The Pope's Incoherence
I had considered not renewing my subscription because of the NOR’s silence on the phenomenon Catholics are currently witnessing concerning many statements by Pope Francis. I fully understand the approach that many Catholic publications and news services are taking: ignoring his statements, not commenting on them, or reinterpreting them, etc.
As Catholics we have an ingrained DNA, if you will, to respect the Pope and expect whatever he says to be the Gospel truth even if it does not meet the criteria of an infallible pronouncement. We do not expect incoherence. Your New Oxford Note “A Sign of Self-Contradiction” (Dec.) addresses this incoherence head-on. Since the NOR is living up to its reputation of speaking the truth in season and out, please renew my subscription.
Harry J. Booth
So. Dartmouth, Massachusetts
Ed. Note: Could it be that Mr. Booth sent his letter to the wrong publication? Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time we’ve addressed Pope Francis’s “incoherence.” We’ve examined his ambiguous and/or misleading statements about, among other things, ecumenism (“Pope Francis & the Lutherans: Intercommunion Confusion,” Jan.-Feb. 2016), abortion (“Pope Francis Doesn’t Need Your Applause,” Nov. 2015), the Mafia (“Lost in the Plethora of Anathemas,” Sept. 2014), conscience (“Pope Francis & the Primacy of Conscience,” Dec. 2013), the Christian identity of Europe (“Is It ‘Triumphalist’ to Acknowledge Europe’s Christian Roots?” by Timothy D. Lusch, Jul.-Aug. 2016), family size (“Rabbitgate: Twelve Questions for Pope Francis” by C. Jacob Johnson, Mar. 2016), political diplomacy (“Pope Francis’s Appeasement Plan: Securing a False Peace With Iran” by Timothy D. Lusch, June 2016), and Islam (too many times to mention!). Immerse yourself in our extensive, in-depth commentary by clicking on our topical dossier, the one with the obvious name, “Pope Francis” (http://www.newoxfordreview.org/dossier.jsp?did=dossier-francis).
Reynaldo O. Yana
North Mariana Islands
The Pope's Champion
I agree that Pope Francis is often not clear when making verbal statements. While I believe that the Holy Spirit inspires the Pope, I can understand that when speaking impromptu, he (or any astute politician) is prone to making vague or inaccurate statements.
What you should question are his written statements, which he makes after discerning the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and thereby renders clearly. But since you have questioned his verbal answers to interview questions, such as his agreeing with Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification (ed. reply to James Koeser’s letter, Dec.) and his comments about transgenderism (“A Sign of Self-Contradiction,” Dec.), I volunteer to be the Pope’s champion and explain what he meant by his answers.
1. Luther was right in saying that there is a doctrine of justification based on St. Paul’s statement, “We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). And he was right in interpreting that justification is by faith alone and nothing else.
What Luther, and even theologians in the Catholic Church, did not understand is that Paul was not referring to salvation. Salvation requires grace, faith, and good works. Paul was referring to righteousness (cf. Rom. 3:22). Just two verses before his “justification by faith” statement, he said that God’s showing His righteousness was “to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26; emphasis added).
A person is righteous when he is sinless. When a sinner, as we all are, wants to be righteous, only faith in the Lord’s mercy can restore him to righteousness. Good works cannot erase his sin. God’s grace can only urge and inspire him to rely on his faith: If he is repentant and confesses his sins to God or a priest, his sins will be forgiven and he will thereby become righteous.
2. It has been the teaching of the Church that we should not discriminate against gays. We cannot deride them just because they act like females even though they were born as males, or because they act like males even though they were born as females. If they act that way, it is only because the Creator made them that way.
What the Church forbids is the sexual acts of gays, which are an abomination (cf. Lev. 18:22) and just as serious a sin as fornication and adultery. The Lord commands us to love one another, whether the “other” is heterosexual or homosexual. The Pope is right that schools and other institutions should not promote homosexual acts, as they should also not promote or encourage fornication or adultery.
Frank & Saralee O'Reilly
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
1. Let’s get this straight: Luther “was right” to base his doctrine of justification on St. Paul, even though he “did not understand” what Paul was referring to? Forgive us, but we’re not buying it. And we don’t believe that this was what Francis was trying to say. But thanks anyway for trying to wrap up in a handful of words what theologians — yes, even theologians in the Catholic Church — have been grappling with for centuries. We’ll stick with those benighted Catholic theologians — you know, the ones at the Council of Trent who condemned Luther’s doctrine of justification: “If anyone says that the godless are justified by faith alone…let him be anathema.” We hardly think that they confused justification for salvation.
2. It is a facile generalization to say that “gays” or even transgenders act the way they do “only because the Creator made them that way.” This doesn’t take into account multifarious environmental and psychological factors (social circles, sexual abuse, cultural trends, etc.) or the fact of human brokenness and sin. Is it any wonder that in our permissive, “liberated” society, which has witnessed an explosion of gay- and trans-positive propaganda coupled with a radical breakdown of the family unit, more people are living open homosexual and other sexually disordered lifestyles than at any other time known to man? Certainly, all “unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism, no. 2358); no one is disputing that. But Francis wasn’t merely saying that homosexual acts shouldn’t be promoted in schools; he also gave a wink and a nod to same-sex marriage and gender-reassignment surgery at a time of widespread sexual confusion and moral anarchy. And he was surprisingly insistent in his approbation of the latter. But by undergoing a surgical sex change, isn’t a person physically, drastically, dangerously altering the way the Creator “made” him? We’ll stick with the Catechism on this one: “Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God…. ‘Being man’ or ‘being woman’ is a reality which is good and willed by God” (no. 369). “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (no. 2333). We wish Pope Francis would consult the Catechism more often.
