Sunday, February 15, 2015

Is there a way to trudge out of the mire?

Any proposals about what can be done on an institutional or ecclesiastical level to retrieve Traditional Catholicism from either its Tridentine confines or post-modern tomb must contend with (and thoroughly respect) reality. If for no other reason, than that it will help any concerned party acquire an adequate survey of the land. Granted, it is a much too sobering view, however, the first necessary step involved is to rouse oneself from the daze of neo-Traditionalist romances. If solutions exist, they are not going to be found by towing the standard party lines, regardless of presence or absence of a biretta.

If one confesses Roman ecclesiology, namely, if one earnestly believes in juridical superiority and infallibility of the bishop of Rome, then one is constricted by solutions that keep one in communion with Rome. Towards that end, one may seek out well formed monasteries. Doubtless, most if not all, will utilize some form of the Latin liturgy that takes the fully modernized Roman Rite as its starting point. Even the Carthusans made modest reforms of their rite which incorporated elements of the Missal of Paul VI, such as the four Eucharistic Prayers. This is unavoidable; if one accepts the juridical superiority and infallibility of the bishop of Rome, then one appears inconsistent if one does not follow the liturgical norms established under his authority, especially in a moment of massive promotion and application of those norms, and bearing, by virtue of his authority, the mandate of a major council of the Roman Catholic communion. One will find that there are numerous monstaries that have tried to make the best of the template they have to work with. Typically, this will be found in the celebration of the office. There are a number of monastaries that have attempted to follow the liturgical reform but keep a sensible psalter arrangement. In such cases, one often finds the corpus of ancient hymns has been preserved and is utilized. This solution provides some stability. Any monestary worth its weight in gold thoroughly propagates genuine monastic spirituality, theology, and ecclesiology. In this respect, they can be a refuge from Roman Church, in so far as the experience refrains from liberal, conservative, or traditionalist leanings. Monasticism is monasticism; in its authentic form, devoid of deformation wrought but saccharine Roman piety, it perpetuates a model of Christianity that has largely dissappered. This is not say monasticism is comprehensive of Christianity. It is to say, however, that while much of the ancient Christian praxis has suffered attrition through the centuries, monasticism salvages what is left of the ancient Latin Church.

The above being considered, one cannot ignore that a monasticism is not a total solution. Most of us are not monks and will not live a monastic life. Furthermore, the ability of monastaries to minister the sacraments are restricted in the Roman Church. Out of necessity, one would, particularly if one is in the married state, need to return to parish life. If one has children, this will necessarily invest a majority of one's time during the year to the parish as one's children fulfill the requirements of sacramental preparation and initiation.

Thus, if one is Roman Catholic, one is often forced to take what one is given. More often than not, this means making the best of the Novus Ordo as is possible. Certainly, it is not impossible to find a "high" Pauline Mass in most major metropolitan areas in the US and Europe. However, if one has a particular interest in preserving the Latin corpus of prayers and hymns, one will be challenged to find Latin utilized beyond a requisite Credo or Agnus Dei. In response, one may pivot to traditionalist communities, although this option has its own pitfalls. There is definite marginalized status traditionalist communities have in the Roman Church. Ecclesia Dei communities are irrelevant, as the Roman hierarchy, though tolerant of them, refuses to put the bulk of its institutional weight behind them and the majority of Roman Catholics view them as an odd curiosity or throwback at best. The SSPX is its own story, and one must take care when discussing it, avoiding extremes of lionizing or demonizing it. Indeed, both are possible due to combination of external actions (the group's proximity to Catholics with Nazi sympathies cannot be ignored), and its own inner life (it suffers from same general decay that afflicted the Roman Church prior to the Second Vatican Council, although it refrains from adopting piloted papal course). Criticisms being noted, the SSPX is an ecclesiological phenomenon in the Roman Church. It has, on the basis of the charismatic authority of its founder, adopted the 1962 books. The SSPX, like most any of the major players in contemporary Roman Catholicism, accepts the modernization of the Roman Church, at least in part. In so doing, it refuses to ask a critical question that concerns any serious student of the Latin liturgy: Are the 20th century reforms of the pre-Vatican II Roman Missal part of the problem? Various reasons make this an unutterable question among Traditionalists. Yet, any serious student of the Latin liturgy and anyone with a genuine background in the history of Latin Christianity and its long decline will find himself compelled to ask the question. I once had a fairly detailed exchange with an individual over the Holy Week reforms of Pius XII, focusing on the redaction of the 12 prophecies down to 4. I've written on this particular topic elsewhere. Whatever the circumstances of behind the formation of the lections, the original 12 prophecies retained a very ancient layer of the Christian kerygma. A simple but profound response was put to me, "Well, this couldn't have been passed down very efficiently if it could so easily be removed."

