Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Neo-Calvinism in the Catholic Church UPDATED

Surely you have noticed it. It entered some time in the wake of Cornelius Jansen, but was soon enough subdued by the baroque Vatican establishment. A few centuries later it insinuated the Church again, this time through Pope Paul's "fissure in the wall" of the "temple of God." What was the not great condescension, the reduction of the faith and the liturgy to a communitarian minimalism which obsessively compels all to be reduces to equal misery. It is Catholic neo-Calvinism and it is what has happened in the Church in the last few years.

When the liturgy began to change under the experimentation of the Liturgical Movement in the early 20th century and came to a head in the years after the Second Vatican Council, most Catholics understandably—but wrongly—assumed the impetus was an alignment with modern protestantism. FSSPX, independents, Michael Davies devotees, and sedevacantists will quickly adduce the old quote from Jean Guitton's radio interview in which he states Pope Paul's intention was to make the Catholic liturgy "almost coincide with the protestant liturgy." The more revealing line comes later, when Guitton specifies Papa Montini wanted to approximate the Roman rite with the "Calvinist Mass." 

The liturgical experience of the average Roman Catholic parishioner was reduced so that all might participate. The reformers assumed, in their pastoral concern, that only the absolute minimum would be suitable for congregational involvement and Pope Paul's Mass and Office reflect that concern precisely. The mere fact of a reform rather than a translation reveals the deeper concern: to participate fully, there must be reduction, trimming, and discarding of all that stands in the way of the few essentials. 

Reformers took the extant outline of the Mass (entrance, a confession of sins, the orations, readings, offertory, consecration, Communion, dismissal), concluded that "Word" and "Eucharist" are the only points of the Mass, and filled in between the lines with as few colors as possible. Reformers in previous eras like Rosmini had hoped for simplifications to make the Ordo more logical, like flipping the Last Gospel and dismissal. Jansenists, too, had hoped for reductions in the liturgy to aid communal involvement. The removal of side altars, many statues, the hope for only one Mass celebrated in a given church in a day (violation of many ancient practices), and a fascistic concern for what "the people" were doing all came after the private pietism of the Counter-Reformation, an understandable problem, but a problem none the less. This reduction and simplification can be quite expensive. One wonders how many hundreds of millions of dollars were spent smashing sanctuaries worldwide from the 1950s onward. How much money did St. Peter's Basilica spend on five dozen ugly polyester gothic chasubles in the 1970s, when the old vestments were sent to the basement?

Liturgical and pastoral reform did not succeed in re-invigorating the faithful. The coincidence of the Liturgical Movement with the ecumenical movement spelt disaster for the former. While the efforts of de-construction were doomed to fail, the new found friendliness to protestants and "the world" gave the ever decreasing number of faithful the impression that the Church was eliminating its beliefs and teachings, that she was adopting to the age and not taking her former self too seriously. 

Pope Paul may well have lived the rest of his life in regret for the irreparable damage that took place during his reign in the 1960s and for the part he played under Pius XII. What was banal under Paul became outright bad under John Paul II. Then came Benedict XVI and we thought we had a breath of fresh air. A new, vocal minority found interest in concepts like beauty and sacredness again. Msgr. Guido Marini made Papal Mass watchable on television again for the first time since 1964. With Benedict's favoritism towards Cardinal Scola, one had reason to assume tolerance for traditionalists would continue in the next pontificate. Then the College elected Pope Francis.

During the announcement, I mistook "Bergoglio" for "Bagnasco." "...sibi nomen imposuit Francescum" suppressed my short-lived elation and forebode a frustrating papacy. From the first Mass in the Sistine chapel until today, Pope Francis' liturgical [lack of] effort and administrative initiatives reflect a resurgence of the neo-Calvinism that swept the French Church during the Counter-Reformation and the Liturgical Movement in the 20th century. Jorge Bergoglio is the first pope since the fifth century not to celebrate some variation of the old Ordo Missae. He was ordained two weeks after the new Ordo superseded the modified 1965 Ordo. He was educated during the worst period in the history of the Society of Jesus. And among his predecessors, the one he most quotes is Paul VI. The current pontificate has become a parody of the worst of neo-Calvinism and the tragedy of Pope Hamlet.

