked, by an act of the Will, it will shrivel up the soul and undermine good fruits and eventually lead to serious sin.

...The desire to "destroy" anything does not come from God, even if its the Devil and his lies that one desires to destroy.

Only God gets to determine when and how the Devil will meet his eternal reward. Only God gets to determine when and how traditional Catholicism will be restored.

We only need to worry about those things over which we have immediate control. If we try to affect or effect things beyond our control, we are doomed to failure -- and perpetual anger. Only the Devil wins in that scenario.

Tonight he responded (these are general statements and do not betray any confidences),

...I am, in general, EXTRAORDINARILY angry over what has been done to our Church and by extension humanity. I've wept over it many, many times. I read the same catechism and scriptures as you and others, but I can't make it go away or pretend that the anger doesn't exist. It’s there. It just is.

From a pragmatic standpoint, I'm not sure that I'd want it to go away or not exist even if that were possible. I've come to believe that there needs to exist a contingent, as large a one as possible, that is simply not going to stand for what has been stood for until now; a contingent that's not going to shut up, and is not going to be NICE.

The desire to "destroy" anything does not come from God, even if its the Devil and his lies that one desires to destroy.

This statement is inconceivable to me.


1 All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. 2 A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. 5 A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. 6 A time to get, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to cast away. 7 A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. 8 A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace.

Do I really need to list all of what the Church and Her sons and daughters have destroyed or sought to destroy over the last 2,000 years? The heresies, the Islamic incursions, the Roman Empire, communism, Abortion Inc., etc.

Come on Brian, really. If you don’t wish the apparatus that wrought this atrocity on us destroyed, perhaps I don’t know you as well as I thought I did.

Force Vs. Violence

I'm afraid my friend simply does not grasp the difference between the just use of force and an act of violence. At least he is failing to make this necessary distinction. And frankly, this refusal to make such distinctions is a hallmark of the online rhetoric of many SSPX defenders and supporters. Christian polemics are an integral part of preaching the Gospel. However, rhetoric itself can become a form of violence. So too, illicit episcopal consecrations.

In Catholic thought, violence is the illicit application of force in the pursuit of a good. The application of force itself is morally neutral. In our current debate, the dividing line seems to fall once again on 1988, and the point at which just anger becomes sinful, and whether the actions arising out of that anger do violence to the Church. The questions of proper obedience and the authority of the Pope come into play.

Who is to blame if the faithful resort to such "violence"?

In his article The Taproot of Violence the late Fr. Vincent P. Miceli, S.J. reflected on the nature of violence, and the culpability of negligent leaders in its escalation:

An allied, though external reason for the escalation of violence today is the failure of authority—that spiritual power—to exercise itself as a bulwark against criminal violence. This failure is due to the weakened adherence to truth and the loss of faith of both civil and religious authorities. The poet Yeats so well expressed this problem endemic in our days. "The best in society lack all conviction, the worst (the criminals) are full of passionate intensity." For violence proliferates with the breakdown of authority. And authority breaks down when Christian convictions are denied in theory or betrayed in cowardly conduct. When governors, superiors, lawmakers, administrators and teachers cease to believe that they have a body of truth to teach and a code of Christian holiness to live up to, inculcate into others and, yes, even die for, then the community is abandoned by its leaders and left a prey to professional inciters of murder and rapine. For once bereft of effective Christian leadership, the masses are pathetically prone to heed the siren call to revolution. When authority is confused, apathetic, fearful of performing its duty, then society falls into the hands of the most cunning and powerful who are usually organized and proceed to amalgamate ruthlessly communities into communes. When authority is weak it often succumbs to blackmail, thus becoming a catalyst to fiercer attacks of the revolutionaries. For successful violence inevitably calls forth greater, bolder, more frequent violence. What civil and especially religious authorities must realize is that the apologists for organized violence know no loyalty, reverence, reality but their own selfish goals. They are neo-nihilists, spiritually famished, deprived of mature person-hood by self-idolization. They are the waifs of a materialist, godless civilization that seeks a Utopia here and now. What they need is not coddling but discipline. What they admire and respond to is not capitulation but firm convictions and adamant enforcement of doctrinal, moral and civil laws. When authorities, civil and religious, are eaten up with a zeal for truth and holiness, when they show a courage that is the fruit of deep Christian convictions and conduct, when they demonstrate a love for wandering souls that stops at no sacrifice to bring them back to the Good Shepherd of all souls, then the rising tide of criminal violence will begin to fall to a low ebb. Then the spiritual starvelings who are fascinated with the violence of gangsters and of hucksters of false ideologies may be won back to the violence known as intensity of love, that zeal which conquers the kingdom of heaven and leads to a life of truth, holiness, peace and joy with God and man. "The truth will make you free," says Christ. And to be sure a society founded on adherence to truth and holiness will enjoy a peace and a freedom that are immune from the plague of criminal violence.

Obviously, many Church leaders over the past 40 years fall under the broad categories Fr. Miceli identifies as responsible for the escalation of violence.

The Triumph of Humility

In his book, Providence, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange quotes extensively from the book Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J.

