Orthodox Christian



Michael Davies

The Doctrine of Original Sin
A Touchstone of Orthodoxy

Michael Davies

It is certainly significant that of the three popes most venerated by traditional Catholics two have been canonized—Saints Pius V and Pius X. It is equally significant that the third, Pope Pius XII, seems certain to be canonized eventually, and there is little doubt that he will be accorded the title "Doctor of the Church." Each year that passes makes ever clearer the profoundness of his teaching and the prophetic nature of his insights. His charism of prophetic insight was never made clearer than in his Encyclical Letter Humani Generis (12 August 1950), in which he exposed some of the most serious trends in modern teaching. Humani Generis has never been more relevant than at the present moment. It is an encyclical which every Catholic who believes that the truth matters should own, read—and read again.

Pope Pius XII begins his encyclical by expressing his regret that "the judgments of mankind in the sphere of religion and morals should be so variable, and so apt to stray from the truth." There is no more apt or horrifying confirmation of the soundness of this judgment than the question of abortion. When this encyclical was written in 1950, abortion was still considered a crime in most, if not all, western countries, not simply by religious men, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, but even by most men of little belief or none. But within thirty years the consensus of opinion in western society has swung to the view that belief in the right to life of the unborn child is an aberrant and eccentric view, confined mainly to the less enlightened members of the Catholic Church. The moral judgments of mankind are variable indeed!

Pope Pius observed: "That such disagreement, such false tendencies should always have been common outside the Christian fold is no matter for astonishment." He adds, with regret that these false tendencies have now found adherents within the Church herself:

Perhaps they are afraid of seeming ill-informed about the progress which science has made in our day. At any rate, they are eager to emancipate themselves from Authority; and the danger is that they will lose touch, by insensible degrees, with the truth divinely revealed to us, leading others besides themselves into error.

The Pope characterizes the basic error of these misguided theologians as dogmatic relativism:


"Some are for whittling away the meaning of doctrines to the utmost possible limit. Dogma must be disentangled from the forms of expression which have so long been accepted ...." They first claim that they are presenting traditional dogmas in language which is more accessible to contemporary man, but then proceed to change the meaning of the dogmas themselves. The Pope accepts that it is possible to explain dogmas more clearly, that these dogmas can be traced back to their sources, and that doing so is "the noblest office of theology," but he quotes his predecessor, Pope Pius IX, to the effect that the meaning of dogmas must always be "that in which they have been defined by the Church." In some cases the traditional formulas in which a dogma has been explained "cannot, without impiety, be abandoned." This is particularly the case when they have "been used, and hallowed in their use, by the General Councils."

So numerous they are, and so important, these theological concepts which have been hammered out and polished with the utmost care, in order to express, with ever-increasing accuracy, the truths in which we believe. It is a process that has often cost centuries of labor, carried out by men of no common intellectual attainments, under the watchful eye of Authority, with light and leading, too, from the Holy Spirit. Must they now fall into disuse, be cast aside, be robbed of all their meaning? Are we to substitute for them guesswork of our own, vague and impermanent fashions of speech, borrowed from our up-to-date philosophies, which today live, and will feed the oven tomorrow? That were indeed the height of impudence; the whole of dogma would thus become no better than a reed shaken by the wind.

Pope Pius XII finds one of the most insidious influences upon some contemporary Catholic theologians to be "the theory of evolution, as it is called—a theory which has not yet been proved beyond contradiction even in the sphere of natural science." Some theologians accept the theory "without caution, without reservation." They thus become imbued with "false evolutionary notions, with their denial of all that is absolute or fixed or abiding in human experience." Such notions "have paved the way for a new philosophy of error."

This does not forbid Catholics to investigate or even accept as a working hypothesis the possibility of the evolution of the human body:

Thus, the teaching of the Church leaves the doctrine of Evolution an open question, as long as it confines its speculations to the development, from other living matter, already in existence, of the human body. (That souls are immediately created by God is a view which the Catholic faith imposes on us.) In the present state of scientific and theological opinion, this question may be legitimately canvassed by research, and by discussion between those who are expert in both subjects.

But Pope Pius is adamant that certain inferences based upon the theory of evolution are totally incompatible with the Faith, because they cannot possibly be reconciled with the teaching of the Church upon original sin. Those who accept the theory of evolution must take one of two positions, monogenism or polygenism. Monogenism is the belief that the entire human race is descended from one human pair which evolved from lower forms of life. Polygenism is the belief that more than one human pair evolved in different places at different times, and that mankind today is descended from these different couples. The Pope insists that such theories "leave the faithful no such freedom of debate."

Christians cannot lend their support to a theory which involves the existence, after Adam's time, of some earthly race of men, truly so called, who were not descended ultimately from him, or else supposes that Adam was the name given to some group of our primordial ancestors. It does not appear how such views can be reconciled with the doctrine of original sin, as this is guaranteed to us by Scripture and Tradition, and proposed to us by the Church. Original sin is the result of a sin committed in actual historical fact, by an individual man named Adam, and it is a quality native to all of us, only because it has been handed down by descent from him (cf. Rom. 5:12-19; Council of Trent, session V, canons 14).

