Roman Catholic Church

Monday Mumbling

A Catholic writer who runs a fairly well-trafficked Latin traditionalist website recently tried to rebuke me on social media for inordinately focusing on “things Eastern” vis-à-vis the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church when, so the argument goes, Pope Francis is systematically destroying the Latin Church (which, as we all know, is the dominant form of Catholicism today). This came in response to my rhetorical question over whether or not the same traditional Catholics who are upset over Francis’s recent intervention into the affairs of the Knights of Malta would holler as loudly if the Pope moved to impose clerical celibacy on the Eastern Catholic churches. Clerical celibacy, mind you, was just an example; I could just as easily used azymes. My point was not to discuss the issue of clerical celibacy but to highlight a certain myopia which exists within the Catholic Church (particularly among traditionalists) when it comes to the Christian East, particularly Eastern Catholics who, for centuries, have had to endure incessant incursions into their proper autonomy from Rome for largely indefensible reasons. Why are these incursions—which still transpire today—acceptable but the one against Malta not?

As a Greek Catholic, I have no love for what Pope Francis is doing to the Latin Church; but I believe in consistency. If it is beyond the pale for the Ordinary of Rome to meddle with longstanding constructs of sovereignty, to say nothing of traditional disciplines and norms of the Latin Church, then why should the East ever be fair game for any interference from the West? Granted, most traditional Latin Catholics don’t think on such things, just as they don’t pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary either.

Now, before people start jumping down my throat claiming that I am unfairly picking on Latin Catholics, let me remind everyone reading that I am equally critical of Eastern myopia, particularly when that myopia leads to emptyheaded triumphalism. This is not an exclusively Eastern Orthodox phenomenon, mind you. Plenty of Eastern Catholics—cradle or otherwise—love reveling in the apparent differences (read: deficiencies) found within Latin Catholicism compared to the allegedly “pure East.” For some of those coming from the Byzantine tradition in particular, anything which is not “Byzantine” immediately becomes suspect, if not presumptively aberrant or heretical. Such folks also rejoice at finding instances where the Latin West broke with some (allegedly) “unbroken” tradition from the first millennium, but howl in agony when a Latin notes the many instances where the Byzantines did the same. Undoubtedly the most contentious example of this breaking involves the Eastern Orthodox condoning the practice of second (and even third) marriages when the first spouse is still living—a rather late development that emerged from the conflation of Byzantine (Roman) civil and ecclesiastical law. Make mention of this inconvenient historical truth as a Greek Catholic and be prepared to be called a “Latinizer.”

At some point one has to realize this is all very silly (if not terribly sad). There is no form of triumphalism on this earth that is in any way, shape, or form defensible. Moreover, in a day and age where mankind’s historical horizon stretches to unprecedented lengths, the ignorance which certain bands of Apostolic Christians cling to for dear life are as lamentable as they are perverse. The Church neither began in 1563 nor ended in 1054. Our Lord Jesus Christ had 12 Apostles, not one. No one thought until recent centuries that pious devotions ranging from Novenas to Akathists should displace the Divine Office. Oh, and by the way, “thought” is not a late-medieval Scholastic innovation, either.

Midweek Scribbling

As I scanned the Catholic news waves this morning, I found a great deal of chatter about the Sovereign Order of Malta and Pope Francis; some consternation over a liturgical directive in Rockford, Illinois; and a few words about an Anglican Use parish in Texas. What surprised me about all of this is not the fact the Roman Catholic Church continues to be in disarray, but how unmoved I am by it now. Two or three years ago, I would have been up in arms; now I can barely muster the energy to read these tales of woe from start to finish. Have I given up? Am I losing my faith? Do I actually believe that what is transpiring in the Church is “right” or, at the very least, “ok”? The answer to all of those questions is an unqualified, “No.” I do believe, however, that I have hit the burn-out point when it comes to “crisis porn”; one can only gawk at the carnage for so long before they start to feel like a pervert.

This is not to say that responsible pressmen shouldn’t report on what’s happening around the Corpus Mysticum, nor that all analytical commentary be ignored. There are, thankfully, two or three sober-minded voices out there, the sort who are willing to put the Church’s present problems into perspective without falling prey to pearl-clutching hysteria. Hysteria generates hits, and for more than one traditional Catholic website out there, that’s what seems to matter above all else. What, I wonder, would these folks do if their wildest dreams of Pope Pius XIII ascending the throne and cleaning up the house came true? What would they write about? Maybe at that moment all of the ire directed toward the Novus Ordo Missae will be rerouted toward, say, the Pian reforms of the Breviarium Romanum; there’s always something to be upset about, I suppose.

Speaking of hysteria and hits, I took time out to track my web-log traffic over the past year and compare it to the previous two. Not surprisingly, the less angry, bitter, perturbed, and resentful my posts became, the less interest began to be shown in Opus Publicum, particularly from the traditional Catholic community. Granted, that may be a coincidence, especially since an increasing number of posts started to focus on “things Eastern” which, as best as I can tell, is of little-to-no interest to a vast majority of Catholics out there, specifically those who enjoy magic prayers, ahistorical theology, and early-modern devotions that wantonly displace the liturgical patrimony of the Latin Church. And, naturally, a web-log penned by a dirty “Uniate” is unlikely to attract all that many Orthodox readers, though ironically I seem to have far more of those than I do of the “Orthodox in Communion with Rome” types, that is, those who persist in promoting a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style ecclesiology.

The other day a veteran, long-single theologian who used to have some renown in the Catholic blogosphere sent out a social-media message that began, “I have been asked several times lately how I’ve managed to avoid fornication for all of these years.” Setting aside that this statement is one of the finest humble brags I have ever come across, I personally can’t imagine ever asking someone that question, particularly since it rests on the assumption that the individual being queried has, in fact, avoided the sin in question. Moreover, were I asked how I’ve avoided, say, defrauding large financial institutions millions of dollars or purchasing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, I wouldn’t go public with it. It just seems so, well, untoward to parade certain virtues or, more accurately, “things we’re supposed to be doing in the first place.”

Or maybe I missed something along the way. It’s happened before.

Sunday Notes on Traditionalism

Traditional Catholicism, a magical land that appears to be home to a growing number of the faithful, has once again come under attack from no less a prelate than the Ordinary of Rome, Francis the Merciful. The outrage is palpable. As those who have bothered to pay even a smidgen of attention to Francis’s oftentimes reckless reign knows, he harbors little-to-no love for the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and finds traditional Catholics to be, well, weird—or, according to his most recent interview on the subject, rigid. To some extent, he’s right. Compared to the Modernist-inspired contemporary Catholic that Francis extols, any member of the Body of Christ who upholds the Church’s indefectible teachings has to come across as not only rigid, but extreme and fundamentalist. Francis, interestingly enough, has far less to say about conservative Catholics (or, as some prefer, neo-Catholics). Perhaps it’s because he knows that they are willing enough to play fast-and-loose with certain teachings to still be tolerable. Also, it doesn’t hurt that two of the central features of conservative Catholicism for the past 50+ years are defending the Novus Ordo Missae and the integrity of the Second Vatican Council. Sure, neo-Catholic fealty to the legacy of Pope John Paul II, specifically his teachings on family issues, might be a bit of annoyance, but it’s a small price to pay for winning the allegiance of quasi-universalists intoxicated with neo-ultramontanism.

I imagine the reason traditional Catholicism has been on my mind today is because I opted to skip the Divine Liturgy this week in favor of attending traditional sung Mass at St. Mary’s in Kalamazoo, MI (a parish I am wholly unfamiliar with). It occurred to me that it may have been only the second TLM I have been to this year that wasn’t low. Regardless, on the long, gorgeous drive home through rural Michigan under an unseasonably cloudless, sunny sky, I was bothered by small but noticeable sense that despite the advances made in expanding access to the TLM since 2007, it could all be taken away in an instant—and most Catholics would go along with it. That is to say, if Ecclesia Dei was abolished tomorrow, Summorum Pontificum repealed, and all talks with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) halted, traditional Catholicism would largely disappear. Those who claim to love the old Mass and only the old Mass would seek out the least-worst new Mass available in their diocese. Some might poke their heads into an Eastern Catholic parish or two (assuming there are any near by), but really that would be that. Traditional Catholicism outside of the confines of the SSPX and a few pockets of (clandestine) diocesan resistance, would be effectively dead.