The 20th century reforms demonstrate how much in decline the tradition was in the Roman Church. To this point, I would refer back to my previous post and the problem of papal infallibility. It is arguable the 20th century reforms and decline of the tradition that they represent are symptoms of a decline that metastized with the dogma of papal infallibility. Infallibility ushered in a new epoch in the Roman Church in which the Tradition was isolated to the will and discernments of one man; operationally, the bishop of Roma has become tradition unto himself the Roman Church as a consequence of that definition of that dogma. This event was the tipping point towards modernization, as adherence to an observable external tradition was subjugated to the papacy and the principle of lex orandi, lex credenti was increasingly nullified in support of later dogma. Yet, the papacy is so identified with the Tradition in Roman Catholicism, it is almost impossible to engage in any meaningful discussion, regardless of the amount of historical data that argues against Roman ecclesiology and points towards the cultus of the papacy being the result of ecclesial and linguistic isolation of the West.

All the while the Western tradition is squandered. I won't say that it is on the verge of extinction, although it is in a precarious spot. Precious little is left, most of it being suffocated under an ecclesiology that has identified the papacy as the essence of the tradition, save for a few rogue dissidents who appear unable to acknowledge the incoherence of affirming Roman ecclesiology while simultaneously deflecting the exercise of papal authority.

Again, it is a matter of coming to terms with the reality of our contemporary context. No practical good results from dreams of conservative or traditional resurgence in 20, 30, 40, 50, or however many years time, or the canonization of St. Marcel of Econe in a century, or even that long held up hope of neo-conservatives that the church in Africa would come and re-evangelize the West. The most probable scenario is the Africa will come to eventual muscle the West out of its positions of influence. Even this scenario, however, would not mean the retrieval of the Western tradition. It would mean that the very unique beast that is African Catholicism would be in such a place as to potentially influence the rest of the Roman Church. In all honesty, I do not think that we have an adequate understanding of African Catholicism in order to grasp the potential magnitutde of change it would bring to Roman Catholicism if it continues to avoid mainstream Westernization. Indeed, it is, at this moment, easier to say what African Catholicism is not, as opposed to what it is. It is not a liberal, conservative, or traditionalist form of Roman Catholicism. It is not something most Westerners would likely feel comfortable with. So what is it? I think it would take an African to aptly describe it. I am sure, so far as they are concerned, it is the sum total expression of the Tradition, if not its future model.

The future of the Western tradition may well be non-Western. Such a possibility couldn't be seriously considered if there were not some serious vacuum waiting to be filled. That there is a vacuum is a contentious position. For those for whom "the system works" there isn't a problem. Ideological liberals and conservatives (who largely make up the levers of power in mainline Western Christianity) largely see the problem as a matter of ideological dissent. We see this illustrated in the recent history of the Roman Church. Every post-Vatican II pontiff has either represented an ideological extreme in the Roman Church. The exception being perhaps Paul VI, whose early adherence to aggiornamento later gave way to a sober realization that the Roman Church initiated a process for which it was ill prepared. Granted, Ratzinger spoke openly of the problems of the Roman Church, but Paul VI is perhaps more honest. He abandoned a canned solution and, depending upon who you read, reached a point of paralysis when confronting the mammoth disorientation that had been catalyzed by the council and its aftermath.

Returning to our point, those for whom the present state of things works do not see a problem. On one level, it seems audacious. Yet, it is hard to prove it really is audacious. When I was younger, I used to argue that theological comprehension was abysmal and this was a clear sign of decline. In retrospect, it is highly debatable if theological comprehension was ever particularly widespread among Roman laity and clergy. Arguments that the "Tridentine" liturgy somehow mystically instructed the faithful need to be abandoned when realizing how much lay belief was comprised of distorted piety. If Vatican II's plethora of intellectual garble has any merit, it is that it detonated a bomb on Roman Catholicism's excessive piety. Unfortunately, it failed to find a replacement to fill that chasm. One can argue a myriad of points designed to demonstrate that the new order of things is terribly insufficient, but if the way things are work for someone or some group, then one can hardly expect to make much progress. It was, I would argue, presumptuous of Rome to enact the radical changes it did some fifty years ago. It is equally presumptuous to now claim some form of liturgical or spiritual (or the like) superiority over those who find in the reforms (liturgical and ecclesiastical) of the Roman Church a satisfactory praxis for life.

