Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Neo-Trads Hoisted By Their Own Petard

Well, The Triduum and Easter are past with the beautiful liturgies and life is beginning to return to normal but the hornet’s nest that Pope Francis stirred up by including two women, one a Muslim, among those whose feet he washed is alive and buzzing.  A check of the usual suspects and their blogs show that the neo-trads are running scared and not without reason.  The entire structure of the “Reform of the Reform” which has given them such joy over the past fifteen or twenty years is teetering as it slowly begins to implode.  It is not that the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass, aka Tridentine Mass or Extraordinary Form) will no longer be celebrated—it will, but clearly no longer at the alleged bequest of the Holy Father.  Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos who long claimed that the Pope wanted an Extraordinary Form Mass in every Parish every week clearly can no longer make such a claim.  While Cardinals like Burke and Pell who delighted in marching around in long trains of watered silk with large furred hoods look no more ridiculous now than they did two months ago, but now they are clearly out of step (and out of harmony) with the Pope himself.  The feeling in the Church is new and fresh, like when an old house has been renovated and everything that was dark and heavy with closed curtains and lunky old overstuffed furniture is open and airy and bathed in sunlight. 
The neo-trads are outraged that the Pope “broke Canon Law” by including women in the washing of the feet ceremony.  But, in the first place, the prescriptives for the washing of the feet are not in Canon Law, they are in the rubrics.  And secondly, whether it be Canon Law or rubrical “law,” it is beyond the Pope’s power to break.  I did not say “beyond the Pope’s power to change” but “to break.”  You see to break the Law you must be subject to the Law, but the Pope is not subject to the law, rather he is the law.
In our American system of law, drawing from the legal traditions of England, the Lawgiver is himself subject to the Law.  So the President is subject to the Law.  The Congress, collectively and individually, is subject to the Law.  The judiciary is subject the Law.  The Legislature, Congress, can change the Law.  The Judiciary, the Courts, can invalidate the law.  But unless and until a law is changed or ruled unconstitutional, the Government itself is subject to the Law.  In England, in the same way, the Monarch is subject the Law, as is Parliament, and as is the Judiciary.  But this was not always so.  The matter was settled by the English Civil War in which the King was judged to have broken the law and to have been guilty of treason.  Poor King Charles could not understand this.  How could he, the King, have been guilty of treason; treason was a crime against the Crown and he, the King, was the Crown?  But by the changes that came about in the English Civil War the principle was established that the Crown is something greater than the person of the King.  The person of the King is subject to the authority of the Crown, that is “the Law.”  Up to that point in the development of the British Constitution (in which American Law is rooted) the King had been seen as the Personal Embodiment of the Law.  The Law is whatever the King declared it to be so.  This declaration did not have to be written, or even spoken: the King, by his actions as well as his words, “shewed” what the Law is.  Thus it was from time immemorial.  The Law is in the heart of the Lawgiver: Whatever the Lawgiver declares, is the law.  In England it took a long period of time to change from this absolutist principle to the democratic one.  King Henry VIII traded many of his royal prerogatives to Parliament to win their support for his religious policies.  His children, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth too had had to make compromises with Parliament to win support for their varied changes in the English Church.  By the end of the Tudor dynasties, English absolutism had given way to the rudiments of constitutional government.  The Stuart Kings, James I and Charles I, had not understood this and this being on very different pages from their subjects would lead to Civil War and Charles’ execution.  The same evolution of Law came about in France through its 1789 Revolution.  Louis XIV had declared “Je suis l’Etat, (I am the State)—again, declaring that he personally was “the State;”  the law is whatever he declared it to be and as King he was not subject to the Law for he was the Law.  Like poor King Charles, belief in that principle would cause Louis XIV’s great 3x grandson, Louis XVI his head.  When Louis XVI’s younger brother became Charles X many decades later and insisted on reverting to this theory that he, not a Constitutional Government, was the supreme lawgiver and as such was not subject to the Law, he found himself tossed out of the palace, though with his head still attached.  He was lucky.  Russia saw this evolution with the murder of the Czar in 1918.  Over the centuries—from the sixteenth through the twentieth—constitutional governments have come to accept the principle that they and their leaders are subject to Law.  Of course governments like Israel—or South Africa in the days of apartheid—make no assurances that the laws to which their governments are subject are just; nor do, or did, plutocracies such as the old Marxist republics of the Iron and Bamboo curtains, nor the Islamic “republics” that have adopted Sharia Law.   And Wacko dictators like the fellow in North Korea propose that they are above the Law.   But that is the nature of dictatorship and that is also the nature of the Papal Monarchy. 
The Catholic Church is not a democracy.   The Pope is absolute Sovereign in the Church.  Whatever he declares to be Law, is Law.  All authority in the Church comes from his authority.  Vatican II taught that the Bishops hold their authority over the Church committed to their care directly from Christ, but that is window dressing.  Whatever was given at Vatican II was gradually taken back by the Papal Administration under John Paul II.  This is not to say that the Pope is above the law, but he is certainly not subject to it.  Rather, he is the embodiment of the Law.  Whatever he declares to be law, is law.  What he binds is bound; loosens, loosened.  It does not take Canons or rubrics or any formal declaration.  His doing is sufficient.  Of course he is not saying that you must wash the feet of Muslims and women--but he is saying that one may.   
I remember when I was preparing my doctorate.  I was living in a religious house in Rome.  A huge fuss had been created one day when one of the young monks had read the refectory reading in English rather than in Italian.  The statutes of the monastery said that Spanish, English, and Italian were each official languages, but the refectory reading had always been in Italian.  All official business in the house was conducted in Italian.  The monastery was upside down.  People were rallying to one side or the other of the conflict.  Some were demanding that the local superior punish the young Irish monk who had dared to break the law and read in English.  Others were threatening that if any action were taken against him, they would absent themselves from refectory and chapel.  (This is the problem with celibacy, without the occasional sick child people lose all sense of perspective.)   The local superior, a bewildered Spaniard, did not know what to do.  He called for the Order’s Master General to come and settle the issue.  The Master General did so very nicely.  He arrived in time for dinner and, as was his right as the ranking prelate, said grace.  He said it in English.  The issue was settled without further word. 
Pope Francis settled the issue whether women can be included in the ritual washing of the feet.  There is no question now.  The Law has been amended.  And this is why the neo-trads are so alarmed.  The Pope is sweeping away the Reform of the Reform without saying a word.  Gone is the Mozetta and rochet.  Gone are the red shoes.  Gone are the antique vestments.  With his having an altar facing the Cardinals set up in the Sistine Chapel, gone is the “ad orientem” nonsense.  Gone is the aloofness that permitted the rampant revival of an obscene clericalism.  Gone is the message that we are heading back into the seventeenth century. I am not saying that a future Pope can’t bring it back, but it won’t be easy, especially with the mass approval Francis is winning.  Like Paul VI’s tiara, it will be difficult for future popes to turn back to the palace and the pomp.  Now we are back on track as the Church of Service, the Herald of Good News to the Poor.  

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