The Numbing Down of the Church: Part Four: The Universal Call to Holiness and the Semi-Donatist Option (sort of)

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By Larry Chapp

“In the early days of the Church, it appeared at first as self-evident that Christians must also be holy in the fullest sense of the word.  Accordingly, the struggle of the early centuries was about how to accept the weeds in the field – – to let go of the dream of a Church of the pure so as to affirm the sinner’s membership in the Church. After this was secured, however, there was a danger of falling into the opposite one-sidedness, so that eventually holiness was separated from the question of Church membership. The conciliar text could open a third stage here, by truly going beyond the mere institutionalism (without relapsing in enthusiasm) and taking seriously again the inseparable connection between the Church and holiness.”

Joseph Ratzinger (“Theologische Aufgaben,” 243)

Unlike many of the more radicalized traditionalists I have no problem with those aspects of Vatican II with which they take issue:  religious freedom, ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, and the possibility of salvation for those who have not been baptized sacramentally in the Church.  I think all of these things represent a legitimate reiteration and development of doctrine and are not difficult to square with a broader approach to the Tradition that goes beyond the theologies of Tridentine Catholicism and into the deeper waters of the Fathers and the Scriptures.  I will be writing more on those topics in future blog posts.  Suffice it to say for now that, as is the case with all Councils, Vatican II must be read in the light of its historical context and that context must always be kept in view in order to properly assess the success or failure of the conciliar project. And I take that project to be the Church’s attempt to deal with the challenges posed to the Church by modernity. Specifically, with the institutions and culture of modern political Liberalism and its unique concepts of freedom, civil rights, and participatory democracy in a pluralistic register.  Therefore, whether or not the Council was successful in that enterprise hinges upon the cogency of both its diagnosis of the challenge posed by Liberalism as well as its prescriptive pastoral proposals based on that diagnosis.

So let me begin by first pointing out what I think are some flaws in the Council – – flaws that actually serve the useful purpose of directing our gaze at the hidden dynamite of the Council – – the universal call to holiness.  I said at the end of my last blog post that the problem with Vatican II is not that it was too radical, but that it was not nearly radical enough.  And in that regard what I mean is that the Council did not make its own teaching on the universal call to holiness radical enough and chose instead to foreground the doctrine as central to its ecclesiology in Lumen Gentium only to leave it there without applying its insights in any rigorous way to its analysis of how the Church should deal with the challenges posed by modernity.  The Council was self-defined as a “pastoral” Council and yet, despite the fact that I think its theological emphases were cogent, even profound, it failed to adequately identify the depth of the pastoral crisis that was at hand – – a crisis that the universal call to holiness was tailor-made to confront.

First then, the conciliar flaws. Heavy on theology, but lacking in concrete pastoral awareness, the Council in my view was guilty of a double naivete.  The first naivete was the apparent belief of many Council fathers that the internal faith life of the Church was healthy, sound, and robust enough to carry forward the project the Council had in mind. The Council had misjudged the reservoir of faith and theological education in the pre-conciliar Church and had naively assumed that an already “strong” Church would now be made even stronger through a renewal of theology.  It is deeply ironic that a Council that billed itself as a “pastoral” Council was so singularly obtuse with regard to the pastoral health of the Church at that time.  It famously asked Catholics to “read the signs of the times” but then failed to do so itself in large measure.  It failed to notice the extent to which the very bourgeois Liberalism it sought to challenge through a cooptation of its categories and their transformation into Catholic ones had already seeped into every corner of the Church, dulling its eschatological edge, muting its supernatural call to conversion, and turning everything in the lived existence of most Catholics into suburban rice cakes devoid of the flavor of the Gospel.  The culture of bourgeois well-being had become the religion of most Catholics in their day-to-day lived existence with a deep bifurcation between daily life in the “world” and a merely forensic, pietistical, and superficial “faith life.”  It was the religion of Western style affluence but with Friday fish fries and “the Sunday obligation.”

In such an ecclesial culture the pursuit of holiness ceased being the central preoccupation of most Catholics (more on that below) and was replaced with a minimalist pursuit of “what rules I need to follow and what sins I need to avoid in order to get to Heaven.”  The command of our Lord to “be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” was turned into an impossible ideal that only certain “gifted” celibates could achieve. The “world” was no place for such pursuits and the path of “ordinary life” became a game of gauging what little one had to do in order to avoid Hell.  It is indeed true that one can find holiness even in the ordinary, but that is not the same as saying it is holy to be ordinary. In an important article in Communio on the topic of the universal call to holiness, Marianne Schlosser puts it thus: “Has there not been a tendency to consider the reasonable average as the right measure and thus to confuse mediocrity with what should be ‘normal’ Christian existence?” (Communio, Winter 2013, p. 718). 

The problem arises with regard to the conciliar naivete on these points because the Council was dominated by theologians rather than pastors, and the documents, though theologically profound, displayed the conceit (and naivete) of the intellectual classes that if we just “got the theology right” that all of the proper pastoral dominoes would simply fall in a straight line as if by magic.  This is doubly ironic since no less a theologian than Joseph Ratzinger had already penned a bombshell article in 1958 called “The New Paganism in the Church” that made note of how deep the rot of faithlessness already was in the Church at that time. And he was not alone in saying things like this which causes one to wonder why the Council fathers did not take such admonitions to heart.  The result was an overly optimistic faith in “good theology” and an underappreciation for what the pastoral and political fallout would be as the Council was spun in a liberal direction by later journalists and theologians who were longing for a bourgeois revolution of cultural appeasement in the Church.  In an important interview with Peter Seewald Pope Benedict admits that in hindsight the Council was just too naïve about such things.  He says, with regard to the conciliar documents: 

“In itself, we acted correctly – even if we certainly did not correctly assess the political effects and the factual consequences. One was thinking too much in a theological way and one did not consider what consequences the things would have.”

The second conciliar naivete, deeply related to the first, was the Council’s underestimation of the hostility of the Liberal culture of modernity toward Catholicism. And therefore, an underestimation of how toxic that culture had already become to the faith both within and outside of the Church.  Rightly anxious to get beyond the pugilistic Catholicism of mere negations and anathemas, the Catholicism of “forbidden books and movies,” the Catholicism which was viewed by the world, and even Catholics, as simply a kind of supernatural authoritarianism, the Council adopted a more irenic posture of “dialogue” and “engagement” with the world, naively thinking that the world of bourgeois comfort and technocratic secularism was waiting with baited breath for just such a “conversation” with a Catholicism its academic and cultural elites actually deeply loathed. 

