Novelty in the Modern Popes:

The third thesis which David Palm (DP) seeks to establish as supporting of his overarching theory is that novelty was rejected by the modern popes. The section of the essay you are reading will examine the veracity of this assertion by looking at the proofs David brings forward to sustain the third thesis of his theory.

Rejection of novelty and innovation was a central theme reiterated time and again in the anti-modernist writings of the Popes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  And as we have already seen, their understanding of novelty and innovation was informed by the Fathers, Doctors, Councils, and Popes which preceded them. 
As we have seen, all of David's examples from the Fathers, Doctors, and Councils do not support his arguments one iota.

Mr. XXXXXXXXX would like to confine their condemnation of novelty and innovation exclusively to the doctrinal sphere, but it cannot be so confined.  For example, Pope Leo XIII wrote:

It is impossible to approve in Catholic publications a style inspired by unsound novelty which seems to deride the piety of the faithful and dwells on the introduction of a new order of Christian life, on new directions of the Church, on new aspirations of the modern soul, on a new social vocation of the clergy, on a new Christian civilization, and many other things of the same kind.[10]
I always shudder when I read that quote, since it sounds so much like the very agenda that has been promoted by the Vatican in the post-conciliar era. 

Of course appearances can be deceiving. To use one example from history, the homoousian formulary of Nicaea looks a lot like the Semi-Arian homoiousian formulary. The principle that is overlooked here is that there is a distinct difference between what individuals try to do in opposition to ecclesial authority and what the ecclesial authority decides to do. The same actions while illicit and sinful on the part of the individuals are neither illicit nor sinful on the part of the magisterium enacting them.

Furthermore, how has the Vatican promoted derision of the piety of the faithful??? The last four popes following their predecessors have sought to foster the piety of the faithful. With regards to the rosary, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI wrote encyclicals on the rosary seeking to promote its usage. Pope John Paul II has among his many writings promoting the piety of the faithful written an encyclical letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary, an apostolic letter on the rosary, and many allocutions on the subject. He has promoted Marian devotion more than any pope in recent memory (with the exception of Leo XIII) and has written more on the doctrine and worship of the Eucharist than any pope in Church history.

But David does not seem to realize that  Pope Pius X's Encyclical Letter Pascendi Dominici Gregis, far from supporting his thesis on the modern popes actually undermines it. Here are a few examples from Pascendi which could be noted:

[W]hen they treat of philosophy, history, criticism, feeling no horror at treading in the footsteps of Luther, they are wont to display a certain contempt for Catholic doctrines, or the Holy Fathers, for the Ecumenical Councils, for the ecclesiastical magisterium; and should they be rebuked for this, they complain that they are being deprived of their liberty.... (§18)

Every Catholic...has the right and the duty to work for the common good in the way he thinks best, without troubling himself about the authority of the Church, without paying any heed to its wishes, its counsels, its orders - nay, even in spite of its reprimands.  ... (§24)

[T]he Modernists try in every way to diminish and weaken the authority of the ecclesiastical magisterium itself... (§42)

[F]or them the scholarship of a writer is in direct proportion to the recklessness of his attacks on antiquity, and of his efforts to undermine tradition and the ecclesiastical magisterium.... (§42)

The same policy is to be adopted towards those who favour Modernism either by extolling the Modernists or excusing their culpable conduct, by criticising scholasticism, the Holy Father, or by refusing obedience to ecclesiastical authority in any of its depositaries; and towards those who show a love of novelty in history, archaeology, biblical exegesis, and finally towards those who neglect the sacred sciences or appear to prefer to them the profane. (§48) [1]

Indeed Pope Pius X would not look kindly on the manner whereby The Remnant and its contributors frequently insult the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him (the ecclesiastical magisterium) and undermine the authority of last ecumenical council. The bottom line of course is pride and one cannot be a radical self-styled "traditionalist" without succumbing to this vice. And as Pope Pius X noted in Pascendi that pride was at the core of the errors of the Modernists:

"[I]t is pride which rouses in them the spirit of disobedience and causes them to demand a compromise between authority and liberty; it is pride that makes of them the reformers of others, while they forget to reform themselves, and which begets their absolute want of respect for authority, not excepting the supreme authority. No, truly, there is no road which leads so directly and so quickly to Modernism as pride." [2]

And yet none of those things mentioned by Pope Leo XIII as embodying a spirit of unsound novelty are doctrinal per se. 

