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The Catholic Civil War is a 300 year-old war of philosophy


If you don’t know anything about the history of philosophy for the last 250 years, you will not be able to understand what is going on in the Catholic Church right now.

This is from Fr. Ripperger on the distinction we must now make between “conservative” and “Traditionalist” Catholicism (published in Christian Order in 2001). Where did it come from? Why do even “conservatives” hate the very notion of tradition?

Rationalism also changed how man viewed revelation. Since rationalists do not believe that one can come to true intellectual knowledge by means of the senses, then that which pertained to the senses was systematically ignored or rejected. Since revelation is something introduced into sensible reality, revelation came under direct attack. Moreover, if one is cut off from reality, then one is locked up inside oneself and so what pertains to one’s own experience becomes paramount. After Descartes, came Spinoza who systematically attacked the authenticity of oral tradition regarding the Scriptures and through his philosophy he began to change people’s view of the world.

As empiricism rose, the view of man as simply a material being led to fixing man’s meaning in the “now” or always in the present. Since for the empiricist, man’s meaning is found in what he senses and feels, this led eventually to a lack of interest in the past since the past as such (and future for that matter) cannot be sensed nor fulfil our sensible desires. With the advent of Hegel, the intellectual groundwork was laid for a wholesale lack of interest in and distrust of tradition. With the scepticism of Spinoza about the sources of Scripture, coupled with the Hegelian dialectic, the past (including all forms of tradition) was now outmoded or outdated and tradition was to be distrusted. As a consequence, those who wanted to impose some religious teaching based upon tradition or history became suspect…

This type of behaviour coupled with the modern philosophical encroachment into the intellectual life of the Church and the bad theology resulting therefrom has led to a type of “magisterialism”. Magisterialism is a fixation on the teachings that pertain only to the current magisterium. Since extrinsic tradition has been subverted and since the Vatican tends to promulgate documents exhibiting a lack of concern regarding some of the previous magisterial acts, many have begun ignoring the previous magisterial acts and listen only to the current magisterium.

This problem is exacerbated by our current historical conditions. As the theological intellectual community began to unravel before, during and after Vatican II, those who considered themselves orthodox were those who were obedient and intellectually submissive to the magisterium since those who dissent are not orthodox. Therefore, the standard of orthodoxy was shifted from Scripture, intrinsic tradition (of which the magisterium is a part) and extrinsic tradition (which includes magisterial acts of the past, such as Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors), to a psychological state in which only the current magisterium is followed.

Neo-conservatives have fallen into this way of thinking i.e. the only standard by which they judge orthodoxy is whether or not one follows the current magisterium. Traditionalists, as a general rule, tend to be orthodox in the sense that they are obedient to the current magisterium, even though they disagree about matters of discipline and have some reservations about some aspects of current magisterial teachings which seem to contradict the previous magisterium (e.g. the role of the ecumenical movement). Traditionalists tend to take not just the current magisterium as their norm but Scripture, intrinsic tradition, extrinsic tradition and the current magisterium as the principles of judgment of correct Catholic thinking. This is what distinguishes traditionalists and neo-conservatives i.e. their perspectives regarding the role of ecclesiastical tradition and how the current magisterium relates to it.

Inevitably, this magisterialism has led to a form of positivism. Since there are no principles of judgment other than the current magisterium, whatever the current magisterium says is always what is “orthodox.” In other words, psychologically the neo-conservatives have been left in a position in which the extrinsic and intrinsic tradition are no longer included in the norms of judging whether something is orthodox or not.


If nothing else, it demonstrates that our problem right now with Bergoglio is not incomprehensible; it is not even unexpected. It does indeed trace its immediate roots to the Second Vatican Council, but that event has its own roots back to the 18th century. Nothing that is happening can possibly be a surprise to anyone who has done a bit of this reading.

If you can’t make head of tails of this, it’s time to start doing the background reading. Fortunately for all of us, the world’s greatest libraries have been brought into our homes. I’ve linked above several of the key names and terms to the relevant articles in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia. From there, there is all the information and connections you could possibly need available online, including one of my favourite books of all time, and perhaps the most useful 20 bucks I ever spent; The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.

I would venture to say, however, that without at least a working knowledge of this history, you will not be able to understand what is happening right now.


7 thoughts on “The Catholic Civil War is a 300 year-old war of philosophy”

  1. Marie says:

    Is this copy of the catechism of the council of trent ok?
    I found a few other copies (for kindle etc.) at the same website; One of my favorite places if you want hours and hours of orthodoxy [in the free book section, the catechisms were in the second tab of free books]. Most of them are scanned in old books from libraries and book collections from around the world. [] and other sources.

    I really enjoy reading your articles. it is a tough time right now, I know God will not fail us. We must persevere in faith and remain unmoved despite being called “rigid”. We must rejoice in fact to be called names for holding to the truths of faith! . As the oak that drives its roots deep into the clay and bedrock, immovable, unchanging, true to the deposit of faith and mass of all time. That is what we must be. We must help others see what we see with charity, understanding that many will not accept it. In that sense it is a glimpse into the sadness what Our Lord and Lady must feel after all they have done to warn us between the popes, and approved Marian visions knowing what awaits us if we do not change our ways, saddened by all the lost souls. However I don’t think it will be long now though before God “rises up in His turn” to defeat the evil that surrounds us. The signs of the emboldening of evil that happens just prior to their defeat seems to be evident. Although we won’ t know until it happens, God’s will be done.

  2. Barbara says:

    sorry, forgot to say the above is by Daniel J. Sullivan

  3. Barbara says:

    Very well said and clear. What we experience today has deep roots. So many people are uninterested in learning the rudiments of philosophy – that’s a shame – there are many ‘easy’ books out there. One that comes to hand is: An Introduction to Philosophy – Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition (high school and above).

  4. Hilary White says:

    Yes, I’m … moderately familiar with the Roman Catechism.

    Can’t find a decent online source, however.

  5. Michael Dowd says:

    Very good Hilary. Another good source is ‘ The Catechism of the Council of Trent’, edited under St. Charles Borromeo. Published by decree of Pope St. Pius V. Available at Amazon.

  6. Felicia says:

    This is very valuable; thank you.

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