Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pope Benedict XV, Traditionalist Divisions, and Neo-Catholics

22. The success of every society of men, for whatever purpose it is formed, is bound up with the harmony of the members in the interests of the common cause. Hence We must devote Our earnest endeavors to appease dissension and strife, of whatever character, amongst Catholics, and to prevent new dissensions arising, so that there may be unity of ideas and of action amongst all. The enemies of God and of the Church are perfectly well aware that any internal quarrel amongst Catholics is a real victory for them. Hence it is their usual practice when they see Catholics strongly united, to endeavor by cleverly sowing the seeds of discord, to break up that union. And would that the result had not frequently justified their hopes, to the great detriment of the interests of religion! Hence, therefore, whenever legitimate authority has once given a clear command, let no one transgress that command, because it does not happen to commend itself to him; but let each one subject his own opinion to the authority of him who is his superior, and obey him as a matter of conscience. Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church. All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says.

23. As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline—in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See—there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.

24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavor to be in reality what he calls himself.


Source: Pope Benedict XV, "Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum ('Appealing for Peace')," Papal Encyclical, promulgated November 1, 1914, http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Ben15/b15adbea.htm.


If only Catholics realized the truth of this Holy Father's words and lived them, perhaps so much good would be done in the conversion of souls to the full embracing of the Faith and the recognition of the importance of Sacred Tradition. My own gradual embracing of Tradition in its greater totality and integrity was gradual precisely because of my perception that I wasn't so much being evangelized as so uncomfortably pinned, like the speaker in T.S. Eliot's poem The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock:
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume? (ln. 55–61)
In other words, I had no sense that self-identified traditionalists were interacting with me out of any actual consideration for my salvation and sanctification, but instead I became a competitor in a most bizarre ideological game. It is growing parlance among (Internet) traditionalists to label quasi-traditionalists as "Neo-Catholics" or "Neo-Conservatives" (cf. Peter Miller, "A Brief Defense of Traditionalism," Seattle Catholic, December 21, 2001, http://www.seattlecatholic.com/article_20011221_A_Brief_Defense_of_Traditionalism.html; Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, "Conservative vs. Traditional Catholicism," Latin Mass (Spring 2001), http://www.latinmassmagazine.com/articles/articles_2001_SP_Ripperger.html; Hilary White, "Revenge of the Neo-Cats," The Remnant Newspaper, November 23, 2011, http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2011-115-white-hilary-neo-cats.htm). In fact, it actually turns out that Neo-Conservative Catholics (Neo-Catholics) are actually liberal Catholics who essentially go through a subconscious intellectual battle to reconcile their dual adherence to traditionalism and modernism (especially Hegelianism, according to Fr. Ripperger). I will note off the bat that some of these treatments, such as Fr. Ripperger's, are quite considerate and thoughtful; a problematic enters in because of the easy association with a general sociological trend that as a whole seems uncharitable.

Why is this an issue for me? Because I've been hurt by their use, and I've been hurt by the division I see these identities cause, and I've seen others hurt by them as well. I've seen how they tend to foster a multitude of sins and environments of sin—occasions of calumny, mockery, indifference, group-thinking, close-mindedness, and pride. I am responding from a place of pain and a desire to make sense of my experiences, perceptions, and what this phenomenon itself reveals in its "observable" aspect, the tendencies and "taxonomic features."

