Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Joseph Augustine Di Noia: A Faulty Traditionalist Condemnation

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 09, 2012

Readers have called my attention to the Traditionalist denunciations of Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, since he has been appointed Vice President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, and of Archbishop Gerhard Müller, now that he has been named Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is not surprising that defenders of the Society of Saint Pius X should be sensitive concerning these posts, but the wild denunciations of these two men which have been circulating around the web are nothing short of ludicrous. I’ll take up the Di Noia condemnation here, and leave the Müller condemnation to a subsequent post.

A classic case of the condemnation of Archbishop Di Noia is John Vennari’s tirade in Catholic Family News, in which Vennari somehow regards it as a damning admission on Di Noia’s part that negotiations between the Church and the SSPX are designed to convert the Society to Conciliar thinking. Considering that the neuralgic point in these negotiations is Rome’s insistence that the Society accept the Magisterium of the Council and of the modern papacy, this “admission” hardly constitutes a surprise.

Worse, Vennari purports to prove that Di Noia’s remarks also constitute an admission that the Second Vatican Council and the modern papacy have changed the teachings of the Church, once again casting the Society in the role of the faithful remnant. He does this by citing Di Noia’s comments on relations with Jews, which are another very sore spot for the SSPX, especially given the notorious and undisguised anti-Semitism of many of its adherents—something frequently noted by those who have left the SSPX in horror.

Di Noia had said that “after three years of dialogue we still need to understand what the SSPX position is on the Jewish Community and Judaism”, and Vennari is incredulous. He claims the SSPX simply holds what the Church has always held—but then ruins his claim by stating that what the Church has always held is that “all non-Catholics, Jews included, must convert to the Catholic Church for salvation.” Unfortunately, the word “convert” seems clearly intended to indicate a formal, conscious acceptance of the teachings of the Catholic Church and a formal, conscious submission to its authority. But it has never been Catholic doctrine that this is required for salvation and, in any case, this set of requirements would already rule out adherents of the SSPX, who manifestly refuse submission to the Church’s authority.

No, the ancient phrase “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” means something far less formal—and happily far more substantial—than that. To understand it, we must recall that, for Saint Paul, being joined to Christ is the same thing as being joined to the Church (Christ’s body), and this joining comes through belief in, trust in and obedience to God according to whatever degree of truth the Holy Spirit writes in each person’s heart (see What Does it Mean to Be Saved?). Far from undermining earlier teachings on this question, the more recent teachings of the Magisterium—especially those of Pope Pius XII, Vatican II and John Paul II—demonstrate the compatibility of the entire corpus of Catholic teaching with Saint Paul. This is precisely why the decree of the Council of Florence, which Vennari joins other Traditionalists in constantly yet inexplicably citing, is so careful to say of pagans, Jews, heretics and schismatics not that they must convert to Catholicism or become juridical members of the Church to be saved, but only that they must at some point before death be “joined” to her. (Never mind what many of those at the Council of Florence really might have thought; the Holy Spirit always protects the Magisterium from mistakes in faith and morals, regardless of the personal inclinations, misunderstandings and prejudices of popes, or bishops in council—a truth we can also apply to the teachings of Vatican II.)

Moreover, Di Noia was right when, pace Vennari, he asserted that Pope John Paul II placed a new emphasis on the Pauline teaching concerning the Jews. But when Di Noia stated that Vatican II “wrought a fundamental change” in Catholic-Jewish relations, and that Pope John Paul II’s pontificate “marked a major shift” in the theological understanding of Judaism, he was not referring (as Vennari so blithely assumes) to any sort of contradiction in the magisterial teachings of the Church but to a deeper theological understanding of the role of the Jews in salvation history, as Di Noia specifically noted.

After all, did the Church ever teach that the Jews are to be summarily dismissed as guilty of Deicide? Or that the election of the Jews has no continuing relevance to salvation history? Hardly. It really is important, then, for the Commission to figure out what the heck the SSPX actually believes about the Jews, apart from the mere prejudices of many of its adherents. The task has been far from simple, and the intellectual shoddiness of attempting to use Di Noia’s remarks as the basis for a charge of heresy is breathtaking.

