Friday, 16 January 2009

What's in a name? Traditionalism and traditionalists....

So let's have the debate on names!

Commentator Peter wrote on the last post saying:

"I implore you to eschew the usage of tradionalIST and ISM. There is tradition and an attachment to tradition. Tradition is intrinsic to the church. (I'm a supporter of the restoration of the extraordinary form and other traditional usages). It is a convenient and tempting usage but I think ultimately it doesn't serve the 'movement' well."

Please elaborate!

I have to admit I've heard traditionalists (!) and others hint at this position before.

So far as I can see the arguments are basically three (but please do tell if I I've missed something):
  • we are all just Catholics really, and shouldn't need to distinguish ourselves since tradition is part of the whole Church's heritage - the argument made by Peter, and see for example Fr Blake's recent post on this;
  • claiming to be traditionalists offends those who also feel attached to tradition but don't go along with the whole TLM thing (tough is my reaction to this one!);
  • the term is tainted because it is also used to refer to sedes, schismatics and other weirdos.
Now I have some sympathy with the last of these arguments - my last post goes to a classic example of this problem, and I am regularly offended by one Australian blog that seems to lump all sorts of weird sects under the label 'traditonalist'. The trouble is, we develop terms like this for a reason.

Why a label?

Terms like traditionalist, liberal and conservative inevitably oversimplify things. There are, for example, possibly some liberals for whom the term is not actually just a codeword for heretic (though I'm not sure I've met any)! And there are many sub-groupings within the 'conservative' group notwithstanding some similarities.

Still, if we want to talk about issues and advance causes we need language to describe distinctions. Because without distinctions, we have vague woolly waffle.

And the underlying reality is that there are a set of common positions and views that lie behind the label, and having a word that reminds us of that is in some ways a rallying call. The idea that tradition is intrinsic to the Church still doesn't have a wide following. Things are changing, it is true. But until we have actually won the war, it seems to me there is a need of a term that helps remind people what we are about.

Finding an alternative

Now I'd be happy if we could find a good alternative that will be accepted.

Remember, for example, when Summorum Pontificum came out, and people wanted us to stop talking about the TLM and Novus Ordo? Fr Z even had a series of polls to test out alternative terms. And even now some engage in euphemisms when advertising who and what they are and are offering.

We've cycled through a number of terms for the 1962 Mass for example - Tridentine (technically incorrect so largely dropped these days), 'classical Roman rite', 'Extraordinary Form' (does get some usage but really too technical for most people), 'Missal of Blessed John XXIII' (well I can offer a few guesses as to why we don't much like that one!), 'Latin Mass' (closer but how to distinguish from Novus Ordo Latin Mass?), and more. In the end we keep coming back to TLM because for all its faults, it is clear and meaningful to people.

Could we find a better label for the movement itself? The conservatives have coined the 'reform of the reform' and 'new liturgical movement' for what they are on about, and I agree that it would be nice if traddies could come up with something equally engaging.

One suggestion has been restoration(ism/ist). But I personally dislike it, first because it was first coined by the liberals and has been thoroughly trashed already (have a look at Arbuckle's books on religious life) and secondly because it suggests a going back in time that I don't actually think is either possible or desirable.

Yes we want the TLM and tradition 'restored'. But we have to recognize that it is happening an will continue to happen in the context of the way the world is now, and in line with the teaching of the Magisterium as it has been articulated today (admitting that there may be some areas where the ordinary magisterium of recent decades may need to be reformed), not just as it was at some magic time point in the past.


Personally I think we should use the label traditionalist proudly, and fight to define it in our terms, not as others attempt to define it for us.

The neo-conservatives invented the term for themselves and use it happily enough, even giving their blogs names like' Crunchy Con'.

But by all means explain to me why you think I'm wrong about this, and why the terms traditionalist and traditionalism don't help the movement!


Orville B Croft said...

I think the best alternative would be to call ourselves 'Extraordinarilsts'....

aussie_oi said...

I consider myself a traditional catholic but the tradition goes back to the Apostles.

Most 'traditionalists' I read and know think the church started at the council of Trent and react badly to the thought of anything that was not in place in 1959.

Anyway I use the term OF (ordinary form) and EF (extraordinary form AKA TLM.

David said...