Many traditionalists fault Vatican II for never condemning communism.  However, the Church was clearly already on record as opposing communism on a deep level and an outright conciliar condemnation would have potentially caused grave problems for those Catholics living under communist rule.  My claim is that if we are searching for the gravest ideological threat to the faith in the modern world we need to look instead at the de facto atheism at the heart of the bourgeois Liberal project and the culture of worldliness that this project spawned in the Church, a Church which had long since reached a kind of “settlement” with bourgeois modernity.  And this settlement was a far graver threat to the Church as the communion of those who seek holiness than any external persecution from totalitarian regimes.  Rot from within is always more dangerous than stresses from without, especially if those stresses are countered by a structure that is internally sound.  The Council’s naivete with how far this culture had seeped into the Church, as well as her naivete about the toxicity of that culture for the faith, caused her to be overly optimistic about how much success her message of a world-leavening, world-consecrating, missionary Church with an involved and reinvigorated laity in the pursuit of Christ’s holiness would have. 

The missed pastoral opportunity, therefore, was in not giving a specific contour and focus to the conciliar call for a universal call to holiness.  Viewed in the abstract such a call can remain aloof, distant, vague, and even come across as pietistical.  If the Council had had the nerve to call out the “settlement” she could have made very specific and pointed critiques, with concrete examples, of modernity’s deep alliance with militarism, consumerism, atomized individualism, hostility to moral traditions, technocracy, rapacious capitalism, sweat shop exploitation of workers, economic colonization of entire countries leading to the theft of their resources and labor for the sake of bourgeois Western comforts, and the apotheosis of wealth into a totem of worship.  It could have then linked this critique with specific moral and spiritual demands upon the clergy and the laity, admonishing them all to seek holiness first and to eschew the allurements of Moloch and Mammon, thus giving the call to holiness its lineaments and concrete form. Furthermore, such a linkage would have given the entire conciliar project an evangelical immediacy and a missionary focus that would have forestalled much of the mayhem that came later.

This naivete and missed opportunity caused the Council to promise more than it could deliver and thus the hoped for flowering of Catholic/Liberal relations instead quickly descended into a full scale rout and ecclesial retreat as Catholics themselves rose up, embraced the media narrative of bourgeois appeasement, and happily rejoiced at their new “freedom from the old rules.”  The minimalist religion of the pre conciliar Church now morphed into a religion of “celebrating who I am,” sans conversion, emptying the confessionals and replacing them with “reconciliation rooms” complete with fake plants and lava lamps.

The two naivetes were deeply related since the pre conciliar Church of forensic rules and minimalist mediocrity was just the legalistic mirror image of the post conciliar antinomian Church which also viewed things through a legalistic lens, only now in a regime of Laodicean laxity. In other words, in neither case was the pursuit of holiness viewed as the primary obligation of every Christian, including the laity.  Along these lines it is interesting to note that in the pre conciliar Church most people still believed that the pursuit of holiness was a noble thing, albeit one for the religious elites among the celibates. Many in the post conciliar Church, by contrast, cast a jaundiced eye at the entire concept and precisely for the same reasons. Namely, that the pursuit of holiness was actually just code for a kind of clerical elitism that needed to be eradicated through an emphasis upon a vulgarization of the faith as a celebration of “ordinary people” (a bastardization of the conciliar “people of God”) which quickly degenerated into the cotton candy Catholicism of populist enthusiasms. A religion of rules, now in the death-grip of an antinomian fever, struggled to maintain its equilibrium as the Church splintered into traditionalist, liberal, and neo-con factions, all of whom were attempting to create a Catholicism without Catholics insofar as none of them sought to make the universal call to holiness the centerpiece of their various schemes, preferring instead a path of “stratagems”:  restorationism for the Lefebvreists, secularized, Leftist social justice causes for the liberals, and “neutral” natural law theory in an American tonality for the neo-con culture warriors.

The bishops, overwhelmed by the post conciliar cultural tsunami, retreated into their chanceries, content to focus on balancing the budget and presiding over an “operation Rice Bowl” Catholicism of philanthropy, beige parishes, and “annual appeals.” Vocations, predictably, plummeted as there was nothing in this milquetoast Catholicism to inspire young men and women to seek a supernatural holiness the Church herself no longer promoted with any vigor or with a manifest conviction that went beyond pious lip service.  The liturgy had become an anarchist’s dream of freelancing priests and the playpen for cultural Kitsch-meisters in both music and architectural design as we sang an entire generation of Catholics into the grand vision of the St. Louis Jesuits as we danced and held hands in our newly built churches “in the round,” all of which had the shape of the cul-de-sacs that inspired them. 

I am not, obviously, here to condemn tout court a Council that I wholeheartedly support. As I have said many times in defense of the Council in the face of the scorched-earth and unnuanced attacks of the rad trads, no Council is without faults and no Council is, therefore, beyond legitimate and reasoned criticism.  Faults can be found in every single one of the great Councils in the Church’s history.  Furthermore, hindsight is 20/20 and even though the Council can be faulted for a certain naivete, I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the total collapse of the Church’s culture or the manner in which it unfolded.  The Church, as Karl Barth noted, opened its windows to let in the fresh air, but a hurricane blew in instead.  But in principle there was nothing wrong with opening those windows since the Church had indeed become stale and one can only stay so long in a defensive posture of mere negation before the air inside becomes foul and toxic.  Nor am I contradicting my belief that the Council should have been more critical of modernity since there is a way of engaging the world with a raw and frank honesty, with a full existential appreciation for the gains achieved by Liberal democracy, and using the full resources of the Church’s intellectual and spiritual traditions, without for all that retreating into a triumphalistic, neo-scholastic fortress of defensive rejection of all things modern all the while never even attempting  to engage the world at all. “Contempt” is not the same thing as “critical engagement” and “rejection” is not the same as “prophetic witness.”

More importantly, however, and despite a certain pastoral myopia of the Council, there are pastoral implications of a profound nature to be drawn from the rich theology of the Council, especially in its related teachings on the universal call to holiness and the Christological form of our humanity.  The Council deals with the call to holiness in several places, but its main explication comes, appropriately, in the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.  This is significant since it eliminates any possibility of defining the call to holiness as a merely individualistic exercise in private virtue and piety.  Lumen Gentium explicitly ties the call to holiness to the Christological holiness at the heart of the Church and thus locates the call within the broader communion of saints. Indeed, the Church as such is defined as the communal dimension and expression of this holiness. Yes, the Church is loaded with sinners since all have fallen short of the Glory of God, but it is the business of the Church to turn those sinners into saints. Indeed, it is the very reason for her existence and, were she to lose sight of this fact she would cease to be what she was called to be by God. 

