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Briefly Reviewed: January-February 2024

The Springtime That Never Came

By Bishop Athanasius Schneider in Conversation with Pawel Lisicki

Publisher: Sophia Institute Press

Pages: 309

Price: $21.95

Review Author: Mary Brittnacher

Bishop Athanasius Schneider is a strong voice for Catholic traditionalism. He was raised in a deeply religious German family that lived under communist oppression in Kyrgyzstan. Through sacrifice and determination, his family kept the faith, often traveling great distances to attend Mass. He has also lived in Estonia, Germany, and Brazil, and he is presently auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan. The Springtime That Never Came is a book-length interview with Bishop Schneider by journalist Pawel Lisicki, who traveled from Poland for the conversation. Lisicki’s questions are often as long as Schneider’s answers, and this reviewer found the thoughts of interviewer and interviewee to be quite similar.

As the book was published after the sting of pandemic restrictions, Schneider asseverates that, from a religious point of view, churches never should have been closed. He sees the overall situation of the pandemic as a chastisement from God, lovingly given in justice so that people might realize their sins and lack of devotion and turn back to Him. Schneider is appalled by another consequence of the pandemic: that in the interest of sanitation, Holy Communion is taken in the hand instead of on the tongue. This was carried to an extreme by some bishops who forbade the latter practice. Schneider sees the taking of the Eucharist in the hand as diminishing the solemnity and importance of the sacrament. He hopes that eventually a pope will ask that the Church be unified in reception on the tongue.

Bishop Schneider addresses the important issue of priestly celibacy. Those who push for married priests point to legitimate exceptions, such as Greek Catholic priests who follow their historical precedent. But if a blanket exception were made, such as allowing priests in Amazonia to marry because of a priest shortage there, then logically that change must be extended to priests in any geographical area. The point, as Lisicki notes, is “that celibacy belongs to the nature of the priesthood. That it is not an accidental, historical decision…but a principle internal to the priesthood.” Schneider agrees and looks to Jesus, who offered Himself sacrificially on the cross. Some of the Apostles were married, but they left their wives when they followed Him. The defense of celibacy is critical, the bishop insists. He considers it the “last bastion,” as other areas of Church teaching and the liturgy have been compromised by relativism. A major reason for these compromises is lack of clarity in papal pronouncements, resulting in confusion on morals and dogma.

Bishop Schneider connects the heresy and sacrilege of the French Revolution to Freemasonry, which bloomed in the 18th century and became a formidable threat to the Church. Contributing to its success were German idealists such as Hegel, who thought that reality consists in the inner self rather than the outside world. Schneider says Hegelianism had an enormous influence on Catholic theology, as manifested in the Second Vatican Council. He sees the “right” to religious freedom, propounded in Dignitatis Humanae, as conducive to religious relativism and the weakening and destruction of religion. There is no “right,” Schneider asserts, to disobey God, whose will it is that all be saved as faithful members of the Catholic Church. He believes the resolution of the deleterious effects of misinterpretations of Council documents lies with a future pope who will need to clarify Catholic doctrine.

Communism from its start was another enemy of Christianity, and it nearly obliterated the Russian Orthodox Church and replaced it with atheism. Meanwhile, in the West, victories against Christ’s Church were effected in the secular school system. Modernists infiltrated the Church and increased in number and influence as several succeeding pontiffs — Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XI — were vague and imprecise in their personnel policies. World War I caused the remnants of Christian Europe to crumble. Schneider believes that that was the result sought by the enemies of the Church who initiated World War I. He sees Polish Catholicism as the exception and a possible source for renewal.

The book’s title, The Springtime That Never Came, refers to the progress claimed by those who measure the Church by a strictly materialist, not spiritual, yardstick. Schneider calls the idea of progress “pure illusion.” The world and its reality intervene and check the idea of continuous progress. Prior to convening the Council, Pope John XXIII called those who spoke against the progressive philosophy “prophets of doom.” That same year, 1962, Archbishop Giovanni Montini of Milan, the future Pope Paul VI, reveled in the idea of a springtime soon to arrive. This optimistic but unrealistic promise was promulgated in the language of Dignitatis Humanae. Bishop Schneider refutes these declarations with a reminder that the true prophets in the Bible could all be considered “prophets of doom.” These biblical figures “were constantly warning of impending punishment, condemning sin, and calling to repentance.” They made no references to an ideal world, unless salvation can be counted as such.

