March 15, 2017
Posted by Tantumblogo
While largely unknown today, many consider Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton as the greatest theologian the United States has ever produced. In the mid-20th century, he was a huge figure within the American Church, editing the premiere theological journal of the country and doing battle with the forces of modernism which were already becoming more and more bold in their efforts to redefine the Faith according to the “synthesis of all heresies” which they held.
Some of Fenton’s most pointed battles were against Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, a favorite of the Kennedy clan and the man who many consider to be the father of the Church’s post-conciliar ecumenical ethos. Murray was especially influential in developing the Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae, which discusses matters such as religious liberty and the necessity of the Church for salvation in truly unprecedented ways. Unfortunately for the Church and millions of souls, while many observers felt that Fenton had clearly defeated Murray in their numerous theological engagements in the Catholic press, it was Murray whose influence was far more decisive at Vatican II. Once the Council turned decisively towards revolutionary sentiments in the first session, casting aside the years of previous work in the various schema that had been produced before the Council, and which had been championed by Cardinal Ottaviani and his staff of peritus (including Msgr. Fenton), Fenton’s influence on the Council waned as dramatically as did that of the deliberately publicly humiliated Ottaviani.
At any rate, the principle point of disagreement between Fenton and Murray, among others, was on the necessity of the Church for salvation and the paramount need for souls to be within that Church. This spilled over into a closely related point: whether the American form of government with its “freedom of religion” (really, formally enshrined agnosticism as the state religion) was ideal, suitable, or even permissible for Catholics to support. Murray’s vision was much more Americanist in nature, not quite indifferentism but certainly close to what has become the reality in the post-conciliar Church.
In contrast, what we read below is fully in line with the Doctrine of the Faith as handed down through the ages, and fitted for the understanding of contemporary man. I pray that one day the Church return not only to a full appreciation of Fenton’s work, but also to its implementation in a general reinstitution of classical scholastic theology. The following excerpts come from The Church of Christ: A Collection of Essays by Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, pp. 299-301. I add my own comments [in brackets]:
The anti-Catholic agitators are continually charging that Catholics are striving to do away with freedom of religion in the United States. [As for me, guilty as charged.] In answering these men, some of our less skillful apologists [what a nice dig at Murray!] become so confused that they actually give the impression that Catholics are completely and absolutely satisfied with the situation here in the United States today, that we believe it to be the best that many of our fellow citizens should remain as they are, apart from Our Lord, from His Church, and from His true religion. Unmindful of the constant and devoutly sincere prayer of the Church that all of those who wander apart from ecclesiastical union and fellowship with Christ should be brought by God’s Grace into that fellowship, [A prayer repeated at every Good Friday in the TLM, but one which the vast majority of Catholics today have probably never heard] these writers describe as ultimately good and satisfactory a situation in which the nation itself takes no more cognizance of the true religion than it does of false systems of worship…….
……….We would by denying the force of that missionary charity within the Church, or misjudging the nature of the Church itself, were we in any way to give the impression that we do not care whether our fellow Americans enter the true Church or not. The true religion is the great good which we desire for our fellow citizens and for our country. The true Church, outside of which there is no salvation, is likewise a great and necessary good we seek for the men and the nation we love in the affection of charity.
………..The Vatican Council’s [That would be Vatican I] first dogmatic constitution, Dei Filius…..declares that “If anyone should say that the faithful and those who have never arrived at the only true faith are in a like situation, so that Catholics can have a legitimate reason for withholding their assent from and doubting, until they shall have completed the scientific proof of the credibility and the truth of their own faith, that faith which they have already received under the Church’s Magisterium, let him be anathema.” [Wow, a council that levels anathemas. Wonders never cease.] The third chapter of this constitution declares that “those who have received the faith under the Church’s Magisterium can never have any legitimate cause for changing that faith or doubting it.” [Et tu, Francesco?]
………The thesis that the state or the civil society is objectively obligated to worship God according to the Rite of the Catholic religion thus stems basically from a realization of the fact that the debt of religion is a real obligation incumbent upon every human being and every social unit, and from a recognition of the truth that there is only one objectively acceptable religious worship, that which is paid to God within the framework of Our Lord’s Mystical Body. This thesis is likewise in line with the fundamental principle of Catholic missiology, the truth that God wills that all men should enter His one true Church. Thus it refuses to see as genuinely and ultimately desirable and good a situation in which some men, even though through no fault of their own, are not citizens of God’s supernatural kingdom on earth.
Let me know if the excerpts don’t quite form a cohesive whole. I’m out of time and really wanted to get this post out but may have taken out a bit much “meat.”
The practical implementation of Dignatitis Humanae and the cult of false ecumenism it has engendered (for the only true ecumenism, contra the previous pontiff, is what he called “the discredited ecumenism of return” to the faith) is probably the second greatest wound to the Church unleashed in the decades since Vatican II, after Sacrosanctum Concilium. The latter attempts to rip out her heart, the former, her mind. No wonder the Church’s missionary efforts have totally collapsed in the years since. They were intended to. The revolutionaries – whether they intended to be or not – could not have chosen their targets better. It is a bitter shame better men like Fenton did not succeed, but I have to accept that God allowed all this to come to pass, for some reason.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis.