A post recently appeared on Cathinfo by one calling himself “Arsenius,” which took issue with Bishop Williamson’s choice of Fr. Zendejas for episcopal consecration this coming May 11.

I post Arsenius’s comments below in their entirety, and then offer a polite response:

“I know I’m going to get a lot of flak for saying this, but I’m not too enthusiastic about this bishop-elect. I’ve attended Fr.’s masses on and off for the past 5 years and, while he seems to be a simple and devout priest, I’m not sure he has the intellectual foundation that [should] be prerequisite for the episcopacy. He gives the air of a Cure d’Ars – not an intellectual powerhouse.

He has little Thomism under his belt and doesn’t have a solid grasp of the legal/political aspects of the Crisis. Again, not a personal judgement of his character or sanctity (which, frankly, only God can judge) – merely an objective observation based on years of listening to his sermons and going to Confession with him.

If the Resistance is going to be relevant, not just merely survive, it needs intellectual muscle. It’s currently looking like an emaciated fugitive struggling to survive, not the future of Catholic Tradition and certainly not one of the leading contributors to the inevitable Catholic Restoration.

I was being very generous with that hyperbolic comparison. Fr. Zendejas seems devout but, again, not an intellectual, not a theologian, not a historian, not a liturgist, not a canon lawyer, and certainly not a politician. Frankly, he gives the impression of a Mexican rustic. Devout and dedicated? No doubt. Learned? I wouldn’t put my money on it. I would worry very much about the intellectual formation of young men discerning priesthood under Bishop Zendejas. During the height of the middle ages, priests who would spend their lives ministering to illiterate peasants underwent rigorous intellectual formation in classical philosophy. How much more do we need it today to minister to the pseudo-intellectual half-educated rabble of modernity? That includes people in traditional chapels, many of whom are just as “ignint” as their non-Catholic neighbors. You can’t give what you don’t have.

Williamson started out much more intellectual and cultured (who here remembers his literary/musical criticism?). For whatever reason, he seems to be either dumbing things down or old age is making him loose his edge. Perhaps it’s intentional, but those horrid attempts at heroic couplets with which he starts his newsletter are painful to read. Bishop Barron (Novus Ordo) gives more intellectually packed talks than post-Resistance Williamson.”

 

Dear Arsenius-

I recently came across your post on Cathinfo regarding your appraisal of Bishop-elect Gerardo Zendejas, and wanted to offer a few insights regarding the observations and concerns you addressed therein:

Firstly, If I conceded every point you made, what we would be left with in Bishop-elect Gerardo Zendejas, by your own admission, would be something along the lines of the Cure d’Ars.  If this is the worst a parishioner of five years can say of him, then my response is that we could do a lot worse.

Secondly, you worry that this alleged and perceived simplicity of Fr. Zendejas would be detrimental to his effective exercise of the episcopal office, particularly with regard to the formation of seminarians.  But I think perhaps some of your apprehensions in this regard are derived from a misconception of the duties of state of bishops.

For example, they are generally not seminary professors.  While I was in the seminary in Winona, Bishop Williamson only taught one low level class (“Acts of the Magisterium”).  I think at other times he has taught other classes, but he has never been a full-time teacher.  That’s not a bishop’s job.  Their job is to make sure that the right teachers are in place; that the right candidates advance; that those without vocations are weeded out; they act as effective administrators; etc.  In other words, the primary qualities of an episcopal candidate are precisely those which you -in as many words- attribute to Fr. Zendejas:

Solidity of character; simplicity; prudence; dedication; conviction.

And I can as much as prove it by reference to Vatican II: Of the 4,200 assembled bishops (each with his own periti), all that intellectual horspower, all those PhD’s, and all those D.D. degrees all served to facilitate the Revolution, not to stop it.

So much for the necessary link between intellectual ability and orthodoxy.

Even within Tradition, the best minds are capitulating (think Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, and the other two SSPX bishops), because for all their brilliant intellectual and doctrinal acumen, they haven’t the qualities you attribute to Fr. Zendejas.

Yet it is precisely these qualities which will safeguard fidelity to Tradition in the Resistance, and ensure the solid formation of priests, not great intellectual ability in men lacking these qualities.

Thirdly, could it be that perhaps you underestimate Fr. Zendejas’s intellectual abilities?  He is proficient in Latin, English, Spanish, and French.  Such a one would not generally be described as “rustic.”  Were you aware of that?  Those would be things which would generally not come out in sermons or confessions, which by your own admission, is the basis upon which you make your appraisal.  But that being the case, you should allow for the possibility that there is more to the man than you may be aware of:

“There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet to Horatio)

Fourthly, you state as a criticism that Fr. Zendejas has little Thomism under his belt.  May I ask upon what basis you make this claim?  Certainly you could not make this deduction from 5 years of confessions and sermons.  Or is this just your impression, based on those sermons and confessions?  If so, it is a dangerous presumption: Bishop Williamson is far and away the greatest Thomist among Resistance clergy, but he does not write about St. Thomas at length in his Eleison Comments; he does not give sermons on subtle Thomistic theology; he does not give intensive conferences on Thomistic theology.  But were one to deduce from all this that His Excellency is lacking in Thomistic formation, he would be making a rather large mistake.  The reality is that Bishop Williamson knows if he gets into the finer points of Thomism with the average layman, their eyes are going to glaze over, and he will lose them quickly.

I do not say this is certainly the case with Fr. Zendejas.  I do say be careful with negative deductions (i.e., Forming conclusions based on what you do not hear Fr. Zendejas talking about).  If we can agree that judgment is his strong point, then he may realize, like Bishop Williamson, that expounding on St. Thomas will be too much for the average pewsitter, in which case there lies your explanation.  Just a possibility to consider.

Regardless of that, it is God Himself who tells us in the Holy Scripture precisely what qualities a bishop is to have:

“For a bishop must be without crime, as the steward of God: not proud, not subject to anger, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre: [8] But given to hospitality, gentle, sober, just, holy, continent: [9] Embracing that faithful word which is according to doctrine, that he may be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1: 7-9)

I doubt very much you would challenge Fr. Zendejas’s fitness for the episcopal office based on these criteria, and considering the one who gave them (i.e., God), perhaps it is best not to add to the list.

Let us not also lose sight of the fact that Our Lord Himself, in choosing His Apostles (i.e., the first bishops), did choose a couple educated men (e.g., Matthew was a tax collector, and Luke was a doctor), but the majority (7 of the 12, i believe?) were simple fishermen.

This historical fact imparts one important lesson:

The qualities of character (e.g., Those listed in Titus) transcended those of intellectual ability.

Nevertheless, I do not at all concede the accusation that Fr. Zendejas is lacking in that department; his linguistic abilities alone imply otherwise.

Pax tecum,

Sean Johnson