Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Introduction to Traditionalism

The purpose of this post is to give an introduction to what it means to be a "traditionalist" Catholic. Unfortunately, the term "traditionalist" today is widely misunderstood, often signifying rash judgmentalism and disdain for all things less than perfect. In reality, this misunderstanding stems from ignorance (on all sides) and a sad (recent) history of mistreatment traditionalists. The truth is, traditionalism is nothing more than true and orthodox Catholicism (it's not technically it's own "category" or "brand" of Catholicism), since traditionalism seeks to promote and preserve what is in fact genuine Catholic teaching and heritage. A list of basic "traditionalist" teachings will help give the reader a better understanding:
  • Plenary inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture; there are no historical, scientific, or theological errors anywhere in Scripture (the only so-called "exception" are minor copyist errors, which are a different issue). Many today are of the heretical camp known as "Modernists" and "Liberals" who cannot accept the idea the Bible is really inspired and thus contains no error, especially since they are of the impression difficulties in the Bible are most logically taken to be actual errors and myths. Unfortunately, these Liberals have entrenched themselves in high enough places as to keep many people confused about the Church's actual (and dogmatic) stance on the subject.
  • The "Traditional Latin Mass" is an eternal treasure and ideal form of Liturgical worship for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. When Pope Benedict issued the Motu Proprio allowing any priest to say the TLM, he made it clear in his Accompanying Letter: "In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful." The main complaint "traditionalists" have with the "New Mass" (Novus Ordo) created in 1970 by Paul VI is not in regards to it's validity - the New Mass is certainly valid since the Church cannot promulgate invalid Sacraments, and it offers to God the eternal glory of Christ's Sacrifice (so anyone who says otherwise is actually in heresy) - the 'issue' is that this mass was not part of a liturgical heritage that has been passed down and perfected through 'organic development', but rather the invention of a modern liturgical committee who basically invented a mass on the spot and with a very limited outlook (and some even say with malicious intent). The content of the "old Mass" has been perfected over time to express all the important and unique facets that define us as Catholics, while much of these prayers and gestures and music have been tossed, forgotten, or downplayed in the "new Mass," with a sad loss of heritage and richness of prayer and theology. To hate the TLM, which many liberals (sadly) do - precisely because it is 'too Catholic' for them - is to hate your Catholic heritage and even implicit cooperation with the powers who hate Catholicism and seek to undermine it.
  • Every doctrine authoritatively taught in prior Councils and Encyclicals and such is still to be held and maintained today. In other words, no official doctrines have been changed or abandoned, no matter how 'unpopular', 'inconvenient', or what any dissident Catholic says (no matter their authority level). Too often, there are many 'inconvenient truths' of Catholicism - which the Church has maintained regardless of opposition - are those that many today have a hard time accepting, from the liberal theologian who cannot accept Jesus really Resurrected, to the Catholic politician who wants to divorce their faith from their politics, to mainstream layman in the pews who wants to engage in contraception.
  • The centrality of the Dogma of the Social Kingship of Christ in Catholic living. Many Catholics today are unaware of this dogma, which states that Christ is not only king of believers and on "spiritual" matters, but that Jesus is in fact King of every person of every nation and His authority and theology influences every aspect of daily living from recreation to economics to civil law to theology. Many are shocked to hear that Christ is King over subjects like civil law and economics because they are taught the 'right way' to live is by "separating Church and State" - what they don't know is that such an idea is condemned by the Church as heresy and undermines Christ's Kingship. But the logic is plain: how can Christian teachings of faith and morals be divorced from one's legal or economical views? Is it suddenly ok to steal because an economics theory allows it or have abortions because a human court permits it? In such situations, the Apostles teach: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), meaning God's teachings through the Church trump the teachings of mere human authorities.
  • So-called 'little-t' traditions, even if not dogmatic (i.e. 'big-t' Tradition), are none the less very important for maintaining Catholic identity and integrity - in other words, 'little-t' traditions are by no means dispensable, deplorable, or harmful. 'Little-t' traditions are prayers, devotions, art forms, music, etc, that while not absolutely necessary for moral and theological integrity (and can be altered under proper conditions), have been put in place precisely to preserve Catholic identity and culture. For example, the Rosary is a little-t traditional Catholic devotion that is a uniquely Catholic prayer, teaching and fostering uniquely Catholic piety. Externally, little-t tradition is what helps distinguish Catholics from non-Catholics, while internally little-t tradition exists to form the Catholic's mind and soul in how a Catholic is to think and pray. So with the example of the Rosary, while Catholics could abandon this devotion tomorrow without affecting dogma, they would still be negatively affecting Catholic identity and prayer, increasing the risk of Catholic devotion (which sanctifies) being obliterated or replaced by pagan or heretical devotions (which endanger). Another example (of many) is that of holy water, which not only is to help remind us of our Baptismal promises, there are graces attached to the water (by the prayer of the priest), which when used with the proper disposition can cause increase of our sanctification and protection from sin. Sure holy water is not 'necessary' to be Catholic, but it combined with all the other 'little things' adds up to a uniquely Catholic mindset (that in itself fosters sanctification and protection against sin).
Though there are other points that could be made, the above should suffice. Upon examining the above points, many Catholics (especially the younger generation) reading these would already intuitively be in agreement with what was described. In fact, many of these folks would be shocked that such things have to be spelled out, since they're obviously true on their face. The sad reality is, many Catholics are either ignorant of these details, been falsely indoctrinated with errors regarding these things, or are living in defiance of the Church on these matters. This is why traditionalists are marginalized today, because the Truth is never popular, and thus will be attacked by both Satan and those confused or with malicious intent, but the traditionalist path is rewarding and worth it.

