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The Turnabout Credo

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Why I became Catholic

The local Una Voce chapter did a short email interview of their most recent convert to Catholicism and the Latin Mass (me). Here’s the Q&A:

  1. How long have you assisted at the traditional Latin Mass in Brooklyn? How did you find out about it?

    A bit more than a year, since the Lent before this past one. I found out about it with an internet search—just plug “Latin mass” and “Brooklyn” into Google and it pops right up.

  2. How/why did you become attracted to the Catholic Church? Was this a long spiritual process?

    Long and tedious for anyone to hear about! The Catholic Church always seemed the center of gravity of Christianity. Still, I thought that Christ is where Christians meet, and the notion that the Catholics had some general advantages never seemed reason enough to switch. Eventually though some experiences brought home to me that there was really nothing in protestantism I could rely on. In the long run what’s there is only what you put there yourself.

    Also, it seemed to me that if God went to the trouble of suffering among us as a man He must think it’s important for us to be able to find Him concretely as a particular presence in the world rather than have to view Him as a concept or philosophy or story. But if there’s no publicly recognizable Church that can teach authoritatively then concepts and philosophies and stories are what we’re left with. In the end we’re back to a religion that gives us only what we put in it ourselves.

  3. What led you to the traditional Latin Mass?

    The new mass, especially as translated and presented, is very close to the Episcopalian communion service, so it calls up some unfortunate associations for me. The traditional mass seemed worth trying. Also, I’ve had friends who are traditional mass fans.

  4. Why do you love the traditonal Latin Mass?

    In the traditional mass it is God, and not the particular people who happen to be on the scene, who is primary. You can’t look at it and think it’s a lecture or social event or celebration of something the people there are doing among themselves. Everything is clearly done in unity with the Universal Church and the visible things are clearly ancillary to God’s action.

    That gives the traditional mass enormous strength. It doesn’t matter whether there are problems with the priest, the bishop, your fellow parishioners, or you yourself. None of them are at the center of what’s going on. The mass is basically the ordinary way God makes himself concretely available to us. That’s easier to see with the traditional mass because it’s so clearly independent of the particular participants.

    Also, I love the text. The prayers are very beautiful and always to the point. It’s no accident that all those people were willing to hear them again and again for century after century. And I like the idea of being united by the form of the service with the Church throughout the ages. I like hearing sacred music and having the words be the same as the words I hear on Sunday.

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“Radical Orthodoxy” — orthodox or radical?

This account in First Things of Radical Orthodoxy is interesting for a couple of reasons:

  • It makes clear that postmodernism and Naziism are deeply related, since both say that order is nothing more or less than a violent act of the will. The two are the same.
  • It describes the slightness of modern theology, which has abandoned the concreteness of the man Jesus, and of the Church as “a tradition of first-order language and practice,” and no longer considers Christianity a fundamental account of reality. Radical Orthodoxy, it seems, has recovered the latter but not the former. But Christian theology requires both.

The abandonment of concreteness, in which Radical Orthodoxy shares, means that salvation can only be a matter of our own interpretation. That view has some appeal to Radical Orthodox thinkers, since it makes the theologian the real author of salvation, but unfortunately leads back to the deification of human power found in postmodernism and Naziism.

One thing that makes acceptance of concreteness difficult today, most of all for Protestants but also to some extent for Roman Catholics, is that the concreteness of the historical faith and the concreteness of our actual ecclessial surroundings can be hard to reconcile when the latter seems to reject the former.

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God brings good out of evil

If the gender deconstructors do succeed, what then? A clue may be provided by The Long Conversion of Oscar Wilde. If the institutions and attitudes that make ordinary life possible are abolished then the alternative to beastliness will be sanctity, and many will choose it. Remember that the battle is never lost.

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More complaints about the post-Vatican II Church

Why has the Church taken such a turn toward engagement with the world on the world’s own terms? The idea of opening the windows of the Church to the world is an odd one. You open your windows to life and reality. Which has life and reality, the Church or the world? When I compare mass to TV or even contemporary literature I’m not sure it’s the latter.

The job of the Church as a teaching institution, I would think, is to present the world with something the world lacks and desperately needs. It seems then that the Church, while accepting its intrinsic relation to the world, should be distinct in some visible way. Otherwise it does not look like what it is. The intention of updating things was to present eternal truths in a more accessible way. The evident effect though has been to make them invisible. They seem to blend into everything else.

