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Greg Taylor on Indifferentism

Blind Leading the Blind

In The Recusant issue #41, Greg Taylor accuses bishop Williamson of practicing and teaching the heresy of indifferentism. Let’s check it out.

The Accusation

After quoting pope Gregory XVI on his definition of the heresy of indifferentism, Greg Taylor immediately presents us with his own verdict on bishop Williamson that he claims he is going to prove. Note that this is quite typical of Mr. Taylors writings: set yourself a target and then do whatever it takes to reach that target. In order words, we need to condemn the bishop, so let’s see what we can use against him. So here’s the target for this issue of The Recusant :

Bishop Williamson really does teach indifferentism; worse: he practices what he preaches. He promotes indifferentism in practice, through his discouraging any effort to convert souls to the True Faith and to Tradition. And in his teaching, he now explicitly teaches the idea that God saves outside of Tradition, that Tradition is an optional extra but not necessary for saving your soul.

So there it is. Even though Mr. Taylor slaps together at least 5 accusations (teach, practice, promote, discourage, optional extra), he only attempts to prove two of them: bishop Williamson teaches and practices indifferentism. Still, I wonder what will be the evidence upon which the prosecution will build it’s case?

Proof of the First Claim : Practicing Indifferentism

The basis upon which Mr. Taylor builds his case against bishop Williamson’s “practicing indifferentism” is the bishop’s Eleison Comments #513. So Mr. Taylor starts off by giving us a few selective and partial quotes, without bothering to put them in their context, and which are then heavily “interpreted” and “explained” by the inquisitor, just in case the reader fails to detect the underlying heresy for himself.

Allow me then to do what any honest inquisitor would have done for the accused: give the background out of which these quotes are plucked. In this particular EC, bishop Williamson starts off by quoting Romano Amerio, whom many Catholics know for his excellent work (Iota Unum) in identifying and documenting the errors of the current crisis in the Church. This is what Romano Amerio wrote in 1984:

If the present crisis is tending to overthrow the nature of the Church, and if this tendency is internal to the Church rather than the result of an external assault, as it has been on other occasions, then we are headed for a formless darkness that will make analysis and forecast impossible, and in the face of which there will be no alternative but to keep silence.1

The theme then of this EC is the opinion (not heresy!) that the current crisis in the Church will become so bad and the confusion so great that it will become practically impossible for Catholics to talk sense into others, to teach and to convert with “arguments”. Or to put it in the bishop’s words :

A mass of modern minds are so incapable any longer of thinking or reasoning that any attempt to dispel their errors can seem to risk only increasing their confusion.

This then, is Mr. Taylor’s proof of the “practicing the heresy of indifferentism” of which the bishop is accused. Ironically, by trying to build his case against the bishop, Greg Taylor is unwittingly giving us ample proof that the bishop indeed has a point here! Mr. Taylor seems incapable of thinking or reasoning, and any attempt to dispel his errors seems only to increase the confusion in him. And that is the most charitable way I can put it.

Before we move on, let me point out what the bishop back in 1996 already had to say about this particular quote:

Q: Is the crisis in the Church and world showing any sign of letting up?

A: No, on the contrary. And grave though the world crisis is, the Church crisis is incomparably worse because the Catholic Church is meant to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As that salt loses its savour, so it is trodden underfoot (Mt. V, 13), and as the light grows weaker, so the world is plunged in darkness. Towards the end of Prof. Romano Amerio’s careful and profound analysis in “Iota Unum”, published in 1984, of the errors constituting this crisis of the Church, he wrote that if it is true that the nature of the Catholic Church is now being overthrown from within, “then we are headed for a formless darkness that will make analysis and forecast impossible, and in the face of which there will be no alternative but to keep silence”.

St Thomas Aquinas Seminary, 19962

I wonder why no one ever noticed the bishop’s “heresy” before? At least since 1996, and probably since long before that, he has held the same opinion that he is holding today. What a shame that we never had the grace of a Mr. Taylor before, to point out the obvious heresies and heretics in our midst! And while we’re throwing mud, why not start with Romano Amerio. After all he was the one who launched this idea of “a formless darkness in the face of which there will be no alternative but to keep silence”. Surely, if bishop Williamson can be condemned for practicing such “indifference”, the same standard should be used for Prof. Romano Amerio, shouldn’t it?

