I am persuaded by the interpretation of the seven trumpets of the Apocalypse (chapters 8 & following) which sees them as announcing seven great events in sacred history from the time after the persecution of Diocletian (itself alluded to in Apoc. 7:13-15) until the coming of antichrist. More exactly, they refer to seven great assaults of the enemy against the Church and Christendom. On this reading, the first five trumpets announce: the barbarians devastating the empire; the emergence of Islam; the Photian schism; the dimming of faith and the supernatural spirit toward the end of the Middle Ages; and the Protestant Reformation (I have written about this here.)

Hermann Kramer, the priest from whom I draw this interpretation, professed himself uncertain about the sixth trumpet. Writing in the first half of the 20th century, he thought that it might have something to do with Communism. I think that he was right, but from our vantage point a hundred years further on, it seems possible to gain an even clearer view.

This is how it begins:

And the sixth angel sounded the trumpet: and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before the eyes of God, saying to the sixth angel, who had the trumpet: “Loose the four angels, who are bound in the great river Euphrates”.

The river Euphrates, in Scripture, is a symbol of the limits of the domain of the chosen people, and later of the limits of the Messianic Kingdom. In Deuteronomy XI, Moses tells the Israelites: “From the great river Euphrates unto the western sea shall be your borders.” In Psalm LXXI, we read: “He shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth”. Under the New Covenant, therefore, the Euphrates must stand for the border between the Church and the unbelieving world. To loose the destroying angels who are bound there is thus to open the Church to destructive activity from outside.

What of the golden altar? St Methodius, who died in AD 311, says that it has been handed down that it represents “the assembly of the chaste” (Banquet of the Ten Virgins, V.6). Fr Kramer glosses this by saying that it may represent the religious orders, especially those leading the contemplative life. ‘Horns’ suggest power or authority, while the number four is commonly used to express the whole world. For a voice to come from the four horns of the golden altar, with an order to release the destroying angels, perhaps means, then, that the world has not profited by the graces which the religious orders, being “before the eyes of God”, have the power to obtain for it by prayers and sacrifices, and that therefore the world must be chastised.

The apostle goes on:

And the four angels were loosed, who were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year: for to kill the third part of men.

No such precision, in regard to the starting point of the chastisement, is given for the other trumpets. This is understandable, on the interpretation proposed: one cannot say of any one day that it was the day of the barbarian invasions or of the Islamic conquest or of the Reformation. I suppose that even the Photian schism took a while, as schisms generally do. Here, by contrast, we are bidden to look for an event so discrete that it can be assigned to an hour of human history. Whatever it is, it leads to a third of mankind’s being killed.

He goes on:

And the number of the army of the horsemen was twenty thousand times ten thousand. And I heard the number of them.

Fr Kramer observes that St John must have been aware that the event which he was witnessing was well in the future, since the empire in his time didn’t have 200 million people in it, which is also, he thinks, why the apostle emphasises that he hasn’t got the number wrong. But perhaps we are also meant to be reminded of the army with 10,000 that confronts the army with 20,000, in one of our Lord’s parables (Lk. 14:31), itself an image of the battle between simplicity and duplicity. When the duplicitous multiply their power by the aid of the simple, do we not have an army of twenty thousand times ten thousand?

These horsemen sit on horses with mouths like lions, and fire, smoke and brimstone come from their mouths to kill one third of mankind. This suggests that they destroy by speech. Fire, in Scripture, can mean various things, some good and some bad. Here perhaps it symbolises lawless passions. Smoke makes us think of “the pride of those who hate you”, which the psalmist tells God “ascends forever” (Ps. 73). Sulphur naturally suggests Sodom and Gomorrah. The horsemen and their horses kill, then, by a powerful propaganda which unleashes human passions, giving rise in turn to hatred of God and finally to unnatural vice. This seems like a pretty good description of the revolution against natural law fostered by many diligent horsemen in the media, schools, entertainment industry, parliaments, courts and elsewhere. As for a third of mankind getting killed as a result of their activity: how many pregnancies now end in abortion worldwide? Estimates vary, but I read recently of a study produced by the Guttmacher Institute in 2012 and published in the Lancet which calculated that in Europe it was roughly one in three.

