In These Strange Times

As expected, I have engaged in well over a dozen “Synod Talk” threads, e-mail exchanges, and conversations. Because Michael Voris did not invite me to accompany him and Church Militant TV to Rome, I have no “inside information” to give. I don’t even have a compelling analysis to offer of what has been reported in the secular and Catholic media. There’s simply not enough time to read it. It may take months, perhaps even years, to know exactly what transpired at the “Extraordinary Synod on the Family,” including all of the events leading up to it. Perhaps Roberto de Mattei will pen The Extraordinary Synod: An Unwritten Story someday. For the moment, what I do know is that the Synod is not an “event” which can be dismissed lightly. Even if the conservatives “win the day” (whatever that means in this context), poison is flowing throughout the Corpus Mysticum. Doctrinal changes are off the table, but “practical reforms” in the name of “the pastoral” will remain in play indefinitely. As we have seen play out since the Second Vatican Council, a shift in praxis becomes a de facto shift in doctrine. We can scream “The doctrine still exists!” until we’re blue in the face, but that hardly means it matters.

Some are taking this Synod as a reason for despair. To a certain degree I don’t blame them, but only because they have been spoonfed the nonsensical neo-Catholic narrative that “everything is fine” in the Church today and that no matter what, so long as there is a pope in Rome, nothing bad will ever happen to their fortress faith — one secured mightily from the onslaughts of empirical reality.

Now the neo-Catholic narrative is crumbling and conservative Catholics have a difficult choice to make: Do they continue on with the narrative, adjusting it to make room for “the pastoral on steroids,” or do they admit, with some embarrassment and a great deal of worry, that the narrative was false all along? In other words, is this the moment when the conservatives realize that the traditionalists had the better read on the past five decades all along? Let’s set aside liturgical matters for the moment. They, too, are important, but they are not supremely important. Traditional Catholicism has been, and remains, dedicated to the restoration of the Church’s authentic doctrinal, theological, and spiritual patrimony. It is not an ongoing quarrel over aesthetics.

Since the close of Vatican II, traditionalists have confronted — sometimes harshly — the renovations which were taking place in the Church, resisting directly where possible those changes without compromising the Faith. As such, traditionalists became a thorn in the side of the neo-Catholic narrative. Instead of confronting traditionalist claims, the “good conservatives” typically mocked and derided them. If you want a recent example, look no further than Matthew Schmitz’s petty swipe at Rorate Caeli over at First Things. Instead of taking seriously Rorate‘s concerns about the Synod, he mocks the blog as “the funniest Catholic satire site.”

I pray that Schmitz’s attitude soon becomes the exception instead of the rule. It should be clear by now that conservative and traditional Catholics are in this together. We may continue to have strong disagreements over liturgy, the “new theology,” the status and meaning of Vatican II, and so forth, but with regard to protecting the integrity and truth of the Catholic Church’s witness on behalf of families in the face of a culture beset by hedonism, individualism, and a grotesque disrespect for the sanctify of life, we are one. We must be one. Otherwise the liberals who are hellbent on genuflecting before the Zeitgeist have already won.

11 comments

  1. Good post. If i were ever to become Catholic, and in all candor I won’t, I’d probably be a traditionalist or a RadTrad or a Sedevacantist. Liberal Protestantism, aka “Modernism” decapitated Catholicism with Vatican II, and the head has been slowly coming off since then.

    The neos will probably have too much pride to acknowledge that the Trads were correct.

    1. Oh, you really should come on over. The water is great.

      To be honest, I don’t see the point in being a sedevacantist. Anglo-Catholicism makes a lot more sense to me than their position, but so it goes. As for “rad trad,” I don’t even know what the term means. As far as I can tell, it is a neo-Catholic slur directed at any traditionalist who desires anything more than to have his Summorum Pontificum Mass at 3pm every other Sunday during the autumn.

