The Prior General of the Community of St John P. Thomas Joachim has announced that there exist “convergent and credible testimonies concerning the failures in chastity of their founder” Marie Dominique Philippe. Apparently these failures regard between five and ten adult women to whom he gave spiritual guidance and with whom he was romantically involved but do not extend as far as sexual intercourse. In an interview for La Croix the Prior General has rejected comparisons with Marcial Maciel.
I remember attending a lecture by Fr John Saward many years ago in which he pointed out that there have as yet been no saints raised on the Novus Ordo. One of the attendees was very annoyed by this comment and indeed it is still relatively early days. Nevertheless, we were promised the wrath of Almighty God and the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul if we overthrew the Missal of St Pius V and it is hard not to suspect that is what we have received. The very idea of jettisoning a patristic rite of apostolic origin in favour of the work of committee of academics and officials in the nineteen sixties only needs to be expressed for its absurdity to be seen. There is an urgent need to recover the powerful feeling of the Fathers that ‘novelty’ is a dirty word. In this regard I am reminded of the thirteenth canon of the Fourth Lateran Council which has been so spectacularly ignored over the last eight hundred years,
“Lest too great a variety of religious orders leads to grave confusion in God’s church, we strictly forbid anyone henceforth to found a new religious order. Whoever wants to become a religious should enter one of the already approved orders. Likewise, whoever wishes to found a new religious house should take the rule and institutes from already approved religious orders…”
There are many extremely sensible disciplinary provisions in the Councils (such as the prohibition of Nicaea against the translation of a bishop from one diocese to another) which might have done much good to the Church if they had been observed. St Pius X is of course a great and glorious pontiff but the decision to codify canon law and the reform of the Roman Breviary seem to reflect an unfortunate conception of the proper relationship of the Holy See to tradition which bore evil fruit later in the century.
I spent a week listening to the lectures of Marie Dominique Philippe once and I am afraid I was not impressed. He seemed to think no one had really understood a word of St Thomas until he came along and, as he had now surpassed the Angelic Doctor in many important respects, there was not much point in approaching the Angelic Doctor except through him. He had taken Maritain’s ideas about the supposed distinction between the Individual and the Person and run with it. He held that the end of the person was the knowledge of God but the end of the individual was reproduction. I expressed scepticism about this idea to one of the Priests of the community who insisted it was a wonderful insight which was very helpful in understanding the challenges of celibacy. That seemed unlikely to me.
I bumped into quite a number of friends and acquaintances at Saint-Jodard one of the them was a novice in the contemplative sisters who (unbeknownst to me) was about to leave. She complained that all they did was pray the five offices of the Novus Ordo breviary that the last of these (Compline) was often substituted by a lecture or reflection of the founder. They spent an awfully long time listening to his lectures and she had noticed considerable divergence between what struck her as the authentic doctrine of St Thomas and what she was being told. She wished there was some productive work to be done. She wasn’t sure she could cope with a lifetime of these lectures. I pointed out that Fr Philippe was rather elderly and thus a lifetime of his lectures did not seem very likely. She grabbed my arm with a rather desperate look in her eyes “No! There are tapes, there are thousands of tapes!”
Many new orders were founded in the Tridentine period, particularly in the nineteenth century. They seem to have done a lot of good. Nevertheless, they have fared very badly in the post-conciliar period. The Jesuits would be the most spectacular casualty of an enforcement of canon thirteen of Lateran IV. They have of course been dissolved before and it is not inconceivable that it could happen again. It is certainly much easier to read Dominus ac Redemptor with sympathy when one reflects on the state of the Society now and the many unfortunate theological positions such as implicit faith, the third degree of obedience, the ‘black is white’ doctrine, scientia media, indirectism, the denial of the real distinction between essence and existence etc. which the Society has sponsored and which have done so much harm to the Church. In general the sponsorship of theological systems by religious orders has been a shelter under which many errors have grown up. This is particularly true of the Franciscans (whose rule was the last to be approved before 1215) who were obviously straying from the charism of the Seraphic Father by engagement in such activities. Nevertheless, it was the Jesuits who were in the forefront of the effort to prevent Benedict XV enforcing the Twenty Four Theses (admittedly written by a Jesuit!) promulgated by St Pius X in the last month of his pontificate.
The Rules of St Basil, St Augustine, St Benedict and St Francis have vast centuries of sanctity to commend them to the Church. To join a community based on one of these is to know that whatever the failings of individuals the foundation is sure. It is dispiriting to realise one has taken a wrong turn and have to retrace one’s steps and start again but, in the end perhaps, salutary.