Saturday, November 11, 2017

Secretum Meum Mihi: From Parrhesia to Piety

The Binding Force of Tradition.
Ripperger, Chad.  
Sensus Traditionis Press. Kindle Edition. 

My first cold of the season had me sort of dumbed down the other day and made concentrating on a couple work projects wearisome. So, when I received an email invitation to participate in an online questionnaire in exchange for a 5$ Amazon gift certificate, I jumped at the distraction and in a matter of minutes had gained some easy money. I spent my reward right away on this little book which I thoroughly enjoyed for the clarity and orderliness of its thought.

Because the language of the book is nigh unto classic scholastic, many might find it tough going, but I found it particularly thought provoking when it comes to analyzing the fruits of Vatican II and its aftermath. The chapter on sins against faith, hope, charity, justice and religion is particularly thought provoking.

After watching a video lecture by a fine young church historian recently, who is also a friend, I asked him if ecclesiology and the notion of spousal faithfulness couldn't enlighten his approach to the contemporary controversy over tradition and doctrinal development. His answer indicated to me that in most circles we are fighting an uphill battle against (shorthand) modernist cliches, which tend to pull the legs out from under the tradition as of the essence of the rule of faith, thus furthering the idolatrous relationship too many have with the goddess Progress.

Just one quote from Ripperger's treatise:

"St. Vincent essentially establishes that the principle of judgment about what we are to believe is that which we have received from “our holy ancestors and fathers.” In effect, it is tradition, i.e. that which has been handed on to us, which constitutes what we are to believe. For there is no aspect of what we believe as Catholics that was not passed on to us from those who went before us." (p. 20)

This author and many other Catholic authors in this Luther Year, when people, mostly journalists, glibly make apologies for his 500 year old cry of sola scriptura as the rule of faith, are hard pressed to bring home the ancient teaching of St. Vincent of Lerins on how the development of dogma can be properly understood. The more I read, the more convinced I become that St. Francis de Sales and countless other doctors and approved authors defended the only viable option in their strict adherence to things as handed down without modifying or omitting either a jot or a tittle:

"The Arians, as S. Augustine tells us (De doc. Chris. iii.2), corrupted this sentence of S. John i.1: In principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat verbum. Hoc erat in principio apud Deum: by simply changing a point. For they read it thus: Et verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat. Verbum hoc, &c.: instead of: Deus erat verbum. Hoc erat in principio apud Deum:. They placed the full stop after the erat, instead of after the verbum. They so acted for fear of having to grant that the Word was God; so little is required to change the sense of God's Word. When one is handling glass beads, if two or three are lost, it is a small matter, but if they were oriental pearls the loss would be great. The better the wine the more it suffers from the mixture of a foreign flavour, and the exquisite symmetry of a great picture will not bear the admixture of new colours. Such is the conscientiousness with which we ought to regard and handle the sacred deposit of the Scriptures." [de Sales, St. Francis. The Catholic Controversy (pp. 91-92). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition.] 

The ancient serpent's temptation of our first parents to snub God as if His commands were petty and to take liberties with His law in the name of their own personal dignity is ultimately the modernist lie, which continues to wreak havoc, as a whole class of people seek to shout the equivalent of their own "non serviam" and tear themselves loose from the embrace of our glorious Bridegroom. We have sinned and, like the Old Testament account goes about the discovery of the lost book of the law in the Temple, we need to recover the tradition and through repentance find therein the cause of our joy.

Among the good Catholic lay people whom I know there are few who are deceived by the supposed straight-talk rhetoric, parrhesia, where the speaker on the first account appeals to himself as authority (protesting his genuineness and sincerity), while disparaging what has been handed down and those who seek to remain faithful to what always and everywhere was. But on the other hand even among these good people, given the tenor of our times and a certain obsession with material progress or gain, it is rare to find the sort of fearful piety which once was and which accords to God in His Church the rule of faith which is our salvation.

This line of argumentation makes sense with strict adherence to the tradition properly cast in the framework of spousal faithfulness. Ripperger argues the point also from the point of view of human psychology:

"As one views the generations upon generations which held the same faith, died holy deaths and sacrificed to provide for subsequent generations, great hope is engendered in the believer. But when the sands of teaching are constantly shifting and when the monuments are destroyed or attacked, the stability of the faith is lost and hope will decline." (p. 46). 

His point is well taken and a goodly number of popular apologists from the world of Catholic neo-conservatism would do well to review their premises in the light of the role properly belonging to the tradition as our rule of faith.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Totally Gratuitous! Sure Blame the Motor Car!

At First Things on October 31, Carl Trueman blamed the Reformation on Henry Ford, saying that the whole thing never took off until after the motor car became part of our lives, rendering religion (?), no, he must mean church going just one more consumer choice.

