Action Alert!

whose magisterium?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 22, 2010

In an interview with the German-language Kathnews service (now available in translation on the Rorate Caeli site), Father Franz Schmidberger, the former superior of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), offers his perspective on the possibility of an ultimate agreement between the traditionalist group and the Holy See. In a nutshell:

An agreement between the Holy See and the Fraternity could only mean one thing: that Rome accepts the voice of the preconciliar Magisterium.

Well, that makes things easy. I don't speak for the Holy See, obviously, but this is a no-brainer. Rome accepts the voice of the preconciliar magisterium. Now where do we sign the deal?

Of course the Holy See accepts the voice of the preconciliar magisterium. The Holy See IS the voice of the magisterium: pre- and post-conciliar. There is no break in continuity, no shift to a different teaching authority.

To be a Catholic is to believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church at all times. The Spirit was active in the Church before Vatican II; thus the previous teachings of the magisterium carry authority which cannot be undone. But the Spirit was also active during and after Vatican II. To believe otherwise is to suggest that the Holy Spirit could leave the Church, or allow her to slip into error.

There are, sad to say, many Christians who think that the Church was guided by the Holy Spirit in apostolic times, but then somehow strayed from the proper doctrinal path at some point (the era of Constantine? the Council of Chalcedon?) only to recover at some later date (the Reformation?). There's a problem with that belief. If the Holy Spirit left the Church once, then the same tragedy could occur again. So we can never be certain, at any given time, that the Church teaches with authority.

If on the other hand we know with certainty that the Spirit is always with the Church, then we know that the pre-conciliar teachings of the magisterium are true. For the same reason, we know that post-conciliar teachings of the magisterium are true. If we see tensions between the teachings before and after, then the challenge is to reconcile the differences, to deepen our understanding of the faith.

The key question is not whether the Holy See accepts the preconciliar magisterium, but whether the SSPX does. Because what the Church taught before the Council instructs us to accept-- with puzzlement, possibly, but with religious assent-- what the Church taught in the Council.  


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Cory - Jan. 16, 2018 8:39 PM ET USA

    >>It is indeed a paradox that God does not need us, yet He loves us. << I would not call it a paradox but a demand of reason. Only when we are no longer in need of someone can we truly love them. Otherwise, it is always tainted by self-interest.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Feb. 24, 2010 8:42 AM ET USA

    I am curious why so many people argue about communion in the hand and communion on the tongue? Merely receiving communion in the hand doesn't kill faith in the real presence. It may be correlated to it but it is not the primary reason for loss of faith. The Church has gone back and forth over the centuries giving communion on the tongue or in the hand depending on circumstance- including responding to heresy and disease. The Church makes the laws. It is the authority.

  • Posted by: frjpharrington3912 - Feb. 23, 2010 11:26 PM ET USA

    I couldn't help but think of the distinction you make between the "letter" and the "spirit" of Vatican II in your book, "The Faithful Departed." As you say, the Council did not question any old doctrines nor did it propose any new ones. The fact that the Fathers invariably reaffirmed traditional beliefs proves your point, namely, that one and the same Spirit, with a capital "S" is still at work guiding the Church founded on the Apostles.

  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Feb. 23, 2010 10:06 PM ET USA

    I wonder what the SSPX response would be to this very reasoned and well-stated position. They can't it both ways.

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Feb. 23, 2010 8:44 PM ET USA

    Martty, I have an answer - yes. The bishops petitioned the Holy See and the Holy See consented. It's an open and shut case. That doesn't mean, though, that it was the most prudent thing to do, as people are discovering. More importantly, it doesn't mean that the practice is defined as dogmatic. It was a case of allowance, not of promulgation or of definition.

  • Posted by: marttywinston6762 - Feb. 23, 2010 7:42 PM ET USA

    I have a question. Suppose a conference of bishops petitions the Holy See to allow something, say Holy Communion in the hand, and the Holy See concedes. Is this the Magisterium speaking?

  • Posted by: jimwhitend - Feb. 23, 2010 6:14 PM ET USA

    Exactly right, and well put, Mr Lawler. What can only wonder what SSPX and Father Franz Schmidberger are thinking--wonder, and mourn. -JimW