Letters to the Editor: July-August 2022
Which Spirit Leads?
As an almost 30-year subscriber to the NOR, I very much appreciate Pieter Vree’s commentaries. His column on the Synod on Synodality (“A Synod on What?” New Oxford Notebook, April) expressed a puckish sense of humor about the vagueness that surrounds this supposedly epoch-making event. But perhaps there is more to that vagueness than meets the eye.
Recall the Synod on Young People in 2018. In the final draft of the closing document there suddenly appeared a section on synodality that had not been discussed by the synod fathers or even hinted at. The document was approved.
It is not a stretch to assume that those pushing the current three-year process know exactly what they are doing. It could be a last gasp to implement the “spirit of the Council.” And today, as always, this spirit demands the usual pillars of progressive Catholicism, to wit, women deacons, married priests, blessings of same-sex unions, the abolition of the need for annulments, and, ultimately, women priests. This refrain has not changed in 50 years.
One need look no further than the massive activity of Massimo Faggioli of Villanova University, the leading American apologist of and cheerleader for Pope Francis, and one of the organizers of the recent conference in Chicago that discussed the “enemies of Francis,” to see the real agenda. Faggioli has for years insisted that theologians, not popes like St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have the ultimate authority to interpret Vatican II. The basic problem with those who think like Faggioli is that they have substituted sociology and historicist thinking for actual theology. Theirs is the language of power, not theology. For example, in his book Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning (2012), Faggioli discusses the “doctrinal policy” of John Paul and Benedict, not doctrine. Faggioli’s article “The Emergence of Synodality and the Inadequacy of Canon Law” (La Croix International,Oct. 2, 2019) is aimed at replacing or eliminating canon law’s limits on what a synod can do.
Also, if dear readers of the NOR have the inclination, and the insomnia, to check out the International Theological Commission’s 2018 attempt to ground synodality in theology, they will see the weak and obscuring effort to support Francis’s view that synodality is the essence of the Church. There is no real way to ground the Church in synodality, whatever that means, as Vree points out. The Church is a sacramental Church. To go deeper, the Church is a sacramental Church because her basis is Christ. Her basis is not some modern, sociological, historicist body of power relations, no matter how those like Faggioli call on the “People of God.” The people of God are a communion of believers in Christ, not a clump of people searching to vote for the “right” result.
Cary, North Carolina
I can easily imagine that Pieter Vree was drafted by his pastor to participate in his parish’s synodal “listening session” and, after hearing all the old people moan about how young people are no longer coming to church, Vree concluded that the call to synod must be whatever Massimo Faggioli says it is. And then Vree had a grand old time making fun of that. Knocking down a contrived straw man is just so easy.
I wish Vree had gone to more than one session, or at least done a little more research. He just might have discovered that the synod is not whatever Faggioli says it is. It is a call to discernment for all Catholics of the path that the Holy Spirit is indicating for the Church.
As parts of the history of our Church are truly vile, we know that she continues to exist only by the power of the Holy Spirit. What could be more natural than for those of us who are walking the path together to appeal to the Holy Spirit for direction at this time?
I congratulate Pieter Vree on his column on synodality and also for the highly apposite sidebar quote of Dietrich von Hildebrand: “The progressive Catholics are indiscriminately enamored of the spirit of the age, and they advocate an adaptation of the Church to this spirit.” Von Hildebrand’s quote is appropriate at this time for both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, but especially for the latter, which has ventured far down the route of synodical government ever since its bishops passed off their responsibility as leaders to the whims of numerous synods: deanery, diocesan, and general.
Dare I suggest that the Catholic Church could learn, on this occasion at least, from the Anglican Communion? That lesson would be not to follow down the path of synodical government!
The issue of women priests serves as an excellent pointer. Women were admitted to the Anglican priesthood following several attempts at the General Synod. Success was achieved when the number of supporters of women priests was surreptitiously increased in that synodal body. This is how synodical government works in practice, and decisions once made are irreversible.
I hope Vree’s column and von Hildebrand’s quote are noted by all, especially those in authority in the Catholic Church.
