Tuesday, February 17, 2015

More Thoughts on Pope Francis, A Bridge Too Far, and The Two Church Problem

It's about the future 

Sitting at breakfast this morning with a colleague we got talking about various priests we knew over the years and found out we both have great admiration for the Society of Saint Columban, a Society of secular priests who work in the missions.  When I was a kid our house was always filled with Columbans and they were all great guys, but there was one in particular who was just the best priest I ever knew—Father Al Buckwalter.  Unfortunately when Father Buckwalter finally got to the foreign missions—his dream—, in Chile, he died in a motorcycle accident after only about six months.    I think the reason I love Pope Francis is that he epitomizes the sort of Church that Father Buckwalter represented to me as a kid.  He was a priest who never judged people but could see the good in everyone.  It was the heady days when Vatican II was in session and this priest represented that optimism that the Good News of Jesus Christ was the key to a better world.  I am not saying that he was naïve and could not see the flaws in human nature—but only that he lived and treated people like he really believed that God’s grace could and would triumph over sin both on the personal and societal levels. 
When I look at the two Churches that have grown up side by side in the fifty years since the Council, I think this is the key difference between them.  I had mentioned that the one Church—a holdover from the Neo-Scholastic centuries of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation period through the Reaction/Recovery from the effects of the French Revolution—has never accepted the fundamental paradigm shift represented in the Second Vatican Council.  That paradigm shift is attributable to the ressourcement theologie of the inter-war period in which theologians such as Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and others went to the pre-Scholastic Church Fathers and recovered the Patristic heritage for our modern age. 
It would be simplistic to claim—but essentially true nevertheless—that the patristic theology has a far more positive anthropology than the Neo-Scholastic.   The patristic heritage certainly acknowledges the reality of sin and dysfunction.  I myself am a huge fan of Saint Augustine and nobody but nobody in the Christian tradition calls out sin like Augustine did.  Yet, despite his intellectual appreciation for the frailties of our human nature, Augustine is known as the Doctor Gratiae—the Doctor of Grace. For Augustine the emphasis is not sin, but grace; sin is merely the foil by which we can see the operation of grace. 
I think that perhaps the inability of Pope John Paul II to see the dangers of the direction in which he took the Church—in his allowance of the anti-Vatican II Church to take root and even thrive inside the Conciliar Church—was that he himself was steeped in the Neo-Scholastic philosophy and theology of the pre-conciliar era.  I am not saying that he endorsed the survival of the counter-Church or that he did not endorse the basic direction of the Second Vatican Council, but only that he failed to see the problem of permitting this alternative ecclesiology of those for whom the Council was problematic. He himself didn’t have the monolithic theological models usually associated with Neo-Scholasticism.  He was certainly was open to the ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue of the Council, indeed he was not always as precise in his actions vis a vis other Churches and other religions as some thought that perhaps he should have been.  John Paul also had no personal enthusiasm for the pre-conciliar Liturgy, he merely permitted its revival to keep the peace with those who were being drawn out of the Church by the Lefebvrists and other schismatics.  He never celebrated, at least as far as we know, the usus antiquior and his own liturgical celebrations could be quite avant-garde with liturgical dance, adaptations to local cultures, and some minor but interesting deviations from the official rubrics.  However, when it came to his basic theology John Paul’s Neo-Scholasticism came through loud and clear.  In much of his writing and speaking there was a strong emphasis on sin and the sinfulness of the human person that appealed very much to those on the neo-Traditionalist end of the spectrum. 
Pope Benedict XVI was, in many ways, the reverse image of his predecessor.  Benedict had been, in his life as a theologian, a proponent of the nouvelle theologie. There was nothing of the Neo-Thomist in him and he was—and I have always admired him for this—a strong Augustinian in his theological framework.  His encyclicals and his addresses were far more positivist than those of his predecessor.  He was, however (and so typically German), far less flexible on the connection of theory and practice.  As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Benedict had been seriously concerned about John Paul’s imprecision in papal dealings with non-Christians and even with non-Catholics.  (The position given to the Archbishop of Canterbury at Benedict’s installation as Pope was markedly different than how that prelate and his predecessors had been ceremonially treated under John Paul II who had always accorded the Anglican Primate a position roughly equivalent to how he treated the various patriarchal representatives of the Orthodox Churches.  On the other hand, Benedict’s precision in these matters puts a very different spin on his giving Holy Communion to Brother Roger, the Protestant Prior of the Taizé Community.)  Benedict, unlike his predecessor, has a strong personal attachment to the pre-Conciliar Rites.  While he never celebrated them during his papacy—at least publicly—he had as a Cardinal been very involved in the Abbey of Fontgombault’s conferences on restoring the old rite.  As Pope he widely extended permission for the use of the pre-conciliar rites even to the point of usurping the authority of local bishops in their diocese to regulate the liturgical usages.  He hoped, I think somewhat naively as an academic might, that the revival of the pre-conciliar rites alongside the Liturgy of Paul VI might in some way create a hybrid rite that would moderate the excesses of each.  Instead, of course, it seems only to have further polarized the liturgical disputes.  My own read on Benedict’s liturgical preferences is that they are not due to his theological convictions but rather to his ardent passion to preserve the cultural heritage of the Europe in which he was raised and which has been so culturally devastated first by Hitler’s crude efforts to create and impose on his conquests a sort of Nazi Art Deco and later by the equally soulless post-modernism and secularism of the last sixty years.  Like the music of Mozart to which Benedict is so deeply attached, the Baroque represents to him the epitome of Western culture.  His garish refurnishing of the Papal Apartments from the elegant simplicity of Paul VI (retained by JPII) to the heavy gilt of the reigns of Pius XII and John XXIII along with his penchant to raid the sacristy for the discarded remnants of his gloriously reigning predecessors, like his conviction that the 20th century produced no great music, just screamed “Bavarian bourgeois.”  But in this fascination with the antique he validated the efforts of those who thought they could bypass the Conciliar Catholicism of the last sixty years and remain comfortably within the Catholicity of the Church. 
Now along comes Pope Francis who is utterly indifferent to the antiquarianism of Benedict and who doesn’t share the pessimism of John Paul II and we have a problem.  A segment of Catholicism cannot identify with this Pope.  “I am a Catholic, but I don’t have a Pope” is becoming a rallying cry for a gamut of folk that range from climate-change deniers to Baltimore Catechism enthusiasts to Libertarians to fans of Palestrina and Tallis.   Even such recent bastions of Catholicism as Christendom College and the Cardinal Newman Society are teetering.  Rumors are starting to rise that Benedict’s resignation was “coerced” and thus he is still the valid Pope—his aide-de-camp, Archbishop (Gorgeous Georg) Ganswein has had to come out with several affirmations that Benedict himself recognizes Francis as Pope.  Many are wondering—and some are hoping—about what Cardinal Burke’s vow “to resist” Francis should he go too far might mean.  The pot is roiling.  There is considerable concern about the Cardinals Francis has appointed and his ability to shape the next papal election. The September address to a joint session of Congress could be telling.  The upcoming October second session on the Synod on the Family could tip the scales. In the end the worst of what might happen is what should have happened forty years ago—those for whom Vatican II represents unacceptable change need to pack up their birettas and mantillas, um I mean maniples, and go where they can be more comfortable.  Vatican II is here to stay.  Compromise was tried and it proved to be not only a bad choice but an exercise in futility.  We need to cherish our past as history but move into the future in pursuit of the Kingdom of God.  It is a kinder, gentler Church with Francis—a Church that is Rich in the Mercy of God 