The words which have been emphasized are crucial to an understanding of Catholic teaching on the subject of original sin, teaching which is infallible and therefore irreformable. It could not be modified, let alone repudiated, without destroying the entire credibility of the Church as the divinely founded Body through which Our Lord continues His mission in the world. Pope Pius XII cited Romans 5 and Session V of the Council of Trent as authorities for teaching that, "original sin is the result of a sin committed in actual historical fact by an individual man named Adam." Before examining the Tridentine teaching, mention must be made of the principal error currently circulating with regard to the doctrine of original sin. Theologians who attempt to explain away the teaching of the Church state that men have been sinning since the earliest times and that, therefore, we are all born into a sinful environment, which obviously affects us all. This vast accumulation of sin which permeates society is sometimes referred to as "the sin of the world." When a child reaches the age of reason and commits his first deliberate sin, under the influence of his sinful environment, he has become tainted with "the sin of the world." But obviously, until he imitated the sin which he saw around him, he was sinless. Baptism could not, therefore, have been instrumental in removing any taint of sin from him. The sacrament signifies no more than reception into the Christian community.


This very error was anathematized by the Council of Trent which teaches that original sin is incurred not by imitation but by propagation, in other words it is handed down from parent to child in all who are descended from Adam. The essential teaching of Trent is contained in the four canons anathematizing those who refuse to accept the teaching of the Council. The anathemas of General Councils are infallible and irreformable. Canon 1 lists the penalties which Adam incurred personally for his sin. Canon 2 anathematizes those who deny that the sin of Adam "injured himself alone, and not his posterity." Canon 3 teaches that the sin of Adam is "transfused into all by propagation, not by imitation," and that it is taken away only by the "merit of Jesus Christ applied both to adults and infants, by the Sacrament of Baptism rightly administered in the form of the Church."

Canon 4 is so crucial that it must be quoted in full:

If anyone denies that infants, newly-born from their mothers' wombs, even though they be sprung from baptized parents, are to be baptized; or says that they are baptized indeed for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam which has need of being expiated by the laver of regeneration for the obtaining of life everlasting, whence it follows as a consequence that in them the form of baptism, the remission of sins, is understood to be not true, but false, let him be anathema. For that which the Apostle has said: "By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12), is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere hath always understood it. For, by reason of this rule of faith, from a tradition of the Apostles, even infants, who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves, are for this cause truly baptized for the remission of sins, that in them may be cleansed away by regeneration "which they have contracted by generation. For, "unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).

Canon 5 is concerned principally with some errors of the Lutheran heresy.


In many Catholic schools today, the teaching of Trent, which is, and will always be, the only authentic Catholic teaching on original sin, is ignored and often contradicted. Parents who complain about this are assured that their children are being taught in accordance with the new emphasis of Vatican II, the insights of contemporary theologians, or the findings of modern science. The teachers who make these statements are frequently nuns, and there is no reason to suppose that these poor deluded women are not sincere in imagining that the heresy which they have embraced represents the true mind of the "contemporary Church." They heard these ideas at lectures and courses which they attended at the behest of their bishop, from the lips of theologians approved by their bishop. In many cases the theologians who sowed the seeds of heresy have left the priesthood and married—in England, such names as Charles Davis, Hubert Richards, Peter de Rosa, or Nicholas Lash spring to mind. But the nuns they have indoctrinated remain, and all too often cling stubbornly to the heresies which they accepted with such enthusiasm and proclaimed with such conviction. Pride, too, must play a part in their attitude. It is not easy for a person in authority, the headmistress of a high school, for example, to admit that ideas which she has endorsed and propagated with such certainty and superiority are nothing more than heretical nonsense.


But might there not be at least something in what they say? Might not the mind of the Church have developed? After all, since Trent we have had Vatican Council II, and Pope Pius XII has been followed by Popes John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II. What is the opinion of this council and these popes? The short and correct answer is that the teaching of the Council of Trent, reiterated by Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis has not been modified in any way whatsoever by Vatican II or by the pontiffs who succeeded Pope Pius XII. Where they have referred to the Tridentine teaching on original sin it has been to re-iterate it yet again. Those who claim that there has been any modification of the traditional teaching should be asked to quote a single statement of the Magisterium to endorse their view. They will not be able to do this. All they will be able to do is cite the opinion of one or more aberrant theologians. The duty of a faithful Catholic is to embrace the official teaching of the Church, and this is represented by the teaching of the Magisterium. No matter how many theologians dissent in the face of a clearly defined teaching of the Magisterium on a matter of faith or morals, their opinion carries no weight whatsoever. The number of theologians who rejected the teaching of Humanae Vitae is probably beyond counting, but it is Humanae Vitae which represents the official teaching of the Church.


