A Thought on Integralism and Symphonia for Sunday

It has been nearly two years since Rod Dreher infected American religious discourse with The Benedict Option, an under-theorized mishmash of derivative ideas and conclusions meant to finance its author’s extravagant trips to foreign dinner tables. By spawning a litany of lesser-known “Options” in magazine articles and web-logs, Dreher managed to unwittingly play into liberalism’s hands. Liberalism is not concerned with the “right life” or the “best life” per se, but rather with the “right” or “best life” the individual defines for himself. And so the “Benedict Option” (whatever it means) becomes a choice among many, a mere possibility whose goodness is measured by the number of adherents rather than the substance of its claims. Luckily none of the other proposed “Options” ever gained much traction, perhaps because there is nothing more intellectually loathsome than to be a derivative idea of a derivative idea that, in and of itself, is not particularly impressive.

One other related consequence of Dreher’s drivel is the reduction of all things political to “Options” in the minds of contemporary American Christians, particularly Catholics. Take, for instance, the integralist revival inspired in no small part by The Josias and the earlier writings of its contributors. Both friends and foes of integralism have a tendency to treat it as an “Option,” a political posture that is worth adopting — at least in word — on a visceral basis alone. Integralism “sounds cool” to a certain type of 20/30-something Catholic disillusioned with American politics and its two main parties. Integralism seems “edgy,” and the willingness of integralists to callback to supposed “golden ages” in the distant past or more questionable eras of religious-political union in the last century has a polarizing effect that too many of these otherwise well-meaning Catholics revel in. This is contrary to one of if not the most central tenant of integralism, namely that integralists are doing nothing more or less than holding to the Catholic Church’s indefectible teachings. Integralists do not advance new doctrines or novel theological speculation; they merely adhere to the proper ordering of the spiritual and temporal powers.

On its face, that’s incredibly less “sexy” (or shocking) than saying that one longs for the days of the Inquisition or proudly hangs portrait’s of Franco and Salazar in their “study” (ok, fine, parents’ basement). By promoting a caricature of integralism, one that is more fit to be a Right Wing Death Squad t-shirt design than a topic of serious discussion, these unwitting integralists feed integralist’s critics with ample ammunition to gun-down the integralist thesis (or, rather, a certain degraded idea of the integralist thesis). That is unhelpful. For until the time comes that integralism, properly understood, is taken as neither a novelty nor a romantic hope, it will not only fail to gain traction in the wider Catholic Church, but few if any will begin the heavy lifting required to operationalize integralism in a socio-political environment beset by liberalism. To put it another way, for as long as integralism remains mired in useless discussions centered on some of its adherents’ silly social-media excesses and poor rhetorical choices, it will always have the appearance of an idea, of an “Option,” that can be freely chosen (or not) without serious intellectual and moral consequences. If that is all integralism truly is, then we need it not at all.

None of this is to say that integralism is beyond criticism or that integralists cannot disagree among themselves. One challenge to integralism that remains more hypothetical than realized at this stage is the Eastern Orthodox concept of symphonia. Leaving to the side for the moment any criticism of “symphonia in practice” as opposed to “symphonia as proposed,” symphonia does away with the hierarchical structure of the spiritual and temporal powers intrinsic to integralism in favor of an integrated model of ecclesiastical and secular authority. Under symphonia, temporal power is not directly subordinate to the spiritual, but rather interwoven with it. In the Byzantine, and later Russian Tsarist, iterations of symphonia, the emperor is vested with a coordinate role in protecting and promoting the true religion alongside the Church hierarchy (specifically the patriarch). Some argue that this is necessary insofar as the Christian East knows nothing of a central ecclesiastical authority figure in the way Western Christendom does with the papacy. While the bishops may, in theory, all be equal successors to the Apostles, it is the temporal ruler, the emperor, who binds them together and calls them forth with the dogmatic unity of the Church is threatened. Integralism, by symphonia’s lights, goes too far in subordinating the temporal power to the spiritual while also claiming indirect temporal authority to the spiritual power. This hierarchical structure makes the temporal the handmaid of the spiritual, an arrangement that is both theologically unsound and practical untenable.

Integralist adherents, mainly Latin Catholics, may wish to dismiss symphonia’s claims on the thin ground that it belongs to the Christian East, specifically the Eastern Orthodox, and therefore has no say in the doctrinal structure of the Catholic Church. Maybe. However, does not the Christian East no less than the Christian West belong by right to the Catholic Church, that is, the one Universal Church of Christ? Is it so clear at this stage that integralism has vanquished symphonia? Or do both models have room to exist within One Church? There is no space to answer those or a myriad of other questions here. Rather, they are brought up only to suggest that even if integralism should be conceptualized not as an “Option” but rather part and parcel of the Church’s historic social doctrine, then can it stand alone when an equally ancient and arguably more successful model (at least for a time) in symphonia is also available? For those inclined to dismiss symphonia out of hand, remember that without it there would be no Nicene Creed.

