Thursday, June 21, 2007
An Orwellian Moment
All right, yes – it’s a cliché. Clue to the True Nature of Catholicism’s Present Crisis, or Troubling Aspect of the Neo-Catholic Mentality Painfully Exposed don’t have the same snap, so I’m running with it nevertheless. Father Z has re-posted his guide to appropriate and edifying behaviour subsequent to the motu proprio's immanent arrival. I am not angling for one of Father’s Sour Grapes Awards, nor do I wish to gainsay any one of his prescriptions; I’m going to remain within the letter of the law by getting my retaliation in before, all at once, the quarrel sinks.
“My theory is good”, insists, smoothly, the sinister brain surgeon in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes – “it’s the facts that are misleading”. Catholic commentators, pundits, bloggers of “conservative” stripe and a number of eminent clerics are today lining up to inform us solemnly that the Church’s traditional liturgy “was never abolished”. Well, I never; and more - some of these people are the very same people who, just a blinking of an eye since, were lining up to inform us solemnly that abolished it was, and that furthermore We Had Better Get Used To It. It’s a funny old world, as an eminent “conservative” famously observed. History is being prepared in its official version. That last forty years during which your family apostasised and you were pushed out of your parish? They never happened.
Catholicism, one might be forgiven for observing, only actually exists today on paper. What Bishop Fellay calls "normal Catholic life" is not possible anywhere - not in a "conservative" parish, and not in the SSPX, either. Whatever one's position, one requires an additional layer of theory (“hermeneutic of continuity” or “state of emergency”, according to inclination) to qualify it - to paper over the theological or ecclesiological gaps and fissures one has to live with in practice.
What to do about it it? I don't know. Telling the truth, though, has to be the indispensible condition of an integrated Christian life. A religious posture which requires to be shored up with ideological constructions and historical contingencies in order to preserve the appearance of coherence - of realisability - cannot be maintainted indefinitely. As Chesterton says somewhere, if you can't make a coloured picture of a thing, it's of no earthly use.
This is the basis of my impatience, on the one hand, with the "hermeneutic of continuity", that celebrated mot du jour. On a combox at the NLM recently, a Benedictine father invoked it in relation to the good effect of the Old Rite on the celebration of the New. This is fine as it relates to externals – but what about the texts, and that ominous shift in the lex orandi that it doesn’t require a Dr Lauren Pristas to detect? Asserted continuity is meaningless here. It springs from the same desperation that leads conservatives to insist, whenever an official statement includes something obviously at odds with reality, "Oh well, of course he has to say that..." - as though Our Lord could ever require us, like Soviet Communists, to falsify reality in order to preserve the credibility of some a priori ideological position or "foundational myth" - the Conciliar Renewal or the Glories of the Revolution.
On the other hand, although I am grateful to the SSPX on whom I have depended, on and off (and never exclusively) for twenty-five years, they remain committed, apparently, to a mere restoration of the status quo ante. I understand the reasons for their dogged immobility, and admire how they've managed to sustain it post-Lefebvre and in spite of the confident prognostications of their enemies of an inevitable slide into schism and heresy - but are they the future? I must confess my heart does not leap at the prospect. I think of them as being a bit like a seed, which gets through the winter - the frosts, the floods, the passage through the guts of animals - by being small, hard and not very attractive; but a seed must subsequently break out of its protective shell or it will die in the ground.
Why has Western Christianity shattered into pieces at least twice in the past 1000 years? Why does it seem so predominantly arid and legalistic? Is a restoration of all the appurtenances of the central-bureaucratic Papacy, and an officially asserted “continuity” the answer? My own attitude to the Papacy - notwithstanding a sincere admiration and affection for its present occupant - is, I confess, that of Cordelia to her father Lear - "I love thee according to my bond, neither more nor less". There’s the immoveable object of Tu es petrus. Beyond that…
It has been suggested by friends (who ought to know me better) that my "heart-thinking encounter" with Orthodoxy has to do with liturgical/aesthetical dreaming - a fascination with the glamorous externals of Byzantine worship. Not so. I am a Roman Catholic. My liturgical home is every bit as inspired, authentic, radical, Apostolic and Christ-bearing as any in the East. The challenge posed by the "pristine witness" of Orthodoxy is at another level altogether.