There are some who attempt to use Vatican II as an excuse for rejecting the teaching of Trent on original sin, because, they argue, there was at least a change of emphasis as Vatican II did not reiterate Trent's teaching. This argument is nonsensical. There are innumerable important dogmas which were not re-iterated by Vatican II because they did not require reiteration. They had been stated clearly once and for all and did not need amplification or clarification. In his opening speech to the Council, the Pope made the following points:

The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously ... it wishes to transmit the doctrine pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will.

Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries.

The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church, which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.

For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council, the Christian Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward towards a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modem thought. The substance of the ancient deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.

The meaning of this statement is so clear that it requires little explanation. Total adherence to the teaching of Trent and Vatican I is professed, and where the documents of Vatican II appear ambiguous they must be interpreted in the light of these Councils. Where the Council attempts to improve the clarity with which a doctrine is presented it has no intention of modifying "the substance of the ancient deposit of faith."


But the Magisterium has by no means been silent upon the question of original sin since the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Pope Paul VI was gravely disturbed by some of the erroneous interpretations of Catholic doctrine which had followed the Second Vatican Council. He had noted that Pope John's distinction between the substance of a dogma and the way it is presented was being used as a justification for the presentation of dogma in a way that explained away the substance—the same abuse which Pope Pius XII had warned against in Humani Generis. In his Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidel, issued shortly before the close of the Council in 1965, he warned it would be intolerable to attempt to replace the dogmatic formulas of the Council of Trent, and added that where "a clearer or more obvious exposition" of these formulae might be possible, it must be "with the same meaning as that with which they were employed. This enables the unalterable truth of faith to survive as progress is made in the understanding of faith. The First Vatican Council has taught in the case of sacred dogmas that 'that meaning must always be retained which Holy Mother Church once declared. There must never be any retreat from that meaning on the pretext and title of higher understanding'."


Pope Paul VI returned to the same theme three years later in his Credo of 30 June 1968:

We even see Catholics possessed by what is almost a passion for change and novelty. The Church certainly regards it as her duty never to relax in her efforts to penetrate more deeply the hidden mysteries of God, from which all derive the myriad fruits of salvation, and in like manner to express them to succeeding generations in a way progressively adapted to contemporary understanding. But at the same time the greatest care must be taken that the important duty of research does not involve the undermining of the truths of Christian doctrine. If this happens—and we have unfortunately seen it happen in these days—the result is perplexity and confusion in the minds of many of the faithful.

The Pope's object in issuing his Credo was to remove all such confusion concerning the basic doctrines of the faith. Prominent among the doctrines he referred to in his Credo is that of original sin. Here, then, is the most recent authoritative pronouncement of the Magisterium regarding this dogma:

We believe that in Adam all have sinned. From this it follows that on account of the original offence committed by him human nature, which is common to all men, is reduced to that condition in which it must suffer the consequences of that fall. This condition is not the same as that of our first parents, for they were constituted in holiness and justice, and man had no experience of either evil or death. Consequently, fallen human nature is deprived of the economy of grace which it formerly enjoyed. It is wounded in its natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death which is transmitted to all men. It is in this sense that every man is born in sin.

We hold, therefore, in accordance with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted along with human nature, not by imitation but by propagation, and is, therefore, incurred by each individually .... We believe in one baptism instituted by Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. Baptism is also to be given to infants, who cannot as yet be guilty of any personal sin, in order that, though1 born deprived of any supernatural grace, they may be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit to divine life in Jesus Christ.

In an address given two years earlier, in July 1966, Pope Paul had warned that:

It is therefore evident that the explanations of original sin given by some modern authors are irreconcilable with true Catholic doctrine. Starting from the undemonstrated premise of polygenism, they deny, more or less clearly, that the sin committed at the beginning of history, from which so many cesspools of evil have come to mankind, was first of all the disobedience of Adam, the "first man."

The traditional teaching on original sin was reiterated yet again in the General Catechetical Directory, published by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy and approved by Pope Paul VI in 1971. Chapter II is devoted to the basic truths of our faith which would form the basis of any religious education program for children or adults. It re-iterates the traditional teaching that: Baptism cleanses man from original sin and from all personal sins, gives him rebirth as a child of God, incorporates him into the Church, sanctifies him with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and, impressing on his soul an indelible character, initiates him into Christ's priestly, prophetic, and kingly roles." This, to the best of my knowledge was the last official pronouncement of the Magisterium upon the subject of Original Sin.


It is, therefore, absolutely certain, that the teaching of the Council of Trent on original sin has not received the slightest modification during the postwar era in any official statement of the Magisterium. Indeed, as has been stated several times already, it cannot ever be modified without dealing a deathblow to the credibility of the Church. The Tridentine teaching was forcefully reiterated by Pope Pius XII; it received the full and tranquil adherence of Vatican II "in its entirety and preciseness"; it was re-iterated yet again, using the language of Trent itself, by Pope Paul VI in his Credo; it was listed first among the effects of baptism in the General Cathechetical Directory.


Is there, perhaps, a crumb of comfort in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II for those who deny or try to gloss over this fundamental teaching? Far from it. In his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, 16 October 1979, he expressed the same fears as his predecessors, Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI, concerning the extent to which Catholic theologians had been infected with unorthodox ideas. Clearly, the situation has worsened considerably, perhaps catastrophically, since the pontificate of Pope Pius XII—and this is made clear by the alarm the Pope expresses at the extent to which heterodox ideas are affecting the catechetical instruction given to young Catholics:

With regard to the content of catechesis, three important points deserve attention today.