A Tiny Postscript to Yesterday’s Post

I confess I was both surprised and heartened by the positive reactions to yesterday’s post. Having not blogged regularly for approximately two years now, it is impossible to predict if anything posted will ever get read. In scanning Twitter, I noticed a few comments concerning the reaction of certain online traditional Catholic males toward fellow Catholic females who, apparently, lost their virginity prior to marriage. (I write “apparently” because I am not sure how these Catholic men know who is or is not a virgin unless these ladies are advertising it.) This led me down a social-media rabbit hole where I found, much to my chagrin, a great deal of “commentary” (loosely defined) on why a “touched” woman is unfit to be a true traditional Catholic wife.

Let me be clear: “touched” is a euphemism of my own design. The adjectives I encountered in my visits to the four corners of online trad-dom included, but were hardly limited to, “corrupt,” “spoiled,” “unclean,” and “immoral.” Not surprisingly, I found scant commentary on traditional Catholic males who lived “Augustinian” lifestyles prior to finding the Latin Mass and even less on what is likely a far more pervasive problem among that demographic, namely pornography. On what basis, I wonder, is a female who has engaged in a monogamous sexual relationship outside of marriage more dirty or foul than the male who makes not-infrequent visits to PornHub to peruse videos that would make Caligula blush? Say whatever you want about Christianity replacing the “Old Law”; traditional Catholicism has its own deeply engrained notions of “ritual purity” that happen to be targeted toward a single sex.

This is not to say that the “slut shaming” traditional Catholic male community found online approaches the matter on the basis of either authority or reason. Their negative reactions to non-virgin Catholic females is almost entirely visceral. These women are “forbidden fruit,” objects of both desire and derision. These attract attention, wittingly or not, because they offer the idea of access to something these males have never had, and yet most of these ladies are now committed to “withholding” said access until marriage. And so the traditional Catholic males, by and large, do not know what to do with that information. Why should they “pay” for something that was otherwise given away “for free”? Compound this sideways view of things with those general feelings of inadequacy so many inadequately socialized males committed to a religious minority are often encumbered with and what you have is a recipe for fruitless resentment.

Since I am disinclined from dispensing advice and find moralizing tedious, let me say that regardless of what gets spewed online, my sense is that at the close of business a lot of the online Catholic rhetoric is not reflective of the on-the-ground reality. There are far more traditional Catholic men than women, and converts-to-tradition are overwhelmingly male. To the extent these men want wives, they are going to have to expand their horizons beyond the Mary Margarets, Catherine Annes, and Ann Catherine Margaret Marys of their imaginations. I do not mean that men should pursue morally casual women (or vice versa). No one in their right mind wants to be wedded to someone who snatches an extra 100 when passing “Go” in Monopoly or believes the infield fly rule extends to the outfield during postseason baseball games.

What is “Convertitis” in Latin?

A traditional Catholic friend and writer recently lamented in private about the cabal of young-ish covert-to-traditionalism types who feel compelled to pontificate on “things [traditional] Catholic” on web-logs, online publications, and social media. He feels – rightly so – that these folks ought to put a lid on it, at least for the time being. I cannot say I disagree with him. Having been a convert myself at one time (to Eastern Orthodoxy) and young blogger (I started when I was 23), I understand the temptation to share every thought and feeling that springs forth from my being. I also get that with conversion comes a great deal of misplaced zealotry. Converts to traditional Catholicism (who may or may not have been nominal Catholics beforehand) revel in throwing stones at the so-called “Novus Ordo Church” while also taking potshots at other Christian confessions they deem “heretical” and/or “schismatic.” Converts to Orthodoxy are similar, though they typically spend their time going on about the supposed “laxity” of cradle Orthodox while ripping on Catholicism. (For those unaware, a vast majority of converts to Eastern Orthodoxy are former Protestants, most of whom cannot let go of their deep-rooted anti-Roman biases.)

Speaking for myself, there is very little that I wrote during my time as an Eastern Orthodox Christian that I stand by today. (Thank Heavens my old web-logs are but digital dust.) It was not until after I returned to Catholicism in 2011 that I finally gained some perspective on my Orthodox days. Here in 2019, it seems that too much time has passed for me to give that period a fair accounting. That is one reason why I now opt to tread lightly around Orthodoxy, qualifying my criticisms when warranted and doing my best to apply a hermeneutic of charity to the Orthodox despite the fact many (if not most) refuse to apply the same toward Catholicism (especially Greek Catholicism).