As I said above, as far as sociological function goes, the term may be useful, but as is the tendency with all labels, their use can easily become obviously uncharitable and detrimental to the one promoting its use. Aside from a very brief perusal of online discussions that incorporate these labels, a glance at White's article makes the point clearly enough. Underneath her humorous pretense, the tone and overall effect transmitted by her description of the Neo-Catholic is strikingly condescending, showing no consideration for the wellbeing of the very people she describes, her own brothers and sisters in Christ. This lack of consideration is evinced through certain flippant phrases and hyperbolic descriptions that give the impression that one ought to look at a "Neo-Cat" like he were a clown or a zoo animal (I've bolded lines that particularly stand out in illustrating this tone):
  • Neo-Catholics themselves frequently become angry when it is pointed out that it is an observable fact that there are certain taxonomic features that create an identifiable classification to which a distinguishing term, "neo-Catholic" can usefully be applied. They become doubly angry when they realize that it can usefully be applied to them. (Hours of fun can be had at the after-Mass tea ticking these characteristics off one's fingers.) [...]
  • Common characteristics of neo-Catholics (often also called neo-conservative Catholics) are a fanatical devotion to a small selection of popes, often incorrectly termed "ultramontanism." This is manifested mainly in their belief that John Paul II was the greatest pope of modern times (who probably walked on water but was too modest to do it in front of anyone) and should be canonized immediately. [...]
  • They will then proceed to bore everyone in the room into a coma by reciting their lists of places where [a reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass] is done. [...]
  • (Get them started on the Catholic Confessional State as a political concept and watch their heads explode. In fact, start a conversation on the Social Reign of Christ the King at the tea and cookies after a Traditional Mass. It flushes them out; they start screeching like vampires splashed with holy water, to the amusement of all.) [...]
  • They are very big on ecumenism, and love to screech at the Trads for our opposition to the Assisi fiascoes [....]
  • They will sometimes be opposed to drinking, smoking and card-playing, one of the little ways in which their underlying protestantism peeks out. This can make it easy to quickly distinguish the Neos and the Trads at a party. The former will be standing around in a little clutch cradling a warm, three-hour-old beer, earnestly discussing the pope's latest encyclical or some political thing. The latter will be off in the corner with the recently assimilated Anglicans, balancing martini glasses on their noses while reciting Greek poetry. [...]
  • Despite the objections of the Neo-Cats themselves, the phenomenon has become so recognizable that it has its very own whole Wikipedia page [since removed] which, as we know, is the sine qua non of objective affirmation. It ain't really real unless it's on Wiki.
Perhaps people get upset when they are identified with "certain taxonomic features" because the impression they receive from the ones labeling them that seems to possess no benevolent intent or constructive purpose. White never describes how the term is actually useful. We may admit it is sociologically useful under certain circumstances, but if mere factual features are being described, why should this lead to anger on the part of the one described? (Further, why should there be hyperbole and jeering even if under the pretense of humor?) Anger is a response to hurt. Hurt is a response to a perceived evil. Perhaps when another person misconstrues your views, you feel hurt by the caricature. Perhaps when another person forms a caricature of you or your beliefs and gives no sign of friendship, mutual concern, support, consideration, this action is then hurtful. I don't think this requires any stretch of empathy at all to realize how and why a person might become angry.

The hyperbole doesn't need to be addressed. It forms the caricature, and as hyperbole, it cannot claim any sort of accuracy, much less the apparently scientific-esque status of "observable fact" or "certain taxonomic features," which are just fancy ways to legitimize a value assignment on someone, based not on certain faith but matters of legitimately varying opinion, which based on my experience is usually an exercise of intellectual pride. Recall what Bl. John Henry Newman said in Sermon 10 of his Discourses to Mixed Congregations (1849), "Faith and Private Judgment":
Men were told to submit their reason to a living authority. Moreover, whatever an Apostle said, his converts were bound to believe; when they entered the Church, they entered it in order to learn. The Church was their teacher; they did not come to argue, to examine, to pick and choose, but to accept whatever was put before them. No one doubts, no one can doubt this, of those primitive times. A Christian was bound to take without doubting all that the Apostles declared to be revealed; if the Apostles spoke, he had to yield an internal assent of his mind; it would not be enough to keep silence, it would not be enough not to oppose: it was not allowable to credit in a measure; it was not allowable to doubt. No; if a convert had his own private thoughts of what was said, and only kept them to himself, if he made some secret opposition to the teaching, if he waited for further proof before he believed it, this would be a proof that he did not think the Apostles were sent from God to reveal His will; it would be a proof that he did not in any true sense believe at all. Immediate, implicit submission of the mind was, in the lifetime of the Apostles, the only, the necessary token of faith; then there was no room whatever for what is now called private judgment. No one could say: "I will choose my religion for myself, I will believe this, I will not believe that; I will pledge myself to nothing; I will believe just as long as I please, and no longer; what I believe today I will reject tomorrow, if I choose. I will believe what the Apostles have as yet said, but I will not believe what they shall say in time to come." No; either the Apostles were from God, or they were not; if they were, everything that they preached was to be believed by their hearers; if they were not, there was nothing for their hearers to believe. To believe a little, to believe more or less, was impossible; it contradicted the very notion of believing: if one part was to be believed, every part was to be believed; it was an absurdity to believe one thing and not another; for the word of the Apostles, which made the one true, made the other true too; they were nothing in themselves, they were all things, they were an infallible authority, as coming from God. The world had either to become Christian, or to let it alone; there was no room for private tastes and fancies, no room for private judgment. (Source: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse10.html)
Likening Neo-Catholics to "vampires" screeching "to the amusement of all" as well as spending "hours of fun [...] ticking these [taxonomic] characteristics off" further reveals the condescending tone as well as total indifference to their wellbeing. How are such exercises themselves spiritual or charitable in any way? How do they contribute to holiness, to the preparation of souls for the coming of Christ and His Reign? Do they not encourage and harden division? Isn't division one of Satan's most powerful weapons against followers of Christ? A house divided cannot stand...