      I consider myself a traditionalist, but in a somewhat non-traditional manner. If traditional Catholicism is to have a life in the coming years, it will have to drop some of the false romanticism and pointless nostalgia which is an unfortunate part of its current being. (I am not wholly against nostalgia, but there are limits.) It would also be helpful if traditionalists had a more rigorous sense of history, an openness to reading works and engaging with thinkers outside of the “traditionalist canon,” and less of a chip on their shoulders. I agree that there is a double standard applied in the Church today when it comes to traditionalists. All sorts of liberals are allowed to wildly dissent from the Church’s magisterium without the slightest rebuke while any trad who expresses perplexity at how certain aspects of Vatican II can be reconciled with the pre-conciliar magisterium are called “crypto-Lefebrites” (or worse). We, as trads, need thicker skins.

  2. I feel there is a bigger crisis looming. I’m not quite sure how to express it. But as I understand it, the Holy Roman Church, when we speak of it, refers to the Church in Rome. Not to the Church in Milan, or Milwaukee, or Marseilles. The Church of Rome is infallible in faith and morals, and we guarantee our orthodoxy by union of faith with the Church of Rome. This seems to me to be the understanding of the Patristic age, as far as I have read.

    So what on earth do we do when the Bishop of Rome, and all his priests, and his cardinals, agree de facto to heresy and heteropraxy? The whole thread becomes unstuck.

    Perhaps I’ve missed something in my ecclesiology, but it does give one pause to consider that the Holy Roman Church may have to come with the warning, “N.B.: Not Holy in Rome”. Our alternatives appear to be a wishy-washy diffusion of ‘Roman Church’ to in practice mean ‘any Church in communion with the Roman Church’, the construction of some kind of Platonic ‘Eternal Rome’ (which surely plays oddly with the Incarnation), or else crying tempora mutantur… in which case, bringing on the liturgical dancing-girls.

    So I have to ask in all honesty: Have I got something wrong?

    1. I think it would be wrong to hold that all of the priests, bishops, and the Pope himself have fallen into de facto heresy, and even if many have (a contestable point), I don’t see how it follows that the Church herself has ceased to be the Church, or that her eternal teachings, indefectible as they are, have been, in substance, compromised or abrogated.

      Granted, we may be — or probably are — entering uncharted waters. I agree with Bishop Bernard Fellay — repeating what I understand to be Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s assessment — that the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is experiencing her Passion right now. (Maybe it is “a Passion,” of which there are many in ecclesiastical history.) There is a contradiction afoot and we are at pains to understand it neatly. We want to make it simple, but we cannot — and thus we should not. Remember, so-called followers and detractors of Jesus Christ wanted to make his suffering and death simple to. Some wanted to say that he only seemed to suffer and die, but that as God, he could not and therefore did not. Others looked upon Jesus, humiliated on the Cross, and declared that He could not be God. The truth, as we know, is that He really is God, and that He really did suffer and die. It took the Church centuries to unfold what was revealed to the Apostles, and even then there remained dissenters and detractors.

      The Church will come to grips with these times. She will be given the wisdom to understand. It is our duty now to not despair, but to fight.

  3. Dear Modestinus,

    You seem to suggest that trads and conservatives have more important things that unite us than divide us, and that (presumably trads’) focus on liturgy is merely a mater of “aesthetics”.

    I suppose there are some devotees of the TLM who might care unduly about aesthetics, but the genuine traditionalist sees the liturgy as part of a continuum involving doctrine, theology and spirituality, as you do. Where you and I part company however is that you seem to think the liturgy corner of this quadrilateral can be set aside.

    My hypothesis is indeed that liturgical indifference (i.e. participation in the NOM rather than the TLM) leads inevitably to deterioration and decay on the doctrine, theology and spirituality fronts. The evidence: what are the liturgical preferences of the current synod fathers and how do they correlate with their orthodoxy on the other fronts? So for TLM-ers to make common cause with NOM-ers is ultimately doomed to fail.

    Which is hardly surprising – man is created for worship, and perverted worship leads to perverted doctrine, theology and spirituality.

