Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Decline and Fall of Illusions

The current state of affairs in the Church and what was Christendom is both unhappy and self-evident, but sometimes a fresh perspective, even on such a beaten topic, can present a more thoughtful eye toward renewal. Stuart Chessman of the St. Hugh blog has such an article on his site that is well worth your time.

I disagree with his take on the Jesuits, to an extent, and dating the current decline to Vatican II, which was the culmination of a Revolution long in the making, but it is still a solid read with the right take on the JP2/Ratzinger years and the potential relief of the current pontificate.

A few snippets:

After the collapse of Christendom, however, the Roman Catholic Church was able to reorganize itself internally under the leadership of the ultramontane papacy. Ultramontanism in the 19th century sense contested the growing hegemony of liberalism yet also depended on it. The renewed stature of the papacy presupposed liberalism’s eliminating or weakening other competing centers of material and spiritual power in the Church (especially the absolute monarchies, but also the landed contemplative monasteries, the state churches of France and the Holy Roman Empire, etc.). What emerged by 1870 was a rigidly centralized Church organized around the clergy and the pope. All authority in matters of doctrine, liturgy and to some extent politics was reserved to the Pope and Vatican. The Church strived for uniformity in worship, music, philosophy and theology. Obedience to authority was elevated to an almost mystical value.

Yet the ultramontane revival of John Paul II remained only a “Great Facade” (Chris Ferrara).  Aside from insisting on a limited external conformity and firing warning shots at the most egregious progressive offenders, the Vatican made no attempt to recreate the uniformity of doctrine and morals that existed the pre-Conciliar years.  At all times in the papacy of John Paul II, Catholic hierarchs, religious orders and schools embraced and agitated for the most diverse and contradictory positions. The Vatican’s solution to mounting massive problems – like declining numbers of clergy and religious; clerical sexual abuse, financial corruption and above all the decline in the West of belief and religious practice among Catholics – was to sweep them under the rug.

But out of this seemingly inevitable tragedy may come at least one advantage: the truth.  For far too long the Catholic Church has continued to take refuge in fantasies of stability and success, of secular standing and influence.  You need look only at any of the official Catholic media to confirm this – isn’t the Al Smith Dinner in New York the incarnation of this self-deception? Even the supposedly hard-nosed liturgical traditionalists remained to some extent in thrall to these mirages. The poison of dishonesty has eroded the faith more surely than any persecution or loss of worldly advantages could do. Moreover, in addition to obscuring reality, the culture of ultramontanism also inculcated habits of spiritual torpor, passivity and blind deference to authority (by extension, also to secular authority!) that have left Catholics ill-equipped to navigate the unprecedented post-Conciliar crisis.

Let be be finale of seem! Jettisoning the Catholic culture of pretend is the first, most necessary step towards reform. To that extent we owe Pope Francis a debt of gratitude. Does not the shipwreck of a mythical centralized day-to-day magisterium make possible a return to the Catholic spiritual “basics” of prayer, penitence and evangelization? And, doesn’t the Tradition of the Church, present before us in the Fathers and Doctors, in history and art and, above all, in the liturgy as it is lived every day remain to us as a surer guide? 


  1. ABS was born and bred to be a KJPL (knee jerk papal loyalist) but, beginning with Pope John 23rd, ABS has learnt to become an STD Papist (Sick To Death) of Popes.

    Here is how the old Catholic Encyclopedia on Pope reads:

    He is to be the principle of unity, of stability, and of increase. He is the principle of unity, since what is not joined to that foundation is no part of the Church; of stability, since it is the firmness of this foundation in virtue of which the Church remains unshaken by the storms which buffet her; of increase, since, if she grows, it is because new stones are laid on this foundation.

    Since ABS is the same age as Israel, and since he was born into the Church at the time when Pius XII was Pope, he can witness to the plain and simple truth that the encyclopedia definition of who the Pope is is a patent absurdity.

    ABS was seemingly born into a period of great stability but the truth is he was born into a revolutionary time in ecclesiastical history and still invisibilium within the Hierarchy is that prelate whose puissant possession of Tradition is such that it could be applied as a force against our Inertia Into Indifferentism.

    The odd fact is that as the institutional turmoil has accelerated in frequency and intensity, ABS has experienced a dramatic increase in the peace of Christ, and that alone is what keeps him sane and stable.

    But, that is only to be expected, right?

    Jesus created His Church for two purposes:


    and whatever'n'hell this or that Pope is doing is no substantial barrier to attaining unto those ends for those who know and love Jesus Christ.

  2. I saw another example of these results of ultramontanism quite recently with a debate with a Catholic living in Spain concerning the liturgical crisis. Worst choice of a person to debate: he believes the Neo-Catechumenal Way above reproach, thinks Bishop Schneider as very disobedient, and believes Pope Francis to be doing well and unfairly criticized. Anyway, the basic gist of his argument was that the Pope can do anything in liturgy, even so far as to forbid venerable liturgies and even can change the Eastern Catholic liturgies; the basis of this astonishing statement was, of course, the encyclical Mediator Dei. He said that the opposition to ill-conceived reforms was schismatic (like the opposition of Milan to the forceful imposition of the Roman liturgy and the opposition of the Spanish to the Quinonez breviary reform)! After seeing that, I just said my last rebuttal and never looked back.