John Beeler wrote another well-reflected posting a few days ago – Pessimism about Catholic traditionalism is unfounded in my opinion – in response to my A Sobering Article.

Whilst John tries to find a way to distinguish ideologically-motivated traditionalists from ordinary Catholics living and worshipping in the days when they had those wonderful big cars of about the time when I was born, there are still things for which he cannot be blamed because he is an American conservative (albeit with many nuances). One is a “this-worldly” vision of Christianity as a force for governing society. It is a mild form of some of the ideas of Charles Maurras in the 1920’s. The Wikipedia article describes the thought rather well – authoritarianism.

We still seem to be in the liberalism = bad, authoritarianism = good paradigm. This is the main characteristic of French intégrisme and American neo-conservatism or the aspiration for a theocracy. It only differs in degree. Liberalism needs to be studied lest the battle be over the meaning of words – as usual. I tend to associate the word with the movement of reaction away from the rationalism of the French Revolution and for separation of the Church from an anti-Christian state. It is also the basis of modern democracy and definitions of human rights including freedom. Nowadays, it tends to be an idea of freedom from all moral constraint. There may be points in common between the two (or more) definitions, but clear distinctions do need to be made. Had I lived in the 1830’s, I would certainly have been a Liberal, and a Modernist had I been in the 1890’s to World War I. Each time, it was freedom from an intolerable situation in intellectual terms. John says it: “liberalism” is about women priests, and probably also about abortion, contraception and homosexuality – to which he opposes the “good” conservatism or authoritarianism.

What should I be optimistic about? Bishop Fellay of the SSPX being made a Cardinal or Pope and a resurgence of two-bit dictators to enforce orthodoxy in their countries on pain of the garrotte or the firing squad? Joking apart, we do wonder whether we are moving into a new period to parallel the 1830’s in a cyclic vision of history. The Church in countries like France did remarkably well from old Napoleon I once the anti-concordataires were got rid of. The churches from the 1850’s or so are a witness to that apogée, like Saint-Clotilde in Paris or the restoration by Viollet-le-Duc of Notre-Dame and many other French cathedrals since the revolutionary hecatomb. France had Lacordaire and Guéranger, liberals before they became Ultramontanists. England had Newman. The thing is, even though I have Romantic tendencies in terms of my philosophy of life, I don’t think it’s going to happen in our twenty-first century sliding down into an Orwellian nightmare. I would love to think otherwise, but nothing is impossible with God as we read today in the Gospel of the Annunciation.

Maybe the young conservative elites are something like La Chesnaie where Lamennais and Montalembert worked out the future of the world. There are plenty of buzz-cut young men around the SSPX, the Fraternity of St Peter and Gricigliano. The years of Benedict XVI seemed to be heady days, but he is no more traditionalist than his successor. He simply had sensitivity for beauty and the liturgy. That is what endeared him to me. The assumption that the “liberals” will die out and be replaced by conservatives seems to me to be a fallacy. If Christianity survives in Roman Catholicism and elsewhere in the west, it will be in the Evangelical-Charismatic form which will be as authoritarian and morally conservative as fundamentalist Protestantism. Yes, mega-churches and blaring loudspeakers with more from “The Machine”…

Justifying the Novus Ordo simply because Benedict XVI improved the English translation just doesn’t wash. It could be reverted back to the old ICEL gunk, but that is the problem of Roman Catholics. Francis doesn’t seem to care one way or the other, which is understandable since he doesn’t seem to think too much about the English language (even if he speaks it a little). Most people couldn’t care, even when they live good upright, moral and law-abiding lives. Also, the western world isn’t just the USA. It is also Europe, and the USA in terms of getting rid of Christianity is running very closely up behind. If any country keeps the faith, it will be Orthodox Russia, but that will be off-bounds for westerners or at least made difficult by the cultural and language barrier.

As for Africa, India, China, South America, etc. being the salvation of traditional western Catholicism, I am not well informed and would appreciate comments by people really in the know. From what I see, the people in those countries don’t have the European culture on which the Roman and French liturgies are based. Why should they? Unless they want the French or British Empires back? It seems unlikely to me. They want liturgy based on their popular cultures, and the Novus Ordo is perfect for that. They don’t miss what we miss.

Perhaps I am indeed pessimistic in terms of the “this-worldly” Church. I remember the Ratzinger Report of the 1980’s in which he discusses this question of optimism and pessimism. This got Cardinal Ratzinger branded as a pessimist and a reactionary. It all depends whether we have a view of the Church that includes the Communion of Saints and the souls still undergoing purgation or healing and needing our prayers as well as those of the Angels. In a purely “this-worldly” context, I don’t as yet see any sign of the flowering that began to happen in the early nineteenth century – unless we ourselves are those signs and cannot see them.

I haven’t defined any dogmas. I’m open to something that would make me change my mind even if I suffer from the disease of not being American! 😉

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2 Responses to Pessimism

  1. Justin says:

    The buzz cut authoritarianism is part of why I finally left tradland and its fantasies. There are certainly good pious folks in that camp but from what I experienced its a lot of unhealthy rules for the sake of rules, glorification of fascist characters and the pining way for some glorious worldwide theocracy run by the Pope under the banner of Christ the King.

    In general I don’t see the SSPX ever getting that much more popular than they already are, and as for the FSSP and the ICK, they are still just small groups on the margins in a a Church that does not seem to really want their brand of Catholicism. I see no indication of some great trad restoration on the horizon, and I’d agree with you about Benedict XVI, he was really no trad in the official sense.

    Reading your stuff has definitely got me loosening up a bit and going back to my roots and instincts as a Christian. Like I said before I am basically at this point kind of just praying the Benedictine Office at home along with the Jesus Prayer and reading scripture for my spiritual reading. If I go to a Church it’s usually just to pray in silence before the tabernacle. Eucharistic adoration is the one specifically Roman practice that I’ve never really given up and that has been important for me. Just staying in touch with the rhythm of the liturgical year through the Office has been far more life giving for he than begrudging attendance at a Novus Ordo or an hour drive once a week to an FSSP low Mass.

    Much of what you have said elsewhere I think is spot on, especially about the old apologetics, theology etc. Trads think that the Baltimore Catechisms and the Garrigou Lagrange books rejected decades ago are going to convince people today, or that somehow the old ultra montane citadel Church of Pius IX and Pius X is attractive to people today. Sorry but it’s not and in light of what happened at Vatican II it’s not even convincing to the highest authorities in Rome anymore anyway.

    Sounds like the ACC you belong to is a breath of fresh air but sadly there’s not much around here in North Central Florida in that department so I might have to just keep praying my office and occasionally going for confession and communion at a Catholic Church or become Greek Orthodox at the local fairly welcoming multi ethnic parish and keep to my western roots somehow.

    Oh, and just like you I too have long hair. Doesn’t really fly in trad land but I’ve always liked it!

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