Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gregory Hesse

Fr. Gregory Hesse was a character, to be sure. He was something of a caricature of baroque Catholicism, witty, humorous, ultra-Scholastic, and very biting. Initially a worker at the Mercedes-Benz factory, he entered priestly studies in Rome, earned doctorates in Canon Law and Theology from the Angelicum (degrees which he considered worthless), was ordained by Cardinal Marella in St. Peter's Basilica in 1981, and worked as a secretary to Cardinal Stickler in the Vatican for a few years. After orthodoxy forced him into retirement, he discovered the "TLM," although refusing the vintages from Pius XII onward, and, despite, being canonically on good terms with Rome himself, began a loose affiliation with the Society of St. Pius X. 

In his theology, Hesse was a Latin neo-Scholastic: precise and legal, although in non-Roman matters he did defer to the Eastern traditions. With regards to the papacy he balanced Vatican I and the limitations on the papacy's power that exist in the Church tradition, glossing over the fact Pius IX did not want them. Most of his opinions were exactly that of Lefebvre's Fraternity at the time: the third Fatima revelation is hidden, the pope is a heretic ("ze pope is a hairy-tik"), the new Mass is probably invalid in the vernacular and so on. Still, he gave his unusual opinions and his less outlandish ideas on the concept of tradition and the immutability of it, including the pope's meddling power, a degree of eloquence his peers the Fraternity lacked. He refused Pius XII's tinkering with Holy Week and passive-aggressively nails him in the video below at 21:30.


Hesse was something of a fop, dressing as a monsignor according to a privilege Urban VIII bestowed on all priests ordained in St. Peter's Basilica (no one tell Fr. Zed!). He was rarely found without a glass of wine and enjoyed the simple wit of G.K. Chesterton. When visiting the United States, he regularly took the opportunity to go after Democrats and to bond with his conservative allies.

Like Quintin Montgomery-Wright, Gregory Hesse was essentially a reactionary traditionalist who held almost all the positions as Marcel Lefebvre. Where he and Montgomery-Wright differed from Lefebvre's priests is character. We are attracted to sympathetic characters in books as we are in real life. Eccentrics make the world interesting, not the dull who suppress their personalities in misguided attempts at humility or careerism. With his love of red wine, right wing politics, American country music, and his German accent, Hesse possessed character in spades. With the passing of so many past characters we are bereft of interesting people in the traditional movement. Let us hope that the good Lord smiles on us again with more vibrant personalities. After all, Ss. Peter and Paul were hardly quiet simpletons who passively repeated what they read in a catechism.

23 comments:

  1. Interesting, I had never heard of him.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Eccentrics make the world interesting, not the dull who suppress their personalities in misguided attempts at humility or careerism."

    Indeed! The middle class world of Hooper has seen to it to eradicate any character or personality from humanity. One has only to be in the business world to quip, as I often do, that more life is to be found in the cemeteries these days!

    Interestingly, I had only first heard of Fr. Hesse just last year. In all my years in the SSPX, I had never heard of him. Perhaps he was a bit too his own man (e.g. re: Pius XII) for them to embrace him too warmly.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Eccentricity is largely despised in the business world, which is why Anglo-Catholicism is/was such a solace.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I remember Hesse quite vividly growing up. He was always around the $$PX and the Gruner/Kramer Fatima cult, but never really took part in their excesses. Looking back, I don't agree with everything he said but he was definitely more compelling and had a better grasp of things than the average trad personalities of the time.

    A glass of red wine and a prayer in his memory!

    ReplyDelete
  5. In 2004 some college friends and I attended on of Fr. Hesse's talk held in the basement of the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine in Washington, DC, which is next to the campus of CUA and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the JPII Shrine. There were about 15-20 people in attendance. Fr. Hesse, dressed as he was in the video above, sat with a small tumbler and a large jug of E & J Gallo. All sorts of conspiracy (Paul VI's different nose, Fatima secrets, etc.) tapes and books were out for purchase. I think the sanest person in that room was probably Fr. Hesse himself.