I'm sorry, Carl, but get serious. If you live in small town or rural USA then parking lots have been part of church going for all my life and all they sort of conditioned was the length of Father's Sunday sermon which had to be such as to get people in and out of Mass within an hour so that the lot could be cleared in time for the next full parking lot and Mass.

I remember in Trinidad that because of the low price of gasoline, people had the luxury to follow their favorite priest around the island of a Sunday, but that was usually done out of personal affection or loyalty, if you will. 

No, Carl, the reformation-like revolution of the last fifty years cannot be linked to vehicles. It came about as a result of the loss of necessity. Cars haven't the slightest to do with the loss of shame at being a fallen away Catholic or as the articulate permit such folk to describe themselves as "nones".

From the time of St. Justin Martyr, Sunday Mass was that without which we could not exist. Cars didn't change that sentiment or undermine that truth.

Look again, Carl!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Irresistible Force

An article in the blog ABYSSUS ABYSSUM INVOCAT / DEEP CALLS TO DEEP which took on the notion of "mutual enrichment" caught my eye. This partly because of a recent personal reflection I made concerning Pope Benedict's use of that term in setting the Vetus Ordo free for unrestricted use by priests, encouraging them and bishops to generosity in responding to requests for celebrations according to the 1962 Roman Missal.

The blog entry would have the challenge of the two forms mutually enriching each other likened to squaring the circle. I do not think that is the case. Whether Benedict would agree or not, I think he has set the stage for the needed "reset", for that restoration of the Roman Rite which would enable the organic development of the Divine Liturgy which we were deprived of by the committee which hijacked the process after the council.

We can see how irresistible this movement is among the young and not so young, when caught by surprise by the rightness and beauty of the Old Mass rediscovered and celebrated as it ought to be.

Mutual enrichment must not per force lead either to a common compromise rite or to the continuance of the Novus Ordo. If nothing else, these forty plus years of options and worse are an eloquent statement on what organic development is not and cannot be.

I don't think that my own longing for the Vetus Ordo is either idiosyncratic or a minority report with an ideological background. I am not necessarily convinced that a benevolent acceptance of the old celebration as a part of seminary formation would yield a hundred fold, but it could bring on some essential discussion about rediscovering for our day and time the breadth of Catholic life which has been so sorely missing over the last decades.

Were the Mass of the Ages, the Holy Sacrifice, once again there as the source and summit, a much more natural and complete life of devotion and prayer among us would find the same anchor of reference and sense as we find it having in the writings of the saints over the course of the centuries.

For now, I'll just double dog dare bishops and seminary rectors to loosen up and examine intellectually and practically what a restoration could mean for integral and vibrant Catholic living in the 21st Century.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Time and Eternity - Dies Irae

Preces meæ non sunt dignæ;
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.

On this All Soul's Day, I was struck by a childhood memory or maybe not, which is just that and perhaps nothing. 

The sequence from pre-Council days with which I was most familiar was the Dies Irae  from singing in the grade school choir at parish funerals and although I found it the most difficult piece of the Requiem to sing as a child I never found it long or tedious. The novus ordo relegates this sequence to a hymn option for the divine office and it is no longer an obligatory (or for that matter optional) part of the first Mass of All Soul's.

Don't mind me! It must be just a nostalgia attack. How could things have been so right, righter than now, that they had to be abolished? It doesn't make a bit of sense, now, does it?


Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

The video  recently posted about the closing of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity, a Trappist Monastery in Utah, spoke to me profoundly. It conjured up all sorts of images about similar closures, suppressions and secularizations over the centuries. And beyond monastic life to the matter of the state of the Church today, it posed questions for me about what my attitude should be toward defections from church life in general and what should be the role of apologetics in the life of every Catholic. 

In the video, almost right off, the one old monk pointed to the inevitability of their having to close the abbey by observing that they could see it coming as no one who had come to them in the last thirty years had stayed... There is something terribly meek about this way of staring reality in the face. He says his part without bitterness or rage, just simply. If you want to recognize your own malaise, you have to be not only honest and perceptive, but also humble.

The video reminded me of the account of the violent suppression in reformation times in England of the monasteries in Robert Hugh Benson's historical novel The King's Achievement, where we find the older brother Ralph, attached to Cromwell, destroying the monastic world of his Catholic younger brother, Christopher. Ultimately, the persecuted monks and nuns in the story show themselves at their best and of Christ-like stature when they shoulder the injustice heaped upon them like lambs mute before the slaughter. Catholic meekness probably even saves from hell on his death bed the executor of the king's will, Ralph, and deprives Henry VIII of the surety of his gloating over a good family's son lost to greed and falsehood.

