Thursday, June 30, 2016

Brexit: Hell No?

The post-Brexit fallout continues. Aside from the actual [yet to be seen] long term consequences for financial markets in the city of London, the real significance of Brexit is becoming clear and offers a modicum of hope to those who would start grassroots movements that take decades or generations to mature.

Brexit marks the first significant repudiation of progressivism since before the Second World War. Progressives, in both political and ecclesiastical spheres, have a teleological determinism to them. They create a phrase or idea in contravention to existing norms to force a dichotomy and then the acceptance of said novelty becomes an inevitability. No one had ever heard of "gay marriage" or "traditional marriage" twenty years ago, just marriage; but the sneaky sneaks sound that they could concoct a newfangled proposition and force the rest of us, in our logical consistency, to accept its variation, too. Who ever was told that the priest had his "back to the people" before the 20th century? It does nothing other than suggest he would normatively "face the people."

Make no mistake, the UKIPers, Labourers who crossed the line, and nationalist Tories did not vote for the British Empire and industrialism; they still want their NHS, public services, and post-Churchill socialism, but they also want to be left alone with regard to legislation. And yet this is something. Perhaps when we are told such and such is inevitable and never going to change we can recall how a single currency financial market became a constitutionally established bureaucracy with phases of gradual "integration," all inevitable until it wasn't.

Catholics, take note.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Burning and Shining Light

(Pierre Puvis de Chavannes)

St. John’s Day is today, a celebration of the Nativity of the Forerunner. No other saint’s birth is celebrated in the liturgical kalendar, apart from the nativities of Christ and Mary. If the Josephites have their way, the stepfather of Christ will someday receive a similar feast, but for now we are spared that indignity.

Among those born of women, none have risen greater than John the Baptist, who was filled with the Holy Spirit in his sainted mother’s womb. None deserve to have universal side-chapels opposite the Virgin more than John, which would be a magnificent continuation of the ancient iconographic tradition of the Deësis. While the pre-ministerial years of Our Lord are shrouded in shadow, we know that he expressed a great affection for his cousin with many compliments:

“For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him.” (Mt. 21)

“He was a burning and a shining light, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.” (Jn. 5)

“The baptism of John, was it from Heaven, or from men?” (Mk. 11)

“Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” (Lk. 7)

“What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? a prophet? yea I tell you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’” (Mt. 11)

Angel, Burning Light, More Than a Prophet, Friend of the Bridegroom—the Forerunner is given the Messiah’s stamp of approval at every opportunity, even though John himself says that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3). But “he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23), and thus the Church has historically placed him opposite the Virgin herself in his exalted intercessory position.

One can easily imagine The Baptist in a desert place as a young man, preparing for the mission ahead of him. Like the later desert hermits, the Devil must have sent his craftiest lieutenants against him, perhaps wondering if his imperviousness to temptation meant he was the promised Messiah.

John was a martyr, but not for baptizing nor for prophesying the Christ. He was murdered for one simple, repeated declaration: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” God could have permitted John to live well into the new dispensation, to witness the Crucifixion and Pentecost, and to be finally martyred as a Prophet of the Risen Christ. Perhaps it was not fitting that John should outshine the Twelve, or perhaps it was most fitting that the prelapsarian tradition of marriage should be witnessed bloodily by a sinless man even as Jesus was reestablishing its pre-Mosaic form. The strumpet Salome was herself the product of a broken marriage, a fitting image of contemporary times.

Even long after his death, the bones of St. John produced so many miracles that Julian the Apostate began to burn and pulverize them before the remaining relics were rescued. Today his cult has been pulverized: his feast cheapened into a yearly bonfire party, when it is celebrated at all, and his relics called into question by thoughtless bishops.

“For Herod feared John, knowing him to be a just and holy man, and kept him. And when he heard him, did many things, and he heard him willingly.” (Mk. 6)

But for the craftiness of Herod’s concubine, John would have lived and probably converted the king to repentance. Elijah, too, was harassed constantly by the witch-queen Jezabel. He escaped the persecution of the prophet-killer by a fiery chariot, but the Second Elijah was made to suffer and die for the perpetuation of the lie of Herodias’ marriage.

Centuries later, his namesake John Chrysostom would denounce the neo-pagan queen Aelia Eudoxia, who in her turn would depose and banish the bishop. “Again Herodias raves,” he preached, “again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.” The golden-mouthed John would eventually die in exile from his bishopric.

“What peace? so long as the fornications of Jezabel thy mother, and her many sorceries are in their vigor.” (II Kg. 9)

There will be no peace until the wicked queen is thrown by her unmanned slaves to the dogs. There will be no peace until the birth of a true prophet is celebrated, until his father’s dumbness is released and his mother’s childless shame is removed.

Herod feared John, so did Herodias, and so should we.


A happy feast of St. John the Baptist to all, especially readers in England. I congratulate you on asserting your sovereignty.

Update: will there be a "Pontifexit" next? 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Curious Case of the Double Papacy

(or, “The Great Majority of Papal Resignations are Null”)

(Jean-Paul Laurens)

Ever since Abp. Gänswein, the Pope Emeritus’ personal secretary, gave a speech last month in which he opined that Benedict XVI had abdicated the Petrine throne without abandoning the Petrine ministry, the rad trads of the Internet have more boldly begun suggesting that Francis is not a real pope at all. An out of context selection from Anne Catherine Emmerich’s prophetic visions was also quickly refurbished to prove the apocalyptic signal of a dual papacy. With every confounding utterance of Papa Bergoglio’s interview-facilitated magisterium, the Catholic on the street becomes more and more susceptible to such scandal.

But of course this conclusion is nonsense. Benedict clearly abdicated, and has repeatedly denied any extenuating pressure that would have invalidated his resignation from the papal throne. Certainly it is confusing to have “active” and “contemplative” participants in the Petrine ministry, but this becomes less confusing once one stops trying to interpret Ratzinger’s theology as if he were a scholastic or traditionalist theologian.

He is a liberal theologian, and always has been.

And as a liberal theologian, he freely uses words and concepts in paradoxical and sometimes contradictory ways. He is not so much of a liberal that he thinks that the papacy can be divided between two persons, and he is using terms like “Petrine ministry” in a non-technical way. Very much in the spirit of Hans Urs von Balthasar—who in The Anti-Roman Feeling split up the structure of the Church amidst the “Realsymbols” of the Petrine (pastoral), the Pauline (inculturation), the Jacobean (traditionalism), and the Johannine (love)—Papa Ratzinger sees truth as a multiplicity of perspectives that can complement one another. If Gänswein can be trusted to be accurately reporting Benedict’s thought, the Pope Emeritus has not remained grasping onto some part of his papal authority, but is incorporating another “Realsymbol” (perhaps the Johannine) under the umbrella of the Petrine ministry, which is greater than the person of the pope, who alone retains the “Realsymbol” of Peter. The Petrine ministry is thus presumably greater than the pontiff himself.

To complain that this is all a great deal of oddball nonsense is of course also accurate. Nobody has ever accused liberal theologians of simplicity, coherency, or even of adhering carefully to the principle of non-contradiction. In opposition to this half-hearted talk of the last few years, the actual announcement by P. Benedict was in fact quite unambiguous:
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
That speech was so clear a Thomist could have written it. In a very real way it simply doesn’t matter how the P. Emeritus has tried to rationalize or justify his abdication and his decision to continue wearing the papal white since February 2013. His own words were clear and binding, and he is the Roman pontiff no longer. It is sad to see him descend intellectually further into his liberal past, but hardly surprising.


Thomas, an old friend of mine, once spent a few months convincing me to read Hermann Hesse’s Nobel-winning novel The Glass Bead Game. I avoided it for a while, having identified Hesse with the adolescent narcissism of Siddhartha and Beneath the Wheel, but was rather surprised to enjoy it once I started on it. The novel is long and a bit ponderous, but the main conceit it that it takes place in a future European utopia of contemplative learning. The university-state Castalia appropriates a neo-Buddhist style of meditation and applies it to Western classical education, the height of which is the Glass Bead Game: a contemplative aid wherein stylized glass beads represent aspects of the cultural traditions of philosophy, music, art, and science.

The plot, however, revolves around a certain Joseph Knecht, a student of Castalia who rises to become the Magister Ludi, their version of a papal figure. At the end of Das Glasperlenspiel, Knecht reveals his plan to abdicate the Magisterial role, having come to the conclusion that Castalia had long since become so insular and rarified that it now has nothing it can offer the world for its betterment. Knecht decides (possibly via the influence of a Benedictine monastery) to become a mere tutor of one young man, as a sign that he is returning to the work that Castalia was originally formed to do.

As such, Joseph Knecht retained the “ministry” of a magister while resigning as the head Magister. Thankfully for his former Castalian administrators, they did not have to justify the scandal of his resignation for long.

Upon the resignation of Joseph Ratzinger, Thomas and I had many lively discussions about the justifiability of this act, with many references to Hesse’s magnum opus. At times we wondered if Ratzinger might have read this novel, perhaps keeping Knecht’s climactic decision always in the back of his mind as a possible path of escape from an unwanted position of authority. It is well known that he asked John Paul II for permission to resign from the CDF more than once, and he took on the papal robes only with great reluctance.

The following words of Fr. Jacobus in The Glass Bead Game are close echoes to Ratzinger’s belief that a smaller, more spiritually intensified Church is in store for the future:
Times of terror and deepest misery may be in the offing. But if any happiness at all is to be extracted from that misery, it can be only a spiritual happiness, looking backward toward the conservation of the culture of earlier times, looking forward toward serene and stalwart defense of the things of the spirit in an age which otherwise might succumb wholly to material things. (363)
One can comfortably imagine Knecht and Ratzinger retiring together in a small house next to a German lake, waking up each morning to contemplate history and the spiritual life before the mist burns off the water. Joseph and Joseph both bend down to scratch Pushkin’s nape while the tea steeps. Sometimes, perhaps, they stop to consider the voids they left behind, and the lesser men chosen to fill them.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Great & Holy?

"Bart, I want to go first."
The Great and Holy Synod of the fourteen ten Eastern Orthodox churches commenced over the weekend in Crete with Julian Pentecost. While the impending doom of Orthodox structures is overstated, the unfolding of events exposes a decayed fruit under the shiny rind of Byzantine Christianity. William Tighe recounted an intriguing passage Vladimir Solevyev's Russia and the Universal Church on Fr. Hunwicke's blog:
"It is obvious that there are questions on which the Russian Church could and ought to negotiate with the Mother See, and if these questions are carefully avoided it is because it is a foregone conclusion that a clear formulation of them would only end in a formal schism. The jealous hatred of the Greeks for the Russians, to which the latter reply with a hostility mingled with contempt — that is the fact which governs the real relations of these two national Churches, in spite of their being officially in communion with one another. But even this official unity hangs upon a single hair, and all the diplomacy of the clergy of St. Petersburg and Constantinople is needed to prevent the snapping of this slender thread. The will to maintain this counterfeit unity is decidedly not inspired by Christian charity, but by the dread of a fatal disclosure; for on the day on which the Russian and Greek Churches formally break with one another the whole world will see that the Ecumenical Eastern Church is a mere fiction and that there exists in the East nothing but isolated national Churches. That is the real motive which impels our hierarchy to adopt an attitude of caution and moderation towards the Greeks, in other words, to avoid any kind of dealings with them. As for the Church of Constantinople, which in its arrogant provincialism assumes the title of “the Great Church” and 'the Œcumenical Church,' it would probably be glad to be rid of these Northern barbarians who are only a hindrance to its Pan-Hellenic aims. In recent times, the patriarchate of Constantinople has been twice on the point of anathematizing the Russian Church; only purely material considerations have prevented a split."
The Eastern Churches, much like the Western Church after the Reformation, have been unable to deal with the changing phenomenon of nationalism. In Western Christianity the Church and states co-existed, although the Church's universality and cultural cohesion kept it safe from any one troublemaker until Luther came along and incited the age of nationalism which would make Catholicism no longer the religion of Europe, just the religion of a majority of the peoples of Europe.

The Eastern Churches suffer from the opposite problem: they are the national religions of essentially secular nations that have not formally renounced their Christian heritage. If the Great and Holy Synod eventually solicits a general council of the various autocephalous Byzantine churches, the fathers of that council would be hard pressed to compare their endeavor with the triumphs of Nicaea in 325 or the return of the holy images to the Hagia Sophia in 787. In post-Luther, post-Bismarck, post-Hitler, Merkelized Germany 16-20% attend weekly Mass; 15% in France. In Russia, where 400 of the 700 Orthodox bishops either reside or to which they attribute their devotion, an even worse 7% attend monthly or better. If the fathers of the First and Second Vatican Councils had no right to celebrate—and they did not—would their modern Orthodox counterparts?

Attending the Melkite and Ukrainian Catholic Churches for the last four or five years has given this author some perspective that the Orthodox churches may uncomfortably have to learn. Both the Melkite and Ukrainian Churches are churches which neither renounced their historical links to Constantinople nor their historical Communion with Rome, although they both eventual forfeited their de iure Communion with the Greeks to formalize their unions with the Latins. Both have had to play balancing acts between patrimony and politics. Both have had their share of martyrs in the last century, which means theirs is a lived faith, not a faith ornamented with national history and federal favor; they have enjoyed very little. There is certainly ethnocentrism in both Churches in the United States, which is to be expected of any national church, but the faithful are not necessarily trying to sublimate their desire to wear the babushka. The yoke is imminent death clarifies things better than the best corrective lenses.

The Orthodox are left with a remarkable debacle: do they meet and acknowledge significant differences in both Sacramental theology and ecclesiology or do they put it off in favor of more mini-synods and mask the problem for another century (or two, or twelve) of fragmented nationalism? The coming weeks may not be very instructive. After the initial dropout of the Antiochian and Slavic Orthodox Churches, the remaining Greek factions may want to stray from topics of weighty discussion.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Trending Topics of Conversation

It is unfortunate for this blog’s traffic flow that, at most times, the popular topics of discussion are topics neither His Traddiness nor I care to comment upon, except in passing. The upcoming meeting of various Orthodox churches will doubtless soon provide conversational fodder, but the bishop of Rome’s latest interviews, the shooting of dangerous gorillas, and the cultural importance of victimized Floridians who also happen to be trapped in self-destructive behaviors... well, the level of conversation is already so low that one simply wishes to take a long walk with a pipe and opine upon the piratical history of the Azores, instead.

Catholic Courtship

A few days ago I shared a few cigars and drinks with a small group of Catholic men frustrated by their continued singleness. It is easy for men to complain too broadly about women, and women likewise about men, but the complaints were not all unfounded. The amorous interplay of the sexes has always been fraught with confusion, miscommunication, pettiness, and obsession, but there is something about the contemporary disintegration of social mores that prevents this interplay from becoming satisfactorily consummative (emotionally and otherwise). There is something to be said in favor of the old, strict cultural customs for courtship and marriage, because then at least one could always know where things stood.

St. John’s Day

We are coming up on Midsummer, and the forgotten celebration of St. John’s Nativity. Once, long ago, St. John’s Eve was a most festive feast, popular for a variety of foods, nuptial celebrations, bonfires, a few harmless superstitions, and trick-or-treating. The Forerunner’s is the only birth celebrated with a feast day, aside from the Virgin’s and the Christ’s, and his late-June feast is historically one of the earliest we can trace on the kalendar. These days it is celebrated by a drunken bonfire party, if at all.

Parish Politics

Recent events have forced me to have intricate dealings with the local parish hierarchy, more or less structured like so: Secretary > Pastor > Choir Director > Homeschool Moms > Parochial Vicar > Me. Everyone is very conscious of his/her perceived place in the parish aristocracy, and everyone but the vicar likes to pretend they have more power than they actually possess. I fully expect to receive a lecture about being an idolater and witch for my failure to capitulate to every silly whim, soon.

Fictional Masterpieces

Currently I am approximately halfway through Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch, a strange and turgid novel about a boy whose mother has been blown up by a terrorist (right-wing and homegrown, the narrator assures us). Aside from its awarded credentials, it was also recommended by a friend of good taste as a lyrical work of great heartrending beauty. That’s my favorite kind of fiction, but so far I have yet to feel anything but anxiety that this poor boy will be abandoned or molested. Maybe the back half of the novel will pull through, but even Dante had some fun while he was slogging through Hell. Hopefully it will soon surprise me with a stirring of wonder.

Gibson for God

The news that Mel Gibson has commissioned a screenplay for a sequel to The Passion of the Christ hit the papers earlier this month. Randall Wallace, the screenwriter for Gibson’s Braveheart and We Were Soldiers, is in the process of writing a draft, which apparently means that Benedict Fitzgerald, the writer for The Passion, is out. (In 2008 Fitzgerald sued Gibson for his fair share of the film’s profits, so it’s assumed that the two are no longer on good professional terms.) Mel’s career has sunk dramatically and risen fractionally since The Passion, and one suspects that his own passion for the Catholic Faith has taken the same sink-and-tread-water approach. Whose acting career will he ruin by casting Jesus, this time?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Unholy Writ: Changing the Narrative in the Conciliar Church

“I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how such a fraud could become president.”

“Neither do I.”

“People must be that stupid.”

“Of course they are! They don’t work in business.”

“They don’t believe anything.”

“No, they’ll believe anything.”

“He can’t win.”

“We can’t let him win.”

“He won’t win.”

“Stop him at any cost!”

So developed a group therapy session in a well-appointed finance manager’s office across the hall from my own office. Four or five sons of white baby-boomers, degreed and earning low six-figure salaries, commiserated over the ascendance of Donald Trump. I probed them gently:

“Have you ever considered that Trump is a symptom and not a cause?”

