Letters to the Editor: March 2020
If Not “Conservative,” Then What?
I was delighted to read Jason M. Morgan’s column, “Conservatism: The God That Failed” (Cultural Counterpoint, Dec.). Morgan is absolutely correct that conservatism is an idol — an idol, moreover, that deceives Catholics and pulls us away from what should be our standard of belief: Catholic orthodoxy. I know that some people think conservatism and orthodoxy are the same thing, but this is not so.
Aside from the fact that conservative is not a theological term (nor is liberal), its nearly ubiquitous use as a religious designation blurs the real and important differences between Catholic orthodoxy and political conservatism. This usage makes it all the more difficult to promote Catholic orthodoxy, for by labeling it as conservatism, one automatically renders it suspect in the eyes of many for whom conservative is not an appealing designation. Yet orthodoxy — right belief, adherence to all that the Church teaches — is simply a necessity for any Catholic. To link, even by suggestion, this gold standard of true belief to a political-cultural bloc is not only an apologetic error of the first rank but an offense against the Church’s faith.
Jason M. Morgan writes that “it remains impossible for self-styled conservatives to call not for some softer version of the prevailing consensus but the honest-to-goodness Social Kingship of Christ.” This is a truism, at least among Catholics.
And that, perhaps, is why we do so little to advance His Kingdom.
What is a truism, if not a truth so well-established that we feel safe ignoring it? “The Gates of Hell will not prevail,” our Blessed Lord assures us. And so we clap our hands together and cry, “Ah! Well, that’s a load off. What should we do in the meantime?”
Russell Kirk, the father of American conservatism, reached a similar conclusion shortly before his death: America will either embrace the faith or she’ll perish. As for myself, I’ve ceased referring to myself as a conservative, except occasionally, and only by accident. Old habits die hard, you know.
Still, I’m weary of referring to myself as “merely Catholic.” The last American to do so was L. Brent Bozell Jr., one of the 20th-century Americans I venerate most. Yet Bozell never could define what “mere Catholicism” was, politically speaking. He supported the Carlist Requetés, but also the Francoists who betrayed them — and, for that matter, the socialist IRA.
I would put this question to Morgan: What do Pope Leo XIII’s social encyclicals look like in practice? To Jacques Maritain, the answer was a kind of watered-down socialism. To Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, it was a kind of watered-down classical liberalism. To G.K. Chesterton, it was a kind of watered-down feudalism.
I’d also suggest that Morgan ask himself where, exactly, the West went wrong. By way of an answer, I’ll posit the French Revolution. I agree with Louis Veuillot, who said the great division within the Church is not between conservatives and progressives but between integrals and liberals — those who believe the state must be subordinate to the Church and those who believe the Church must be subordinate to the state.
Still, I’m not too quick to associate with what’s known today as neo-integralism, as espoused by Fr. Edmund Waldstein and Professors Adrian Vermeule and Gladden Pappin (all friends, whom I admire greatly). I think it was John Senior who said he couldn’t endorse the “New Thomism” because there was nothing wrong with the old Thomism. My thoughts precisely, vis-à-vis integral Catholicism. I see no reason to embrace a “softer version” of integralism; I see nothing wrong with the thought of Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, François-René de Chateaubriand, Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, Juan Donoso Cortés, Juan Vázquez de Mella, and Veuillot himself.
How are these men labeled today? They’re called reactionaries. Well, then, it would be an honor to be in that number. I’ll adopt the label reactionary for myself. And this, I’m firmly convinced, is our only way forward: by going backward.
Michael Warren Davis
Editor-in-Chief, Crisis Magazine
Manchester, New Hampshire
I enjoyed Jason M. Morgan’s column, and I definitely appreciate one of its themes, which I interpret as a need to return to God as the center of our lives. However, I have always viewed conservatism as a set of ideas for governing society that include a moral code based on the Ten Commandments. I have always thought of conservatism as generally compatible with Catholicism, though the two exist on separate “planes,” if you will. Sort of like, “Render unto Caesar….”
While reading Jason M. Morgan’s column, it occurred to me that he was describing moderate liberals, not conservatives. I realize this is a matter of labels, but it seems to me that Prof. Morgan has asserted a monster misnomer here. As a self-described conservative, I was flabbergasted by his either intentional obfuscation or ignorance of reality on the ground.
