A problematic storyline
I'm still less than half way through it (though I've skimmed ahead, as well as read the final couple of chapters) but I thought I would post on what I've read so far, lest I might have encouraged anyone to acquire a copy!
This is one of those books that has been recommended to me several times over the years by traddies. And there seems to be more than a few positive reviews of it around by reputable authors.
But while it is quite an entertaining read, with lots of useful material in it, I personally think it is quite dangerously wrong in places, and in any case not a helpful perspective for traditionalists to adopt.
Let me explain a little why.
Where Hull has it right
The strength of the book, it seems to me, is its narrative of the post-Vatican II revolution, often using the words of the revolutionaries themselves, and sketching of some of the 'trial runs' for liturgical wreckovation in the Reformation and Jansenist liturgical projects. It is a far more engaging narrative than other versions of the same story I've read.
And it is interesting too, to see highlighted that many of the ideas used by the revolutionaries of the post-Vatican II era did come from within the Church's own history and culture.
I'm not convinced that is really a terribly new insight though: in fact Hull seems to be building on the line developed by Servais Pinckaers OP in his The Sources of Christian Ethics (1985), which pretty much damns all development in moral theology since the development of Nominalism in the fourteenth century, and in particular shares Hull's disdain for the manualist tradition of recent centuries.
Regardless, practically all heresies and heteropraxis in the past has similarly originated from within. Heresy is typically an idea pushed a step or two too far, whereas orthodoxy and orthopraxis typically sits in the moderate bound between the extremes.
The (Eastern) Orthodox view of the world?
The real problem with the book though, from my perspective at least, is that Hull seems to have uncritically swallowed a lot of Eastern Orthodox propaganda on everything that is wrong in the Catholic Church, particularly in relation to the theology of the papacy, the nature of tradition, and the function of liturgy.
Now bear in mind that I haven't read the whole book thoroughly as yet, so my comments may need to be tempered or amended in the light of what he says in later chapters.
But in the chapters I've read so far, at least, the prism he views things through seems to be not Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox.
Now I certainly agree that Eastern Orthodox views can sometimes provide a useful counter-balance for the Western Church. I can certainly agree that the Western Church has not always treated the Eastern Catholic rites well. And I can certainly agree that there is much to learn from them.
The hard reality, though, is that centuries of schism have led to hardening of Orthodox positions into outright heresy in more than a few areas, and I don't think Hull has adequately taken that into account.
And even in areas where the different perspectives between East and West don't amount to outright error, I cannot see that attacking the Western patrimony, as Hull repeatedly does, is particularly helpful to the traditionalist cause!
The split between East and West?
In the second half of the book (which I've only skimmed as yet) I gather he sees Trent and the Counter-Reformation as an over-reaction to Protestantism that resulted in a shift in the view of the Pope from 'custodian' to 'arbiter', and explains the widespread acceptance of the Vatican II reforms in the light of that.
But in the chapters I have read in the first half of the book, he sets the scene for how this could happen, pointing to the schism between East and West as the real origin of the problem.
I beg to differ.
The 'value' of liturgy?
Hull's central thesis seems to be that the West really went astray when the Catholic Church failed to give proper weight to the importance of pure worship, with reason displacing the emphasis on the mystical, a development he attributes primarily to the break with the East.
Firstly I think he is quite wrong on the point of divergence between East and West on liturgy, and the reasons for it.
He quotes Pope Gregory I, for example, as an example of the mystical perspective, and understanding of liturgy as 'theologica prima' that was later lost.
Yet the West early developed a a theology around the intercessory value of the liturgy, and of the liturgy as a channel of specific graces, very early on indeed, ideas developed by the 'speculative theology' that Hull so despises in favour of the implicit knowledge gained from contemplation.
In particular, Hull argues that the Novus Ordo Mass could only have been constructed in the wake of Pope Pius XII's argument that the dictum lex orandi, lex credendi worked both ways; yet Western Popes have been deliberately shaping the liturgy and devotions to teach the faith for centuries.
Indeed, to Pope Gregory the Great can also be attributed the introduction of the 'Gregorian' of masses for the dead, the custom of saying thirty consecutive masses for the release of the dead from purgatory and the origins of 'speculative theology', as well as a policy of 'inculturation', or of deliberately Christianizing pagan practices as a missionary tool.
Indeed, the distinction in perspective between East and West arguably goes back further, reflected in the very origins of the monastic tradition in the West, for whereas those early Eastern monks sat listening to the psalms as they did their basketweaving, St Martin of Tours insisted on a clear separation between times of manual work and times of liturgy. And St Benedict followed St Martin, explicitly cutting back the amount of psalmody the monk should expect to get through in the course of a day, and insisting that the Church be kept for worship and nothing else.
My point is just that Western and Eastern perspectives on the liturgy, though they have common roots and a common core of beliefs, diverged very early indeed.
Culture, platonism and antiquarianism
In my view, judging modern developments through the lens of Eastern views is a mistake, not lest because its logical conclusion is actually the antiquarianist mentality that Hull explicitly rejects. From a traditionalist perspective, concepts such as 'organic development' proposed by Alcuin Reid amongst others is potentially at least much more helpful to the traditionalist cause.
Similarly, Hull's rejection of the value of speculative theology and any knowledge gained through dialectical engagement is, I think, particularly unhelpful (as is his consequent rather nasty attacks on convert clergy).
A good case can be made, I think, that in many ways Eastern theological development was effectively arrested by the great Schism. Speculative theology in the East had been the cause of endless heresies and schisms of various durations long before that final break. But once the break occurred, the lack of any means of resolving theological debates led to a closing down of debate altogether, and after the fall of Constantinople, Orthodox theology fell into a rather sterile scholasticism.
In the West by contrast, the role of the papacy allowed the recovery of classical culture in the twelfth century and then at the time of the Renaissance to lead to the development of a balance between faith and reason that is, I think, far from being problematic, one of the triumphs of the Western Church.
And if the balance has perhaps swung too far in favour of reason at times, then the work of theologians such as Tracey Rowland, in her Culture and the Thomist Tradition, and doing much to provide a basis to correct this.
The nature of tradition and the role of the papacy
The biggest problems I have with this book though, relate to the treatment of the nature of tradition, and the role of the papacy, and I'll say more about those issues in a future post.