“No, never.”

“Yep, he’s caused everything wrong with this country, or at least 99% of it.”
I continued, “Have we perhaps left the Republican politics of the ‘90s and you don’t see it?”


“Absolutely not!”

“We know what it takes to win.”

“We can’t win with him.”

“He won’t win.”

“We cannot let him win!”

“Is it too late for a third party?”

“The Weekly Standard is promising a neo-conservative independent. If not, it’s the libertarians.”

“I don’t care about marijuana, bitcoin, or Ron Paul, though. Maybe I’ll stay home.”

“Good choice.”


*             *             *

The fact is that the Republican party of 1984 and of 1994 is over. Whatever cultural currency Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” or reform legacy Newt Gingrich left behind is long spent and structural Republicans cannot come to grips with the change. No Republican is going to win the Hispanic vote by putting the son of a Cuban immigrant on stage. The antiquated political calculus epitomized by Karl Rove lives twenty years in the past. It does not understand the populist rise of Trump on the right and Sanders on the left, nor does it want to. It is too narrow, too content seeing the narrow path within its blinders to realize its burden has been lightened and its passengers have begun to traverse the streets themselves.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about Donald Trump’s policy positions. His “America first” attitude reflected the general American outlook until George Bush decided it was America’s responsibility to engender democracy among the Muhammadans. Several other candidates wanted to build a wall bordering Mexico. Trump’s brashness makes him popular. It attracts the frustrations of marginalized white, middle-class men who have found themselves marginalized by university politics, hiring preference programs, and the chilling of free speech by media shaming. As “alt right” diva Milo Yiannopoulos points out, it almost does not matter what Trump thinks; his supporters project their desires onto him. Trump and his less potent Democrat counter-part, Bernie Sanders, reflect a reinvention of the American political paradigm. The conventional “conservative vs. liberal” contrast, “limited government” vs. FDR’s welfare state narrative is over. The future paradigm will pit the nationalist against the arrant socialist, which has been emerging in Europe for nearly decades.
No reformer has ever accomplished anything by engaging existing structures as they are. No one has ever beaten the hometown referee and the hometown team. Reform changes the narrative as much as it changes the policy. Only the soulless are convinced by listening to calm, considered public debate. Men are instinctively passionate and vigorous beings who want to channel their energy to some worthwhile purpose. The most successful reformers in both State and Church did not offer ideas, they offered movements.

Gregory the Great was an unwitting leader of reform. A son of an ancient Roman family and former imperial governor of the city, he retired and adopted the then rural monastic life of St. Benedict within his family home. After the death of Pelagius II, the clergy and populace of Rome elected Archdeacon Gregory their new bishop. He was drawn into St. Peter’s basilica and consecrated to the sacred episcopate. Upon his accession to the Petrine chair one could imagine most plotters concerned themselves with their deteriorating position with Byzantium, the ambitions of the archbishop of Constantinople, the threat of barbarian raids, the effects of plague, and the role of the papacy in governing the city of Rome. Remarkably, almost none of Gregory’s legacy could be ascribed to addressing the concerns of his day directly. Gregory enriched the Roman See’s liturgy with a few oriental ornaments, he reserved the Pater to the celebrant, he added five words to the Canon of Mass, and he moved the pax. Gregory promoted monasticism by setting the seeds for contemplative life within the diocese of Rome, giving several communities at a time access to the great churches of Rome; a century later St. Peter’s basilica would be served by three monasteries before evolving into canonries. While he protected his See’s historical prerogatives against the “ecumenical bishop” of New Rome, he generally removed himself from Imperial politics. Above all, Gregory saw in monasticism a way of leading Christian life unspoiled by the temptations of “vanity”, as he described St. Benedict’s motives for leaving “the world.” In sending monks rather than Roman priests to the Anglos, Gregory showed the world a higher form of Christianity, one focused intently on God rather than on Greek politics, on the heavenly court rather than the imperial. Gregory’s fasting took his life, but he left treasure upon earth. In the following centuries the Byzantine papacy had ended, the Empire receded, and Europe left in a Dark Age illuminated only by the monks Gregory had dispersed throughout Europe who worshipped God with the Eucharistic Canon the saint codified.

Four centuries later the son of a blacksmith found himself in the backwaters of Christendom. Far from the gilded walls of the Hagia Sophia, in decrepit Rome he entrusted himself to a priest named Gratian for instruction. The City and the See of Rome were nominally ruled by the Bishops of Rome, but in fact had been under the consistent influence of a series of whorish female nobility who realized the potency of women’s sexual prowess. Papal reigns last until family feuds made the Roman ordinaries expendable, usually a few years. The priest Gratian’s despicable nephew, Benedict IX—who one historian described as a “demon from hell disguised as a priest”—sold the papacy to his pious uncle—all too happy to remove the whelp from the papacy—and then reclaimed it by arms when his would-be suitor turned him away. The emperor sacked them both, as well as two other claimants. Hildebrand, the blacksmith’s son and Gratian’s student, took refuge in the monastery of Cluny, singing four Offices a day, before returning to Rome years later as Archdeacon. From his vantage as counsel to the popes he influenced several attempted reformers who were inevitably still beholden to the Frankish emperor and the Roman aristocracy. At Pope Alexander’s funeral fortune smiled. Ugo Candidus, the Cardinal-Priest of St. Clement, who would later oppose Hildebrand, took to the ambo at the Lateran Cathedral and incited the masses, “Let Hildebrand be pope!” The crowd followed the priest’s inspiration and un-canonically elected Hildebrand by acclamation. The Archdeacon hid in a monastery, fitting at the church of S. Petri ad vincula, until he was found and compelled to accept election; after ordination and consecration, he took the regnal name Gregory VII and began a reforming program worthy of his namesake, if more deliberate than his namesake’s.