For instance, Morgan says conservatives are not really Christian. First, statistics show that conservatives are religious. I know a lot of conservatives, and to a person, they are orthodox, practicing Christians. Morgan gives as an example Matthew Arnold, a 19th-century Englishman whose religious ideas Encyclopedia Britannica calls “strongly liberal.”
Morgan says conservatives have “an antipathy for the particular” and so embrace universal ideals rooted in Christianity while turning their backs on Christianity itself. Conservatives, by definition, not only welcome universal ideas based on Christianity but also aim to live them as Christians. See G.K. Chesterton for an explication of how the worth of the individual and wonder-filled particularity are part and parcel of the Catholic faith. The universality Morgan describes sounds much more like the “progressive” agenda.
Morgan also seems to conflate conservatism with Reagan Republicanism. There is truth to that comparison, but this group is a subset of conservatism, and a Venn diagram of the mindsets contained therein would be needed for clarification. Yet Morgan paints them all with one brush and says they are confused about what religious identity to declare. His conclusion that there is no orthodox declaration of the Christian faith within the group is certainly false. Reagan himself was a believing and practicing Christian.
Additionally, Morgan calls Judeo-Christianity “the most baffling aspect of Christianity.” The problem here is that the term does not have the narrow meaning or use to which he ascribes it. It has come to be used and understood generally as a description of a long, historical process.
It is this distance from reality that stands out in Morgan’s blaming the degradation of our culture primarily on conservatives rather than liberals. This is exactly backwards, though we all can take some blame for the destruction of our cultural values. Liberals are the ones who have fought an ongoing battle against sexual morals, marriage, religion, and classic manifestations of literature, music, art, manners, etc. To say that “conservatism is the fig leaf put on the matter to paper over [liberalism’s] more unsavory aspects” is not only to designate conservatives as willing culprits in liberalism’s atheistic project but to call them hypocrites as well.
Morgan presents a definition of conservatism that is so idiosyncratic that I’ve not come across it anywhere else: “pretending that liberalism can be baptized, or worse, that liberalism can baptize Christianity.” Perhaps Morgan’s viewpoint stems from his too-small reading sample. He calls George Will, Jonah Goldberg, and Heather Mac Donald conservatives, a designation most conservatives I know would modify to moderates, meaning diluted, cafeteria conservatives.
Finally, he uses the word communitarianism to describe conservatism, a word I would not apply to conservatives, most of whom, in my experience, have shown themselves to be independent thinkers and doers.
Happily, Morgan and I agree completely on his conclusion: the need to “rebuild the Church” and “make a real choice, not a meaningless one from among a heap of heathen idols.”
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
I thank my correspondents for their thoughtful letters. Thomas Storck sums up perfectly what my column was about and shows why conflating conservatism with orthodoxy is such a bad habit.
Michael Warren Davis points to another habit, the opposite one, which is perhaps worse than the first: continuing to call oneself a conservative faute de mieux. I’ve got that habit too. And I too have pinballed among Maritain, Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Chesterton, and a score of other watered-down thises or thats. I was never satisfied with what I read. I wanted Christ, but I never seemed to get more than very sophisticated approximations to Him. Jesus was never for the watering down of anything: It was yes or no, and choose quickly.
I don’t care for knockoff metaphysics either, and Davis had me at Bonald. And de Maistre. And Cortés and Chateaubriand. That’s right on the money. Those are the guys for me.
I read a book a few years back that argued that there’s not a French Revolution and an American Revolution and a Bolshevik Revolution — there’s just the original revolution, the one Milton, well, watered down in Paradise Lost. (Milton was a Protestant. QED.) Anything against God, even a little, is revolutionary. The endless revolutions on Earth are ultimately the handiwork of the restless rebel in Hell. I decided then and there that I was a reactionary, permanently and absolutely opposed to whatever revolution was on offer. I reject the revolution and all its sequels.
Mary Brittnacher’s heartfelt letter shows why Stephen Beyer’s does not go quite far enough. The Ten Commandments are a good start, but even Confucians end up keeping most of them. The trouble is that we must live out the faith, not “conservative values.” The misprision of faith for values is precisely what I meant by conservatism.