All this helps us to understand what is meant by saying that “the duplicitous multiply their power by the aid of the simple”. The propaganda fuelling this revolution has often deliberately concealed its true goal by the use of slogans designed to appeal to those who had till then been simple and decent: “every child a wanted child”, “safe, legal and rare”, “ending stigma”, “marriage equality”, ” the population explosion”, “diversity is our strength”.

We are looking, then, for an event which can be dated to a year and a month and a day and an hour, when the border wall between the Church and the world was brought down, and which was followed by widespread, successful propaganda against the natural law and the deaths of countless human beings. It is hard not to think of the Second Vatican Council, and possibly John XXIII’s opening speech or else his decision to accept the Rhine Group’s insistence that all the prepared documents bar one should be scrapped. In the year of our Lord 1962, the mysterious sixth trumpet was sounded in heaven; while Pope John, all unwitting, played second trumpeter on earth.

Peter Kwasniewski over at Rorate has posted the whole of the speech which Pope Paul VI made 50 years ago today, for the end of Vatican II. Some parts of it have often been quoted by critics of the council, especially the line about the religion of God made man meeting the religion of man making himself a God, but without any clash. Sometimes Paul VI has been quoted as saying to the secular people, ‘Recognise that we more than anyone have the cult of man’, but Kwasniewski charitably translates the last phrase as ‘honour mankind’.

One part that I’d not seen before, however, is this:

Would not this council, then, which has concentrated principally on man, be destined to propose again to the world of today the ladder leading to freedom and consolation? Would it not be, in short, a simple, new and solemn teaching to love man in order to love God?

Perhaps here even more than in John XXIII’s unfortunate antithesis between mercy and justice in the opening speech we get to the heart of things. “To love man in order to love God”. The formal object of charity is the divine goodness. That is why God is the first one who is loved by charity. We must love other rational beings, in via and in patria, with charity insofar as they can or do participate in the divine goodness as such. They are therefore secondary objects of charity. To make man the primary object (“to love man in order to love God”) logically means that man is God and that God is lovable insofar as he partakes of human goodness. This would indeed be “a new teaching”.

Fr Martin Rhonheimer, who teaches at the Opus Dei university in Rome, and who is known for defending various other indefensible things, such as the use of prophylactics and (so I’m told) the crushing of the heads of unborn children, both of course only in unusual circumstances, has renewed his attack on the Church’s teaching on the duties of the State. In a recent article in Nova et Vetera he argues that the pope and bishops should never have called upon Catholic civil magistrates to repress heresy. The civil power has no duty to submit to the authority of the Church, he says, because it is substantially secular. We used to think it did have such a duty, but we were wrong; Vatican II has changed all that.

He makes some strange claims. At one point he says that the view that the secular arm was subject to the spiritual arm has no roots in patristic tradition. Then a couple of pages later, he says that it comes from St Gregory the Great and St Isidore of Seville! When does he think the patristic period was? He also says that the two swords’ doctrine is ‘heterodox Augustinianism’ –  a misinterpretation of St Augustine’s ‘City of God’. But St Augustine warmly applauded the intervention of the Roman civil authority which helped to suppress Donatism in north Africa (the saint had been opposed originally, as he had thought it would be counter-productive; but when he saw that it led to sincere conversions, he changed his mind and said so.) I am surprised that Nova et Vetera would let such claims get through.

So, should the secular arm be subject to the spiritual one?

Now Eliseus was sick of the illness whereof he died: and Joas king of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, and said: O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the guider thereof. And Eliseus said to him: Bring a bow and arrows. And when he had brought him a bow, and arrows, He said to the king of Israel: Put thy hand upon the bow. And when he had put his hand, Eliseus put his hands over the king’s hands, And said: Open the window to the east. And when he had opened it, Eliseus said: Shoot an arrow. And he shot. And Eliseus said: The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance (4 Kings 13).

What is the arrow that flies toward the East, if not the intention of man hastening towards Christ and Heaven, with undeviating aim? And whose hands direct him thither, if not the king’s, held firm by the prophet’s?

