Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Of Liturgical Interest: Three New Books on the Papacy, Tradition, Authority, and Obedience

A few months ago, a “tract for the times” (so to speak) appeared from Sophia Institute Press, called True Obedience in the Church: A Guide for Discernment in Challenging Times. This small book has been the topic of many online interviews, a list of which can be found at the link above. The most recent took place with Timothy Flanders, editor of OnePeterFive, on May 16 (here). True Obedience has also been translated into Spanish and German, with Italian, French, Portuguese, and Polish on the way.

The reason it has struck a nerve is not hard to see. Traditionis Custodes presented us with a fundamentally untenable situation. As many authors have explained, it canceled out the pax Benedictina which insisted on some kind of continuity between old and new such that there was room for both in the Church (and, more importantly, such that the old should be seen as in some sense normative for the new, and as positively beneficial in the life of the Church), and replaced it with a rather blunt assertion of the cancellation of the traditional lex orandi by a modern lex orandi because the lex credendi had changed. We were faced with a more outrageous contradiction between popes than has been witnessed in a long time, or perhaps ever, because (to repeat for the hundredth time) it does not concern merely disciplinary matters.

As a result, a crisis of theology, of conscience, and of priesthood immediately follow. How are we to think about this situation, and navigate it practically? What are the principles by which we can distinguish between the obedience that must be given to legitimate authorities, and an “indiscreet obedience” (as St. Thomas Aquinas calls it) that is excessive, based on falsehood, harmful to the good of the Church or to one’s own soul? When canon law is wielded as a cudgel to dissuade or dismay tradition-loving Catholics, what recourse do we have? Do canonical penalties always take effect? What if they are based on falsehoods, both theoretical and practical? Can a falsehood generate a just law or an efficacious application of law?

These are the sorts of questions into which True Obedience delves. Thanks to a generous donor, free copies may be requested by priests, deacons, and seminarians using this link. A dedicated website has been set up,, where relevant articles, reviews, and videos may be found.

Naturally, raising such questions prompts still others that go straight back to the foundations of the Catholic religion, especially in the realm of ecclesiology:

• On what basis can we ever question the teachings, commands, or prohibitions of Church authorities?
• Does the papal office have any limits to its power? If so, what are they and how do we know what they are and when they have been overstepped?
• How is a pope’s freedom of action and teaching limited by tradition and by the actions and teachings of his predecessors?
• Did the First Vatican Council officially turn the pope into a supreme monarch whose will is law?
• Why are appeals to “living tradition” and “living magisterium” equivocal and misleading?
• What are we supposed to learn from alternating dark and bright periods of papal history?
• If a pope goes astray in teaching, have the “gates of hell” prevailed?
• Are traditional Catholics guilty of “Protestant private judgment”?
• Why are Sedevacantism and Orthodoxy dead ends rather than ways out of the crisis?
• Is there a common thread connecting the many deviations of the Bergoglio papacy?
• How can we maintain spiritual tranquility in the midst of an ecclesiastical meltdown?
The need to engage questions like these, plentiful in the reign of Pope Francis and its renewal of the 1970s attack against liturgical tradition, has led me to think and write frequently about the papacy and about this pontificate. I believed the time had come, in the “end of reign” mood that has taken hold, to gather the best fruit of that work and make it available in a more convenient and definitive format. Arouca Press has just released the resulting two-volume set, entitled The Road from Hyperpapalism to Catholicism: Rethinking the Papacy in a Time of Ecclesial Disintegration.

Volume 1, Theological Reflections on the Rock of the Church, takes up broader theological and spiritual themes, presenting a realistic ecclesiology in which the papacy is indeed a capital part of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, but still only a part, with definite duties and responsibilities toward the whole; moreover, a pope’s fidelity in meeting these can be assessed by objective, knowable standards.

Volume 2, Chronological Responses to an Unfolding Pontificate, analyzes the major moments of Francis’ pontificate, illustrating and corroborating the points laid out in volume 1. Includes extensive discussions of Amoris Laetitia, the change to the Catechism ono the death penalty, the Abu Dhabi declaration, the Pachamama debacle, and various synods, especially the ones on marriage and family, on youth, and on the Amazon, concluding with analyses of the dismissal of Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres, the reconfiguration of the Roman Curia under Praedicate Evangelium, and an overview of Modernism from Pius X to Francis.

Although it’s a matching set, and obviously the topics interrelate, the volumes are designed to be self-contained and to stand alone; either one can be taken up first. In both, readers will find a searching investigation into some of the major issues facing Catholics at this time in the history of the Church and of the West.

It is only fitting for a post at NLM to draw attention to the liturgical aspects of these books.

Volume 1 argues for the inseparable triad of doctrine, morals, and liturgy: this is what the orthodox Faith necessarily involves. It is not just a matter of “true doctrine” or even “true doctrine and sound morals,” next to which liturgy is a sort of nice leisure activity to keep the faithful busy, to create opportunities for taking up collections, and to share announcements and homespun wisdom from the pulpit. Liturgy is the first and most basic work of the Church, the home of doctrine and the school of morals. More specifically, the 9th chapter of vol. 1 speaks about Pius VI’s Auctorem Fidei and similar documents, and explains why they do not furnish security to the Novus Ordo but, on the contrary, rule out the liturgical reform ahead of time.

Volume 2 contains a number of chapters directly on liturgical matters: ch. 1, an early and still optimistic piece on Pope Francis’ positive remarks about the Byzantine Divine Liturgy; ch. 2 on environmentalist ethics applied to liturgy; ch. 9 on Francis’ sociological reading of 1 Cor. 11, 27-29 in order to sidestep restrictions on Eucharistic communion; ch. 12 on the modernization of liturgy as a key psychological moment in the dismantling of the Ten Commandments; ch. 30 on the routine profanation of church buildings by secular events; ch. 35 on the traditional Martyrology’s witness to martyrs under Islam; ch. 44 on the bizarre invention of the “Sunday of the Word of God” and the refusal of the post-reform Church to acknowledge how the modern liturgy itself withholds the reverence traditionally given to Scripture; ch. 45 on the irony of replacing the feast of the Divine Maternity with the feast of John XXIII; ch. 48 on idolatry, inculturation, celibacy, and deaconesses; ch. 58 on the shattering of liturgical unity by excessive vernacularization; ch. 59 on the unbelievability of papal protestations over liturgical abuses, which “must stop” even if nothing is ever going to be done to stop them. There are, needless to say, many other references to liturgy in these pages, but the foregoing are the extended discussions.

Arouca Press is offering a 15% discount on the set at this link. Otherwise, it may be found at all Amazon outlets.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: