Sunday, 7 July 2013

Does everyone want to be called a traditionalist now? Between the ghetto and the conservatives.

There have been some more shots fired in the debate over what constitutes traditionalism, so herewith an update on the state of play, and some comments in response to the latest piece from Fr Christopher Smith.

After all, today, being the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, seems a particularly appropriate day for some further reflections on this subject.

The caricature of traditionalism

Last week I posted a response to an article by Fr Christopher Smith over at Chant Cafe.

Fr Smith argued that the recent Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome represented the emergence of a new, transformed version of traditionalism, that is no longer 'rigid, reactionary and schismatic', no longer just griping critics, but rather presents a positive engagement, an example of thinking with the Church.

Unsurprisingly, Fr Smith's piece elicited a number of negative reactions from the blogosphere, including from myself.

Many of us actually saw this as just another example of the traddie bashing that has suddenly become popular again under the current papacy, and an attempt of a group who are really conservatives rather than traditionalists to justify their continued interest in the Traditional Latin Mass in the wake of the change of papal direction on the liturgy.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favour of conservatives attending the Latin Mass, and not just because I think that over time, with repeated exposure to the implicit catechesis it involves, I think they will come to appreciate the broader traditionalist canvass.

But I don't think the new prominence of this group represents a fundamental shift in the traditionalist movement, or has the capacity to effect such a shift.

Two schools of traditionalism?

My comment on Fr Smith's latest piece (also reproduced at NLM) has not, for some reason, appeared there, so I'll reproduce the gist of it here, with a little context.

In his piece, Fr Smith argues that historically there have been two main schools of traditionalism.  The first is the École française, based an Ultramontane (they've just got stuck a Pope or three back) neo-Scholastic Thomism that stresses rupture theory, associated with the SSPX (and FSSP).  The second is Scuola Romana, whose chief point of reference was Cardinal Siri, and which, though sharing much of the critique of what has happened, was always closer to accepting a 'hermeneutic of continuity' approach.

Personally I've always preferred the 'roundheads' (more interested in manualist theology than liturgy) vs 'cavaliers' (focus on liturgy coming from a patristic/medieval influenced perspective) account of the two schools: you can find it described by me in more detail here in an old post on a previous round of the what is a traditionalist debate.

Fr Smith claims that Pope Benedict's Summorum Pontificum enabled the development of a third strand of traditionalism, one that is no longer tied to a critique of the novus ordo and developments in the Church since Vatican II, but rather simply reflects "a desire for profound immersion into the Traditio which is the glory of the Catholic religion".

Frankly, I don't think that is traditionalism: rather it seems to be a case of the conservatism of the European school infiltrating the US, based on an ultramontanism that is fixed on Pope Benedict XVI.

Conservative? Yes, but we are talking of the conservatism of people like Fr Aidan Nichols and indeed Pope Benedict XVI himself, Communio  style 'conservatives' rather than the 'Whig Thomists' of the US.  No one would accuse them of being traditionalists, indeed their works (like those of Tracey Rowland) often include distancing comments even as they identify the common ground they have with many traditionalists.  But neither are they neo-cons of the George Weigel school.

In fact where they differ from traditionalists, I think, is in their commitment to the idea of 'updating': conservatives defend Vatican II's necessity, even if they don't like the way it was implemented; traditionalists point to its fruits and question its necessity in the first place, even if they might accept that we need to find a way to live with (some or even much of) it now.

Ultramontanist?  Yes, think of those endless photos on New Liturgical Movement lovingly showing every step back towards tradition that Pope Benedict introduced. It is exactly the same phenomenon we saw with followers of  Pope John Paul II after that change of Pope: the challenge for ultramontanists becomes how to justify clinging to the previous pope's directions.

By contrast, for traditionalists, while the authorization of the Pope represented by Summorum Pontificum was certainly welcome, it isn't the driving impetus for why we explore the patrimony of the Church.  We were there before, and will be there even in the unlikely scenario of Summorum Pontificum being revoked.

Australian traditionalism?

I'm not actually personally convinced, though, that the two schools as described in these various pieces really adequately describe traditionalism as it has mostly prevailed in Australia.

There are certainly huge divides amongst traditionalists here (hence the demise of the national traditionalist organisation Ecclesia Dei and continued fragmentation of the movement).  In part they reflect the school divide, in part personalities, but also I think some other differences in approach: hence my previous attempts to tease out the strands of traditionalism using a slightly different approach.

But if you want to start from the two schools paradigm, it seems to me that journals like Oriens and many other manifestations of Australian traditionalism don't really fit well with either of them, but rather reflect a third way that was strong here long before the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, and has always been inclined to engage more actively with the mainstream Church.

Over at Rorate, the response to the Sacra Liturgia Conference has been to decry the idea of  a conference featuring both forms of the Mass, and argue that 'authentic' tradition only thrives in an exclusively traditionalist environment.  That strikes me as the ghetto mentality that has been exported here via the SSPX and FSSP (though I admit not everyone in either organisation subscribes to it).

Personally, I think traditionalists can't afford to cut themselves off from the rest of the Church; rather our challenge is to evangelise it.  A bi-ritual (form!) environment can, in my view, often be much healthier one, not least because it marginalises the influence of the damaged and the extremists (let's admit that the long war has taken its toll, and left some with PTSD; others radicalised; and some opportunists who found traditionalism a convenient vehicle for self-promotion).

I don't personally think that while there is any case whatsoever for the 'enrichment' of the traditional Mass from the novus ordo (indeed, the path on liturgy lies backwards, not forwards in my view; some of the 1962isms need to be unpicked!).

But there are pastoral and theological insights from Vatican II that traditionalists can (and indeed already have even if only subconsciously) take on board from the mainstream of the Church.

Traditionalism and the mission of the Church

Overall though, what I think traditionalism has to offer the mainstream Church is twofold.

First, that desire of the neo-conservatives to immerse themselves in the glory of the tradition, to enjoy a profound experience of communion, conviviality, prayer and study is not new, but has always been on offer within the traditionalist movement.

It is what I actually remember occurring at the Ecclesia Dei Conferences of the early 1990s in Australia, and still occurs, I think, at the annual Christus Rex pilgrimage, assorted retreats, and other such events.  The Solemn Masses and other special events communities around the country (and I suspect around the world) put on are not occasions for carping criticism, but rather celebration, and we should work to put on more of them so that others have the chance to experience the beauty of the liturgy. And even the everyday low Masses and ordinary Sunday Masses are opportunities for other Catholics to gain an appreciation of their patrimony: we should be promoting them accordingly.

Secondly, I don't think we should back away from our critique of the mainstream Church.  Fr Smith argues that the danger is a descent into bitterness, a lack of communion, decreasing charity, and the rise of ideologism.  Yes, those dangers are certainly on view in places like the Rorate Combox.

But the hard reality is that the Church in Australia is still in a disastrous state.

Heresy is rife (just look at the stories regularly posted on Cath News, Eureka Street and over at the 'Roaming Catholic' (yes, that is what they want to call themselves!) forum aCatholica).

The twelve percent of so those claiming to be Catholic who still go to Mass are overwhelming in the older age groups; the religious orders are still headed for utter extinction in most cases; and the number of priestly vocations is nowhere near high enough to replace the losses.

Most of our schools and other institutions have ceased to be catholic in any real sense.

A Royal Commission and assorted Inquiries are producing a continuous stream of bad news stories for the hierarchy.

And like most Western countries, religious liberty is under severe threat from the secularist push on the one hand, and Islamic extremism on the other.

And there is no sign whatsoever that the hierarchy have a genuine response to offer to these challenges.

If there is a time in the Church we can compare ourselves to, it is, in my view, that time of the reformation of restlessness in the Church, before Martin Luther actually pinned his theses on the Church door and hardened discontent and criticism into outright schism and heresy.  That time when corruption, incompetence and heresy were still rife in the hierarchy of the Church; before the cleanout of the Counter-Reformation.

And it is as if those who few who were trying to effect reform from within back then, to act before it was too late, were told to stop being divisive and unite in the face of the challenge posed by the heretics.  But just criticisms are just wherever they come from; they need to be addressed, not swept under the carpet because we don't like the motives of those from whom they come.

What the Church needed then, and needs now, is a thorough, genuine Reform from within.

If we can't effect it, God will use whatever tools he has to, even bringing good out of evil, to save his Church.

Yet there have been times in the past when the Church has recovered, without a Reformation, from worse states.

Summorum Pontificum is potentially an important aid in this cause, but it is not the only one we need to deploy, for while liturgy is the foundation stone, there is a whole edifice that rests on it.

All the same, please do keep Pope Benedict in your prayers especially today as we give thanks for Summorum Pontificum. 

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