Brass and Gold

by Church Militant  •  •  September 15, 2015   

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You can get brass to shine brilliantly if you polish it enough. It might even reflect the light enough to be mistaken for silver plate if the light's right.

But it never becomes gold. It's more easily mistaken for it, though.

C.S. Lewis wrote that in The Great Divorce. "Brass is more easily mistaken for gold than clay is."

His meaning is simple; when you are close to perfection it's easier to mistake what you have for perfection. Someone far away from perfection never falls into the trap of thinking he is perfect, or right. You can imagine how this might work in many, many different contexts — in math, for example, if you fat-finger an equation in a calculator and get 56 when the answer is 57, you are less likely to suspect the error than if you got a result of 942.

This doesn't mean it's better to be far away from perfection — far from it! But it's just easier to tell when you are well off the path you should be on. Everyone can tell when they are bumping along on the shoulder of the highway; not everyone notices when they are drifting out of their lane a little ...

I could go on and on with analogies, but let's get to the meat of this. The SSPX: It's no secret there've been a lot of articles about them on, and there are likely to be more. Those articles have delved into history, canon law, the words of the Pope, obscure points of theology. That's not what I'm doing here.

The faith is gold — pure, untarnished, sublime. It is unique in the world; there is nothing like it. We all know this. We look at the grotesque abuses of clown Masses, bad homilies, terrible liturgy, even outright heresy from priests, bishops, even cardinals! We see groups like Catholics For Choice, New Ways Ministry, Nuns on the Bus. The list goes on and on and on.

These groups are clay. No one would mistake them for authentic, genuine Catholicism. Even they don't mistake them for that. They describe their mission as one of change, of progress, of moving Catholicism away from where it is to someplace else.

The appeal of these groups — and, make no mistake, they are appealing — is not because they offer something authentic. It is because they offer something that calls to Man's fallen human nature.

Brass is more easily mistaken for gold than clay is. No one mistakes the clay of heterodoxy for the gold of orthodoxy.

What the SSPX has is a faith of brass; it is solid, it shines and when it is polished you can almost mistake it for gold. But it's not gold. Other articles have discussed their status (no canonical one), their ministry (illicit) and their position vis-a-vis communion (not in it).

The SSPX has beautiful liturgy, a solidity in their moral teachings, a comfortable haven for those harried and wounded by Modernism. So much of what they do is, as we have said on so many occasions, good.

But it's not gold. It's brass, and brass is more easily mistaken for gold than clay is — especially when the gold is dirty.

Gold doesn't tarnish; it's a noble metal. Oh, it can get filthy and encrusted with dirt and slime. But it doesn't tarnish like other metals do. It scrubs up pretty easily. Underneath everything, it's still gold. Unless someone wants to really leave the fold and say, "The Church isn't gold; She's apostatized!" that has to be admitted. The doctrines of the Faith are still pure; Christ told us that would be the case.

But the gold is dirty today, and there's a nice shiny piece of brass sitting there. And people mistake that brass for the gold, and give their loyalty to the brass, not the gold.

And that, more than anything else, is why we address the SSPX, why we have what others have mistakenly called "an animus" against them, why we allegedly "revile" or "attack" them (which we do not). It's because brass is more easily mistaken for gold than clay is, and by setting up a brass idol next to the mucky gold of the Cross, the SSPX is (perhaps innocently) fooling thousands, millions of Catholics into putting their efforts towards polishing the brass rather than cleaning the gold.

People see the beauty (and, yes, brass is beautiful) of the SSPX, see the comfort of the haven, see the ugliness of the dirty gold and go to a place where — to quote no less an authority than the Pope! — the ministers have "no canonical status and cannot legitimately exercise any ministry." They go to a group invited to come back into full communion.

People are confused. They are fooled. They are duped by the prettiness of the brass idol and clever, clever words that reference obscure terms of canon law and feed into the confirmation bias of Catholics wounded by the horrors of Modernism. The brass idol is comfortable, because you don't have to face the stark terror that this desolated vineyard, this field of weeds, is the Church, and this is where we have to fight. It's easier to pretend the Church left you and that you are some pure remnant that knows better than the Pope (saying you, in fact, have canonical status when the Pope says you have no canonical status is saying you know better than the Pope.)

So, that is why we make such a big deal of this. People are fooled and so are denied communion with the Pope (communion with whom is necessary for normative salvation!). They are denied the efficacy of the sacrament of confession. (Would Pope Francis grant authority to absolve for a year and a year only if they already had that ability?) The Church is denied some of the greatest warriors she could possibly have — priests and laymen who love the Faith and tradition and orthodoxy — because they make obeisance to the brass idol.

To the SSPX, to those who attend their chapels: We want you in this war for the soul of the Church. We need you in this war.

But, more importantly, you need yourself in this war. Put down the brass, and come help clean up the gold.


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