The first point concerns the integrity of the content ... the person who becomes a disciple of Christ has the right to receive "the word of Faith" not in mutilated, falsified, or diminished form, but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor. Unfaithfulness on some point to the integrity of the message means a dangerous weakening of catechesis and putting at risk the result of Christ and the ecclesial community have a right to expect from it .... What kind of catechesis would it be that failed to give their full place to man's creation and sin, to God's plan of redemption and its long, loving preparation and realization, to the Incarnation of the Son of God, to Mary, the Immaculate One, the Mother of God, ever Virgin, raised body and soul to the glory of heaven, and to her role in the mystery of salvation, to the mystery of lawlessness at work in our lives and the power of God freeing us from it, to the need for penance and asceticism, to the sacramental and liturgical actions, to the reality of the Eucharistic Presence, to participation in divine life here and hereafter, and so on. Thus, no true catechist can lawfully, on his own initiative, make a selection of what he considers important in the Deposit of Faith as opposed to what he consider unimportant, so as to teach one and reject the other.

Pope John Paul II was equally severe when discussing contemporary catechetical literature. The Pope accepts that "numerous very successful works have been produced" but also:

... articles and publications which are ambiguous and harmful to young people and to the life of the Church. In certain places the desire to find the best forms of expression or to keep up with fashions in pedagogical methods has often enough resulted in certain catechetical works which bewilder the young and even adults, either by deliberately or unconsciously omitting elements essential to the Church's faith, or by attributing excessive importance to certain themes at the expense of others, or, chiefly, by a rather horizontalist overall view out of keeping with the teaching of the Church's Magisterium.

The Pope is adamant as to the duty of catechists where the content of religious instruction is concerned:

They must make a point of giving the whole message of Christ and His Church, without neglecting or distorting anything, and in expounding it they will follow a line and structure that highlights what is essential.

As if to hammer the final nail into the coffin of the contemporary catechist who rejects the teaching of Trent on original sin, and other fundamental dogmas, Pope John Paul II states that catechetical texts must take their inspiration "as closely as possible from the General Catechetical Directory, which remains the standard of reference." He also recommends one other text:

In the Creed of the People of God, proclaimed at the close of the nineteenth centenary of the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul, my predecessor, Paul VI, decided to bring together the essential elements of the Catholic Faith, especially those that presented greater difficulty or risked being ignored. This is a sure point of reference for the content of catechesis.

More than sufficient documentation has been provided to prove conclusively that the Magisterium of the Church today is totally and unequivocally committed to the Tridentine doctrine of original sin. Those who deny, question, attenuate, or gloss over this teaching are acting contrary to the mind and the explicit and irreformable teaching of the Church, and must be regarded as enemies of the Faith. But in addition to the evidence that has been presented already, there is another reason why the entire credibility of the Church is bound up with the Tridentine teaching on original sin. If this teaching is false then we should indeed eat, drink and be merry—as the Christian religion would be no more than a mockery. This reason, of course, is the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. No theologian who makes even a pretense at being Catholic can deny the doctrine of papal infallibility. But there is a difference of opinion among the theologians as to when the popes have spoken infallibly, with the exception of two dogmas—those of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. In both cases the entire weight of papal authority, the entire credibility of the Church, have been involved. In the Bull Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December 1854, Pope Pius IX committed the Church irrevocably to belief in the following definition:

Since We have never ceased in humility and fasting to offer up Our prayers and those of the Church to God the Father through His Son, that He might deign to direct and confirm Our mind by the power of the Holy Ghost, after imploring the protection of the whole celestial court, and after invoking on Our knees the Holy Ghost the Paraclete, under His inspiration We pronounce, declare and define, unto the glory of the holy and indivisible Trinity, the honor and ornament of the holy virgin, the Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and the increase of the Christian religion by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and in Our own authority, that the doctrine which holds the Blessed Virgin to have been, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Savior of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was revealed by God, and is, therefore, to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful. Therefore, if some should presume to think in their hearts otherwise than We have defined (which God forbid), they shall know and thoroughly understand that they are by their own judgment condemned, have made shipwreck concerning the Faith, and fallen away from the unity of the Church; and, moreover, that they by this very act subject themselves to the penalties ordained by law, if by word, or writing, or any other external means, they dare to signify what they think in their hearts.

If original sin is no more than a pervasive influence within human society which we contract by imitation, and is not something inherited by each one of us through direct descent from Adam, then not one of us was stained with original sin at the moment of our conception. We did not incur it until we fell under the influence of "the sin of the world" and, therefore, Pope Pius IX proclaimed infallibly that Our Lady was free from something which does not exist. If the Tridentine dogma of original sin does not mean exactly what it says it means, then the conception of Our Lady was no different from the conception of any other human being. In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council affirms the traditional teaching concerning Our Lady in terms that are clear and inspiring:

Finally, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon the completion of her earthly sojourn. She was exalted by the Lord as Queen of all, in order that she might be the more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and the Conqueror of sin and death.