“Sexual morals, marriage, religion”: these are not values at all but teachings of the Magisterium. Indeed, the very word religion is used equivocally in modernity. There are not multiple religions; there’s just the One True Faith and a load of variously bad approximations or outright denials of it. I am not sure what Brittnacher means by “Christianity,” on that note, but if she means both the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church, then I think we have hit upon whither “conservatism” springs. It was at the tail end of the degringolade of their own revolution that the Protestants circled back to yet another error, “Judeo-Christianity,” to try to burnish their disastrous rebellion with the appearance of conformity with tradition. What we have today is a dog’s breakfast of this kind of thing, trying to have pieces-parts of Christianity as concepts and then attempting to fit them into something called “tradition,” which we have actually invented ourselves. “Judeo-Christianity” is fake tradition. I want the real Judeo-Christianity, which is the Person of Christ, fully Jewish and fully Godhead, and Head of the Catholic Church.
So, where does this leave us? In excellent shape, I think. I am reading a book by Andrew Willard Jones about St. Louis (the king, not the city) and learning, slowly, how a truly Christian life might be lived. Jones argues that our brothers and sisters in the faith who lived in the Middle Ages saw Christendom as a unity, a “complete act,” as Jones puts it, borrowing Henri de Lubac’s phrase. As an orthodox Jacques Derrida might have said, “There is no outside-the-Church.” We have tried and tried to find some compromise between the City of God and the City of Man. We must quit trying and live as whole human beings again, as God made us, by fighting the world, the flesh, and the Devil in this life and being happy with Him in the next.
Moving toward the Beatific Vision — now, that’s a progressivism worth throwing conservatism over the side for.
Try a Little Tenderness
One would be hard-pressed to find much to disagree with in Clifford Staples’s insightful article “The Ideology at the Root of Our Moral Disorder” (Dec.). What makes Staples’s judgment so illuminating is not merely his clear articulation of first principles; more than this, he is someone who was once immersed in this ideology as a practitioner. We should be grateful to our Lord that Staples had a continuous nag and hesitation about the whole “modern project,” that he seemed ever aware of an elephant in the room with respect to ideology: Where is the tenderness?
To speak of tenderness, or charity, is ultimately to move into the theological realm. What I offer here is not a critique but perhaps something akin to the other side of the same coin that Staples is observing. First consider Alexis de Tocqueville’s judgment regarding the nature of the French Revolution. Its “ideal,” he said, “was not merely a change in the French social system but nothing short of a regeneration of the whole human race. It created an atmosphere of missionary fervor and, indeed, assumed all the aspects of a religious revival — much to the consternation of contemporary observers. It would perhaps be truer to say that it developed into a species of religion” (emphasis added).
The very “fervor” of the autonomous modern person is not simply an attempt to overcome or destroy religion. Rather, its aim is much more theological in character. A new missionary and evangelizing effort is before us. Contrary to much of the normative commentary on the decline of religion in the U.S., Tocqueville’s insight provides a richer nuance to such a position. Religion is not dying; in fact, it is quite strong. An entire sacramental order surrounds much of the practical habits of those who worship at the altar of identity politics, climate change, and gender ideology.
And here we can return to Staples’s judgments about the root of our problems. Anyone who seeks to question or reject the principles and devotional habits of the progressive liberal doctrines is deemed a heretic. For such an offense, no mercy can be found. All that awaits such souls is some sort of pseudo-justice. Thankfully, the witness of Clifford Staples’s own life reveals that what we need most is the one thing no ideology can ever give: the mercy of God.
Engaging an Important Subject
Thanks to Barry Reime, Blaise Rhodes, W. Patrick Cunningham, and others for their thoughtful and thought-provoking letters about climate change (Dec.).
Any serious discussion of this complex and often contentious subject, in either the formal setting of an academic seminar or the informal setting of a convivial pub with friends, would do well to focus on Mr. Cunningham’s four cardinal questions: (1) Is there hard evidence for mean temperature rise? (2) Who benefits and who suffers from global temperature rise? (3) Is the phenomenon principally anthropogenic? (4) Are there ready solutions?
At present, my thoughts remain unfocused, inchoate. Depending on the day of the week, I am either in accord with the amiable senator from Oklahoma who demonstrated apodictically that global warming is a giant hoax by pitching a soggy snowball onto the floor of the U.S. Senate, or I am in lockstep with the Cassandra-like prophesying of the grimly serious Greta Thunberg.