The Church, it’s true, hasn’t always been visibly distinct. Paul became “all things to all men, that [he] might by all means save some.” I Corinthians 9:20-23. But what suits a man living on the edge and giving his all doesn’t suit a huge and well-established institution inevitably populated—we are talking about human beings—mostly by mediocrities and timeservers. Nor did Paul play down the scandalous aspects of Christianity. He preached “Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” I Corinthians 1:17-25. He was willing to be a fool for Christ. I Corinthians 4:8-13. Is that true of the average functionary in the present-day Church?

We cannot simply imitate the apostolic or patristic Church. When the Church came out of hiding and the living memory of the apostles, martyrs and fathers was lost, special observances became needed to remind people what the Church is. In concept they aren’t necessary but as a practical matter they are. Why has it been thought advisable to give them up?

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More on Martino

The worst thing about Archbishop Martino’s comments on the current impossibility of just war is the secular utopianism they suggest. They imply that the most fundamental issues of social life are now securely under man’s control. To the contrary, though, the reason we need God is that basic things are not under our control.

Secular utopianism is everywhere today. Support for the European Union is another instance of cooperation with the belief that a human world can be built to man’s desire and under man’s sole control. The EU has no need of God and in fact wants to get rid of Him because He is not part of their system and is therefore disruptive. So why think it’s a good thing that will turn out well?

There is also of course the problem of tyranny and indeed totalitarianism implicit in the attempt to create a fully human world. If the social world is made by man it is determined in all its details not by man in general but by particular men who as worldmakers acquire a sort of divine status. It is only insistence on the transcendental aspects of religion that can liberate us from the gods of this world. We need it now more than ever.

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The peace of this world and God’s peace

The Pope’s recent World Day of Peace message suggests that Archbishop Martino, while perhaps one-sided in his statements, wasn’t speaking altogether in a vacuum. In his message, the Pope reviewed with approval the thought of his predecessor John XXIII in Pacem in Terris. He can’t help but present the encyclical as somewhat of a medley that began with the statement that “peace on earth … can be firmly established and sustained only if the order laid down by God be dutifully observed,” but soon moved to the United Nations and wholly abstract definitions of truth, justice, love and freedom—to all appearances, an order of things laid down by purely human reason and desire.

Both popes attempt to square the circle in various ways, although John Paul II seems more vividly aware of the dangers of over-reliance on formal procedures and authorities rather than particular substantive moral commitments. The problem though is that if the latter are necessary, there’s no reason to believe that wars will come to an end. It’s like expecting sin to come to an end. But then “working for peace” becomes a matter of trying to resolve particular issues rather than creating the gigantic structures of universal permanent peace that people want. The very possibility of a “peace movement” as now understood in the world at large disappears. And if that’s right it’s not clear what these messages, with their talk of a “new stage” of the human journey, are about.

(Some background relevant to various “peace movements” can be garnered from a recent article at FrontPage about the failures of rationalist foreign policy.)

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The EU, dignity, and what not

Every word is true, but why put it in a way no one will understand? European Union Cannot Be Reduced to a Market, Cautions Pope. The EU, he says, “must promote a model of society that honors the fundamental dignity of the whole person and his rights, that favors relations based on justice, mutual respect and peace among human beings and peoples.” All too true. The problem is that in EU-speak the words have a meaning that’s at odds with the Pope’s intentions:

  1. “Promote a model of society” means “establish a totally administered social order.”
  2. “Fundamental dignity … and … rights” mean the equal right of each to social support in choosing and pursuing his own goals. “Gay marriage” is an obvious example.
  3. “Relations based on justice, mutual respect and peace” mean a combination of the foregoing. Relations based on abstract principles mean a bureaucracy that runs everything, justice and mutual respect mean egalitarian hedonism (everyone can equally do what he feels like doing), and “peace” means it all works smoothly with no backtalk.

Vatican II wanted to reformulate eternal truths so modern man could better understand them. What’s happened is that they’re presented so they sound like modern errors. Why is that progress?

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Trad is rad

The Catholic faith becomes the property of the faithful through the traditions that give it definite form and stability. It is through those traditions that a refined system of thought, feeling and observance works its way into the life of the people, and the people lay hold of the central truths of religion. Without them what remains is the constant exercise of authority by wordy general councils and hyperactive popes, and the perpetual reconstruction of the faith by endlessly multiplying theologians, educators, liturgists, conferences, training programs, outreach coordinators and what not.