Hull, East Yorkshire
Marek Chodakiewicz has penned a brilliant, bracing, and much-needed article about the current assaults on reality by the self-appointed shock troops of our debased sociopolitical culture (“Revolt of the Ultra-Elites,” May). He certainly is not the first to do so. Drawing on the penetrating works of Michael Anton and the late Angelo Codevilla, among others, he directs the reader through the maze of arcana and argot of today’s utopian revolutionaries.
What’s original in Prof. Chodakiewicz’s approach is that he doesn’t accept the worn leftist shibboleths of “the revolt of the masses” but correctly establishes the top-down nature of today’s revolutionists. The Überklasse, not the proletariat, is making the revolution — or maybe it should be called the alchemic, hermetic, nihilist, plutocratic insurgency (hat tip to the Bunkers’ Plutocratic Insurgency Reader, 2019). That would make it as old as Genesis, in some respects. Cain, call your publicist!
Moreover, Chodakiewicz does not accept the terms and frames of reference of the Left, refusing to collaborate in their message-control intimidation that entails the utter pollution and inversion of language (check out Josef Pieper’s little gem, Abuse of Language — Abuse of Power, 1992). From my own decades’ long service in the intelligence game, I’m familiar with the crafting of terms and frames of reference and language control early in the intelligence-assessment process that can preordain an outcome. Such a process flies under the protective cover of “sources and methods,” so the public doesn’t get to see how the sausage is made.
But in today’s assaults by the world’s Überklasse on reality, facts, and just plain good sense, via their control of the media in general, and the Internet and social media in particular, they sail in the open and force compliance through intimidation, censorship, name-calling, or worse, with hints of more drastic measures to come. Feliks Dzerzhinsky and Joseph Goebbels would be impressed.
Chodakiewicz recognizes just such a pedigree in our current neo-Marxist revolutionary era, which includes the workup to the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Nazi Revolution. (Let’s never forget the Socialist part embedded in the Nazi moniker, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Right down to the collapse of Nazi Germany, Herr Goebbels indignantly declared that Nazidom was a socialist enterprise.)
The conditions of pre-revolutionary French, Russian, and German societies are striking and ominous analogues to what we are suffering in the United States and the West in general. The degradation of language and thought, and the penetration of cultural, social, and political institutions by the various flavors of the violent Left of those eras, offer striking parallels to the street thugs of today’s ruling classes in their top-down utopian reset of American society. And the United States is not alone. It seems that in the Anglosphere, from the United Kingdom to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, the Überklasse has upped the power game, tyrannizing in the name of democracy, all while projecting its own sins on the victims of its actions.
To add yet more context to Chodakiewicz’s superb dissection of our utopian revolutionaries, today’s oligarchs (Soros et al.) and their NGOs and political confrères are not a new development. A predicate for our crop of revolutionary billionaires may be found in the early 20th century with the likes of Alexander Parvus (a.k.a. Helphand), a wealthy German supporter of the Bolshevik Party who, with the German Social Democrats, German Foreign Ministry, and the Imperial German General Staff, financially assisted the Bolsheviks in taking down Tsarist Russia. Ideas, cash, and hard-nosed political warfare indeed have consequences — the legendary sealed train with Lenin therein being only one element of the takedown of Tsarist Russia. In light of Chodakiewicz’s trenchant analysis, the lesson is: it’s already underway here.
The author concludes that the revolution must be met with a counterrevolution, led by the Church Militant. This letter writer would merely add that there also is a predicate for Chodakiewicz’s solution: The widespread Arian heresy was overcome by a counterrevolution comprising the active roles of the laity and faithful clergy, which in no way diminishes the enormous contributions of faithful bishops like St. Athanasius. And it was a counterrevolution!
Finally, it must be restated: Most revolutions are confected by elites. Think of Lucifer, to whom even Saul Alinsky deferred.
John J. Dziak
Great Falls, Virginia
Marek Chodakiewicz’s excellent article began with the thesis that the rich are quite literally revolting against the poor, citing the ludicrous Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements as examples. But as I read on, it became clear that each one of Chodakiewicz’s diatribes was equally true of another radical movement that is taboo to criticize in conservative circles and that has not been criticized in the pages of the NOR for the past two years: Trumpism.
During the Occupy Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, a large and violent crowd waving Trump flags breached the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., a vast percentage of whom were wealthy and affluent suburbanites and exurbanites, whites predominantly, many important pillars of society. Judges had children there. Town officials, veterans, off-duty policemen, and even a state legislator were there, all following a “magician” (in Chodakiewicz’s parlance) named Trump who had cast a spell on them with a fiery speech. Many rioters claimed in court that they believed they were acting on Trump’s orders.
Is this not a glaring revolt of the One Percent? Consider that in order to possess guns and tactical gear, such as was boasted by many of the militias that came to the Capitol prepared to “hang Mike Pence,” one must have considerable money at one’s disposal. Consider further that the majority of the January Sixers were of the posh, rich, pseudo-redneck gun-owning culture that chiefly inhabits the New England (and elsewhere) boondocks. I rake their lawns and listen as they gripe about the 2nd Amendment around expensive pig roasts while loading even more expensive guns to head down to the shooting range. Are these not of the rich?
Yet not a single mention of this corrosive MAGA worship makes its way through the dense wokephobia of Chodakiewicz’s article (yes, I invented another word). Hagridden by the bugbear of “wokeism,” a ubiquitous moniker that usually means anything one does not happen to like, but especially giving money to poor people, Chodakiewicz ignores the cult-like fanaticism rapidly consuming the Religious Right, who now hold that there is no God but Conservatism, and Trump is its prophet.
MAREK CHODAKIEWICZ REPLIES:
I thank John J. Dziak for amplifying my message. I would also like to commiserate with James Farrell for staging a less than crafty provocation and hoping to get away with it.
Mr. Farrell has endeavored to turn the tables on us by mirror-imaging America’s cultural landscape according to his progressive sensibilities. By deploying spurious analogies and fuzzy thinking, he projected my analysis of the universe of the One Percent onto President Donald Trump and his followers, in particular, the riot-makers of January 6. Unfortunately, his trick collapses under even the most superficial scrutiny.
First, Trump is not a magician but a defector from the One Percent. A magician can be a courtier, but he usually is a stand-alone revolutionary intellectual, a few steps below a One Percenter, in my taxonomy. Perhaps Farrell was thinking about Thomas Mann’s Mario and the Magician (1929), which lampooned Mussolini and Hitler. Trump is neither. Further, please do not confuse America’s middle class, amply represented on January 6, with the One Percent and their revolution. Yes, by comparison with the rest of the world, our middle class is prosperous, but it is nowhere near rich. Unlike the One Percent, most of the middle class does not want to perpetuate a revolution but, instead, wants to save the Republic. The One Percent likes neither the republic nor the middle class. One Percenters savor their woke courtiers, janissaries, and the lumpenproletariat — always handy to burn our cities down.
As for the alleged wokephobia, one should not give in to fear, for it detracts us from our fight against the woke pathology. Likewise, we fought Nazis and communists not because of any phobia but because we love our Latin Christian Civilization, or whatever remains of it. Mr. Farrell should take note of that when he comes to confiscate everyone’s pig roasts and guns that so annoy him.
Until then, instead of eavesdropping on his neighbors (though it may be good training for his spot in the future woke secret police), perhaps he should mow his own lawn and mind his own business. But then he would not be woke, an affliction indispensable to penning incoherent letters.
An Antidote to Daily Headwinds
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, O.P., has drawn from the fonts of the Dominican charism for her article “The Duality of Covenant Authority in the Catholic Church” (May), namely, after careful study and prayer, she delivers the fruit of these projects by describing ancient truths found in our Christian anthropology. In a day and age when settled truths seem to be up for redefinition by an endless queue of false prophets, Sr. Joseph Andrew lucidly illustrates and reminds readers of the noble destiny of mankind, fallen and sinful but redeemed by Jesus Christ.
As a university professor, I commend this article to teachers, especially in high school and college programs, as a theologically and philosophically balanced antidote to the daily headwinds that attempt to undermine sacred truths about the roles of women and men as designed by the Creator.
Fr. Michael Caruso, S.J.
Associate Professor of Education, Saint Louis University
St. Louis, Missouri
Cheers for Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz’s stirring affirmation of the complementarity of men and women. She offers as good a list as one will ever find of the special graces showered by God on members of the so-called weaker sex: sensitivity, intuition, empathy, and adaptability.
Women are, above all, “relational” creatures, as Sister sees them, gifted with a unique ability to understand, to engage, and to cultivate others. In an age when common sense is uncommonly rare, it takes courage to state the obvious, as she does, and so it is rarely done. Current talk is almost entirely focused on notions of sexual equality, transsexualism, and ways in which women may be enabled to compete with men.
Sister’s line of argument leaves one with the impression that women should, once again, lean toward fields of endeavor wherein their unique skillsets are most likely to make them shine. Two of the occupations that are specially rewarding for those who are “relationally” gifted are, of course, motherhood and teaching.
Sister herself is one of the four foundresses of a fully habited religious order that has grown in number from four to 150 in 25 years. Its members, who exemplify spiritual motherhood, have a mission to teach, which they do on the primary, secondary, and college levels with a well-earned reputation for bringing out the best in their students.
Sister claims, in passing, that the Catholic Church has worked hard over the years to improve the social status of women. This is an important point, little known, that adds to her credibility because it is true. No organization has a record comparable to that of the Church when it comes to the kind of activism that works to everyone’s advantage.
From the start of the Christian era, when the Church was just beginning to find her voice politically, daughters were no longer forced into marriage, and masters were no longer free to sleep with slave girls. Adultery was considered as great a sin for husbands as for wives, and in marked contrast with tradition, girls were as highly valued as boys. Under the Emperor Justinian, a devout Catholic (r. 527-565), mothers were granted guardianship of their children, along with property rights and protection from easy divorce.
Fast-forward a few centuries and we see women not only drawing even with men in the field of learning, but moving ahead. Whether we are talking about Malcolm of Scotland’s spouse or the wives of Charles V and Philip II of Spain, the story is the same. Many, if not most, queens of the medieval period were better educated than their husbands.
Sister didn’t have the time or space to go into detail when she wrote that “the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church…has led the way in promoting respect for women.” But history is squarely on her side. Today, the Church of Rome opposes artificial contraception and abortion, which sicken womanhood and demean it by causing men to treat their girlfriends and wives as sex objects.
One last word in support of Sister’s thesis. Almost all of America’s canonized saints are women, and no recent priest or bishop, with the exception of Pope John Paul II, has been as powerful or influential as two enterprising women, both of them short of stature: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Nobel Prize-winning nurse, and Mother Angelica, teacher par excellence and founder of the largest religious broadcasting network in the world, EWTN.
Frederick W. Marks
Forest Hills, New York
Emergent from the Shadows
Cicero Bruce, in lucid and elegant prose, has done a great service for humane letters (“Charles Williams in Letters & Remembrances,” May). C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield have attained the recognition they rightly deserve, but Charles Williams — influential, as Prof. Bruce shows, even to such literary titans as T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden — seems to be overshadowed by the legendary status of his fellow Inklings. I hope Bruce’s article helps make Williams more of a household name.
As a Ph.D. candidate in American literature (and a former atheist), my knowledge of the Inklings is severely limited. It is only over the past couple years that I have acquainted myself with works like Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism (1961) and Barfield’s Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (1928). As a result of Bruce’s article, I am now happily adding Williams’s The Descent of the Dove (1939) to my soul-expanding reading list.
Cicero Bruce’s erudite meditation on Charles Williams raises from the dust a figure of unmistakable gifts and sensuous intellectual clarity.
Absent the pieties, platitudes, and psittacisms that so often attach themselves to religious appreciation of literature and poetry, Bruce excavates and elevates in elegant yet sobering prose the deeply theological meanings of everyday experience in human life, which Williams’s work embodies.
It is only in the everyday that God is found; it is where the familial, the exotic, the absent as present, and the present as absent coalesce in the heartrending unity of immediate and memorial coinherence.