This is true. Therefore, since we have already noted several examples of historical novelty when discussing the medieval period, there must be a principle that allows for those novelties while not allowing for others.

Rather, they are novel because, as Mr. XXXXXXXXX has said in his own definition of novelty, “their newness suggests that the Tradition is wrong.” 

Then all the changes throughout history previously noted suggests that the Tradition was wrong. If it works in the case that Pope Leo XIII refers to, it must refer to all the other examples this writer previously noted. Unless of course there is some principle in place validating the latter examples and not the ones that Pope Leo XIII referred to.

Note too that this instruction from Pope Leo XIII was cited in Pope St. Pius X’s anti-modernist encyclical Pascendi.  This directly undermines Mr. XXXXXXXXX’s charge that Ferrara and Woods were careless in citing Pascendi in support of their thesis. 

Of course it is worth noting in passing that Pascendi directly repudiates the principle of "suspension of obedience" to the ecclesiastical magisterium that the individuals David refers to have involved themselves in -to say nothing of their contempt of ecclesiastical authority and their frequent attempts to undermine the authority of the magisterium by refusing to heed its judgments and directives.

St. Pius stated forcefully in his encyclical a resounding denunciation of novelty, using that word in its full and proper ecclesiastical sense, not the truncated sense proffered by Mr. XXXXXXXXX

But for Catholics the second Council of Nicea will always have the force of law, where it condemns those who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind . . . or endeavour by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church; and Catholics will hold for law, also, the profession of the fourth Council of Constantinople: We therefore profess to conserve and guard the rules bequeathed to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by the Holy and most illustrious Apostles, by the orthodox Councils, both general and local, and by every one of those divine interpreters the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  Wherefore the Roman Pontiffs, Pius IV. and Pius IX., ordered the insertion in the profession of faith of the following declaration: I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church.[11]
St. Pius’ condemnation of modernism and his exhortation for Catholics (especially priests and bishops) to stand firm against it may be captured in one sentence: “Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty!”[12] 
Of course as it has already been pointed out in this essay, there are numerous novelties throughout history pertaining to matters of Catholic observance and discipline. Obviously therefore, the problem cannot be novelty per se but instead the kind of novelty being discussed. The Councils and popes always denounced those who sought to spurn the Church's teachings and directives. But unless she is schizophrenic, there must be a principle that allows for novelty in some respects.
St. Pius X’s successor, Pope Benedict XV, continued this theme and made it quite clear that the notion of innovation and novelty that characterizes modernism does indeed embrace elements of Catholic observance that are not doctrines, strictly speaking, but even extends to private devotions of immemorial custom:
Those who are infected by that [modernist] spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savours of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.”[13]

David's essay footnote includes the following note:

Note that Benedict XV is here quoting his predecessor, Pope St. Stephen I whom I quoted above as part of a citation from St. Vincent of Lerins.  This definitely bolsters the traditionalist use of that patristic text to support our contention that the idea of novelty extends to observances and customs as well as doctrines.

The reader will recall that this essay addressed the fact that Pope St. Stephen was opposing a novel understanding of the doctrine of baptism: that baptism administered by heretics was invalid and thus such people were to be rebaptized. The Catholic Encyclopedia noted the following on the subject:

To complete the consideration of the validity of baptism conferred by heretics, we must give some account of the celebrated controversy that raged around this point in the ancient Church. In Africa and Asia Minor the custom had been introduced in the early part of the third century of rebaptizing all converts from heresy...The controversy on rebaptism is especially connected with the names of Pope St. Stephen and of St. Cyprian of Carthage. The latter was the main champion of the practice of rebaptizing. The pope, however, absolutely condemned the practice, and commanded that heretics on entering the Church should receive only the imposition of hands in paenitentiam. In this celebrated controversy it is to noted that Pope Stephen declares that he is upholding the primitive custom when he declares for the validity of baptism conferred by heretics.