  1. "Vatican II is here to stay. Compromise was tried and it proved to be not only a bad choice but an exercise in futility. We need to cherish our past as history but move into the future in pursuit of the Kingdom of God."

    I'd certainly like to think so, but there are a group of young turks recently ordained that seem bent on restoration of the old rites and traditions, regardless of Rome. I am in a somewhat friendly battle with my current parochial vicar over this issue, and the greatest concession I have had from him so far, is that he regrets that divisions have occurred. By the way, this past Christmas he broke out his maniple, and while he was quite proud of it, all I could do was worry he was going knock over a full chalice with it while extending his arms. I am old enough to have worshipped for years under the the pre-Vatican II rites, including as an altar server and this was the very first time I had seen a maniple actually being worn at Mass. I personally like this priest, but I am very concerned that he is much more excited about the trappings of the liturgy than the substance. I definitely believe that focusing so fiercely on the trappings sends the wrong message to those gathered at Mass.

  2. What concerns me most about this new generation of traddie priests with their liturgical obsessions and fantasies is the deeper psychological motivations fueling them. They strike me as needing to disguise something beneath all the silly paraphernalia like maniples, birettas, lace surplices, etc. Add to this their preference to face away from the congregation, speak a sacral language only they (supposedly) understand, exhibit a pompous manner as if they are ten feet above contradiction -- and it all seems to me as if they are profoundly immature. While a bit more understandable in younger people, these boys in their late 20s and older should have found by now a secure sense of self instead of needing to use props as a substitute for a flagging or insufficiently developed sense of self. If they are in fact as developmentally arrested as they appear to be, I fear what will happen once the dress-up stage passes and the initial rush of wearing a clerical collar fades, and they get tired of, or simply bored with, playing priest and playing church. A whole new round of malfeasance will suddenly erupt -- addictions, sexual acting out, unfocused rage -- and less damaging, many will walk away and leave their toys behind. The worst of the lot are those who are being coddled and prematurely promoted by traddie bishops in whom they think they have found allies against resistant older clergy -- who are held in utter contempt. One newly-ordained priest in this diocese who is rumored to be appointed the bishop's secretary after he completes some post-ordination studies in -- guess what? -- yes, canon law! -- even brings his own wine with him wherever he celebrates Mass in case the local vintage might be invalid matter. And this is the future.....