The inevitable appointment of Msgr. Piero Marini to the Congregation for Divine Worship, the removal of Cardinals Burke and Llovera, the promotion of the Kasper doctrine, and the immunity of Cardinal Dolan in New York all converge into a strange neo-Calvinism, one far worse than the Jansenism of the 18th century. This reductionism removes all trappings, customs, images, and sounds of beauty and depth of the faith, again exposing the bear minimum. This time, the reduction is not part of a misguided pastoral attempt at getting the faithful to respond to Dominus vobiscum. This is a political attempt to remove anything in the Church bothersome to "the world" out there. It means the removal of laws, liturgical practices, vestments, discipline, and sensibility. We will be left with the Bible, the [ignored] Catechism, a reformed Missal, and a smile. We know what the Pope wants in the immediate run: Communion for those no longer living their proper marriages. It would not be wrong to ponder what he wants next, beyond this obstacle. What will be the next vestige of "self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagianism" to be cast aside so as to show the world that we are not really that scary or serious after all?

Thus endeth the rant.

UPDATE: Our post has been picked up by genuine Calvinists: http://oldlife.org/2014/09/far-will-go-blame-kuyper/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=far-will-go-blame-kuyper


  1. Not a rant, The Rad Trad, but the exact Truth.

    Beautifully elucidated.

    Where's the nearest Monastery (Traditional) ? I've had enough of all this.

    1. Try a the Basilians or the Coptic cave-dwellers. Rome can't affect you if you're praying in a cave in a desert in Egypt :)

    2. Lord of Bollocks,

      Or to choose a more appropriate verb, Rome can't *afflict* you.

  2. The question then is: what, short of the Second Coming, will allow the Roman Church to emerge out of this nonsense? Decentralization of the Catholic Church would seem to be the best approach, but that would lead to failure, as laymen (pop writers and apologists especially), priests, and bishops have no clue what to do unless they can quote the paragraph number from the CCC and cite the latest papal tweet.

  3. “Jansenism and Liturgical Reform” from American Benedictine Review (1993)

    1. I would like to target this article (thanks, Mighty Joe) for the Trad Trad's follow-up to this post, if he is of a mind to take it further. Specifically: its observation of Gueranger's critical role in fashioning the Roman Rite as a liturgical uniformity in France in the 19th century:

      Weaver tells us that Dom Guéranger had a personal antipathy toward the Jansenist reform. In speaking of the innovations of Jacques Jubé of Asnières, she cites Guéranger as saying “it was an example of the deviations to which liturgy was liable when the Roman Mass books were not adopted”.

      I think our immediate sense is that Gueranger was engaged in an exaggeration, even as we lament the disappearance of so many non-Roman Rites in this era. Yet it was likely an exaggeration with real foundation: that the liturgical appearance of neo-Calvinism in 19th century France *did* appear to be confined to non-Roman rites and uses (if not all of them), and that an imposition of the Roman Rite was, arguably, the best weapon to hand to stamping them out in the short term.

      But I confess that this era is not one on which I have any real expertise. I would be curious to see a deeper exploration of it, and Gueranger's role in it.

    2. Oops: That should read "Rad Trad." Sloppy fingers.

  4. I doubt you have the ability to be boring, RT, and this post is a great example of that inability

    You've been on a great roll lately. I dont knowhow you do it but I really love it; I learn so much from you.

    May God keep and Bless you, Sir

  5. Rad Trad,

    This is one of your most insightful posts to date.

    And one of its most insightful sentences:

    This is a political attempt to remove anything in the Church bothersome to "the world" out there.

    It's hard to say that this isn't a variation on what was attempted in 1962-1970, however. At that point...well, there *has* always been a measure of truth to traditionalists' assumption that a great deal of the reform was done with (mainline) Protestants in mind - ironically, at the very moment when they were moving into terminal eclipse. So in the 60's, "the world" was for those purposes a liberal Protestant world. Today, in 2014, it's a post-Christian secular world. And as it turns out, both seem to bring out the neo-Calvinism in the Catholic Church's elites.

    It's a good term to use here, although there's the risk of reducing its essence to the point that it's of limited utility. In the meantime, all we know for certain is that neo-Calvinism is no more likely to be sustainable for the Catholic Church than it was for liberal Protestants (who at least in many cases avoided much of the banality we have suffered in our sacred music) or, for that matter, in the first go round in Catholic Church in the 60's-90's.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words. By neo-Calvinism, I mean a tendency and not a doctrine. Interestingly, the elitist notions of "elect" and pre-destination in Calvinism and, to an extent, in Jansenism informed their stark, abecedarian style of worship without any beauty, tradition, or ornament. That is where I was going. It's a style, not an idea, and it's a dangerous one.

    2. Yes, a very good article. I don't remember who first pointed out the similarities between the Jansenist liturgical movement and the Novus Ordo to me, but it was quite a revelation. Those opposed to the old Roman Rite often accuse Latin Mass promoters of Jansenism because of their perceived moral rigorism—I think that accusation is more applicable to the FSSPX and sedevacantist groups than to those loyal to Rome—but ignore the Jansenist threat of liturgical minimalism.