Bruce, with the touch of a master, isolates the hidden thread, the dance of death and immortality that reaches into all, and all time, conjuring the inextricable quality of exile that permeated all of Williams’s writings, and that raised The Figure of Beatrice (1943) into its own orbit.
Why Williams? Why has the author placed us in letters of another time, situated around another war, with preoccupations no longer du jour? The technocratic dance of spiritual disease and dissolution has claimed almost all the God of the Dove. Its sacred language, which is the constitutive force beneath every mythos, has been immanentized and forgotten. In its wake, contemporary language touches all but caresses nothing; it places incessant labels on manifold stances, apparitions, and attitudes, but it hasn’t a whit of meaning. As C.S. Lewis remarked in The Abolition of Man (1943), the state of academia is in shambles, absurdly bidding the geldings to go forth and be fruitful.
Williams is an anchor, a way back to the phenomenon as itself a sacred event — from the “hand lighting a cigarette” to the “pair of light dancing steps by a girl.” The immediate “is laden with universal meaning.” Following the footsteps of W.H. Auden and Dorothy L. Sayers, we rediscover in Williams the experience that unveils meaning as truth-filled presence, which, in turn, falls at the feet of the Word of God.
Thank you, Dr. Bruce and Charles Williams!
Professor of Philosophy, University of Holy Cross
New Orleans, Louisiana
In a sea of scholarship that obsesses over the trivial and the irrelevant, Cicero Bruce’s attentive appreciation of Charles Williams emphasizes that which is humane and therefore eternally relevant: love. Bruce, with keen eyes and consideration, shows us the character and power of the love between Williams and his wife, Florence. This love saw Williams through mental, spiritual, and literal warfare, and it was made manifest in Williams’s writings, of which Bruce offers valuable insight.
As a graduate student and burgeoning literary scholar, I experience every day the vacuity of contemporary scholarship, devoid of affection for its subjects. Scholarship so often seeks to tear down, diminish, or negate the literary achievements of those in our tradition. What is more, analytical language that is cold and scientific has replaced that which is beautiful. The presence of love in Bruce’s article, woven into his language and apparent in his reverence for Williams, is particularly refreshing, and this article distinguishes Bruce as a scholar of exceptional character and attentiveness.
CICERO BRUCE REPLIES:
Implicit in these gracious letters is an acknowledgement of what Charles Williams and his fellow Inklings understood and opposed with the might of the moral imagination. Let’s call it another serpent in the Garden. In 1907, about the time Williams began his work as editor at Oxford University Press, Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, crowned Roman Pontiff as Pius X four years earlier, identified the serpent in his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (“Tending the Flock of Our Lord”). He named it Modernism. Pius X did not intend a censure of all things contemporary; his declaration entailed, rather, a condemnation of certain philosophical and theological errors emerging since the Enlightenment.
Although Pius X’s encyclical was concerned chiefly with Modernism’s effects on the sacred purlieus of Holy Church, its animadversions find an echo in Friedrich Nietzsche’s late 19th-century revelations of Modernism’s effects on culture generally. In The Joyful Wisdom (1882), Nietzsche’s “madman” famously berates modernity: “God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed has bled to death under our knife.” With these imagined utterances from a madman, which he would later echo in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), Nietzsche expressed his belief that the Enlightenment, from which secular humanism evolved, had undermined religion in its insistence that the word God is nothing more than a linguistic signifier for man’s innate desire for divine intervention in human affairs.
Williams saw that the modern world had lapsed into an ontological state of being analogous to that circumscribed in the writing of both Pius X and Nietzsche. For him, this lapse signified a crucial failure of the religious imagination. Without the religious imagination, literature is at a loss, he warned. As Allen Tate, the Southern poet and early crusader against the errors of Modernism, points out, we would not have the Inferno, a depiction of damnation par excellence, had not Dante been able to imagine the subject of his allegory to be true. But, then, Dante’s poem was born of an “age whose mentality held the allegorical view of experience as easily as we hold the causal and scientific.” It is the spirit of Dante’s age, an age which aspired to beatitude and feared damnation, that informs Williams’s poetry and prose, not the positivistic spirit of modernity that elevates self above all else and pretends to fear nothing.