Pretty good stuff. The jurisdiction of the college of Bishops over the universal church is extraordinary. Jews and Muslims do not have supernatural faith. The state must recognise and worship the One True God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. False religions may only be tolerated. We should seek a Catholic state… (I’m not sure about the bit at the end about the rights of the majority being the basis for the civil position of the Church).

1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.

2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.

3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

– Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium

I went to Mass for the Assumption last week in St Mary’ Cathedral, Newcastle upon Tyne. I was a little late due to unforeseen traffic problems. It appears the priest (an elderly gentleman) has some sort of difficulty with his eyes. He seems to have taken this as the green light to invent almost the entire text of the Mass. He exercised the distressing option in the Novus Ordo of giving little talks before every reading. He did not read the Gospel himself but had a layman do so. All the orations were invented on the spot as was the preface. The Eucharistic Prayer was, I think, variations based on number 2. The priest decided to say “for all” and not “for many” in the words of consecration making it impossible to go and receive communion. It seemed likely from the tone of the priest’s invented orations and semonettes that his use of “for all” represented a taste for the heresy of universalism.  He also asserted that St Luke had made up the Magnificat and that these were not really the words of our Blessed Lady. He used the Apostles’ Creed instead of the Roman Liturgical Creed (another distressing option in the Novus Ordo). When there are so many Arians around the use of the Apostles’ Creed is a wholly inadequate safeguard of orthodoxy as well as a totally random innovation. At the end he processed out singing from memory Immaculate Mary complete with the verses about the Pope and the restoration of Mary’s Dowry.

The overall impression was of a man wholly confused as to what is and is not Catholic doctrine and what is and is not acceptable behavior in a Catholic Priest. It is absurd that someone should have served out their priestly life in such a state, it is also a cause of great scandal to the faithful. In general, England is in a far better condition (especially in the South) than mainland Europe but the scourge of ‘extraordinary ministers’ (supposedly justified by the obsessive compulsion to administer the chalice to the laity) is a serious obstacle to renewal. Hexham and Newcastle has generally been very good for the extraordinary form. It is good to see that Fr Brown has been moved to St Joseph’s in Gateshead. One hopes he will resume his daily low Mass which suffered from the inaccessibility of St Mary’s Forest Hall. Sadly the longstanding Missa Cantata at St Dominic’s Newcastle had perished because the Dominican Friars now stationed there refuse to celebrate the authentic liturgy of the Roman Church.

Those who have attentively read Iota Unum, Romano Amerio’s magisterial study of the doctrinal chaos in the Church since the last Ecumenical Council, will never, I think, forget its ending. After 750 pages of analysis almost incredible, and painful, in its objectivity and patience, a supernatural afflatus seems to touch the old man in his final pages, and he speaks as if by personal right those words spoken once by Isaias in Jerusalem:-

Custos, quid de nocte? Custos, quid de nocte? Dixit custos: venit mane et nox. Si quaeritis, quaerite; convertimini, venite.

(Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman has said: the morning comes, and so does the night. If you are seeking, seek on; be converted, come.)

Iota Unum was published in 1985, still within the first generation of the great chaos. Twenty eight years have passed over us since then. What news now of the night? Last week has been not untypical. We have heard the president of the German bishops’ conference advocate the heresy that women can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders {not so, apparently: see first comment}, and the official ‘spokesman’ for the Holy See and and the President of the Pontifical Commission for Eucharistic Congresses both declare that friendships rooted in unnatural desire should receive the benefit of law. More to the point, no one expects for a moment that these eminent churchmen will be publicly rebuked by the vicar of Christ, let alone suspended a divinis. 

There are gleams of hope? Of course, and there always will be, since God loves His people. Yet for the moment, the night is still upon us. Is it the dawn or deeper gloom that lies ahead? None can  say.

This is a complement to my post, What were the good fruits of Vatican II? My question is how the Church of Rome, presiding over the charity, may restore a just and Catholic peace to the Church. Obviously she cannot do everything: the co-operation of all the bishops is needed, not to mention the daily conversion of life required of all the faithful. But there are some things that only she can do.

