Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why liberals are united and conservatives divided: Part 3


Part 1 of this series.
Part 2 of this series.
Part 3 of this series.

In the aftermath of Vatican II, opponents of the radical deconstruction of the Church (what Pope Paul VI, soon to be 'Blessed', called its 'autodemolition'), had to decide on a strategy. Since this was not going to be a purely negative strategy of attacking something from all and any side, like the radical liberal strategy, it was going to require serious thought and difficult judgments.

(As an aside, conservatives are perfectly capable of allying with others when a purely negative objective is in view. Explaining his alliance with Stalin, Winston Churchill said: 'If Hitler had invaded Hell, I would at least have made a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.')

The people we call 'neo-conservatives' decided to accept the reformed liturgy, give the best interpretation possible to everything coming out of Rome, and to rally round those aspects of doctrine which were being most vigorously upheld in the Papal Magisterium, which were issues of sexual morality and abortion. Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae condemning contraception; St John Paul II turned out to have even more to say on this, and on abortion as well; Pope Benedict XVI also had a very clear track-record on these issues.

By refusing to defend the ancient liturgy, and soft-pedaling issues like Church-state relations, religious liberty, and the mission to the Jews, the neo-cons could present themselves as totally in accord with the Second Vatican Council, and what we might call the 'official line' coming from Rome afterwards. This gave them cover against liberal accusations of 'refusing to accept Vatican II' (whatever that means), and made it possible for them to get the public support of Popes and the more conservative bishops and cardinals. They had enough to do, of course, in defending the Church's teaching on sexuality and abortion, which go to the heart of the private lives of the Faithful, and they have done much magnificent work, both practically and theoretically, in these areas.

Traditional Catholics took a very different path. They adopted the cause of the ancient liturgy as a rallying-point for a defence of a much wider set of Catholic teachings, and, beyond that, the traditional culture, spirituality, and practice of the Church, in opposition to the never-ending series of novelties which appeared, often with some more or less official endorsement. The fact that the ancient liturgy was widely said to be prohibited immediately forced them to face the fact that the structures of the Church could be used to undermine the Church's traditions. If bishops, curial offices in Rome, and even the person of the Pope, could find themselves actively undermining traditions as ancient and authoritative as the Church's own liturgy, then they could do the same for her teachings. We don't have to imagine a situation in which a General Council or the Pope make an infallible statement contradicting the teaching of the Church; just one where a teaching is systematically not made clear.

The advantages of the neo-con approach are perfectly easy to see. The Trads were, as Pope Benedict expressed it, treated 'like lepers', and were unable to use the resources of the Church for their work. They were a sitting duck for accusations of 'rejecting the Council' (whatever that means). The broadness of what they wanted to defend gave their opponents a bigger target to attack.

But the trads were right. The destruction of the Church's ancient liturgy, for all that it was apparently signed off by Pope Paul (only later was it established that he never abrogated it), was motivated, as far as its designers were concerned, by a rejection of key areas of the Church's teaching (something today evident from their memoirs), and had the result that those teachings were no longer conveyed to the Faithful. To embrace the reformed liturgy because it was merely silent about, or almost silent about, as opposed to openly contradicting, the intercession of the saints, the need for penance, the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the complimentary of the sexes in marriage, our radical need for grace, Purgatory, the reality of the devil, and the sacrificial nature of the Mass, is to make far too great a concession. It wouldn't be so bad if the Traditional Mass was available alongside the Novus Ordo, but of course this didn't happen: the liberals saw to that. Cardinal Ratzinger made the problem absolutely clear:

IMG_0277A sizable party of catholic liturgists seems to have practically arrived at the conclusion that Luther, rather than Trent, was substantially right in the sixteenth century debate; one can detect much the same position in the post conciliar discussions on the Priesthood. ... It is only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent, that the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, after the liturgical reform, can be understood. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the strongest, and thus (for them) the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its value.

He made a complementary point by pointing out that the attack on the liturgical tradition called the Church's 'very being in question'. You can't maintain the Church's prestige and authority in matters of traditional doctrine if you allow her prestige and authority in matters of the liturgy to be dragged through the mud.

Tomorrow I'm going to talk about the situation today. Peter Kwasniewski's characterisation of conservatism as 'liberalism in slow motion' is also apposite; I don't have space to go into this aspect of the situation, but the conservatives found themselves swallowing one liberal outrage after another as time passsed.

Pictures: Christ in the Temple, in the Presentation and the Finding in the Temple. From the Rosary Walk at Aylesford. (Isn't St Joseph's turban fun?)

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  1. Traditionalists and hyper-ultramontanists (what you call neoconservatives) both ultimately desire the salvation of souls. The difference is that the neoconservatives think the best way to go about this is to treat the Vatican as if it were the very pinnacle of holiness and guided by the Holy Spirit. (I can never quite finagle what they want us to think about the Borgia Popes and other dark times for the Supreme Pontiff.)

  2. I would note that on everything except the reforms themselves, the traditional societies and religious orders (esp. Benedictine monasteries) are fully in accord with Vatican II. Just the other day, the abbot of Fontgombault delivered a sermon entirely rooted in Scripture and its interpretation as given in Dei Verbum. Even liberals ignored other reforms, like those of canons choir dress (not that that is equal to liturgy, but it says something, I think, about the liberals in the Church).