I personally like "Missal of Bl John XXIII", because it drives the liberals absolutely batty, notwithstanding that the TLM was the only Mass that John XXIII ever knew, and the fact that His Holiness had utterly traditional views on matters such as poofters in seminaries (absolutely verboten!), and conducting seminary classes in Latin only.

Appropriating the modernists' favourite Pope for tradition really drives the ACatholica crowd to weeping and gnashing of teeth!

Felix said...

Being a "traditional Catholic" goes considerably beyond a mere adherence to the TLM.

Importantly, it involves evaluating episcopal and Papal utterances in the light of tradition.

And I suggest that "traditional" is a useful expression to denote this larger and extra-liturgical aspect.

T Guo said...

How about simply "Catholics attached to tradition". It's not a clumsy phrase and does get away from the reified notions reflected in the word "Traditionalism". No matter how well one can understand the term "traditionalist" to mean one wanting to pass on traditions as part of an organic liturgical renewal etc, the fact is that the term imports the image of an adherence to a 'static' liturgical renewal.

I think the term 'traditionalist' does not help out with the movement because it implies a set 'creed' of sorts (e.g. "we love fiddlebacks"). I also think it is tactically unhelpful because it plays into the hands of those who would cast-type those attached to tradition as a definable group whose problems can be solved through specified legislation 'cordoning' of the 'problem'.

Much more effective to place attachment to tradition at the centre of liturgical life, and to see the enemies of traditional liturgical practices cringe as they creep back into the centre stage of what it means to simply be "Catholic".

+ Ioannes Episcopus Roffensis said...

I call myself aproud traditionalist, though I must confess that I don't like being lumped in with Sedevacantists and Palmerians, and other assorted wierdos who claim to have elected themselves Roman Pontiff and devote an enormous amount of time and attention to "encyclicals" lambasting Jews and Freemasons.

Damian Thompson once said "whenever Traditionalists start ranting about Freemasons, I switch off"... or words to that effect. Ditto.

Perhaps we should be called "Traditionalists (not the insane kind)".

I also dislike being associated with the AcatholicA Heretics.

I think we're stuck with the name we have. Unlike the SSPX, those faithful to Rome don't have a founder (except for Our Lord - but everyone claims him as the guy who started their religion, or a Saint to whom we are particularly devoted - some of us have a Benedictine spirituality, some a Dominican, some are devoted to St Athenasius or St Alphonsus de Ligouri... the list goes on...

If we called ourselves "SP" Catholics (for Summorum Pontificum), Australians would think that we run a shady bookmaker's business out the back of our local Irish Pub for the benefit of the Church collection plate. horseracing and "SP bookies" being the traditional weakness of the Irish Presbytrate, according to my Proddy associates...

What has got me into a foul mood (and I'm too busy to write about it), is the failure of The Southern Cross to acknowledge Fr Mannes' connections with the Traddie Community to date. We are still treated here like the "crazy old aunt in the attic" - to use a Zuhlsdorf-ism. There was a way to portray Tradition in a positive light, and the boobs at head office flunked it again....

Perhaps I ought to get off my backside and write something...

Peter said...

Sorry Terra to (seem to have) hit and run. Been away from the computer.

I did think about what my objection is to the term, and it has to do with a general misgiving as much as an empirical argument, but here goes.

Would you say when greeting your local ordinary or the Holy Father: "I'm a traditionalist" and expect them to take it in the way you meant it?

The term connotes something more than Catholic, hints of superiority, and may suggest 'a fly in amber'. For example, for illustration, when that term is used do our fellow Catholics (let's consider those who are orthodox and orthopractic for the moment) wonder if we accept the new catechism? It implies an exclusion of something else. What that is isn't necessarily clear. I myself certainly think that there is much in practice (distinguishing from teaching) in the last 50 years that may be remedied by reference to tradition as a bulwark against novelty. I wonder what JH Newman would say about traditionalism? Does it also have a tendancy to close off legitimate avenues of enquiry and intellectual effort? (just musing)

I must say I was struck (disturbed?) by Felix' comment: "Importantly, it involves evaluating episcopal and Papal utterances in the light of tradition."

The church is I think demonstrably in a period of turmoil but this statement could be taken to represent some ultra-catholic version of Private Judgement (with Jerry Matatics as a case in point). [I also have my own view of whether some exponents of traditionalism also represent a catholic version of Calvinism but that's another story]. Catholics have always had to wiegh things.