Some might object here and say that traditional Catholicism is more than the TLM and they’re right. It is. The problem, however, is that many attached to the TLM aren’t deeply invested in messy doctrinal matters. Dignitatis Humanae, for example, may not be consonant with tradition, but who cares? The Catholic state is never coming back and besides, if it wasn’t for religious liberty, wouldn’t Catholics living in an increasingly secular West be the ones to suffer? Similarly, while the Novus Ordo Missae may be abused, banal, and lacking the same doctrinal depth as the TLM, it’s valid. Why get worked up over “licety? I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Speaking personally, I feel quite divorced from this potential disaster and yet quite concerned. I believe Greek Catholics—indeed all Eastern Catholics—should hope and pray for the Latin Church to uphold her tradition in toto, even if it may not seem to be in our immediate best interest. Because while traditional Latin Catholicism is a mansion with many rooms and innumerable treasures, it also tends to store more than a fair amount of junk in the attic. Latin chauvinism has had a deleterious effect on the life, integrity, and mission of the Eastern Catholic churches for centuries, and it is largely thanks to certain mid-20th Century historical, theological, and doctrinal trends that Eastern Catholics have found sufficient room to be themselves in a Latin-dominated ecclesiastical environment. (To be fair, many of these trends have thoroughly traditional roots; they just took on a certain intensity after Vatican II.) Add to this a fairly nauseating tendency for certain traditional Latin Catholics to absolutize their tradition over all others and what you have is a certain, but resolvable, tension between Latins and Easterners.

I say “resolvable” because in the end there are more convergences than divergences between traditional Latin Catholics and faithful Eastern Catholics. There is also a lot of room open for mutual understanding and enrichment, not to the extent of blindly (mis)appropriating one tradition and trying to fuse it with another, but rather gaining a fuller understanding of what it means to be Catholic. To say that most of us have lost this understanding would be a gross understatement.

Raskol

Just over 450 years ago, in the faraway land of Russia, a synod was held which, inter alia, upheld a series of far-reaching liturgical reforms which noticeably altered the articulation and practice of liturgical piety in the Russian Orthodox Church. More than a few marginal adjustments, the liturgical reforms instituted by Patriarch Nikon (who, ironically enough, was deposed at the 1666 synod in question) was immediately noticeable to clerics and laity alike, particularly during the penitential season of Great Lent which, arguably, the reforms hit the hardest. The synod also took the disconcerting step of flagrantly nullifying the decrees of an earlier gathering—the 1551 Stoglavy Synod—which had upheld the integrity and orthodoxy of Russia’s liturgical rite—a rite which differed in noticeable ways from Greek usage as it had solidified by the 17th Century. The rest, as they say, is history.

Within a decade or two, the Russian Orthodox Church was fractured into officially approved believers under the Moscow Patriarchate and so-called Old Believers (or Old Ritualists) who refused to acquiesce to the Patriarchate’s liturgical reforms, even though it meant losing the priesthood. The heavy hand of the Russian secular authorities ensured that no bishops joined the “Raskol” or schism, and many of the priests who held to the Russian Old Rite were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. While relations between Old Believers and the mainline Russian Church have improved over the past century to the point where both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia count Old Believers among their membership, the dark legacy of the Russian Church schism still hangs in the air, centuries later.

At the time of the schism, many Old Believers held to an apocalyptic view of the liturgical reform, arguing without irony that altering Slavonic grammar and the number of prostrations performed during the Prayer of St. Ephraim at Lent amounted to losing the Orthodox Faith. Even today, there are Old Believers who maintain that we are still living in the time of antichrist where God has deprived his followers of all of the sacraments save Baptism. Of course, the end of history has yet to come; Christ has not returned in glory; and life continues on. But still, the Old Believer air is thick with eschatological expectation or, at the very least, a powerful sense that God is not done exacting revenge on those who have apparently betrayed Him.

Maybe there is no perfect parallel in the Roman Catholic Church to this phenomenon, though that could change in a hurry. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima and it is not an exaggeration to say that there are more than a few Catholics who believe that a moment of great reckoning is coming. Some, in fact, are longing for it, fed up as they have become with the authorities in Rome and the laxity rampant throughout the Universal Church. Others are holding to a more positive outlook. Instead of expecting impending destruction they hope that the Blessed Virgin’s promise, namely that her Immaculate Heart will triumph, shall be fulfilled. At that point a period of renewal will occur in the Church, with the troubling developments of the past 50 years being swept away so that the Church can once again fulfill her divine mission in the world.