Fr. John P. Murray, O.S.A.
Unlike some of your readers who have expressed dissatisfaction with some of the positions you may appear to favor, our impression is that your approach to deficient matters (like our present silly Pope, for example) is “let’s give the situation time to unfold before we panic.” We might not always agree with the side on which you come down, but you clearly value civilized debate, and your love of our suffering Church is evident in every word.
Keep up the good work!
An Insurmountable Need
I am an Augustinian priest assigned on mission by my order to Bangkok, where I work with Caritas Thailand. Part of my ministry focus is the urban-refugee population residing here. In his article “A Witness in Bangkok” (Dec.), Casey Chalk speaks powerfully of a situation of suffering in Bangkok. The family Chalk describes is representative of a small but extremely vulnerable and desperate population of urban refugees in Bangkok. Whatever their story or status, they are searching for a better future, or a future with some hope. This would seem to be a natural human quest.
In Bangkok, urban refugees receive help from numerous individuals, churches, and non-governmental organizations, all of which do as much as they can. The reality is that the level of need these groups face is insurmountable. A description I hear used is that those helping feel overwhelmed by the level of need before them. My motto for reaching out to this population is: “Do what you can and trust in God.”
Urban refugees in Thailand are undocumented; they have not come with a proper visa for staying long term. Given the length of time the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) process takes to determine refugee status and any possible resettlement that may follow, the visas they received on arrival have long expired. Accordingly, the refugees lack necessary official recognition for seeking employment and accessing essential services. This leads them to an existence in which they face great difficulties just trying to survive.
These poor people are also not helped by the Pakistani community in Thailand, which so often lacks solidarity. It is sad that such an “at risk” and suffering community is not made up of more Michaels with his strong spirituality and deep sense of human solidarity.
The UNHCR has its defined role to play. Though it is a world organization within the United Nations, the reality is that it cannot do everything we or it may want. Its people are people of integrity, doing the best they can within their own limitations, which are in part set up by a global context in which migrants and refugees seem to be overwhelming even world governments. In carrying out its work, the UNHCR follows its defined procedures and has its own safeguards in place.
This one suffering community might be small, but its suffering is real and its plight cannot be forgotten, even in a world feeling in some way overcome by war and violence and the subsequent and significant movement of peoples that accompanies such harsh realities.
Dept. of Philosophy, State University of New York
CASEY CHALK REPLIES:
I have no substantive disagreements with Fr. John Murray, but I do have a somewhat different perspective on the UNHCR’s work here in Thailand. I know that many of the folks at the UNHCR are “people of integrity” — I cornered one at a restaurant some time ago regarding the plight of Pakistani Christians, and he was gracious enough to chat with me and follow up regarding my questions via e-mail. All the same, a number of my closest Pakistani friends, all of whom have had their applications for refugee status closed by the UNHCR, have told me their personal “horror stories” in this process, including, as I mentioned in my article, exhortations by UN-provided interpreters to convert to Islam and return to Pakistan.
In another similar case, the head of a Pakistani family told me that the UNHCR took issue with his elderly father (who obviously has dementia): The father’s testimony did not square with that of other members of his family. As my friend told me afterward, “My father doesn’t even know what he had for breakfast this morning.” Moreover, the family provided the UNHCR with documentation of fatwas issued against them by Pakistani Muslim authorities, Pakistani police warrants demanding their arrest, and letters from Pakistani clergy (including a bishop) confirming their stories. Indeed, two female members of that family have visible burn marks on their bodies from when Muslim extremists captured them and set them on fire. What more, exactly, is needed here? Whatever is necessary for refugee status, it is more impenetrable than admissions criteria for the most selective university programs.
Months ago, after yet another terrorist attack in Europe, that same friend asked me, “Why are America and Europe taking in so many Muslims who cause trouble? We never cause anyone any trouble.” I know he’s right. If approved for emigration to America, these Pakistanis would do any work, no matter how lowly. They’d be the best janitors our country has ever seen.
In a situation as maddening and disheartening as that of the plight of persecuted Pakistani Christians (and the lack of a durable solution beyond an indefinite asylum-seeker life in Bangkok), I appreciate Fr. Murray’s maxim to “do what you can and trust in God.” In the face of such seemingly immovable objects, only the Lord Jesus can help us navigate our way through, and hopefully over, this humanitarian quagmire.
Oswego, New York
Mass Democratization as a Force of De-Civilization
Edwin Dyga’s excellent article “The ‘Biggest Nothing’ in History” (Dec.) raises a number of important points. His observation that classical liberal ideology has widespread currency within conservatism in the Anglosphere is especially apt. The absorption of 18th- and 19th-century classical liberal precepts into mainstream conservatism can, of course, largely be viewed through the dichotomous prism of the Cold War, in which the West and its political traditions became synonymous with the “free world,” positioned against the tyranny of Marxism-Leninism. While classical liberal rhetoric concerning freedom and the individual became a useful tool to obstruct the “road to serfdom” (as Friedrich von Hayek memorably referred to the path toward totalitarianism), the influx of liberal-individualist ideas into conservatism, which resulted in the subsequent triumph of “values conservatism,” occurred at the expense of some rather important historical truths.