I think too, that the use of the terminology can lead (or enable) those disturbed by what they see to form a view that there really is some sort of 'hidden remnant'. This is especially the case if used by clergy, and even more so if used in the pulpit.

Well, there's my ramble. I'm still uncomfortable with the term, but perhaps I will concede that there is no one coherent traditionalist credal statement that puts us all in danger of being tarred with the brush of heresy!


Peter said...

PS from Peter

One of those things it can be taken to imply rejection of (especially if you scratch a US traditionalist) is all manner of good corporal and catechetical works done since since 'the council' (for want of a better date). It can imply a sense of 'there really isn't anything you, although admittedly catholics, can share with us that we (traditionalists) are interested in.

WYD was one example (some pathetic Australia 'tradiionalist' (non)responses to the WYD cross (and the indulgencs attached). Also, from many 'traddie' circles n'ary a mention of the year of St Paul - is there some implied rejection of initiatives of the pontiff unless they explicitly enable the renaissance of traditional liturgy and practice?

I'm not a fan of the way the luminous mysteries were added to the rosary (hardly organic development), but they have been added to this pious devotion and many use them and there is much of merit in them. But the way some 'traditionalists' go on you might wonder if this wasn't on a par with tampering with the Canon ...

now I have said too much SORRY !


David said...


When I sat down before my local Oridnary, whom I knew quite well, I said that "since my reception into the Church, I have developed an increasing devotion to traditional forms of spirituality".

He was cool with that...

But when I called myself a "Traditionlist" in a conversation with a guy on his way to becoming a permanent (married)Deacon, I could feel his discomfort. That is probably more a reflection on his formation than anything else (a Deacon is a Deacon, according to Fr Zee, and I'd be happy to see a married Deacon chant the Gospel at a solemn Mass if no alternative was available).

Though, that's up there with the things Traddies get grumpy about....

Terra said...

I guess my reaction to most of this is that we have to get better at explaining what we mean when we call ourselves traditionalists - and it is a lot more than attachment to a the TLM and traditional practices in my view.

Yes, we accept the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the authoritative teaching of the (current) magisterium.

But I suspect that what Felix was trying to get is that we are certainly not ultramontanists, believing that every utterance of the Pope (or bishops) has to be accepted as if were Ordinary Magisterium, but rather attempting to make sense of what the Pope and others say in the light of Tradition and Scripture and the continuous teaching of the Church.

First not everything a Pope says is 'teaching' in the sense protected by infallibility.

More fundamentally, in recent times the tendency has been to take every proposition as if was invented today, rather than attempting to understand it in the context of the development of [our understanding of] doctrine. The problem hasn't been helped by the failure of some recent Popes (and VII) to indicate where what they are saying is meant to reform previous (reformable) teaching or where it can be best understood as a development of thinking in conformity with it.

And let's be honest. The other problem we've had is widespread heresy amongst clergy and bishops. Newman, I think would have well and truly understood this problem given his study of the spread of the Arian heresy amongst virtually all of the bishops of the world in the fourth century. I don't think he (or anyone else) would advocate being docile to the teaching of a heretical bishop, whether one who advocates Arianism (reborn in our time as meanderings by Fr Dresser illustrate), the rejection of the hierarchical structure of the Church instituted by Christ in the various forms of neo-congregation popular in some Australian dioceses, women's ordination, support for contraception and abortion, or various other currently popular heresies.

So for me 'attachment to tradition' or traditional practices doesn't quite cut it. But I'm open to creative suggestions on what we could rename ourselves (though none of those made yet seem quite catchy enough to me!).

+ Ioannes Episcopus Roffensis said...

Terra, you are right that we are not Ultramontanists, and traddies in good standing with the Chuch accept the validity of V-II, properly understood in the light of tradition.

I remember getting into a heated debate over at WDTPRS with one of those "consistent ethic of life" conservatives, who, caonsidered the death penalty intrinsically evil, on a par with abortion, because JPII questioned its usefullness.

That's one area where traditionalists and conservatives part ways...although Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, recognized the legitimacy of prudential judgment when it came to sending people to the gallows....

And Father Dresser and his heresies prove that there's nothing new under the sun. Oh for the days when heretics were original and dreamed up new heresies, rather than recycling old nonsense born in the dying days of the Roman Empire...