Coming two centuries closer to our time, any number of incidents from Enlightened Monks. The German Benedictines 1740-1803 by Ulrich L. Lehner came to mind as well. Here too the marauder was on the inside, in those unhappy though supposedly enlightened monks, self-proclaimed intellectuals and sophisticates among the brethren, who surely undermined German monasticism by their willful pride, when they were not openly contesting in the name of freedom the Medieval monastic order of their communities and universities.

Friends of mine today in both the neo-conservative and the traditional camps speak consistently of standing up to the menace facing the Church, whether from within or without the fold. Both contest the disbelief, the crass errors or indifference, which would deprive us of the fullness of faith in the Living God. This troubled hour, whether we are talking about the vocations crisis or the empty pews and moral decadence among our ranks, certainly calls for a new zeal. My thought, however, would be that neither alone nor in combination will the popular conservative binary of cleansing the temple or preaching in and out of season win the battle against decay. The binary does not fully display the obedience to the will of the Father, witnessed to by Christ in His Passion and so needed to save the day. Spittle on our faces, we need to stand silent in identification with our loving Lord before the tribunal of Pilate's expediency.

The media, social communications make it harder for us to be ignorant of the plots laid or the attempts made against the good order of the great Tradition and maintain our serenity. Yet, that is where meekness like that of Jesus before Pilate comes in as that one essential. Be it said that quietism or passivity is not a Gospel strategy, but the point here is of entering into the mystery of death swallowed up in the Death of Christ.

Our days' "illuminati", for all their boastful ranting, for all their pride cannot seem to see their hand before their faces or recognize, like my meek little old monk in the video, that which is all too sadly evident. We need to spend more time mulling over just what Jesus meant in teaching that the earth and the victory belong to the meek.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Nose Off to Spite Your Face

Enlightened Monks
The German Benedictines 1740-1803
Ulrich L. Lehner
2011 Oxford University Press, New York

Not long ago I reported reading another book by Ulrich Lehner, which was actually a by-product of this his book from 2011, his prior or principal work on the general topic of monastic discipline in the face of disobedience, controversy, madness or crime. As reported then the later book from 2013 is entitled: Monastic Prisons and Torture Chambers.  The present volume was intended for my summer reading (not available on Kindle), but because of one thing or another, I ended up carrying the slim volume back with me. I just finished reading it. While this book is not for everyone (ecclesiastical history relating to 18th century German monks), I found it terribly interesting and informative on many accounts. It opened up new vistas for me, not only in terms of the history of thought, but also concerning the why and wherefore of the disappearance of so many monastic communities back then in lands where I have spent most of my professional life.

Proceeding by topic, new lifestyles, new liberties, new philosophies and theologies, et al. Ulrich chronicles the tragic lives of many enlightened monks in German speaking central Europe over the time period. He does so with profound respect for all these men who were more often than not their abbots' nightmares, for their pride, their hysterics, and in some cases even for their crimes.

I cannot blame Lehner for my reading of his work. I have concluded that the Enlightenment was little better than anthrax poisoning for monasticism. The Catholic Enlightenment is little more than a repetition in a new century (the 18th) of the iconoclastic proposals of the two prior reformation centuries with a pitiable admixture of slogans from the French revolution. It involved petty demands to suppress the tonsure which marked their consecration and trade the venerable old habit for the dandy dress of their contemporaries. The obligations of choir, especially the night office, were opposed as an impediment to study, travel and scientific work, to be furthered by social exchanges at dinners in mixed company and by frequenting the theater. I can see now that the secularization movement, à la Joseph II Hapsburg and his like in Bavaria and elsewhere, which paved roads with monastic library materials and sought to abolish the monastic vocation as unproductive, found allies in these monastic illuminati and their like for their anti-Catholicism.

In his conclusions, Ulrich Lehner notes the Catholic Enlightenment as a casualty of secularization (cf. page 227). Closer to the point might be that these prideful monsters, impressed with their own genius and bent on dictating from the heights of their university cathedras, were accomplices to ending German monasticism. They were useful idiots in the promotion of something very much at odds with the tradition, anthrax for the Church as I say, by comparison with the Romantic revival or Ultramontanism.

"The period during which no monastic life was detectable lasted for almost a generation. However, because of numerous heroic monks and nuns who desired to remain faithful to their vocation, an underground monasticism arose." (page 228).