Fr. de Caussade magnificently illustrates the fruits of a humble Self-Abandonment To Providence:

SECTION XII.—The Triumph of Humility.

To the souls which are faithful to Him, God promises a glorious victory over the powers of the world and of hell.

If the divine action is hidden here below under the appearance of weakness, it is in order to increase the merit of souls which are faithful to it; but its triumph is none the less certain.

The history of the world from the beginning is but the history of the struggle between the powers of the world, and of hell, against the souls which are humbly devoted to the divine action. In this struggle all the advantage seems to be on the side of pride, yet the victory always remains with humility. The image of the world is always presented to our eyes as a statue of gold, brass, iron, and clay. This mystery of iniquity, shown in a dream to Nabuchodonosor, is nothing but a confused medley of all the actions, interior and exterior, of the children of darkness. This is also typified by the beast coming out of the pit to make war, from the beginning of time, against the interior and spiritual life of man. All that takes place in our days is the consequence of this war. Monster follows monster out of the pit, which swallows, and vomits them forth again amidst incessant clouds of smoke. The combat between St. Michael and Lucifer, that began in Heaven, still continues. The heart of this once magnificent angel, has become, through envy, an inexhaustible abyss of every kind of evil. He made angel revolt against angel in Heaven, and from the creation of the world his whole energy is exerted to make more criminals among men to fill the ranks of those who have been swallowed up in the pit. Lucifer is the chief of those who refuse obedience to the Almighty. This mystery of iniquity is the very inversion of the order of God; it is the order, or rather, the disorder of the devil.

This disorder is a mystery because, under a false appearance of good, it hides irremediable and infinite evil. Every wicked man, who, from the time of Cain, up to the present moment, has 92declared war against God, has outwardly been great and powerful, making a great stir in the world, and being worshiped by all. But this outward semblance is a mystery. In reality they are beasts which have ascended from the pit one after another to overthrow the order of God. But this order, which is another mystery, has always opposed to them really great and powerful men who have dealt these monsters a mortal wound. As fast as hell vomits them forth, Heaven at the same time creates fresh heroes to combat them. Ancient history, sacred and profane, is but a record of this war. The order of God has ever remained victorious and those who have ranged themselves on the side of God have shared His triumph, and are happy for all eternity. Injustice has never been able to protect deserters. It can reward them only by death, an eternal death.

Those who practise iniquity imagine themselves invincible. O God! who can resist You? If a single soul has the whole world and all hell against it, it need have no fear if, by abandonment, it takes its stand on the side of God and His order.

The monstrous spectacle of wickedness armed with so much power, the head of gold, the body of silver, brass, and iron, is nothing more than the image of clay; a small stone cast at it will scatter it to the four winds of Heaven.

How wonderfully has the Holy Spirit illustrated the centuries of the world! So many startling revelations! so many renowned heroes following each other like so many brilliant stars! So many wonderful events!

All this is like the dream of Nabuchodonosor, forgotten on awaking, however terrible the impression it made at the time.

All these monsters only come into the world to exercise the courage of the children of God, and if these are well trained, God gives them the pleasure of slaying the monsters, and sends fresh athletes into the arena.

And this life is a spectacle to angels, causing continual joy in Heaven, work for saints on earth, and confusion to the devils in hell.

So all that is opposed to the order of God renders it only the more to be adored. All workers of iniquity are slaves of justice, and the divine action builds the heavenly Jerusalem on the ruins of Babylon.

In the Homily of his Inauguration Mass on April 24, 2005, it was obvious that Pope Benedict XVI understands the nature of this battle, and the role that the impatience and anger of man plays in it all:

"How often we wish that God would show himself stronger, that he would strike decisively, defeating evil and creating a better world. All ideologies of power justify themselves in exactly this way, they justify the destruction of whatever would stand in the way of progress and the liberation of humanity.

We suffer on account of God’s patience. And yet, we need his patience.

God, who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who crucified him. The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man."


Convenor said...

Could you let people know about this, please.

Saint Conleth’s Catholic Heritage Association invites you to honour the Holy Year of St. Paul with Holy Mass in the Traditional Latin Rite on Saturday, 30th August, 2008, at 11 a.m. in St. Paul’s Church, Emo, Co. Laois, Ireland, followed by a tour of Emo Court House and Gardens.

For the past 15 years, St. Conleth’s Catholic Heritage Association has been working prayerfully for the provision of the Traditional Latin Liturgy in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.

Please confirm your attendance to:

For further details consult:

God bless you!

Saint Conleth’s Catholic Heritage Association

David L Alexander said...

I have long believed that the greatest fear of the bishops of the SSPX, is one that is often overlooked. Even in victory, or in peace, there is the letting go of that situation with which one has become accustomed, even if it is not to our liking. Perhaps the biggest adjustment will be, when Bishops Fellay and Williamson and... whatever that other guy's name is, will have to answer to someone on a routine basis, other than themselves.

By continuing a siege mentality, whether real or imagined, their cause -- and perhaps the real "raison d'etre" -- continues indefinitely, with renewed vigor every time they come within an inch of complete accord.