  3. well, I share your concern but even thirty years ago I was worried about the immaturity and arrested development of many priests. I don't t think it is anything new and the neo trad paraphernalia is symptomatic of the problem but not the root. George Aschenbrenner SJ gave a day of recollection at the North American College about 24 years ago or so in which he told the seminarians that clericalism with all its trappings was symptomatic of arrested psycho-sexual development and that for those who needed collars and cassocks and titles etc it was because they didn't have a developed sense of their own personal identity. The priest became a persona for these men who either were unable or refused to engage their own selves in the process of maturation. It certainly rings true to my own experience. There are some fine young priests, of course, and even some who are pretty conservative, but seminaries need far better psychological evaluations than most are using today to screen their students before advancing them to ministry

  4. Yes, my dear Consolamini, exactly.

  5. I really don't understand how you can describe the difference between the Trent Church and the Vatican II Church as a mere paradigm shift while you held that the Anglican Church became something quite different from what she had been, a Protestant organisation. Indeed her divines claimed that she had become more loyal to the ancient fathers and the primitive church. She had become more Catholic.

    Bishop Manning once said that S. Cyril would have felt more home at S. Thomas, Fifth Avenue than at S. Patrick's. (I'd say that may be more true today than when His Lordship made that remark.)

  6. Well it really isn't at all difficult to make this distinction.
    In the first place let me say that I do believe that the Church of England at and after the Reformation is historically continuous--as an Institution--with the Church of England before the Reformation. It is the same Church of England. However, before the Reformation that Church was within the Catholic Communion of Churches and after he Reformation it was not; moreover before the 1552 and 1559 Prayer Books it was a Catholic Church--even after the schism of 1536 (or wherever one wants to date it between 1532 and 1538 as it is all somewhat ambiguous and was not as clean a break as some would have it)--but with the 1552 and subsequent Prayer Books it clearly became a Protestant Church. It was not a new Church, it was the same Church but now with Protestant doctrine, liturgy, and praxis. I don't have a problem with that by the way, but while Cranmer and his collaborators were drawing on the Church Fathers to support their Protestant views--and drawing on them where they supported their Protestant views--there was a clear and explicit intention to reject Catholic liturgy,as well as much Catholic doctrine and praxis.
    I am not sure whom you mean by Bishop Manning, but as for Saint Cyril being more at home in St Thomas Fifth Avenue than Saint Patrick's, that is a rhetorical remark and needs to be taken as a rhetorical remark. That does not mean it is not true, but it does mean that it is one of those things we say to illustrate a point but might have a tough time debating in an academic debate. Nevertheless, I will concede the point. But Saint Cyril would not have felt so much at home in the Saint Paul's London of Matthew Parker's day or William Juxon's day. St. Thomas is illustrative of the Oxford Movement (and I may say in one of its most exaggerated forms) of 1832 and subsequent decades, not of the Church of England that embraced the 1552, 1559, or the 1662 Prayer Book. While I think there are things in the Catechism of the Council of Trent that Saint Cyril would object to, and things in the Decrees of Vatican II he would not subscribe to, I can assure you that he would walk out muttering at the 39 articles. And so all due respect to Bishop Manning, I defer to John Henry Newman who left the Church of England precisely because he did not find it--in his day--congruent with the faith of the Fathers of the Church. So don't tell them at St, Thomas, but they are Protestants. Nothing wrong with that--mind you--as long as you know it and act accordingly.

  7. Biblical preaching, superb music, an incomparable liturgy all offered by S. Thomas, Fifth Avenue, both in situ and on their unique webcast, if these be Protestant, then such is quite attractive.

  8. Well, they're not particularly Protestant, but the music and the liturgy would send Cranmer spinning in his grave--if he had one. I like St Thomas as much as anyone--it is like Lincoln Center without the pricey tickets--but Saint Thomas does not represent historic Anglicanism. An Anglican of 1560 or 1650 orI 1776 wouldn't recognize Saint Thomas' as an Anglican church. As for an incomparable liturgy I remember saying to John Andrew, the Rector "back in the day" after a Palm Sunday Sung Evensong; like all good liturgy, the liturgy at St Thomas has nothing to do with God; but like all bad liturgy neither has it anything to do with the Church. It has devolved into art for art's sake--incomparably lovely, true but sheer sentiment--somewhat akin the final scene of the first act of Tosca.