Like Pius X, Nietzsche, and Tate, Williams took his stand against Modernism. So much more could be said about it. To be sure, much more needs to be said, as the authors of the present letters intimate with their shared sense of an unfortunate loss of reverence in today’s scholarship, so much of which “obsesses,” as Maggie Miller puts it succinctly, “over the trivial and the irrelevant.”
In the end, however, Williams speaks for himself — in, and through, all that he wrote. He speaks with certainty, lucidity, and authority. His is the voice not of quiet desperation but of calm conviction. His purpose is true and consistent, and that purpose is to remind us of what Tate’s comrade in arms, Andrew Nelson Lytle, called “that Western knowledge of ourselves which is our identity.” This knowledge flows from the sacred source of all created things, the source to which Williams would have us forever returning, lest we float like so many dead things into the chaotic sea of nothingness.
Jason M. Morgan’s column on the Russian philosopher Ivan A. Ilyin was thought provoking, illuminating, and challenging (“Unmasking Putin’s Rasputin,” May). It is truly quibbling to make anything out of the title, but the world would be blessed if Vladimir Putin had a Rasputin. The much-maligned Mad Monk did, after all, advise Tsar Nicholas II not to go to war in 1914. If Nicholas had heeded that advice, most of the trouble in the world since then would not have happened or, at a minimum, would have been infinitely less likely to have occurred.
Whatever else might be said about Rasputin, on the most important question in Russian history, he was right. He deserves credit for that. May he rest in peace.
San Francisco, California
I cannot speak for Ivan A. Ilyin, but Christian moral doctrine of the first century is straightforward. Russian President Vladimir Putin is straightforward, too, and a logical man. The best way to understand him is to pay attention to his speeches.
According to Jason M. Morgan, “Ilyin says the Christian must use violence, even to the point of killing, to protect the innocent from evil acts,” for example, by shooting to kill on the battlefield or to stop an imminent rape. “But how,” Morgan asks, “does this square with the Christian life?”
Christian morality derives from the Jewish Noachide law, which distinguishes lawful execution, justifiable homicide, and criminal homicide. Homicide is justifiable only to prevent a capital crime, typically either a criminal homicide or a criminal sexual offense. For the ancient Jew, certain presumptions are standard. Anyone can lawfully kill a home invader who appears at night despite locked doors, on the presumption that a capital crime may be the intent. A similar presumption applies to the invader of a country.
The perpetrator of, or accessory to, a criminal homicide or a criminal sexual offense risks the death penalty, but mercy is permitted a court. Consent is aggravating, not mitigating, that is, consent condemns both the adulteress and the adulterer, while its absence exonerates the rape victim but not the rapist. Less than lethal force is justifiable to prevent property crimes (including personal injury and contract violations), the penalty for which is monetary (or, at worst, debt peonage for no more than seven years).
The justifiability of lethal force defines our rights to life and to chastity. The justifiability of lesser force defines our right to property, while the unjustifiability of force otherwise defines our right to liberty. Thus, God ordains our Christian rights to life, chastity, liberty, and property, even if the French revolutionaries erroneously neglected one of these four and erroneously ascribed the origin of the other three to democracy and rebellion instead of to God. Rights are not selfishness but are neighborly Christian love. Christian morality instructs the state and depends not on the state but on God.
Would the Apostles condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Putin’s concern is the proliferation, at his border, of missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Nuclear weaponry generally is defensive, especially in a home country or on a submarine. Against the border of an enemy country, however, nuclear weaponry is useless for defense and is necessarily offensive. Putin rightly perceives NATO as an offensive military alliance intent on relentlessly increasing its offensive nuclear arsenal. The only logical military response — negotiation having been exhausted — is for Russia to disrupt the ongoing nuclear buildup militarily.
Russia might end up annexing half of Ukraine, but this is not Putin’s objective. His objective, rather, is to disrupt NATO’s offensive advance. He is a cornered animal and will act accordingly. He will not back down, and monetary penalties mean nothing to him. Unlike America, he will honor a treaty, but America refuses to negotiate.
Jesus Christ demands that we love our enemy. Sun Tzu demands that we know our enemy. Her military performance, for the past 75 years, demonstrates that America does neither.