Modern mainstream conservatives have forgotten or ignored the fundamental fact that many 19th-century liberals were far more classically conservative in their recognition of important eternal truths than are their modern descendants. It is difficult to read the likes of Lord Macaulay, William Gladstone, Lord Acton, and William Lecky, to name just a few, without appreciating the strength of their historical consciousness and the implicit realization of the importance of timeless realities such as blood, soil, and language. Indeed, in respect to their cultural beliefs, Victorian liberals stand far closer to paleoconservatism than do today’s mainstream conservatives or libertarians. There are a number of reasons for this.
First and foremost, despite the diffusion of Enlightenment ideas, and what Dyga accurately diagnoses as the infection of Jacobin social pathologies, many 19th-century liberals, whatever their own personal theological predilections, were still immersed in enough orthodox Christianity for their ideas not to have devolved into the contentless moral preening of an abstract values-based ideology. They recognized that political ideas like liberty made sense only within a framework of order supplied by a stable culture. It was for this reason that so many of them feared the impending mass democratization of Western political culture as a force of de-civilization.
Beyond this, many 19th-century liberals did not possess the quasi-messianic tendency of many modern values conservatives to attempt to export the Western modus vivendi to every corner of the world as the sole appropriate form of life for all people. They realized that universal values can only make sense through a particularist framework. If today’s professed conservatives and classical liberals are as concerned with the preservation of liberty and the Western way of life as they claim to be, they would do well to remember that such values can exist and thrive only in an atmosphere in which particular Western cultural traditions are cherished — an impossibility in a post-Christian culture.
Dept. of English, State University of New York
Edwin Dyga is surely one of the more quotable living writers of any political stripe. One is immediately struck by his illustration of the West collectively suffering from Cotard’s syndrome. Particularly striking, however, is his notion of the New Man as “liberated from religious ‘superstition,’ dislocated from family and tribe, a utilitarian automaton devoid of supra-economic meaning.” One could hardly improve on a traditionalist (or an orthodox Catholic) definition of what’s metaphysically wrong with the vaunted modern.
What really divides the old way of doing politics from the new (left and right wing alike) is whether we consider man to be a fundamentally spiritual or a fundamentally physical being. At least in the West, there is now a clear consensus for the latter. For all practical purposes, man isn’t presumed to do anything more impressive than eat, sleep, reproduce, and die. He may do all of these in very sophisticated ways — ways that may or may not require government assistance — but that’s the long and short of it. Any other enterprises he might undertake, be they religious, social, or cultural, aren’t only private; they’re assumed to have no relevance to the commonwealth whatsoever.
Some might disagree, but I pine for the days when men thought enough of books to burn them. I don’t want to live in a society that respects literature and fears the Devil so little that it’s never felt a book to be so wicked that it ought to be destroyed forever. This gives new relevance to the old quip, “A liberal is a person so open-minded his brains have fallen out.” True, today we’re tolerant of most any idea; but that’s increasingly easy, as hardly anybody has any original ideas anymore. So this notion of “identitarianism” isn’t only about restoring our collective identity as Westerners, Christians, or what have you; it’s also about restoring our individual identity, our individual personality. As we’ve shed all reference to Robert Nisbet’s idea of “the social” (our family, class, town, region, nation, church, club, etc.), we’ve made ourselves dreadfully boring, and so people increasingly grasp for ugly, meaningless ways to distinguish themselves from the herd. They abuse drugs and sex. They mutilate their reproductive organs and assume a new “gender.” They dye their hair purple (or, in Lindsay Lohan’s case, cover it with a hijab). For God’s sake, some of them run off and join Middle-Eastern terrorist groups or shoot up churches.
This is the cost of our decision to purge traditional identities from the public sphere. This is what happens when we treat man as a mere animal. He behaves like one.
Thomas F. Bertonneau
Dept. of Political Science, University of Alabama
Oswego, New York
Many thanks to Edwin Dyga for drawing attention to the words of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” He is quite right to point out the untenability of any regime that reveres such sentiments and to draw connections to similar notions found in all Western nations. The bloodthirstiness and anti-authority nihilism of the lyrics seem a direct link to the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution, which ended with the deaths of its instigators. No good can come from such attitudes. As Dyga points out, rejecting suprarational transcendence and subrational emotional attachment, Western nations flounder in a mass of contradictions, promoting global homogeneity in the name of “diversity” and all manner of nonsense. It seems right to say that at some point reality must prevail, but that the remaining interval will continue to produce many horrors.
I too was struck by the plantation scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now Redux and, like Edwin Dyga, could not help but view the scene through a traditionalist-conservative lens. Indeed, the scene captures a certain concrete experience about lived nativism rarely seen on screen in a “European” context. This French family baffles the protagonist, Capt. Willard, who cannot understand why they remain in a country that is at war, and perhaps even at war with them. The patriarch of the family delivers a series of short monologues exploring what it means to “belong” to a place. This contrasts with the sense of “mission” held by the Americans, and Willard in particular.