      Jansenism can be a bit of a bogeyman. Accusations of this old heresy were thrown around like spit wads in the days shortly before the 1962 Council. I remember Flannery O'Connor's wild accusations within her letters, for instance. Sometimes these accusations were merged with condemnations of "manualism," against priests who rarely had a thought of theology or the spiritual life outside of the Thomistic moral manuals. This simplicity of thought had little to do with holy simplicity, and made many priests into rather mindless condemners of bullet-pointed vices. But as bad as this was, I'm not sure it had much to do with Fr. Jansen and his freaky cult. It's easier to scare Catholics with names of old heretics than to explicate the errors systematically and to preach orthodoxy.

      Some errors transcend the individual heretics and their followings. Peter Waldo's sect could be seen as a precursor to both Jansen's and to that of the Cathars, despite their wide variations of theological error. Moral rigorism often seems to go hand-in-hand with liturgical oversimplification, and I have to wonder if even the preference for "swift and mumbly" Low Masses among Latin Massers is related to this. Papa Bergoglio is a moral rigorist in his own right, tossing out accusations of pelagianism and prometheanism at every opportunity.

      Perhaps something could be made of the recent rehabilitation of that greatest son of Jansen, Pascal. One sees Pascal referenced frequently and positively by clerics nowadays. Even Papa Ratzinger quoted him often, possibly because Pascal was a proto-Kierkegaard, an existential Christian trying to find his footing among the dark chaos of earthly life. When reading his Pensees, one is struck by how Protestant Pascal's apologetics sounds. He argues from reason and from Scripture, and when he describes the Church he rarely makes anything of its bishops and patriarchs. Nor does the Blessed Virgin make any tangible appearance. Pascal's mystical belief that "Christ is in agony until the end of the world" has gained a lot of traction through the Pope Emeritus. This pseudo-profundity encourages us to indulge many errors of heart and mind. Hans Urs von Balthasar claimed much the same thing by suggesting that Christ suffers eternally in Hell ("from a certain point of view," of course, because theologians can no longer be bothered to speak plainly).

      Moral rigorism usually finds targets in minor faults while ignoring the major. It's easy to find examples of preaching against sexual immorality (even against sex itself), but hard to find condemnations of hypocrisy and usury. Witchcraft is an easy target, but not liturgical desecration. Rigorism is often scrupulous about absurdities, like how the conciliar restorationists insisted that they were returning the Church to a Patristic state, and condemned their opposition on those grounds. Papa Bergoglio's next encyclical will be concerned with the preservation of the environment, promulgating a new kind of rigorism created first by the world.

    3. Hans Urs von Balthasar makes me appreciate Hans Kung. At least the latter has the decency to be honest in his rejection of the faith. When Kung denies a doctrine, he comes out and says it. No equivocations.

      Given the sheer amount of heresies that have emanated from misreading, misinterpreting, or putting too much stock in St. Augustine's writings (Calvinism, Feeneyism, Jansenism among others), I wonder if maybe certain people should be barred from reading the good Doctor.

      *Warning. Rant incoming.*

      The environment, really? We have Christians getting beheaded, raped, murdered, killed, murder-raped, rape-killed, and murder-killed... and THE ENVIRONMENT is the pressing issue?!

      Meanwhile, the trads worry themselves with "the lost art of shunning", the modesty of women's clothing ("Are your dress sleeves past your elbow? We know that the poor little men are weak and utterly incapable of controlling their sexual urges, so cover your arms ladies! We can't expect men to take control, that's just silly..."), and useless Vatican politics (they need to get over Burke and their hope that one good bishop is going to magically become pope and restore 1962 and the "Pre-Vatican 2 Church" in all its mediocrity... it's not going to happen).

      The libs and the trads truly deserve each other.

      *Rant over*

    4. I would love to see more Catholics reading St. Augustine at length. Unfortunately, he's easy to take out of context, probably because he's not a systematic writer like St. Thomas. In many ways, he's easier to read than the Angelic Doctor. He's not as pedantic for one thing, and people love to read a good autobiography with juicy episodes. One also needs to be careful to read Augustine in light of the Church's doctrinal teachings in the centuries after him, since some of his excesses have been rejected or studiously ignored. I personally love his commentaries on the Scriptures. It's a pity every two-bit heretic uses this great doctor as a prop for their inanities. Even luxurious poets like Petrarch couldn't leave him alone.

