Friday, August 21, 2015

Reform, restoration, and Pope Francis

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Cardinal Burke in Oxford: a reformer or a restorationist?
Today I am publishing a Position Paper from the International Federation Una Voce on the concepts of tradition, restoration, and reform. Go over there to read it.

Some readers will know about all this already, but the paper establishes with a degree of care and thoroughness the fallacy of claiming that there is some kind of opposition between reform and restoration. The talk of reform 'going forward' and restoration 'going back', and all this sort of irritating guff, seems to emerge from nothing more than a metaphor gone berserk - the metaphor of spatial movement for political change. Anyone would think, from the language of 'change change change' in current politics, that change is a good thing in itself, as long as the situation it produces has not been tried before. (See Peter Kwasniewski on this over on the NLM.)

It should be obvious that this kind of glib nonsense can't be applied in the Church, but there is a particularly fundamental problem with it. The documents of Vatican II, and reforming documents before and since, don't actually talk about 'reform' at all, but about instauratio - restoration - and a couple of closely related words. Instauratio is translated, in the official English translations, both as 'restoration' and as 'reform'. The latter translation is tendentious, but even if it were not the idea that there is an opposition between 'restoration' and 'reform' doesn't get off the starting blocks: we are not dealing with two concepts here, but only one. The opposition between 'reform' and 'restoration' has no basis in theology. Insofar as we can give it any sense at all, it is connected with ecclesial politics - or even secular politics.

What, then, do we make of these remarks by Pope Francis in one of the interviews he gave a year ago, to the Jesuit Fr Spadaro? Here is the passage with a decent amount of context; I have added some emphasis.

“Because God is first; God is always first and makes the first move. God is a bit like the almond flower of your Sicily, Antonio, which always blooms first. We read it in the Prophets. God is encountered walking, along the path. At this juncture, someone might say that this is relativism. Is it relativism? Yes, if it is misunderstood as a kind of indistinct pantheism. It is not relativism if it is understood in the biblical sense, that God is always a surprise, so you never know where and how you will find him. You are not setting the time and place of the encounter with him. You must, therefore, discern the encounter. Discernment is essential.

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists ­— they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”


It must be said first of all that this is not an easy passage to understand, not least because of Pope Francis' habit of creating his own specialised vocabulary. I did a series of blog posts on this interview to argue that what Pope Francis is against, at the most fundamental level, is not the Traditional Mass and its proponents. Indeed in the one, stray reference to the EF in the interview it is clear that he does not regard it as an intrinsically negative phenonmenon in the Church.

What Pope Francis means by 'restorationist' here is something obviously different from what Bl Pope Paul VI meant when he represented himself as 'restoring' the liturgy in the preface to the 1970 Missale Romanum, or what Vatican II documents meant when they called for 'restoration' or the liturgy, of chant, of religious life, and so on. I think we are on firm ground in saying that Pope Francis is not condemning Vatican II and Paul VI. By the same token, the concept of 'restoration', of bringing things - the liturgy or anything else in the Church - back to the authentic and vigorous state, is not being condemned here, and it is that concept which is at issue when supporters of the EF promote the EF. People who claim to be undertaking some kind of instauratio aren't automatically endowed with inerrancy, of course: their claims must be examined and defended. What we can't say is that instauratio is something not good but bad.

The contrast the Holy Father is making in this passage is I think an iteration in different terms of the contrast he makes right at the beginning of the interview, between the 'ascetic' and the 'mystical'. As I explained Pope Francis' terminology on this blog:

The mystic is a person open to the influence of the spirit, and that means he is conforming himself to Christ and is always ready to serve others. The ascetic tendency is legalistic, it is an attempt to keep things neat and tidy; it is closed in on itself.
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The 'ascetic' side of the distinction... includes not only people stuck in the past, it includes people who approach the task of being a priest or bishop as just a job, people who look at the Church as just a human organisation, which must be defended, and whose rules are all-important. Because they look at things in a natural way, a merely human way, they are not open to the Spirit. They too want to keep things neat and tidy, in order to maintain bureaucratic efficiency.


It may be that Pope Francis thinks that many or indeed all traditional Catholics are 'ascetic' in this sense, though he does not make this clear. My point has always been simply that he is talking about something genuinly bad, and that Traditional Catholics can successfully defend themselves against the of (in this sense) asceticism, whoever might make it.