Coppola’s film was, of course, inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. Many would like to see Conrad as an exponent for anti-colonialism; others may find his ardent atheism grounds for suspicion. Most readers with any sensitivity would see him as more innately conservative — unfortunately a skeptic, but intent on conserving the “permanent things” so far as man’s ability to relate to man is concerned. He would have no doubt eschewed grand schemes designed to have man be his own god.
Conrad was concerned for the tremendous disorder that would ensue if those who felt they could perfect the world had concentrated into their hands the enormous reserves of power required to do so. Life was meant to be imperfect and hard. We were meant to feel pain and anguish. Conrad seemed to perceive a beauty in it. The anguish of men was often juxtaposed against breathtaking descriptions of nature. There was no god in his sky, but there was beauty, perhaps even mystery.
What Dyga teases from Coppola’s film (and, tangentially, Conrad’s novebpis the fact that the notion of “spirit” has been recast in our age in god-like attempts to perfect humanity and make man the true master of his destiny. The great Enlightenment project of America, to democratize the world, is but the latest version of the ancient tale of Nimrod building his tower to challenge the heavens or, at the very least, seize the power of the Almighty. Conrad, for all his disillusioned atheism, could see the folly of man erecting an altar to himself — perhaps this is why his imagery of nature is so striking, and his sense of its mastering rhythms so profound. This is something Coppola captures in the subject scene — but it comes with a kind of haunting nihilism.
For those of us who are committed to the transcendent, we must take the scene further. We must identify our modern malaise and, at the very least, inoculate ourselves. We know what happens to the arms inoculated by those who intend to perfect us with their transforming technology. Coppola’s Kurtz delivers a monologue — Nietzschean, but nevertheless a stinging critique of modernity — in which witnessing the “hacking off” of inoculated arms of babies results in his epiphany about human will, an epiphany he describes as being “shot with a diamond…a diamond bullet right through my forehead.”
Dyga aptly diagnoses this illness of our times when he describes the “spiritual disequilibrium” as either “Cotard’s syndrome writ large” or “collective moral solipsism.” Either of these amounts to a kind of self-destruction, an embrace of nihilism, a refusal to identify and exist. This self-destruction is, unfortunately, in the name of the grand project of human perfection.
I have seen this pattern explored before — and from a distinctly Catholic position. It reminds me very much of Thomas Molnar’s Utopia, the Perennial Heresy. Molnar argues that utopianism is the primary sin — rooted in original sin. Utopianism is about man’s perfecting himself by his own hand. Utopians, however, do not free themselves of the religious mindset; rather, they seek the “messianic act” of the Coalescence of Man. Technology will be the instrument of this coalescence, which is necessary for the physical and concomitant moral perfection of humanity. This process requires “collective salvation” — and that entails the negation of intermediate institutions such as nation, church, and family. Molnar sees particularism and localism as a defense against a quintessential rebellion in man against his Maker.
I would argue that the importance of particularism is no less in our current environment of “the tyranny of liberalism.” In its desperate bid to “perfect” humanity with a worldwide application of liberal democracy to “end history,” the modern global agenda is but a manifestation of yet another Tower of Babel. This is why any manifestation of particularism and localism in today’s Zeitgeist is portrayed as morally defective. To insist on an identity, grounded in concrete historical acts and physical space, prevents the Coalescence of Man into a great, pliable mass for the gifted hands of our newest utopians.
The participant in the modern project of perfection sees others’ resistance as pure folly, such as Coppola’s Frenchmen in the jungles of Southeast Asia. They are unable to face the inevitable. What the spiritually insensitive modern doesn’t see is that these people face another inevitability beyond this world. It is an inevitability that is anathema to the progressive liberal. The concrete reality of our lived existence is one in which our spiritual selves and our earthly selves are inseparable. To speak of a dualism is Enlightenment folly. What is criticized in modernity as an immoral expression of particularism is, in fact, the only way a truly spiritual man can live as a truly spiritual man. Just as the real presence of Christ is substantially within the Host, so too, within his acts of ritual, tradition, and culture, we find the soul of a man.
The last time I thought about Apocalypse Now was in the early 1990s when I screened it for a college course called “Literature & Film.” What I thought was: This is the most nihilistic film I have ever seen — and being nihilistic, it represents a betrayal of its purported basis, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Nihilism is a theme in Conrad’s novel, but the novel itself is not nihilistic. Edwin Dyga discusses director Francis Ford Coppola’s extended version of the film, Apocalypse Now Redux, particularly Capt. Willard’s interview with Hubert de Marais, a French planter — a scene cut from the original theatrical version.
De Marais’s dedication to household and locality reflects a primordial and necessary custom rooted in the archaic cult of the family hearth and to everything that the hearth and its hearth-gods, the family gods, symbolize and represent. In the old Greek and Roman customs, however, removal of the hearth is unthinkable, except in extreme crisis. To remove the hearth means to uproot it, and to uproot it means to sever its connection with ancestors, who continue to worship it in company with the living from their habitation in the earth. Coppola’s French planter is the remnant of a colonial enterprise. His ancestors must have uprooted themselves at some time in the past from their native French soil to take up new residence in a place essentially foreign to them. No matter how much sentiment and labor those ancestors, and their descendant, the planter, might have expended in transforming the nothing that they found into the something that the planter himself still cherishes, the project could have commenced only in a voluntary abandonment of the original soil. From the archaic viewpoint, that origin would be a sacrilege.
