A Word of Caution

by Dietrich von Hildebrand

St. Thomas Aquinas proves that nothing false can be the object of the Catholic Faith (S.T.II-II Q1A3). Therefore, it is a grave disservice to the Faith to publish a Catechism which pretends to be teaching pure Catholic Dogma but in fact contains an admixture of error or opinion as if it were Catholic Doctrine.

That is why this "Word of Caution" by one of the most eminent Catholic philosophers and theologians in the 20th Century is so important today.

Dietrich von Hildebrand's excellent credentials are well known and he explains why he must caution you against Father John Hardon S.J. and his book The Catholic Catechism. Father Paul Crane S.J. obviously agrees with the most serious concerns that Dietrich von Hildebrand raises because he reprinted this same "Word of Caution" for his readers of Christian Order.

The danger from Father Hardon's book is greater because he is claimed by some to be an orthodox conservative theologian. Obviously, it is not only Father Hardon's book which is a danger to the Faith. There are many catechisms which are published even with an Imprimatur which are openly heretical or gravely deficient in matters that pertain to the Catholic Faith. Those other bad "catechisms" are also hereby condemned.

The safest course of action is to teach your children the faith from a text that has withstood the test of time and has had all the appropriate Popes' approvals. By this standard, the original Baltimore Catechism or the St. Pius X Catechism or the Catechism of the Council of Trent by St. Charles Boromeo are books to which you can entrust your own and your children's proper instruction in the Catholic Faith.

We thank the Remnant and Christian Order for originally publishing the following text.

I HAD looked forward to Jesuit Father John A. Hardon's Catholic Catechism in the hope that it would be not only faithful to Catholic Dogma, but also filled with an authentic Catholic ethos. After reading the book, I am reluctantly forced to say that I am somewhat disillusioned. I feel it my duty, therefore, to write the following words of criticism in order to warn the reader that, side by side with many beautiful and true parts in the "Catechism", there is to be found a spirit of compromise with an imaginary "modern man" and, as a result, certain concessions which seem to have no other justification than the desire to be "up to date".

It goes without saying that, compared with the heretical Dutch Catechism, Father Hardon's book gives us much to rejoice about. Regarding the fundamental articles of faith, such as the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the ascension, there is absolutely no trace of any "progressive" interpretation, no dishonest shunning of a clear and unequivocal profession of revealed truth. But if we think of the fatal spiritual trends which now fill the air and have unfortunately spread even to the Church, if we consider the devastated vineyard of the Lord, we cannot but deplore the book's seeming blindness to the dangers of these trends.

It is unfortunate that Father Hardon makes Vatican II the basis of his "Catechism". He forgets that this Council has been officially designated as strictly pastoral by the very Fathers of the Council and by the Holy Father himself. It does not, and indeed it cannot, depart in the slightest way from any de fide teaching of any previous Council, including above all the Council of Trent and Vatican I. His "Catechism" does not restrict itself to the defined dogmas of the Church; it is not simply an introduction or a summary and concise explanation of de fide teaching, such as we find in Denzinger. This being so, it was incumbent upon the author to emphasize the radical difference between the unchanging doctrine of the Church on the one hand, and the pastoral and administrative decisions on the other; which latter can, in principle, be revoked without the slightest prejudice to consistency or claims to infallibility. But there is nowhere any emphasis upon this radical difference. The fact that the author makes Vatican II, and even many subsequent administrative changes, the basis for his "Catechism" causes the book to be a kind of apologetic work for the actual state of the Church today and for everything which has been either officially introduced — such as the Novus Ordo of the Mass — or is simply allowed — such as Communion in the hand in many European countries.

Pervading the book, therefore, is the imaginary "modern man", to whom the Church must adapt the message of Christ — certainly not in its substantive content, but in its form. On page 441, we find the following words about the liturgy:

"The Council's extensive doctrine on the liturgy marks a turning point in the history of Roman Catholicism. It is a courageous response to the expectations created by an evolutionary age, and a timely answer to the demands for increased light and strength in the communitarian age. On both counts, the liturgy offers great promise to help the Church progress, according to God's design, and to preserve the Church, in Christ's words, as a kingdom that is not of this world."

There are several questionable statements in this short passage. First, the changes in the liturgy are presented as progress. This implies that the Novus Ordo is superior to the Mass of St. Pius V; likewise that the changes in the rites for the seven sacraments are progress. It implies that relative to the needs of our time the older liturgy, whether in the Mass or the sacraments, was defective and stood in need of improvement. I challenge these implications, especially when they are presented in a catechism, as doctrine. We are obliged by no article of faith, by no principle of loyalty, to affirm that the new liturgy constitutes progress. If indeed we are to obey such administrative changes in the liturgy, as long as they do not conflict with our conscience, we are in no way obliged to approve of them. It is fully consistent with the teaching of the Church to expect, and to hope, that the Church in the future will return to her former liturgy. Even though the Novus Ordo was introduced for supposed pastoral reasons, the unchallengeable fact is that it has coincided with a sharp drop in Sunday Mass attendance. And would anyone claim that it has strengthened faith in Christ and in the doctrines of the Church? That it has deepened the love of Christ? As of now the changes all point to a pastoral disaster. One cannot be accused of disloyalty to Christ for simply noting this. Indeed, it would seem that loyalty to Christ demands that we face up to it. When a ship runs aground, loyalty to the Captain is no reason for not sounding the alarm.

A grave error lies in the notion of "an evolutionary age" — as if it were something positive to which the Church must conform. Does the author consider it progress, an awakening to true reality, that Teilhard de Chardin's unfortunate ideas about evolution fill the air? Does he not see that the prevailing tendency to submit everything, even truth — even divine truth! — to evolution amounts to a diabolical undermining of revealed truth? Truth is not truth if it is ever changing. The "courageous response" called for is precisely the opposite of yielding to evolutionary mythologies.