Historically, it is very evident that when the Church has lost sight of this primary purpose that she quickly falls into corruptions of all kinds.  And when we look at the various reform efforts in the history of the Church we see that there has been a focus on cleaning up clerical corruption and the moral dissipation of various religious orders.  Thus do we see splinter groups forming among the religious orders in the emergence of “discalced” this and “discalced” that, or the creation of reformed orders of “strict observance.”  But Lumen Gentium places the universal call to holiness in the center of its treatment of the Church and emphasizes the obligation of all the baptized to seek holiness with due regard to all of the various ways people live in their concrete circumstances.

I use the word “sojourners” here deliberately since it underscores a central biblical theme, especially in the Pauline corpus, that this world is not our final destination and that we are members of a Kingdom that is “not of this world.”  Our horizon must, therefore, be eschatological and thus even the lay person, though not living a specifically monastic life, must seek after the evangelical counsels as a central component of their obligation to pursue holiness.  There can be no “stasis” in this endeavor since it is an ironclad rule of the spiritual life that one is either trending upward toward the love of God or trending downward toward the libido dominandi.  Thus, what Lumen Gentium is suggesting is that this time around what we need is a “discalced” laity in order for them to be a true leavening agent in the culture, rather than have the culture leaven them.  In other words, the Council is not engaging in some romanticization of the laity as some vague, populist, “people of God” whose bourgeois form of life is now to be baptized as the new norm and as some kind of bizarre expression of the Holy Spirit leading the Church into secularized mediocrity.  Rather, the Council is placing on the laity a high calling and a profound challenge and reminding us all that halfway measures are no longer sufficient. 

I can think of no better expression of what I am talking about here than the description of the path to holiness given by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through. He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When he said, “Be perfect,” He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” (New York: Touchstone. pp. 170-171)

Seen in this light we can discern that the Council is aiming at a declericalized Church where the laity are not infantilized as mere obedient spectators in the coliseum of clerical theatrics, but rather now take their proper place in the communion of those who seek holiness as a member of the priesthood of the baptized – – a priesthood that implies that they too are to be, as the Israelites of old, and as the New Testament epistles remind us, a people “set apart” and whose entire existence is in the form of a purgatorial fire in order to steel themselves to the missionary task of consecrating the world to God.  And this purgatorial fire is nothing less than the death to self required by the cruciform nature of all of Christian life.  The “prosperity” Gospel has its gross Protestant poster children that have been much in the news lately. But there are bourgeois Catholic iterations of the same and it is all from Satan, the father of lies.  Christ himself told us that we cannot be his followers unless we take up our cross.  Crucifixion is a bloody affair, and the death to self is a tortured path of pain, despair, darkness, dissolution, and a sense of abandonment – – all of which we must pass through in order to put on Christ.

Instead, we like to “manage” our penances and to domesticate them into tame pieties that exact little sacrifice from us. But this will not do.  In fact, most of it is just a mendacious game of pious self-rationalizations.  Death of any sort is never easy because it always entails a painful rupture of some kind which is why in the spiritual life it must take the form of a holy violence within ourselves as we do battle with the archons of the age that have rooted in our souls as the true gods that we worship. Satan does indeed reside in our secrets.

All of this is why I am so devoted to the spirituality of Dorothy Day who saw way before others the absolute necessity of a laity committed to the path of holiness.  Her commitment to this path was a commitment to a revolution in the laity who for too long had been allowed to wallow in the mud of worldly mediocrity on the pretense that such evangelical perfection is not their calling.  As I have noted elsewhere, Dorothy Day’s deep insight in this regard is that if we are all indeed called to holiness, then this necessarily entails a reexamination of the uses to which the traditional distinction between the “way of the counsels” and the “way of the commandments” has been put.  Poverty, chastity, and obedience cannot be so easily cordoned off from the Divine moral commandments since the former in-form the latter and breathe fire into their equations.  This is surely, among other things, what Jesus was making clear in the Sermon on the Mount.  Unlike Moses, who came down from the mountain to give the people the decalogue, Jesus brings the people up the mountain with him in order to announce the inbreaking of a new regime of grace that calls them all to a higher path of perfection.

And that brings me to the role the ordained priesthood plays in all of this.  The ordained priesthood is qualitatively different from the priesthood of the baptized insofar as the latter share in this priesthood of mediation communally, whereas the former does so as an individual whose sacramental ordination gives him the character of representing the head of the Church, who is Christ.  His sacramental powers are not his own, but are the work of Christ himself thus guaranteeing the validity and efficacy of the sacraments regardless of the personal holiness of the priest.  The Church long ago condemned the Donatist heresy that tied the validity of the sacraments to the personal holiness of the priest.  This truth is expressed in the doctrine of “ex opere operato” which states in essence that a sacrament is valid so long as the priest is validly ordained and is performing the ritual that the Church provides.  The priest might be a total degenerate – – a clerical dung beetle – – but that has no bearing on the validity of the sacraments.  And thank God for that. 

But were the Donatists entirely wrong?  To be sure, as a group the ancient Donatists come across as schismatic, puritanical, fanatics who would have been no fun at Toga parties.  I am sure they were insufferable prigs who were probably like a hybridization of Michael Voris and Piers Morgan.  Nevertheless, one can sympathize with their central insight that there ought to be some manifest real world effects of the internal, Christological holiness of the Church as such.  If this were not true then the doctrine of the Church’s impeccability starts to look like a monumental shell game, a pious fiction, an all-too-convenient dodge, and even just a plain ol’ fashioned falsehood. The priest does indeed confect valid sacraments regardless of personal holiness. However, and in line with the universal call to holiness and the priesthood of all believers, it is also the task of the ordained priest to lead this communion of those who seek holiness into Christ, into holiness, and to gather up their offerings of self and to present them to the Lord on their behalf.  But how can a priest who is a degenerate perform this function effectively? 