In this Constitution, Our Lady is presented in her traditional role of the Second Eve, just as her Son is the Second Adam.


Some theologians and teachers claim that we cannot teach the Tridentine doctrine of original sin to young people today as it could result in the Church and the Bible losing credibility in their eyes. But the dogma of original sin is fundamental to Catholic theology which, as Cardinal Newman insisted, must be accepted as a whole or rejected as a whole. The credibility of the Church cannot be damaged by teaching what she has always taught, but it would be destroyed completely if something to which her infallible teaching 'authority had been committed was no more than a mere allegory. The notorious Dutch Catechsim is the source of much of the confusion and error which permeates the teaching of religion in Catholic schools today. Among the corrections which the Commission of Cardinals which examined the book in 1968 commanded should be made was one concerning the dogma of original sin. The Cardinals ordered that in the Catechism the doctrine of the Church must be faithfully proposed. They stated it as follows:

Man in the beginning rebelled against God and so lost for himself and his offspring that sanctity and justice in which he had been constituted, and handed on a true state of sin to all through the propagation of human nature. Certainly those expressions must be avoided which could signify that original sin is contracted only by individual new members of the human family in this sense, that from their very coming into the world, they are exposed within themselves to the influence of human society where sin reigns, and so are started initially on the way to sin.

The Cardinals referred to the Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes, sections 13 and 22, regarding the rebellion of Adam.


Where there is controversy concerning a doctrine of faith or morals the true Catholic has only one option—to accept the teaching of the Magisterium, no matter who may urge him to reject it. This is particularly true where the Church has committed her infallible teaching authority to a particular doctrine. Those who reject the teaching of Trent on original sin "are by their own judgment condemned, have made shipwreck concerning the Faith, and fallen away from the unity of the Church." This is true even if, due to the weakness of those in authority, they still hold some official position within the Church. We must always be vigilant lest these false teachers involve us or involve our children in the shipwreck of their personal faith. When Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception there were voices raised against him within the Church, and learned voices at that. They led some less learned Catholics into error with them, men who had more respect for the appearance of scholarship than the infallible judgment of the Church.


Published with permission of  Copyright © "Angelus Magazine" February 1982, Volume V, Number 2 www.sspx.ca/Angelus_Magazine_1987.htm

(Contents & Index)


Michael Davies, R.I.P.

Above with Cardinal Ratzinger

Semper et Ubique Una Voce Loquebatur

The OCC is sorry to inform that the author, Michael Davies,  passed away several years ago from cancer. He was a Welsh schoolteacher who spent a good part of his life authoring books and articles on the liturgical crisis of the Catholic Church in the past forty years. He was the most known "traditional
Catholic" in the English speaking world. Despite his positions on liturgical reform and his defenses of Archbishop Lefebrve, Mr. Davies always maintained a healthy respect for John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, and was careful never to lead his readers outside the fold.

We consider worth our wild to re-publish here his obituary by Leo Darroch:

Michael Davies obituary

27.04.05 by Leo Darroch

It would be clear to any independent analyst carrying out a study of the Catholic Church in the 20th century that the statistics show a graph rising in all aspects of the Church's life and activity up to the 1960s, then a dramatic falling away from the mid-1960s. That decline continues inexorably to the present day.

The most obvious question that would enter the head of even the most inexperienced analyst would be: "What happened in the Church in the 1960s to cause such a collapse?" Well, the great event of the 1960s, undisputed by supporters and critics alike, was the Second Vatican Council. Its supporters claim it was perhaps the greatest event in the history of the Church; its detractors regard it as the greatest disaster.

How is it that such an event created such a polarisation of opinion? Either something is a success or it isn't. In establishing a conclusion, the clinical analyst relies on hard facts, data. There is no room for sentiment, no allowance for opinion, no acknowledgement of 'the best of intentions'. The only thing that counts is reality.

The problem for the great majority of the laity, despite assurances ranging from the highest echelons of power to the parish pulpits, has been the absence of a sense of reality from our spiritual leaders. From cardinals to curates, our leaders have fed us a diet of liturgical change that has been presented, bizarrely, in every official document, newspaper and pastoral letter as a wonderful renewal.

The fake 'renewal'

This manipulation of the laity began during the Council itself when changes in the Mass were introduced, supposedly for our benefit. The self-appointed 'experts' knew what was best for us. We would be grateful and the Church would embark on a wonderful new era of growth. So much for the theory.

Most of us were in no position, either academically or numerically, to withstand this attack on our faith and liturgical practice, so we were picked off gradually during the 1960s until our worship, liturgy and churches had changed out of all recognition. Even in the great cities such as London, the few who dared challenge the prevailing wisdom were swimming against the harsh tide of modernism. By 1970, we were almost back in penal times with traditional rite Masses being celebrated mostly in private houses and chapels.