It is easy to draw superficial comparisons between the upsetting developments which occurred in the Russian Orthodox Church during the 17th century and what the Catholic Church has had to endure during the 20th (and well on into the 21st). In fact, that’s what I just did above, albeit with a wee bit of discretion. What is more fascinating to consider is how different “these days” are from “those days.” Traditional Catholics, understandably upset by the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms and doctrinal confusion, have opted to stand up against the prevailing chaos, though only to limited degrees. Getting some shade thrown at you for Tweeting against Mother Theresa’s canonization is a far cry from getting torched at the stake for refusing to change how you make the Sign of the Cross. While traditional Catholics are eager to speak of “persecution,” “injustice,” and “struggle,” very little of that is found during the present situation because even those who wish to eradicate tradition do so not with an axe, but a limp wrist. And for that, traditionalists should probably be grateful.

Hilarion on Liturgical Worship

Recently, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of the Russian Orthodox Church gave an interview in which he discussed, inter alia, worship in the Orthodox Church as compared to other traditions. (You can find the interview at the bottom of Robert Moynihan’s Inside the Vatican Letter #49 here.) Here’s an excerpt.

(more…)

A Few Comments on “Life in the Orthodox Church”

V., the anonymous writer who runs the Perceptio web-log, has finally followed through on the time-honored tradition of Orthodox converts writing about . . . their conversion. In a post entitled “Lessons Learned from Rocky One to Rocky Three (Life in the Orthodox Church),” V. provides his own spiritual-psychological account of why other people enter Orthodoxy before briefly touching on his own reasons (theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and so on and so forth). It’s not particularly persuasive, at least not when it comes to accounting for the myriad of reasons people leave some form of Protestantism (and occasionally Catholicism) for the Eastern Orthodox Church. With respect to ex-Catholics, while it is true that some are looking for a safe haven from the turmoils of contemporary Catholicism (heck, even Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, is rumored to have entertained becoming Greek Orthodox following the Second Vatican Council), a good number of ex-Catholic Orthodox I have met over the years either married into Orthodoxy or weren’t strong churchgoers prior to finding the Christian East. Of course some certainly made their choice for concrete intellectual and/or aesthetic reasons, but they were not “traditionalists” in any strong sense of the word. Most traditional Catholics, for better or worse, take a fairly low view of the Orthodox, regarding them as “schismatics” or “heretics”; they are not inclined to convert, no matter how rotten things get in Rome. The few exceptions I have known to this rule (all priests and monks) did wind up in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), but less out of a desire for “exclusivism” and more because ROCOR, when compared to some other Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, is relatively “safe” in its conservatism. (Also, if you happen to appreciate the Byzantine-Slavic liturgy done well, there’s no better place to go than a ROCOR parish.)

(more…)

On the Pan-Orthodox Council – Followup

For reasons which should be obvious to most, the “Great and Holy Council,” which is currently underway in Crete, has been on my mind quite a bit. Last Friday, over at First Things, I gave a sobering account of where matters stood on the eve of the Council without wishing to get bogged down with predictions (most of which probably wouldn’t come to pass anyway).

On Sunday, Pope Francis sent out the following tweet.

No doubt the Holy Father meant well, but Catholics should not forget the extent to which anti-Catholic animus coupled with ecclesiastical chauvinism have conspired to derail the Council. Now with word getting out that the Council is considering a draft document which would, in effect, “elevate” four Orthodox councils/synods to “ecumenical” status, a new line is being drawn in the sand between East and West — and to what end? The Orthodox world is splintering in profound ways along national and ethnic lines. Some are even predicting an eventual schism between the Ecumenical and Moscow patriarchates. How does it make sense, at this late stage in the game, to go beating the anti-Scholastic/anti-Papal war drums? Or perhaps this is a necessary growing pain which both Catholics and Orthodox must endure on the fraught path to unity. Now may be a good time to wonder if the oft-derided project of “Uniatism” isn’t the way to proceed, at least with respect to those parts of the Eastern Orthodox Church who are willing to prioritize both unity and truth without fictitiously shrinking the Body of Christ down to a ghetto.

