Our first, and not our last, guest editorial/book review on True Restoration II, by the man who inspired me to blog about Traditionalist matters. I am further blessed to call him a good friend.
Book Review by Nicholas Wansbutter, Esq.
Title: Letters From the Rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Volume I: The Ridgefield Letters
Author: Father Richard Williamson
Publisher: True Restoration Press
Excellence: 3.5 stars
Why: As a primary document, it shows, almost more than it tells, why we are traditionalists
Summary in a sentence: The perfect companion to Archbishop Lefebvre’s Open Letter to Confused Catholics, this collection of letters gives Catholics the answers they need regarding the S.S.P.X relations with Rome, and the crisis in the Church within the context of the events as they happened - a must have for any Catholic’s library.
When introducing people interested in tradition to the crisis in the Church and the traditionalist response to it, the mind obviously turns immediately to Archbishop Lefebvre’s Open Letter to Confused Catholics. Now with True Restoration Press’ publication of Fr. Williamson’s (as he then was) letters as Rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in the relatively early days of the Society, one has the perfect companion text to give greater context and further proofs and confirmation of why we are doing what we are doing.
To people like myself who entered the fight late into the war, this is an especially important collection of letters. Starting with the rebuilding of the S.S.P.X apostolate in the U.S.A. after nine of its prominent priests departed for sedevacantism, and passing through the most important years of Pope John Paul II’s disastrous pontificate the letters are like a diary from the trenches witnessing and battling the “auto-demolition” of Holy Mother Church. The reader sees John Paul II’s first shocking steps down the œcumenical path with his visit to a Lutheran hall, his promulgation of the “monstrous scandal” of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and the abomination of Assisi.
Most importantly, the letters to not merely play the role of cataloguing the Church’s liberal drift, but they give clear, concise explanations of the Catholic doctrine at stake and why these things are not Catholic. As such, they provide invaluable catechesis placed in the context of real events.
It is interesting to see the cautious hope at the beginning of John Paul II’s pontificate, and how the crisis had not progressed nearly as far then as it has now - sobering material for those who are tempted to think that the crisis is over now that Summorum Pontificum and the “re-incommunications” have seen the light of day. Indeed, one sees the jubilation at Bp. de Castro Mayer joining with Abp. Lefebvre, and the hope (since proved vain) that a second, and a third, and a fourth might also stand to defend tradition (letter #8). We also see hope (soon dashed) at the 1984 indult. Throughout this, Archbishop Lefebvre’s decision to consecrate bishops flows logically - though his torment at the necessity of it comes through Fr. Williamson’s commentaries.
This series of letters also shows, indirectly, how Father Williamson (as he then was) essentially saved the S.S.P.X from collapse in the United States after the defection of “the Nine”. Although His Lordship is too humble to take this credit himself, it is clear from the letters as one reads his description of the situation he’s inherited as interim district superior, through the growth of said district over the course of letters how a near catastrophe was turned into a great success. No doubt thanks to many others, but the growth of the seminary is apparent through Fr. Williamson’s reporting of how many ordinations and new vocations come and go at each year’s end. Also recurring throughout the letters we see the constant assaults of “the Nine” against the Society - both in the courts of law and in the Catholic press, which Fr. Williamson answers. Here he provides not only cogent arguments against sedevacantism, but explains the situation without rancour or malice.
The letters not only provide us with a live history of the S.S.P.X (not just in the U.S.A., but worldwide), and instruction on important doctrinal points, but it is all done in a charming, easy-to-read, and entertaining style. Fr. Williamson’s dry, British humour livens up many a letters, as does his liberal use of cultural allusions and quotes from Shakespeare, Matthew Arnold, A.E. Housman, and more. It serves as a bit of a cultural education in that respect as well. Above all, Fr. Williamson’s reason and logic is a breath of fresh air to the modern reader. Although not everyone will want to read this volume in one day (as I did), it is certainly possible without a hint of boredom.
The most beautiful letter is #45 wherein Fr. Williamson speaks of the death of his father, giving the reader a glimpse into the very human inner heart of the author - but again accompanied with some solid doctrine.
In sum, these letters are essential reading for every Catholic. Much easier to penetrate than Iota Unum, they present to the reader in bite-size chunks a survey of the Conciliar catastrophe as it picked up steam under John Paul II, counterbalanced with concise statements of Catholic doctrine. They place the reader in that crisis, so that there can be no doubt who was in the right - the two bishops, or the two thousand. Vivat Christus Rex!