Mr. Rhodes points out that “consensus” and “truth” are not always mutually inclusive (a thought that will certainly disturb my sleep), citing one of the great hoaxes of the 20th century: the mishmash of diverse body parts that morphed into “Piltdown Man,” although there was more than a little of the burlesque and wounded imperial pride in not having a “man of their own” in this fraud.
Thanks to Mr. Reime for reminding us that a serious, competent cohort of dissenters does take issue with the majority consensus.
Thanks to A. James McAdams (reply to letters, Dec.) for observing that a supercilious impatience among the scientific elite toward those of us not in the exclusive “priesthood” indeed prevails.
And thanks, finally, to the NOR for allowing generous space for this important subject.
John D. Karkalis
Death in Crisis
I was struck by the poignancy of Fr. John A. Perricone’s observations regarding what has happened as a result of “the thick walls” of the Catholic Church having been “breached,” which, in turn, has formed in the modern Catholic (so well exemplified by the septuagenarian Italian woman) an unprecedented whitewashing of the seriousness of sin and the finality of death (“O Death, Where Is Thy…Tickle?” guest column, Dec.).
As someone who falls into the category of having been raised Catholic within the past two generations, I have seen firsthand the destruction this upheaval to our immemorial Requiem Mass has wrought. Relativism and a complete lack of awareness of the Church’s teachings reign supreme in my generation. So-called tolerance is preached, even by many priests at the pulpit, as a cardinal virtue. As G.K. Chesterton once opined, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”
The first time I attended a traditional Requiem Mass, I was awestruck by its solemn seriousness, punctuated by the words of the Dies Irae. As someone who was raised on a protestantized theology, coupled with the vapid, sentimental platitudes of “On Eagle’s Wings,” “Be Not Afraid,” and others, it was jarring, confusing, and mesmerizing all at once. But get my attention it did, as it is meant to do. As Fr. Perricone so aptly puts it, the Church once “looked for every opportunity to lecture about sin and its harrowing consequences. She understands that nothing rouses our souls to existential clarity and fervent prayer more than death.” How true. The traditional Requiem Mass is a tutorial in the reality of the Four Last Things, a more effective tutorial in just over an hour than any I had received in over 30 years.
Fr. Perricone’s astute observations highlight ever more how our traditional Catholic Mass, sacraments, devotions, fasting, reparations, etc., are not just a matter of personal taste and “smells and bells.” Nay, they are an absolutely essential antidote to the “New Man,” who has wreaked havoc in our Church and across all aspects of society. With good and holy priests like Fr. Perricone exposing this false compassion, we can continue to reclaim for Christ the message He wants to tell His children through the Requiem Mass: that death comes to all of us, but only He is the light that we must run to in order to escape death’s dire and everlasting consequences.
Matthew M. Reid
Pearl River, New York
Bravo to Fr. John A. Perricone for pointing out the Church’s “crisis of death.” For decades the Church has seemed frightened to expound her beautiful — yet perhaps unpopular — truths about life and death. Succumbing, at least in practice, to an almost mainstream Protestant conception of salvation — that everyone goes to Heaven — our modern funeral rite does a great disfavor by catering to our emotions rather than enlightening our faith. Funerals (and weddings as well) are occasions when the unchurched or uncatechized are present at Holy Mass, and so the missed opportunity to evangelize in these instances is truly lamentable.
Of course, we are competing with a culture that has desensitized us to death or, perhaps more accurately, distracted us from it. Nonetheless, the Church continues to have the obligation to expound the realities of Heaven and Hell, salvation and damnation, and the particular judgment we all will face before God when this probationary life has concluded. Downplaying these eschatological realities is of no benefit to any soul, baptized or unbaptized.
These realities, however, need not be morbidly presented. As Fr. Perricone observes, the old Requiem Mass and ancient burial rites, albeit somber, are composed in such a way as to lift us in supernatural hope, the reality of a judgment balanced by the mercy of a loving God who went to great lengths to redeem us. Furthermore, the ancient rites do well to convey the need to pray for the deceased — truly an act of charity — rather than presume the soul has already merited the Beatific Vision of God.