St. John Chrysostom warns us about being careless with our words and comments on Christ's admonition not to call each other "fool" (Homily 16 on Matthewhttp://www.tertullian.org/fathers2/NPNF1-10/npnf1-10-22.htm):
Knowest thou not that most punishments and most sins have their beginning from words? Yea, for by words are blasphemies, and denials are by words, and revilings, and reproaches, and perjuries, and bearing false witness. Regard not then its being a mere word, but whether it have not much danger, this do thou inquire. Art thou ignorant that in the season of enmity, when wrath is inflamed, and the soul kindled, even the least thing appears great, and what is not very reproachful is counted intolerable? [...] 
For there is nothing, nothing in the world more intolerable than insolence; it is what hath very great power to sting a man's soul. But when the word too which is spoken is in itself more wounding than the insolence, the blaze becomes twice as great. Think it not then a light thing to call another "fool." For when of that which separates us from the brutes, and by which especially we are human beings, namely, the mind and the understanding,-when of this thou hast robbed thy brother, thou hast deprived him of all his nobleness. 
Let us not then regard the words merely, but realizing the things themselves, and his feeling, let us consider how great a wound is made by this word, and unto how much evil it proceeds. For this cause Paul likewise cast out of the kingdom not only "the adulterous" and "the effeminate," but "the revilers" also. And with great reason: for the insolent man mars all the beauty of charity, and casts upon his neighbor unnumbered ills, and works up lasting enmities, and tears asunder the members of Christ, and is daily driving away that peace which God so desires: giving much vantage ground unto the devil by his injurious ways, and making him the stronger. Therefore Christ Himself, cutting out the sinews of the devil's power, brought in this law. 
For indeed He makes much account of love: this being above all things the mother of every good, and the badge of His disciples, and the bond which holds together our whole condition. With reason therefore doth He remove with great earnestness the roots and the sources of that hatred which utterly spoils it. 
Think not therefore that these sayings are in any wise hyperbolical, but consider the good done by them, and admire the mildness of these laws. For there is nothing for which God takes so much pains, as this; that we should be united and knit together one with another. Therefore both in His own person, and by His disciples, as well those in the Old, as in the New Testament, He makes so much account of this commandment; and is a severe avenger and punisher of those who despise the duty. For in truth nothing so effectually gives entrance and root to all wickedness, as the taking away of love.
Finally, the description about the party is problematic precisely because of its hyperbole. The latter situation of the "real Trads" and converted Anglicans clearly describes people who are drunk or at least have gone beyond reasonable modesty and decorum. Drunkenness (nor modesty and decorum for that matter) isn't a post-Protestant, post-Victorian sin against political correctness or comfortable, liberal sentiments. Smoking, drinking, and card-playing should not be treated as though for the majority of participants there were no danger in these activities; no, for the majority of those who drink, smoke, or play cards and other forms of competition, I suggest that these activities provide numerous occasions of sin if not deep-rooted addiction and societal structures of sin enforced by capitalist economies. These activities are not intrinsically sinful—I think very few Catholics of any sense would actually argue this point, but on the other hand to present these activities without proper caution seems arrogant, blind, and a sure way to fall into Satan's traps to ensnare us in sin. In other words, the whole situation is another caricature that confuses the suggestion that these activities are probably dangerous for many, above all considering the average lack of self-reflection and discernment of spirits and motives, with the notion that they are intrinsically sinful.

As for what Pope Benedict XV said, I think here is the authoritative say on the (il-)legitimacy of calling oneself a "Traditionalist"; it is useful sociologically (and hence, perhaps, apologetically), useful as the distinction between a Coca-Cola drinker and a Pepsi drinker among soda drinkers (because, after all, there are traditionalists, and then there are traditionalists, not to mention traditionalists). But what good will that label do to keep one out of Hell and to attain holiness and enter Heaven? St. Paul replies: 
If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–2, DR trans.)
We may here now understand one possible extension of "tongues of men," namely, our ability to construct our own identities and to project them. What good do I do myself or others if I call myself faithful and I am not faithful, charitable and am not charitable? Adherence to Tradition is adherence to Christ; adherence to Christ is not just intellectual belief but the Cross:
Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul? (Mt. 16:24–26; cf. Lk. 9:23–26)
Someone must be sent to preach. What do they preach? Christ Crucified, "Unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:13). And the end of the Cross is our sanctification, and the end of our sanctification is the glory of God. The only thing we must ask ourselves is not, "Am I a Traditionalist or a Neo-Catholic?" but "Am I doing all I can to know the will of God and to do it?" Only the one who hears Christ's words and does them will have built his house on solid rock and be saved.

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