|Veneration of the relic of St Edmund: from|
St Edmund's College, Ware.
Considering the reactions (mostly on Twitter) to my post about Fr Ratzinger's 1969 remarks about how once all the 'edifices' and 'privileges' of the Church had been completely wrecked, 'a great power will flow' from the Church, it strikes me how difficult many people find recognising liberalism when they see it. Even after all this time, many people with conservative, even traditional, instincts, don't really grasp what liberals are all about.
It should be obvious that the 1969 passage is an expression of liberal views; it is a perfectly clear, indeed a classical exposition of them. In his (much criticised) early book, Principles of Catholic Theology, Fr Ratzinger wrote:
The fact is, as Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out as early as 1952, that … she [the Church] must relinquish many of the things that have hitherto spelled security for her and that she has taken for granted. She must demolish longstanding bastions and trust solely the shield of faith.
This is, clearly, the same thought as that expressed in the passage I quoted in the earlier post. Far from him regretting the loss of the Church's institutional baggage, as one might call it, Fr Ratzinger thought it was necessary and good.
This is simply the application to the Church of what political liberals have been saying since Rousseau, and are saying today more loudly than ever. Destroy the institutions, destroy the structures, customs, traditions and expectations of traditional society, of morality, of the family, and of the state, and a great awakening, a great liberation, a great flowering of humanity will take place. Haven't we all heard this? And isn't its absurdity sufficiently evident?
Political liberals like to say that what they call 'the nuclear family' and 'capitalism' are 'intrinsically oppressive'. They are no more friendly towards the extended family or to small-holders: Stalin and Mao reconfigured industry to serve the state rather than shareholders, but faced with people living traditional, pre-industrial, ways of life, felt the need to starve and machine-gun them by the million. No, liberals hate 'feudalism' even more than they hate 'capitalism', because its social institutions are more powerful, and for the liberal therefore by definition more powerfully oppressive. Since they don't believe in Original Sin, it must be the oppression from these 'structures' which is stopping everything from being wonderful.
Don't blame the Communists for not planning how things should be organised after the revolution. Don't blame secular liberals for not thinking through how children will be brought up once divorce, contraception, welfare, and gender theory have finished off the institution of marriage once and for all. Don't blame liberal Catholics for not thinking how young people will acquire the Faith without systematic catechesis or habituation into pious practices. These are not chance omissions. They honestly believe that no one needs to worry about that glorious future. Without the crushing of the human spirit by the institutions of oppression, it will all be wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Don't you see? The dawn is breaking! If obstacles remain, they will be destroyed just as the first opponents of the Revolution were! Oh yes, we may have to break a few eggs to make the omelette, but it will be worth it.
We know this story, and we know it has been tried - oh, how it has been tried - and it always fails, because the most potent obstacles to peace and harmony are within us, the selfish and disordered desires of fallen human nature. Of course there have been oppressive customs and institutions over the centuries, and the Traditionalist is faced with the complex and subtle task of reforming and purifying while maintaining, strengthening, and passing on, the institutions which have grown up, because while they can be abused, they exist to limit the opportunities for crime and sin and to cultivate virtue and facilitate mutual aid.
The crisis of the Church mirrors the crisis of Society, because the revolutionary ideology which has been destroying the Church's institutions is no more than a religious variant on the revolutionary ideology which has been gnawing at the vitals of secular society for two centuries and more. Society's crisis of marriage and the family is matched by an ecclesial crisis, not only in the practice of marriage and the family, but in the theology as well. In both cases, numerous 'conservatives' are determined to resist what the liberals want to do tomorrow, while accepting what the liberals did yesterday, and accommodating what the liberals are doing today. We need to see things more clearly than that; we need to work not for a slowing down of the revolution, but a restoration of those 'edifices' or 'bastions' which sustained the life of our predecessors.
What are we talking about? Practices and customs, institutions and laws, which incarnate the Faith, proclaim it to others, bind the Catholic community together, and help the individual to live a good life. Fish on Fridays, head coverings for ladies in church, the Angelus, Catholic schools and hospitals, canon law, and above all the Traditional liturgy, as well as the institutions of Natural Law like the family, and of Divine Law like the Sacraments and the Church herself.
Why would anyone prefer to live as Catholics without the full range of such things, given the choice? Because in some confused way people like von Balthasar and the young Fr Ratzinger, not to mention the more hard-line liberals, thought they made for rigidity and unhealthy regimentation, contrary to spontaneity and authenticity. (No doubt they made an exception for those 'bastions' established by Natural and Divine Law, though this exception seems arbitrary from the point of view of liberal ideology.)
The liberal objection to the 'bastions' is based on a grain of truth in the way things were done in a certain period, perhaps, plus a mountain of Romantic and Rationalist ideology. Habitual and formal actions can be the most heartfelt things we do; they can be the ones most expressive of our deepest commitments. Think of solemn promises, such as wedding vows, or habitual expressions of affection. They are formal because they are important; they are habitual, because they have become part of our very souls.
Bishop Fulton Sheen addressed the argument about the demolition of bastions very well with a little parable [from Chesterton, I'm told: see the combox]. (I've heard him tell it in a recorded talk, but I found the text online on Rorate Caeli blog.)
"In the midst of a great sea there was an island with a great wall, a high wall. On that island lived children, who sang and played. One day some men came to the island in a rowboat. They called themselves 'liberators' and said to the children, 'Who put up these walls? Who built these barriers? Can you not see that they are restraining your freedom and your liberty? Tear them down. Be free.'
"The children tore down the walls. Now if you go back, you will find all the children huddled together in the center of the island, afraid to sing, afraid to play, afraid to dance, afraid of falling into the sea!"
|Distributing Holy Communion, celebrating Mass, receiving priestly ordination:|
the priestly life in a stained glass window at St Edmund's College, Ware.
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