Admittedly, I speak as much for my own past faults as I do in observation of contemporary tendencies. Truth be told, it was only within the last five years, when I began my migration to Orthodoxy, that I've sort of reached a point of acceptance about things which, ultimately, I, nor most anyone else, has much control over. Among all things, we cannot (nor should we seek) control over anyone else as pertains things that would normally fall into the category of spirituality. I would argue, one's appreciation, or lack thereof, of the modern liturgy (or modernity in general) falls into this category. The subjective experience of religion, ritual and liturgy needs to be respected, especially when there is no demonstrable (to any sane observer) blatant moral or dogmatic aberration.

This being noted, such understanding is a two-way street. There is a new-wave of amateur crackdown on any dissent from the Pauline liturgy in liturgical circles, largely in the West and galvanized by the liberal or progressive obsession with that most unfortunate article of Roman Catholicism, papal primacy. The desire to retain old forms stems from the desire to find a praxis that yields the presence of God. Which is not to say that such desires cannot be ill-formed and misguided. Plainly, my own experience through the circles of post-Vatican II Catholicism led me to the very sober conclusion that much of the Traditionalist current is woefully ill-formed and misguided, largely governed by conspiracy theories, neurosis, and quasi-Gnostic or apocalyptic belief in themselves as the faithful remnant, amid a blind mass of lesser faithful. Be this as it may, until one accepts that the experience of religion, ritual, and liturgy is not an objective event, that the subjective experience codifies the reality of it, there can be little chance of understanding how one assents to or dissents from the current state of things in Western Christianity.

Is the pursuit of older forms of Western worship valid or of any real use? It has been at least a decade since I had the gall to claim I could answer that question. Personally, I suppose I would answer in the affirmative, but, either due to fatigue with the issue or because it is no longer relevant to me, nowadays I haven't the will to argue the point to any great degree. But there are enough people out there, in diaspora, who raise the issue and they are not the SSPX types, but rather the types who want to go down the rabbit hole into the depths of the Western tradition. If mainline churches do not offer a satisfying forum for these people, then what viable option is there?

In truth, not many.

One option is to form a new religious community, if only revolving around the office. New religious communities have become a staple of post-Vatican II life, mostly around the Catholic Worker model. There are resources available if one wishes how to get one's community off the ground. However, any new religious community faces a myriad of challenges, the most pressing of which is developing a reason for existence, a clearly defined philosophy that guides mission. It is easy enough to start a community of some sort. It is more difficult to develop a coherent body that has focus and attainable goals. On a more practical level, any liturgical mission involving the pre-modern books of the Western tradition starts off at a disadvantage. Let us be clear: anyone wishing to use the pre-modern books (the pre-Pius X breviary for instance), immediately confronts scarcity of resources. These are not in bountiful supply and their scarcity highlights the greater problem any mission to re-established the earlier books faces - the lapse in liturgical memory. By this I mean that we are living in a time when the parameters are nearly at the point of being immovably defined as pertains to Western liturgy (and the corresponding self-understanding of the Western Church). The older liturgy of the West is being consigned to obscurity and confining the discussion to no earlier than 1962 does nothing to ameliorate the eventual disappearance of the traditional Western liturgy. Anyone with any real sense of liturgical history should stop and reflect upon this point - its implications have yet to be thoroughly grasped.

Another option is Western Rite Orthodoxy, although this is a mire one should think twice before stepping into. There are more "academic" critiques of the movement. The proposal of a Western Rite liturgy is often based on artificial reconstructions, and redacting existing Western liturgies to be in conformity with developments in Orthodox liturgical theology does not genuinely respect the integrity of the Western liturgical tradition.

The view of Orthodoxy towards the Western liturgy is complex matter. The Western rite itself is not an issue in the historically Orthodox countries. It simply has no relevance. It is only a topic in Catholic or Protestant countries where the Orthodox Church makes headway with converts. Furthermore, there is a distinct difference between the American experience and the European experience. Cultural context dictates that what follows will be based upon the American experience, in which a ethnic dissolution, a hallmark of American culture, has exercised a formative influence on Orthodoxy in the United States. As a consequence, Orthodoxy in the United States is not unfamiliar with the Western liturgy in so far as individual members have experience with it. However, Orthodoxy's competency is not in the area of the Western liturgy. Ultimately, the Western liturgy is viewed (among liturgical circles) as being the responsibility of the Patriarch of Rome. The Orthodox patriarchs do not have the competency to intervene if there is a dereliction of duty on his part.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sitz im leben

My previous post seems to have provided the catalyst for a modest discussion, most notably at Fr. Anthony Chadwick's blog - at which Fr. Chadwick himself gave me the undeserved and unexpected honor of writing a full response.