And this is what I mean by the numbing down of the Church.  We have grown so accustomed to a bourgeois and mediocre laity and a corrupted and filthy clergy that we have all leaned too heavily on “ex opere” as our failsafe mechanism and turned it into a colossal engine that drives the train of indifference.  Personally, I am done with it and refuse to participate in the game.  I waste no time in walking away from a parish that has parishioners who are bored with the faith and priests who are intellectually stupid, morally corrupted, spiritually lazy, and socially dysfunctional.  I have found a home in my local Anglican Ordinariate parish and shook the dust off of my territorial parish long ago.  And I encourage others to do the same.  If the Church wants us to stay devoted to our territorial parishes then it needs to give us parishes that actually believe in something and live it.  I am too sinful a man, and I am in need of too much support, to continue attending parishes where I am not deeply challenged to holiness.  My eternal soul is at stake and so I make no apologies – – NO.APOLOGIES. – – for putting my hand to the plow and not looking back at my territorial parish that had no plows or plowmen at all.  I am sure my combox will now fill up with those who disagree. You may post away and if you do I will not be angry.  But I won’t answer you because you are not responsible for my soul. I am. 

I am calling this path of resistance to the machine of “ex opere” mediocrity the path of semi-Donatism.  The Donatists were heretics and I reject their heresy.  I also reject their elitist and schismatic snobbery.  But I embrace the notion that we need to recover the intrinsic connection between the Church and holiness.  We need to recover the idea that to insist on the pursuit of holiness is not a form of elitism but the very thing we are supposed to be doing as just the general run of our lives as Christians.  The Church should indeed be characterized by “here comes everybody” and be an open door for any dadgum sinner (like me) who wants to walk in and join the challenge.  But therein is the kicker.  A Church committed to the pursuit of holiness should indeed never be an elitist haven for snobs who look like they have been chewing on green lemons for days.  But it should be a place for sinners of all kinds who are committed to that path of holiness, no matter how halting their steps in that endeavor.  In other words, it must always be the place where all are agreed that holiness is the one and only goal of the whole darn thing. Therefore, the Church must never bless our sins in the run of faux mercy and should never treat the commandments as mere “ideals” (as the once great, but no longer great, Cardinal Schönborn said last week). Because as soon as it does, it becomes a monumental pile of irrelevance, which is the real reason people stop going to Church.  No Gallup survey or Pew Research grant is necessary to point us to the obvious.

I was once a member of a parish where there were no scheduled confessions since nobody ever showed up.  Of course, they were never encouraged to either.  If you wanted to go to confession you had to call the rectory and make an appointment.  And this is not an uncommon thing in the Church today, even before Covid.  Think about that. It is like a hospital emergency room with no doctors on call and if you need to go there because you lopped-off your arm in a fit of pique you will still need an appointment.  In such a scenario nobody in their right mind would go to that emergency room in search of medical care.  Likewise, a Church that does not preach the Gospel of conversion, repentance and holiness – – and sincerely attempts to live it – – is a Church without a reason to exist. Or a soul.

Dorothy Day pray for us.

Photo: Dorothy Day by Maggie Willis

56 comments

  1. Larry, I appreciate all you’ve said in this worthy piece! The call to holiness is everything or Christianity is just another time wasting diversion.

    Dealing with both “woke” liberals and conspiratorial trads, I’ve become thoroughly sick of it all. Both camps react the same way, by instablocking even the most respectful inquiry or attempt to engage.

    What I would like to see is more articles like this from Catholics of all viewpoints. Whatever the view, present it thoughtfully and with nuance, and I will listen whether I agree or not. What I won’t do is participate in propping up self-congratulatory echo chambers or conspiracy theories or all-or-nothing propositions.

    I’m so glad I found this blog. Keep challenging us. Onward, with strength and conviction!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A-freaking-men.

    Especially about the parishes. I have been a liturgical nomad for most of my life, and I can recommend it. I collect good priests like Royal Albert figurines, only more useful (and I mean the real Royal Albert, not the cheesy kitsch stuff in the magazine advertisements).

    It’s easier to find a good priest than a good parish, but where there is one, there is usually another. And by good, I mean confronting, real, honest, and clearly pursuing holiness himself. I don’t mean Nice and Smiles a Lot and Makes Me Feel Comfortable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel very strongly about this issue of parish or priest shopping. As a lay person I have a right to the faith and the goods of salvation the church provides. And if a parish has gone down the path of stupidity and secularization, I am going to take a hike.

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      1. When I read ‘The Screwtape Letters’ (one of many times), I was ashamed of myself because of what Lewis says about ‘tasters of churches’, describing his Anglican milieu.

        But nowadays, being a more hardened sinner, I think Meh. Our overlords turned us into pseudo-Anglicans by allowing ‘liturgical diversity’ of exactly the kind that created the Anglican church-tasting problem in the first place. So what did they expect? Of course we have become tasters of churches. Dioceses actually encourage it at a certain level, because it allows all the problematic people who would cause trouble in other parishes – making demands for actual worship – to gather into the same place.

        And then it risks fostering the very clericalism they claim to hate, by making Father the arbiter of manners and faith and doctrine in his own little patch, and either you get along with Father, or you go elsewhere. Or even worse, it’s not Father, but the Susans from the Parish Council who become the arbiters of these things while Father works on his golf swing.

        Personally sick to death of living-room Catholicism – when the parish church becomes an extension of Susan’s or Father’s living room, complete with television. I do better when we all face the same way, and with a clear boundary between the sanctuary and the rest of us during Mass.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly. If there was a more uniform life of holiness and worship in the Church we would not have to parish shop. But I actually hate that phrase. I am not “shopping.” I am seeking my Lord. And I will go where he is to be found.

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  3. As affirmation of your description of liberal bourgeois Catholicism, 34 years ago when I approached my pastor about my interest in the priesthood his first question was, “Do you play golf?” I replied, “No.” And that was the last time he spoke with me. An assistant ended up showing interest and helping me get in contact with the Diocese (whose seminary I ended up leaving to go to another so that I could become a Catholic priest).

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Larry, these four posts are very helpful and capture much of what I think about where we are right now. I’m a father of eight and thanks be to God my kids all practice the Faith. When they ask me why we do what we do I often say because I lost it once and when you rediscover something precious you protect it. 1973 catholic grammar school: no rosary no adoration no incense no bells just guitars and bongos. I left in my teens because jethro Tull had more authenticity. God bless and keep at it.

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  5. I wish I had read this decades ago. As a young man I was influenced by an older adult who compared his decision to always stay in the same parish to a monk’s vow of stability, and I always had a negative view of parish shopping. I also held the view that however bad the sermons or the hymns were (or the prayers of the faithful), it was still Jesus present in the eucharist, so the rest didn’t really matter. Just the ideas you’re talking about, but nobody ever challenged me intellectually on these views. In the last several years I have noticed that among my contemporaries whose adult children have stayed faithful, the parents deliberately sought better parishes, and they didn’t send their children to the Catholic Education system, even though they could have afforded it. So my small sample (of Catholic families where I know the parents and I know whether or not the children are practising) supports your argument. Perhaps for me sins of omission, things I should have tried but didn’t.