In this atmosphere of chaos and despair, Michael Davies emerged from the great body of the laity and became our beacon of hope, our champion of Tradition, and our undisputed leader in the fight back against the liturgical wreckers. But why Michael Davies? What was it about this man that captivated so many traditional lay hearts, yet disturbed so many of our clergy?

Michael Treharne Davies was born in Yeovil, Somerset, on 13 March 1936, to Cyril and Annie Davies (nee Garnworthy). His father, a Welshman, was a Baptist and his mother, who was English, was an Anglican, a member of the Church of England.

Michael attended Pen Mill primary school in Yeovil and later moved to the Yeovil School, which was the local grammar school. Michael was well known as a historian and this love of history dated back to his school days when he won a prize for his knowledge of the British Empire. His mother enrolled him and his younger brother in the choir of St John's Church of England parish church and for a time he became an active member of that church.

On leaving school at the age of 18, Michael joined the Somerset Light Infantry as a regular soldier, taking part in such conflicts as the Malayan Emergency, the Suez Crisis, and the fight against the EOKA campaign in Cyprus. During this army service he was drawn to Roman Catholicism. He was received into the Church and conditionally baptised by Fr Michael McSweeney at St Peter's Catholic Church, Crown Hill, Plymouth, on 17 April 1957.

After leaving the army in 1960, he met a young Croatian girl, Marija Milosh, at the Charles Peguy Centre in the French Church (Notre Dame de France) in Leicester Square, London, and they married in July 1961 at St Mary's, Marnhull, Dorset. Michael attended St Mary's Catholic Training College in Twickenham and qualified as a teacher in 1964. And so were laid the foundations of his great work that followed. From being a soldier in the service of his country he became a soldier in the service of his Church.

Apostolate begins

Maria Davies clearly remembers Michael's first foray into print. In May 1967, the liberal Catholic magazine The Tablet printed an article on the Vietnam War by a priest who made claims about Americans bombing Catholic churches in North Vietnam and killing people on their way to Mass. Michael simply did not believe the story and checked the information. His letter to The Tablet (24 June 1967) proved that the entire article was groundless and based on Communist propaganda.

This insistence on checking information in the search for truth became the cornerstone of everything he produced subsequently. It became a continual source of irritation, and more, to those 'experts' who wished to steamroller the laity into liturgical change that their spurious claims and grand plans were put under the microscope and found, for the most part, to be baseless. Michael's life's work was spent meticulously researching these supposed new insights, this new scholarship, and exposing it to public scrutiny as the ill-founded and destructive movement it was. He had discovered in his late teens and early twenties that the Truth existed in the Catholic Church and he was not prepared to allow anyone to take it away from him or his children.

For Michael, the truth was everything and he was appalled at the way that modernist pseudo-intellectuals and their fellow travellers had infiltrated the Catholic media, the seminaries and the publishing houses, and were introducing a new religion to our churches and schools to the detriment of the faithful. He was equally appalled, that the hierarchies of the world had abandoned their flocks and allowed these 'experts' to peddle their destructive theories unchallenged. Even worse, many bishops actively supported them, while condemning as divisive those Catholics who were not prepared to abandon the faith of their parents and grandparents.

As a schoolteacher and a parent, Michael knew the importance of guiding young minds along the path of truth, especially in matters of the Faith. Initially, he had a degree of enthusiasm for Vatican II but he quickly realised that things were not as he and many others expected. He joined the Latin Mass Society in February 1967 and quickly became actively involved. In October 1968, he addressed a conference in Cambridge and gave a talk on 'Mass and the Under-11s.' Later that month, he spoke in London on 'Children and the Mass.'

He had been a Catholic for only 10 years and a teacher for only four, but he could see immediately the damaging effect the changes would have on the faith of young people. He was to be their champion and he threw himself entirely into the battle. He had written to Cardinal Heenan who had assured him that the entire Mass would never be celebrated in the vernacular. When this eventually happened, Michael felt very let down by the cardinal. Perhaps it was the realisation that the new liturgy was careering out of control that led the cardinal to obtain the 'English indult' of 1970 that permitted the continued celebration of the traditional Latin Mass in England and Wales, albeit under severe restrictions. This was to be Cardinal Heenan's legacy to the Church - and a wonderful gift it proved to be.

The written word

By the early 1970s Michael had already established a reputation for being a formidable defender of the Faith and Tradition. He was forming friendships with other defenders of Catholic Tradition in the English-speaking world, men such as Fr Paul Crane SJ in London, editor of Christian Order, Hamish Fraser in Scotland with Approaches, and Walter Matt in the USA with The Remnant. These three publishers formed a mighty triumvirate in defence of Catholic doctrine and Tradition and, in Michael, they recognised a writer to cherish.

For nearly 35 years, he wrote incessantly and prodigiously for these magazines, in addition to writing for the Latin Mass Society, and later the American Latin Mass magazine. His articles were always the first to be read before all others. In all his writing, Michael encapsulated the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. He was possessed of a wonderful faith that, even in the darkest moments, never wavered; he never lost hope that Tradition would be restored to our altars. Though he criticised endlessly the disastrous reforms inflicted upon the Church, he never resorted to personal abuse of those responsible.

