Sunday, 8 February 2009

What is a traditionalist revisited: should we give up on the word!


It has been a pretty bad few weeks for those claiming the name of traditionalist, bad enough that I'm rethinking my position on the use of this term!

And bad enough that I wanted to write something on the subject (not withstanding by attempt at a blog break!).

The attack

There have been a series of posts around the web (including several on Australian blogs) over the last several weeks - some polite, others just outright nasty, some claiming that they are just trying to be humorous - trotting out every cliche about traditionalists you could find.
A classic of the genre can be found over at The Catholic Thing. It is unsurprising I guess that the attack has ratcheted up a notch or two. Traddies are serving as something of a proxy for the Pope for those who (often being ultramontanists by inclination) don't want to attack him directly, particularly those who were happy in their catholic tradition-lite niches (a classic example of the genre being the story about the New Zealand bishop currently busily trying to find an alternative to clericals for priests) and are certainly feeling threatened by the Pope's agenda.

Now I'm all for finding a better term than 'traditionalist' - Gregorian rite catholics, movement for the restoration/rediscovery of tradition, whatever. But let's not kid ourselves. It doesn't matter what we call ourselves, 'just catholics' (neo-conservatives) of this ilk will still attack.

The Pope's agenda

What is really at stake is the Pope's agenda, in particular, his:
  • insistence that the Church didn't begin with Vatican II, and what the Council said has to be interpreted and assessed in the light of Tradition;
  • insistence that doctrinal orthodoxy on the part of pastors and teachers matters;
  • repeated focus on the importance of right practice in the Church;
  • insistence that the Catholic Church is the true Church, and approaches to interreligious and ecumenical dialogue need to reflect that;
  • acceptance of the right to question decisions of Popes and Vatican II when necessary.

A few paragraphs of a key 1988 speech the then Cardinal Ratzinger gave to bishops in Chile have been doing the rounds of blogs and it is certainly worth a careful read or reread. Take a look also at a great post on some of this by Fr Blake.

What traditionalists aren't

All the same, I do think we do need to defend ourselves, not just retreat into the ghetto, and defend ourselves not just with snark (although I'm all for that too - take a look these posts on Creative Minority Report and Orwell's Picnic after you've read the rest of this post to cheer yourself up again!).

Let's be clear about a few things:

  • Catholic traditionalism is not about political views. No surprise that many traditionalists are political conservatives (though I'm not and I know many others who aren't either). In some particular countries, history has led to some far right wing connections, and a fair few are monarchists - but that is not what traditionalism is intrinsically about, it is an incidental affiliation of some of its adherents;

  • traditionalists treasure beautiful vestments and ritual because they orient us to the good and the beautiful, they honour God whom we are worshipping, and help the priest 'put on Christ', expressing his humility, not his self-indulgence;

  • 'mainstream' (in full communion) traditionalists do not hate bishops, John Paul II or every thing about Vatican II - they do however question many of the actions, words and failures to teach of the last few decades by those of whom, by virtue of their position, more is expected;

  • traditionalists do not 'pick and choose' when it comes to dogma, rather they demand orthodoxy. And they properly weigh the words of Popes and Councils taking into account the level and type of Magisterium involved. They want to be able to understand the Church's teaching as a fuller understanding of the truth that 'has always and every where been believed', in a hermeneutic of continuity, not as some new modern invention;

  • and yes, any movement that has been marginalised and radicalised by continuing rejection will tend to become a bit battle hardened, and will attract a few nutters. Some lack of charity is an understandable (though not desirable) reaction to the kind of behaviour too frequently exhibited by bishops such as the Archbishop of Manila, who only this week has purported to ban the TLM except once a month not-on-Sunday in one location! All the same Summorum Pontificum has changed the environment, and while some of the old guard (on both sides of the fence) may never fully heal, with the help of grace and the charity of others, many will. In the meantime, as the movement continues to grow with people who didn't go through the bad years, that will make a difference.
So what is the traditionalist movement really about?

When it comes down to it, the traditionalist movement started as a protest against the destruction of the patrimony of the Church carried out in the name of the 'spirit of Vatican II', and which has had such devastating consequences to the size and vitality of the Church. Today it is supported by those who seek holiness through the traditional modes of the Church.

The central tenet that the Pope has been trying to get across is, I think, that culture cannot be separated from Catholicism: the idea that Catholicism could be stripped of all its Western traditions and replaced with the 'positive' elements from modern secular culture (of death) in the name of 'inculturation' was utterly misguided.

In the light of this, traditionalism's key planks, are, I think that:
  • the traditional Latin Mass is the crucial to maintaining catholic identity and faith. The liturgy handed down to us through the centuries fully orients us to worshipping God, not ourselves, and fully conveys the traditional beliefs of the Church in relation to both the sacrifice of the Mass and its sacramental dimension. Rubrics, Gregorian chant, beautiful vestments, great Church architecture and everything else associated with it serve to remind us of our primary duty to worship God, to orient us to heaven. By comparison the novus ordo looks at best limp;
  • doctrinal orthodoxy is not an optional extra. The failure to tackle outright dissent, let alone suspect and dangerous ideas has been disastrous, allowing heresies condemned by earlier Popes and Councils to flourish anew;
  • catholics need a sub-culture (or counter-culture) to sustain them in an environment that is increasingly antagonistic to Christianity. Ecumenical bible study groups and their ilk just don't cut it - we need traditional devotions and practices (such as fasting); we need good catechetical instruction (not the wishy washy erroneous rubbish that is typically passed off as RE in our schools); we need (faithful) monasteries; and we need priests, not priestless amalgamated parishes led by feral nuns.

If you need a fuller refresher course on traditionalism, go and reread the excellent piece by John Casey.

And in the meantime, pray for the Pope!

1 comment:

John L said...

Yes I agree about these being the key planks.