Monday, 19 May 2008

What is a traditionalist?: part 3

I said last time that the traditionalist essentially looks at where we are from the perspective of where we have come from – the hermeneutic of continuity – rather than looking backwards from the point of view of what we can appropriate that is relevant to us today.

How do we become traditionalists?

I should note before I go much further on what I think a traditionalist is, that most of us these days don’t start out as traditionalists in the sense I’m talking about here.

Most people arrive at the Traditional Mass, quickly find that they love it – but still come to it primarily from the perspective of what they have experienced before in the novus ordo (or non-catholic churches), and see in it what they now realize was missing from other liturgies.

It is typically only with time and immersion that our thinking in many cases somehow switches around, and we start seeing the novus ordo from the perspective of the TLM rather than the reverse!

When that happens we start asking questions like, why is the priest sitting down so that some layperson can do the readings? And why are we all shaking hands?

We might always have been slightly uncomfortable at some of those jarring moments. But it is really only when we see what the older form prescribes that the reason for that discomfort really becomes apparent.

When that switch happens, and we apply a hermeneutic of continuity to our experience, attending a novus ordo mass can be quite a jarring experience. It is not just that the readings are in English, for example, it’s that someone not wearing any vestments is typically doing the readings. And instead of a highly ritualized, very solemn sign of peace (generally only used in solemn or conventual masses), there is a sudden outbreak of glad-handing at one of the more solemn points of the mass.

There is another reason, too, I think that a switch in thinking tends to occur, and that is that the sermons of traditional priests tend to draw on the whole of our history in their presentations of doctrine. Traditionalists will also tend to look to compendiums of older prayers and devotions as sources for practices that reinforce a sense of continuity.

Neo-conservatives, by contrast, tend to direct their attention to the things the Pope particularly points to. Fr Ripperger in his article on ‘Operative Points of View’ calls it 'Magisterialism' - 'a fixation on the teachings that pertain only to the current magisterium'.

What is magisterialism?

Under the previous Pope,as Fr Ripperger points out, Magisterialism manifested itself in encyclicals that rarely included references to previous magisterial statements on the subject in question, and often simply reiterated previous Church teaching.

Magisterialism also tends to result in a fairly blind acceptance of every word the Pope says, regardless of the level of authority of the document in question, whether it relates to faith or morals or is a pastoral matter, and regardless of how it fits with the past. In fact, one extreme version of Magisterialism holds that Tradition is, in effect, nothing more than the Magisterium (or alternatively that Tradition is what the Magisterium says it is).

The clear statement of the neo-con, ultramontane view of the world can be found in Fr John Hardon's The Catholic Catechism, where he says:

"..Tradition is coming to be identified more with the Church's magisterium of teaching office and less exclusively as the source along with Scripture, of the truths of salvation...The Church is not only the guardian of faith...but expositor of that faith in every age to the end of time." (p161)

The Magisterium, in this view, rather than being the authoritative interpreter of Scripture and Tradition (but subservient to it) brings Scripture and Tradition into the present in some sense.

Magisterialism at one level is a reaction at one extreme to the Liberal (and heretical) view that one can pick and choose which parts of the Churches teachings to accept (aka cafeteria Catholicism). And to the other extreme, and equally erroneous view that anything that sounds or looks new must be heretical.

True traditionalists, however, will take a middle course. They pay attention, for example, to the differing levels of authority of magisterial documents.

History is important here - in fact on this, it is worth noting that a new edition, by Alcuin Reid, of Fortescue’s Early Pope’s has just been released:

And that early history more than amply demonstrates that papal infallibility doesn’t prevent a Pope from failing to teach, or from making pastoral decisions that are just plain bad (though nonetheless to be obeyed). Or from teaching things as part of the ordinary magisterium that we are generally required to assent to, but that may subsequently be reversed.

Fr Ripperger in fact draws particular attention to the particular problem of ordinary teachings of the current magisterium that directly contradict that of the past: strictly speaking neither has any higher standing, yet neo-conservatives often act as if the current version must win.

At the same time, traditionalists are conscious of the importance of the doctrine of papal primacy. That is why the canonically established traditional monasteries like Fontgambault and Jouques stopped using the Traditional Latin Mass for a time, until permitted to do so again. It is why those monasteries operating under less formal structures, such as Flavigny and Le Barroux felt forced to break their close ties with the SSPX. And why many laypeople turned to Eastern Catholic churches in the difficult years rather than go to masses offered by suspended priests.

So we come to my Proposition 2:

Proposition 2: A traditionalist is loyal to the Pope but believes that (1) Tradition is a quite distinct concept from the Magisterium, and (2) there are limits, prescribed by the Church, to papal infallibility.

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