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    1. Someone correct me if I am wrong: Only some religious orders take a vow of stability – Benedictines , for example. Dominicans (who are friars, not monks) are moved according to where their apostolate of preaching can be best used. Why would someone assume the lay should follow the evangelical counsels in the same manner as monastics? Were you also counseled to monastic poverty and celibacy? It’s funny how people pick and choose their examples. Rad Trads cling to the Tridentine Mass, but I have yet to meet one who clings to the pre-conciliar fasting regulations.

      Secondly, I have always thought it, perhaps, prideful to assume that one should stay in their territorial parish because “I am a faithful Catholic and the nonsense won’t affect me and I can bring change.” None of us can ever have that kind of confidence. I have heard parents use that kind of argument to justify sending their children to public schools or mediocre Catholic schools. It rarely turns out well.

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      1. You’re not wrong. But he wasn’t trying to make me a monk, just imparting an idea of commitment to one’s parish. An idea I bought, but I like discussing ideas, and somebody could have engaged with me and convinced me otherwise. I don’t think such conversations are happening very often. People discern a better path, and move their own children/family, and we don’t know why.

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      2. While it might, at this point, be prideful to say so, in the past people HAD to stay in their territorial parishes. When I was a child in 1969 or 1970, my mother (a convert) didn’t like the parish where we moved and had to ask permission to join a different one. I get the impression from the way she tells it that he only did it because she was a convert and was used to being able to pick what church she wanted to attend, and he figured she might leave if she wasn’t allowed to (she probably would have). The neighborhood I live in now, in a different state, is full of people whose grandparents went to my local parish, and many of the older (than me) people woudl never dream of going to anything but their territorial parish. I can only speak for myself, but I went there for 19 years before leaving and wish I had done it when my children were young. But I did stay, not out of pride, but out of what I at least thought of as humility — this was where I was, the parish is meant to be local, and if I started “shopping around” it would turn into what decor and music I liked and not about God. I turned out to be wrong, but I didn’t do it to “change where I was” or because I thought I was so great I couldn’t be influenced by anything.

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  6. This is your best post yet, Larry. I will have more thoughts later but for right now let me just say: Amen.

    For folks who are sticklers about attending their territorial parishes even when those parishes are filled with rot: I sympathize. I too want to know the Church-going Catholics in my immediate surroundings and be involved in their lives and activities. It’s also true that your local pastor retains certain canonical rights and prerogatives with respect to you that are rarely invoked but worth being aware of if you’re trying to cultivate that oh-so-difficult third evangelical counsel. But Larry’s also right, these are our souls we’re cultivating.

    So I propose a middle way for those interested: remain involved in your territorial parish and develop strong friendships with the other good families there, support any worthy charitable causes or ministries the parish organizes (usually lib parishes will have great homeless outreach, neo-con parishes will have pro-life initiatives, etc.), but for the sake of your soul travel as far and wide as you need to find a good confessor. Once you do you’ll probably find yourself splitting your time between worthy ministries with your neighbors at your local parish and receiving the sacraments at your confessor’s parish. And that’s a decent solution, I’ve found.

    Blessed Holy Week to all.

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  7. Michael we have used a three part plan: our parish (will change if necessary); a wonderful Benedictine abbey and Opus Dei (admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea but a great middle ground) with excellent doctrinal formation and practice. Don’t be hard on yourself- the adults who were entrusted with guiding us really fell down here. God have mercy on them.

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  8. I agree with the assessment of the Council’s naiveté and the beyond-urgent need for all members of the Church to seek personal holiness (not entirely sold on calling it semi-Donatism, though).
    A point that I always return to is that this can only (ok, maybe not strictly *only*, but for all intents and purposes) take place in a community. A much abused word which is hard to pin down. Communities are what parishes were meant to be, and the fact that most of them are not makes them dead; worse than dead, in fact, they have become something hideous: zombi parishes which not only do not nurture faith but actively kill it.
    But what makes a community a community? I think the most basic element is this: members of a community are economically interdependent in a very close and real way. When you needed your neighbours to put your barn up and they needed you to put theirs up, you knew you lived in a community – maybe not a holy one, but at least it was a start. When your fellow parishioners have nothing to do with how you make a living and you have nothing to do with how they make theirs, you can forget about it right there. You can talk theology until the cows come home, it won’t make a difference. And of course bourgeois modernity is the great destroyer of communities – the community replaced by the institution.
    I’m not even talking about about economic equality or social justice, about ‘putting your goods in common’; no, just about basic economic interdependency. The landlords and their serfs in pre-1861 Russia formed communities, the vast majority of which where anything but fair, but they were communities nonetheless, and some holiness cropped up here and there. The collectivist farms which institutionalised the farming communities of the USSR may (or may not) have been fairer, but not a lot of holiness came out of them.
    And today? Is it even theoretically possible to form a genuine community (never mind a holy one) in the midst our modern mega-cities?
    We are so far from where we should be; we really are rotten eggs imagining we will fly if only we can jump off the nest.

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  9. Larry, I hope you had a blessed and holy Easter. I was a little sick – I wish I could have had my Moderna shot on Holy Thursday so my mild immune reaction could have been on Good Friday!

    First, I want to commend you for promoting Dorothy Day. When Catholics show a hatred for her they show, well, hatred.

    Second, I want to recommend a book: A Silent Patriarch: Kyrillos VI Life and Legacy (for more info see https://openlibrary.org/books/OL27765146M/A_Silent_Patriarch). Kyrillos
    VI was the Pope of the Coptic Church in Egypt from 1959 to 1971. He has been
    credited with initiating a nearly incredible church reform under extremely difficult
    circumstances. Among Copts, Kyrillos has a reputation that, in Catholic terms, would
    seem to combine elements of Saints Francis of Assisi, Pope John Paul II and Padre Pio of
    Pietrelcina: a hermit-monk, mystic, miraculous healer, and church visionary. This book
    is highly recommended. In these excerpts the first person is author Daniel Fanous:

    The earliest Christian idea of reform, as revealed in both the New Testament and
    patristic writings, was that of personal ascetic reform. But, as we have seen, the
    reach of that reform was always limited by the sphere of one’s “ascetic
    influence,” that is, the reach of one’s capacity to disciple. This explains the
    peculiar failure of top-down legislated ecclesial reforms in the past two millennia,
    for hearts can never be transformed from above. Programs of reform, one
    scholar [Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffet in Beauty for Ashes: The Spiritual
    Transformation of a Modern Greek Community
    ] writes, may give an appearance
    of efficacy, and dynamic clergy may even bring people to the altar, but none of
    these produces lasting change when compared to even one “encounter with
    genuine holiness.” “Holiness,” in the words of Bishop Meletios of Preveza, “will
    beget more holiness.”
    – page 348

    What began in the Church of St Menas in Old Cairo would end, a few decades
    later, in the transformation of an entire Church. Few could have suspected the
    influence of a mostly silent urban recluse and his handful of restless
    disciples…That same method of kenotic and ascetic personal reform was
    imparted to his disciples, and through them it discipled the next generation of
    clergy and laity. To my knowledge it is one of the most profoundly tenacious,
    diffuse, and transformative spiritual revolutions in the history of Christianity since
    the Apostolic Age.
    – page 351

    Doesn’t that sound like an episcopal version of Dorothy Day?