The notion of 'restoration' uppermost in Pope Francis' mind here, which cannot be the kind of restoration called for by Vatican II, is most plausibly understood in terms of political restoration: a restoration of some kind of right-wing, disciplinarian, confessional state. In short, from a South American perspective, of something like Franco. The talk of disciplinarian solutions also reminds me very much of the solutions proposed by Catholic neo-conservatives, who have long appeared to think that the liturgy is not important because the Church's problems can be solved by disciplinary action.

They are wrong, of course. The Church's problems are ultimately spiritual, can be addressed effectively only at the spiritual level. That is what Traditional Catholics are doing: not attempting to restore a vanished political order where their oppenents can be shot at dawn, but using the spiritual arms of prayer, and above all the public prayer of the Church, to soften and convert hearts.

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14 comments:

  1. I sometimes get the impression that I have to stand on my head to understand Pope Francis.

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  2. You are not alone Nicholas!

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  3. ...not attempting to restore a vanished political order where their opponents can be shot at dawn.

    We might settle for browbeating them into discarding their Gather hymnals before sunrise, however.

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  4. One other note:

    In his 1947 Encyclical Mediator Dei Pope Pius XII urges caution on those who seek the restoration of things lost in distant centuries, pointing out that the organic development of the liturgy in the Middle Ages and later was guided by Providence.

    Which triggers all kinds of ironies about Pius XII, given his institution of an unprecedented overhaul of the Holy Week rites involving all kinds of discontinuities in the case of restoring some more ancient liturgy - and clearly favored doing much more.

    Our problems with "restorationist" liturgical discontinuity did not begin in 1964 - though they certainly intensified a great deal.

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  5. I think the Pope is getting to what the the Nouvelle Theologians were trying to express by the term ressourcement, which was poorly understood as Patristics. In other words, a deeper understanding of faith comes about from a desire to understand and know God through a personal relationship with him. Tradition is not the final word with regard to the full depth of the faith. When it all comes down to it, Truth has a higher precedence than Tradition.

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    1. If this means that we learn about theology from personal religious experiences rather than from the public revelation passed on to us by Tradition, even Protestants would regard this as bananas.

      So what does it mean? You can't oppose Tradition and Truth, since the former is our source for the latter.

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    2. If this means that we learn about theology from personal religious experiences rather than from the public revelation passed on to us by Tradition

      You mean like St Theresa, St Francis and St Xavier?

      You can't oppose Tradition and Truth, since the former is our source for the latter.

      Uhm no, you've got it the wrong way around. Tradition is the understanding of the the faith by dead people. Tradition therefore both embodies the experience of human interaction with the faith. Embodied in this experience is both truth and error, the error being gradually parsed away a deeper understanding of the faith. Tradition merely repeats what the past has taught us, but each individual is obliged to develop a personal "connection" with God.

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    3. Yes, *exactly* like St Theresa et al.

      You need to read a catechism.

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  6. I kind of wish he would stop redefining words. On the face of it, at least, setting up asceticism and mysticism as if they are opposed is no less absurd than so setting reform and restoration.

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  7. Theologically, ideologically and liturgically Bergoglio is a closer to a protestant minister than to a catholic priest. The keys of Peter have been in the gutter since his unfortunate election.

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    1. Theologically, ideologically and liturgically Bergoglio is a closer to a protestant minister than to a catholic priest. The keys of Peter have been in the gutter since his unfortunate election.

      The Pope is the Catholic Church's only official Protestant, since he alone has final authority to interpret the Bible.

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    2. The Pope is the Catholic Church's only official Protestant, since he alone has final authority to interpret the Bible.

      But he can't do so in such a way as to contradict existing magisterial teaching.

      The Pope is the guarantor and protector of that teaching, not its master. As Vatican Council I put it: "For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles." (Ch. 4, s.6)

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  8. Theologically, ideologically and liturgically Bergoglio is a closer to a protestant minister than to a catholic priest. The keys of Peter have been in the gutter since his unfortunate election.

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  9. Sadly, in my old age, 70s, I am getting a bit impatient.

    I read the passage by the Pope. It could mean anything, whatever you wanted it to. It could have been said by a variety of religious and religious philosophers. It certainly could have been said by a relativist.

    I have emphasised elsewhere the importance of language, clear language. And translation. My background is international business, so I know the importance of this.

    For over fifty years now, the weapons of deliberately poor translation, innuendo, ambiguity, gradualism, deliberate dressed up denial, and of course once again, misleading translation, have been used within the Church, and still are.

    But one conclusion I have come to, quite separate form any involvement in the LMS or other such group, is that Liturgy, and probably nothing else, will sort out the mess.

    But it will take some time.

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