Thomas More Zavist
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
I thank Albert Alioto and Thomas More Zavist for their letters. I am largely in agreement with both men.
Beneath NATO, far beneath, is the substrate of Christendom. That substrate lay under much of the old Soviet Union, too. Digging into the Russian past, we also find the Mongolian empires, led by canny men whom brave Franciscans once tried to convert to Christianity. In 2022 even Christians tend to analyze politics as a secular phenomenon. Mr. Zavist’s and Mr. Alioto’s letters remind us — remind me — that our Christian forebears did not make the Americanist distinction — ultimately, a Westphalian compromise necessitated by the Protestant rebellion — between Church and state.
Vladimir Putin is right to be wary of the decadent and faithless West. The Orthodox are also right to be hesitant to rejoin a swiftly Protestantizing Rome. Our Lady of Fatima offered us the way to end the madness and have peace with Russia. But that way requires that we be Christians first, and not geopoliticians.
There are very many in Russia, too — including Putin’s guru, Alexander Dugin — who put geopolitics over faith, ethnofascism over true conversion of heart. The old problems of Rome and Constantinople haunt us still. Human divisions frustrate the accord that comes from the Holy Ghost — and from Him alone.
Will we Christians do as God tells us and rebuild His Church in her rightful unity? God only knows. But the hour is growing very late, and the daily news proves again and again that geopolitics can never solve the root problem between Russia and the West. Nothing is going to save us but God and His Mother. We have a choice, and the time for choosing is right now.
Die on the Hill? No. Defend the Hill? Yes!
Greetings from Down Under. The NOR standard has been raised in the West, and at least one car bears an NOR bumper sticker in Perth. I receive an unmanageable amount of subscriptions, most of them quite good, including Inside the Vatican, Gilbert!, Quadrant, Saint Austin Review, and Papa Stronsay’s The Catholic. The NOR wins every time.
Thomas Storck wrote a fine review of Michael Fiedrowicz’s The Traditional Mass: History, Form, & Theology of the Classical Roman Rite (May). The day before I read it, I was on a Marian retreat, and we were discussing traditional vestments and the raising of the chasuble. A priest pointed out that it was a pragmatic part of the liturgy early on, and then a suggestion was put forth as to why it might have been kept: as a clear display of lay assistance at the altar, and at one of the most sacred moments, the consecration. We didn’t have time to develop the idea, but perhaps there is something there regarding Christ’s being raised up for our salvation, the priest’s emulating that in his life of sacrifice, and the laity’s also emulating that in their lives of sacrifice. We all participate in Christ’s being raised up.
I reckon Mr. Storck is onto a good bet with his wager about the chasuble and the issue of blood. And he is spot-on with his take on the negative reaction in the 1960s to the rationalism of the 1950s. His review finely weaves together a question over what hills are worth dying on regarding liturgical matters. While not really knowing what it means to die on either of the two hills he mentions — Pius XII’s changes to the Holy Week liturgy and John XXIII’s insertion of St. Joseph into the Canon of the Mass — I do think one can cheerfully give reasonable defense of those hills.
(1) Pius XII’s changes. I have found the pre-1955 liturgy more edifying. The untruncated 12 prophecies lend a majesty and epic character to the vigil liturgy, and I personally enjoy the lector struggling through the Latin Nabuchodonosor again and again. Sure, I won’t die on this hill, but I don’t know why I’d vacate it for no good reason.
(2) St. Joseph’s addition. St. Joseph is the man. I have a personal interest in securing him greater regard as my namesake. Fr. Donald Calloway’s book Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father (2020) and the Year of St. Joseph (2021) are great examples of how to increase the honor and veneration of a saint whose power and intercession are becoming better known. I understand, however, that the Canon had not been universally changed since the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great in the late sixth century. That’s close to 1,500 years of saying the same thing. There were some regional variations — God bless them — but as a universal canon, it’s a treasure to pray the same way in a most exulted ritual for nearly 15 centuries (and counting), and something worth keeping on. A St. Joseph addition could have been regionally instituted or made an option for certain feast days, but a 1,500-year-old consistency, while maybe not quite worth a last stand, does deserve a little parry and thrust in its defense, more so than Nabuchodonosor even.
