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We have believed in love

By P. Engelbert Recktenwald

“Credidimus Caritati” – “We have believed in love”. So read the motto in the coat of arms of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. From him of all people? “He was more interested in faith than in love!” Such could be the astonished exclamation of a Catholic who has fallen for that tale which is commonplace today, constructing a contradiction between faith and love, more precisely: between orthodoxy on the one hand and “generous” love on the other. Orthodoxy is associated with restriction and paternalism, love is associated with liberation. On the one hand we have the narrow-minded fundamentalist, on the other hand the charitable pastor, here the unloving Pharisee, for whom the true faith is important, there the modern preacher of mercy, for whom the people are more important. That’s why he doesn’t take the dogmas so seriously. That is proof of his charity. Love as a competing authority to faith, truth as restriction of liberty: This construction has established itself in the minds of many people today.

The fact that Archbishop Lefebvre, my ordination bishop, made mistakes and that I therefore distanced myself from him is something which I have often – in the eyes of some of my critics too often – expressed and explained. But I must defend him against the accusation of uncharitableness. And yet these reflections are not chiefly about him personally, but rather about the above-mentioned strategy of raising suspicion that orthodoxy is hostile to love. Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict also fell victim to this strategy. He was called “the armored Cardinal” (“Panzerkardinal”) as soon as he happened to fulfill his duty to ensure that the Faith is passed on pure and unaltered in the Church.

Facing his imminent death, Archbishop Lefebvre once acknowledged what it had been that had motivated him throughout all the years: He wanted to pass on the Catholic priesthood “in unadulterated doctrinal purity, in its boundless missionary love.” Missionary love! I take him at his word that this is what motivated him. One could sense this. The love for souls, for the Church and for our Lord was what drove him. He was a loving and a lovable person.

“Missionary love” and “unadulterated doctrinal purity”: These go hand in hand. They are mutually dependent. We see this with St. Paul. On the one hand he writes: “For the love of Christ urges us on...” (2 Cor 5:14). And on the other hand he insists uncompromisingly on doctrinal purity: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:8).

Not that I would deny that Pharisaism and narrow-minded dogmatism exist – not only among the so-called conservatives, but in all factions. And yes, one can commit spiritual abuse in the name of orthodoxy, so that adhering to it does not stem from love, but rather serves one’s own ego. And how can I be certain that the attitudes of Archbishop Lefebvre and Cardinal Ratzinger were not cases of disguised egoism? After all, I do not possess the gift of reading souls. Apart from the fact that I consider it to be completely out of the question – despite not being able to read souls – I know another representative of this attitude from the inside, namely myself.

Why did I become a priest and why do I proclaim the Gospel? Because I love Christ. And why do I love Him? Because He has forgiven me so much. When I proclaim the Faith to people, it is not because I consider myself to be something better or because I wish to patronize them, but because I would grant them the same good fortune. It consists in coming to know the love of Christ. Salvation can only be found in this love. I myself am someone who is completely and utterly dependent on this love. I am the prodigal son, who has sinned and then returned home, full of remorse. I would like to take as many people as possible along with me on this journey back to the heart of God the Father. I preach what I live. When Christ says: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13), it moves my heart. Now I understand why He has called me! I wish to share this joy with as many people as possible. I want to call out to them: “Do not be afraid to turn to the Lord! You cannot overestimate the goodness of His heart. Believe in His goodness! Believe in His love!” Whoever sees Him, sees the Father. The heart of God the Father is visible in His love.

