By Dr. Larry Chapp
“After one has rendered unto God what is God’s, there is nothing left for Caesar”. Dorothy Day
I choose to call this blog Gaudium et Spes 22 because the entirety of my theology and thinking is Christocentric. Gaudium et Spes is a document of the Second Vatican Council that sought to find new ways for the Church to relate to the modern world. It is both central to the conciliar project and increasingly controversial among conservative Catholic commentators. Pope Saint John Paul II identified the 22nd paragraph of the document as the hermeneutical key to the whole. That paragraph has been described by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI as a “christological concentration” since it states that the only proper understanding of human nature must begin and end with Christ. That may sound rather boilerplate and obvious coming from the Catholic Church, but in reality the theology of the Church from the Council of Trent forward had become overly rationalistic and theocentric rather than christocentric.
Beginning in the late 19th century a theological renewal began in the Church that eventually led to what is called the “nouvelle theology” (the “new theology”) that was opposed by many of the hard line Neo-scholastics. Nevertheless, this new theology, also known as “ressourcement theology” (a return to the sources), pressed forward and eventually became the dominating theology of the Council and of all of the Popes since the Council.
But lately this theology, its papal promoters, and even the Council itself have come under increasing attack, especially by elements of the Right wing Catholic blogosphere. Therefore, I decided to start a blog to defend both this theology and the Council. And so I introduce to you Gaudium et Spes 22:
If you are reading this then it means you are probably bored during the Corona virus lockdown and decided to take a look at yet another blog. Or perhaps you have stumbled upon this by accident while surfing the internet in search of a new supply of Ramen Noodles and hand sanitizer. Some of my former students might be checking this out just to make sure that I am not dead, in which case there will probably be widespread disappointment at the discovery that I am very much alive, and still the curmudgeon that they remember. Of course, some of you are reading this because I posted it on Facebook, which, as we all know, is THE source to go to for truth and reasoned commentary. In any case, welcome to this new venture.
But why another blog? That is a really good question since I have to admit at the outset that I tend not to like blogs, and I am also a bit of a luddite (well, more than a “bit” actually). Indeed, I was very disappointed when I discovered, like Homer Simpson, that the internet is on computers now. I also harbor a special disdain for many of the blogs currently fashionable among traditionalist American Catholics, which is odd since I, like Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, am a traditionalist Catholic myself. But I find most of these traditionalist blogs to be facile and pinched-up enterprises loaded with the lard of theological and historical ignorance. Part of the reason for this is that nobody reads books anymore, least of all traditionalists it seems, and most of these bloggers clearly spend the vast majority of their time online, surfing the internet in order to find materials to blog about. And even here, the topics appear to be chosen based on their clickbait value rather than on their profundity, with an eye toward attracting the internet rubber-neckers who only want to read about the latest ecclesiastical car wrecks. As such they are little more than forums of gossipy Jabberwocky and echo chamber ramblings. It really is a rather lazy form of discourse since it mostly entails looking at the day’s headlines and then commenting on it with a spittle-flecked, Ignatius Reilly, hortatory style. They are thus kind of like the old Jack van Impe bible prophecy shows, only with incense and “I hate Pachamama” emojis.
Now, you might say that all sounds rather judgmental. And it probably is, but I don’t really care. This is my blog and I’ll cry if I want to. I will be offering up many such “judgmental” statements as the blog rolls along and I make no apologies in that regard. And that is because our culture and, to a great extent our Church, has lost its mind. Blunt talk, even biting, satirical, and harsh talk, within the bounds of reason and civility, are needed. Therefore, I want to address and dismiss the issue of “being judgmental” at the very beginning of this endeavor. Because often today what passes for a concern for “judgmentalness” is really just a thinly veiled attempt at muzzling and domesticating the Christian evangel in order to secure the blessings of bourgeois suburbia. Accusing someone of “being judgmental” is one of those weaponized simulacrums of Christian virtue used by the champions of technocratic, secular modernity to silence anyone who is critical of their totalizing and, ironically, judgmental agenda. Which is to say, they use such counterfeit virtues to domesticate Christianity and to turn it into the religious equivalent of an aroma therapy boutique.