Bishop Schneider summarizes, “We must concede, then, that both John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council greatly misjudged reality. Man was increasingly gravitating toward the physical, the temporal, and the worldly. True progress, the progress of the soul that needs supernatural faith, was no longer discussed. It was eliminated and overlooked.” He concludes, “This tendency toward highlighting the import of that which is physical, temporal, limited, worldly, and finite became apparent with the pontificate of Pope John XXIII, and has now reached its peak during the pontificate of Pope Francis,” who has called for a “new humanism.” Schneider declares that emphasis on the human is a betrayal of the Gospel and a capitulation to the agenda of Freemasonry. This is not the mission of the pope. The supreme pontiff of the Church must focus on saving souls — his highest and most important task — which is accomplished by bringing people to Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Francis has proven to be a divisive figure. His allies want the Church to bend to the world. Others, like Schneider, hew to Tradition and aim to see it handed down to each generation. To combat the errors within Church institutions, Schneider proposes a Professio fidei, a refutation by a future pope that would contain a list of errors in recent times. This could eliminate confusion and clarify Catholic doctrine.

One of the book’s chapters is titled “The Rupture of Continuity,” in reference to the Second Vatican Council. Bishop Schneider admits that the Council documents that were improperly used to allow error into the Church cannot be changed, but over subsequent centuries the Church “can explain dogmas more accurately and understand them more clearly,” which well describes both this book and the strong stance of the bishop. In a paraphrase of the well-known communist slogan, he encourages the faithful: “Catholics of all countries, unite! Defend your faith and Tradition.”

Everywhen: God, Symmetry, and Time

By Thomas P. Sheahen

Publisher: En Route Books

Pages: 246

Price: $18.99

Review Author: Thomas Storck

The Catholic Church has always held human reason in high regard. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, although differing in many respects in their fundamental philosophical orientations, are notable examples of Catholic thinkers who demonstrated that faith and reason, when rightly used, are in harmony with each other. But what is the paradigm of human reason? Is it philosophy, used so brilliantly by patristic, medieval, and later writers? Or is it the experimental sciences, disciplines that have usurped for themselves the very name of science, especially in the English-speaking world?

In the modern world, experimental science, because of the impressive technological results it has attained, is widely held to be the most certain means of knowing reality. Sadly, an inclination has arisen among Catholic thinkers to abandon or downplay the disciplines of philosophy and theology — once held to be the very models of science — and to utilize instead the experimental sciences, especially physics, as an apologetic method. This is a mistake, and the book under review, Everywhen: God, Symmetry, and Time, exemplifies this tendency.

Thomas P. Sheahen, a former research physicist, makes use of ideas from the discipline of physics to overcome what he regards as widespread notions that hinder people from taking religious faith seriously, and to show that faith and science are not incompatible. He sees our thinking about God as bound by erroneous limitations, and he suggests that physics can help us get beyond these limitations. To take just one example, Sheahen argues that most people today implicitly think of God as bound by time, rather than beyond time. Here physics can help, he says. In ordinary life, we conceive of everything as existing within time, with time understood as linear, “going from the past to the present to the future,” Sheahen writes. “Plenty of scientists formulate their conception of God within that restricted framework and wind up imagining a god that is subordinate to time — quite inferior to the God who is the creator of time. After that, they invent reasons to disbelieve in such a limited god.” But according to physics, time is nothing but another dimension, like the three dimensions of ordinary space. “Space and time are on an equal footing; all four dimensions appear in exactly the same way in the equations of physics,” Sheahen writes. Thus, we can use such mathematical equations to help us understand that time is a creation of God and that He is outside of it.

This is well and good, but at least two objections can be raised to this approach. First, Catholic theologians and philosophers have always known that God exists outside of time, and they do not need modern mathematics or physics, let alone the theory of relativity (which Sheahen also cites), to realize this. Second, it is questionable whether you can validly argue from mathematical formulas to extramental reality. The fact that time can be treated as a dimension in equations — or that even more dimensions can be posited — says nothing about reality. Mathematical constructions exist in the mind, and although they can be abstractions from the real world (such as Euclidean geometry), their primary locus is in the mind. Hence, such a statement as “we invoke mathematics to conclude that there are many dimensions (God has an infinite number of them)” would seem to be an unwarranted leap from a mental construct to a conclusion about reality.

Philosophers of science have given considerable thought to the epistemological status of the narratives of modern physics and chemistry, yet Everywhen does not advert to these important philosophical discussions. Sheahen does indeed emphasize that the theories of science are always provisional, yet he seems to turn around and unquestionably accept their truth value.

Engagement with the unbelieving world is certainly necessary, and Sheahen’s good will in this respect is unassailable. But a sound apologetic can hardly be based on mathematical equations or the research of physicists. All experimental sciences deal strictly with phenomena. Metaphysics is the science that traditionally conducted the human mind from the world of phenomena to the reality of the God who created everything. Despite modernity’s widespread antipathy to genuine metaphysical reasoning, Catholics can hardly abandon what is the most sublime exercise of pure human reason. Although not everyone needs to philosophize in order to be a believer, the Church must keep this treasure of her traditional wisdom at hand so that we might “be ready always with an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope” that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15).