Let us carry on though. Building upon this rather poor foundation, Mr. Taylor’s imagination is now given free reign:

He has just signalled to the enemies of the Church that he and his followers are no threat whatsoever (if they didn’t realise it already!). Having all-but succeeded in capturing the machinery of the Catholic Church, the enemy need fear no war of reconquest, at least not one coming from that direction. They are not even going to try. As long as they are left alone with their sacraments, they are happy.

So the theory here is that since the bishop opines that there is no longer enough common sense in today’s Catholics to make “arguing and teaching” fruitful, and since the bishop opines that in this crisis any attempt to “argue and teach” can be counter productive, and since the bishop opines that Our Lady at Fatima gave us different weapons (the Rosary, Penance, first Saterday devotion, consecration of Russia) by which to fight and overcome the crisis afflicting the Church, that therefore the bishop has “signalled to the enemy” that he poses no threat, that he is giving up the fight, and that he is “happy” to be left alone.

Such reasoning implies an enormous pride in Mr. Taylor’s mind, since he counts the weapons that Our Lady gave us specifically as a solution to this crisis in the Church as nothing but a surrender to the enemy! Mr. Taylor believes that this crisis will be overcome through “arguing and teaching”, and not through prayers, penance, and the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And anyone choosing Our Lady’s weapons over Mr. Taylor’s weapons is seen as “practicing indifferentism”. Oh boy!

I wonder whether Mr. Taylor would like to extend his condemnations to Padre Pio, who practically never “argued and taught”, but who by his prayers, by his penances and by his example converted thousands of people? Or maybe he could also condemn the Archbishop for his opinion that the SSPX should be a lifeboat, and not a tugboat or a battleship. Or maybe Mr. Taylor could write a letter to the editor of the Bible, since it too claims that there is “a time to keep silent, and a time to speak”3. Or maybe Mr. Taylor could have a word with Our Lady, who did not ask us to “argue and teach”, but instead to pray, to do penance and to make sacrifices? “Your ways are not my ways”, says the Lord, and if Mr. Taylor believes Our Lord has got His ways all mixed up, then let Mr. Taylor send his magazine to heaven in order to convince the Boss to hand over His reigns to someone more knowledgeable and capable to overcome this crisis, someone who is able to “argue and teach” like the best, somone like himself of course. But at least let him refrain from making heretics out of those who believe now is the time to stop trusting in our own ways and to heed Our Lady’s request to use the weapons she gave us at Fatima.

So I don’t think the bishop is telling us to just be happy in our own little world and to signal surrender to the enemy. But he is telling us to stop arguing with those who have blocked their ears, and especially to stop banging our heads against a brick wall by using the wrong weapons for our current situation. That then is also why EC #513 bears the title “God’s Weapons”.

And in case people still miss the elephant in the room, the choice of weapons we chose in our fight, whether you like them or not, and whether you agree with them or not, has absolutely nothing to do with the heresy of indifferentism. To make such a silly claim is quite an embarrassing display of ignorance. Mr. Taylor must have banged his head a few too many times against a brick wall himself.

Proof of the Second Claim : Teaching Indifferentism

With great fanfare the reader is now presented with the basis upon which Mr. Taylor will build his second accusation, i.e. that bishop Williamson is also “teaching indifferentism”. Mr. Taylor quotes bishop Williamson as saying :

If I look behind me, the line is fairly straight that’s brought us to where we are today. To be a Catholic rather than a non-Catholic because a Catholic has a much better chance of getting to heaven.

Then Mr. Taylor tries very hard to explain to us that beneath these words we ought to recognize the kind of indifferentism that Vatican-II infected the Church with. Unfortunately for him though, all he manages to prove to us is that Mr. Taylor is no theologian and that it may be better for him to take to reading instead of writing. Here’s the little gem that’s at the root of his own errors:

So they come up with this nonsensical compromise. John-Paul II used to say it all the time. You have a much better chance of getting to heaven as a Catholic. I defy anyone to find a catechism, encyclical or Catholic book from the 16th, 17th, 18th 19th or early 20th century which says such a thing. They all say the same thing: only Catholics go to heaven. It is as simple as is it true. Every single council that has had something to say on the matter has taught explicitly that only Catholics go to heaven, and not one word about having “a much better chance”, as though salvation were some sort of game of Russian Roulette.