As we will all one day be the guest of honor at a funeral, it is incumbent upon the pastors of the Church to catechize the faithful to think more about the prayers they would want offered at their own funerals, rather than some saccharine eulogy or “send off” that does little to help a soul genuinely in need of the best the Church’s liturgical tradition has to offer.
Fr. John A. Perricone has blown away the smoke of modernist thought to reveal the eternal truth that it obscures. Modernists would have you believe that death is about life — the life of the deceased. Funerals are now celebrations of the life of the deceased, complete with photo collages and eulogies that look back on what was. Funerals no longer look ahead to what is to come. It is just assumed that the deceased has been happily escorted into Heaven, and no further thought is given to the matter, even though the deceased might be crying out in agony from the pits of Purgatory — or worse.
The Church teaches that our life and Christ’s salvific mission are directed toward the Four Last Things: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. These words are rarely spoken today. The Church further teaches that this life can lead to eternal union with God, or to “the second death” — namely, the death of the soul. The mission of the Church concerning death is not to make us feel good about what was but to prepare us for what is to come, to aid us in our fight to the death (pun intended) to preserve the life of the soul and obtain the glory of the life to come.
This struggle continues even after death, as souls must be purified in the fires of Purgatory, and prayers are needed to release our friends and family. How many souls are left abandoned in Purgatory, watching their loved ones reminisce about their lives rather than falling on their knees to pray the Rosary on their behalf? How many souls are in Hell watching a Mass that came too late and cursing a celebration of their life — a life that led only to damnation?
Fr. Perricone’s column is like a bucket of cold water thrown over a drunken man to jolt him out of his spiritual stupor before it is too late.
Richard Mayer, M.D.
Teaneck, New Jersey
In this age, mourning has no place at a funeral. It’s too dark. How can we possibly grieve with all that doom and gloom? After all, a funeral is a celebration of a life, a festive event marking guaranteed entry into Heaven. So, let’s put on our shiniest polyester vestments and remember what we’re here for: the eulogy. Not even God can keep dear old Uncle Larry outside those pearly gates! Don’t worry, kids, Uncle Larry will be reunited with Bernie, the family beagle, as all dogs go to Heaven too. Never mind that Larry hadn’t attended Mass in decades. Now let’s raise our arms for the Our Father — no, wait — maybe holding hands is more appropriate at a funeral. Whatever you do, just don’t put your palms together. Closed hands are a sign of spiritual rigidity.
Even though death’s sting is now but a tickle, it can still make you weep.
Jersey City, New Jersey
With the diversity of cultures that exist in the world today, you would expect that traditions and beliefs would eventually intermix. However, it never ceases to amaze me how the modern world attempts to trivialize belief systems and water them down. The saddest part of this is that the Catholic Church has taken up the attitude, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
It is truly disheartening to hear from Fr. Perricone that we now need a liturgy committee to instruct us how to grieve. Grief is a part of life. I don’t believe we ever stop grieving for a loved one, although time and our belief that we will join them someday softens our grief as time goes by. As a Catholic, I resent this interference from the modern world. I don’t need anyone to soften the blow of a loved one’s passing.
Paramus, New Jersey
Fr. Perricone’s guest column was spot on. For me, it has become very uncomfortable to attend a funeral Mass. I have restricted myself to going only if the departed is a close relative or friend.
The Novus Ordo funeral rite, like the Novus Ordo Mass, has degenerated into cheap sentimentality. The white vestments are supposed to underscore that the deceased is in Heaven looking down at us. That is pretty much the exact quote you will hear at every funeral Mass now. This, coupled with the lack of reminders to pray or have Masses said for the soul of the dearly departed, is scandalous. Catholics should know that we cannot be sure of the disposition of the soul at death, and that prayers and Masses are appropriate means to help usher the soul into Heaven — and that we receive additional grace for our charitable offerings. But even the thought of reciting a Rosary for the soul of the dead is foreign to the past few generations of Catholics.
Unlike today’s funeral Masses, the old Latin rite was perfectly suited for the deceased soul, with the right music, prayers, and solemnity, reminding us of the depth of sorrow. So many people have been bamboozled into thinking their relative is now an angel in Heaven waiting for them. The damage these bishops and priests have done — abandoning the souls of the deceased when they are in much need of prayers — is diabolical.
