My original intention in writing this book was to cover the whole story of reform and rebellion in the Catholic Church in modern times from its beginnings in the nineteenth century down to the present, with the Second Vatican Council as the centre-piece. But the more I went into the subject, the clearer it became that the beginnings of the story were the most important part and needed a book to themselves. As is always the case with great historical events, whatever took place at the Council or has happened since had been in preparation for a long time. So the greater part of the book is about events before the Council. It is from the study of these, I believe, that most is to be learned.
Since I have tried to make the book as intelligible as possible to readers of every kind, I ask well-informed Catholic readers to bear with me if I sometimes explain in detail things which they take for granted.
Most of what I have to say is about conditions and events in what we call "the West", by which I mean Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand - the countries of European culture, inundated with wealth since World War II. This should not be taken to mean that the Church elsewhere is regarded as of small account. But it is in "the West", as just defined, that we find the roots of most of the initiatives and aberrations we shall be considering.
Finally a few words about that difficult subject, heresy. I say "difficult" because, although a technical term, it now has, owing to past religious and ideological conflicts, an almost exclusively abusive sound. Yet it describes a fact which has to be kept in mind when considering any upheaval in the Catholic Church like the one taking place today. By refraining from using the word or using softer-sounding alternatives, as I have mostly done, we do not alter the fact.
In principle, everyone who believes in a divine revelation accepts the fact or possibility of heresy - whatever claims to be part of revelation or true belief, but in some way contradicts, distorts or is an unauthorised addition to it. For other Christians, many Catholic beliefs are, in the technical sense, heresies. The word has no meaning except in reference to a divine revelation, real or supposed. Its use to describe deviations from the opinions of purely human teachers like Marx, Darwin and Freud is a misuse of language, and the equivalent of treating them as gods. All knowledge coming solely from men can only claim to be such on the basis of evidence or logic.
Much the same can be said about "dogma". If there has been a revelation, dogma - a succinct and unchangeable formulation of some aspect of what has been revealed - is something altogether reasonable, and indeed necessary; just as the attempt to give human opinions the status of dogmas is unreasonable or downright silly.
A further point: although other Christians believe certain things which, in the view of the Catholic Church, are objectively heresies, the Church recognises that it is possible for them to do so in good faith since they do not believe in a Church which teaches with authority. For Catholics it is otherwise. Having once known and accepted the Church's claims and teachings in their totality, it is impossible for them to reject one or more of them without fault. A Catholic, if truly such, cannot fall into heresy blamelessly.
Finally, a word about Catholics who adopt or promote heresies, and about why fully-believing Catholics are bound, not only to continue loving them, but also, out of love, to oppose them. Not to oppose them would be equivalent to saying that the revelation of God is a matter of opinion, is not to be found fully in the teaching of the Catholic Church, or that in handing it on the Church has got parts of it wrong.
These may be acceptable opinions for anyone else, but neither can be a tenable position for a Catholic, since the converse - God has made a revelation that can be certainly known and the Church is its guardian and interpreter - is the very heart of our religion. Loving, as even the most closely knit families know, has never excluded resisting or speaking out about what one believes to be seriously wrong. What counts is the spirit in which it is done.
In a sense, the sole subject of this book is the revelation of God: the efforts of its guardians to make it bear fruit in the present, and its vicissitudes at the hands of men who believe that, in order for it to survive, it must be altered.
Copyright © Philip Trower 2003, 2011
Family Publications has now ceased trading. The copyright has reverted to the author Philip Trower who has given permission for the book to be placed on this website. Further chapters will be added as time permits.
Version: 26th March 2011