Those orthodox Catholics who continue to insist that Vatican II ushered in a new springtime of rich fruits for the Church have a difficult time when it comes to dealing with the pre-Vatican II Church of the early twentieth century. On the one hand, these orthodox Catholics who insist on uniformity and continuity cannot simply reject out of hand everything that came before Vatican II as the liberal-dissenting-progressives do; on the other hand, in order to maintain the proposition that Vatican II was necessary and has borne good fruit, they must find some sort of flaw or fault or deficiency with the pre-Conciliar Church that would justify the Council and its subsequent reforms. Thus, in an attempt to establish this via media, these Catholics have invented the dichotomy between a liberal modernism and a reactionary "integralism" on the other, positing that the Church of Christ must steer a "middle course" between these two extremes.[Hat tip to L.S.]
The Weigelian Dichotomy
A prime example of this tendency is Mr. George Weigel, who has consistently been trumpeting the rise of what he calls "evangelical Catholicism", which he places as a middle road between liberal progressivism and "restorationist" integralism. Never mind that all authentic Catholicism has always been evangelical! Weigel, taking the distinction between binding and customary traditions much too far, proposes that "What can be changed in the Church must be changed" and sees only a small core of fundamental teachings, aspects which he considers part of the Church's "constitution", which should not be changed. The rest is up for grabs.  He mocks the pre-Vatican II doctrinal conservatism of such prelates as Cardinal Ottaviani, whom he uncharitably compares to Obama HHS Director Kathleen Sebelius . He scoffs at the idea that traditional Catholicism could have anything to offer the modern world, saying that "The challenge also won’t be met by Catholic traditionalists retreating into auto-constructed catacombs." 
Central to Weigel's thought is the presumption that Catholicism consists of two fundamental parts: a central core of eternal, non-changeable elements, which Weigel calls the Church's "constitution", and an outer core of practices, theories and cultural trappings which are time-bound and subject to change. Weigel creates a dichotomy between a liberal progressivism that seeks to change the Church's fundamental 'constitution' and a "neo-triumphalist restorationism", which insists on strictly maintaining the outer core of the Church's cultural trappings. Progessivism thus denies authority where it exists, while "restorationism" creates authority where it does not exist. The true Catholic, the "evangelical Catholic", must walk the via media between these two extremes.
We, of course, do not deny that the Church is a composite of binding and non-binding traditions and teachings; there is a hierarchy of truth, and not all teachings and practices are of the same authority. But what we do deny is that the central and the ephemeral, the necessary and the disposable, can be sorted out so neatly and with such ease. In fact, the whole tragedy of the post-Conciliar period was a vast underestimation of the degrees to which these 'secondary' or ephemeral aspects of Catholicism (music, architecture, etc.) were actually deeply bound up with substance of the faith itself. Weigel, who states boldly that "What can be changed in the Church must be changed", believes that what is central and what is secondary are so easily distinguished that one can partition them up with a fair degree of confidence. The difference between "Big T" and "Small T" tradition is not just a distinction but a chasm, and the "Small T" tradition can be discarded at will.
What Weigel and the others of his kind have forgotten is that the Church is fundamentally understood as a Body, and in a Body, there is nothing extrinsic. Sure, there are members of more or less centrality. A man can still live with no fingers, but he cannot live with no head. Yet, if we were to propose chopping all a man's fingers off on the premise that they were "not necessary" for his survival, would we not be foolish to expect the fingerless man to do the same things he could before? And when we found, to our consternation, that the fingerless man could not write, play music, or do many of the things he could before we chopped his members off, would we not be even more foolish to suggest the remedy was to further dismember him by chopping off his feet, ears, nose, and anything else not strictly "necessary" on the premise that what can be discarded in the Body ought to be? Yet this is precisely the folly Weigel and those who fail to understand the Church as a Body find themselves in.
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Thursday, December 05, 2013
"The Lie of Integralism"
A very good, thought-provoking post by Boniface, "The Lie of Integralism" (Unam Sanctam, December 5, 2013):