“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
* * *
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.