As for the current batch of neophyte traditional Catholic commentators, they are mostly harmless despite being unoriginal, unimaginative, and uninspiring. Any person of sound mind who has read the works of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Michael Davies knows all they need to of the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church. What more is there to say? God bless those who have something constructive to offer, but they are few and far between, and most have a decade or more of post-graduate life experience behind them. I cannot see for the life of me what benefit accrues to a single soul to read another digital screed against the “revisionist-homosexualist-relativist-ecumenist” mafia that apparently controls the Catholic Church. And no, neither I nor anyone else should be privy to what this-or-that traditional Catholic is “giving up” for Lent. I assure you: not only is it trite, but no serious ascetic will be impressed. (On this point I must mention that the normative fasting practices for the Eastern Orthodox Church are exponentially more demanding than anything a Latin Catholic blogger has thought up.)

I could offer up some words of caution, but no one is going to listen. If they did, I might say something to the effect of, “Be careful what you write today; it will come back to bite you tomorrow.” Or, to put it another way, “What future law firm/hospital/accounting office/fast food restaurant that you plan on applying to is going to be impressed that Googling your name instantly yields a dozen blog posts and 1,000 Tweets about how the Jews control the United Nations?” Should the Catholic Church begin healing her many wounds, particularly the ongoing sex-abuse scandal, I assure you it will not be because you blogged about it. In fact, I can super-super, double-dog guarantee that ecclesiastical healing will not come about because you ripped your local pastor a new one on the Internet for some minor infraction of the 1962 Missale Romanums’s rubrics or you shot off 15 paragraphs about how the Divine Mercy Chaplet is a fraud.

Rather than write, let me suggest you read. While I concede that some of Archbishop Lefebvre’s works are rather dry, Michael Davies’s are not. After you finish his corpus, expand your horizons a bit and take a walk on the Eastern side. Pick up Fr. Aidan Nichols’s Rome and the Eastern Churches; it will cure you of the delusion that “to be Catholic” is “to be Latin.” While you are at it, get ahold of Fr. Robert Taft’s magisterial study, The Liturgy of the Hours East and West. It ought to dispel any notion that the “Roman liturgical crisis” began a mere 50 years ago. And for Heaven’s sake, acquaint yourself with the Church’s authentic social magisterium, both through the original papal encyclicals (Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, Quas Primas, etc.) and secondary works like Fr. Cahill’s The Framework of a Christian State. By the time you finish all of that while pursuing additional works that come to light during the course of your studies, you should be old enough to realize you should not blog or write anything on the Internet.

 I hope to get there someday myself.

Bernard Harcourt on the Alt-Right

Columbia University law professor Bernard Harcourt is a provocative thinker who, in the course of his storied career, has managed to smash the “broken windows” theory of policing and exposed the internal contradictions of “neoliberal penality” in his excellent study, The Illusion of Free Markets. Harcourt is also known for his pro bono work on behalf of death row inmates, including Doyle Hamm, an inmate that Alabama attempted to brutally execute via lethal injection last year and failed. Part of Harcourt’s ongoing work at Columbia includes hosting a series of critical seminars with academics from around the globe, covering such topics as Nietzsche, Foucault, and uprisings. His latest venture, a 13-part series entitled “Critique & Praxis 13/13,” dealt in part with the so-called alt-right and similar surrounding movements. A video of the 2 ½ hour seminar, plus supporting readings and blog posts from contributors, is available here.

For the moment I want to look at Harcourt’s own analysis of the seminar, entitled “Neo-Fascist-White-Supremacy-Ultranationalist Counterrevolutionaries.” Harcourt struggles to develop a working catch-all definition for the alt-right, thus leading him to bifurcate the American and European iterations of this movement into two clumsily labeled categories: neo-fascist-white-supremacy-ultranationalist counterrevolutionaries (American) and neo-fascist-European-nativist-counterrevolutionaries (European). I do not expect either of these labels to catch on.