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Why the Catholic warblogs?

Sentiment in Catholic blogdom seems—at least from what I see—to be running strongly in favor of the war. It occurs to me that the reason may be the nature of blogging about current events. The activity favors those with articulate opinions on everything. Those are usually people with strong attachments and clear comprehensive views, applicable universally, that are distinct but not too far from the mainstream.

Strong attachments pull in a conservative direction and clear comprehensive views the opposite. Put it together, and the perfect blogger would be a patriotic Catholic neoconservative. In politics he would combine attachment to official American ideals of liberty and equality, which he would want to spread around the world, with intense concern for the security and well-being of the United States. In religion he would favor both orthodoxy and moderate modernity, and he would emphasize loyalty to the Pope and the Catholic Church as a community. For such a person support for the war would be a natural, the only problem being the personal opposition of the Pope.

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Bad dissent/good dissent

A traditionalist rant on why it’s OK to denounce heresy and also find fault with the Pope, Vatican II and what not else:

Today people lump all disputes with superiors together and call them “dissent.” That’s a mistake because it confuses questions of truth and obedience to rightful authority with the question of whether one gets along with the higher-ups. It turns everything into a trial of political strength and will. People today don’t like language like “error” that clearly makes truth the final standard, because they find it excluding and oppressive. The alternative to truth as a standard, though, is force. Why is that better?

So truth should be the standard, and if something is erroneous or heretical it should be called that. Vocal concern about heresy is thought to be a manifestation of fear and lack of trust in God and our fellow believers. “Heresy hunting” is considered antisocial and destructive. If that’s true, though, how come it’s religious communities with definite dogmas and disciplines that have endured and changed lives? The blurring of dogma and its replacement by “expertise” that the Church has seen since Vatican II has served the career interests of mid-level Church functionaries, because it has discredited the authority of their hierarchical superiors and the habits of ordinary believers, and so put them in the driver’s seat. Who else has it benefitted?

Treating loyalty to the Pope and hierarchy as the essence of loyal Catholicism also confuses the issue of truth. Loyal Catholicism is loyalty to truth, not simply a matter of what one’s superiors have been saying recently. Papal and episcopal pronouncements have varying degrees of authority. Not all of them bind equally, some don’t bind at all, and now as always our duty is to follow our informed conscience. Objecting to the liturgical innovations of Paul VI or to the views of John Paul II on the EU or for that matter on married priests or even capital punishment is not the same as rejecting their views on contraception, which are simply those the Church has had always and everywhere.

Something similar might be said about ecumenical councils. The Vatican II fathers may or may not have been prudent in deciding to reform the liturgy and take a broader view of ecumenism. Either way, they had authority to make pastoral decisions and we should be slow to find fault with them. Nonetheless, we’re not obligated to believe such decisions were made or carried out correctly, and in a proper case—for example, if the decisions appear to have led to a series of catastrophes that our pastors seem reluctant to recognize and deal with—we may be bound in conscience to make known our views on the subject.

Comments?

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Lord God of Hosts?

The Pope says that violence cannot be invoked in the name of God. Cardinal Ratzinger adds that “God is reconciliation and peace. He must be seen as the one who unites us and not as the one who separates us and justifies violence.” [The quotation is from an emailed Zenit.org story that I can’t find at their site.]

I can certainly understand why those men would say such things, and it may be prudent to say them right now. But how true are they? Christ said he came to bring not peace, but a sword ( Matthew 10:34-39). And military action can sometimes be a duty, and when it’s a duty God presumably favors it. If the leaders of the Church tailor what they say about God to the needs of even the best political causes they’ll confuse doctrine and lose their rightful authority. Could that be a danger here?

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Draft letter to Cardinal Arinze

Here’s an initial draft of my letter to Cardinal Arinze (see previous entry). Any comments would be very welcome:

Your Eminence:

I write to urge you and other responsible officials to be as generous as possible in making the traditional Latin mass freely available to the faithful.