In conclusion, it is also worth mentioning that many traditionalists have acted in very uncharitable ways towards their Catholic brothers who are simply not up to speed on traditionalism. This traditionalist triumphalism and arrogance and even verbal attacks have unfortunately scandalized many Catholics, regardless of how 'justified' the traditionalist might have felt. Such an approach is wrong, and does more harm than good. It's an easy mindset for the traditionalist to fall into, but we traditionalists must encourage eachother to not do so. One traditionalist I respect repeatedly emphasized the lack of progress and hypocrisy among many traditionalists was due to the fact they themselves couldn't keep a tight reign on their own sins and weren't themselves working towards an increase in sanctification (James 1:26).

NOTE: So-called "radical traditionalists" (RadTrads) are not really traditionalist or Catholic at all - and must not be confused with traditionalists (as described above) - since RadTrads are characterized as 'radical' precisely because they have indeed gone where no Catholic teaching ever permits, which is to areas like schism from the Pope or even sedevacantism (teaching there has been no Pope for over 50 years).


    Kevin said...

    I think another key aspect is how we approach certain things.

    I would never state the likes of Christopher West are doctrinal heretics. They could probably even qualify under what you described.

    I believe in the following litmus test: When you read the teachings of the Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) do you view it as not just a book of Scripture, but something that most Catholics have forgotten? If after reading it you understand what I'm saying, congratulations, you are a traditionalist!

    Nick said...

    Hi Kevin,

    I agree "how we approach things" is precisely what traditionalism is all about: a mindset.

    A person like Christopher West can be a good Catholic, but confused about certain things, thus making him an unconscious traditionalist, at best. I'd say he 'fails' the test of being a traditionalist 'externally' since his approach seems to have a truncated view of Church history, specifically a theological outlook that only extends 50 years or so. For example, does he ever make any other Papal Encyclical a 'reference point' outside of those of John Paul II? If not, then his outlook and mindset lack any 'tradition' from which to be a 'traditionalist'.

    Unfortunately, it seems also that West (or at least his fans) have made his interpretation of certain Catholic teachings the 'proper understanding', rather than something to be tested against Primary Sources. For example, is Casti Connubi ever encouraged to be read or quoted and commented upon? I've seen no such thing from pop-editions of Theology of the Body. From the trad point of view, such a document is short, simple, and an essential standard.

    As for your Ecclesiastes litmust test, I'm not exactly sure what you're getting at. I've read it a few times, but it's undoubtedly one of the 'harder' and more 'mystical' books of Scripture. On one hand we have the 'extreme' (or reality) of "all is vanity," while on the other hand we have the 'down to earth' "To everything there is a time and season".

    In general, I'd say there is a disastrous and unfortunate abandonment and ignorance of the Wisdom Literature in Scripture in general. But this is likely due to what makes traditionalism so hated in the first place: make the truths of life too obvious and that's going to upset people.

    Kevin said...

    I would say 1:8-11 of Ecclesiastes gets at what I am saying, and encapsulates the traditionalist position. Since he starts off with it, I think it to be one of the key passages of the book.

    The "lack of rememberance of former things" is one of the biggest causes of vanity in men. In their arrogance, they honestly think they are doing something "new" or "novel." They are making it "relevant!"

    Yet such a mindset Solomon rightly dismisses as madness. True novelty is something exceptionally rare. More often than not, it is a repackaging of the past.

    Take TOB for example. Anyone who has read the Fathers from the 4th-6the centuries (including the Eastern ones like Athanasius and Basil the Great), and also reflects deeply on the reality of the Incarnation, would find nothing "new" in the Theology of the Body.

    They might find a crisper expression of things, but this understanding was pretty consistent, at least on the magesterial level, throughout tradition.

    Yet West comes from the view that everything before JPII/Vatican II was a wasteland. His colleagues share that view (Janet Smith's mocking Latin as a relic of "yesterday's church") This leads to the problems you describe.

    The traditionalist always asks himself "where have I seen this before." And he is frequently right in that he has seen it before.

    Catholic Mission said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Nick said...

    Catholic Mission,

    Your multiple posts in a row don't seem directly relevant to the main issue and could be taken as spam. I usually hesitate to erase comments, but please note it is considered rude to post multiple times in a row with a bunch of links. It turns a dialogue and input into a pontification.

    The concept of Baptism of Desire (even of Blood) is a Church Dogma, explicitly taught dogmatically and affirmed within Tradition; it's a non-arguable point.

    The Feeneyite position is dubious at best, heretical at worst. It was an over-reaction to a liberal 'anti-EENS' scandal that unfortunately fell into error on the opposite extreme. There have been various attempts at explaining away the Church's Dogmatic teaching, but I simply don't have time for that. Such a movement would gain a lot more traction if it simply got in line on that one point, otherwise touting Fr Feeney is simply nonsense and an inappropriate 'cult of personality'.

    The scandalous charades at Assisi are no exception to the Dogma of EENS, nor a denial of the Dogma of Baptism of Desire (which isn't even being suggested here), nor a misapplication of Invincible Ignorance (which also isn't being suggested nor is it applied correctly).

    I'm sorry if this offends you, but I'll have to erase what you posted. That said, I welcome any future on-topic and more succinct posts. If you want to talk Baptism of Desire, it might be better if you invite me to an existing discussion or else email me directly and I'll see if I have time.