Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pope Francis, Two Churches, A Bridge Too Far--Some Further Thought

I have written in several recent postings that we have seen over the past 35 years that a Church has grown within the Church, a counter-Church as it were or even an anti-Church, that is becoming increasingly hostile to its host body and a threat to its welfare and mission.  During the pontificates of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI this counter-Church had reason to think that it would absorb its host body and become the predominant form of Roman Catholicism in a post-Vatican II (read: a forgotten and abandoned Council) world, but the papacy of Pope Francis has checked its progress and questioned its legitimacy.  As Francis moves forward with his agenda for the Church in his pontificate, some in the counter-Church fear that a bridge too far will force them to take a stand against Francis and those Catholics who adhere to his vision for the Church in the third millennium.  I had written in an earlier posting that the earmarks of this counter-Church and its adherents include: 

1. Refusal under any or most circumstances to participate in the Mass, Sacraments, and Rites of the Church in the “Ordinary Form.” 
2.     Rejection of the Post-Conciliar Rites and not only the Mass but especially an insistence that Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, and funerals be performed according to the pre-conciliar ritual.  Some extremists would also insist that Holy Orders be administered according to the pre-conciliar rites. 
3.     An insistence that children be catechized according to the pre-conciliar catechism (in the United States, the Baltimore Catechism).
4.     A conviction that the (traditional) Catholic Church is the One True Church founded by Jesus Christ and is the exclusive channel of Christ’s grace outside of which salvation is impossible or, at the very least, unlikely. 
5.     A conviction that the Church and “the world” are at enmity and that the Catholic minimize contact with the larger culture; collaboration of the Church for some supposed “common good” with those outside of the Church, either secular or believing but non-Catholic being against the mission of the Church.
6.     A conviction that the Church, as the Kingdom of Christ, “is not of this world” and therefore has no business in politics, economics, or other social spheres.   
Despite the first two earmarks I list being concerned with the “old” versus the “new” liturgy, I do not think that the major issue is the pre-conciliar liturgy versus the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  There are many Catholics who for reasons ranging from an aesthetic preference to a pretentious taste for the arcane attend the usus antiquior.  (My own pretentious taste for the arcane leads me to prefer this designation for the pre-conciliar Rites.)   I think the tension between the two forms of worship mask the real issue: two very different theologies, cosmologies, and anthropologies and these, in turn, are rooted in the differing philosophical foundations of 19th century Catholicism (neo-Scholastic) and Conciliar Catholicism (neo-Patristic) as described in those recent postings. 
Different cosmologies.  There are those who see the world ordered hierarchically with power at the top and subservience in the lower ranks.  In a well ordered universe each person is in his or her proper place in the Great Chain of Being and, save some minor adjustments in the social order, one stays in one’s place.  People who subscribe to this sort of cosmology like hierarchy (and are therefore often fascinated by monarchy in the socio-political order).  Obedience and conformity are paramount to them; change is anathema because it undermines the eternally fixed hierarchical order of things.  Law and retributive justice keep everything in balance.   On the other end of the spectrum—and it is most often a spectrum, not two sharply divided camps—there are those who see the universe as an organic reality, a body as it were.  Positions are not fixed but, like the stars revolve and circulate with some rising and some falling through the course of their existence.  Different members of the body in their various functions may have greater or lesser dignity but are not of greater or lesser worth.  Power, such as it is, is distributed throughout the body with each member taking responsibility for his or her own contribution to the good of the whole.  In this fluid order of things, change is taken for granted and seen to be a healthy sign of development of the body.  The political ideal for such people is not democracy as one might expect, but more a corporatism in which all are involved in working for and establishing the common good but sometimes in different ways or with different roles.  (I think this is a lovely ideal, but am myself a proponent of democratic government because, while it is less faithful than corporatism to the organic vision of society, it is its most practical political manifestation.)
Theologies.  Those who espouse a hierarchically ordered universe will see God at the top of the pyramid.  As God is at the top, access to him is granted more easily to those at the top.  (I love the line in Anne of a Thousand Days when King Henry says: “I am the King of England; when I pray, God listens!)  Popes and bishops—good popes and good bishops, that is, not these soft-on-divorce-soft-on-queers false shepherds of today—are of course closer to God than those further down the ladder.  God is and remains totally "other."  When I pray to him I need to face away from the world and face him.  I need to approach him with the courtesy and ritual of the royal court as he is the supreme King and I am but a servant.   On the other hand—and end of the spectrum—are those who see God as the Origin of all creation and the Destiny of all creation.  Avoiding pantheism—the idea that creation or the material universe is somehow God’s “skin” or that he is a universal Spirit who inhabits his own creation—there are those who see that God resides in the depths of his creation, and most particularly in the depths of the human heart.  This leads to a very different approach to prayer in general and liturgical prayer in particular.  The one mentality sees liturgy as court ceremonial for the Great King who rules the universe; the other mentality is drawn to the communal nature of the liturgy that has a more incarnational dimension and even a mystical impression. 
Anthropologies.  The one way of looking at things, the hierarchical, stresses the un-crossable divide between the Divine and the human.  God is Divine and we, for our part, bear the burden of our fallen human nature.   We stand as sinners before the Judge, hoping for mercy but aware of the demands of Divine Justice.  Our sins demand atonement by the sacrifice of God’s Divine Son, the only victim whose innocence can balance our wickedness, but even so retributive justice demands that punishment awaits us for our sins—if not in the sufferings of this life, then in purgatory.  The other perspective, emphasizing the idea of theosis or divinization, is to see the human person to remain clearly, beneath the veneer of sin, the image and likeness of God.  This anthropology sees the human person to be and remain essentially good, despite sin and failings, and through the redemption won by Christ and the sanctification accomplished by the Holy Spirit restored in the sight of God by grace to an original integrity.  These two different anthropologies  will created two very different approaches to the spiritual life.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation, in particular, will have entirely different meanings for those in each group.
We have two different liturgies because the usus antiquior is totally incomprehensible to those whose anthropology, theology, and cosmology follows the one model and the Reformed Rites of Vatican II undermine the entire belief system of those who hold to the other.  And now, with Pope Francis having picked up the themes of the Council and moving the Church forward in that direction, we see that those who hold to the neo-Scholastic world view are increasingly threatened that the foundation is being pulled out from beneath them.  Anger towards the Holy Father is mounting.  Cardinal Burke’s vague promise to “resist” Pope Francis should he cross the bridge too far—in this case to provide some pastoral solution that would grant those in irregular unions access to the sacraments—has been a call to the barricades for many who had falsely read the ambiguities of John Paul and Benedict to be the promise of a restoration of the pre-conciliar world and whose hopes are now being dashed.  It is in fact putting Cardinal Burke in a very uncomfortable position as he knows the limits his “resistance” can take and those limits will render the “resistance” of little effect.  At the same time, the disappointment of those who are putting their trust in the Cardinal to restore the Humpty Dumpty of a well-regulated hierarchical Church in a well-regulated hierarchical world will turn vicious.  