      Balthasar was a silver-tongued devil who turned the ears of popes, his own ears having been turned by a half-converted pseudo-mystic. He will continue to influence priests and theologians from beyond the grave until he is formally condemned by a pope or council. It boggles the mind that he holds so much, or any, sway over Catholic theology. His books should be burnt, and their ashes scattered in the Mediterranean.

  6. I did wonder if the curia, in choosing Beergoggleo (a friend’s conceit; I promised to use it: it’s quite funny if you’re British), were thumbing their nose at Benedict and his legacy for being a big pussy and resigning.
    As a Catholic journalist informed me earlier this year, it just doesn’t work like that.
    How it DOES work is a lot more like an episode of the Sopranos. The cardinals are in Rome after all.
    The question is not, ‘What do I believe’, ‘Whom do I consider would be best for the Church?’ nor yet, ‘Who is of my opinion?’.
    Rather the question is always, “Who are my friends?”. The next question is “Who are my friends’ friends”. That is the way alliances are brought into being. [If anyone is wondering how an innocent American girl (and Italian man for that matter), proven so by a long appeal process could be redeclared guilty by the higher court, the reason is the same. Someone was considering his friends’ reputation. That’s just how things work in the peninsular formerly known as Naples, piedmont and the Papal States.]
    The curia doesn’t do Liberal or not liberal, modernist or traditionalist. It’s not clear to me they do doctrine at all. So don’t pine, but learn from it. It probably does mean there ARE a lot of Liberals and neo-Jansenists in the Vatican. But at any time they might vote for a clear traditionalist – if he makes sufficient friends.

    But Beergoggleo is a bad thing. One blog has been questioning if he is the isis of the Catholic church.
    The intellectual motivation is the same. (On the 31 July I nearly suggested prayer for the Jesuits to find their way back to the Faith. I heard of one elderly priest who commented that they were well known in the natural sciences. Super!).

    I personally pronounced my own anathema – for what that is worth – while changing platforms to catch a train several months ago. The phrase just escaped my lips. Couldn’t help it. (Inspiration?)

    I believe him to be a liar. His spin of a probable resignation in a few years is untrue, but difficult to dispute, and was designed to do nothing more than keep the traddies off his back.
    It was suggested to me that Montini had a conscience about what he and his ‘gosfather’ Pacelli had achieved. I consider it is a pity that the sort of person who gets through to the curia and gets elected seems not to be the sort who thinks about putting any of the past mistakes right. I suppose he was just a dyed in the wool liberalizer – they really believe that doctrine and cannot go back and rethink.

    And don’t be so sure we’ll be left with “the Bible”. The protestants have had just that for some time and have devoted more than a century to rejecting the major part of it. So when HH has succeeded in wiping out the last vestiges of Christian tradition, there might be precious little of holy Scripture to fall back on either.
    We need to pray for deliverance, that’s about all.
    Do I need to add that these views are personal and do not reflect on other commenters, nor are they necessarily those of the owner of this blog, etc., etc., etc.
    Oh. Nothing wrong with reminding people to dress modestly. As far as I can see it is one of the things attracting British women of all ages from all classes to join the mohammedans.

    1. Rather the question is always, “Who are my friends?”. The next question is “Who are my friends’ friends”. That is the way alliances are brought into being.

      This is also an insightful observation; and it explains much of how the Holy See has operated for a very, very, very long time.

      What *is* new however, is the theological dimensions of these alliances - and yes, they are there - since the early-mid-20th century. Even when theological dimensions had been present before, they had tended to be of a political (say, over the Third Republic) or narrowly ecclesiological nature. Curial or ecclesiastical alliances may not be programmatic, but this does not mean that they don't, in fact, produce programmatic results - quite dramatic, obviously, since the 60's. While Montini/Paul VI was clearly a liberal and some sense a modernist, it appears that many of his appointments are more explained by your question - "Who are my friends?" - than a long-plotted theological conspiracy on his part. As it turned out, many were much more radical than he was, thus his surprise when they pushed well beyond him, and even against him after 1968.

      And this may well be what we are seeing with Papa Bergoglio as well. If he is indeed, as The Sensible Bond has called him, "a socially aware if pietistic liberal," he's also a man with a track record for knowing who his friends and his enemies are. As it happens, most of his friends appear to be more radical than he is. So long as they remain his friends, however...they can get away with quite a lot (see: Ricci, Kasper, Daneels, etc.).

      But at any time they might vote for a clear traditionalist – if he makes sufficient friends.

      Which, of course, explains the election of Ratzinger. A man who was, whatever else he might be, much more gifted in making friends than most outsiders credited. It also meant that his election meant a good deal less in terms of divining the mindset of the ecclesiastical Church than we thought. It also suggests the formidable challenge that any serious traditional reform of the Church will pose to a Pope so minded. It matters who your friends are, but the old axiom remains as true as ever: "Personnel is policy."