Liturgical issues are often the most frequently viewed posts on this little outpost. There is a profound link between liturgy and ecclesia, and, under close scrutiny, questions regarding the liturgy often times hover over deeper ecclesiastical issues. When writing about the uncertain state of the liturgy in Western Church, one cannot help, if one wishes to be honest with our contemporary context, touching upon the delicate state of the historical model of Western Christianity as found in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and, I would argue, certain parts of the Lutheran communion.

The blunt fact any interested party has to account for is that, by and large, the major players in the Western Christianity are a) long into a process of modernization and b) overwhelmed by the unrelenting secularization of the culture it (largely) formed.

For the better part of its history, Western Christianity has existed as the cultural assumption in its host culture. Even amidst the enlightenment, it could claim that it was (still) the key influencer behind the worldview of the masses. The Western Church can no longer hold such assurances. Christianity is not the foundation of the worldview upon which the culture rests. It is at best relegated to a sentimental mythology or a type of psycho-socio therapy, or, at worst, consigned to complete irrelevance. In any event, it is one of many extraneous propositions vying to contribute to an already well defined alternate worldview.

Depending upon one's perspective, the leadership decisions of the dominant churches in the West have only exacerbated the challenge of secularization. From Vatican II, to decisions regarding sacerdotal and episcopal ordination in the Anglican Church, to the ecclesiastical maneuvering of the current bishop of Rome, the leadership decisions in the West have been largely reactionary to aggressive secularization as opposed to proactive.  The leaders of the churches associated with a traditional model of Western Christianity have followed liberal or conservative reactions to the challenge of the age without seriously reflecting upon the nature of the age. In so doing, it has failed to propose to the age what Christianity has to say to it, and how Christianity may address the very well known and readily admitted problems of the age. The late Alexander Schmemann, in my estimation, offered a profound insight into the secular age, seemingly in response to the dominant suppositions of Western Christianity. It is not, in Schmemann's reckoning, that the secular world rejects God, or even religion. Rather, it rejects worship, at least organized/hierarchical worship. If I may extrapolate just a bit further, the secular world's affirmation of an autonomy that covers the expanse of all the aspects of an individual's life makes post-modern Western man inherently alienated from organized religion. Post-modern Western man finds the notion of any mediated access to God vehemently contrary to every other aspect of his or her life, in so far as he or she believes that the mediators of the quoditian life (academic, business, theraputic, etc) are all temporary. All of them could be displaced by oneself should one acquire competency in a given area. For the most part, the experience of life in the post-Modern West affirms this supposition, and this extends to matters of God and religion. If, for example, one were to look for one common denominator between the various occult revivals of the 20th century and the emergence of new age in late twentieth century, one would quickly notice that "anyone" can take on a position of religious or spiritual authority. There are varying qualifications. The Golden Dawn and Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis have numerous ritual requirements. In the new age, the qualification process is a bit more nebulous, being noticeably less defined by ritual requirements compared to occultism. Nevertheless, both feature the ability to go from being a believer to a practionor to an authority. This mirrors the experience of the Western world, where we may have the fluidity to go from being a user, consumer, or beneficiary of a given area and progress, should we choose, to a professional in said given area, taking on a degree of authority in the process.

We can further state that the permutation of Western Christianity that experiences appreciable growth are those (largely) Protestant bodies that have, in one way or another, demonstrated some appreciable sympathy with the overarching presumption of self determination in the culture. Mostly of "low-church" and/or charismatic or Pentecostal flavors, these new manifestations of Western Christianity are notable for an emphasis on what may be described as "self improvement," "self growth," and "self determination." This emphasis is supplemented by more fluid channels of acquiring spiritual or religious authority. The authority is not centered upon having a recognized ecclesiastical ministry. One need not be a pastor or minister and, in point of fact, one need not acquire any observable church status. The authority is charismatic in the very original sense of the term; how well one fills one's niche or gift, and how well one is received, has a determinative role in whether or not one becomes an authority. These new models of Western Christianity are not without there problems, although their problems are hardly the object traditional forms of Western Christianity need to focus on. What distinguishes these forms of Christianity from the mainline Western types (i.e., Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.) is that there are more avenues to move from a passive/receptive role in the religion (being a consumer of the religion, if you will) to becoming something one can more accurately term a practioner of the religion, to becoming an authority in the religion.