Regardless, Harcourt’s linguistic wrestling match unveils inadvertently the fact that the alt-right is hardly a uniform movement that is internally coherent. While there is something to be said that “white supremacy” could be the glue that holds the whole movement together, at least in the United States, one finds substantial divergences among the alt-right on questions ranging from economics to international relations. There is further difficulty to be found with applying a term like “fascist” or “fascistic” to the alt-right movement. For Harcourt, “fascist” post-1933 contains a genocidal element that was not present when fascism first came into being during the latter decades of the 19th century. Now it is impossible to speak of fascism without genocide, though no fascist movements after World War II have practiced genocide. (I would argue there have been no truly fascist movements until the last decade and even then they have not attained the requisite degree of political power and control to operationalize genocide (if they are even interested in it at all)). Why bring up genocide at all?

To speak of genocide in the context of the alt-right adds a horrifyingly sinister angle to the entire movement even if its goals do not (yet?) appear so “lofty” (if that is the right word for it). In the American context, the alt-right is far more reactionary than it is constructive, and if President Donald Trump is the movement’s de facto (if not de jure) leader, then it is a troubled movement indeed. Trump appears to have as much use for the alt-right as he does for any other potential base of support. If it helps keep him in power, good; if it does not, life goes on. Harcourt, like many on the Left, reads more into Trump’s hamfisted grip on presidential power than it deserves.

While there are several other points in Harcourt’s piece worth considering, I think a word is in order concerning Harcourt’s citation to Leo Strauss. The passage Harcourt quotes is from Strauss’s controversial Persecution and the Art of Writing where, among other things, Strauss presents his esoteric/exoteric hermeneutic. For Strauss, only very capable and learned men, particularly philosophers, avail themselves of esotericism, not for the purpose of changing a society’s opinions, customs, and political life, but to conceal the disrupting, if not revolutionary, character of their thought. The exoteric teaching is almost invariably conventional; the esoteric teaching is almost invariably heretical. It would be a bridge too far, I think, to extend Strauss’s hermeneutic to the alt-right, particularly the American alt-right whose writings Harcourt acknowledges are “boorish” and “crass.”

Silent Integralists

One of the main problems with integralism, specifically the refreshed concept of integralism now gaining traction in certain sectors of Anglophone Catholicism, is that so few claiming to be integralists seem to know what it means. This is unfortunate insofar as it allows critics of integralism, that is, those who reject any political form that is not essentially liberalism to denounce, dismiss, and degrade integralists as romantic, backwards-looking monarchists incapable of practically managing a GameStop store. Some enjoy calling themselves “integralists” in the same ways teenagers who have never held a job like calling themselves “socialists”; it seems edgy and different, but requires no real commitment. Others like the idea of integralism as a form of “anti-liberalism” which is not socialism per se, but beyond that they have no interest deepening their understanding of integralism or promoting it as a future-viable alternative to the liberal status quo.

Then there are those I would call “silent integralists” or “substantive integralists.” These are Catholics who may or may not have heard of integralism, but still espouse its core tenet that the spiritual has priority over the temporal. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the fraternity he established, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), is a prime example. Lefebvre no doubt knew the term integralist (or integrist), but to the best of my knowledge he never availed himself of it. He didn’t need to. Lefebvre and his followers never shied away from the social rights of Christ the King or the unique and privileged position the Catholic Church ought to be afforded in society. Moreover, unlike some contemporary integralists, Lefebvre believed there was an inextricably link between the doctrine of Christ’s Kingship and the traditional Roman liturgy. For Lefebvre, it was the old Mass that embodied the fulness of the Faith, and it was the traditional celebrations of the Roman Calendar which affirmed holistically Christ’s tripartite office as Priest, Prophet, and King.

Another example would be the saintly leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky. Metropolitan Andrei’s role extended far beyond being the spiritual leader of his Catholic communion; he was essential to the development of Galician society and the stalled formation of an independent Ukrainian state. Indeed, from the time Galicia came under Austrian rule up through World War I, the UGCC was integral in nation-building along authentically Catholic lines. There was to be no liberal separation of church and state, but rather an authentic Ukrainian Church, in communion with Rome, that guided the people and encouraged the formation of Catholic lay groups. Even today, as Ukraine finds itself in the midst of war and civil turmoil, the UGCC remains a prophetic voice that embraces both catholicity and particularity. It may not avail itself of the term “integralism,” but there can be no doubt that it has had and continues to have an integral role in contemporary Ukraine.

In the United States, matters remain dire. The American Church is once again embroiled in a massive sexual abuse scandal and the Vatican, thus far, has done little to instill confidence in the faithful that this tragedy will be thoroughly addressed. Critics of integralism claim, wrongly, that the type of “theocratic” arrangement integralists long for would leave the door open to future abuses by effectively placing the Church above the law. While such claims are silly, particularly in light of historic ecclesiastical legislation which stripped clerics of all privileges of their state in matters of gross sexual immorality, popular fear of being seen as aiding or abetting rapist clerics has the power to freeze integralism in its tracks. Who, after all, wants to be associated with a socio-political form that may be seen as making current woes worse?

