Friday, May 20, 2016

The end of Traditionalism?

Wonders (and rumors) never cease. There is more mainstream traction to the notion that Francis will fully reconcile the SSPX.

A leaked document proves to be the source of this rumor - an internal memo from the SSPX detailing an expectation that Francis may soon make an offer and it may well be time to accept it. The New Liturgical Movement has published the text of the internal memo. There has been a susbsequent interview with Francis stating that the possibility is there, the kinks merely need to be ironed out.

The memo itself reflects the muddled ecclesiology of the SSPX - the romantic but unhistorical concept of the papacy, trying to hold the line of infallibility and supreme jurisdiction while at the same time maintaining a form of legitimate dissent and, ultimately, the authority of Tradition being supreme to even that of the Roman Bishop (the last point in SSPX ecclesiology actually makes the most sense).

Pragmatic concerns seem to be the impetus behind the letter. There seems to be a sense that some overture is imminent, to the point that serious charges against the SSPX's credibility would be raised were they to reject it.  The memo reflects a particular point of view in the SSPX, although it gives the sense that some elements in the society have tired of the long haul and would entertain a quick and dirty regularization without any indication that Rome was hedging away from its post-Vatican II direction. Perhaps I am wrong, but this memo seems to back track from the hypothetical canonical solution conceived in previous years - the idea that "Rome will convert" seems to have taken a back seat to "just let us do our thing."

At one point (many years ago), this was the hope against hope I held onto as a young man. At that time, reconciling the SSPX was  Since then, so many things have changed around the world of Traditional Catholicism that is impossible to recognize in today's Traditionalists the source of inspiration, dynamism, and even mysticism that guided so much of my personal formation and nurtured my critical stance towards modernity, and modern Catholicism. Or, perhaps I've simply changed.

Traditionalism, in the Roman context, began shaking off many of its ecclectic. Liturgical observance has coalesced around the books of 1962 and discussion of older editions of the Roman liturgy is considered fringe or signs of sedevacantism. Traditionalism is now almost exclusively defined by Lefebvre's movement, its ideology and piety. There is little to no interest in what was actually going on in the Roman Church prior to Vatican II - the liturgical movement and the Catholic Worker movement at their peaks, for instance. The in-roads made by the original liturgical movement as concerns liturgical praxis and observance in the Roman Church are lost, as is the burgeoning counter-cultural response to Western socio-economics. Discussion of classical Catholicism, loosely defined as either pre-Vatican I or Pre-Tridentine is absolutely off the table. What is left is an ultra-conservative piety needing to find some place with the modern Roman milieu.

Roman Traditionalism is, by and large, a "movement" that has become unrecognizable with its earliest decades, so converged and homogenized on Lefebvre's pragmatism at the exclusion of the myriad of influences behind its initial formation. This is perhaps understandable; over time, all movements begin to streamline and exclude anything out of model as they gain more standing. By the twilight of John Paul II's papacy, the effects of Ecclesia Dei and Ratzinger's public acceptance of the Roman liturgy as it was in 1962 had the effect of blunting Traditionalism's edge. Summorum Pontificum, meanwhile, sufficiently domesticated it. Traditionalism in the Roman context is no longer a matter of refusing and resisting modernity or challenging the deficiencies of Roman ecclesiology. Such goals, even among Traditionalists, are considered extreme and utterly obscure. Traditionalism is now focused on getting a slice of the modern ecclesiastical pie - recondition and freedom are the utmost goals.

Should a resolution come between Rome and the SSPX, then Traditionalist will have reached its end, coming to the conclusion of its movement. It will be impossible (or at least highly impractical) to continue along any path of resistance. Doing so will be seen as stubborn recalcitrance. Traditionalism will be positioned as having gotten everything it desired, without having accomplished much of anything, certainly compared to the loftier vision that inspired it during its earliest years.

Traditionalism will be tolerated. It will not be victorious, in part due to its confused ecclesiology (unable to reconcile its implicit critiques of the Roman doctrine of the papacy with the insistence on a very pious adulation of the figure of the Roman Pontiff. In larger part, it will be merely tolerated based on the sheer acceptance of the modernization of the Roman Church, most especially in the area of liturgy. For better or worse, the majority of the Roman Church, particularly in the global south, has fully adopted the modern expression of Roman Catholicism. There is no indication of any desire to proceed in a contrary fashion.

There are those who hold tremendous faith in Traditionalism that will argue that if a resolution is found, the movement will be positioned to exude influence on the broader Roman Church. To what end?  To foster a greater adoption of Traditionalism as ultimately defined by Lefebvre's decisions for the make up of his own society? Fair enough, what is gained?

