Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hermeneutic of Continuity: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, Oregon
March 3rd, 2013 Dominica III Quadragesimae, Anno C

“Lord, …I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it;
it may bear fruit in the future.”

Just before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger preached these words:

“How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thinking…The boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves, thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism: from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created, and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with a cunning that tries to draw people into error (cf. Eph. 4:14).”

The cardinal who became pope continued:

“Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism, whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards. We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as certain and that has as its ultimate standard one’s own ego and one’s own desires. However, we have a different standard: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. Being an ‘adult’ means having a faith that does not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties. A faith that is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false and deceit from truth. We must become mature in this adult faith.”

(Homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, April 18th, 2005)

This homily of the Cardinal set the tone for his papacy as Benedict XVI. He has been called the “Servant of the Truth.” He has continued to build upon the rock foundation of the Church, cultivating and fertilizing it in hopes that his work will bear fruit. But he knows that he cannot complete the work. He may never see the fruit when it is fully ripe, but he trusts that it will ripen, even after he is gone. In his final Angelus talk, he said “I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been - and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so.”

Let us give thanks to God for the gift of a pope who would give himself so generously to lead us to truth. The decades since the Second Vatican Council have been difficult ones. Many misconceptions and falsehoods were promoted in the name of the council. Pope Benedict spent himself trying to right those wrongs. He has been very clear in his teaching and writing that the Church must have continuity in doctrine, in liturgy, and in culture. He calls this a “hermeneutic of continuity.” A hermeneutic is a lens, or an interpretation, through which we see something. If we could say that Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered for anything, it would be this concept of restoration or reform in continuity.

What does hermeneutic of continuity mean? It means this: If one of the saints who lived 100 years ago, or 800 years ago, or 1800 years ago were to walk into this church for Sunday Mass, would that saint recognize the Mass we are celebrating? In other words, if St. Therese of Lisieux, or St. Alphonsus de Liguori, or St. Leo the Great, deigned to honor us with their presence here on Sunday, would they know that they were in a Catholic church? We must take care that whatever we do here at Mass, that it is within that hermeneutic of continuity so that a saint from of old would still know that he or she was in a Catholic Church.

In contrast we can observe the growing dictatorship of relativism which is becoming the religion of the masses. This religion is dictated by the media which tells people what to think, what to believe, what to feel. We must not ally ourselves with that camp. We must hold firm to the faith and propagate it in our community and in our families. But we must start with ourselves. It all starts with each of us. We must reform our own lives, purify our own souls by living the sacramental life. That will bear fruit for our families, and then for our parish, and then for our country and outward to the whole world. We may never see the fruit fully ripen in our own times, but we must nevertheless cultivate the tree, fertilize it, and pray that it may bear fruit for the glory of God. It is His Church, not ours.

When the throne of Peter is empty, as it is now, we can trust that Jesus is at the helm of the Church. As unsettling as it may be to have the Throne of Peter empty, we are not abandoned. Let us pray for the cardinals as they prepare to enter into conclave. You might want to adopt a cardinal, and pray for him that he will have what it takes to be in concord and unity with the other cardinals and with God in order to resist temptation and do what he is being called to do. In that way, we can participate in this historic event. We have a role to play in the conclave.

Let us thank Pope Benedict XVI for his hard work as the husbandman of the vine which is the Church. Let us heed his words to embrace a mature and adult faith in continuity with those who have come before us. May his work bear abundant fruit even after he is gone. 


  1. Msgr Gheradini asked, in a recent book, that the Holy Father needs to demonstrate this "continuity" he always refers to, rather than merely declaring that there is a continuity. What this great intellectual was saying, in a roundabout way, is that there really is no continuity that one can point to definitively...that this continuity exists, for the most part, in the imagination of those who have placed all their eggs, every one of them, in the Vatican II basket. So with all due respect to Father Anderson his article, however well-intentioned, falls short of this demonstration.

    On my own little blog I have included a reference to Arnaud de Lassus' dissection of Vatican II and de Lassus, relying on unimpeachable sources, does indeed demonstrate that no such continuity exists or at the very least is so tenuous that it really amounts to very little. If I may, I'll refer to the post in question, here:

    Mr de Lassus argues that in three crucial areas the Second Vatican Council departs drastically from both Faith and Tradition, and those three areas are Religious Liberty, Collegiality and Ecumenism. This is well presented in the article from APROPOS in Scotland, to which my post makes reference. I hope all readers would write for a copy of that latest issue of APROPOS.

    This is not to be taken as carping criticism of a good priest. Far from it. But it is time that we face these issues realistically and courageously if we wish to understand why the Church is in the catastrophically serious situation it now finds itself in.

  2. Aged Parent, I haven't read your post yet, but I definitely agree with your point here that there is a problem with "continuity" in those areas you mention. I also agree that it is time to clarify these issues. They can't be swept under the rug forever; in fact, they loom like an elephant in the living room, and the leaders of the Church won't address them.


Please be courteous and concise.