Rigid Repression of Rigidity

Should I comment about this subject? Is it just a blind alley of cognitive dissonance? In the end, perhaps I may be able to contribute positively. The article on which I base my reflections today is Pope calls for an end to ‘intransigent defense of tradition’.

I am as much against abortion as any other human being who seeks to defend the sanctity of life, from both Christian and humanist points of view. However, there is a way to dealing with these questions from the study of moral theology and ethics, politics, medicine and sociology. When we have groups of fanatical people banging the same drum, with the effect of the Chinese Water Torture, the cause somewhat loses its credibility. We are dealing with a new wave of puritanism, just the same as with Woke and all the other single-issues that are subjects of obsession and extreme intolerance. It is a very frightening tendency especially when we read the history of the 1920’s with the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism.

Many do uphold the older forms of the liturgy with the same mentality, and often converging with these moral issues, especially regarding homosexuality, gender identity and a particularly narrow idea of the Christian family. I have been to the USA four times in my life, once to stay with a friend in Baltimore, twice to be of service to a chivalric order in Tennessee and once to a traditionalist chapel and its bishop in Florida. I hardly scratched the surface of American conservatism or integralism. I was once a seminarian in an American community in Rome founded by Msgr John McCarthy who had worked in the Roman Curia and was particularly bothered by “liberal” or demythologising biblical exegesis. We had the Pauline liturgy in Latin and celebrated in a conservative way, suggestive of the way Anglo-Catholic priests in the nineteenth century “interpreted” the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Indeed, the priest who celebrated our community Mass most days was Australian and a convert from Anglicanism. He was one of the few joys in this community lodged at the Czech College still in the Communist era. I saw the sadness on the faces of those men who had sacrificed everything for their vocations, and it reflected in this American community with other concerns in regard to secular and post-Christian society. These men were not the worst of radicalised Catholics. Even as far back as then, I was reacting away from Aristotelian and Thomistic realism and seeking something that recognised the human spirit outside these categories.

Previously, with the Society of St Pius X (I left them around Easter 1983), I found radicalised and rigid attitudes, conspiracy theorists, people with binary thinking that was so far removed from the reality of most of us. In France, political ideas were more or less founded on those of Charles Maurras and Action Française. There were the monarchists divided between the Orléanistes and the Légitimistes. It all seemed new to me in 1981, but the idea of restoring the French Monarchy would be something like restoring the Stuart dynasty in England and having the USA back in the British Empire! All the same, these dreams seemed as nothing compared to the truly sinister collectivist ideas of those who would take the places of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco – burning heretics as in bygone centuries. When people professing to be Christians hold the same fundamental discourse as Dostoievsky’s Grand Inquisitor, what can be done?

From what I am reading about Pope Francis and the so-called “rigid” Catholics, I am brought into the presence of another form of integralism – repression. Thesis – antithesis – synthesis. We have the dialectical clash of opposites which only brings out more hatred and radical opinions.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit. Their spirituality is based on Renaissance Christian Humanism and gentleness. At the same time, any means is justified to advance Christendom. Many lessons are learned through the book and the film The Mission, about the Guarani missions in what today is Brazil in the 1750’s. We see the contrast between Cardinal Altamirano in his political pragmatism and scruples of conscience, Father Gabriel the gentle contemplative and missionary and the aggressive Rodrigo Mendoza who had repented of killing his brother in a duel. How was everyone to react in the face of Portuguese imperialism and rationalist anti-clericalism? Altamirano chose to negotiate, Gabriel appealed to the oppressor by holiness and beauty, the Blessed Sacrament, and remembered that he was there as a priest. Mendoza decided to fight with the arms he had abandoned on his conversion. Jesuits use a military analogy in their rigid and blind obedience to authority, especially the Pope. It comes from piety and self-denial, but assumes the goodness and purity of intention of the authority, which is – human. This would be a simplistic way of understanding the present Pope, which would require a profound study of his preaching and writings.

Repression will not be the answer, even though I can sympathise with the Fr Gabriel in him. However, radicalism is not cured by repression or abolition of various concessions by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. A return to the status quo of c. 1976 when Paul VI suspended Archbishop Lefebvre would seem to be unrealistic. That was 45 years ago, and there is less in the coffers to keep the institution going.

St. Paul was liberated from “the most oppressive form of slavery, which is slavery to self,” stated the Pope. Not only this, but Paul was “set free from the religious fervour that had made him a zealous defender of his ancestral traditions (cf. Gal 1:14) and a cruel persecutor of Christians.”

There may be something of a Dostoievsky in Pope Francis who seems to observe the enmity between the profound spirit of Christ and religious intolerance. Are we going to beat intolerance with intolerance as did the Jacobins in the 1790’s as cartloads of people were taken to the guillotine? The dividing line is very fine between inquisitor and inquisitor!

Formal religious observance and the intransigent defence of tradition, rather than making him open to the love of God and of his brothers and sisters, had hardened him: he was a fundamentalist.