Since the last Council there has been a bifurcation of holy Church. Before the Council there was one Roman missal (the variants of the religious orders not creating any sense of disunity); now there are two. Before it, there was one Roman ritual; now there are two. Before it there was one Vulgate bible; now there are two. And so with the catechism, the sacramentals, the calendar, the martyrology, and the divine office. However much one speaks of ‘continuity’, all this tends in practice fatally to compromise the Church’s claim to be, like her divine Spouse, semper eadem. It is foolish to suppose that the later member of any of these couplets will be suppressed any time soon or ever denounced by the Holy See; in any case, the Catholic cause is not furthered by the Church of Rome’s humiliating herself. But what we can desire is that a primacy of honour may be recognised as belonging to the elder member of each pair. This recognition is already implicitly contained in the statement of Universae Ecclesiae that ‘on account of its venerable and ancient use, the forma extraordinaria is to be maintained with appropriate honour’. If the due degree of honour is measured by venerable antiquity, then it is clear which version of the Roman Missal merits a higher honour; and so with the other examples of bifurcation. Things are probably still too sensitive for the pope himself to speak about such a primacy of honour, but we can hope that some cardinals will begin to do so. We can, however, hope and pray that the Roman pontiff celebrates Mass publicly according to the ancient use.

Next, it seems very desirable that something be done about the Novus Ordo Missae. Even though the SSPX are doubtless at fault in strict theology to deny its bare ‘legitimacy’, is it not the part of authority to have respect for the tender consciences even of erring brothers, especially brothers who have done so much to fight the silent apostasy of the West? To this end, we can desire that additions be made to the new missal such that it becomes impossible to celebrate Mass without explicitly affirming the doctrine of the propitiatory sacrifice. Canon II and the offertory prayers must therefore be amended. In fact, it is perhaps not too much to hope that the present offertory prayers will be simply suppressed and replaced with the Tridentine.

How else can the new rite be brought under the authority of tradition rather than used as a tool against tradition? The pope could instruct the bishops to institute lay-men as acolytes and lectors (which may well be the same as the minor orders of the same name). The indult for communion in the hand, please God, will be withdrawn. The faithful can be invited to receive kneeling, and women and girls to veil their hair or cover their heads. It can be made a requirement of new churches that the tabernacle be on the main altar, thus preventing celebration versus populum.

Next, the ambiguities in Vatican II must be dealt with. First, ecumenism. Ambiguous expressions such as ‘the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church’ should, I respectfully suggest, not be used; it needs to be reasserted that non-Catholics are not members of the Church, even if they can be in a state of grace. The doctrine of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, in its proper interpretation, needs to be re-affirmed. The expression ‘partial communion’ should be abandoned, as I argued recently. The canon about giving Holy Communion in certain circumstances to non-Catholics with the Catholic faith in the sacrament should be interpreted formally, to mean people who not only believe the same thing as the Catholic Church but who believe it because it is proposed by the Catholic Church, even if for some good reason (such as the absence of a priest) they have not yet been received. The traditional prohibition of participation by Catholics in non-Catholic services should surely be re-affirmed, even if pastors may for the moment turn a blind eye to certain mild cases in order to avoid greater evils.

Next, collegiality. It needs to be affirmed that the bishops have the right only to govern their local churches. They do not have the strict right to share in the pope’s governance of the universal Church, though it is obviously fitting that they be consulted in certain cases. Strictly, there can be only one supreme power in the Church, not two; this supreme power belongs to the pope, and he can exercise it either alone or with his brother-bishops, as he judges fit.

Finally, for Vatican II, religious liberty. The social kingship of our Lord should be taught ‘from the housetops’, as well as its corollary, the active co-operation of the civil power with the apostolic hierarchy. The Church’s right to coerce erring members with the aid of the civil power should be re-affirmed, as well as the latter’s innate right to protect the common good of society from the harmful effects of heresy.