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    1. “This explains the peculiar failure of top-down legislated ecclesial reforms in the past two millennia,
      for hearts can never be transformed from above.”

      This is true, there are no shortcuts, although when and where the Church is healthy, it does precisely that: transform hearts.

      Along the same lines to the point of your post, an article by David Mills “Why All Those Programs to Renew the Church Don’t Work”:

      https://aleteia.org/2015/11/18/catholic-kitsch-cast-aside-cost-us-supernatural-intimacy/

      And somewhat along the same lines an article by Bishop Barron “What Makes the Church Grow”:

      https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/what-makes-the-church-grow/19602/

      For all the challenges the Coptic Church in Egypt had, and continues to have (and obviously they are many), we in the west have to contend with a withering secularism which affects us all more than we know. David Mills captures that very well in his insightful article.

      So the question becomes how do we create the conditions in which holiness can be fostered? And in this regard, we in the secularized west have to contend with this secularism which doesn’t admit the existence of the supernatural, which is a significant issue. How do we create habitats where the sense of the supernatural can exist and flourish even within the Church. Because without that, attempts to beget holiness are stifled, or even allowed to get out of the blocks.

      John Paul II’s apostolic letter of January 6, 2001 Novo Millennio Ineunte paragraphs 29-41 is probably as close as you can get to a succinct “program”, although like he said in his letter, this isn’t a new program, it’s been kicking around for awhile.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That essay by David Mills is excellent. He gets it. And I agree about JPII’s apostolic letter. We are indeed in a bind with the secularism we face. Thanks for the great comment!

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    2. Thanks for all of your excellent comments. My apologies for not having the time to really respond to them as they deserve. Be assured that I do read them and appreciate them very much.

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    1. I was reading Douthat’s column today and thinking the same thing. What he says in this essay is spot-on and exactly what it is I am trying to articulate. In a post-liberal era we cannot simply go back to a simplistic traditionalism or embrace neo-Liberalism as the liberals and neo-cons do. We need something radically new and different.

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  10. I was struck by “the Council’s underestimation of the hostility of the Liberal culture of modernity toward Catholicism. And therefore, an underestimation of how toxic that culture had already become to the faith both within and outside of the Church.”

    I think this overstates the case. First, I think European hostility may well have been rooted in the Church being viewed as powerless in the struggles of a sagging 19th century aristocracy. The Great War may have had a pope dedicated to peace, but the institutional Church was viewed as powerless. Catholic good points were all under the cloak of secrecy during WW2. The US is just now catching up with Europe in terms of people who find the misbehavior of the institution as repugnant.

    I’m also reminded by a statement attributed to Fulton Sheen that at most there were a hundred or so anti-Catholics in the US. All the others were antagonistic to a caricature of Catholicism created by bad example.

    At some point, I’ll get to the rest of your long essay. But in my experience in university communities, in ecumenical circles, and among skeptics in the world, many people (though not all) are waiting for real leadership–not necessarily from bishops or clergy, but from the laity they know. What you seem to describe as “numbing down,” I have termed “country club Catholicism.” Baptism is a membership card and people can make use of it regularly like CostCo or Sam’s, or not much at all. It’s kind of there. And some people who use it a lot are accustomed, more or less, to expect and demand service. Servicing members is a dead-end. Matthew 28:19-20 is a mandatum for every baptized person. Not a calling to fill in a parish baptism register.

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  11. Larry, I don’t know whether your posting of this deeply thought-provoking series was deliberately timed for the run-up to Holy Week, but its effect was greatly amplified thereby for this particular reader. Several thoughts struck me, as your posts invariably do (as always do the subsequent discussions in the comments). Others have rehearsed the “tasters of churches” aspect, which I half suspect you prompted in deliberately subliminal fashion in order to spike it quickly by quoting C.S. Lewis in another context, and I like the formulae of Charlie Estridsen and Stephen Ortiz as ways through for a lay Catholic, always assuming such variety is within geographical reach.

    After the first three of the postings in this sequence, I had the distinct impression of that image of an individual polar bear stuck on a rapidly diminishing piece of ice, as your fiery words lopped off vast sections inhabited by traditionalists, liberals and neo-cons respectively and sent them drifting towards warm-watery oblivion. But thank you for decisively reminding us that the call to holiness is an inherently communal activity rooting in – indeed the very raison d’être – of the Church. We (my wife and I) are just left wondering how many fellow polar bears remain on this stretch of ice and those contiguous to it after your various banishings.

    But, on a liturgical note, back to this current season and Holy Week just behind us: your provocations I think left me more attuned than usual to the prayers in the Solemn Intercessions of Good Friday and, in particular, parts of the responses to Nos. VII (For those who do not believe in Christ) and VIII (For those who do not believe in God) that, joined together, read: “… that we ourselves, being constant in mutual love and striving to understand more fully the mystery of your life, may be made more perfect witnesses to your love in the world … [that] all may recognise the signs of your fatherly love and the witness of the good works done by those who believe in you.” I might be so bold as to say that these form a reasonably neat summary of your conclusion to this series.

    With my prayers for a blessed Eastertide for you, your family and your readers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I do reject the rad trad, liberal, and neo-con projects on the level of theory. On the level of what it is they propose and what it is they diagnose as the problem. But that is speaking very abstractly. The fact is that within each of those taxonomies there are loads of good people with a strong Catholic faith. Unfortunately, that faith has been distorted by the ideological overlays I have identified. My point therefore is not that each of these movements are home to lousy Catholics or evil people. Quite to the contrary. They are good people who have fallen into bad theologies and bad political and ecclesial ideologies. This is why I write as I write… not to condemn but to bluntly lay out where I think they go wrong so that we can all make common cause together on the path to holiness.
      Thanks for you comment since it gave me a chance to clarify this point which was unclear in the actual posts. I will be making it clearer in future posts. Happy Easter!

