Saturday, September 17, 2016

Searching for the Long Lonely Road to Pre-Tridentine Catholicism

One of the primary concerns of this blog, despite my religious affiliation, and dare I say one of the primary concerns of most of its readers, is the future of the Western or Latin Christian tradition, especially as said tradition is represented and passed on through the liturgy. 

This position does not see contemporary Roman Catholic Traditionalists as the guardians of the Latin tradition, and, in fact, it sees contemporary traditionalists as holding fast to propositions that do much to undermine the tradition. It takes a long view of the history of Western Christianity and determines that something of the heart of the tradition was lost in the post-Reformation/post-Tridentine landscape and that the processes of modernization and attrition date well before the sweeping reforms of Vatican II and Paul VI. This position also has an inherit critique of Roman ecclesiology, in so far as the attrition of the tradition was excelerated by the definition of a dogma which collapsed the tradition itself into the person and will of the Bishop of Rome. Rome, then, is not the answer to preserve the Latin tradition - indeed, it has been an agent of its attrition.

What then does one do? Where does one turn? 

These are honest questions and in a perfect world they would receive answers which were in of themselves action items. 

How one ought to proceed is largely dictated by one's own convictions. If one believes the Bishop of Rome is everything Pius IX proclaimed him to be, if one believes the Church of Christ IS the Roman Catholic Church, then, frankly, one ought to have the integrity to follow the Bishop of Rome in his dictates and decrees. We are now forty years past the introduction of the Pauline liturgy, and the postulations of so-called traditionalists haranging every aspect of post-Vatican II Catholicism while at at the same time professing an ultramontanist and exclusivist ecclesiology grows tiresome and reaks of both cognitive dissonance and absurdity. To this is to be added the tedious de facto ecclesiology of the SSPX which wants its ultramontanist and Roman exclusive ecclesiology while functionally emerging as the first examples of "Western Orthodoxy" in relationship. This is not mean as any sort of negative comment. However, it is only honest that should one want to maintain infallibility and papal centrism, then one should at least be consistent in practice and rhetoric.

Rome has full faith in the results of its program of liturgical reform. If one finds either the liturgy of the 1962 Missal or the Pauline liturgy lacking, or if one is searching for more of the ancient Latin liturgical ethos, then one must necessarily look elsewhere. This point needs restating - criticism of the "modern Roman liturgies" (the Pius X breviary, the Pian reforms of the Missal, and, finally, the Pauline liturgy) have at their heart a desire to resist modernity and the associated impacts it has made on systems of religion, theology, and spirituality. Resistance to modern liturgical forms is not, nor has it ever been, simply due to liturgics, or even ecclesiology (although ecclesiology plays a critical role in the critique of the Pauline liturgical reform). Rather, the resistance to modernity is at the heart of things, silently predicated on the Perennialist School's thought that the modern world has created a spiritual crisis by the mutation of values and symbols, creating counterfits of the same categories that eventually exhaust themselves until the inverse of truth and indeed God becomes the dominant cultural norm at the base of a new world view. If one is attached to the Western tradition, but finds no satisfaction in the early modern attempts at reformed liturgy as acceptable susbstitutes, one necessarily resists because one sees in these attempts the mutation of values and symbol, and the first sign posts of their total inversion. Incidently, this would go some length at explaining the cognitive dissonance of many of the liturgical and ecclesiological consequences of Roman Catholic Traditionalism - having adopted an essentially modern paradigm, Roman Traditionalism is often unable to follow through with either category, largely because much of meaning behind each category has been mutated to the point of obscuring the original concept.

So, where does one go? There are a myriad of ways one can follow individual observance, but what of corporate or communal association? There are options for both corporate and communal association but, truth be told, neither is without valid criticism or drawbacks.