Even if the time is not ripe for anything like an “integralist moment,” certainly Catholics of all stripes can take the present state of both the Church and society as a reason to explore the rich tapestry of Catholic social teaching. It is only through a firm understanding of that teaching that integralism can, in any sense, be “operationalized” into a viable political form. Integralists, to date at least, have given little mind to practical problems, ranging from economics to the contours of a sensible legal system. There is also the practical question of organization and advocacy, what was historically known as Catholic Action. It would seem that integralists have a long way to go on that front—a long way to go beyond Twitter.

The New French (and American) Catholic Right

Mark Lilla, the Columbia professor and political observer who seems to irritate all ideological comers, has a new piece in The New York Review of Books, “Two Roads for the New French Right.” As some may recall, Lilla has chronicled the French Right in the magazine before, as I discussed previously here. While Lilla is anything but a writer of the Right, he has gained himself both high praise (from conservatives) and ire (from liberals) for his 2017 book, The Once and Future Liberal. It is difficult to shake the feeling that Lilla is a tad bit envious of the Right, particularly as it is manifesting itself across the pond. The Right, or the various political movements and parties that represent the Right, may not represent a coherent body of thought, but it is offering some ways ahead that provide a way past the neoliberal consensus that emerged after 1989 and which, surprisingly enough, provides a voice once again to religious (primarily Christian) conservatives.

Instead of focusing on Lilla’s piece in detail, I want to highlight some of Lilla’s remarks concerning Catholic involvement in the New French Right, particularly younger writers. Here is Lilla:

This past summer I spent some time reading and meeting these young writers in Paris and discovered more of an ecosystem than a cohesive, disciplined movement. Still, it was striking how serious they are and how they differ from American conservatives. They share two convictions: that a robust conservatism is the only coherent alternative to what they call the neoliberal cosmopolitanism of our time, and that resources for such a conservatism can be found on both sides of the traditional left–right divide. More surprising still, they are all fans of Bernie Sanders.

 

The intellectual ecumenism of these writers is apparent in their articles, which come peppered with references to George Orwell, the mystical writer-activist Simone Weil, the nineteenth-century anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt, the young Marx, the ex-Marxist Catholic philosopher Alasdair Macintyre, and especially the politically leftist, culturally conservative American historian Christopher Lasch, whose bons mots“uprootedness uproots everything except the need for roots”get repeated like mantras. They predictably reject the European Union, same-sex marriage, and mass immigration. But they also reject unregulated global financial markets, neoliberal austerity, genetic modification, consumerism, and AGFAM (Apple-Google-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft).

Lilla could have gone further had he wanted in distinguishing these French Catholics from their (distant) American brethren. Setting aside those conservative Catholics who still embrace some form of liberalism (say Actonites and old-guard First Things types), it is true that there is a growing wing of Catholics, many on the younger side, who are at least suspicious of liberalism, if not openly hostile toward it. The difficulty with some of these folks is that they trade a stale brand of liberalism for the “fresher” form that looks unsurprisingly like the carefree, commitment-free, and ultimately thought-free variant of socialism children pick up on when they go off to Ivy League schools. The end result of this “movement,” so far at least, has been…well…nothing much at all. These IPA-sipping socialists have yet to put together a sustained platform and most of their efforts thus far have ended with infighting (perhaps brought on by outside ridicule).

Then there are the even more-to-the-Right American Catholics who, openly or not, identify with some variant of integralism, be it the “big tent” sort associated with The Josias or the slightly more narrow forms found in various segments of traditional Catholicism. The Josias probably comes to the closest to (unwittingly?) following New French Right Catholics insofar as many of its writers embrace some form of “intellectual ecumenism” or, to put it another way, have no problem marching toward the Promised Land with the “spoils of Egypt” lifted from decidedly non-Catholic intellectual environs. Some remain skeptical of this project, not the least because for much of the past 50-60 years, Catholics who take seriously the social kingship of Christ and the indirect temporal authority of the Church have found themselves living in an intellectual ghetto where a certain form of manualism was their only bulwark against the more pernicious aspects of late modernity.

Returning to the Catholics of the New French Right, Lilla finds their numbers populated with environmentalists and “alter-feminists” who reject the capitalist-compromised form of feminism that remains all the rage. Lilla is clearly impressed by all of this even while keeping his critical distance. He’s right to highlight a disorderliness in the thinking of these French Catholics, but that is not the same as a dismissal. There is much to be said for what Lilla calls “thinking big in little magazines.” As Lilla remarks, “Modern history has taught us that ideas promoted by obscure intellectuals writing in little magazines have a way of escaping the often benign intentions of their champions.” Yes, there is a sinister ring to Lilla’s words, but he’s not wrong.