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      1. I have to confess that my eyes constantly glaze over whenever I hear or see ‘neo-con’. There is really no such thing. So called ‘neo-cons’ are liberals who rejected modern progressivism and returned to classical liberalism. As far as I can see every valid Catholic critique of ‘neo-cons’ is indistinguishable from the Catholic critiques of classical liberalism. If I’m wrong I’d like to be shown why.

        Furthermore, the term is an slur created by their enemies due to their High Treason Against the Cause. It’s really worse than use of the term ‘Trostkite’: the motive is the same, but at least Trotsky has some minor ideas he could call his own.

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  12. Surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia!

    I said I’d have more thoughts on this post in my last comment, and here they are.

    “[The Second Vatican Council] failed to notice the extent to which the very bourgeois Liberalism it sought to challenge through a cooptation of its categories and their transformation into Catholic ones had already seeped into every corner of the Church, dulling its eschatological edge, muting its supernatural call to conversion, and turning everything in the lived existence of most Catholics into suburban rice cakes devoid of the flavor of the Gospel.”

    I find it interesting that most commenters’ (myself included) first reaction to your post was to hone in on your practical suggestion to jump ship to a better parish. I suspect this reflects a weakness in our modern ways of thinking. When faced with a powerful critique of something that is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe (e.g. liberalism), a modern person’s first reaction is to say, “OK, so what’s your alternative then?” after which we focus almost entirely on the proposed alternative as opposed to the substantive critique. But the critique is far more important! Because if we’ve successfully identified an error – whether theological, moral or prudential – the right response, before we do anything else, is to repent of the error. We may not know what to do just yet, but we’ve learned what not to do. And often knowing what not to do makes all the difference between Heaven and Hell.

    The core failing of the Second Vatican Council and its continuous aftermath is, I think, in the line I quoted above. Recognizing the truth of this line alone gives us plenty to repent of: an ethos of bourgeois liberalism, obscuring the Gospel by speaking in liberal terms, muting the supernatural call to conversion, placing our lamp under a bushel, embracing suburban rice cakes rather than the salt of the earth. I could go on and on.

    We moderns want a comprehensive Marshall plan for rebuilding the Church and the world before we are willing to repent and repudiate our errors and get about the business of tending Our Father’s vineyard. But that’s not what Our Lord taught us. He said, “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

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  13. As I continued, I located a vague distaste for “modernism.” Outside of a particular political ideology, there is a spread of modernisms of all sorts: replacing slavery with Jim Crow, redlining, and the so-called War on Drugs; the ascent of militarism and the worship of technological strength. Or the notion of an Anglican Ordinariate. I don’t think there’s a problem with modern stuff. The morality depends on how people use it. Sometimes, the term “modernism” comes off as meaning “today’s progressive stuff I dislike.” That’s how I read the Church documents of the 19th and 20th centuries.

    “We have grown so accustomed to a bourgeois and mediocre laity and a corrupted and filthy clergy that we have all leaned too heavily on “ex opere” as our failsafe mechanism and turned it into a colossal engine that drives the train of indifference.”

    Take a number; the line might be seventeen centuries long.

    Meanwhile, I suspect you’ll find in your new parish they key: intentionality. Other Christians find it in committed religious life, in social gospel parishes, TLM communities, campus ministries, and here and there in other efforts where people to a larger or smaller degree zero in on a mission and stick to it. Anytime a Christian thinks she or he can sit back and watch other people be non-mediocre and non-corrupted their bottom will get numb.

    Thanks for the series. It was interesting to read.

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    1. “The morality depends on how people use it.” I think this is naive. Marshall McLuhan kind of dispensed with that notion decades ago. And of course I do not think there is a problem with “modern stuff” when it is put so generically. I rather like flush toilets and Cheetos. But certainly there are aspects of modernity that are deeply problematic for the Christian faith. And what is problematic is of a deep metaphysical nature that goes well beyond “stuff I don’t like” as if I am merely expressing some kind of subjective taste. Furthermore, I make no claim that the Church has not suffered from similar forms of corruptions for centuries. But I am commenting on OUR cultural circumstances and not those of the 5th century no matter how similar they might be. Nor am I as cynical as you are about the prospects for the Church to become more holy. I am not expecting perfection or for all mediocrities to disappear. But it is a matter of degree and I think a critical mass of Christians who are very serious about their faith is a real possibility. I am glad you enjoyed the series.

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      1. Many modernists, as the church defines them, rather jettisoned the Enlightenment, which is still bad stuff in the eyes of many in the flock. Depending on who defines it and how, I don’t see a problem with philosophy that a Christian can find some good therein. The Church has assimilated much over the centuries which have problematic aspects: the paganist philosophies of Aristotle, the trappings of Imperial Rome–these two virtually define intellectual and liturgical Roman Catholicism. I’d like to see specifics on what is deeply problematic, and examine each element as being authentically modernism or just a philosopher with a vendetta against religion. Or, some modern person blaming religion for being unable to influence the many evil things that have surfaced in the past century or three. Or being complicit with them.

        Our cultural circumstances are far more complex than they were in 313 let alone 1913 or 1963.

        I’m actually optimistic about Christianity. I’ve seen it work when people are intentional. I’ve even seen glimmers when Christians accidentally stumble out of the way and let the Holy Spirit take over.

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      2. My post was not about modernism. In fact, it had nothing to do with modernism. Nor did it have anything at all to do with providing a hermeneutic for properly appropriating philosophical schools of thought into the Catholic intellectual tradition. Those are all interesting and important topics. But they have nothing to do with what I wrote so I have no idea why you keep talking about it. I have deep, deep intellectual issues with political and cultural Liberalism. My thinking trends toward post Liberal thinkers like Deneen. And that was a subtext within this blog post. But political Liberalism and theological modernism are not the same so I don’t know what you are on about.

        You say that Aristotle and the trappings of imperial Rome “virtually define” the Catholic intellectual and liturgical tradition. Well… hmmm… no. Lol. Influenced? Why yes of course. “Virtually define?” No. Not even Thomas Aquinas was an Aristotelian. He was heavily influenced by him for sure and gained some valuable insights from him. But Aristotle did not “virtually define” Aquinas. He was also deeply influenced by the Fathers and by the platonic tradition. And as for the liturgy and its influences? You might want to check out this obscure little religion called Judaism if you want to know the true source for the formal structure of the Roman liturgy.