Good Music, Sacred Music, and Silence: Three Gifts of God for Liturgy and for Life

By Peter A. Kwasniewski

Publisher: TAN Books

Pages: 344

Price: $29.95

Review Author: Bob Sullivan & Fran Pierson

In Good Music, Sacred Music, and Silence, Peter A. Kwasniewski addresses an issue that is sure to stir the soul of many a Christian. Not only should this book be on the shelf of every parish library, it should be frequently referenced as well. Just as exercise strengthens the heart and body, this book will strengthen the soul.

St. Augustine said, “The perfection of religion is to imitate whom you adore.” In that vein, the Council of Trent considered the Mass as “raising the minds of the faithful by means of these visible signs…to the contemplation of sublime truths contained in this sacrifice.” The musical setting is an integral element in the “raising” of our minds in imitation of the One we adore. But what we have gotten since Vatican II is, Kwasniewski writes, for the most part “insipid, uninspiring, artistically banal, relentlessly horizontal music that derives from rock and pseudo-folk music but has at times something of an appearance of reverence without the substance.”

You may have heard that when Satan fell from Heaven he landed in a choir loft. That saying may not have existed prior to 1960. Thankfully, the dark ages of the 1960s and 1970s are fading fast. Some publishers of the beloved campfire hymns of the era are leaving some of those old tunes out of their new hymnals. The writings of Jeff Ostrowski, composer and founder of the Sacred Music Symposium, and Thomas Day, author of Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste, seem to have had a welcome impact. However, we are not out of the woods yet. Good Music, Sacred Music, and Silence explains why music is so important to liturgy and how we can complete our plodding sojourn out of the post-Vatican II musical mire.

Kwasniewski starts with a discussion of music in general, taking what many would consider a challenging approach to discerning good music from bad. In his opinion, Bach is good and Elvis is bad, and never the twain shall meet on his playlist. He quotes Jeffrey Tucker, former managing editor of Sacred Music: “One of the failings of mainstream parish music today is that it appeals to and expresses a truncated range of emotional experience. Mostly it suggests a sense of contentment and satisfaction, often to the point of superficiality.” This describes the lounge-music atmosphere that predominates in many parish liturgies today. But this is far more serious than an exercise in poor taste or a matter of trite lyrics. There is a fault in the structure of the music itself. Kwasniewski argues that banal music rooted in pop culture is antithetical to Christian formation. Such music, particularly rock ’n’ roll, is intentionally rebellious and a rejection of both the Catholic and Western traditions. “It is not,” he writes, “morally, intellectually, or culturally ‘neutral’; it is already laden with anti-institutional, anti-sacral, anti-traditional significance. This music is not naive raw material waiting to be Christianized, but anti-Christian propaganda.” In support of this point, he quotes David Clayton, director of Sacred Arts at Pontifex University: “It is founded on a reaction against Christianity. Therefore, it is a distortion of it and as such is parasitical upon it.”

Kwasniewski argues that the long-term damage of “dumbing down” sacred music is akin to ingesting a kind of spiritual arsenic: “If the content or manner of the liturgy is flawed, God will be dishonored and our souls will be injured.” Beauty matters because God is beauty, ever ancient, ever new, as St. Augustine observed. We are made in God’s image, and so we, too, were made for beauty. But, as Kwasniewski notes, “The ‘interior man,’ the ‘New Adam’ in us needs to be cultivated…. His growth and maturation cannot be taken for granted and will not happen automatically.” Musical sensibilities also need to be cultivated, especially in a culture in which musical forms, both secular and sacred, have been degrading for the past 60 years. This has led to our present predicament, which Kwasniewski views as “something close to a total liturgical disaster, a failure to prepare the faithful to take part worthily in the Lord’s sacrifice and to approach Communion with the proper dispositions.”

What is good and sacred music? Gregorian chant, with roots in the pre-Christian era, is the true music of the Church. Kwasniewski describes how the traditional liturgy pours teaching directly into our souls through our senses, even without (or before) words. We are shaped by experiences, by “smells and bells.” Yet we live in an age when most of us do not have regular access to a Traditional Latin Mass with a full choir in a beautiful church. Given that this has been the case for decades, most Catholics have been conditioned by a liturgy that is quite different. Yet in a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated with dignity and proper piety, good music can have a transformative impact.

This brings us to the third topic of Kwasniewski’s book: silence. For many of us, the silent parts of the Mass are the only silence we experience all week. Music ministers should resist the urge to fill each moment of the Mass with sound. As Cardinal Robert Sarah put it, God speaks to us in the silence.

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