    A year or two later, while a seminarian in the ICRSP, I spoke with one of their Austrian "canons" who was shocked and somewhat pleasantly surprised that I knew of and had met this strange eccentric fellow Austrian. (This Institute priest had been ordained by Stickler, whom Hesse had worked for at some point.) The Catholic traditionalist world grew smaller that day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe, from some limited contact I have had with people who were with the Institute in the early 1990s when it began, that Hesse was instrumental in getting Fr Wach's limited priestly association in Gabone approved and given an international house in Italy. Hesse also helped Wach get four priests ordained when the Institute began with only two, Wach and Mora. The two, Wach and Hesse, had something of a friendship I believe, but may have drifted when the Institute became more-Ecclesia Dei friendly and Hesse more radical.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps it was Hesse who convinced Wach that he could dress like a protonotary apostolic and call himself 'monseigneur'.

      Delete
    3. " large jug of E & J Gallo"—that should be an excommunicable offence reversed to the Holy See.

      Did you leave the Institute because you did not look good in blue?

      Delete
    4. Nah, it just wasn't my vocation. I left right as the blue stuff first appeared. It was hilarious watching all les monsieurs les abbés (they weren't referring to themselves as chanoines yet) re-tuft their birettas and try on their new mantellettas and fit their de Sales cross over their mozzettas. And then everyone started wearing the buckled shoes, not just priests. And then Wach showed up with the all-blue cassock...though he always hides it under a greca coat. Perhaps the ICRSP is providing that much needed eccentricity?

      Delete
  6. We could use a little more eccentricity in FSSP land. The Catholic women's hat industry needs to be revived, for one thing. Scalp doilies are simply bland, and there's great potential in real hats. Men should toss their Men's Wearhouse suits and explore the glories of bowties and tweed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bowties? Meh.

      I'm in favor of flowing black Chesterton capes.

      Delete
    2. Sure, what better way to swoop majestically out of a room?

      Delete
    3. And sword-canes! Probably the most gentlemanly weapon invented.

      Delete
    4. Just visit Christendom College in the colder months...

      Delete
  7. I took a while to find this article on Don Gregorio. Here's my write-up - https://sarumuse.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/don-gregorio/

    Indeed, quite a character when one got him talking about the railways in Austria with the old steam trains! Even I don't get that crazy about sailing boats! In terms of red wine and cooking, he was to the priesthood what Rossini was to the opera.

    Requiescat in pace.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have become interested in Fr. Hesse after recently discovering the youtube posts of his wonderful talks online. Unfortunately, there seem to be multiple re-posts and posts of 10-15 minute blurbs from the same talks.

    Are there any other sources for talks or writings of Fr. Hesse? He died too early, not just because it would be great to hear his take on things post JP2 but also because the recorded material is very scattered and basically just a few camcorder videos converted to digital format.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Erudite, and perhaps at times strident, I wouldn't have described him as a fop. I think the term would have been more accurately applied to Christopher Hitchens or even Bill Buckley.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Love the late Fr. Hesse, he's the reason I stopped attending the NO mass. I had discovered the TLM after having been my whole life in the NO and was driving an hour to attend the TLM sometimes and attending the much closer NO mass other times. After I heard Fr. Hesse's explanation of the new mass that was it, never again have I attended a NO mass. And, I agree, Fop is not the word to describe Fr. Hesse, he understood the Church law and he knew it was his right to proudly dress as a monsignor.

    ReplyDelete
  11. To all a Blessed Chtistmas and a Blessed new Year.
    Fr Gregory Hesse was introduced to me via Internet and I have copied many of his Videos to be able to repeatedly listen to him speaking.
    He is erudite, straight forward, sometimes very blunt and clearly outspoken for the Truth of the Catholic Faith in which I grew up as a youngster. You will always find some folk trying to find fault with what they are hearing, see the diversity of the Protestant churches. Having said this then those who find Fr. Hesse "at fault" have the duty to explain with sound proof and quotation of that proof of their opinion. It is not sufficient describe Fr. Hesse as a "fop" and leave it at that.
    What Fr. Hesse says about the New Mass versus the pre-Vatican Catholic H. Mass is sound and proven with facts, references, Catholic Theology and Tradition, for the salvation of souls. Any one disagreeing with that has to prove the contrary.
    Requiescant in pace Fr. G. Hesse.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hello and Merry Christmas. I've recently discovered Fr. Hesse and enjoy his presentations very much. One quick request for clarification: what do you mean by 'in non-Roman matters he did defer to the Eastern traditions'? Could you give me an example or two of what this means? Many thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Sadly, he didn't become a pope and I would have preferred a Hesse pontificate to each pontificate after Pius XII's.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'd have preferred him over Pius XII, who was very similar to his successors.

    ReplyDelete