And why is doctrinal purity so vital? Because everything depends upon knowing the destination of the journey. It is the love of the Lord. Faithful proclaimers such as Cardinal Ratzinger show us the way there, modernists obstruct the way. I have experienced this myself. I experienced that one would have me believe “in missione canonica”, that is, in the name of the Church, that this love does not even exist. Christ was just a human, like you and me: He did not know me, He did not die for me, He did not love me. Of course, He was filled with a general love of humanity, He was a great role model, a benefactor: But He did not love me, because He did not even know me. Jesus was not God Incarnate, but rather a Jewish itinerant preacher. He did not know that He was to redeem us by His death. These were all post-Easter constructions. And so it was beyond His horizon to intend to found a church, therefore there is no Priesthood established by Him, therefore the Sacraments possess no divine power, therefore there is no sacramental forgiveness of sin in Confession, and in the Eucharist no true Body of the Lord. Therefore, priests can marry, women can become priests, Church structures can be changed, strongholds razed and dogmas renounced. I learned all this in Catholic religious instruction in school over forty years ago, and I encounter all this at every turn up to the present day. By means of these false teachings, people are being cut off from the real love of Christ. The faithful are being fed stones instead of bread. This is not a sign of love, but rather a crime against souls. That is why Paul, as quoted above, declared the false teachers to be anathema (Gal 1:8). That is why love and faith, missionary love for souls and doctrinal purity, belong together inextricably. A good mother is mindful to not serve her children poisoned fare. The same is true of the Church, when she is mindful of doctrinal purity. The less the mother is mindful of this, the more it is a sign of indifference towards her children, a sign of an appalling lack of love.

“Credidimus Caritati” – What a beautiful motto from 1 John 4:16! We do not believe in ourselves and not in our own infallibility, but rather in the love of Christ. We are not among the theologians, who always know better than the Church. We believe that Christ’s love has itself made provision for reaching souls throughout all generations, namely by founding His Church and equipping her with the authority necessary for fulfilling her mission: proclaiming the news of His love, in a pure and unadulterated manner, throughout the ages. The Magisterium is an invention of His love.

“We have believed in love.” This truth opens up our heart and fills it with thankfulness, joy and zeal. In the course of my life I have encountered many people who have been able to discover God’s love, and who have experienced this same thing. Among them are many converts. They develop a particular awareness of our debt of gratitude towards the Church. We owe thanks to the Church for the presence of divine love, ever new in the Sacraments, and to the Magisterium for the unadulterated proclamation thereof. But while we are allowing ourselves to receive the gifts of the Church, the reformers conversely wish to delight the Church with their suggestions for improvements, and they are offended when the Church does not accept them. Love received produces gratitude, impeded self-will produces frustration. For the past sixty years one new start has followed the next: the new start of the Council was followed by the new start of the Wurzburg Synod, the new start of the Mannheim Dialogue Process, the new start of the Synodal Path… The zealous rhetoric of the new start only serves to cover up the growing frustration over the disobedience of the Church towards one’s own desires for reform. Two thousand years ago, God made a new start, in order to give us His love in His Son and to initiate the only reform which matters: our conversion, sanctification and salvation. I thank my Savior for forgiving me for being the way I am. The modernist does not forgive the Church for being the way she is. I am abounding in joy that Jesus has saved me; the modernist is frustrated, that the Church does not allow herself to be saved by him. The Synodal Path is the Church’s final chance, so we have heard. But not to worry: The Church will also survive this final rescue attempt.

Frustration is the opposite of enthusiasm. It blinds us to the appreciation of the true issues: In its eyes, faithfulness to the Magisterium, e. g. the traditional truth concerning the impossibility of female priestly ordination, is seen as the intransigent stubbornness of a few old men in Rome. The modernists do not want to be taught and complain about the obstinacy of the Teaching Office of the Church. They can no longer recognize the love which it contains.

Yes, I find “doctrinal purity” to be important, I am “faithful to the Magisterium”. The service of the Magisterium is a service of love: divine truth instead of human opinion, bread instead of stones – even if there appear to be people who prefer the taste of the stones over that of the bread. Paul had already warned Timothy about teachings which suit itching ears. My obedience to the Magisterium is the condition that my preaching is a ministry of love. To this I adhere, to this I hold fast, regardless of the poor example given to me by theologians and shepherds of the Church. I am tired of hearing accusations such as: Faith is more important to me than love, the truth more important than liberty, the letter more important than the Spirit. To the contrary, for the sake of love, I hold the truth to be so vital. I want to set people on fire with divine love, not with human reform ideas. The people have a strict right to hear from my mouth the liberating and heartening Faith of the Church and not my private opinion. I respect this right: because I love the people.

Zum deutschen Original


Engelbert Recktenwald: Rescuing Reason

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