  1. This is interesting because it makes the dispute less about aesthetics (but the Latin Mass is so lovely), and more about underlying philosophical differences. I am not sure that a lot of the NLM folks have thought it out that well, but you make a very cogent argument for what the real problem is. As you might guess, I grew up with the old, and like certain parts of it, but not because it is 'beautiful'; rather, because it is familiar, and not just to me, but to a wide swath in most congregations. For example, when I act as cantor at a Mass, I favor the simple and as it happens, much chant is simple. Simple does not mean more beautiful (although it has beauty) but it means it is usually easy for the congregation. So, the congregation quite loudly acts as one voice in singing something like "Where Charity and Love Prevail" or, in the case of a Mass part, Agnus Dei (yes, even in Latin, most people know it) or the Kyrie.

    But I am no traddie - or as you say - a Katholic Krazy. My goal is to fulfill the objective stated by the USCCB in Sing to the Lord and have the whole church (or as many as may ever be willing) to participate. Contemporary music is fine, too, as long as it isn't just a showpiece for me.

    Anyway, your analysis gives me more structure for my own thoughts and points to what is truly at stake here. Thanks.

    1. I am a great believer in the wise steward who brings from his storehouse both the old and the new I keep push our music director to resurrect the Ave Verum Corpus he does do the In paradisium at funerals when the parochial vicar is celebrating (the pastor hates Latin and doesn't want any mostly because he doesn't know any Latin. The director also does the Pie Jesu (the Andrew Lloyd Weber) when the p.v. has a funeral. I am also pretty comfortable in the Byzantine Rite and often attend the Divine Liturgy when I have a Sunday free of commitments in my parish. When I lived in Rome I regularly attended the Russicum I certainly like good order in the liturgy so that it can be prayerful. I get to worship with the Trappists from time to time and particularly like their style of liturgical prayer But all this is vibrant and alive and the usus antiquior just always strikes me as a ballet of the embalmed