Using liturgy as our example, Traditionalism's narrow reading of the liturgical movement has cultivated a popular sentiment among the movement that the Roman liturgy was perfected in 1962, ignoring the coherent arguments for some level of liturgical reform, be it the increased use of the vernacular or preference for an audibly chanted liturgy the abolition of the low Mass. Leaving aside the dispute surrounding the modern Roman liturgy, there were persuasive arguments pointing at corruptions to the celebration of the Latin liturgy that had become custom in the Roman Church. The goal of the liturgical movement was, as Ratzinger observed during the last years of his papacy, was to eliminate the gap between the liturgy as celebrated at the altar and the liturgy in the numerous hand missals that once populated the pews so many years ago. More precisely the Tridentine rubrics governing the "traditional" Roman Missal that made the private recitation of the priest as the normative default of the public celebration of the liturgy were to be forgone in favor of rubrics that made celebration of the old missal a corporate event. Is it then worthwhile to eventually re-institute such a liturgical environment, much as contemporary Traditionalist groups seem content to do? Or ought it not be deemed prudent to revisit the liturgical movement and try to follow the thought of those crucial luminaries of 1920s, 30s, and 40s and rediscover the Latin liturgy, keeping the co-mixture of propers and prayers as they were in the Missale Romanum and re-introducing rubrics designed to facilitate a corporate expression of that once venerable liturgy?

In point of fact, Traditionalism in the Roman Church does not have such lofty aims. There is no serious discussion on the succession of unfortunate steps in Papal liturgics of the 20th century - to do so would require taking some implicit elements of their ecclesiology to their natural conclusion, a Rubicon Traditionalism hasn't the cognitive capacity (nor theological mechanics) to cross. Nor is there any serious discussion regarding the ways in which the "Tridentine" liturgy represented an draconian impoverishment of the Latin liturgical tradition, not the least of which was the decision to base the missal on the priest's private celebration of Mass as opposed to the available orders which provided for a more corporate/ceremonial expression. Or what about the that Jerome's vulgate psalter is, at times, in violation of very reasonable criteria for translation? This is not so much to argue against the Roman books of 1962, or 1957, or whatever year you want to pick, as it is to point out obvious considerations that ideally would be part of Traditionalism's purview.

Traditionalism could at one time rest on the position of returning the Roman Church to a period where deconstructionism was not rampant and it was able to have the distance which provided a healthy perspective on the culture. In short, it at least offered a critique of modernity. I suppose the question Roman Traditionalism must ask itself is whether or not it still offers this critique, whether or not it provides a counter current for those who sense a shallowness in the promises of modernity. To this point, I would maintain that Ratzinger's Summorum Pontificum did more harm than good. Summorum Pontificum took the banner of Traditionalism and gave it the possibility of universal adoption. The end result has been the galvanization of a new breed of Traditionalists that have boiled the movement's essence down to liturgy and thereby proposed the acceptance of modernity (albeit of a more conservative stripe) as totally congruent with the liturgy that served as the spiritual nexus of the Traditionalist movement. Essentially, Traditionalism without the heart, or an arm of socio-political conservatism.

To a certain extent, Roman Traditionalists allowed the degeneration of the movement to happen. Traditionalists were never really honest about wanting things the way they were before Vatican II - they wanted a particular form of ultra montanist and immigrant/ethnic based piety devoid of historical perspective on the Latin Tradition. There was little interest in rediscovering Latin Christianity's medieval wonder and mysticism, still less in any serious movement to retrieve pre-modern liturgy.

We can live amid in a open air discussion of reconciling Lefebvre's brainchild  to the most anti-Lefebvrist Roman Pontiff in recent history because Roman Traditionalism has no other end-point. It has, from the moment it made its confused ecclesiology apparent, always been on the road to full assimilation. Plainly, so long as it remains a shallow parody of Classical Catholicism, it has nowhere else to go. It can only be schizophrenic (the Pope is infallible and his decisions binding upon all Christians, except the ones of the last fifty years) for so long until frazzled ecclesiology wears thin. Either commit to the direction papal minimalism (something along the lines of Orthodox ecclesiology), or tarry back to the Bishop of Rome, tale between the legs.

There is little doubt that Francis has found the avenue by which the SSPX will be reconciled to Rome ("they are obviously Catholic," he says). And there is little doubt the SSPX can quietly drop pretensions of "converting modernist Rome to eternal Rome." Roman piety is capable of domesticating its most troublesome sons and daughters. Much as Dorothy Day is increasingly framed in terms of the pious social worker (burying away her radical politics), so to the eventual St. Marcel will known as someone deeply devoted to the fact, I'll go one further, by the time St. Marcel of Econe has his holy cards put to press he will be known for "fought for the discipline of the liturgy as defined so clearly by the Council." You see that, you see how easy it will be to thoroughly assimilate Lefebvre into Vatican II liturgical praxis? By the time it happens, no one will have any immediate knowledge that this whole kerfuffle wasn't properly celebrating the Pauline liturgy. It will be easy enough to do, and, really, who would stop it?

1 comment:

  1. To answer your closing question: my belief is that by the time St. Marcel is canonized, the experience of Vatican II and the “weak popes” or the “popes who were stymied by the error of enculturation” will be remembered as having tried, unsuccessfully, to teach the faithi in a climate of overwhelming error and confusion. “John Paul II” they will say “was a good and holy man, orthodox to the core, but his circumstances made it hard for him to state this clearly. The church had regressed to a period of linguistic and philosophical confusion reminiscent of the 3rd century, and the literal orthodoxy of the writings of this period is similarly un-dependable.” St. Marcel will be remembered by a small cult, but more profoundly remembered will be popes Paul VII or Pius XV, who were the great reformers, living through the final crisis of the post-American civilizational collapse and re-defining orthodoxy in a way that both polarized and united the Christian World.