In closing, let me call your attention to a quote by the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov which Pater Edmind Waldstein recently posted up on his web-log, Sancrucensis. Maybe this says it all?

Otherwise, if apart from Peter the universal Church can expressly declare the truth, how are we to explain the remarkable silence of the Eastern episcopate (notwithstanding that they have kept the apostolic succession) since their separation from the Chair of St. Peter? Can it be merely an accident? An accident lasting for a thousand years! To those anti-Catholics who will not see that their particularism cuts them off from the life of the universal Church, we have only one suggestion to make: Let them summon, without the concurrence of the successor of St. Peter, a council which they themselves can recognize as œcumenical! Then only will there be an opportunity of discovering whether they are right.

Ways Toward Renewal

Reinhard Hutter, a professor at Duke Divinity School and a leading light of “ressourcement Thomism,” penned a piece for First Things several years ago entitled “The Ruins of Disconunity.” It is an essay I have returned to many times and recommended relentlessly to anyone interested in the state of Catholic theology following the Second Vatican Council.

Lewis Ayres, a professor of historical and Catholic theology at Durham, has since penned a lengthy response to Hutter, one which was only brought to my attention today. Entitled “The Memory of Tradition: Post-Conciliar Renewal and One Recent Thomism,” Ayres calls into question some of the critical points advanced in Hutter’s essay, particularly his commitment to a “ressourcement Thomism” which is inextricably linked to the high point of the Church’s Scholastic tradition. Various duties will likely keep me from commenting on Ayres’s reply in depth for some time, but out of fairness to those interested in the direction of Catholic theology and renewal in general (whether traditional or not), I wanted to bring it to your attention.

As always, combox thoughts are most welcome.

A Remark on Traditionalists and Collegiality

Rorate Caeli ran an odd post (for a traditionalist website) on Saturday decrying “false collegiality.” Why? Because the Holy See is now demanding that it must be consulted in advance of bishops establishing new institutes of consecrated life with their respective dioceses. While this move—which could have negative consequences for conservative and traditional institutes—does indeed appear to be a slap in the face to the idea of collegiality in the Church, since when have traditional Latin Catholics cared about such a thing? For nearly fifty years traditionalists have been attacking the very idea of collegiality since the promulgation of Lumen Gentium at the Second Vatican Council. Generally stated, traditionalists worry that collegiality undermines the authority of the pope by disrupting its inherent monarchical structure (assuming the Church has ever truly had such a structure as many traditionalists conceive of it today). Even during the days of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, when my traditionalists felt alienated from the Church and unhappy with various decrees emanating from the Vatican, they continued to call for an end to collegiality, or at least a reformulation of the concept along papal-monarchical lines. So what has changed? Has Francis’s pontificate become so nauseating to their ecclesiastical tastes that they are now willing to flip on collegiality, desiring for its full return rather than suffer from the apparent horrors of centralization?

Granted, there is plenty of room offered up by this recent move concerning institutes of consecrated life to wonder about the intentions and motives of Pope Francis. Francis, who has never been shy about speaking on the need for great collegiality and doctrinal decentralization in the Church, doesn’t seem to be following his own mind, at least not on this matter. Moreover, there have been plenty of points during Francis’s pontificate where it appears that he wants his own personal form of piety and idiosyncratic understandings of Catholic teaching to become normative for the universal Church without regard to the Church’s rich history of diversity. And he has certainly had no problem preempting the heads of particular churches in dealing with non-Catholic Christians, such as failing to invite Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (or any official UGCC representatives) to his historic meeting with Moscow Patriarch Kirill.

As I have written about elsewhere, there is a concerning inconsistently among some traditional Catholics when it comes to how the Church should be organized and governed. During this period of crisis when it seems that many popes and bishops have failed in their duty toward Christ and the Church, traditionalists long for decentralization, autonomy, and the right to follow their own consciences. But assuming things take a turn for the traditional, then many of these Catholics will no doubt agitate for a return to a strict monarchical model where the pope behaves more like the President of the United States and less like the Supreme Court. If anything now is the time for traditionalists, in concert with other serious Catholic thinkers, to reflect long and hard about the nature of the papacy, particularly as that nature is distorted or enhanced by the era of the “celebrity pope” and the ubiquity of modern media. If traditionalists desire neither collegiality nor centralization