Brooks Adams, a long descendant of the second and sixth American presidents, summarizes Gregory VII’s papacy in depicting Henry IV’s reconciliation after spending days on his knees in the frigid winter outside the papal residence. Gregory carried a consecrated host to Henry, fractured it, consumed a portion, and pressed the other to the king’s lips; Henry dared not consume it under excommunication, lest he exacerbate his sins with the offence of sacrilege. To the secularist Adams, Gregory’s gesture represented the triumph of superstition. In fact it represented a small victory in a longer path to reform, but the most significant of all victories. For nearly two centuries small towns leaned on monasteries for spiritual direction and Eastern Churches heard nothing from Rome while the popes were the play things of minor nobles and harlots who readily liquidated the incumbents when their position grew tiresome. Pope Hildebrand’s triumph over Emperor Henry, not unlike the modern political changes energy industry financiers cannot swallow, made that paradigm obsolete. If the pope could excommunicate the Emperor and “win” then the Duke of Spoleto’s position in the Curia was no longer relevant.

Perhaps no Latin Church reform better represents the importance of new narratives than the various rebirths of religious orders. Save the Order of Preachers, most religious orders purified themselves by fracturing into the existing group and the purified, new branch more attuned with the earlier spirituality. Effectively, the multiplication of monastic orders in the Middle Ages were attempts to isolate the monks from the communitarian and administrative elements that pervaded medieval Benedictine spirituality, especially in abbeys descended from the Cluniacs. Indeed, the Order of Carmelites Discalced and the founding saints of that order—John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila—are blessed with a greater renown in the Latin Church than the original Carmelites of Ancient Observance and any of its associated saints.

Succinctly, true reform and renewal does not address symptoms of the problem that contemporaries see, but introduce new fluids and cells into the body that treat the real diseases in the Church. Traditionalists wield the twin rapiers of the Roman liturgical patrimony and reproduction and they use neither effectively in combatting diseases in Latin Christianity because too often they refuse to look beyond the fever and when they caught it in the high-flying plane of Vatican II. The “Conciliar” clergy will continue to hold the upper hand in any conversation about the Second Vatican Council and any discussion of liturgical revival as long as the options are between parish life in 2016 and 1956. They play a game against the referees and cry “foul play.” Above all, traditionalists fail to do what previous reformers and revivers of the Church did, that is, produce great saints for their cause whose fruits cannot be ignored. Archbishop Lefebvre’s legacy is the only one of any post-1965 traditionalist that even has enough following to cause the faithful to seek his posthumous intercession.

Breaking from the established narrative is difficult. Past Romans watched the papacy whither for years before Hildebrand emerged. In modern times, “conservative” politicians have struggled to express any reason for voters to support them outside of “low taxes, limited government, pro-Israel.” Traditionalists may well have to swallow the Second Vatican Council if they desire to better the Church Universal beyond the walls of Dulcis Devotio Traditional Latin Mass Chapel. Self-enclosed communities are like blinders on a horse, they leave a very intensely focused view on very little. Like the Cluniac monasteries of the Dark Ages, such communities stabilized people’s spiritual fluctuations during the turbulent years of Paul VI and the John Pauls. The situational standing of “Latin Mass chapels,” under diocesan auspices or otherwise, is unlikely to improve one way or another. Yet, they are established and their places unlikely to change. Cognizant of the tranquility of these places, provided they do not go out of their way to anger their ordinaries, it is time for traditionalists to look at other means of breaking the narrative and the established order.

As mentioned earlier, the two strengths of the traditionalist movement are its liturgy and its numbers, especially as far as vocations and multiplication of the human species. While these elements seem potent, only a minute percentage, even of men in the traditionalist sphere, are willing to dedicate their lives to the proliferation of the “liturgical books of 1962.” The Church will not benefit from a return to the “old ways” and an age long gone, but she may well benefit from a return of the old ways.
Communities and orders founded on basic, established practices unfettered by modern compromises that happen to use the old liturgy have proven far more successful than communities crafted on lollipop theology which exist to enable the 1962 Missal and 1961 Divine Office. A new Benedictine monastery seemingly opens every other year in France. Indeed, in a Christendom with Mount Athos and the Egyptian Anchorites, Christian monasticism thrives nowhere in the world like it does in modern France. These Benedictine monks do not operate schools, charge for spiritual weekend retreats, or even utilize a central air conditioning system. Their houses are cold stone hulks replete with sons of St. Benedict focused on God and singing the Latin psalms all the day long. More than the Atlantic Ocean separates Fontgombault from Collegeville.

The Franciscans of the Immaculate had the potential to be another modern example of genuine revival if not for the unilateral change of liturgies on the part of their leadership without consulting older members of the order and if not for the arrant blindness of their female leaders. Complain about Fr. Volpi and the Pope all you want, the same Vatican that suppressed the FFI also confirmed the constitutions of the ICRSS and may well sanitize the FSSPX without requiring anything of them.
Another area where traditionalists should excel, and which the established authorities wish they could, is in serving others through outreach and missionary work. In his 1990 series of spiritual vignettes, Nearer My God, William F. Buckley’s laments the halving of the number of nuns and the doubling of their average age since the Second Vatican Council. What, pray tell, have advocates of the older liturgy done to return to missionary religious life or to revive religious communities that serve the poor and dying?

The Fraternity of St. Pius X exceeded the Vatican’s ability to cope with them four decades ago because of the missionary zeal of their founder, Msgr. Lefebvre. Right or wrong, he had love of souls few could doubt and which he imbued in many of his priests. The Fraternity seems simple-minded, and it is; its education and spirituality are imitations of the same missionary and spiritual formation Lefebvre himself would have received and imparted in the Holy Ghost Fathers before the Great War. These tools are basic enough to translate into other missionary settings. A missionary band in South America combatting the Pentecostalists or in Africa converting pagans, fortified by the Latin psalms and an intense realization—clear in the old Latin rite—that God is above and demands everything, will encourage more young men and women to explore vocations than simply celebrating the 1962 Mass for a community of third generation traditionalists in North Carolina.

