Monday, July 06, 2015

Fr. Louis Bouyer, "The Catholic Church in Crisis" (1978)

Translated by John M. Pepino HERE (July 6, 2015).  Excerpts sent to me by Guy Noir with these words:
My old literary friend-in-faith Louis Bouyer...

Acquaintance of Tolkien, Ratzinger, and Ignatius Press's Fr. Fessio, among others, and (if I remember correctly) dissertation advisor to Hans Kung...

I have read several reports that he was a bit the incorrigible hothead, and may have made some enemies at a pace only a bit slower than he made friends. Or something like that. And I am often not sure how much of him I quite translate properly from his French mindset. 

But he seems to have been more conservative than not, and more concerned with preserving tradition and Scripture  than revising them.
I  hope his memoirs make it into an English translation at some point, as a counterpoint or stereophonic accompaniment to Yves Vinegar if nothing else.
In the meantime, this is striking, as much as I can make sense of without much knowledge of French Catholicism... The last lines remind me of an observation I think I read in TIME Magazine years ago, that as much as liberal theologians have disdained Evangelicals, they sort of have to admit that Evangelicals are among the few people actually worrying about thinking theologically. Ditto that for the SSPX in Catholicism...
Wherever one may be inclined to place Louis Bouyer on the theological-ecclesial spectrum, he was clearly an important thinker, as his books attest (not least his poorly-translated but excellent The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism).  Here are Noir's excerpts (his emphases) from Bouyer's long essay, "The Catholic Church in Crisis":
[...]"The Lefebvre affair” deserves a close investigation. At first glance, one may think that it reveals only the somewhat strange mentality, a ghetto mentality, of Catholics who are incapable of coming out of their isolation, of their life within a closed community in a safeguarded dream. In reality, once one examines it seriously, it reveals a deep malaise in French Catholicism and, therefore, in French society as a whole. And it would be a mistake to believe that this malaise is a recent one: it goes back a long way and its symptoms will never be healed so long as we refuse to go back to its sources... It could never have developed, branched out, and lastly grown such monstrous and grotesque buds, had modern Catholicism’s most characteristic trait not come about, namely: a phenomenal, and not altogether healthy, development of the papacy.
It was probably inevitable that the Council’s decisions and, to a greater extent yet, its orientations should sooner or later make waves and elicit reactions among Catholics who were simply routine driven or decidedly conservative. One can, however, doubt whether they would have continued and spread more and more widely as we are now witnessing so many years after the Council unless what may be called the “After-Council” had had something to do with it. It has been said again and again that Lefebvre and his followers have taken their positions and cling to them simply because they are former adherents of the “Action française”, die-hards of French Algeria, etc., and that they mistake retrograde politics for the survival of authentic Christianity. There may be some truth to that, at least as far as concerns the movement’s leaders and a certain (but in truth quite circumscribed) proportion of their followers. But those who make this criticism are most often in no position to denounce such compromises and confusions in others. They themselves, when they’re not more or less totally confusing their Christianity with unreflective leftism or screwball “Maoism,” aren’t they awaiting the advent of the Kingdom of God, of heaven on earth, of the victory of Marxism-Leninism, regarding which every one but them soon will realize that it has never produced, nor ever will produce, anything besides Stalinist purges, concentration camps, and the fierce oppression of all freedom starting with that of the most impoverished “workers”?

            But clearly this is not where Archbishop Lefebvre himself or even the most mediocre of his henchmen see or place their core demands, even if they are not entirely free from that sort of hang-up. The great majority of those who listen to them, who respond to their fund drives, and who are evidently more and more numerous to place their hope for the faith and the Church in them, are all the more inclined to go to them because they believe that this is the way, and the only way, to preserve for themselves and for their children the Christian faith pure and simple, the Gospel’s moral and religious ideals, and sacraments that have not been voided of their content. . . .
Also keep in mind that besides a small handful of fanatics, it isn’t just simpletons bereft of critical judgment who come to this. And even if it were so, that would be, or should be, a matter of concern for those who keep repeating that the Church must give herself to the poorest of the poor in all aspects. What is getting to be worrisome, especially over the last year, is seeing unquestionably “adult,” “well-formed,” “responsible” (to use fashionable clerical language) Christians, whom just yesterday no one would have suspected of being able to fall into such aberrations or what must be termed puerile illogic, get to the point—albeit moaning and groaning—of saying what I heard someone say to one of the greatest French scholars, to one of the highest magistrates in our country, to famous professors of our great universities, not to mention members of the Academy Française (not all of whom deserve to appear in L’Habit Vert)[20]: “Besides Lefebvre, what bishop in our country still dares to stick out his neck for the Catholic faith?” . . . .
Let’s say it plainly: a great many French Christians, including some of the best, still expected the bishops’ meeting in Lourdes in autumn of 1976 finally to put a halt to all those things which, especially in our country, make it too easy for Archbishop Lefebvre to present himself as the only “defender of the faith.” Instead of that, what came out of it? What one of the more lucid and courageous of our bishops, and certainly not one of the most conservative ones, described to me as “a motion that is neither fish nor fowl, worthy of the good old Radical Socialist congresses!” . . . .
In any case, and this has to be stated plainly, that was just about all that yesterday’s Catholicism had to offer in terms of a real religion, of a lived Christianity. Those who knew it, who have never known anything better because no one ever troubled to give them anything better, defend themselves like the dickens when they feel that others are trying to take it away from them and replace it with pseudo-liturgical tomfoolery, communistic sloganeering, faithlessness thinly veiled with clerical verbiage, and total moral laxism (baptized as “liberation”). You have to admit that this is not only understandable but actually thoroughly honorable. Archbishop Lefebvre wouldn’t have become a television star if he didn’t have all of that within him and behind him.
Add to this that Archbishop Lefebvre not only is a man with a “good upbringing” as they say, and therefore will never raise his voice of his own accord, even when he comes to saying the stiffest truths, but is also a deeply meek and peace-loving man, as anyone who has ever seen and heard him can attest.  Now if after that he also has the stubbornness that is the great defense of the meek, and can simply walk into the thick of battle and fearlessly stay there as many peace-loving men do, this will come as a surprise only to those whose understanding of psychology is as shallow as their ideology.
I’ll go further and say that he is a humble man. He’s no theologian, or even a thinker generally speaking; he knows this as well as anyone who has ever spoken to him for even five minutes. This explains why he relies, in this respect, on people whom the Holy See’s constant policy since the turn of the century and the unanimous policy of the entire French episcopate until these very last few years designated to him as being the only safe theologians. And he chose as guide from among them an unquestionably superior mind, a high-class mathematician on top of being a theologian, which may or may not help the matter but at any rate certainly guarantees that although thinking may not be Archbishop Lefebvre’s forte, he certainly does not disdain it, quite the contrary.[11]
This can suffice for the time being as a portrait of the protagonist. Let us now take a look at the setting of his conciliar and postconciliar activity.