Cyprian, on the contrary, implicitly admits that antiquity is against his own practice, but stoutly maintains that it is more in accordance with an enlightened study of the subject. The tradition against him he declares to be "a human and unlawful tradition". Neither Cyprian, however, nor his zealous abettor, Firmilian, could show that rebaptism was older than the century in which they were living...Pope St. Stephen, therefore, upheld a doctrine already ancient in the third century when he declared against the rebaptism of heretics, and decided that the sacrament was not to be repeated because its first administration had been valid, This has been the law of the Church ever since. [3]

In short, the claim that this was a mere "observance" or "custom" does not withstand the facts of history. The practice involved a matter of doctrine and therefore David's assertion that  the idea of novelty extends to observances and customs as well as doctrines is not supported by a recourse to the rebaptism controversy. As this writer has outlined the fully orbed understanding of development of doctrine and practice in the writings of St. Vincent of Lerens, it is as clear as crystal that David's presentation of his view is incomplete and misleading. St. Vincent made it clear that in the Church, a right understanding of progress "requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress" (Commonitory). If the reader detects an incongruity between DP's thesis on the Fathers and the principles of St. Vincent of Lerens, well they need not feel that they are alone in detecting this.

For it is not possible for knowledge to increase or progress to be made without at some point introducing new elements into the overall theological/philosophical/dogmatic mix. These new elements could involve either (i) a new way of looking at an older principle or (ii) new theological approaches to explicating doctrine. They could also involve (iii) utilizing new terms or concepts to designate old doctrines. And while not the only possible ways to help facilitate an increase in wisdom or knowledge "as well of one man as of the whole Church"  they are nonetheless three notable ways. And all of them involve to some degree the principle of "novelty" that the so-called "traditionalists" find so objectionable. But that is not all for Pope Benedict XV says plenty more his Encyclical Letter Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum that does not bode well for the theory of David and his associates. At this time we will consider three of those points which are key to undermining the so-called "traditionalist" weltanschauung:

[W]henever legitimate authority has once given a clear command, let no one transgress that command, because it does not happen to commend itself to him; but let each one subject his own opinion to the authority of him who is his superior, and obey him as a matter of conscience. Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church. All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says. [4]
These are the error of DP's allies in "suspending obedience" to the ecclesiastical magisterium. They claim to "out of conscience" have to not obey the teachings and directives of the ecclesial magisterium. They also utilize their print periodical to show contempt for said teachings and directives, they have written books to serve this same purpose, and they hold conferences which are aimed to promote their periodicals and books. In doing these things, they do not adhere to the duty of faithful Catholics "to hearken to [the Holy Father] reverently when he speaks and carry out what he says." And this is not the only indictment against them from the aforementioned encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XV:
As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline - in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See - there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.[5]
The Remnant and its writers have continually utilized expressions that are noticeably bereft of charity; indeed the utter lack of this virtue in the articles of that periodical over the years is quite revealing for those who have eyes to see. Further still, the notion of defending one's opinions with due moderation is also lacking in their case. And of course "suspending obedience" to the magisterium inexorably leads to them contravening the interventions of the Apostolic See. But that is not all:
It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.[6]
David Palm's usage of the Remnant  vernacular of "Neo-Catholic" to describe ideological opponents of that periodical -not to mention "Traditionalists" to describe himself and his associates- runs seriously afoul with the admonitions of Pope Benedict XV who asserted that such appellations were "profane novelties of words."  How ironic that in an essay about how "Tradition rejects novelty" -written in part it seems to defend a book taking issue with perceived "novelties" in the Church today- that David and his associates by their use of qualifying terms to distinguish between Catholics involve themselves in a novelty of their own!!!

This sweeping and repeated warning against and condemnation of novelty and innovation sets the stage for the entire debate between traditionalists and neo-Catholics.  Even Mr. XXXXXXXXX states plainly that, “Novelty is to be rejected when it jeopardizes Tradition, when it threatens to do away with or contradict a doctrine of the Catholic Church, when its very newness is bound up with error.” 

We have already noted that this idea of a "sweeping and repeated warning against and condemnation of novelty and innovation" is a figment of DP's imagination and the imaginations of his allies who advance this thesis. It is fatally flawed and what is covered in this essay thus far is sufficient to demonstrate the assertion that the author is making here. The astute reader will note that all of David's examples involve the word "novelty" but not in and of itself. The reference to Pope Leo XIII in Pascendi prefaced the term with the qualifier "unsound." The example from Pope Benedict XV in Ad Beatissimi  referred to "profane novelties." And not one single example from the Fathers or medieval period that DP brought forward actually withstands scrutiny. But let us look at more of what the "modern popes" had to say about novelty.

Pope Pius XII issued the Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei  in 1947. As this encyclical is on the sacred liturgy -and is an excellent instructional on that subject- it is likewise an excellent source for us to consider since the liturgy is at the very heart of the so-called "traditionalist" movement. Here is some of what the Holy Father had to say on the matter:

Several causes, really have been instrumental in the progress and development of the sacred liturgy during the long and glorious life of the Church.

Thus, for example, as Catholic doctrine on the Incarnate Word of God, the eucharistic sacrament and sacrifice, and Mary the Virgin Mother of God came to be determined with greater certitude and clarity, new ritual forms were introduced through which the acts of the liturgy proceeded to reproduce this brighter light issuing from the decrees of the teaching authority of the Church, and to reflect it, in a sense so that it might reach the minds and hearts of Christ's people more readily.

The subsequent advances in ecclesiastical discipline for the administering of the sacraments, that of penance for example; the institution and later suppression of the catechumenate; and again, the practice of eucharistic communion under a single species, adopted in the Latin Church; these developments were assuredly responsible in no little measure for the modification of the ancient ritual in the course of time, and for the gradual introduction of new rites considered more in accord with prevailing discipline in these matters.

Just as notable a contribution to this progressive transformation was made by devotional trends and practices not directly related to the sacred liturgy, which began to appear, by God's wonderful design, in later periods, and grew to be so popular. We may instance the spread and ever mounting ardor of devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, devotion to the most bitter passion of our Redeemer, devotion to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Virgin Mother of God and to her most chaste spouse.

Other manifestations of piety have also played their circumstantial part in this same liturgical development. Among them may be cited the public pilgrimages to the tombs of the martyrs prompted by motives of devotion, the special periods of fasting instituted for the same reason, and lastly, in this gracious city of Rome, the penitential recitation of the litanies during the "station" processions, in which even the Sovereign Pontiff frequently joined.

It is likewise easy to understand that the progress of the fine arts, those of architecture, painting and music above all, has exerted considerable influence on the choice and disposition of the various external features of the sacred liturgy. [7]

Notice the references by Pope Pius XII to "new rites" and "new ritual forms" which were "considered more in accord with prevailing discipline in [liturgical] matters." Will David claim that these new rites and ritual forms were not novelties??? It is doubtful that he would do this. However, he has made such a sweeping statement with his theory and its supporting theses that the present writer could fill notebooks with examples which confute his argument. However, it seems appropriate now to tie together what was covered in earlier sections and what is covered in this section.