Of course, I find nothing at all sinister in the thought and work of these French Catholics, nor do I find anything sinister about integralism (regardless of what the critics say). Integralism remains, at best, a highly marginal movement within Anglophone Catholicism and some of its most visible intellectual representatives may not actually be integralists at all. More fruitful than going on about who is or is not a “true integralist” is asking, “How do I live as a Catholic in public life?” There is a place for ideas, even big ideas built out of disparate parts, but there should be greater space given for considering, and then acting upon, what it would mean to be Catholic while, say, practicing law, teaching in schools, laboring in a factory, and so on and so forth. Lilla acknowledges in his piece that French Catholics have already begun to do that, albeit perhaps in some eccentric ways reminiscent of the early days of the defunct Catholic journal Caelum et Terra.

Maybe the Americans can catch up again.

Meanwhile, Out East…

A lot is being made in both the secular and ecclesiastical media of the current rift between the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, otherwise known as the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP). EP/MP tensions are nothing new. For several years now there has been a cold war between the two churches over the question of primacy. The MP, desperate to be seen as the “Mother Ship” of world Orthodoxy, has enacted a zero-tolerance policy for any talk of “primacy” that is anything more than a mere “primacy of honor.” The EP, bereft of practical political power and global influence, has doubled-down on not only promoting, but also exercising, its ecclesiastical authority by inching ever closer to granting Ukrainian Orthodox a Tomos of Autocephaly which in effect would allow the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to function without oversight from Moscow. It’s not difficult to see how disruptive this move is to Russia’s geopolitical vision and the “Russian World” ideology which the MP, as the Russian state’s vassal church, is tasked with promoting.

Some Catholics, burned-out on the scandals running wild in their own backyard, are quietly (or not-so-quietly) pointing fingers at the Orthodox Church’s confederate governance model. Without a three-dimensional understanding of primacy, the Orthodox are doomed to fall into jurisdictional and other pragmatic spats that typically end up taking on a dogmatic character. The MP has declared that its faithful can no longer receive sacraments from bishops and priests who fall under the EP. In fact, the MP has even banned its adherents from praying on Mt. Athos (Orthodoxy’s holiest site next to the Kremlin) and will apparently cease recognizing baptisms performed by EP clerics.

Whatever the demerits of Orthodoxy’s governance structure, it is unrealistic to think that these sorts of politically motivated, high-level spats would cease just because the Bishop of Rome is available to mediate. First-millennium Christianity is packed full of incidences whereby Local Church A breaks communion with Local Church B even as A and B remain in communion with Local Church C (who, as fate would have it, is out-of-communion with Local Church D). Moreover, the existence of a hyper-centralized Roman governance model in Catholicism, where the pope is expected to micromanage a communion comprised of over a billion souls, has done almost nothing to rein-in moral, doctrinal, and liturgical error for the last six decades. I have been guilty in the past of snickering at the radical divergences in doctrinal and theological positions that Orthodox Christians hold, but the Catholic reality isn’t much better, especially when there is a growing number of conservatives and traditionalists who maintain that one need not listen to the pope “when he teaches error” (according to…?).

If the EP is serious about handing autocephaly to the Ukrainians, then we should all expect the rift (schism?) between it and the MP to last for no less than a century. Until Russia suffers the sort of catastrophic implosion that only rapid depopulation and gross economic mismanagement can bring about, the MP will have the resources to pressure most non-EP churches into at least tacitly supporting its radically diminished view of “primacy” while further isolating the EP. For the MP, “primacy” in Orthodoxy is a “primacy of power,” backed by raw numbers and concrete political support. History is an inconvenience to the MP. History tells us nothing more than a rather sad tale of politics and violence converging together at certain key points to make the Russian Orthodox Church what it is today. Its patriarchal status, after all, was coerced from the EP centuries ago and even Ukraine itself, the wellspring of Kyivan-Rus’ Christianity, was snatched from Constantinople in the 17th century.

This is one reason among many why the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), an authentic heir of the Church of Kyiv, is such a sore point for the MP. The UGCC’s very existence defies the erroneous notion that Ukraine is and always has been an extension of Russia. Should an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church rise up in Ukraine, it would further lay waste to Russian fibbing about its own history and the status of its own church. Granted, it may take decades, even centuries, for a refreshed Ukrainian Orthodox Church to shake the Muscovite dust from its boots, but there is a reason to hope that by doing so, perhaps Ukraine’s Orthodox and Greco-Catholic populations can move closer to fulfilling the vision of the late Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, namely a single Ukrainian Church in communion with Rome.