  9. Not to think myself wiser than a Jesuit, but I tend to think that men wage war more on the field of symbols than on any other, even interior battles. It may be that a priest who is embracing the outward signs of his calling, independent of their historical content, may be manifesting externally his striving for interior identification with the state in life he has undertaken.

    It seems unfair in my judgment to belittle a cleric for viewing a piece of cloth, his habit, as a mighty weapon in his own battle to embrace his vocation with a whole heart, and to banish those doubts and continued agitations of nature that are a part of the human condition. (Lest you forget, sweet Consolamini, Latinist that you are, that the habit and the habitus sanctae conversationis that St. Benedict yearned to take up have been long bound up in one another).

    The married life is full of physical consolations and reassurances, and yet the struggle against infidelity of the heart does not suddenly end on the wedding night. And who would blame a husband for recourse to his wife's photograph, or some cherished token of love, in refocusing himself and his present intention on the vows he took years ago?

    But anyway, all of this is to underline that we mature into our states of life; to expect the self-assurance and complete psychosexual integration of a great saint from a newly-ordained priest is unreasonable. I was not the husband I am now on the day of my wedding; I was naive, ignorant, and immature, but I had the courage to go forward, and I consequently have grown much since then. The experiences of married life, of children, of responsibility and the growth in faith in God and in the other person, all conspire to mature the married person, not to confirm him in some pre-existent maturity. I imagine the same is true of priesthood, and I imagine that some priests, whose celibate way is devoid of the reassuring intimacies of married life, must cleave viscerally what symbols of their office they have as they, too, are tried and refined in the crucible of the Christian life. As the out-paradigmed Scholastics would have it, we are body-soul composites, and all real spiritual progress is not necessarily free of material help.

    And as to the maniple...I do not understand the hatred for this vestment except as it was arbitrarily banished by Those Who Knew Best About Liturgy (in spite of the fact that much of their scholarship is, frankly, dated). It hardly seems a reasonable thing to blame a man for putting on a small piece of cloth that centuries have imbued with a rich symbolic value when this same man is *required* to emerge from the vestibule or sacristy in an ancient Roman cloak, tunic, and belt. The thing about vestments is, like so much else about liturgy, there really is no good way to rationalize them. There is no reasonability about the retention of ancient garments that have, for no particularly unavoidable reason, taken on sacral connotations and great symbolic value. And yet they ennoble, enrich, transcend cultural and temporal boundaries, and in many other senses, simply work for prayer. Hence, we have treasured and retained them.

    Little black academic caps aside, whose liturgical use I have never understood, all of this stuff expresses on the symbolic level,---if you don't like continuity---, at least *communion* with the Church past, and hopes for continued communion, just as the Gospel itself, and continued evangelization, is the source of that invisible communion.

    In fine, as a Catholic, I believe that things that make the invisible visible are good.

    1. First, I need to clarify that, Domine non sum dignus, I am not a Jesuit. I was educated by the Society but am not nor have ever been one myself. I stand in great admiration of the society but it is not my particular vocation. Secondly, I would like to clarify that I am in no way opposed to religious habits or clerical dress. To the contrary--as a historian I love these visible vestiges of our heritage (note, I am not saying "past" but heritage or legacy). I number many religious among my closest friends--in particular many Franciscan friars who seem always to be in their habits and Cistercian monks who also are deeply attached to their distinctive garb. That Franciscan cord in particular is a strong statement of identity. (I always said that it was one of Francis' most brilliant ideas as it guarantees that his brothers, lesser brothers though they may be, will never be in want as we all reach deep into our pockets to help the friars out in whatever ways we can, and I, for one, am happy to do so. As for our old friends the Jesuits, I was just reading through yesterday the magazine from the Northeast Province of the SJs and seeing all these men in their black clerical suits and then the stained glass image of Ignatius and his first companions in their cassocks, I felt a bit of nostalgia. Of course Ignatius did not want his men to have a distinctive habit so it is not part of their charism, but I do look back with fondness on the memory of the ill-fitting and gravy-stained cassocks of the unshaved and badly hair-cut but brilliant men who taught me those many years ago. What my complaint is about are those clergy whose psycho-sexual immaturity makes them take refuge in the externals rather than develop the internal character of true spiritual men. (I suppose it can happen with those nunny ladies whose delusions cause them all to act like they are in the opening scenes of Sound of Music) Donald Cozzens wrote a lot about an exaggerated sense of clericalism and arrested development in his 2000 book The Changing Face of the American Priesthood. So I don't see the problem as clerical dress or religious habits, but rather the low standards and poor formation being given in some (and I believe too many) American seminaries.