Sunday, May 11, 2014

The oddness of "traditionalism"

Christopher A. Ferrara, in "What Exactly Is A Traditionalist?" (The Remnant, May 3, 2014), observes: "That today there are Catholics denominated 'traditionalist' is a development unexampled in the entire previous history of the Catholic Church."

I would have to agree that the notion is odd. I understand the post-Vatican II profiling that has led to the label, as I equally understand that which has led to the "neo-Catholic" label. But the idea that any Catholic would position himself in opposition to "tradition," as such, is something I find a trifle odd.

Someone might object that "tradition" isn't the same thing as "traditional-ism." He may even have in mind something like the clever statement by the great Lutheran Church historian who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, Jaroslav Pelikan, who declared that "Tradition is the living faith of the dead," while "traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." Fair enough. But even those derided as "traditionalists" today would likely agree that faith must be a living thing, which makes this a moot point.

Not long after I was received into the Church twenty-one years ago, I remember being in a used book shop near Marquette University in Milwaukee. Oblivious to Catholic ecclesiastical politics of the past century, I was looking for a simple catechism for children and took a copy of the Baltimore Catechism up to the nun at the cash register. Seeing the book I was about to purchase, she declared in a tone suggesting that I had made a mistake: "Oh, that's pre-Vatican II. You won't want that!"

This was only the first of countless such encounters I have had, which rapidly confirmed my fear that many of my fellow Catholics in the Church I had joined wanted nothing to do with anything "pre-Vatican II," whether pertaining to traditional catechisms, devotions, theology, neo-scholastic texts, Marian piety, the Rosary, etc. In fact, in the course of numerous RCIA classes I suffered through while sponsoring some twenty candidates for reception into the Church, I learned that Church history and tradition were hardly ever a subject of discussion, and if a question was raised about them, nobody seemed acquainted with an answer.

My initial reaction to all this was one of stunned disbelief, and then my disbelief turned slowly into disappointment as the situation began to sink in: AmChurch had come unhinged. This isn't to say that the Church has lost her foundation. She hasn't. It's there somewhere, down deep. But at the surface level of parish life, Catholic opinion and practice, AmChurch has effectively come unhinged from her foundation and her traditions. This fact was especially disappointing given that my own conversion was in large part based on discovering the impressive historical credentials of the Church. "To go deep into history," as Cardinal Newman had written, "is to cease to be Protestant."

It goes without saying that there are many Catholic faithful (well, some) who are well-versed in Church history, who love the legacy of the Patristics and Scholastics and the magisterial and liturgical tradition, the traditions of mystical and ascetic theology, and the treasure trove of devotional and spiritual resources in the writings of the Saints.

It just seems a shame, however, that such a love should ever be associated in the minds of anyone with the derisive epithet, "[damned] traditionalist!" as though this love and affection for the "living faith of the dead" were nothing more than a "dead faith of the living," or should somehow put one at odds -- irony of ironies!! -- with the See of Rome and Holy Mother Church! What do people expect? Do they want us to prefer Dan Schutte's "Glory to God" to Allegri's "Miserere"? Cardinal Mahoney's Our Lady of Angels to Chartres? I'm sure that's not the root of the issue, but perhaps you see the point of my frustration.

Sometimes I feel as if contemporary Church politics, like American secular politics, has left some of us feeling a trifle like Edward E. Hale's protagonist, Philip Nolan, "A Man Without a Country." I suppose that puts us in good company: "for we have not here an abiding city, but we seek the coming one" (Hebrews 13:14).


JM said...

Seeing the book I was about to purchase, she declared in a tone suggesting that I had made a mistake: "Oh, that's pre-Vatican II. You won't want that!"

Having had the exact same experience (Mine said of the CCC, "Oh, that is way to complicated for most of us!," before giving me William Anderson's atrocious "In His Light" ), I think it is telling that many converts end up having the attitude that most nuns are more likely to be fools or lesss-than-useful idiots than faithful sisters. Not good, or right, but symptomatic of the state of play (or conflict).

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Interesting. I have always thought to distinguish Commonweal Catholics -- liberals -- from neo-Catholics, who in my mind have always been the go-along get-along, never think about what you are doing, kneejerkingly obedient types -- and therefore the useful idiots of liberals. But perhaps that has become a distinction without a real difference.

After a year of leadership by Francis the Synodocrat and the liberal Kasper, who seems to have his ear as much as anyone, the liberals and the kneejerks are indistinguishable. And one day Stephen Colbert will be on the fast track to canonization.

How The Poor will rejoice!

Dymphna said...

I've cheerfully told people that I don't read anything post VatII because most of it is pap for babies. That usually shuts them up.

Unknown said...

Good post! Here in Lansing, we had a very good priest die years ago. We offered to buy his library, because he had many of the 'good' stuff. However, we were told that they had ALL been burned, since they were from the olden days, and therefore not applicable anymore. This priest who said that is now a bishop in a different diocese. Figures, doesn't it?