De Marais’s vehement defense of home and family would seem to make more sense if its context were the homeland, France, rather than the colonial possession, Indo-China, as the French called Vietnam. Belgian Walloon farmers and householders used their hunting rifles against encroaching German troops in 1914, many at the cost of their lives. Cousins of the French, they were defending home territory and private property against aggression by strangers. In 1940, when it began suffering heavy casualties, the French Army more or less spontaneously laid down its arms and capitulated, refusing to defend the homeland, which then had to endure occupation by a foreign power. France lost Indo-China to Japan a year later, when the Pacific war began. After the Allied victory, in which France played little part, Gen. Charles de Gaulle insisted on the reoccupation of the temporarily detached colony, an act bitterly resented by the Vietnamese, which led to another French capitulation in 1954. Moreover, the people whom the French were fighting were ideological descendants of the Jacobins, the authors of the Revolution of 1789. Given this tangle of insane facts, one might ask of de Marais: Does he know how demented his declarations seem in their context?
I imagine the answer would be no. How different is any modern person — even the modern traditionalist, if such a term might be allowed — from Coppola’s fictional but not implausible full-blooded colonialist? Mr. Dyga is an Australian, and I am an American from California currently living in upstate New York after a decade in Michigan. My maternal grandfather was an Englishman from Kent who grew up in the Hammersmith neighborhood of London; my maternal grandmother was a Swede. On my father’s side, I am not so much French as Creole, as my immediate Francophone ancestors came to New Orleans at the beginning of the 19th century as mixed-race, bourgeois refugees from the racial slaughter in Saint-Domingue, a French colony then in the violent process of transforming itself into Haiti under Jacobin influence. The black insurrection had run out of white victims and was now gleefully killing as many mulattoes as it could catch. My ancestry, then, is a gallery of uprooted people, and I have uprooted myself twice in my life. Who in God’s name am I? At what authentic hearth do I venerate my ancestors or petition a boon for my descendants?
What I suggest by my rhetorical questions is, of course, Dyga’s sobering thesis: that the ordeal of the Western world since 1789 has largely, if not completely, abolished the possibility that anyone can have an identity the way people had an identity before the great European colonial projects, including the settlement of North America and Australia, or before modernity. This does not make impossible a new, real identity that incorporates as much as it can salvage from the pre-modern types of identity, but it does not make it easy, either. I suppose that Mr. Dyga has English ancestors and that we therefore share a common ancestry. We are English-speakers, so we share that, too. Perhaps we also share a sense of being uprooted, so that, as geographically separated as we are, across two hemispheres, we nevertheless occupy the same virtual locality, permitted by the innovations of digital technology, such as the Internet, which enable us to communicate and, to some extent, participate in common practical endeavors while remaining spatially remote.
A sense of self being linked to a sense of place, and modernity’s mandatory serial displacements being inimical to a sense of place that nourishes a sense of self, renewal of place and self will require the opposite of the colonial attitude: A determination to stay where we have been born and to cultivate a native soil, which we destine to our descendants with the good hope that they too will remain attached to it.
Joseph Liss, M.D.
Though I agree with much of what Edwin Dyga had to say, his article suffers from the same malady as other reactionary jeremiads. The reader is left asking: Okay, now what? Contemporary traditionalists have expended tremendous energy arguing that the original critics of the Enlightenment were right all along. Perhaps they were. But liberal, deracinating revolutions nonetheless occurred and are now complete. The West is cut off from its traditions. Traditionalist Christians, Catholic or Protestant, might not be back in the catacombs, but they have lost all influence in the contemporary West.
This is not a criticism of Dyga’s article. A patient must be diagnosed before he can be cured. But I think most traditionalists already agree on what is wrong with the modern world. So I offer a challenge to Dyga and other writers who work in this genre: Offer a solution or, at least, the start of a solution. Perhaps Spenglerian melancholy is warranted, and there is no way forward until modernity runs its course. But simply to accept that things cannot be changed strikes me as a problematic position for Christians. There are, after all, biblical injunctions against despair.
EDWIN DYGA REPLIES:
Paraphrasing St. John: We are in this world but not of it. I am grateful for George Hawley’s legitimate criticism — viz., that much of what passes for reactionary dissent from the secular, modernist status quo all too often fails to offer a practical program for restoration. Perhaps this apparent failure is symptomatic of idealists who eschew ideology, or perhaps the sheer magnitude of the current decay weighs so heavily on the soul that solutions do not readily come to mind. Either way, and as illustrated in the plantation scene of Apocalypse Now Redux, any movement that seeks cultural and civilizational renewal will need to affirm something tangible to have any real impact on the lives of Western men. There are two risks in failing to do so: this first is the spiral toward the sin of despair, a risk Hawley rightly acknowledges; the second is the potential to fall into the abyss of passive or reactive nihilism. Although we may not be of this world, Christian — and particularly Catholic — ethos suggests that being in it imports certain duties to live righteously. Accordingly, we are part of the polis and have a responsibility for the cultural and political decay we witness in the public square. What, therefore, is to be done?