May the Church in our time be spared the caprice of similar illuminati, people eager to promote themselves at the expense of religion in humble obedience to the grand Tradition which holds us close to the Bridegroom in an ordered life punctuated by the Psalmody, which gives voice to the sentiments of the Bride's devoted heart.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Staring "Andalusia II" in the Face

Again these days, I was confronted by just how wide-ranging and profound was the impact of the decision, a good year and a half ago, of a priest from the diocese of Münster in Germany, a close relative of the famous Cardinal Frings of Cologne, ("Aus, Amen, Ende? So kann ich nicht mehr Pfarrer sein". Thomas Frings) to abandon a premier parish and enter a monastery in Holland. In the meantime Father Frings has discerned himself out of the monastery and is back into the service of his diocese. 

Middle aged priests, also in Switzerland, continue to discuss their own vocations in the light of questions similar to those Father Frings raised in his book about parish ministry. There is much more to this story than facing the issue of burn-out in the life of hard-working and apparently successful parish priests. Not enough of the conversation, unfortunately, is directed toward bringing to light the nature of the Catholic Church and its profoundly sacramental character. Sadly enough the dignity and sublime nature of Catholic priesthood is often downplayed or ignored in the discussion.

In my position, I hear both sides, both of those whose vision of parish ministry is darker and more skeptical than that of Father Frings, as well as of those who protest/insist upon proclaiming their vocational satisfaction and argue for the value of things as they are in the Church in the Western world. As harsh a judgment (or silly, depending upon your perspective) as it may be, I find both extremes (depression and euphoria) to be tied to the phenomenological, to results, and neither going much beyond categories like productivity and job satisfaction. I have no time for Frings, as he is too sad and awash in a world adrift, but "put on a happy face" or "singing in the rain" is no better and indefensible for the sake of the life of the world.

One of the overarching challenges or temptations suffered by the diocesan priest is located on the playing field of activism. It is only now, fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, that we generally are discovering we have come no closer  through church renewal initiatives to providing the priest in the parish or the diocesan bishop with an ironclad plan of life (a "mirror") to help him confront the ancient malaise which Pope St. Gregory the Great was struggling with nearly a millennium and a half ago: How does one keep the Saving Presence when constantly called to traverse or live life in the public eye, on the public square? What is my specific role in cooperating with the Almighty for the good of Christ's Church in prospering the work of our hands for the sake of the life of the world, of furthering the Kingdom of Christ?

If you believe the testimony out there these days, a significant part of the priestly vocations today come from the experience of Perpetual Adoration. That is good; it is promising. It is often said that a constant in the lives of young and zealous priests is their Holy Hour. That is edifying. However, the Church's Liturgy is rarely mentioned as a font of priestly spirituality, unless of course it is in the context of vocations, not to diocesan priesthood, but to the monastic or contemplative life in a monastery of the tradition, of the ancient usage, of the full monastic office in Latin with Gregorian Chant and the Roman Missal of 1962. Thinking specifically about diocesan priesthood and parish ministry, I ask myself whether all the paring back which took place, supposedly for pastoral reasons, to make the priest more available for his people isn't what is starving our priests spiritually and acting as a counter sign to our lay people, who don't seem to pray at all, at least not by comparison with their grandparents.

Pope St. Gregory the Great had no illusions about his role as pontiff, as bishop, as priest for the world. He knew he could not withdraw as before his election as Bishop of Rome into the great silence of the cloister. 

In cities, generally in Europe and up until the time of the Council, people were often a short walk from church and hence made it there both Sunday morning for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and for Sunday Vespers which ended up being a discursive exercise or educational and a time of intellectual feeding for adults. Not much happens any more outside of the Sunday or the pre-festive Mass these days, too little care or so it would seem for leading people to and from the source and summit of Christian existence. It would seem that we owe our Catholic faithful more by way of an edifice of prayer for their Catholic life. It would seem that Sundays with Holy Mass need to become again what they were for St. Justin Martyr back in 165 AD, namely that without which we cannot live.

Yesterday, I saw a news item stating that on the average 50 religious houses (monasteries or convents) a month are closing in the once Catholic Spain. Demographics and mobility have brought the close of lots of parishes generally in the West (on both sides of the Atlantic). The number of unbelievers in our own midst, whether from defection from the Church or from migration, has destroyed the social fabric which still tends to provide the excuse for a lot of church activity, which has some priests, as I say, woefully depressed and others playing Pollyanna. The success of the Rosary demonstration last Saturday on the borders of Poland would indicate that at least some people understand the stakes in this challenge. 

I am reading a very interesting book these days which documents among other things how the Muslim conquest of Spain devastated Visigoth high culture there, which was ultimately the successor culture of a Christian stamp to the ancient Roman one. Reconquest? No, my object would be another and namely to insist that the vehicle for culture or the life of faith cannot be the parish priest's sense of job satisfaction. We need to realize that we are starving ourselves and our people and need to rebuild the edifice of prayer and official worship which is the Church's glory and works most effectively for the salvation of souls.