In his first article in Christian Order (October 1972), entitled 'Communion in the Hand', he responded to a strongly-worded editorial in the Catholic Herald of 2 June. It had severely criticised those who opposed the introduction of Communion in the hand, stating it was a traditional Catholic practice. Michael proved that this claim was unjust and inaccurate - yet another early example of the exposure of deception and the establishment of truth.

The major works

By the mid-1970s, the crisis within the Church was deepening. Michael's research on the various novelties being introduced had amassed a huge amount of data on the Council. He found that the great majority of the Fathers had been deceived by the well-orchestrated plans of a clique of European bishops and their liturgical advisers. Michael argued that the Church's attempted headlong rush into unity with other Christian bodies would, in fact, have the opposite effect to that proclaimed and was leading swiftly to the Church 's decline. Thus was born his great trilogy, Liturgical Revolution.

His first volume, Cranmer's Godly Order (1976), examined the Protestant Reformation, what happened and why. His second work, Pope John's Council (1977), was written "to provide an objective and documented explanation of the fact that the Church in the West is disintegrating and that the responsibility for this disintegration must be laid at the door of the Second Vatican Council." His third volume, Pope Paul's New Mass (1980), provided a detailed examination of the development of the Roman rite, the liturgical legislation pouring out from the Vatican during and after the Council, the prayers and rubrics of the new rite of Mass, and the devastating impact of the changes on the Church throughout the world.

Michael had submitted Cranmer's Godly Order to the censor of his diocese for an imprimatur which was refused, despite the censor finding no doctrinal fault with it. An appeal to his archbishop proved fruitless. Such was the prevailing attitude of the authorities to anyone who dared question Vatican II or its 'fruits.' Following this unjust rebuff, he decided there was no point in submitting any more of his work for an imprimatur but ensured that everything he produced was examined by theologians for criticism and amendment where necessary.

In the midst of working on this trilogy, a taxing enough project in itself, Michael became engaged in a spirited defence of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In 1976, the Catholic Truth Society had published a pamphlet that seriously misrepresented the French archbishop. Michael wrote to the author and suggested he either substantiate or withdraw his allegations, but he refused. This led to a pamphlet entitled Archbishop Lefebvre, The Truth, which was so successful it ran to several reprints. However, Michael decided that the only way to present the full truth about the archbishop would be to write an apologia. This was published in June 1979 as Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre. This eventually became Volume One, to be later followed by Volume Two (August 1983) and Volume Three (April 1988).

Growing stature

Such a prodigious feat of writing would have been immense for a full-time author but Michael was first and foremost at this time a schoolteacher with a young family. He was teaching by day and writing by night and at weekends. His wife, Maria, played a vital role in supporting all his activities, a fact that he readily acknowledged. At home he would be so immersed in his writing that Maria did everything else. His meals had to wait until he finished some important paper, and his daily routine seemed to revolve around the times of postal collections. "I must catch the post" was a daily cry as he dashed out of the house. His home in Bromley, southeast London became the centre of the lay traditional movement and he and Maria entertained visitors from all over the world, including many priests and seminarians.

As Michael's reputation grew, so did the demands on his time. Everyone wanted a quote, an article, a lecture, a foreign visit or simply a reply to a letter or an email, of which he received thousands each year. I have a letter from him in April 1982 in which he said he had others to answer written as far back as 1980.

In 1980, he appeared on television in America where he debated the state of the Church with a Fr Joseph Champlin from the Chancery of Syracuse, New York, who served on the bishops' commission on the liturgy. It was heartening to see a layman demolishing one of the leading lights of liturgical reform in such a one-sided debate. From then on, Michael became probably the foremost lay speaker in the USA and was instrumental in the mid-1990s in gathering the miscellaneous traditional groups in the USA into Una Voce America. The Americans took him to their hearts and he was invited back time and time again. With his reputation growing worldwide, his tours took in many European countries, India, Australia and even Nigeria, where he helped with the foundation of a traditional parish.

Dedicated teacher

Given the problems encountered by many other Catholic teachers who were deeply unhappy about the 'new' faith being imposed in schools, it is surprising that Michael suffered no problems in his own schools. Maria Davies said that Michael was an excellent teacher and felt compelled to teach about the knowledge he had acquired. That is why his books are so readable.

He worried about nothing. He wrote his own school plays which were always anti-feminist and with a soft spot for poor husbands. Those who knew Michael will smile at this recollection from Maria who always thought him "a unique individual". When the school inspectors were due, other teachers would spend weeks preparing the children, but Michael would simply give the inspectors a very thin folder and describe it as an inspector-friendly file. It was always his intention to retire early and he would tease the more feminist mothers. In the inspectors' presence, he would urge the children to complain about him so that the inspectors could have him sacked, but the children would say that he was a wonderful teacher, so his grand plan did not bear fruit.

