Sunday, October 25, 2015

What once was, and how it was lost

The title is taken from Galadriel's voiceover at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, which begins with "The world is changed ..." and ends with: "Much that once was is lost. For none now live who remember it."

The last part may not QUITE be true for any religiously astute Catholic octogenarians living today, who were born in 1935 or earlier and were in their twenties and thirties when the subterranean currents of revisionism begin to surface and overtly express themselves, initially in liturgical experiments proposed and implemented in the Mass already before the Council. But it is probably true for the vast majority of Catholics of nearly every stripe: the past is simply not part of their map of reality.

A particularly well-written book generously gifted to me by a reader and friend, Phoenix from the Ashes: The Making, Unmaking, and Restoration of Catholic Tradition(2015), by H.J.A. Sire, takes a close look at these changes. It begins with the Ancient and Medieval Church, as one reviewer describes it, with "a robust introduction to the history of the Church from the perspective of its moments of supreme crisis [such as the Arian crisis]. How did the Church react when its fundamental dogmas or structures or practices were rejected? Sire also builds up a convincing portrait of the Enlightenment background to the Modernist crisis and the postconciliar collapse."

The focus, however, as the publisher notes, is on a "comprehensive look at the state of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council--one of a series of recurrent periods of moral and intellectual crisis to which it has succumbed in its history."

Sire writes in his Introduction:
There are many present-day Catholics who are bewildered to hear it said that the modern Church is in decline. They have known nothing else and see nothing untoward in the present state of affairs. They should not disturb themselves by attempting to read this book. Nor am I addressing those who believe that the Catholic Church needs constant remodeling, and that the novelties of our time are simply due to modern enlightenment. Such a point of view gives little weight to scripture and authority, and even less to tradition, in devising its improvements. Its partisans enjoy the approval of contemporary culture, but they stand self-condemned by the criteria of Christian teaching. The case I am concerned to address is the one that admits the Catholic premises -- and wishes to regard the present state of the Church as compatible with them. Those who defend that position hold that there is no heresy or impairment in the modern Church, and that the aberrations we see around us are perfectly compatible with Catholic tradition. They rebuke traditionalists for ignorance of the Church's history in doctrine and practice, and acquaintance with which, they imply, would make us see the present desolation as normal. It is this interpretation of things that needs to be tested. When we have compared the Church's heritage in worship, in doctrine, in culture, and in philosophy with what exists today, we can take stock of the two, judge their compatibility, and make up our minds about their respective merits.

... Catholics who knew the Church before the Second Vatican Council were familiar by their own experience with the teaching and spirituality of tradition. To those brought up since then it is an unfamiliar world, and one which the influence of modern culture, with its disdain for the attainments of the past, makes all the more difficult to understand. A book of this kind written thirty or forty years ago could have plunged straight into the 1960s, assuming what went before; but one cannot today make a case for Catholic tradition without explaining where we stand historically and culturally. In offering that outline, I intend to present a case that would have been thought commonplace two generations ago, part of the mainstream of Catholic thinking. The fact that today it seems unfamiliar and even outlandish is a measure of how far the Church has estranged itself from its intellectual tradition.
Highly recommended, with thanks to JM.


Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. That's going on my wish list for sure.

Lynne said...

I just put this on my wishlist today (before I read this blog post, I'm behind on my Feedly). I guess I need to buy it soon.