    1. Paul,

      I apologize for the misunderstanding. My comment about “aesthetics” was directed at those who believe that “trads” are only focused on such things. I certainly do not believe that is the heart of traditional Catholicism. Moreover, I do not believe the liturgy is a minor matter either. (I admit it has been awhile since I have written on liturgical matters.)

      My point here is that while conservatives and traditionalists have concrete disagreements about the liturgy, right now our focus needs to be on the doctrinal horizon which units us together. There is no sense in having endless debates about the Novus Ordo Mass while princes of the Church are busy conspiring to drive a wedge between doctrine and practice with respect to not only the sacrament of marriage, but the Eucharist as well.

      I will admit that I am not a big fan of compartmentalizing the problems in the Church, ignoring some while focusing on others, but the enemies of the Truth have made their move and we have to respond accordingly. Now is not the time for traditionalists to run to their ghettos, nor for the conservatives to sing themselves sweet lullabies to sooth their worried minds. Now is the time for us to collectively dig in our heels and to act as the soldiers of Christ which we became on the day of our Confirmation (Chrismation).

  4. Thanks for the prompt reply. But sorry to see you run with the old “traditionalists … run to their ghettos” canard. I don’t think you can fairly accuse the SSPX of going into hiding (or who else did you have in mind?)

    But for the record, we are still unreconciled on your main point, which I understand to be that the liturgical TLM-NOM distinction makes no difference to one’s ability to hold the line on doctrine, theology and spirituality. IMHO the evidence to the contrary is clear.

    1. Paul,

      I don’t think it’s a canard. I have routinely defended the SSPX and will continue to do so. I do not think “the ghetto” is the solution. The Society doesn’t think so either. It continues to engage with the Church at large, confronting the errors being promoted within her walls while holding fast to tradition. It is not a separate church. It is not a hideout, even if some treat it that way. I have never for a single second bought the line that the SSPX is or has ever been in schism. Those faithful who remain attached to the Society and its priests would do well not to behave as though they were simply because that’s the easier route than witnessing on behalf of the Faith.

      I am not sure about your second point. It is possible, and true, that conservative Catholics who attend the NOM can maintain a doctrinally sound view of the Mass. They can also hold the line on doctrine as well. While that fact does not justify the NOM or speak in any sense to its substantive equal footing with the TLM or the other ancient liturgies of the Church, it should erase the dubious idea that attending the NOM automatically leads souls down the rabbit hole of heresy.

  5. I’ll pose this question here since I haven’t seen it addressed anywhere and it’s perplexing me. We were told, toward the end of last week, that 3/4, I think it was, of the synod bishops opposed Cardinal Kasper’s ideas, and that all or most of the small discussion groups concluded likewise. But then, behold, the paragraphs on divorce and on homosexuality receive a majority, even if not a 2/3 majority, vote for inclusion in the final report! How did this happen? Has there been a discussion of this somewhere that someone can refer me to?

    1. I believe the number “3/4ths” comes from an interview cardinal Pell did, which was filmed by CNS, in which he said that after the relatio was read, 3/4ths of the interventions expressed objections to it. He didn’t mention Kasper’s proposals particularly, nor the paragraphs on homosexuality. He did suggest that the fathers found the relatio tendentious and that it failed to report accurately what had been said during the first week of the synod. The objections most widely circulated (based on my reading) were to the total absence of references to scripture and tradition in the relatio, and its mostly sociological (rather than theological or pastoral) viewpoint. Furthermore, the relatio was modified (including the paragraphs about Kasper’s proposal and homosexuality) between the initial relatio and the relatio synodi that was voted on last weekend. Presumably many more council fathers were appeased by the modifications than had initially approved of the so-called Forte relatio.

      1. Thanks this is helpful, but it still doesn’t entirely explain how it seemed as if at mid-week the bishops fighting for orthodoxy had triumphed, and then a couple days later a majority of them vote in favor of language which is ambiguous.

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