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.


Arturo Vasquez said...

This is very thought-provoking. I will link this post to my blog, although truth be told, I think we have many of the same readers.

I guess the difference between you and me, Ben, is that I some time ago have already given up on the idea that the Church is sometimes in crisis, and sometimes not. I think there is always an unsettling equilibrium at the heart of the Church. It is called original sin. I suppose for me that means that the crises are never as bad as we think they are (comparatively speaking) and the triumphs never as glorious. That only happens when He makes all things new.

Anagnostis said...


I'm in complete agreement with that: as you put it to me once, "crisis is the Fifth Mark of the Church".

However - the questions raised by this Magisterially-sponsored assault on a section of the faithful, and the real rupture it represents, will not un-ask themselves, even though the original causus belli and damnatio memoriae have been removed.

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

I'll link to my blog too as I am writing about the prayer vigil over the 99 names.
I trust completely in Christ's promise that the gates of hell will not prevail-but I wonder what He meant. After all it is the attacking army who enters the gates-not the one sitting on its rump chatting about stuff and nonsence.
And I do so wish sometimes that the Church hierarchy in the Vatican did not come across so much as an Ent Moot. Does it really take so long...does it?

Anonymous said...

Oh, have you run out of past and present stuff to bitch and moan about, so you're going to start on the things that you're certain will happen in the future?

Next post from Moretben: "In 2115 a female Pope will declare anathema the idea of mass as propitiatory sacrifice! O tempora, O mores!!"

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to be so harsh, you do make some good points in this post, and my comment was too hasty. It's just that you're always complaining, and now you've moved on to things that haven't even happened yet...

Anagnostis said...

It's just that you're always complaining

Yes, I'm conscious of that, Anon. Imagine if I posted more frequently?

Seriously - I understand exactly what you mean (I didn't choose the colour scheme here, or the title, on a whim)- I just trust I'm not complaining gratuitously; and though I'm anticipating the MP, I'm not really complaining about things that haven't happened, either. My reply to Arturo above distils the essence of it, I think.

Shall I think of something cheerful? I'd like to. If I can't I'll post some more poetry. Do come back, in any case.