Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Ties that Bind

I sympathize with the Traditionalist currents in the Roman Church to some degree. Although I now keep the Roman hierarchy and Roman Catholicism in general at arm's distance, I cannot help but still have some concern for the current state of things.

Part of my decision to situate myself in the Orthodox Church was the result of having lost the desire to expend energy trying to make sense of a series of paradoxes related to Catholicism's foray into modernity with the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath. The years of investing much of my life into such pursuits have declined with the sunset of age.

There are things one cannot explain. Among them, how any religious leadership could willingly take their religion down a path of deconstruction amid a seeming resurgence. My wife was reading the forward to a book on that council written by a former professor of hers. This professor began by noting the teaming life of the Roman Church, especially its institutional vitality. This professor, an ardent supporter of the more deconstructionist schools, noted the filled seminaries, the filled Catholic schools, and the almost universal grasp of what it meant to be Roman Catholic on the eve of the Council. She then rhetorically asked, " how could there be a need for a reform?" What followed were the written praises of the glorious decomposition of a once vital religion and profound spiritual tradition.

Conservatives often commit themselves to intellectual acrobatics to defend that council. Even though Joseph Ratzinger offered a more sober assessment of the council, he could not resist the proposal of a hermeneutic of continuity, a principle which actually demonstrated how relativist Roman Catholicism had become at its authoritative core.

Liberals, meanwhile, exude relish for the deconstruction of their religion, pushing it on towards a sort of secular ethics club, displaying an almost pathological hatred for the first 1960 years of their religion.

It is hard to avoid that things changed. It is even harder to avoid that things changed at the behest of  Roman authority. It is foolish to spend most of one's religious experience attempting to understand and explain those changes while trying to assert that nothing foundational changed. Catholicism has walked off with modernity. Most Catholics are largely content with this decision, the more astute of them realize that accepting modernity demands a reinterpretation of their religious myth. The only dissent pertains to how the myth should be recast, the extent of its modernization.

So, why do I care? Where is the liberation I had promised myself from Catholicism? The reality is, Catholicism formed me. I learned much from it. I, of course, would claim that all of its best parts went into my formation, an assertion that would no doubt be filled with partiality and perhaps a bit of dishonesty. Whatever the case may be, Catholicism formed me; much to my own misfortune, it was a Catholicism that had been discarded by the Roman Church before my birth, before I had ever known it existed. Regardless of where the journey to the eternal should lead, Catholicism is, in a very true sense, my point of origin, having a clear place in the continuity of my life and producing an effect that extends through the course of my existence.

In the above light, the charted course and reaped fortune (for well or ill) of the Roman Church is a concern. There is so much that ought not diminish into a footnote of religious history that is indeed threatened with extinction. Having read the Instrumentum Laboris of the upcoming Synod on the Family, including its pockets of vague, nearly Orwellian "new speak', analogous to the worst moments of the documents of Vatican II, it would appear that the October meeting has the potential to determine the course of the Roman Church.

Nothing  may well come of the October Synod. Then again, the sides are positioning themselves. True, the institutional lethargy of the Roman Church could well draw any ideological wars to a stalemate. Yet, it seems equally possible that the Roman Church could carve out a very definitive path amid the long project interpreting itself in the wake of a council that, at least in the West, has failed to produce a meaningful renewal.


  1. I hope that you will continue to open for us the treasures of the West.

    I am sorry for you, and for many others, who seek those treasures, but find that their Church, or at least most of its alleged hierarchy, is uninterested in serving or making such treasures available.

    I would caution you, however, against the belief prevalent among many who have gone on to the Orthodox Church, that there is no good in the Roman Church, or that the evil now dwelling within it is borne of some conspiracy. Rather, I would suggest that you take counsel from Napoleon, who said, "Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence."

  2. I have yet to meet someone who has gone over to the Orthodox Church that thinks there is no good in Rome or that Rome is the victim of some conspiracy. Most, in my observation, have done so for pragmatic reasons or out of a desire for something that seems missing from the West.

    I look at it like this: eventually, one sets out to start one's own family. You may leave your family of origin, you may even determine that there were aspects of your family of origin that you don not want to replicate, but you never leave your family of origin behind.

    I will always be a product of Western Christianity; there is so much I have learned, so much good, from the Latin tradition that it is essentially grafted on to my bones. Yet, at this moment in history, the persons responsible for the Latin tradition do not have much desire for the all of the good that has developed in the Western Church. Unfortunately, I can no longer "live in the head." There is a need for a corporate expression that, simply, reading accounts of a "new liturgical movement", or the special liturgies of monks I will likely never see and who cannot offer any services for normal parish life, does not suffice. Here amid real life there is a need for something much more concrete.