There is also the question of how change enables less salutary change. If times are getting chaotic, and people are giddy to invest in bubbles, maybe don’t open the treasure box and “have a go.” Instead, save the changes for a time less chaotic, when cooler heads won’t be set off by what they perhaps wrongly perceive to be open season on Church practice.
Perth, Western Australia
THOMAS STORCK REPLIES:
I appreciate the points Joseph Devitt raises in his genial letter, as well as his kind remarks about my review. He definitely seems like a person with whom it would be fun to discuss these matters over a few pints. But since that’s hardly possible, let me attempt to lay out the fundamentals of the liturgical problem as I see them.
What is the correct principle for regulating the liturgy? As I see it, there are only three possibilities: personal preference, tradition, or authority. When Mr. Devitt writes, “I have found the pre-1955 liturgy more edifying,” that, obviously, is his personal preference, devotional, esthetic, or otherwise. I myself prefer Pius XII’s Good Friday liturgy to its predecessor, though I experienced the earlier version only one time, so perhaps I’m not a good judge. But in the end, neither Devitt’s preference nor mine means anything. To regulate the liturgy by personal preference is, obviously, ridiculous, nothing but a kind of Protestant-style private judgment. In fact, one of my main objections to the Mass of Paul VI is the multiple options that allow the celebrant to give expression to his own liturgical preferences and, too often, his own private devotional style.
What about tradition? My problem is that I’m not sure what it is. Is “tradition” doing what people did in 1962? Or 1950? Or some earlier date? If the latter, then not just when, but where: Scotland, Sicily, Portugal, or Poland? When and where do we find our touchstone of tradition? Looking at the history of the liturgy, you can find nearly anything you want, depending on when and where you look. As Fr. Fiedrowicz himself says, the liturgy has changed over the centuries with prayers and various parts added and subtracted and changed, sometimes multiple times.
Liturgical developments mostly ceased in 1570 when Pius V centralized control over the Roman liturgy in the Holy See. Was that a good thing? In his encyclical Mediator Dei (1947), Pius XII explicitly asserts the right of the supreme pontiff to regulate the liturgy. Does this right have any limits? I don’t think we know. The Church has not yet had a thorough theological conversation on what limits, if any, there are to what the First Vatican Council called the pope’s “full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the Universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those which relate to the discipline and government of the Church.”
Obviously, such authority, like any authority, can be exercised unwisely or even abused. I would be the first to agree that Paul VI acted foolishly in changing the liturgy so radically, or perhaps allowing it to be changed by a process that apparently he lost control of early on. But just because he acted foolishly does not mean he did not have the authority to act. I would rejoice to see a universal restoration of the 1962 liturgy, but I’m far from sure that Paul VI didn’t have the authority to do what he did, even if his actions were gravely mistaken.
Americans, and I would guess moderns as a whole, are committed to democracy, the notion that we govern ourselves. As a result, we resent authority whenever that authority differs in judgment from our own. Our ancestors, living under monarchs, probably were accustomed to stupid or perverse decisions and policies on the part of their rulers and simply shrugged their shoulders and said, “That’s life.” We need to beware of bringing our democratic sentiments and individualistic habits of thinking into ecclesiastical matters.
Naturally, in saying this, I’m not speaking of doctrine. Obviously, the pope has no authority to change the Church’s previous dogmatic decisions, and if he purports to do so, then his action is null. And it is true, of course, that the liturgy and other rites and practices of the Church have a connection with doctrine and can express doctrine in a clearer or a less clear manner. But who’s to say when a particular change does or does not do so? And is the Church always required to express in the clearest way possible her doctrines by means of her rites and ceremonies? And, ultimately, who is the judge of that?
Much of my thinking on these matters is tentative, and I don’t claim to have found an answer to all the questions I raise here. I think there is a pressing need on the part of theologians to discuss these matters. Of course, now is probably the worst time for such a discussion to take place, given the state of theological discourse in the Church. But every discussion, however tentative, can contribute to an eventual clarification.
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