In his critique of the Instrumentum Laboris of the Pan-Amazon Synod, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller summarized a central theme of the document in the following words:
Accordingly, the territory – that is to say, the forests of the Amazon region – is even being declared to be a locus theologicus, a special source of Divine Revelation. Here are places of an epiphany where the planet’s reserves of life and wisdom show themselves, which speak of God (no. 19)…. The result is a natural religion with a Christian masquerade.
The earth’s physical environment and a region’s culture and history have been seen by the Synod planners as a primary instrument of the Church’s knowledge of Revelation. In Catholic Tradition the sixteenth-century Spanish Dominican Melchor Cano had listed history as a theological source or locus theologicus, a “theological place,” with nine other loci, because it is through history that God revealed Himself in the Old and New Testaments, and it is throughout the history of the Church that the Magisterium teaches the meaning of Revelation. Today, however, there are within the Church two diametrically opposed understandings of the meaning and role of history, geography and culture.
In the 1950s, the decade before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the young Father Joseph Ratzinger wrote a doctoral dissertation on the theology of history of Saint Bonaventure. The future Benedict XVI explained in this work that Saint Bonaventure had foreseen that in the last times the Church would undergo a “passion,” just as Our Lord Himself had undergone His Passion and Death. But in the midst of this passion of the Church Saint Bonaventure also foresaw the seeds of a restoration – the twofold return of the Church’s sacred liturgy, and a rebuilding of a Christian social order. In summarizing Saint Bonaventure’s doctrine in the 1950s, the young Father Ratzinger could not have anticipated how, in the decades that followed, what was foreseen by the thirteenth-century Franciscan doctor of the Church regarding the Church’s passion would come to fulfillment. The events of the last fifty years have therefore made Saint Bonaventure’s explanation of sacred history an essential guide for understanding this “passion” of the Church in our time.
As a Church historian, Cardinal Brandmüller is uniquely qualified to critique the pre-Synod document’s reference to a “locus theologicus” in relation to this geography and history. When Melchor Cano listed history as a locus theologicus, he included secular history but as related to sacred history, the historical accounts recorded in Sacred Scripture, and the history of the Church as the fulfillment of prophecies concerning the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In our own time the late Joseph Cardinal Siri in his book Gethsemane exposed the two central errors of a new theology that was making its way into the Church in the twentieth century. The first error was the blurring of the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and the second error was the reduction of Revelation to what was called “historical consciousness.” Rather than Divine Revelation being completed by Our Lord Jesus Christ and ending with the death of the last Apostle, modern history becomes the ultimate source of revelation. The Church is no longer seen as the Teacher of Divine Revelation, but rather must be viewed as continually receiving revelation from secular society and its history. God Himself is equated with mankind and human history, the supernatural is reduced to the natural, and sacred history is lowered to the level of secular history.
In opposition to this, the traditional Catholic understanding of history as a “locus theologicus” is central to approaching the debate about the Amazon Synod. While the new theology criticized by Cardinal Siri was extending its influence in the mid twentieth century, what the future Pope Benedict XVI described in his doctoral dissertation in the 1950s was not the theology of history of this new theology, but rather that of a doctor of the Church who developed what St. Augustine had previously taught in The City of God and the Confessions. Published in English with the title The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure, the young Father Ratzinger’s work is a synthesis of the Church’s true theology of history as explained by Saint Bonaventure, and an important means of understanding sacred history as the true locus theologicus.
Revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle, but the Church as the Mystical Body fulfills throughout her history certain prophecies contained in Revelation. According to Saint Augustine, the seven days of Creation in Genesis prefigured seven periods of history leading up to and being fulfilled in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Eight centuries after Saint Augustine, Saint Bonaventure was able to view more than a thousand years of Church history, and to explain how the past and future of the Church represented another seven periods of sacred history leading to the end of time.
Central to Saint Bonaventure’s doctrine was the reality of a crisis that the Church would undergo in the last times, which he saw as the “passion” of the Church, reflecting Our Lord’s own Passion and Death. Summarizing this doctrine in the 1950s, the young Father Ratzinger could not foresee what was to happen a decade later after the Second Vatican Council, and what he as Pope Benedict XVI fifty years later was to describe as a “hermeneutics of rupture” with the Church’s past. In the decades after the Council the Church would find herself in a terrible crisis.