Bronx, New York
The Rite Stuff
I was chuffed by Thomas Storck’s review of my book Tradition & Sanity: Conversations & Dialogues of a Postconciliar Exile (Dec.). Rather than offering a simple walk-through with a few select quotations, Storck engages dialectically with its arguments and probes the text with further questions, to which he does not find answers in the book itself, or at least not sufficiently worked-out answers. I have continued to address these issues subsequent to the book — in particular, in a lecture I gave in Minneapolis last November titled “Beyond ‘Smells and Bells’: Why We Need the Objective Content of the Usus Antiquior,” the text of which is available at the Rorate Caeli website, with audio on YouTube and SoundCloud.
Storck asks how we can distinguish between a change from a seven-course meal to a three-course meal (e.g., Cistercians wanting to simplify the Cluniac liturgy) and a change from fine dining to fast-food (the comparison I used for contrasting the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo Missae). After all, some proponents of the Novus Ordo would say it was a legitimate abbreviation of the liturgy already in place. The difference is this: Everything the Cistercians retained was traditional; they simply excluded a few pieces. This would be like the monks of Fontgombault or Clear Creek, who use the 1965 missal for their conventual High Mass, which is the Tridentine Mass minus the prayers at the foot of the altar, the Confiteor before Communion, and the Last Gospel. The Novus Ordo did far more: It left nothing unmodified. It made stuff up de novo. The changes cut into the muscle and bone of the Latin liturgical rite.
So I think there’s room in the Traditional Latin Mass for the expansion and contraction of components, but not for the antiquarianism, heavy redactions, and entirely new compositions that characterize the liturgical reform of the 1960s.
Yet I would add that, in my experience, there is something odd about the Fontgombault-style High Mass. At their private Low Masses, the monks use the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Last Gospel, but at High Mass, these are missing. It ends up looking like one of those ancient Greek or Roman statues with the head and feet missing, while everything else is beautifully intact. There’s a reason Pope St. Pius V formally inserted into the Roman Missal these priestly devotions that had been going on for centuries. He saw that they added the “finishing touch”: preparation at the start, and a moment of contemplative recollection at the end. Martin Mosebach is right that the Tridentine Mass is an exquisite work of art in which every piece has found its proper place, and one can see that both aesthetically and theologically.
There will be disputes about such matters until the end of time, I’m sure, but meanwhile, we can be grateful that the Tridentine Mass has returned to so many churches in our day.
What’s in a Byname?
Pieter Vree finds fault with the October 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, at which Pope Francis both upheld the veneration of images of the Incan fertility goddess Pachamama in a Catholic church in Rome and expressed disapproval of the individuals who removed them from the church and tossed them into the Tiber (“A Peek into Papal Priorities,” New Oxford Notebook, Dec.).
Some of the Inca, who have adopted Roman Catholicism, equate Pachamama, the wife and mother of the Incan sun god, Inti, with the Virgin Mary. Vree quotes Fr. Giacoma Costa, secretary of the synod, as denying this equation.
The fertility goddess Astarte (Ashtoret or Ishtar) was worshiped under the byname Queen of Heaven, as were the goddesses Anat, Inanna, and Isis. The Litany of Loreto venerates Mary using no fewer than 50 bynames (none of which, curiously, is Queen of Heaven). To the extent that her veneration under all those bynames is licit, how can the byname Pachamama (or Mother Earth) be ipso facto illicit? The byname Mother Earth is no more contrary to dogma than the byname Queen of Angels from the litany, or any other traditional byname.
Even if the byname Pachamama does not apply properly to our Lady — which is what Fr. Costa seems to suggest — who is to say that it doesn’t apply to St. Gabriel? After all, the archangel is the angel of fertility, a spirit that is not the Lord God Almighty. The Catholic Church accepts the veneration of icons and statues of angels and saints. To the extent that a worshiper comprehends a statue of Pachamama as signifying Mary or the Angel Gabriel, how is its veneration anything other than orthodox?
Regardless of whether the veneration of Mother Earth is licit, the seventh ecumenical council (787), the second at Nicaea, condemned iconoclasm. Pope Francis is absolutely correct to take the side of the Incas against today’s iconoclasts. A derivation from Incan mythology may not be defined as heresy, but iconoclasm is. Stealing statues from a church and tossing them into a river is also a criminal offense, perhaps a felony. Does the NOR support this heresy and this crime?