The question is not easily answered because the decay is the result of leftist ideological militancy. How, then, is a solution to be reached without indulging in abstract theorizing, the very intellectual mechanism used by leftist agitators to promote universalized “progress” in all spheres of civilized life? Of course, even for anti-ideological counter-revolutionaries, generalizations will need to be relied on when dealing with social controversies in categorical terms — and the scale of our subject is so grand that categorical considerations are unavoidable: the identity of a people taken collectively, their culture, national character, the civilization from which they emanate and which they nourish with their moral imagination, and, not least of all, their transcendent religious worldview.
Hawley is correct in intimating that the intent of my article was to diagnose our current social pathologies. But it also intended to provoke the reader to contemplate solutions that can be pursued locally, to reclaim ancient liberties that were once the bedrock of civil society but today are an obstacle to the grand project of totalistic standardization through mass conformism. Those solutions, I believe, will be largely contingent on the specific community in which one lives.
Thus, Alastair Paynter highlights that “liberty [makes] sense only within a framework of order supplied by a stable culture,” adding that “universal values can only make sense though a particularist framework,” one in which “particular Western cultural traditions are cherished.” These cultural traditions are inherently Christian, and their erosion renders the cultivation of those “universal values” (a reference I interpret to mean perennial truths) an impossibility.
Luke Torrisi further draws on Thomas Molnar when interpreting the assault on particularist notions of community as part of the rebellion against God: “The concrete reality of our lived experience is one in which our spiritual selves and our earthly selves are inseparable” (my emphasis). Particularism, therefore, militates against ideology, and this probably accounts for the reactionary reluctance to offer universal plans and programs of social reform. For that reason, I am unable to provide a holistic solution that can or should be applied universally across the West, other than offer the following suggestion.
In terms of the electoral process itself, the most practical and immediate options would be for traditionalists, however defined, simply to stop endorsing the established powers of the explicitly non-Left (my refusal to identify them as conservative is intentionab~ I have argued elsewhere that committed tribal — i.e., party — voting has encouraged complacency, cowardice, and contempt among our elected public officials; we are routinely expected to turn up on polling day, and are then almost always taken for granted by those to whom we entrust our sovereignty. Only by ceasing to be a “sure thing” can we reassert our value as an electoral demographic worthy of respect.
Recent events in the world of politics suggest that this attitudinal shift may already have commenced, at least in the Anglosphere; this year we will see how strong the trend is in continental Europe. Be that as it may, the root cause of social controversies can always be derived from meta-political causes, and here I agree with the late Andrew Breitbart’s claim that “politics is downstream of culture.” Perhaps the character of Peter Viereck’s “unadjusted man,” Ernst Jünger’s “forest rebel,” or even Julius Evola’s “differentiated man” contains the temporally relevant disposition of one who realizes the truth of St. John’s above-mentioned dicta but who wishes to remain a good citizen even in times of uncertainty and confusion.
Though the manner in which this disposition will express itself depends on the people among whom it is expressed, the “perennial truths” referred to earlier can be gleaned across closely related cultures that share common spiritual roots: Athens and Rome. What Michael Davis defines as “identitarianism” is felt by peoples across the West, among the inheritors of Christendom and its colonial auxiliaries overseas. It is rooted in what Thomas Bertonneau describes as the “primordial and necessary custom rooted in the archaic cult of the family hearth and to everything that the hearth and the hearth-gods, the family gods, symbolize and represent.” Despite the very different historical contexts in which our respective nations have evolved, there is something — a qualia of sorts — that draws a Latin-Mass Anglophile Polish-Australian Reactionary Legitimist Monarchist such as myself (if we are to engage in auto-taxonomy) to the work of the “Twelve Southerners,” men who were representatives of a literary and cultural tradition I have encountered only in the printed word but that resonates with my soul more vibrantly than any contemporary political manifesto penned by a fellow citizen of my commonwealth. We may all be, in a spiritual sense, “uprooted” — not of this world — but we are also, to a substantial degree, all brethren.
However, I cannot entirely agree with Hawley’s claim that “liberal, deracinating revolutions…are now complete” or that the “West is now cut off from its traditions.” The yearning for what has been lost is powerful, and memories are not that easily erased, even with the intellectually leveling and morally corrupting effects of pop culture. Resistance is especially powerful if cultural memories are anchored in a national myth, one that reflects a far more profound truth about the human condition than a dry historical record of dates and events could ever offer on its own. These “timeless realities” and the “historical consciousness” of a people to which Paynter refers are like the forces of nature: One can beat them back, but they return with a vengeance, always and without exception.
Likewise, Richard Cocks correctly identifies how “Western nations flounder in a mess of contradictions,” and this is precisely why the secular modernist project of transnational globalism is doomed to terminal failure. The fundamental unsustainability of the multicultural relativism from which modern reactionaries dissent — coupled with the resilience already shown by large political communities in Central Europe and North America today — is perhaps our greatest cause to hope for ultimate restoration.
No Love for Latin
Richard Upsher Smith Jr.’s article “The Latin Mass After a Year’s Attendance” (Dec.) includes a lot of translation of the Latin used in the Traditional Mass, with explanation and history, but this Mass still doesn’t “speak” to me. Of course, I come from a much different perspective. In 1958 I fell in love with a cradle Catholic. I, a cradle atheist, was sure that I would convert her. But after a short (miraculous to me) one-hour “instruction,” I fell in love with her God and her Church.