I am a very recent convert to Catholicism. The traditional mass, available here in Brooklyn under the 1988 indult, was important to my conversion. My experience with a liberal protestant denomination had left me skeptical of the strictly human and contemporary aspects of religion. The objectivity and clarity of the traditional mass, together with the beauty of the text and the sense of continuity with the Church through the ages, came as a revelation. Here at last were prayers and ceremony that in all respects presumed the truth of the doctrines proclaimed, a lex orandi that truly followed the lex credendi.

To my mind, the Tridentine rite cannot be understood as anything but what it is: an event centered on God that reliably—regardless of the state of the Church, the worthiness of those visibly participating, or our own past history—helps us become purified and capable of accepting God’s offer of himself, and so becoming part of the company of saints. The mass is a standing offer to all of God’s grace. The traditional Latin rite makes that offer visibly independent of person and circumstance. From my own experience I believe the traditional mass essential to the Church’s work of evangelization.

Thank you for considering my thoughts.

Yours & c.

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An end to trad bondage?

Michael Davies has written a letter to member associations of Una Voce asking for letters to be sent to Cardinal Arinze in support of the Tridentine mass. It appears that Rome is considering something major, possibly a public statement confirming that every priest has a right to use the traditional rite when he chooses. It appears that this step will be more likely if as many academics, public figures, musicians and authors as possible write the Cardinal saying why they love the traditional mass and wish to see it freely celebrated. Davies suggests that others can write as well.

He makes three very important points:

  1. “No petitions should be sent.” [Apparently, the emphasis should be on quality more than quantity.]
  2. “It is imperative that these letters explain the merits of the Traditional Mass and the reasons for our attachment to it.”
  3. “Under NO circumstances should the letters contain ANY criticism of the 1970 Missal as THIS WOULD BE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE.” [Emphasis added.]

I’ll be drafting a letter and will post it. If others want to do the same, Cardinal Arinze’s address is:

His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze Congregazioni per il Culto Divino e la Disciplina dei Sacramenti Palazzo delle Congregazioni Piazza Pio XII, 10 00193 Roma ITALY

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Whither tradition?

Whither traditionalist Catholicism? One answer is that if God thinks it’s good it’ll end up doing OK, and if He doesn’t it won’t. It’s also possible to view the thing from a strictly human standpoint, though. And from the latter standpoint traditionalism does have certain strengths:

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The tyranny of pluralism

A good article by John Rao: “Why Catholics Cannot Defend Themselves: The Religious and Cultural Suicide of a Conquered People”. Or at least one that’s helpful to me. Before I was a Catholic I wrote a couple of things on liberalism and pluralism that are in line with Dr. Rao’s views, but he develops the issues with reference to the situation in the contemporary Church.

The article does an excellent job of describing the hole we’ve fallen into through the acceptance of pluralism as the standard for all actions that are not strictly private. It’s especially good in showing how pluralism becomes an unquestionable absolute beyond all discussion. To doubt it is to lack faith in God and his Church, not to mention the Pope, the human person, and what not else. Pluralism, it turns out, isn’t plural. Instead, it’s monolithic and — as Rao says — fideist.

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Around the Rosary

I’ve started praying the Rosary and already there are issues! It seems to me that the Pope’s new luminous mysteries are less personal and connected than the others. They don’t seem to tell the story from Mary’s viewpoint quite as much. Maybe I’ll stick with the oldies until I hit my stride and then try the newies as a variation.

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Tendentious tendencies

Political tendencies, theological tendencies and ecclesiastical position often seem to go together. Here are some very sketchy — and not particularly spiritual — thoughts:

  1. Liberal Catholics are usually political liberals as well. They include many Church functionaries — academics, theologians, religious educators and other members of the “New Class” (described briefly here). That’s not surprising, since liberalism breaks down traditional arrangements and so necessarily puts power in the hands of bureaucrats and experts. (As in the case of other tendencies, there are also more principled reasons for accepting this one. I’m not giving a complete analysis, just pointing out some connections.)
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Christ and Caesar

The relation between Christianity and politics is always going to be unsettled. Christ wasn’t married, didn’t own anything or live anywhere, didn’t join any organizations, turned down worldly power as a temptation of the devil, and believed in giving their due to God and Caesar. In spite of all that he got himself executed as an enemy of the state within three years of his public appearance. So it’s not obvious that WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) is the key to political wisdom. Still, politics turns on him just like everything else does.

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Did the deed!

I was received into the Church and confirmed this morning at St. Patrick’s in New York.

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