And all of this is done with great deception, manipulation, and mendacity, lest we figure out that the end-game the secularists have in view is the reduction of society to what I call a “collective of concupiscence”, the goal of which is the furtherance of an alliance between surveillance Capitalism (thank you Shoshana Zuboff for that phrase), the national security State, and the corporate production of shiny things to delight our senses and to entice us into consuming the honey coated arsenic of a million useless products we have been convinced that we need. The hypocrisy is immense, as we are daily lectured, to cite one example by the fundamentalist, secular prophecy crowd on the coming climate apocalypse, even as they vigorously promote the very technocratic and industrial civilization that created the crisis in the first place – – a crisis that is very real but which will never be solved by doubling-down on yet more technocratic solutions to our tech-induced problems. It is like taking LSD to help me get over my nightmares only to discover a whole new level of haunting phantasms.
So I am going to proceed under the assumption that the world, as Peter Maurin noted, has gone crazy. I am also going to proceed under the assumption that I am right about everything. Because, and I say this with the deepest modesty and humility, I usually am. Therefore, I thought of naming this blog after a favorite book of mine: “My Correct Views on Everything” by Leszek Kolakowski. He was a half-crazed Polish philosopher, and I am half Polish, so I am one quarter crazed, assuming of course that “Polishness” is the mark of insanity that I suspect it is. But in all seriousness, and all joking aside about crazy Poles, this does cut to the heart of why I am starting yet another blog. Namely, that I think I have something worth saying that not many people are saying.
I am a bizarre combination of factors: I am a Catholic traditionalist, a theologian and retired theology professor, the owner and manager of a Catholic Worker Farm, a writer, a Romanticist (Romanticism is our only hope by the way), and a selfish blackhole of simmering resentments and not-so-veiled hostilities toward almost everyone. I have also now reached an age (61) where I truly don’t care about such things as my career, reputation, or “standing” in the scholarly community. These days I find most academic writing to be unbearably tedious and, quite frankly, mendacious in a politicized way. In other words, I find most of it, as the Irish say, “pure useless”. And that is not an anti-intellectualist stance. Quite the opposite actually insofar as there is really very little genuine intellect in any of it in the first place. So my blog is not an academic enterprise in the modern sense of that word and seeks instead the recovery of the ancient language of “wisdom”. I hasten here to add that I do not possess such wisdom myself and I am certainly not going to pretend that I do. Indeed, it is my own lack of wisdom, infected as I am with the same bacillus that has driven the modern world insane, that compels me to seek this wisdom elsewhere. And I think that is the same path that was trod by countless others, up to and including Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin.
And, at age 61, I also do not care whether or not I can make a living off of this venture by becoming a clickbait, Catholic YouTube star. I couldn’t anyway, even if I wanted to. I might podcast on YouTube someday, but God save me from descending into the madness I see there among some Catholics. The professional, podcasting Catholic chatterers have a vested financial interest in ginning-up “apocalypse fever”. It is indeed true, of course, that we might be living in apocalyptic times, but these MacBook prophets of doom are no Jeremiahs, and are actually nothing more than the Catholic internet equivalent of a supermarket tabloid. If they could cross Archbishop Vigano with Bigfoot and somehow develop a Pachamama UFO connection, they would complete the circle and strike internet gold. The more successful talking heads even come with a kind of Catholic Art Garfunkel sidekick who is just talented enough to say something coherent, but not so talented as to eclipse the host. But it is really all just carefully crafted to create the echo chamber consensus so needed by these festering cankers to gain legitimacy.
