Liberals, Conservatives, Traditionalists, Divisions

I am sad to report that until recently (very recently), I have not been an avid reader of The LMS [Latin Mass Society] Chairman’s Blog, written by one Joseph Shaw. There is no good explanation for this other than the fact I have a hard enough time keeping up on the handful of other blogs, magazines, and websites that everyone tells me I “need to read.”

Over the past week or so, Shaw has been posting a series entitled “Why Liberals are United and Conservatives are Divided” (see here, here, and here). In it, Shaw advances a very elementary — even obvious — but under-appreciated point: Liberal forces within the Church have been radically more effective at carrying out their aims than conservative forces. (I should note that Shaw uses “conservative” in a very broad sense.) Why? One critical reason, according to Shaw, is that conservatives tend to develop reasonable disagreements about how to improve, fix, modify, etc. what it is they are defending. Since such suggestions often inform the nature of the defense, these disagreements are rarely taken as trivial matters (even if, in the final analysis, they are). A very easy example is the Tridentine Mass. Many conservatives (and here I mean especially traditionalists) wish to keep and promote the old Missale Romanum, though they start to splinter with respect to which edition of that missal should be retained. Even though the traditional liturgical movement has, for the time being, coalesced around the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII, there are plenty of traditionalists — some sedevacantists, some not — who insist that the 1962 edition is “corrupted” and thus a return to 1954 (or earlier) is required. It’s a largely distracting, and needlessly acrimonious, debate, especially since many of those who defend the 1962 books do so with a clear eye on their imperfections and the hope that at some point in the future a more thoroughgoing rebuilding of the Rome Rite can be accomplished. For some, though, the “1962 question” is total.

There are other examples which spring quickly to mind. With respect to theology, conservatives remain divided on such things as the virtues of neo-Scholasticism, the various schools of Thomism which arose in the 20th C., ressourcement, the “new theology,” and other schools of modern/late-modern thought. On the extremely messy question of the Second Vatican Council and its “fruits,” conservatives disagree concerning the extent to which the Council itself is to be blamed for the Church’s present woes. Were there, as one traditional priest wrote, “time bombs” in the documents of Vatican II or were those imperfect documents simply hijacked by unscrupulous priests and bishops? Is it possible to interpret and apply Vatican II in an authentically traditional manner? Should we even pay any attention to Vatican II at all, especially given its “pastoral” nature and the self consciously time-bound language of optimism which filled so many of its documents? While these questions are being hashed out (oftentimes in a grotesquely polemical and bloody manner), the liberal forces in the Church continue their glib march onward toward manufacturing an ecclesiastical body which, for all intents and purposes, would be unrecognizable to a faithful Catholic of any previous generation.

At some point, of course, one has to begin differentiating among the various strands of both conservatism and traditionalism in order to get a clearer picture of who is trying to maintain (or restore) what in the Church today. It is important to remember that a large swathe of conservative Catholics — those I and others typically refer to as neo-Catholics (sometimes called neoconservative or neocon-Catholics) — have, by and large, accepted a significant number of liberalizing reforms over the decades. A good number of neo-Catholic writers, including professional apologists, go to great lengths to justify these reforms on conservative (or even traditional) grounds. That’s not helpful. It’s also not helpful that these same neo-Catholics treat traditionalists with disdain, seeing in them, at best, a faddish attachment to aesthetics and liturgy and, at worst, a backwards looking romanticism which has no relevance to “today’s fast-paced, action packed, sophisticated, postmodern reality” (or whatever). Traditionalists carry their own sins with them, of course. Some — too many, in fact — use lame litmus tests to determine the “orthodoxy” of neo-Catholics, as if every man who has ever picked up a volume penned by Hans Urs von Balthasar or Henri de Lubac is infected through and through with Modernism. (As tempted as I am to bring up natura pura right now, I shall refrain.) Yes, real and substantial disagreements do exist between neo-Catholics and traditionalists on a host of issues, but do they need to be resolved right here and right now for both sides to take hard stand against renovationism in the Church?