In fact Vennari proceeds to hang himself with his own rope. He contrasts the attitude of Di Noia and the contemporary Magisterium with that of Pope Pius XI who, in a prayer consecrating the world to the Sacred Heart, referred to the Jews as “once Thy chosen people”. He seems not to realize that this very phrase is theologically unfortunate. At the very least, it is contrary to what St. Paul teaches, namely, that God’s election of the Jews is permanent. You’ll find this in Romans 11, which begins, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” (11:1) and goes on to emphasize that “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (11:29).

Pope Pius XI taught no heresy, of course, though the wording of this prayer may have been a bit careless. But the citation reminds us that there are deep theological mysteries here, and that they must be explored very carefully indeed. It also reminds us, when questions of heresy arise, to be equally careful about selecting properly Magisterial sources. Unfortunately, Vennari (and many Traditionalists who tend to think like him) too easily content themselves with insisting on the “obvious”, when what is so obvious to them may not, in fact, be a complete or even a correct understanding of what the Church teaches.

Do you have doubts? I propose a thought experiment. Read Romans chapter 11 slowly in its entirety. Though it does not contain everything that Scripture (or even St. Paul) has to say on the subject, it does explore the condition of the Jews and some aspects of the theological relationship between Jews and Gentiles, that is, Jews and most Christians. Read it slowly and carefully and then try to argue that there are no depths here that need to be carefully explored, depths that admit of continuing developments and changing emphases (but never contradictions) in Magisterial teaching.

But don’t be like John Vennari. Don’t approach the text thinking you know everything, or that it is a simple matter to articulate the full implications of Revelation on so deep a subject, or even that the Church herself has necessarily already taught everything that we would like to know. Instead, do the one thing that most critics of Pope Benedict XVI so steadfastly refuse to do: Read carefully.

See also my related entry: Gerard Ludwig Müller: Another Faulty Traditionialist Condemnation.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Dec. 17, 2016 12:52 AM ET USA

    It would help to have some specific tie between the various tracks and the O antiphons.

  • Posted by: JimKcda - Jul. 17, 2012 12:56 PM ET USA

    In the “Mystical Body of Christ” Pope Pius XII mentions “…those who belong to the Mystical Body in a way known only to God…” to address the 1950’s “No salvation outside the Church” error. My point is this; all sects preach, “No salvation outside our sect!” as a way to keep their members under their control. I believe the SSPX is using the discussion of the Jews for this purpose as they prepare to reject the Pope’s offer of reunification. (Quotes from memory may not be completely accurate.)

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Jul. 10, 2012 6:19 PM ET USA

    I get the impression a lot of Church leaders are saying that post temple Judaism with it's explicit rejection of Christ is the same thing as the Judaism practiced before the Temple was destroyed. Can one honestly say that post temple Judaism is the same as the Judaism practiced by our Lord and his disciples before the foundation of the Church? Is not the Catholic priesthood the new Priesthood of the new Israel and the Holy Sacrafice of the Mass the replacement for the temple sacrifice?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 09, 2012 9:04 PM ET USA

    You condemn Pius XII too quickly. VII in NA supports his statement: "Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected..."(4). I have only 500 chars here, but I too often see Romans used to set modern Judaism as an alternative path with the Church. The Church was and remains the continuation of the faithful Jewish remnant. Jews that rejected it and created modern Judaism are best seen as the first schism in the Church, like Protestants 1500 yrs later.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 09, 2012 6:44 PM ET USA

    AB Di Noia speaks of a "new" understanding of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. He uses the terms "major shift" and "fundamental change" regarding "the (Catholic) theological understanding of Judaism." Vennari emphasizes these points. Thus we begrudgingly enjoy the contribution of the SSPX at the invitation of Pope Benedict- dialogue (of all things)..."you couldn’t even talk about these things. So Benedict has liberated us for the first time." So says Archbishop Di Noia.