One such option is Western Rite Orthodoxy, however, the movement is plagued by a number of problems, the most persistent of which is the seemingly perpetual inconsistent perspective of the various Orthodox churches to the concept of Western Rite Orthodoxy. Antioch tolerates the Western Rite, although the movement itself is plagued by disorganization, a lack of interest by ex-Catholics, and a the distinct ineptitude of Orthodox hierarchs in relation to Western liturgical history and praxis. This last point needs some explaination. While certainly Orthodox scholars are generally speaking aware of the Western liturgical tradition, Orthodoxy, contra Rome, has not opened up the floodgates and allowed scholarly findings to influence the liturgics of Orthodoxy. Typically, when any case is made for doing as much, the response is along the lines of, "granted, but Rome did it and look how well that turned out." The most pressing issue Western Rite Orthodoxy has to content with is to what degree their liturgical books represent the Western Tradition, versus being a contemporary fabrication, largely through the artificial integration of distinctly Byzantine elements. To this end, what I have seen of Antioch's Western Rite books appears to retain more continuity with the actual liturgy of the Western Church.

Another option is to pivot towards those groups in the Anglican Church that are more determined to hold to the Western Tradition. For full disclosure, I know little to nothing about how these groups operate and what their composition looks like other than what is discernible based upon their web presence. My limited knowledge suggests the Anglican Catholic Church is the largest of such bodies.

To my understanding, The American Missal published by Lancelot Andrews Press, may be utilized in both ACC and Western Rite Orthodox churches. Previous glances at this missal have been brief, although its contents are certainly appealing.

Both of the aforementioned options are negatively impacted by geographic proximity - most people interested in such avenues will find relatively few churches - those that exist being often an impractical distance away to participate in any meaningful parish or communal life. In such instances, there is the argument to be made for moving to a mainly Orthodox church. This has its advantages and disadvantages. So far as aesthetics and ethos are concerned, one will find a certain experiential affinity between the two liturgical traditions. However, one has to be content with keeping one's appreciation of Western liturgical praxis or devotions as a largely private praxis. The Orthodox Church has no interest in integrating Western traditions. Where one will find many reasons as to why, in the United States the more practical rationale is the interest of self preservation. The Orthodox Church is a small body in the American context - it has enough to do to preserve its own tradition, it does not have the bandwidth to pick up the pieces of the Western tradition. Thus, one cannot join the Orthodox Church with the intention that one will find a "safe house" for one's devotion to traditional Western Christianity. One will be eventually be disappointed. One cannot survive and thrive in the Orthodox Church without adopting its liturgical praxis as one's own. Now, this is reasonable - one cannot integrate oneself into any religious body with the intention of jettisoning its praxis. When one enters any religious body, one does so, or ought to do so, with the full expectation and intention to adopt its prayer and praxis - at least that is the tradition. Any intention to impose one's desires on the body, or to obtain them by subterfuge, is, I would argue, in total violation of Tradition, both in the precise Christian sense and in the larger Perennialist sense, in favor of a distinctly modernist spirit which in its final stages reduces such notions as religion and tradition to essentially products for the consumer process before finally discarding them all together.

In other words, if you're going to go Orthodox, you've got to go Orthodox.

This is not to mean that one cannot retain an appreciation for the Western Tradition, nor does it mean one will not lament its near absolute degradation. In point of fact, I genuinely believe Orthodoxy will help offer perspective on the Tradition. In my case, Orthodoxy helped lift the blinders when it came to "the traditional Latin Mass" as opposed to pre-Tridentine Catholicism. The Tradition is best exemplified in pre-Tridentine Catholicism, which, sadly, has been consistently overlooked. The original liturgical movement was an early modern Roman Catholic phenomenon, the majority of which was concerned with early modern Roman Catholicism. The pretenses to a "new liturgical movement" maintained essentially the same agenda - whatever scholarly output there was, it was largely geared towards re-instituting early modern Roman Catholicism, save for Alcuin Read's passing mention that Pius X's reform of the Roman Breviary should have been based upon the Breviarium Monasticum.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that if one's goal is to re-discover pre-Tridentine Catholicism, one faces an uphill and frequently lonely battle - the options are few and the interest is scant. The greatest obstacle is contemporary Roman Catholicism - whatever movement would reach in a pre-Tridentine direction would be handicapped by the need to resolve cognitive dissonance and find evidence of early modern Roman Catholicism in the pre-Tridentine, pre-Reformation Western Church. In which case, the core problems that led to destabilization of the largest body representing the Western Tradition will persist.

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