This writer made it a point to note that most of DP's patristic examples -particularly the ones involving St. Vincent of Lerens, St. Leo the Great, and St. Augustine- did not involve policies which had been approved by the ecclesiastical magisterium. This theme was also extended tacitly through the section on the medieval period and picked up again in the first part of this section on the "modern popes." The reason for doing this will now become apparent if it is not already so:

The Church has further used her right of control over liturgical observance to protect the purity of divine worship against abuse from dangerous and imprudent innovations introduced by private individuals and particular churches. Thus it came about - during the 16th century, when usages and customs of this sort had become increasingly prevalent and exaggerated, and when private initiative in matters liturgical threatened to compromise the integrity of faith and devotion, to the great advantage of heretics and further spread of their errors - that in the year 1588, Our predecessor Sixtus V of immortal memory established the Sacred Congregation of Rites, charged with the defense of the legitimate rites of the Church and with the prohibition of any spurious innovation...This body fulfills even today the official function of supervision and legislation with regard to all matters touching the sacred liturgy.

It follows from this that the Sovereign Pontiff alone enjoys the right to recognize and establish any practice touching the worship of God, to introduce and approve new rites, as also to modify those he judges to require modification. Bishops, for their part, have the right and duty carefully to watch over the exact observance of the prescriptions of the sacred canons respecting divine worship...Private individuals, therefore, even though they be clerics, may not be left to decide for themselves in these holy and venerable matters, involving as they do the religious life of Christian society along with the exercise of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and worship of God; concerned as they are with the honor due to the Blessed Trinity, the Word Incarnate and His august mother and the other saints, and with the salvation of souls as well. For the same reason no private person has any authority to regulate external practices of this kind, which are intimately bound up with Church discipline and with the order, unity and concord of the Mystical Body and frequently even with the integrity of Catholic faith itself.

The Church is without question a living organism, and as an organism, in respect of the sacred liturgy also, she grows, matures, develops, adapts and accommodates herself to temporal needs and circumstances, provided only that the integrity of her doctrine be safeguarded. This notwithstanding, the temerity and daring of those who introduce novel liturgical practices, or call for the revival of obsolete rites out of harmony with prevailing laws and rubrics, deserve severe reproof. It has pained Us grievously to note, Venerable Brethren, that such innovations are actually being introduced, not merely in minor details but in matters of major importance as well. [8]

Notice the distinction made here: the Church has the right to grow and adapt herself to temporal needs and circumstances as she deems warranted. However, despite this, those individuals who seek to innovate beyond prevailing laws and rubrics do not have this same right. Or in a nutshell, when the magisterium "adapts and accommodates herself to temporal needs and circumstances"  it is legitimate and when individuals act in like manner it is not. But to admit to that would be for David's thesis on the modern popes -and the theory of those he seeks to defend- to implode under the weight of Church history, liturgical history, and magisterial teaching and practice over the centuries. And of course any objective examination of the evidences results in precisely that: a confutation of the first three theses which David sought to establish in defense of his theory that "tradition rejects novelty." The reason for attempting to establishing those theses first will become apparent as we examine the fourth and fifth parts of David's essay pertaining to "novelty in terminology" and "novelty in practice." And those are the subjects to be covered next.


[1] Pope Pius X: Encyclical Letter "Pascendi Dominici Gregis" §18, §24, §42, §42, §48 (c. 1907)

[2] Pope Pius X: Encyclical Letter "Pascendi Dominici Gregis" §40 (c. 1907)

[3] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "On Baptism" (c. 1913)

[4] Pope Benedict XV: Encyclical Letter "Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum" §22 (c. 1914)

[5] Pope Benedict XV: Encyclical Letter "Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum" §23 (c. 1914)

[6] Pope Benedict XV: Encyclical Letter "Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum" §24 (c. 1914)

[7] Pope Pius XII: Encyclical Letter "Mediator Dei" §51-57 (c. 1947)

[8] Pope Pius XII: Encyclical Letter "Mediator Dei" §58-59 (c. 1947)

Other Notes:

The citations from Pope Pius X's Encyclical Letter "Pascendi Dominici Gregis" were obtained at the following link:

The citations from Pope Benedict XV's Encyclical Letter "Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum" were obtained at the following link:

The citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) article "On Baptism" was obtained at the following link:

The citations from Pope Pius XII's Encyclical Letter "Mediator Dei" were obtained at the following link:


©2004, "The 'Tradition is Opposed to Novelty' Canard", written by I. Shawn McElhinney. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

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