The Traditional Mass was still offered then. I was certainly impressed with the singing, the gold and incense, and the power of the Christmas Mass, but daily Mass said in Latin perplexed me. I understood the comfort of a liturgy repeated word-for-word in every part of the world, but was it really necessary? Was it more holy for the priest to face away from us and be unheard? Yes, the readings were in English, but was the rest of the Mass unimportant?
I don’t think in Latin, speak in Latin, or dream in Latin. Do we have only two choices: Learn a language we use nowhere else in life, or never know what exactly is being said? When I wanted to follow the Mass, I had to look at the opposing pages of my missal to read the English translation. I could only know for sure where we were in the Mass by the priest’s movements. Between watching for them and trying to match the English with the Latin, I was always frustratingly behind. It would be like reading a Shakespearean sonnet to my beloved but having to translate each phrase as I read it — not appropriate for words of love.
Then, to my surprise, something wonderful happened: The vernacular Mass was introduced and became common. I fell in love with the First Canon. Every word spoke to me of God’s love for me or my love for Him. It continues to be my daily joy, as the priest says for me the words that tie him and me with a golden cord of words to the Word. I savor the words. As he speaks, I listen, and in my mind these words of love for God and His love for me fill me with love for His creation. Yes, my mind often wanders, but it is much easier to bring it back when the Mass is said in English than in Latin.
Yes, I know what the words of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei mean, but when I hear them in Latin, I must translate them in my mind first. For me, it is like trying to pray with people whispering nearby — a distraction from my effort to prepare for the coming epitome of Love. When I hear the priest offer me “the Body of Christ,” I am literally filled with God’s overflowing love for me. Would I be less joyful if he said, “Corpus Christi“? No. It is difficult to explain, other than to say that the Latin words are an interruption — momentary, yes; but for me, inharmonious.
I am happy for those who love the Traditional Mass and am astounded by their ability to draw God’s love from it. But, please, let me hear the Mass in my own tongue.
Few of us are as gifted in Latin as Richard Upsher Smith Jr., and therefore few of us can appreciate the “exquisite Latinity” of the language of the extraordinary form (Traditional Mass) or the syntax or sophisticated rhetorical structure from “late Antiquity” that’s so pleasing to his ear.
Moreover, I fail to understand his comment that the three-year cycle of Scripture readings in the ordinary form (Novus Ordo Mass) makes it “impossible to form one’s memory and personality by pericopes repeated constantly from childhood to old age.” Those of us who attend the Novus Ordo Mass daily have the opportunity to hear roughly 80 percent of the Gospels over that time period. Reflecting on the day’s readings before Mass, listening to them at Mass, and then hearing the priest’s homily on them at the same Mass belies Smith’s notion that the extensive pericopes in the Novus Ordo have “made spiritual formation that much more difficult.” With this in mind, it is beyond my comprehension that Smith could aver that “the extraordinary form is capable of shaping the memory, and thus the person, in ways that the ordinary form is not designed to do.” His comment that most priests regularly use only the Second Eucharist Prayer is a generalization.
The Novus Ordo Mass is as much a “gift” and is as “humanizing” as the Latin Mass. More to the point and not discussed is that many Catholics do not enjoy the Mass because they simply do not understand it. We should recall St. John Vianney’s admonition: “If we knew the value of the Mass, we would die of joy.” The Mass and the Eucharist are the source and summit of our faith. How fortunate that Jesus, understanding our frailties, has given us the Mass as an opportunity to be in His presence and minister to Him as He ministers to us, and to offer to the Father the sorrows of His Son’s bitter passion and death in reparation for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Those who understand the Mass know that we share not only in God’s graces singularly but in all the graces of those who participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
I agree with Richard Upsher Smith Jr. that the priest’s saying the Canon of the Mass and the Consecration sotto voce in the Traditional Latin Mass allows for suitable reverence. The Novus Ordo versions appear almost vulgar by comparison. The idea that letting the greatest mystery on earth “all hang out” in (very) plain English so that the congregation may “understand” it is entirely specious; there has to be some sort of “holy hush” to indicate the awesomeness of what is taking place at the altar. We need not understand; we need only worship.
The Orthodox Church has wisely retained its beautiful, otherworldly liturgy. Their sanctuaries are shut off from the congregation so that the people do not actually see the most sacred part of the Mass. Then there is that wonderful moment when the priest comes out through the royal doors, down from Heaven as it were, and shows the Host to the people. This is not exclusion or discrimination, as the modernists and liberals, in their earthbound mindsets, would have it, but an effective drama that brings out the reality of what is going on.
At the Traditional Latin Masses that I have attended, I’ve always gotten the impression that the layfolk have come not to understand but simply to be present and gain graces from the great action, without which the world would likely come to an end. If they want words, there are plenty available in their missals.
Although I personally do not attend the Traditional Mass in Latin, I was surprised and disappointed by the seemingly offhand remarks of the Holy Father in November disparaging those who are attached to this Mass for their “rigidity,” which, he said, negates “true love.”
I can appreciate the need to “inculturate” the Roman rite into many cultures and do not look askance at, for example, dancing at Mass as practiced in some areas of Africa. At the same time, all cultures need stability, and the survival of the Catholic religion as practiced and taught by the Apostles depends on it.
Subsequent to the succession from Greek to Latin as the language of the Church, the touchstone has been formulations in the Latin language. Even in our days, Latin texts have been used to rein in “dynamic equivalence” translations of the Gospels and parts of the Novus Ordo Mass, to correct the errors in theology that have cropped up in other languages, not always through inadvertence.