Thomas More Zavist
PIETER VREE REPLIES:
The Virgin Mary is indeed venerated as “Queen of Heaven.” Pope Pius XII gave official sanction to this title in his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (1954). Two centuries earlier, Pope Benedict XIV called Mary “Queen of heaven and earth” in his apostolic letter Gloriosae Dominae (1748).
But Mary has never been venerated as, or equated with, Mother Earth. For “a worshiper” to decide, willy nilly, that Pachamama “signifies” the Virgin Mary (or the Angel Gabriel) doesn’t make his veneration orthodox. Such veneration would, in fact, make that worshiper guilty of heterodoxy, a deviation from right belief. We don’t get to make up the Catholic religion as we go along, based on how we as individuals “comprehend” things.
Neither I nor the NOR supports or condones iconoclasm, defined in Fr. John A. Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary as “a heresy that rejected as superstition the use of religious images and advocated their destruction.” The Pachamama statues that were removed from Santa Maria in Traspontina Carmelite Church were not destroyed; they were recovered undamaged, as Pope Francis indicated. So this wasn’t an episode of iconoclasm, strictly defined.
Had the statues been destroyed, however, I would not have objected, for even their destruction would not have qualified as an act of iconoclasm. The definition of iconoclasm is restricted to “sacred images,” and “the respect shown them really is given to the person they represent.” This raises the question: Why should Catholics show respect to an Incan goddess represented by Pachamama? It would be foolhardy to suggest that pre-Christian pagan images are “sacred.”
Ultimately, the problem with Pachamama and related non-Christian deities is that they are (or were) objects not just of veneration but of worship. This is why God, through His prophet Jeremiah, objected so strenuously to the Israelites’ insistence on offering sacrifices to Astarte while they sojourned in Egypt. “We will continue to fulfill the vows we have made to burn incense to the queen of heaven and to pour out libations to her,” the Israelites told Jeremiah (44:25). This the Lord regarded as “evil,” Jeremiah told them, an evil for which the Lord would punish them: “All the men of Judah in Egypt shall perish by the sword or famine until they are utterly destroyed” (44:27-28).
We have a new holy mother, the Virgin Mary, the real “Queen of Heaven” who displaces all precursors, imitators, and impostors. What need have we of foreign fertility goddesses?
The Pope We Deserve
Pope Francis’s incorrect teachings, as in Amoris Laetitia regarding instances of divorced persons receiving Communion, or when he unilaterally dismisses centuries of moral teaching from both Scripture and Tradition by proclaiming capital punishment immoral, have caused consternation in the Church. But we should not be surprised.
We’ve done nothing in the recent past about teachings that were incorrect or ambiguous, so this is just a logical next step in accepting contradictory or ambiguous teachings. Once doctrine can be seen to be changed or watered down, it makes it easier to continue down that path. Just a few examples among many that have caused confusion among the faithful:
- John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptor Hominis (1979) teaches that through the mystery of redemption, Christ unites Himself to all men forever, implying that all are saved or creating ambiguity as to that end.
- Vatican II’s Unitatis Redintegratio contradicts Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Mortalium Animos (1928) and the Vatican’s instruction on the ecumenical movement (1949), which teach that the Catholic Church is the fullness of faith and that true ecumenism involves a return to the One True Church. Unitatis Redintegratio points to a “convergence” of the different Christian denominations, including the Catholic Church, to a turning outward toward some greater unity in Christ.
- Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium teaches that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, whereas in prior teachings, such as Leo XIII’s encyclical Satis Cognitum (1896), the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church.
- Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes teaches that the similitudo Dei, or “likeness to God,” that man had before the Fall was only distorted after the Fall. The teaching of the Church has always been that the likeness was lost, not distorted. Gaudium et Spes also teaches that man is the only creature God willed for its own sake, a highly ambiguous teaching on its face, as all creation and everything in it were obviously created for God’s glory, as the Church has always taught.
We deserve Pope Francis and should expect nothing other than what we are experiencing today.
Ite ad Joseph
During these troubling crises in the Church, let us turn to the intercession of St. Joseph. Contact me to request a free, traditional, and beautiful St. Joseph prayer card.
Yokkaichi, Mie 510-8016, Japan
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