He took great pride in being a primary school teacher. He would talk endlessly about his pupils and had an unstoppable stream of stories about them. He deeply resented that, while he was teaching his pupils the Catholic Faith he had learned as a convert and which had been reinforced at his teacher training college, they were later being exposed to a Catholicism that he did not recognise. That Catholicism had been adapted to the secular spirit of the age and was watered down to be acceptable to everyone, but ended up being rejected by most.

St Matthew recounts how Jesus said that we must not lay up our treasures on this earth, but rather lay them up in heaven. Where your treasure house is, there your heart is too. It was abundantly clear where Michael's heart was. In 1998, a friend complained about a magazine using some photographs without permission. He wrote in reply, "You will not be surprised to learn that I do not in the least share your indignation. I believe that we are in a war about the most important issues in the world, that our enemies are the [he named a bishop] of this world and that if anything that we have written or photographed can be useful to our allies, we should be delighted. I have not only had extensive passages from my books quoted without permission, I have had entire books and pamphlets reprinted or translated into other languages on numerous occasions without being informed. I discovered quite by accident that in one country, five of my full-length books and about 10 of my pamphlets had been published. In every case I have been pleased that my writing has been found useful in fighting the good fight."

Michael truly appreciated that we as individuals were not important. It was the restoration of the traditional liturgy that was paramount and anything that we could do should be focused on this cause.

The Una Voce years

In 1995, Michael Davies was elected President of the International Federation, Una Voce, a position that gave him greater international status and a much higher 'official' profile which allowed him access to the major Vatican departments. It also increased greatly an already taxing workload as, for most of his term of office, he acted as president, secretary and treasurer. Before he stepped down in 2003, he welcomed 14 new associations into the Federation and became a respected visitor to the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, of Divine Worship, and the Ecclesia Dei Commission.

Perhaps his most telling intervention was in 2000 when he informed the commission that moves to adapt the Missal of 1962 to include changes introduced in the 1960s would be rejected in their entirety by the traditional movement worldwide. The proposed moves were dropped.

In addition to his great work with the Una Voce movement, he took part for many years in the annual Chartres pilgrimage and gave lectures every year at the Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute in Italy. He accepted many invitations to functions in small parishes, which he saw as equally important as his international engagements. He was kindness and patience personified to everyone who wished to speak to him but was deeply uncomfortable when compliments were paid to him. He would become embarrassed and change the subject to something such as Welsh rugby (his second religion) or Bryn Terfel, the great Welsh baritone.

But every compliment was thoroughly deserved. He was the master who came out of the liturgical chaos and restored clarity of Catholic teaching on liturgy, doctrine and the ordering of churches. This is why the liturgical establishment disliked him so much: he embarrassed their gurus and he annoyed those bishops who were in thrall to the weird and (not so) wonderful theories of these gurus and implemented wholesale changes on their recommendations. To be publicly exposed as gullible is not an easy medicine to swallow and it is so much easier to attack the messenger than to digest the message.

For those who did not know Michael personally, but only through his writing on Church matters, it would perhaps be easy to imagine him as a dry-as-dust academic fighting some hopeless cause against the might of the Church establishment. A Welsh Don Quixote tilting at the windmills of modern Catholic life, the 'spirit' of Vatican II, renewal and ecumenism. But Michael knew exactly what he was aiming at and his aim was deadly.

To his friends he was the most engaging companion. His breadth of knowledge was staggering and he could converse with authority on music, from pop to polyphony, on films, sport, history and literature. Of great charm and unassuming modesty, equally at home with the smallest child and the most senior cardinal, he was the most magical companion.

The legacy

But his legacy (and what an immense legacy he has left us - 17 full-length books and several dozen booklets and pamphlets) will cheer those who knew him until the end of their days. Those who did not know him personally will be enlightened, educated and sustained by a body of work of truly Catholic genius, a timely antidote to the self-interested, self-serving, shallow delusions of men whose ideas had already been condemned by Pope St Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis over 100 years ago. Michael Davies has been laid to rest, a rest he truly deserved. He once said to me that if he couldn't find a priest to conduct a traditional funeral, then he wished just to be taken to the cemetery. In the event his funeral in Chislehurst, Kent, was a wonderful occasion in the truly Catholic sense. His requiem was celebrated by Fr Martin Edwards, a former pupil of his. When Michael had been laid to rest and the committal prayers had been said, a group of four friends sang over the grave, in Welsh, one verse and a chorus of 'Land Of My Fathers', the Welsh national anthem.

Michael Davies, while being a man hugely admired and respected within the world of traditional Catholicism and known in the corridors of power in Rome, was perhaps relatively unknown to the great majority of Catholic faithful who still attend Sunday Mass. The immensity of the man will only be fully appreciated in the decades to come when his writings will be recognised as the foundation and springboard of the resurgence of the traditional liturgy and faith of the Church.

Perhaps one of the great tributes we can pay him for his service to us and the Church is for each of us who has one or more of his books to lend it to someone who does not know Michael or his work. Make it your apostolate to persuade your parish priest to read his trilogy on the liturgical revolution. It could produce remarkable fruit.

This article first appeared in the magazine Mass of Ages, and is reproduced here with permission.


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