Before looking at what the Church really teaches, I would like to ask Mr. Taylor if he has ever considered joining the Dimond brothers, or at least to swap notes with them? You see, back in 2005 the Dimond brothers published a “Heresy of the Week” article4, condeming Archbishop Lefebvre for daring to claim that not only members of the Catholic Church are saved, but that “souls can be saved in a religion other than the Catholic religion (Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.)” and that:

This is then what Pius IX said and what he condemned. It is necessary to understand the formulation that was so often employed by the Fathers of the Church: ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation.’ When we say that, it is incorrectly believed that we think that all the Protestants, all the Moslems, all the Buddhists, all those who do not publicly belong to the Catholic Church go to hell. Now, I repeat, it is possible for someone to be saved in these religions, but they are saved by the Church, and so the formulation is true: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. This must be preached.5

Would Mr. Taylor now like to extend his condemnation to Archbishop Lefebvre, I wonder?

And while we’re throwing around accusations, why not include Fr. Pfeiffer too? In 2013 he claimed that “many innocent souls go to the new mass every day, and they will go straight to Heaven when they die”.6 Using Mr. Taylor’s standard we can now also condemn Fr. Pfeiffer for teaching not only that “Tradition is an optional extra but not necessary for saving your soul”, but even that Tradition is an optional extra for becoming a Saint!

Church teaching

So does the Church indeed teach that “only Catholics go to heaven”, as Mr. Taylor claims so self-assuredly? Let’s start with consulting Msgr. Van Noort. In his “Dogmatic Theology, Volume II, Christ’s Church”, published in 1957, he deals with the question of the necessity of belonging to the Church. Right at the start he warns us about two errors, an error by minimizing and an error by exaggerating:

In discussing the necessity of the Church it is possible to err either by minimializing, or by exaggerating that necessity.

1. By minimizing. In this category fall all the various shades of opinion favoring religious indifferentism. Those who claim that no revealed religion and no church is necessary for salvation, but simply ethical goodness; those who hold that all churches and all religions equally lead to salvation (“one religion is as good as another”); those who subscribe to the “branch theory” of Christianity (Anglican-Orthodox-Roman). Finally, to be included in this category are those theologians who out of mistaken zeal for the conversion of dissident Christians watered down the doctrine on the necessity of the Church to the point of “reducing it to a meaningless formula” as Pius XII put it.]fn]Dogmatic Theology, Volume II, Christ’s Church, page 255

Would Mr. Taylor like to argue that both Archbishop Lefebvre and bishop Williamson fall in this category? That they teach that “no revealed religion and no church is necessary for salvation”? Or that they maybe teach that “all religions equally lead to salvation”? Or that they teach the “branch theory”? All because they claimed that even non-Catholics can make it to heaven, just as we will shortly demonstrate the Church herself teaches? Try again Mr. Taylor!

Next Msgr. Van Noort addresses Mr. Taylor himself, when he describes the error by exaggeration:

2. By exaggeration. In this category fall the unfortunate Father Feeney and his followers, who hold that only those who are actually members of the Roman Catholic Church can be saved. and exclude the possibility of salvation for even those men of good faith neatly dubbed by Msgr. Knox “unconscious Catholics”. Knox meant men who, though in invincible ignorance of the Catholic Church, are nonetheless related to it by implicit desire and who, if saved, will be saved because of the Church…7

The Archbishop knew his theology well enough to know that even non-Catholics can be saved, although with much greater difficulty and only under certain conditions. And that if they are saved in their false religion, it will certainly not be by their false religion but by the Catholic Church and despite their false religion. As an interesting side note, Msgr. Van Noort remarks a little further that:

from the fact that salvation without actual membership is achieved only by way of exception (per accidens), it does not directly follow that salvation is obtained in this manner only rarely.8

Msgr. Van Noort even goes so far as to claim that salvation for non-Catholics is not only possible, but that even though it is by “exception” only, we have no certain idea about the frequency of such cases. All we know so far is that non-Catholics can indeed be saved, albeit by “exception”.

A few years before Msgr. Van Noort wrote his theology manuals, the well known and respected Msgr. Fenton wrote in the “American Ecclesiastical Review” :

It is a dogma of divine faith that the Catholic Church is requisite for salvation. It is also perfectly certain that a man who dies as a non-member of the Church can attain to the beatific vision. Theologians have had to keep both these facts in mind in explaining the axiom extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.9

I guess using Mr. Taylor’s standard, we ought to consider Msgr. Fenton a heretic too, for claiming that “a man who dies as a non-member of the Church can attain to the beatific vision”.