And this is one of the other primary reasons I desire to start a new blog. Because devout, traditionalist Catholics who are true traditionalists are being ill-served by this gaggle of self-appointed Torquemada’s. As I said above, I have reached a stage in life where I really don’t care about things like reputation, money, scholarly standing, or whether or not I am a “player” in the game of ecclesiastical Twister. In other words, I think I have something unique to say and I feel like saying it. I hope it isn’t a mere vanity or conceit on my part to think such things, but it really is not often that you find a Catholic Worker who is also a theological traditionalist with an ability (or so I think) to bring those two worlds together. My motives are therefore focused on that specific agenda – – to recover the hyper-traditionalist Catholic vision of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and to show why it is more relevant today than ever (I will elaborate more on what I mean by that below). If you are even mildly interested in that project, I invite you to read what will probably be my thrice weekly ramblings. If you are not, then you can always find other diversions like quilting or socially distanced Mahjong via Zoom. I think those are your primary alternatives but, admittedly, that list may not be exhaustive.
As I noted above, the only reason why I would start yet another stupid blog is that I want to do something in the blogosphere that has not yet, to my knowledge, been done. Namely, to recover the true Catholic charism of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in all of its radicality as a form of hyper traditionalism. And by “hyper-traditionalism” I don’t mean some uber conservative, Tridentine, restorationism on steroids, but rather as a deep “ressourcement” that transcends the tiresome, moribund, and useless debates between SSPX types (which I think most so-called traditionalist Catholics secretly are) and the sexually obsessed so-called progressive Catholics who are really just a conclusion (“the modern secular Left is correct about sex and gender and the Church is full of crap”) in search of ad hoc theological “arguments”.
But presenting my own views as charting a path “between these two facile and related extremes” can itself be a tiresome exercise in setting up false, straw man polarities and then patting myself on the back for being so sane and rational as to avoid them. I always hate when scholars make this rhetorical move since it is so self-serving and usually masks the fact that the author really does sympathize with one side over the other, but is so enthralled by the faux “objectivity” of the academic world that he or she will not make their commitments plain. Sadly, it is kind of built into the DNA of the system since it is the stock-in-trade of most theological dissertations. So I will be clear where my sympathies reside. Despite my often bitter and harsh criticisms of the Catholic Traditionalists, my sympathies lie with their intuition that the modern world has gone off the rails. I just generally think that they get the solutions wrong insofar as their notion of Tradition is theologically thin, myopic, and is often illegitimately used to support other “right wing” causes which they conflate with “orthodoxy” (e.g. the death penalty, capitalism, war, and the downplaying of the environmental crisis). Therefore, in the end I think they give traditionalism a black eye and end up doing more harm than good. As for the other side of the polarity – – Catholic “progressives” – – they are just a silly embarrassment, like an old man who tries to be “hip” but who is always 25 years behind in his perception of current fashions. I have zero patience for such nonsense, having lived through Catholicism’s post Vatican II silly season as a young man. I mean, there is only so much liturgical dancing by maladroit octogenarians in diaphanous outfits that one can take.
Therefore, when I say Dorothy and Peter represent a deep ressourcement that transcends facile categorization I mean it in a truly decentering way. I propose it as a challenge to all of us to think openly and without guile, with deep honesty and a self-introspection rooted in a constant exposing of our motives to the light provided by the crucified and risen Christ. And I hope, therefore, that I too come to be so decentered as I ponder these things and engage in the actual process of writing. The late, great, Swiss Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar (on whom I wrote my dissertation) once said that to be “concentric with Christ is to be eccentric to the world”. I forget where he said this, and I am too lazy to look it up. But trust me, he wrote that somewhere. And that is precisely what I seek in my efforts here to explicate the significance of Dorothy and Peter for the modern world.
Hopefully, enough fellow travelers who are also interested in that project will take the time to read. Indeed… to read and even contribute if you are so moved. I invite others to blog in this space as well. Feel free to send me submissions to that end.
One final note and I will end this already too long introduction. Some of the blog posts will be short and mainly meditations on some idea that struck me while engaging in some frivolous, time wasting, dissipation. Other posts will be long and more oriented to a systematic analysis of some issue that I have deemed to be more important than it probably is. Which is to say, you probably won’t read them, but they will be posted all the same and stand as eloquent testimony to my having kissed the Blarney Stone. But whatever the length, all of the posts will be pure genius and worthy of a Pulitzer. If, after reading a few of the posts, you disagree with that assessment and decide to read no more of my deep thoughts then … well … there is always quilting and Mahjong.
Salud and cin-cin