  7. I spoke of "traddies" - or Christians, if you will.

  8. Hello J,

    For some reason, the combox is not allowing me a direct reply to your comment above, so...

    Those opposed to the old Roman Rite often accuse Latin Mass promoters of Jansenism because of their perceived moral rigorism.

    True. But it raises two immediate questions, too rarely posed: 1) Whether the moral rigorism of such traddies is more perceived than real, and 2) whether it is proper to automatically equate moral rigorism with Jansenism. It is quite possible to be a moral rigorist without being anywhere within fifty light years of Jansenism. But it's been apparent that "Jansenism" long ago became a catchall category insult to throw at any Catholic with vaguely traditional theological contours (much like "fascist" in the political sphere).

    The accusation of Jansenism has, indeed, often been hurled at the Irish churchman of old, both in Ireland and in America and the Dominions. What they were guilty of at most, in fact, was mere moral rigorism of some stripe. There's virtually no evidence of Jansenist thought making its way from France to Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries, as Lux Occulta has noted: "The so-called Jansenism of late nineteenth century Ireland was nothing more than an element of Victorianism that came over with the compulsory English after the Famine.”

    1. I will address your two questions, having spent the first twenty years of my life in the traddieverse (SSPX, FSSP, Independents and the occasional Sedevacantist).

      1) Whether the moral rigorism of such traddies is more perceived than real
      Not at all, unfortunately. I have addressed earlier how obsessed with covering a woman's body they seem to be. It's not a matter of "Cover your cleavage and buttocks" and more "A dress cannot: be at or above the knee, a woman can't wear pants for any reason, the dress cannot be more than two fingers width down from the collarbone, and the sleeves must be past the elbow". These standards have less to do with Catholicism and are more rooted in 19th Century American Protestant standards (think Laura Ingalls).
      In many ways, they are try to recapture the "wonderful" 1950's (a time when the American church was undergoing a "false spring"). In many ways, they could be described as Liturgically Catholic with an old-fashioned fundamentalist Protestant mentality.
      Also, they follow the theological line of "outside scholasticism there is no valid theology". You can only imagine how well this goes.
      To be fair, it is worst in the SSPX and Sedes (some of the Independent priests at the time had not rejected common sense). The FSSP priests range anywhere from decent fellows to SSPX-lite to closet SSPXers. Many FSSP churches are a mish-mash of former SSPX-goers (some trying to recreate it, and the majority are remembering why they left the SSPX) and former "mainstream" Catholics who are quick to adopt some of the most extreme traddy-isms in their ignorance.

      2) whether it is proper to automatically equate moral rigorism with Jansenism.
      Definitely not.. If you want a comparison for American Traddy rigorism, look to the puritanical influence of the American Protestants (which actually predates Jansenism).

      To Pseudo-John: I am only speaking for the American traddies. You or his Traddiness could speak more of the Anglo-Trads if they don't fit the above mold.

  9. Relevant satire


  10. It is also very easy to underestimate the combined effects of ignorance, stupidity and bad taste.

  11. To His Lordship - I am always glad to see more Bollocks in America!
    - In my neck of the woods a little, or indeed a great deal, more modest dressing - for both sexes - could do harm whatsoever.

  12. In many ways, they are try to recapture the "wonderful" 1950's (a time when the American church was undergoing a "false spring"). In many ways, they could be described as Liturgically Catholic with an old-fashioned fundamentalist Protestant mentality

    True enough, L.O.B. That was my experience growing up in Vermont and since The Bestest Council Ever, we now worship like them, dress like them, we think like them, we send out kids to the same colleges and we vote like them.

    We have met the enemy and we decided we loved him.

  13. Pseudo-John: I agree entirely. Where I take issue is when Trads demand that modesty means we must all conform to this:


    Joe Young: Well the American Catholics in the 40's and 50's were already infected with Protestantisms:
    -overblown devotions (to paraphrase the good Dr. Geoffrey Hull, What is devotionalism but personalization of religion? And is this not essentially Protestant, even if it is given a Catholic "flair"?), -aliturgicalism (25-minute "you're in, you're out, you're done" Low Masses),
    -inverted importance of feastdays (I have a 1959 Missal. Something is very wrong when the Epiphany and Annunciation were less important in some dioceses than the "Feast of the Miraculous Medal")
    -Protestant and Pop "Hymns" in Mass (I swear, if I hear "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" or "Faith of Our Fathers" one more time...)

    Really, what happened in the 1960's in America was just consummation of what was already the reality. The American Church threw off the last external trappings of a faith they never truly understood.