Last of all, and in conjunction with these clarifications, we need a list of propositions against the errors of the age. Perhaps as a concession to the times, it could be expressed as a list of affirmed truths rather than a list of condemned errors. For example, ‘Only men can be ordained to the priesthood’; ‘according to the usual law of God’s providence, no one who dies  without actually receiving the sacrament of baptism, and without attaining the use of reason, receives the beatific vision’; ‘only matrimonial acts of a kind that are open to the procreation of new life are pleasing to God’. But however it is done, they should not, this time, be introduced by a monsignor saying that they are not infallible.

Having spent several hundred pages excoriating the French Revolution, Edmund Burke becomes at last ironically emollient:-

I do not deny that among an infinite number of acts of violence and folly, some good may have been done. They who destroy every thing certainly will remove some grievance. They who make everything new, have a chance that they may establish something beneficial.

When I read this, I couldn’t help thinking of Vatican II. Of course, there can never be a true revolution in the Church, since her constitution is divinely guaranteed. Still, they changed almost everything they could: the Vulgate, the rite of Mass, the rites of all the sacraments, the rites of all the sacramentals, the rite of exorcism, all the hours of the divine office, the code of canon law, the constitutions of all the religious orders, the rosary, the calendar. Among all these quasi-revolutionary acts, was anything good achieved? The only thing that comes immediately to my mind is the restoration of the authentic hymns in the breviary, undoing the classicizing revision of the 17th Century. However, the authentic hymns had always been maintained in the breviaries of religious orders, anyhow.

There is a good article on this subject in the Spring edition of Sedes Sapientiae by Bernard Lucien, a priest and theologian of the archdiocese of Vaduz (Sedes Sapientiae is the journal of the Fraternity of St Vincent Ferrer.) Fr Lucien distinguishes three ways in which the teaching authority either of the Pope or of the body of bishops with the Pope may be engaged:-

1. Full engagement. This means that a doctrine is taught directly or per seand as bound up with revelation (either directly revealed or as in some other way necessarily linked to what is revealed). Such teaching is infallible and so must be definitively accepted.

2. Partial but authoritative engagement (‘merely authentic’). Again this means that a doctrine is taught directly or per se, but here no link with revelation is explicitly affirmed. This is what calls for ‘religious assent’, even though the possibility of error is not absolutely excluded.

3. Merely pedagogical and not authoritative engagement. This is found when a doctrine is not taught directly and per se, but is presented by way of introduction, explanation, argument, illustration or inference with regard to what is being taught directly. The author considers that this 3rd category, which he reckons is present to a large extent in Vatican II, has, as its proper response, ‘careful attention’ (l’attention docile) rather than adhesion of the mind as such.

The distinction between 2 and 3 seems to me useful, and not often made.

So with regard to Vatican II, he argues:

A. The faithful must begin by a ‘global adhesion’ to the council, which, however, does not mean begin by accepting it all as unquestionable, but rather accepting it all as an act of the supreme magisterium (against certain SSPX views which hold that John XXIII and Paul VI showed in certain remarks that they didn’t wish to exercise the magisterium), in such a way that the reception of individual points must depend on the mode of magisterial engagement at that point.

B. Statement such as ‘Vatican II was infallible’ or ‘Vatican II was not infallible’ or ‘Dignitatis Humanae [say] was, or was not, infallible’ are misguided. It is not the council as a whole or documents as a whole which should be qualified in this way, but particular statements of doctrine within each document, judged according to the criteria 1-3 mentioned above.

C. Vatican II should be held to be teaching infallibly whenever it directly teaches a doctrine and presents it as revealed or linked to revelation. Otherwise the Church would fail in its God-given task of keeping revealed truth undistorted.  The author considers that the central affirmation of Dignitatis Humanae – whatever it is! – is thus infallibly taught.

D. Vatican II teaches in a non-infallible way when it affirms a doctrine but does not affirm that this doctrine is revealed or linked to revelation. The author considers that the sacramental nature of the episcopacy is an example of such a teaching. This of course raises the question that Aelianus raised recently, of what the point is of such teaching.

E. Vatican II makes statements that do not as such require the assent of the faithful but rather their respectful attention. The author suggests that the ‘personalist’ philosophy by which the central affirmation of Dignitatis Humanae is supported may be an example.