Now, the above is not meant to endorse such models. It is meant to offer, in my own inadequate way, some interpretive insight as to one of the many profound changes that has impacted Western Christianity. To use jargon from the business world, in culture that no longer takes the Christian worldview as a given, the success of any Christian group rests in its ability to enable its adherents to "own" the religion. In other words, the ability to transform from a passive role to an active role. The corporate world often speaks of "ownership of a position." The phrase is so overused that it has become a parody of itself. Nevertheless, in successful companies, the phrase has retained the thrust of its intention. The objective is to get everyone in any position to take on a sense of pride and responsibility for its successes and equal portions of shame and responsibility for its failures. This is not to say that more mainline Western churches don't try the same. The difference is that the corporate world offers ways to actualize the ownership; all due notice taken of the necessary politics that comes with the corporate world, the successes brought by "owning it" can eventually be measured and one can chart one's professional development as a result. In a certain sense, the new models of Western Christianity have something similar in their make-up. One can ask, if one is a Roman Catholic and one "owns" one's faith, what tangible difference does that make? This may seem a brash question, but it is a necessary one that traditional churches need to ask themselves.

The praxis of Christianity must have relevance to one's life. Anyone who has spent enough time with the writings of John Cassian or Evagrius should readily understand this. Cassian, of his part, masterfully described the progress of the monk through the conquering of vice and mastering of virtue, progressing to purity of heart and, eventual, the contemplative vision of God. Of course, this wasn't a purely spiritual process concerned with invisible things. It should lead to tangible results in the monk's life. Importantly, the monastic praxis eventually confers upon the monk authority, with which he trains other monks and may even acquire a broader leadership role. The substance of the monastic teaching was never diffused into normal Christian life. That is, when the topic of virtues comes up in the normal Christian setting, it is seldom given little more force than keeping oneself from sin, at times (and this is where I agree with Freud) to the point of developing neurosis. The praxis of the Christian life in the writings of Cassian is presented as being of very tangible consequence. We may rightly ask what mainline church in the West says anything similar? And if does poster itself as making such claims, what mainline church can say that they are anything other than the most base threats of discipline and punishment? Simply put, barring a politician from communion or guilt by association for someone's voting preference does not sufficiently constitute the application of a model of Christian praxis in a non-monastic setting. Furthermore, arguments centered on the development of interior piety no longer suffice. A priest, for example, can no longer say that we must practice virtue to abstain from sin to receive the Eucharist and then receive a myriad of countless invisible graces. He can no longer say this because piety build upon the promise of invisible graces has never quite managed to figure out what those graces are, let alone define grace, a term that, next to "love", has been so overused in Western theology so as to have lost the force of its original meaning.

Christianity, at this moment in the Western world, must demonstrate why it is to be practiced and what benefit it has to offer in development of the self. Shallow cries of "individualism" and a "throw away culture" are not a substantial defense. Arguably, any culture that gets to a certain level of economic development and acquires a measure of self determination evolves into Western society. This fact, that Christianity should actually have to answer for something, that it should be able to justify its adoption, shakes traditional churches to their core. Whereas many branches of Orthodoxy had to justify their existence under centuries of Muslim rule, Western Christianity, until recent times, had unparalleled success. It is now in a position of having to justify itself. This is a role that the Western Church has long since forgotten how to play.

Liturgical questions matter. If, however, one wants any hope of acquiring a reasonable perspective on the liturgical crisis in the Western Church, one has to understand the much larger crisis in which Western Christianity finds itself. It is a period of profound disorientation in the Western Church. It is tempting to read this in Manichean terms, seeing the contemporary world as some tidal wave of godless perversion that is sweeping away many a soul. Doing so, however, does little justice to any party involved. The contemporary Western world has a worldview undergirded by many non-exclusivist principles. Everything else is supplementary to the worldview. Anything that would be demonstratively exclusivist must present its rationale and justify its acceptance. In many respects, our world has many parallels to the world in which Christianity first emerged and we would do well to ask how and why Christianity thrived during late antiquity. Amid this period of profound disorientation, church leaders have sought to establish some functioning base upon which to stand on in the culture, all the while not getting an adequate sense of the topography.