Indeed, an outwardly oriented society that utilizes traditional forms could render redundant the endless discussion of removing the Last Gospel or the errors of Lumen Gentium. Thirty year old nuns who have no prior exposure to the old liturgy could do far more for the Church by working in hospices, serving shelters, and looking to protect women endangered by newer concerns like international human trafficking than existing 1962 communities ever could, if only we let such an instigating saint arise and do not swat her down.

Perhaps one more conventional setting for the return of the old liturgy is one that has not suffered very much spiritual displacement, the Congregation of the Oratory. English Oratories retained their identities rather well after 1965, a provost in one city exempt. Several new American Oratories have appeared, all modelled after their English counterparts, not the extant Oratory in Philadelphia. The loose structure of any given Oratory should permit the open and casual use of the old Mass ad libitum by its priests without disconcerting the local bishop. A Jesuit once described the Oratory as “twelve eccentrics under one roof without rules.” With enough Theosophy, the old liturgy and the faithful should both thrive under the patronage of St. Phillip Neri.

If the traditionalists can look beyond their own walls, ordain a hundred new priests annually, and baptize a million souls into Christ, the inherited obsession with holding on to the Council’s legacy and the new rite will obsolesce. Both reforming popes named Gregory walked into a Church wrapped in family power struggles and passed unto Judgment after leaving the Church still wrapped in disputes among the existing authorities, but also injected a cure that would revive the Church from its disease, not from its discomforts.

When I suggested that special attention in the form of a community dedicated to ministering to the wayward youth on university campuses (campi?) ought to be pondered, one commenter contemned my concern for the elite and my all too human machinations; where, in my suggestion, was room for the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit came once on Pentecost Sunday nearly twenty centuries ago; He passes on to the faithful by the laying of hands. The Spirit may inspire and confirm, but He leaves cooperation with grace up to us men. If you have a better idea, please share it, but if not you may find yourself no different from the finance manager who cannot understand how his comfortable surroundings have transformed into something else without his consent.

Above all, pray.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Considering the Scapular (Part III)

Elijah bemoans the devotional wasteland of the modern Church. (Washington Allston)

You can find a scapular for every occasion. There’s one for increasing the theological virtues (red), one for honoring the Passion (black), one for ransoming captives (white), one for devotion to St. Joseph (gold and violet), one for avoiding Hell (brown), one for converting sinners (blue), and one for converting unbelievers (green). Each one is adapted loosely from the habit of a different religious order, but you can always skip all those complications and just get yourself enrolled in a package-deal scapular.

Now, Mr. Grump is not especially well-versed in the theology of sacramentals. He knows that piously crossing oneself with holy water can expiate one of venial sin, but that’s about it. He wears a cross and has what he considers a healthy amount of religious art displayed in his home. He carries around a miraculous medal in his wallet, although he can’t quite remember how it got there. For the most part, his brown scapular sits in a desk drawer along with a few other Catholic trinket-y items that he is still deciding what to do with. He doesn’t believe much in outsourcing his spiritual life to jewelry, but he keeps them around on the theory that there is much more going on around him in terms of spiritual warfare than he knows, and prefers to keep certain weapons handy even if he isn’t certain how useful they actually are.

Except for Chartreuse, which he is certain is blessed by monks to be a sacramental of the highest order, and is probably one of the seven spirits which sit before the throne of God (Apoc. 1.4).

The credulity given to certain promises around the brown scapular borders far too often on outright superstition. Even so, one must admit that the spiritual practices of average Catholics before the Counter-Reformation would be considered superstitious today. They had a vivid perspective of life as a constant warfare between angels and devils, between witches and priests, between cursed objects and blessed sacramentals. We tend today to lean in the opposite direction of incredulity towards stories of the supernatural. We are picky about which miracle stories we believe—why do we disbelieve that St. Denis carried his own decapitated head for miles, but believe that Christ raised Lazarus from the dead?

I, for one, find no reason to think that the Blessed Virgin did not promise eternal salvation to those Catholic religious who faithfully kept the rules of their orders, symbolized by the faithful wearing of their orders’ habits. The counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience were given to us to make salvation more certain, and religious orders were founded to make the practice of the counsels more practical. Why wouldn’t Mary step in occasionally to assure Catholics in those orders that they were on the right track to ensuring their own salvation?

But therein lies the problem. The further away the popular devotion of scapular-wearing gets from the religious orders that originated these scapulars, the more similar it becomes to superstition. One need not become even a Third-Order Carmelite in order to “receive the graces” of the brown scapular, anymore. The scapular need not even be a scapular, but can now be a medal, destroying the one physical tie it had to a religious habit.

Stories of even worldly Catholics being saved from physical harm by wearing this scapular proliferate in its popular literature—a priest is saved from a bullet wound during Mass by the scapular, an enrollee stops a violent storm by throwing his scapular into the waves, a woman attempting suicide is unable to sink whilst wearing her scapular, etc.—and while I am not so incredulous as to doubt the reality of spiritual warfare spilling over into the material realm, one notices that the subject matter of these stories tends towards the sensational rather than the sober. Even Pius XII warned the Carmelites against presumption when considering Mary’s promise: “But not for this reason, however, may they who wear the Scapular think that they can gain eternal salvation while remaining slothful and negligent of spirit, for the Apostle warns us: ‘In fear and trembling shall you work out your salvation.’”

Crank up the heat, he's about to be canonized!
Wearing a brown scapular without any concern for the Carmelite order seems also to be yet another example of the disintegration of religious life in the Church. The scandals of unchastity, avarice, and plain disobedience in religious life are bad enough without also removing the devotional items they created from their possession. Those poor monks need all the help they can get. Carmelite spirituality leaves me cold (I do admire some of St. John of the Cross’s writings from an abstracted distance), but it is a help for many souls, and there is something perverse about recommending the order’s scapular without requiring any unique part of its spiritual life.

Every time a Catholic with some attachment to my parish dies, the question of whether or not he died wearing his scapular immediately arises. Better to ask if he died with the sacraments and with a clear contrition for his sins. How well did he fight off the final temptations of the Devil? How firmly did he hold to the Faith as the angel of death drew nearer? Wearing the scapular until death may indicate a love for Mary, or it may indicate presumption. No doubt she can work many miracles through her sacramentals, but should we insist that she will, even for obstinate sinners?