I believe that Catholics should resist harboring delectatio morosa over Orthodoxy’s present woes. Internal ruptures in Orthodoxy are unlikely to yield Catholic unity. That is to say, it is highly doubtful that the Orthodox, tired of incessant infighting, will flee to Rome in the coming years. All too aware of how Rome tends to treat its Eastern brethren, no Orthodox Christian is eager to become a second-class Catholic citizen. Catholics, particularly Latin Catholics, should probably also come to grips with the fact that their own ecclesiastical haunt is arguably even more fractured than Orthodoxy’s, even if the “official line” from Rome remains (as it ever does) that all is fine; there is nothing to see here; and who am I to judge?

Jansenists Look East to Combat Protestants

An obscure academic article (aren’t they all?), “From East To West: Jansenists, Orientalists, And The Eucharistic Controversy” by Alastair Hamilton, which appeared in the anthology How the West Was Won (Brill 2010), sheds light on an obscure, but interesting, piece of ecclesiastical history: the Jansenist use of Greek (and other Eastern) first-person sources to combat Protestant polemics against the doctrine of transubstantiation.

When they weren’t engaged in their favorite pastime, namely beating on the Jesuits, Jansenist luminaries Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole enjoyed picking fights with Calvinists, specifically Jean Claude, a Hugenot minister. He maintained, rather unconvincingly, that the Catholic profession of transubstantiation was no older than the 10th or 11th centuries, “the darkest and most polluted centuries, the most lacking in men of piety and learning, which Christianity has ever known.” In response to the Jansenist suggestion that the separated communions of the East professed belief in the dogma, Jean Claude declared that “every Greek on the face of the earth” should be interrogated as to whether their church taught such a thing—and that’s just what the Jansenists did. Over the course of many years, allies of Arnauld and Nicole, along with other Jansenist sympathizers, collected attestations from Russian, Greek, and Oriental Orthodox clerics that their respective communions all upheld the dogma of transubstantiation. Some of the scholars recruited for the project helped lay the groundwork for Oriental studies in the West. These attestations, along with various Eastern professions of faith, were eventually translated into Latin and made their way into ever-expanding editions of Arnauld’s La perpetuité de la foy, which continued on even after the author’s death.

The response from Protestant Europe was mixed. Jean Claud had hung his belief in the Greek rejection of transubstantiation on the controversial catechism of Cyril Lucaris, multiple-time Patriarch of Constantinople whose notorious Western and Calvinist sympathies resulted in him being strangled to death by the Turks. Lucaris’s catechism was rejected by the Greeks and never accepted by the Russians, who instead looked to the 1640 catechism of Metropolitan Peter Mogila. That catechism, which was eventually adopted by other Orthodox patriarchates, defended transubstantiation. Although Mogila’s catechism has been derided by Protestant and even some Orthodox theologians as “Latinized,” the Orthodox never rebuffed it. Moreover, the Jansenists and other Catholics interested in defending transubstantiation, were also able to cite attestations and confessional documents from Eastern churches out-of-communion with the Orthodox to show that the Christian East as a whole, regardless of confessional commitment, held to transubstantiation.

Given that, Protestant polemicists turned to attacking the intellectual integrity of Eastern Christendom, noting examples of where Greek and Ethiopian clerics clearly did not understanding the minutiae and theological subtleties involved in the Western-rooted debates over the Eucharist. To a certain extent, they had a point. Eastern Christians laboring under Muslim rule were largely cutoff from their own centers of learning and their theological-polemical interests were focused on combating Muslim claims, not Protestant ones. Moreover, while Eastern Christians were not inclined to deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, they spent little time “theorizing” how bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus. That controversy was not on their radar. Still, many Protestant scholars eventually conceded that even without a specifically Latin theological context or vocabulary, it was a bridge too far to claim that the Christian East rejected transubstantiation outright. This “error” had deep roots in Christian history, East and West.