We find here unjustified stereotyping and binary thinking. What is tradition? There is no single or simple answer. What is fundamentalism? Is it a literalist way of reading Scripture or an American form of European integralism? Many of these distinctions are glossed over by the “simple” Jesuit. To be a Christian, you have to free yourself from tradition. Why not go further and tell people that they have no longer to be bound by the institutional Church. All of a sudden, there are fewer butts in the pews and less money to keep the institution going. I wonder if that would be the thing to do in a revolutionary and nihilistic act of destruction followed by building something new, a total reboot. Would not such a destruction of Christian tradition be followed by atheism or recourse to another religion?

We too have been touched by the Lord; we too have been set free. Yet we need to be set free time and time again, for only a free Church is a credible Church.

Yes and no. What is that free Church? Unfortunately a free Church is something like the Methodists or Continuing Anglicanism. Were Pope Francis to encourage that, he has only to step down, give the Vatican to Turkey and leave the rest of us to live our faith in our little communities. I wonder who would pay his pension, because most of us “non-conformists” have to earn our own living by work and living very invisibly in the world.

I think that most of us would agree that we have to live our faith from the inside-outwards rather than in the manner of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Like Paul, we are called to be set free from hypocritical outward show, free from the temptation to present ourselves with worldly power rather than with the weakness that makes space for God, free from a religiosity that makes us rigid and inflexible; free from dubious associations with power and from the fear of being misunderstood and attacked.

Is this Cardinal Altamirano or Fr Gabriel? Or is this the imperialistic ambition of the Portuguese king with his masonic and anti-clerical tendencies? I am all for Christianity without worldly power or being determined by other people’s sins. However, Francis seems quite oblivious to anything positive to replace the rigidity and intolerance. He seems little concerned with anything other than his own status as Pope and source of everything.

It may be easy to preach to my own chapel, but I personally suffered from the kind of rigidity he denounced, but the remedy is not a new bout of iconoclasm and repression of the old liturgy. Benedict XVI’s answer was the openness of which he was capable with a love of beauty and man’s deepest desire, the beauty of the liturgy that is an icon of God’s love. Hatred cannot be answered by repression but by love.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Has not Pope Francis thought of celebrating Masses in the old rite and seeking to win the hearts of those intolerant and rigid people, to warm them from the inside? Only warmth will melt ice. Only light will dissipate darkness.

Today too there is no shortage of preachers who, especially through the new means of communication, can disturb communities. They present themselves not primarily to announce the Gospel of God who loves man in Jesus, Crucified and Risen, but to insist, as true ‘keepers of the truth’ — so they call themselves — on the best way to be Christians.

Beware, Your Holiness, lest you fall into the same trap of the Evil One…

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7 Responses to Rigid Repression of Rigidity

  1. Pingback: Rigid Repression of Rigidity | The Blue Flower – The Old Roman

  2. Stephen K says:

    Father, you make some very salutary cautionary remarks about this but just a couple of comments, if I may.

    On the subject of abortion, I have recently purchased a book by Mako Nagasawa, who according to the endpaper is Director of the Anastasis Center (sic) for Christian Education and Ministry. The book is titled “Abortion Policy and Christian Social Ethics in the United States”. I have not got far into the book but it is clearly written to try to shed light on and beyond the toxicity of abortion politics in the US. He traces the historical evolution and changes in Christian views about abortion, the soul etc, as well as particular US religious exegetical and legal developments. One reviewer writes: “This book is a significant contribution to move some Christians from being simply being reductionistic anti-abortion to more robustly pro-life”. Another reviewer writes: “Mako Nagasawa’s book is an extraordinary contribution to the longstanding deeply divisive, seemingly irresolvable debate over abortion in Christian ethics. No significant angle on abortion fails to receive Nagasawa’s painstaking, detailed, convincing attention – biological science, biblical exegesis, theological and pastoral history, legal history and debate, ethical analysis, practical implications…

    Perhaps co-readers might know this book or be interested to explore it. But a question that arises, but is distinct, from one’s view of abortion, is the concept described by Bishop McElroy of San Diego as the “weaponisation of the Eucharist”.

    This leads inevitably to the whole issue of sacraments, and how we understand them. It leads thus to the way we might articulate or try to understand what terms like “grace” mean, and how we might try to foster agape in a life combined with private and public participation in liturgical life.

    I don’t know whether Pope Francis will restrict the older liturgical forms or not. The old adage “lex orandi, lex credendi” works in all directions. So long as Paulians and traditionalists equally assert that their way is the best and the only liturgy for the sake of “orthodoxy” (however conceived), we are stuck with weaponized sacramentality, and not redemptive grace.

    My own view is that the Christian churches are riven by polemics in which all ideologies and ‘sides’ are implicated. This is at its root a sign of something deeply antithetical to the kingdom “not of this world” Jesus proclaimed. It is not a case of ‘anything goes’ or the deconstruction of meaning, but rather of the imperative to try to enter more deeply into a relationship with an Ineffable so that light might shine.

