Thursday, February 18, 2016

A fly in Mr. Weigel's ointment

Philip Trower, "A Missing Link: The Last Fifty Years" (The Wanderer, December 14, 2015):
The Catholic Herald, one of our most reliable English Catholic weeklies, recently published an article by George Weigel on Vatican II and the subsequent fifty years called “Mission Abandoned” and carrying on the cover the phrase “George Weigel says we’ve wasted the last 50 years on infighting.” Professor Weigel is one of our most distinguished Catholic writers who over the years has done great work in the service of the Church. This in itself makes me hesitate to take issue with him. But in addition to that is the fact that if I do I shall expose myself to the charge of carrying on the “infighting.”

However, there is one serious omission in his article which, if it remains unmentioned, will do a serious injustice to all those Catholics, like writers and readers of The Wanderer, who, over a period of fifty years, have done their best to uphold the faith and authentic magisterial teaching often in far from easy circumstances.

The omission is the word “modernism.” The impression is given that the “infighting” has all been between two groups equally Catholic in belief and practice, one labeled “conservative” or “traditionalist,” the other “liberal” who, like political parties, comprise the totality of the Catholic body and whose conflicts have been equally useless and destructive. It is as though Blessed John Henry Newman had tried to explain the Arian crisis after the Council of Nicaea in terms of useless infighting between “liberals” and “conservatives” with Arius representing the former, and Athanasius the latter, and coming to the conclusion that they should have reached a compromise.

Of course I know that Professor Weigel would say nothing of the sort in regard to the fourth century, but it seems to me his article comes close at times to implying that today’s Catholics, finding themselves in a similar situation, should have done just that. This is because he seems to ignore the existence of modernism although it has been a heresy as invasive and widespread as Arianism was in its day.

Over the last fifty years the only alternative to “infighting” for any Catholics who could see that a doctrine was under attack would have been compromising. Was supporting Humanae Vitae or opposing “ongoing revelation” just a matter of “infighting”?

Of course the words “liberal and conservative” can legitimately be applied to matters of policy or pastoral practice, things which the Magisterium has authority to change. They were legitimately used in this way in the 19th century for a time. But when applied to the content of faith, they become lethal. We see the difference in the case of women priests and married clergy. The former is an impossibility. We have St. John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to remind us of the fact. The latter, as every reasonably well-instructed Catholics knows, could be allowable.

However, to say or imply that all the controversies of the last fifty years have been nothing but conflicts about allowable changes and therefore a waste of time seems to me equivalent to saying that the work of post-Nicaean fathers like St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, or St. Hilary of Poitiers was a waste of time too. Modernism is or has been no less deadly than Arianism.

Given the debt of gratitude we all owe to Professor Weigel, I deeply regret feeling obliged to say all this. His article, which is mainly about what Pope John wanted from the Second Vatican Council, the new evangelization it was to prepare the way for, and why it didn’t take place sooner, is in every other respect as excellent and enlightening as one would expect.

[Hat tip to JM]


Pertinacious Papist said...

The reader who sent me the link to this article also added the following:

But then there is this hard-to swallow statement at the end that makes plays into Weigel's rhetorical end game...

"Coming back to the last fifty years, there are other reasons, I believe, for regarding them in a less exclusively negative light than Professor Weigel does, in addition to the fact that they saw modernism contained if not altogether overthrown."

"...if not altogether overthrown"?

We are back to overstatement bordering on wishful thinking.

And again, this line...

"St. John Paul II’s “theology of the body.” Provoked by the conflicts and circumstances of the time as was so much of the writings of the fathers of the fourth century, this is a major contribution to the patrimony of the Church’s theological understanding."

I await someone proving a paragraph summary of what is major about this contribution.

But I'll take what I can get.

Also fascinating to note that the second volume of Trower's history,

the more conservative one, is not listed in his bio line and was never picked up stateside by IP.

Chuck Martelowski said...

He makes a legitimate point, then gives it all back with apologies. This pusillanimity is typical of Catholic writers who waste their readers' time trying to straddle liberal and traditional positions like one of those sententious bridge metaphors favored by our trite and ever-meddlesome Papa (although Papa's bridges tend to be between liberal Catholicism and secularism). Another Catholic writer to be dropped in the "don't bother" dumpster.

Pertinacious Papist said...

I'll take all the legitimate points I can get, wherever I can find them. These days there are so few, if I found myself writing off everyone who got something wrong, or caved on an issue, I'd end up writing off myself. Cheers, PB.

Not That Guy said...

You took the words out of the my mouth, Charles Martelowski. Well said.