It is interesting to speculate why this chapter in Christian history is not mentioned more often. The fact that it was the Jansenists, rather than “orthodox” Catholics, who opted to repair directly to the East for theological ammunition may be one reason. Whatever contributions the Jansenists could make the Catholic Church’s wider battle with Protestantism were largely overlooked in favor of condemning them for their hyper-reading of St. Augustine’s theological corpus. In more recent times it has become fashionable for some Orthodox scholars (and too many Western Orthodox converts) to take an absolutist position against “the Latins,” arguing—often unconvincingly—that any dogma, doctrine, or theological concept framed in Latin theological language are unacceptable to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the Jansenists are owed a bit of a debt for helping to pave the way for deeper studies into the affinities between Catholics and Orthodox. In so doing, they also shed further light on the extent to which many Protestant sects, rather than returning to “ancient” or “primitive” Christianity, were instead churning out unchecked innovations.

Sorel

Movement shifting, the sort Georges Sorel engaged in during the sunset of his atypical and prolific writing career, is a luxury reserved to those who live long enough to see everything they believe in fall apart. Depending on who you ask, Sorel spent the end of his life shifting from his idiosyncratic brand of Marxism to syndicalism to integral nationalism and back to Marxism (albeit of a more conventional sort) one last time. Sorel has been so intellectually quirky by some that some now suppose “Sorelianism” to be a “thing” even if it’s unlike that Sorel, despite his eccentricities, was terribly interested in founding a school. Neither a friend of liberal democracy nor capitalism, Sorel looked to the day when the working class would be liberated, when it would achieve a particular renewal uniquely its own, untainted by bourgeois decadence. While critical minds such as Carl Schmitt saw in Marxism/socialism little more than the fulfillment of liberalism, Sorel’s willingness to harness myth, conflict, and ultimately violence in the service of class liberation set him and his ideas a few steps apart from the discussion-based, entertainment-infatuated liberalism that so horrified Schmitt.

Sorel, in the view of thinkers such as Leszek Kolakowski, retained the Jansenist mentality he inherited from his upbringing. However, given that Jansenism was well on the decline in 19th century France, it stands to reason that Sorel’s radical rejection of hedonism and materialism was more than a relic of his childhood. With little-to-no faith to speak of (not even faith in historical determinism and the final triumph of communism), it’s probably not worth speculating too much on the extent to which Jansenism qua Jansenism shaped Sorel’s soul. Asceticism does not demand a fleeting form of Catholic heterodoxy to give it vitality.

It is perhaps safe to say there are no men in Sorel’s mold living today, though certainly there are still some who retain Sorel’s single-minded dedication to a liberating cause. And yes, while both the far Right and far Left have men of violence within their ranks, how many of these things are men of principle? Sorel was not an intellectual. He was learned, even deeply so, but he did not make a living off trading ideas and certainly not off of academia. Even if he was unwilling during his lifetime to acknowledge the benefits of his top-tier secular French instruction, Sorel invested more than enough time in solitary study to credit him with being a self-educated man. The only element missing from Sorel’s biography are some choice tales of direct action, of moments where thoughts of violence gave way to acts of violence, and all in the service of his cause (whatever that happened to particularly be at one point or another). Had Sorel been a politically violent man, he would today be a romantic figure. Maybe he would have even come to be elevated to the status of a legend, like Che Guevara. Instead, Sorel remains something of a lonely figure in radical intellectual history, blamed for normalizing violence for the Left and anticipating fascism in the Right.

If there is anything to be learned from Sorel’s example, it seems to be this: to advocate and agitate for the success of a cause, particularly one dedicated to the liberation of men from something (poverty, racial oppression, sin, etc.), demands not simply personal certitude, but complete self-sacrifice. There can be, or at least ought not to be, any trace of self-interest or personal gain to be found. How difficult this would be to actualize in our social media-saturated age where even the most honest sentiments are hardly ever given without the hope of Likes, up-votes, and re-Tweets. The radical intellectual, certain he has the “answers”—the sort that can only be printed and bound by a university press—never has tenure or paid sabbatical far from his mind. We are not accustomed to calling the sorts “frauds,” though I imagine a good number of persons struggle to admire them. If anything, the Twitter-star Leftist or the posturing academic who landed an Ivy League post via a derivative work that happened to appear at the right time are objects of envy and scorn, not adulation. May they be taken down at the masses’ earliest possible convenience.

In a letter penned in 1907, Sorel, opining on the social power of myths, had this to say: “Catholics have never been discouraged even in the hardest trials, because they have always pictured the history of the Church as a series of battles between Satan and the hierarchy supported by Christ; every new difficulty which arises is only an episode in a war which must finally end in the victory of Catholicism.” Catholicism, as we all know, is not a myth. What is a myth, at least for the moment, is the idea that Catholics are never discouraged. Now history has become a tale of losing battles where the war is more likely to be lost than won. I dare say that when it comes to comparing the faith of the contemporary Catholic and Sorel, dear Georges possessed far more.