    I personally think that the Christian liturgical landscape could benefit (though hopefully with more benevolence and success) from Mao’s “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend”, because I think that they all can have value for a person at different times and contexts of his or her life’s journey. However I don’t have much optimism.

    I do think that Pope Francis is not best or correctly interpreted as wanting to impose an alternative rigidity, but rather as wanting to expose the whole idea of rigidity. The problem with whether or not this has value or will succeed is the one we each can face, namely, that our respective liberations will depend on personal Damascus moments over whose timing and nature we have no control.

    • I discovered this video this morning about mass psychosis and the Demons of Dostoievsky

      If the Church means that individual persons are controlled by the thoughts of other people, especially as a mass of people, that is not the Church but the first circle of hell. I find this with the mass anto-abortion hysteria, when it is nothing to do with human life and life in decent conditions. We as individuals think about the baby, the woman in her circumstances of life, what can be done to help a person in trouble. The mass would torch the abortion clinic and send the woman in question to be burned at the stake!

      I hope that Pope Francis will not believe that repressing traditionalists will cure the problem of rigidity of mass authoritarianism. The problem is not the rite of Mass but the problem that goes right the way back to the life of Christ – beginning with the Scribes and Pharisees, the relationship between love and freedom. I also advocate more diversity and personalism, making the social dimension of the Church voluntary and based on desire and love rather than authority and power. The problem is that the human organisation with churches, pipe organs and schools depends on money. Money comes from those who have power and status.

      I find it difficult to judge Pope Francis, whether he is drunk on power or genuinely trying to use his position to combat all kinds of rigidity, not only traditionalist rigidity. I suspend my judgement because I haven’t found the motivation to study his preaching and writings. “I do think that Pope Francis is not best or correctly interpreted as wanting to impose an alternative rigidity, but rather as wanting to expose the whole idea of rigidity”. I hope you are right. Perhaps it is by removing the threat of authoritarian restrictions, the idea of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that the traditionalist rigidity can be brought to relax and allow peace to prevail.

      • Stephen K says:

        The youtube video on the demons of Dostoievsky: very interesting, but it led me to Alan Watts!

        Yes, we need to relax and allow peace to prevail.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    The years since ‘Vatican II’ have been – ought one say – ‘complex’ ones, liturgically speaking. For instance, the Graduale Triplex and the Offertoriale Triplex seem admirable in many ways, and in some sense ‘officially welcome’. (That Offertoriale contributes to the practice of the schola of which I am a member.) And I remember the discussions of the current state of the Mozarabic and Ambrosian Rites and the peculiar complexities involved, at Ray Winch’s 1988 mini-conference (though, alas, not in proper detail – and my notes are in storage – and, of course, a lot has happened since then). Indeed, I have been to an Ambrosian Rite Epiphany Mass in the Netherlands more than once, and it seems some sort of Dutch tradition (though I presume I have heard the ‘revised’ Rite and what I’ve heard about from decades past must have been an ‘old’ one). For years my ‘main experience’ was a Latin Novus Ordo High Mass, celebrated, variously, versus populum and ad orientem. Now it is the 1962 Mass. And, what is one to say of the quashing of the attempt in Oxford to celebrate the Sarum Use? Could Benedict XVI have reversed that? It is sadly my impression that neither Archbishop Roland Minnerath nor Pope Francis are properly appreciative of the desire and love for pre-1970 Masses, indeed, seem given to what (with reference to one example) you call “unjustified stereotyping and binary thinking”.

    • I have just finished reformatting an old piece of work from my Fribourg days Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875) and his liturgical activity, a pioneer of the liturgical movement. I wrote this in 1987 and I was a lot less critical about traditionalist Roman Catholic ideas than now. I am beginning a new piece of work which will have the title “Liturgical Medievalism in the Romantic Mind” or similar. I will probably reuse some of my Dom Guéranger work and give more consideration to Dom Odo Casel, Fr Louis Bouyer and Josef Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI. It is the “other” Liturgical Movement I want to rediscover. I am dismayed that Pope Francis seems to be in the “we have learned nothing and have no need to learn anything” paradigm. We’ll have to wait for his “Cancel Summorum Pontificium” document and see what he will say.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Many – though belated – thanks! I delight to look things up in the English translation of various volumes of L’Anée Liturgique as The Liturgical Year, as scanned in the Internet Archive. My fairly brief experience so far with a learned and lively schola master is that we have vast amounts to learn, though any presentation of it would have to be ‘romantic’ in approach, since the musicians and scribes did not leave explanations, nor are there detailed mediaeval commentaries.

        Good wishes for your latest work: I am sure I am not alone in looking forward to it (when the time is ripe)!

        Serious medical experience can have deep non-physical effects (however unpredictable: I think of both the work and life of Charles Williams as having possible, complex examples) – more liturgical openness would be a grateful one for Pope Francis.

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