If in Sacred Scripture Saint Bonaventure saw revelations about the future of the Church, he found in those prophecies not only tragic predictions about the passion of the Church, but also prophecies of her triumph. After the Babylonian Captivity the temple of Jerusalem and the city of Jerusalem were rebuilt. This foreshadowed, for Saint Bonaventure, a twofold restoration of the Church in the last times. The first is the restoration of her liturgy (reparatio divini cultus) and the second is the restoration of a Christian social order (reaedificatio civitatis). The young Father Ratzinger in the 1950s would not have yet known how this applied to the most recent decades in the Church’s history, because the liturgical crisis following the Council had not yet taken place, and the total secularization of society seen today had not yet reached the present degree of hostility toward the Church.
How was this twofold restoration according to Saint Bonaventure to occur? According to Father Ratzinger’s summary of that doctrine, the Franciscan doctor made another division of the history of the Church into three periods, based upon the history of the religious orders. The first period was that of the monastic orders, and the second was that of the mendicant orders. But in the last times there would be an “ordo futurus,” a future order, that would bring about the restoration of the liturgy and of Christian society.
In the current debate about the Amazon Synod, prelates such as Cardinal Brandmüller, Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Müller and Bishop Athanasius Schneider have expressed their concerns, and exposed the errors of the working document. But the voice that has been attracting special attention in recent days is that of the last mentioned, Bishop Schneider, with the publication of his new book, Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph over the Darkness of the Age. In his analysis of the present crisis there are two statements of Bishop Schneider that are worth citing, as quoted by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski in his review of the book on rorate-coeli.blogspot.com:
An honest examination shows that in some expressions of the Council texts there is a rupture with the previous constant tradition of the Magisterium. We have to always bear in mind the fact that the chief end of the Council was pastoral in character, and that the Council did not intend to propose its own definitive teachings (119).
At that time, there emerged a movement of laity who said: ‘We protest the dilution of the faith and the trivialization of the Holy Mass. What we observe is not the faith that was always and everywhere transmitted to our forefathers.’ This lay movement inside the Church was growing [also] independently of Archbishop Lefebvre’s work, and today it is continuing to grow in strength and numbers in response to the pontificate of Pope Francis. I think that with the tremendous and almost unprecedented interior crisis in the Church we are witnessing today, the hour of the laity has arrived. They also feel responsible for the conservation and defense of the faith. The true intention and teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the laity is being realized now in our days ever more clearly, in many meritorious and courageous lay initiatives for the defense of the Catholic faith. We have arrived at a grotesque situation, in which the sheep are beginning to unmask the infiltrating wolves in sheep’s clothing, i.e., the unbelieving, apostate, and debauched cardinals, bishops, and priests (125-126).
Bishop Schneider’s twofold reference to Archbishop Lefebvre, on one hand, and a movement of the laity that was independent of him, on the other hand, points to the role of the clergy and laity respectively in confronting the present crisis in the Church. The reaction of the clergy inspired by the leadership of Archbishop Lefebvre points to the reparatio divini cultus foreseen by Saint Bonaventure, the restoration of the sacred liturgy. But at the same time the crisis in the Church affects temporal society, the proper domain of the laity, the mission of whom is the reaedificatio civitatis foreseen by Saint Bonaventure. And foremost among the leaders in this sphere was Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. His role was summarized by Bishop Schneider in his preface to Roberto de Mattei’s book Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: Prophet of the Reign of Mary, where he expressed that mission in the following words:
The great ideal of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira can be summed up in the formula of the Reign of Christ through Mary: “Regnum Christi per Mariam.” This was the pivot of the doctrine and apostolate of St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, of whom Professor Corrêa de Oliveira can call himself a great successor in the twentieth century. To spread ever more in souls and in human society the Kingdom of Christ through Mary: this was the heart of his life and activity.
In the face of the latest phase of the crisis represented by the Amazon Synod, the followers today of the late Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira have gone into the Amazon region to meet and speak with its inhabitants. As lay apostles devoted to the restoration of Christian Civilization, their movement known as the TFP has been in the forefront of exposing the errors found in the working documents of the Amazon Synod. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira had foreseen these errors in a book that he published forty years ago, devoted to exposing a religious ideology that would subvert the Church and the ideals of Christian Civilization, in favor of a form of pagan tribalism. TFP members today are therefore uniquely qualified for analyzing the errors that would replace the culture of Christian Civilization, part of the true locus theologicus, with the practices of pagan and tribalistic cultures. They derive their inspiration from their founder, whose thought and spirituality are systematically presented by Roberto de Mattei, and synthesized by Bishop Schneider in his preface to Prof. de Mattei’s book.
Preface by Bishop Athanasius Schneider
2019 xii 334 pages / sewn hardback $20.00 #55068