Moreover, I suggest that religious beauty illuminates religious truth, and there is a need for the beauty that is found in classical Western music, particularly in Gregorian chant and Latin Mass parts set to music by composers like Palestrina, Haydn, and Mozart. I hope that the Pope’s remarks do not signal a coming crackdown on the permission to use the Traditional Mass given by his predecessor. If they do, then those musical offerings will be relegated to museum status, performed only in concerts.
RICHARD UPSHER SMITH JR. REPLIES:
In my article I made it clear that I was relating my experiences of the extraordinary form after one year’s regular attendance. It should have been clear that I was beating no drum and blowing no bugle. Peter Goedicke understands this, and I was touched by his account of his conversion to Catholicism. I do not question anyone’s preference for the ordinary form of the Mass, much less his. In fact, I think the revised missal has restored “sacrality” to the English-language Mass.
I was a bit surprised at the defensiveness exhibited by Joseph Liss. He dismisses as nugatory my report that the Latinity of the extraordinary form is exquisite. But I demonstrated the choice Latinity of one short Collect. This choiceness is a fact, and one that I have experienced. Since it is a fact, it can be appreciated as a fact, without the implicit sneer.
Dr. Liss objects to my comments on the eucharistic lectionaries in the two forms of the Mass. It would be nice to know whether he had significant experience, both as a child and as an adult, with the old lectionary before it was replaced in 1969. If he did not, then his remarks are merely abstract. I had five decades of experience with the old Book of Common Prayer eucharistic lectionary, which was almost the same as the lectionary in the extraordinary form. I also preached on it for almost 20 years. As an old Anglican priest once told me, “I’ve never had any trouble coming up with a sermon in all the decades I’ve been preaching on this lectionary.” I never had any either. This is because the Holy Spirit, working through the Church Fathers, chose those readings for the edification of the Church, for the building up of the Body of Christ out of the distracted minds and tumultuous passions of men. They were given to us by grace to shape the memory, the ground of the person, a phenomenon the ancients and medievals well understood, but which, thanks to 20th-century educational “reforms,” we no longer appreciate. Perhaps hearing 80 percent of the Gospels at Mass, scattered over a triennial cycle, accomplishes this for Dr. Liss, but it certainly has not done so for me. I have experienced it as a diffusing influence on my memory.
Finally, Dr. Liss finds my claim absurd that the ordinary form has not humanized the world that has come into being since the mid-19th century. To be sure, he is quite right when he says, in effect, that any valid Mass humanizes the recipients of Holy Communion, for the sacrament heals and restores us to conformity with Christ. But my remark had to do with human sensibility. As I said, “My main concern about the literature and art of late modernity — to which the text of the Novus Ordo, its music, vestments, and art belong — is that they have not humanized the new world that has come into being” since then. Romano Guardini’s little book Letters from Lake Como makes the point that since that time, the sailboat has given way to the steamer, the fireplace to central heating, horse-drawn plows to tractors, and so on. (We might add that the doctor’s home visit has given way to a doctor whose eyes and ears are attached to a computer screen!) Whatever we have gained in efficiency and productivity, we have lost in humane modes of living.
Guardini called for the arts to re-humanize the world. Whether or not Christopher Alexander ever read Guardini, he has exemplified re-humanization in his theories on architecture, particularly in his concept of “a pattern language.” Duncan Stroik has applied such principles to church architecture. The same needs to be done in all the arts as they are used in our church buildings and liturgies. In my experience, which is fairly wide, this has not been done, so far, under the influence of the ordinary form.
J. Allen’s notion of the “holy hush” gets at one element of the extraordinary form. But one must remember St. Paul: “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also” (1 Cor. 14:15). The holy hush moves the spirit, but the words, too, one way or another, must move the mind. Moreover, I deeply believe that English is capable of a sacrality equivalent to Latin’s, as I mentioned above. Also, I suppose that all Catholics attend Mass “to be present and gain graces from the great action, without which the world would likely come to an end.” This is what makes the Catholic Mass different from the Protestant communion service.
Hurd Baruch’s letter is tangential to the concerns of my article. However, I would just say that Pope Francis’s incendiary remarks have to be read in toto. The part that is usually left out is this: “Sometimes I find myself confronted with a very strict person, with an attitude of rigidity….” Note the adverb sometimes. Perhaps it is a weasel word, a tergiversation; but we owe each other charity, and especially the Pope. In charity, I don’t think he is accusing every young person who attends the extraordinary form of being rigid. Not even his later assertion that Pope Benedict XVI authorized the extraordinary form “to meet a certain mentality of some groups and people who had nostalgia” is necessarily to be taken as condescending and dismissive.
Both in Spanish and English, the basic meaning of nostalgia is “homesickness,” such as is first recorded by Homer of Odysseus and his shipmates during their nostos. The meaning of both mentality and mentalidad is “a worldview, an outlook”; both are close in meaning to the French mentalité, much used by scholars these days. Thus, all that may be necessarily concluded from this latter remark is that Pope Francis thinks Latin Mass folks, as a group or community, feel homesick for the worldview of the extraordinary form. This is not a bad thing, if what they are homesick for is a re-humanization of the Mass, and of the world.
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