St. Joseph, patron of a holy death, pray for us!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Welcome Fr. Capreolus

Today we add our third author to The Rad Trad. Please join me in welcoming Fr. Capreolus. Father is priest in good standing who studied at the Angelicum when some professors from the "good ol' days" could still be found. He knew Don Franck Quoex and celebrated the old Holy Week with him in Rome years ago. A convert and once a monk, he now functions as a priest under a diocesan bishop and celebrates the old old Mass most of the week. His studies and experiences are a welcomed addition to this blog. 

Due to his schedule he will likely only post intermittently, but his contributions will be valued when he can spare a moment.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Considering the Scapular (Part II)

There is an interesting find—if you follow the footnote trail in the relevant Wikipedia articles—of a July 1904 article in the old Irish Ecclesiastical Record about “The Origin of the Scapular: A Criticism,” by Fr. Herbert Thurston, SJ. Responding to an earlier article in the same publication by Fr. Benedict Zimmerman, OCD, he casts a skeptical gaze on the stories about the vision of St. Simon Stock and the promises given by the Blessed Virgin to those who wear the scapular.

The vision of the brown scapular is supposedly retold by one Peter Swanyngton, St. Simon’s companion, secretary, and confessor. Fr. Thurston notes discrepancies in Peter’s purported letter, pointing out its internal dating errors and the fact that Peter apparently did not know which pope he and Simon personally visited (cf. ibid. 60-2). As he summarizes the problems:
The document professes to be what it is not; it is grossly inaccurate in names and dates; it was first heard of three hundred years after the death of its supposed author; it was brought to light by a person who was very far from being unbiassed or disinterested; it was never submitted to any kind of expert criticism; it disappeared unaccountably when its publication was demanded. That Father [John] Chéron [in the mid-1600s] deliberately sat himself down to forge a purely fictitious document I do not suggest; but that having come across some sort of account a century or more older than his time, he chose to assume that it was a contemporary narrative, attributed it to Swanyngton, and manipulated it in accordance with this idea, seems to me in the highest degree probable. (64)
Thurston also points out that Carmelite breviaries published before Chéron’s time made no mention of the scapular vision in their notes about a major Carmelite Marian feast (65).

Later he is reasonably skeptical about the claim of promises made during the vision of St. Simon:
But what is still more noteworthy, in the version which Father Zimmerman believes to be Sibert [de Beka]’s highly decorated elaboration of the primitive record, our Lady is made to promise salvation to him to dies in the habit, ‘if only he be worthy’ [emphasis in original]. (‘In hoc quisquis morietur, modo eo dignus, æternum non sentiet ignem.’) The promise in Swanyngton is absolutely without condition. Are we asked to believe that of these two accounts, both supposed to be mediæval, the cautious and qualified form belongs to the later accretions of the legend, while the unconditional promise is to be regarded as authentic and primitive? This must surely be considered a very exceptional inversion of the usual order. (68-9)
The similarity of the legendary vision of St. Simon to visions given to other medieval orders is also noted:
The annals of most religious Orders contain some similar tradition, generally founded on an apparition, more or less vaguely attested, and promising salvation to all who persevere in the Order until death. Father Zimmerman says that such a tradition existed among the Benedictines, the most ancient of cenobites. Analogous revelations are also piously credited among many of the more modern Orders, such as, for instance, the Society of Jesus. It is to be noted then, that if, in the fourteenth century such a privilege was believed to attach to the Carmelite habit, it was in no sort of way the exclusive prerogative of the Carmelites. (69)
If we are to extend credulity to the story of St. Simon Stock’s vision of his order’s habit, surely the same could be extended to similar visions of other orders. Might it not be said that any Catholic who faithfully lives the spiritual rule of any good religious order will be assured of salvation? That is why the Counsels are given to us, after all.

It should also be pointed out that Fr. Thurston wrote a couple of follow-up articles to his 1904 article in 1911. “The Scapular Tradition and Its Defenders” is a response to a few articles by Fr. James Rushe defending the popular devotion to the scapular and some of the odder Carmelite traditions, like their belief that the Prophet Elias literally founded their order. He closes his response with the observation that “we cannot but regret that the world at large should be invited to draw the inference that intellectual honesty in historical matters is not on the whole encouraged by the ascetical Orders of the Church.”

The other, “A Recent Confirmation of the Scapular Tradition,” Fr. Thurston responds to a certain Père Marie-Joseph du Sacré Cœur who had attacked Fr. Zimmerman as being himself a skeptic and historicist, for Fr. Zed had admitted more about the historical instability of the Carmelite claims than his superiors approved. Thurston notes that Zimmerman had been since deposed from the office of historiographer of the Carmelite order, and so quotes a private letter from Zimmerman himself to dismantle Père Marie-Joseph’s claims about the origins of the separate scapular.

(I note briefly and with some mild amusement that Montague Summers attacked Thurston at some length in his introduction to the 1928 edition of The Malleus Maleficarum, writing of him that “Tender miracles of healing wrought at some old sanctuary, the records of some hidden life of holiness secretly lived amongst us in the cloister or the home, these things seem to provoke Fr. Thurston to such a pitch of annoyance that he cannot refrain from venting his utmost spleen. The obsession is morbid” (xxviii). Perhaps it is so, or perhaps Summers wished to bury Thurston under the suspicion of Modernism. I observe also that in 1933 Thurston wrote a short complaint titled Superstition.)

Whether or not Fr. Thurston’s analysis is devastating against the popular beliefs of the brown scapular is beyond my own abilities to judge. It is one of the few scholarly critiques of this sacramental, which was viciously opposed by the Carmelite order, and apparently quite thoroughly ignored by the Church at large. Devotional literature is by nature non-academic; that is no fault as such, but it is not sufficient that books meant for a broad readership should be the only ones readily available.