The Western liturgy has served as a visible manifestation of this process. I can write of the Roman liturgy as that is the one that I am most familiar. The impact of historical study, anthropology and sociology all weighed upon the twentieth century reforms of the Roman liturgy, culminating in the Pauline liturgy. To cite only one example of this, one may find a number of articles in liturgical journals during the 1950s that demonstrated the influence of anthropology on scholarly discussions of the Roman liturgy. What Lauren Pristas sees as an unfortunate occurrence, the redaction of Roman orations in light of contemporary anthropology, previous liturgical scholars felt compelled to advocate. One sees the final results in the orations of the Pauline Missal, a liturgical product that has reduced the Western liturgy to its bare skeleton and is readily adaptable to local situations. Where this has proven itself a boon to Africa, in West it has provided a venue for confusion as the modern Roman liturgy gives expression to numerous (and often conflicting) fractured streams in the Roman Church. It can be seen as liturgical pluralism on the one hand, demonstrable confusion on the other. At root are deeper questions of ecclesial self-understanding that the Tridentine model of Roman Catholicism was unable to sufficiently address, partially because the Tridentine model was itself the product of a worldview that had become thoroughly obsolete in the West. It is fanciful to believe the Church (however one wishes to define it) is untouched by culture, that every component of its institutional makeup is somehow pure and untainted by "worldly" concerns and ideals. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that Christianity eventually defined itself between Orthodoxy and Catholicism demonstrates how terribly inadequate such romantic notions are, both religious systems being the product of cultures in the two halves of the Roman Empire. Similarly, the contemporary world is impacting the Western Church in a manner that has yet to be sorted out.

If anthropology and sociology were not enough, Christianity has been impacted by the scholarship surrounding its origins and evolution. Now, this is an area for which I have detectable sympathy, coming as I do from such a background. From the scholarly perspective, much of what constitutes the functional mythology of Church origins needs to be abandoned on account of data that suggests otherwise. This area is no easy argument to have, in part because the scholarship is viewed as being either inherently deceptive or in part because there is seldom much effort given to understand the nuiances of it. Yet, most anyone thoroughly knowledgable of the scholarly method can and will tell you that the data is impressive. Thus much of what passes as history, theology and ecclesiology in faith circles is roundly discarded in the scholarly community. This is not due to the arrogance of the intelligentia, so much as it is the in ability of much of the established religious framework to demonstrate its grounds in the area of higher criticism. The results of the critical research into the origins and evolution of Christianity have been the subject of a reactionary response by church leaders and adherents, which has been enough to shake the confidence in the traditional narrative framework. I suspect that should the reaction ever die down, there would be considerable change when the data is filtered and assimilated. When we final come to grips with, for instance, all of the literature utilized by the New Testament authors and accept the rather wide view of "Canon" they had during the presumably apostolic period, we may find ourselves with a significantly broader Canon of Scripture. When we accept that cultural context has played a long role in the formation of Christian self understanding, we may then accept that development of Christianity away from its Jewish origins into a largely gentile religion had a significant role in reinterpreting the religion in its early centuries. Though these are but two examples of things that may be down the line, the possibility that they could come to pass has been enough to contribute to the general disorientation of the Western Church.

Context is everything; there is no man or institution that can escape its context. What has been discussed here is only a fraction of what can be said of the context of Western Christianity. Yet, if we are to understand anything that pertains to the uncertain state of the Western Church, we must understand the context in which it has found itself. The West is moving, continually progressing to some unknown destination, perhaps only to be slowed down by sheer exhaustion. The Western Church struggles to keep apace, eyes wide and jaw dropped as its intellectual ground keeps shaking under its feet. Roman Catholicism experiences this confusion in an acute way. Aspects of its self understanding largely defined in the late medieval and Tridentine periods are subject to internal and external critique, causing a resultant polarized defense of these elements. The critiques may range from broad deconstruction of the Christian narrative (as is often found in popular presentations of the Nag Hammadi corpus), or more subtle self-criticism, such as re-examining the Latin text of the Bible, which, though seemingly innocuous, has profound implications for distinctly Roman dogmatics.

More profound, perhaps, is the re-orientation of Western thought that has caused an inner sense of disorientation in the Western Church. Had I the time, and inclination, this is an area I would thoroughly explore, if only because it negates a certain naivety that imagines the (Roman) Church is something apart from culture. Clearly, Catholicism (and any other religion for that matter) are (or eventually become) deeply woven into the culture. Neo-Conservative or neo-Traditionalist fantasies of Catholicism somehow being counter-culture or transcendent of culture (in reference to the American culture) may provide an apologetic springboard, however, in personal and institutional praxis Roman Catholicism is part and parcel of the culture. It is part of the general flow of things carried by influx of cultural re-orientation experienced in the West.