For those who read French, I draw your attention to Le pape François laisse entendre que l’attachement au rite tridentin constitue un produit du nihilisme. This is a fascinating article from the French Catholic periodical La Croix by the theologian Grégory Solari.
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Also see Fr Zuhlsdorf’s More on Desisdeede – Desiderio desideravi. This time through a particularly vicious lens that might be at the core of the document. This article contains a translation of the Solari article.
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The idea that RC traditionalists were nihilists seems quite absurd, but I could imagine that some might be twisted in their desire for the old liturgy and, above all, the “old” social and political order. Any kind of religious fanatic can be identified with a wider “spiritual narcissism” or caricature of something from the past for the sake of individual or group identity. However, my immediate intuition is that the same could be said of the followers of Pope Francis and the post-Vatican II status quo.
Most adepts of Christianity in one institutional church or another are poorly catechised and have little knowledge of theology, the liturgy and church history. Such people are unlikely to be committed to nihilism as a philosophical paradigm. Maybe nihilism can emerge as an un-named default attitude, maybe in some people, and for reasons quite unrelated to liturgical preferences. Nihilism is generally understood as the way we relate to values. Nothing has any intrinsic value other than exterior criteria, economical, political, aesthetic, sociological, etc. For Francis, traditionalists have recourse to a notion of tradition to compensate the symbolic deficit that characterises modernity. If we try to understand the thought of Nietzsche and apply it to this question, tradition is confused with the past. Value is based on a will to power. Only Christ gives this value through the link between the lex orandi and the lex credendi. Away from the Church, in what the institutional Catholic would call schism, liturgical forms are transformed into formalism. The “neo” imitation becomes another name of the nothing. It seems to be a sophisticated argument to suggest a sacramental theology that denies any value “outside the Church”. Only the Church escapes nihilism, and the liturgy only has meaning when expressed by the ecclesial institution.
According to the author of the article, the intention of Benedict XVI in his motu proprio of 2007 was to create a situation in which the two Roman rites would coexist and enrich each other in a process of natural healing and organic development in time. According to this reasoning, Pope Benedict was mistaken in his trust in the traditionalist institutes, and Pope Francis found that they refused the rite of Paul VI. Therefore the experiment had failed and attachment to the old rite constituted a rupture between the communion of the Church and the liturgical life. The question needs a long period of critical thought with no premature conclusions.
My own intuition is that the accusation of nihilism is a Jesuit sophism, something to be set into a whole world of clashing ideologies of the left and the right. I deeply regret the time I spent as a Roman Catholic, both as a traditionalist and a sincere effort to integrate into the mainstream Church. I perceived a toxic and diseased humanity in its quest for spiritual justification, to such an extent that I was brought to believe that I was the one who was unstable and disordered. Having had a similar experience with marriage, I set about the task of discovering myself from a clinical and a spiritual point of view. The progressivism of Francis and all the time I spent in the RC Church from the pontificate of John Paul II seemed at variance with what I sought. Perhaps I am the nihilist! I was also very ill at ease in the reactionary world of the traditionalists and their zeal to control. I am aware of my own fragility!
Over the past few days, I have been watching videos by exponents of other spiritual traditions and psychologists who are aware of the harm done by materialism and nihilism. Here is a relevant video by the gritty psychologist Richard Grannon.
Dr Ramani is specialised in the narcissistic personality disorder. I have often watched her videos in my own time of introspection and “fact-checking”.
I have no idea of whether Pope Francis and his advisors have been going along such lines of thought. If they have, they undoubtedly fall into the same narcissism and control-freakery as their adversaries. They blame liturgical rites, a pure red herring, from deeper human issues from which they believe themselves to be protected by a narrow notion of ecclesial communion.
I left that absurd and insane world, at least that is how I found it. “Cradle Catholics” would see things differently. I came from Anglican origins. I have nothing to be triumphalist about, but perhaps our liturgical diversity was a more successful expression of Benedict XVI’s idea and desire to calm the conflicts that was possible in the authoritarian structure of the RC Church. Anglicanism too is a mess, and our continuing Churches are still marginal and fragile. There are many diseased caricatures of Christianity in conflict with materialism and atheism. Both are destructive to the human spirit.
Before trusting others, we have to look into ourselves and seek the real meaning of Christ and his teaching. Spend time in nature and its beauty. Learn gratitude and a sense of wonder. I express my own love of the sea and I remember my many family outings with the dogs on the Fells of the Lake District. We need to go back to origins, the deepest meaning of the disputed notion and caricature of being born again. It is not merely the Sacrament of Baptism or an event that marks our conversion to Christ. That is too narrow and schematised in an ideology of controlling people. We need to make our own discernment and Tiefenpsychologie to find Christ within us, where he is within each of us. What will that do to our church life. Precious little remains of that unless we have the commitment and self-discipline of hermits. I think we should belong to some community in the way that I belong to the Anglican Catholic Church, aware that this is fragile – especially the further away we are geographically.
We may be tempted at times to give up that little that remains. One thing we can remember is that there is no positive alternative. Nihilism and despair are not the answer. We can all live with this contradiction in our own way, as best we can. Going to the Roman Catholic Church, its dull and boring Pope and its diseased clerocracy is no guarantee against nihilism. Being true to ourselves is.