As one commenter noted in my previous post, “Voris, Francis, Criticism,” now would seem an especially appropriate time for traditionalists and conservatives, that is, all Catholics who hold fast to doctrinal orthodoxy in a broad sense, to lower their weapons and turn their sights toward the bigger problem. Liberal forces within the Church are currently undertaking a full-court press against the Church’s teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the Sacraments. They have to be stopped. The conundrum which continues to bedevil all of us is, “How?” A united front of prayer is indispensable, but so, too, is action. We cannot wait for a Saint or Prophet to save us; God has sent plenty of them already.

In just over a week the Catholic University of America (CUA) will bestow an award on Cardinal Walter Kasper, one of the chief architects of the devilish plan to drive a wedge between doctrine and praxis with respect to marriage and the Eucharist. While some CUA students, and at least one of its professors, are trying to brush the matter aside on the grounds that CUA will also be hosting Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, one of the defenders of orthodoxy at the recently concluded “Extraordinary Synod on the Family,” it amounts to little more than a smokescreen. Kasper, not Mueller, will be receiving official recognition for his theological contributions to the Church, and even if Mueller was handed an award, would it still not send the erroneous message that these two men stand on the same doctrinal plane? Kasper’s views on marriage are, to put it mildly, disturbing. Some more accurate adjectives for Kasper’s recent proposals concerning marriage might be “disingenuous,” “wrongheaded,” “pernicious,” and “heretical.” So what will faithful Catholics at CUA and the Washington, D.C. area do? Will they transmit snide Tweets and roll their eyes, or will they stand in faithful protest outside of the venue, praying that Cardinal Kasper and those souls he has misled will see the error of their ways and repent? Or why not go a step further and fill the event with prayers? Fifteen decades of the Rosary can expel demons; I imagine they can also expel a wayward “Prince of the Church” who has no business addressing an ostensibly Catholic house of learning.

This is what it has come to in the Church today. The recently beatified Pope Paul VI warned us decades ago that the smoke of Satan had infiltrated the Church. Now the fire has spread within her walls. Will we, faithful Catholics, continue to fiddle while Rome burns? Or are we doomed to argue about the tune being played as the structure gives way and millions of souls are buried beneath the rubble of sacrilege and lies? We have one more year until the next Synod, and not a moment to lose.

4 comments

  1. Excellent piece. The rosary, as you say, works wonders. Prayer is

    I agree with a commentator on your previous post that it will probably fall to traditionalists to begin the “disarmament,” If traditionalists are truly not interested in remaining in their own little ghettos, preaching to the choir, being “the remnant”–and if they truly believe that they are right, that they have much to offer the Church in one of her hours of need–then they need to begin reaching out with a kindlier, more patient hand. Less acrimony. Attract by, well, attraction.

    I did say last time that I notice more acrimony coming from Liberal and progressive Catholics, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to it when it comes from traditionalists. And it comes forth fluidly, copiously. I would probably not be considered a traditionalist by most other traditionalists (due to the very infighting about which you’ve complained recently), but traditionalism is immensely attractive to me. It wasn’t the acrimony that attracted me. (That always has the opposite effect. And who would want someone who was attracted by acrimony?) It was the reasonableness, the catholicity, the beauty, and (honestly) the countercultural oomph of traditionalism. If this is a leaven in the Church (and I believe it is) it needs to be kneaded (ha!) into the whole batch. Pulling away doesn’t accomplish that. So: What would missionary traditionalism look like? It wouldn’t go out with pamphlets, or with vociferous argument, or apologetics, I don’t think. It would go out and be leaven, and work the way leaven works: by being what it is.

    This might seem like a different question than the ones you’ve asked above. I don’t think they are, really. Because if traditionalists are to work together with those whom you term “conservatives”, they must defeat the caricature of traditionalists as holier-than-thou argumentative reactionaries. They must deprive that caricature of oxygen.

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