But let us move on to see whether maybe pope Pius XII could be included in Mr. Taylor’s condemnation. This is what Pius XII wrote in Mystici Corporis :

From a heart overflowing with love we ask each and everyone of them to be quick and ready to follow the interior movements of grace, and to look to withdrawing from that state in which they cannot be sure of their salvation. For even though unsuspectingly they are related to the mystical body of the Redeemer in desire and resolution, they still remain deprived of so many precious gifts and helps from heaven, which one can only enjoy in the Catholic Church. May they then enter into Catholic unity, and united with us in the organic oneness of the body of Jesus Christ may they hasten to the one Head in the society of glorious love. With persevering prayer to the Spirit of love and truth we wait for them with open arms to return not to a stranger’s house, but to their own, their Father’s house.

So Pius XII says that those who “don’t belong to the visible organization of the Catholic Church” (i.e. non-Catholics) are in a state in which “they cannot be sure of salvation” and they are “deprived of the gifts and helps from heaven, which one can only enjoy in the Catholic Church”. That sounds very much like he is saying that non-Catholics are not necessarily condemned and that they can still be saved, but that it is much harder for them, being “deprived of so many precious gifts and helps from heaven”. If it is much harder for non-Catholics to get to heaven, then it logically follows that it is much easier for Catholics to get to heaven. Funny, that is exactly what bishop Williamson said!

Maybe Pius XII too was an infiltrator, a heretic and a traitor, like Mr. Taylor has called bishop Williamson. Maybe we ought to go back a little further in time. So let’s listen to Pius IX then, who wrote in 1863:

We all know that those who are afflicted with invincible ignorance with regard to our holy religion, if they carefully keep the precepts of the natural law that have been written by God in the hearts of men, if they are prepared to obey God, and if they lead a virtuous and dutiful life, can attain eternal life by the power of divine light and grace. For God, who reads comprehensively in every detail the minds and souls, the thoughts and habits of all men, will not permit, in accordance with his infinite goodness and mercy, anyone who is not guilty of voluntary fault to suffer eternal punishment.10

Can it be any clearer then that the Church teaches that not only Catholics go to heaven, but that even non-Catholics can make it, albeit with much greater difficulty and under certain conditions only?

As with all of the Church’s teachings, it is important to properly understand the meaning of these teachings, including the necesssary distinctions and definitions upon which they are built. And anyone who sets out to “catch out” his fellow Catholics, in order to condemn them as “heretics” better watch out that he does not himself fall into the pit that he is trying to dig for another. And with him all the other blind men or women following him, like for example the owner of the Cor Mariae website, who, following Mr. Taylor’s lead and based on the same quote of bishop Williamson, accuses bishop Williamson of teaching universal salvation11. It’s amazaing how far one can spin a yarn!

Conclusion

As we have come to expect from The Recusant’s editor, Mr. Taylor is either ignorant himself of the Church’s teaching, or he is counting on the ignorance of his readers in order to condemn bishop Williamson.

First he wants you to believe that anyone who advocates against “arguing and teaching” at certain times must be practising the heresy of indifferentism, including Solomon (who wrote Ecclesiastes), Romano Amerio, Padre Pio, Archbishop Lefebvre and Our Lady Herself.

And then he accuses of teaching this same heresy anyone who dares to know and defend the Church’s teaching that not only members of the Catholic Church can attain eternal salvation, but also those who through no fault of their own remain outside the body of the Church. And with this he has unwittingly joined the Dimond brothers in condemning not only bishop Williamson, but also Archbishop Lefebvre, Msgr. Van Noort, Msgr. Fenton, pope Pius XII and pope Pius IX, among many others.

So with each attempt to condemn bishop Williamson, Mr. Taylor is giving us more proof of his own ignorance and of his willingness to “interpret” in the worst possible way the words of those he would like to see condemned. Talk about the blind leading the blind!

For one thing we owe Mr. Taylor a big “thank you” though: with each accusation he makes he provides us with an opportunity to prove whether we really love the truth or whether we just say so. If we love the truth we will open a cathechism or a theology manual, read it, ponder it, learn from it and refrain from judging others too quickly.

The heart of the wise seeketh instruction: and the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness. (Proverbs 15:14)