Considerations on the cultural ramifications of the scapular to come...

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Considering the Scapular (Part I)

source: Wikimedia

The brown scapular is not a sacramental used only by Carmelites and rad trads, but can be found in pockets of devotionalism throughout the Catholic landscape. It is not difficult to find families obsessed with collecting medals, scapulars, rosaries, and other such items. When this sort of thing gets out of control, it turns into a sort of folk superstition, where concerned Catholic mothers fearfully insist that their children not leave the house without wearing their protective trinkets. There are worse errors to fall into, but it’s easy for a Catholic to obsess about an object whilst ignoring the more essential things of holiness, penance, and liturgical prayer.

As much as its promoters deny that they encourage the wearing of the brown scapular as a good luck charm or “Get Out of Hell Free” card, it’s undeniable that the beliefs surrounding the scapular lend themselves to such presumption. For many, even the basic minimums of praying the Little Office daily and engaging in the Carmelite spiritual life in order to receive the graces of the sacramental are not sufficiently explained.

In my attempts to research the brown scapular, it was difficult to find any scholarly and historical literature. Most of it is devotional, meant for credulous laymen rather than critical thinkers. While devotional literature has its place, it is not a sufficient replacement for theological analysis. To that end, I here provide some brief analyses of a few relevant and apparently “official” texts. (In a future post I will look more into the historical facts of scapular’s origins.)

Scapular Catechesis (Morello)

The following is excerpted from Fr. Sam Anthony Morello’s Q&A catechesis in The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: Catechesis and Ritual, published in 2000. (Reproduced online here.) A few relevant points are highlighted in bold.
What is the relationship of the Carmelite Order to the Brown Scapular? 
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the habit of the Carmelite Order. For the religious members of the Order it takes the form of two long, undecorated panels of brown cloth joined at the shoulders and falling, one to the front and one to the back. For the laity it takes the form of a two smaller pieces of brown or dark cloth, preferably plain, joined over the shoulder by ribbons, and falling, one to the back, the other to the front. As the Order’s habit, the scapular signifies some degree of affiliation to the Carmelites.[...] 
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the common habit of all branches of the Carmelite Family and a sign of unity of that family. For that reason the Scapular Confraternity and similar associations of the faithful centering around this sacramental belong not to any one branch of Carmel but to the entire Carmelite family. Thus, there is only one common public association of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. 
If a person wears the scapular, but has no formal association to the Order, does that person still gain the benefits associated with the scapular? 
A person who wears the scapular and practices the spirituality of the Carmelite Order has an affiliation, loose as it may be, to the Carmelite family and so shares in the graces traditionally associated with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. However, simply to wear the scapular without accepting the responsibilities attached to it would be to reduce this precious sacramental to the status of a charm or good-luck piece.
This catechism insists on the intrinsic connection between the wearing of the brown scapular and an affiliation with the Carmelite Order and submission to Carmelite spirituality. This scapular is not a universally generic sign of Marian piety or devotion, but a sign of affiliation or confraternity with Carmel.

Fr. Morello also has this to say about the so-called Sabbatine Privilege:
What is the official status of the Sabbatine Privilege? 
Historical research has shown that the alleged fourteenth-century appearance of the Blessed Mother to Pope John XXII is without historical foundation. As a matter of fact, in the year 1613 the Holy See determined that the decree establishing the “Sabbatine Privilege” was unfounded and the Church admonished the Carmelite Order not to preach this doctrine. Unfortunately, the Order did not always comply with this directive of the Holy See. 
At the time the Carmelites were instructed to stop mentioning the “Sabbatine Privilege” the Holy See acknowledged that the faithful may devoutly believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary by her continuous intercession, merciful prayers, merits, and special protection will assist the souls of deceased brothers and sisters and members of the confraternity, especially on Saturday, the day which the church dedicates to the Blessed Virgin.
Thus the Sabbatine Privilege would appear to be confirmed as a pious legend with no firm basis in history.

750th Anniversary Letter (Chalmers & Maccise)

A 2001 letter from Frs. Joseph Chalmers (Prior General) and Camilo Maccise (Superior General) on the 750th anniversary of the brown scapular also insists on its peculiarly Carmelite nature:
The Scapular is essentially a “habit”. Those who receive it are aggregated or associated in varying degrees with Carmel that is dedicated to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church.[…] Our tradition shows the firmest conviction that the habit and the Scapular have no salvific effect unless we see their meaning as Mary’s habit which affiliates us to the Carmelite Family, and we live according to her example. (28, 30)
Oddly, they also speak of the Carmelite habit as if it is reducible to a Marian habit. The letter goes on at some length to describe the Marian aspects of Carmelite spirituality, which is all well and good, but one might fear that it is at the expense of ignoring the order’s more ancient spiritual influence of the desert prophets of old, especially St. Elijah. The Second Eve’s life on earth was not exactly an eremitical one.

Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (CDW)

The Congregation for Divine Worship released an updated Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy in 2001, which includes the following section on the brown scapular:
The Brown Scapular and other Scapulars 
205. The history of Marian piety also includes “devotion” to various scapulars, the most common of which is devotion to the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Its use is truly universal and, undoubtedly, it is one of those pious practices which the Council described as “recommended by the Magisterium throughout the centuries.” 
The Scapular of Mount Carmel is a reduced form of the religious habit of the Order of the Friars of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel. Its use is very diffuse and often independent of the life and spirituality of the Carmelite family.[…] 
The imposition of the Scapular should be celebrated with “the seriousness of its origins. It should not be improvised. The Scapular should be imposed following a period of preparation during which the faithful are made aware of the nature and ends of the association they are about to join and of the obligations they assume.
The assertion that use of the brown scapular is “truly universal” is questionable, especially in our implicitly universalistic age. There is also the strange contrast between the blithe observation of the scapular’s practical independence from Carmel, and the so-called seriousness of the obligations it entails. One could reasonably ask how a reduced Carmelite habit could be treated seriously when it drops all substantial ties to Carmel.

More to come...