Another serious error concerns our "communitarian age". Again this is presented as a positive thing which calls for an appropriate response by the Church. But the "communitarianism" of our age is really a horrible collectivism, and this, too, has invaded the sanctuary of the Church. This collectivism blinds us not only to the unfathomable value of each individual person, but also to the true idea of community. Does Father Hardon seriously believe that our age is marked by genuine community, that in medieval times or in the Counter-reformation there was less sense of true community than today, when Communism has conquered much of the world? Collectivism is the deadly enemy of Christian revelation. Supernatural community is possible only in Christ and through Christ. Only when we forget everything else and are completely absorbed in Holy Communion can we reach true supernatural union with other members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Only in the direct adoring love of Christ can we attain true charity towards our neighbor. It is false to say that we discover Christ in our neighbor; rather must we say that in Christ alone do we find our neighbor! Yet all this is completely foreign to the "communitarian" spirit of today, with its idolatry of the collective.

It is an easy step to move from praising putative qualities of our age to the heresy of adapting religion to man. In the Renaissance Cardinal Cajetan condemned this heresy in words that should be burned into our consciousness: "Man must be adapted to religion, not religion to man."

But Father Hardon seems to go even further. On page 454 we read:

"Changes in the Church's liturgical customs are not only the result of prudent adaptations to the times or modifications of external practices in order to increase the people's devotion and vitalize their active participation in divine worship; they are also sometimes the outgrowth of a genuine development of doctrine that calls for corresponding expression in appropriate liturgical forms."

Does the author really believe that the aim of the Novus Ordo is to increase faith in the Real Presence of Christ at the Consecration? During the Consecration of the Precious Blood, the words "mysterium fidei" have been eliminated. Does Father Hardon believe this change is really the outgrowth of a greater faith in transubstantiation? Further, would he say that the obvious weakening of faith in transubstantiation is itself an outgrowth of a "genuine development of doctrine in the Church"?

It behooves us to ask whether the decisive changes in the rite of Mass are not rather due to ecumenism than to any genuine development of doctrine. The outstanding German theologian Georg May, in a very fine article in the German review Una Voce, pointed out that no one can overlook the Protestantization of the liturgy. The architects of Church policy have tried to eliminate everything that might possibly separate us from the Protestants. Father Hardon even notes this with approval in that part of his "Catechism" dealing with ecumenism. One wonders why he does not link this very ecumenism with the changes in the liturgy. Here are his words, page 243:

"On the practical level this means that Catholics should avoid any words, judgments or actions that do not correspond to what other Christians believe or do. Positively, they should engage in dialogue with separated brethren through discussion, co-operative action, and corporate prayer. Such dialogue presumes study and the desire to learn how the Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants worship, what they believe, and how their allegiance to Christ has affected their lives."

The above passage is sad to contemplate. Here is a Roman Catholic Catechism whose author certainly intends to oppose liberal and progressive trends and to be strictly orthodox. Yet he says that Catholics must avoid words, judgments and actions which do not correspond to what other Christians believe. This attitude reflects not ecumenism, but rather the fatal disease which I call "ecumenitis". Let us recall the recent Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne, Australia. Cardinal Knox, anticipating the suggestion of Father Hardon, purposely omitted the great Eucharistic procession so as not to offend the Protestants he had invited to participate. Indeed, eliminating the procession was one of the conditions of their presence at the Congress! Can we fairly call this consistent with genuine ecumenism? If we have real Christian love for our Protestant brethren, we must have the desire to see them find the one, true, authentic Christian faith. True love can only seek to have the individual Protestant convert to Catholicism. During my long life I have met innumerable ardent converts from Protestantism to Catholicism. (I am myself a convert, though from only a weak and merely formal Protestantism). But not a single convert I have known was ever converted by public dialogues between Catholics and Protestants; still less by Catholics who tried to make any compromises with Protestantism.

At the end of the chapter on ecumenism, Father Hardon states:

"One of the main reasons historically for Christian disunity was the disloyalty to Christ among those who called themselves Catholics."

This historical thesis is more than ambiguous. The birth of Luther's sola fides thesis is in no way caused by the "disloyalty" of Catholics in the Renaissance. As deplorable as this disloyalty is — especially the moral corruption among the hierarchy — it is impossible to claim that being scandalized by this immorality led to a theology in which only faith counts and all morality has no bearing on the salvation of man. The being scandalized by the disloyalties in Rome would be hypocritical in a man who said: "Sin as much as you will, but have an unshakable faith". Is the abolition of priesthood and monastic life the response to the disloyalty of Catholics?

And has the author forgotten the role of the princes and kings who enforced Protestantism? "Cuius regio eius et religo". Does he believe that Henry VIII's separation from Rome was caused by indignation about the disloyalty of Catholics?

Has the author forgotten that, in the same year of Luther's famous thesis, 1517, the "Oratory of Divine Love" was founded by St. Cajetan in Rome — a real reform!

Speaking of ethics, on page 284, Father Hardon quotes blasphemy and theft as being immoral under all circumstances. How can he place blasphemy and theft in the same category? Blasphemy is always morally evil — but taking another person's property belongs to a completely different category. It is legitimate and even morally good if it is the only way to save a man from starvation. 

Padre Pio loved children. He did all he could to save children from the evils of our time. He reminds us to do our part and to remember to entrust our cares to Our Lady and Her Rosary. He said: "There is nothing I have asked of the Madonna while praying the Rosary that She has not obtained for me."