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  14. In light of Mr. Flowerday’s most recent comment I think it is worth bringing up the fact that “modernism” as condemned by St. Pius X does not and has never meant “progressive stuff the Church doesn’t like.” Modernism and Progressivism are very different things. Modernism at the time of its condemnation was more of an intellectual coterie, rather than a movement. It was an esoteric teaching under which the world is viewed as a shifting, intricate, surreal process that is transfused by Something Else; a Something Else that is not shifting but is wholly real and which governs and moves everything towards Itself. The ultimate end, for a modernist, is to obtain communion with this Something Else. Furthermore, the modernist considers the traditional rituals and popular preaching of Tridentine Catholicism to be well suited to arouse religious feelings within the masses of the people and allow them to approach this Something Else and experience the sense of liberation and union which It provides, such feelings being supremely valuable in themselves.

    As St. Pius X rightly noted, these views draw a false dichotomy between truths we know rationally (e.g. truths of the physical world, science) and supernatural truths (e.g. religious dogma). For the modernists, dogma is the Church’s response to and reflection on that experience of communion with that Something Else, within the limitations of human language, a response that can be reformulated. For this reason modernism was condemned. St. Pius X noted that, among other things, modernism is highly conducive to indifferentism.

    Trads see the de-facto atheism of the modern Church as a problem of indifferentism. Since they know that modernism leads to indifferentism, that modernism was heavily suppressed prior to the Second Vatican Council, and that indifferentism has flourished since the Council, they connect the dots and form the following picture in their minds: the Second Vatican Council was hijacked by modernists who used it to vindicate themselves and their errors. The Trad solution then is to treat Vatican II as a Robber Council and return to pre-conciliar practices, including the vigorous suppression of modernists.

    The problem with this view is that while modernism leads to indifferentism, indifferentism and modernism are not the same thing. For one, the actual condemned modernists – Loisy and Tyrrell and Von Hugel – would have been horrified at the liturgical reforms that followed the Council. None of these men had any desire to challenge the institutional Church, alter the traditional liturgy or oppose the traditional formulations of doctrine. Why would they? If these rituals and formulations help to draw people into union with that unknowable, indescribable, transcendent Else, then fantastic!

    Catholic liberals and progressives, on the other hand, are not like the modernists at all. Liberals are almost entirely taken up with externals. They are social rather than solitary. Active rather than contemplative. To them, a big part of serving God involves convincing their fellow Catholics that the traditional beliefs and practices are amiss. They are polar opposites of the interiority and Quietism of the modernists.

    The irony of the campaign against modernism is that it united the ésprit de corps of actual modernists with others, far more numerous, who were fearful of being suspected of modernism. Thus what was originally an intellectual clique with negligible influence grew into an irritated, organized and subversive body of intellectuals – most of whom were not actually modernists – but who stood ready to defend themselves and their friends against charges of modernism from Rome. The resulting undermining of ecclesiastical authority opened the door to the progressives. We are still living in the aftermath.

    While Trads long for the return of the anti-modernist campaign, they would probably be happier living in a world in which modernism was never suppressed and continued as an elite movement with little influence. In such a counter-factual world, it is perhaps likely that the Second Vatican Council and its liturgical reforms would have never happened.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think that what Charlie is saying is, there are Modernists, and then there are modernists.

        Charlie has described a uniquely Catholic Modernism which was condemned. I have no reason to critique the way he connects the dots. However, he only connects the dots forward from Loisy and Tyrrell and Von Hugel, he doesn’t go backwards.

        Catholic liberals and progressives, on the other hand, are not like the modernists at all. Liberals are almost entirely taken up with externals. They are social rather than solitary. Active rather than contemplative. To them, a big part of serving God involves convincing their fellow Catholics that the traditional beliefs and practices are amiss. They are polar opposites of the interiority and Quietism of the modernists.

        Yes, and as such they have roots in the ‘modernism’ of Protestantism and the Enlightenment and (gasp, will I state it?) Freemasonry. (Full disclosure: I am not a hater of Freemasonry, I only reject the parts that are incompatible with Christianity). I suspect that if we connect the dots backwards from Loisy and Tyrrell and Von Hugel we will find their unique Modernism will intersect with this other ‘modernism’.

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      2. I think this is a good analysis. Which is why I never utter the word “modernist” or “modernism” in the blog. I am talking about liberal progressives of the kind you describe well here. Their roots are in the Enlightenment tradition and certain aspects of Protestantism. I often speak of “modernity” but I am not using it as code for “modernism”.
        Thanks for the comments everyone

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      3. TomD:

        No, I am saying that there are modernists and then there are liberals, and the two are not one in the same. Lumping Protestantism, Enlightenment thought, and Freemasonry under the label of modernism is not helpful since Catholic modernism refers specifically to a particular error with a particular essence. To apply this label arbitrarily to other particular errors that have their own particular essences is to open oneself up to equivocation. If we did that, Mr. Flowerday would be justified in his impression that modernism means “progressive stuff we don’t like.”

        Liberalism, following its Enlightenment roots, strives to be rationalistic, whereas modernism is essentially intuitive and anti-intellectual. For this reason the modernists strongly disliked liberal Protestantism, which attempted then (as it still often attempts today) to harmonize Christianity with contemporary rationalist, historicist and scientist notions. In fact, it was Loisy’s apologetical works against the ideas of the liberal Lutheran von Harnack that first attracted the attention of the Holy Office. As I alluded to in the paragraph you quoted, modernism shares much in common with Quietism, and while there are Protestant errors that share certain elements of both Quietism and modernism, it isn’t accurate that either error grew out of the Protestant Revolt, much less Enlightenment and Masonic rationalism which if anything is its polar opposite. For modernists it was devotion that was the core of religion and dogma was only the expression of subjective experience, so not worth arguing over.

        Catholics of all stripes habitually misapply the term modernism to refer to liberal Catholicism in general which is a much broader, older and (in my opinion) pernicious movement.

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  15. Great post, thank you!

    Yes, there was a great deal of naïveté among the Council Fathers. But perhaps there was a great deal of hubris as well?

    I also think we should acknowledge tat there was in fact a radical wing at the Council who did all they could to advance their agenda. It’s really hard for me to believe that men like Kung (for example, RIP) were simply naive.

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  16. “Heroism is not for the average Christian.“ Cardinal Walter Kasper, regarding divorced and “remarried” Catholics. There’s just not enough grace to help us live in accord with God’s plan. Sad. Of course, Kasper was rehabilitated and lionized by PF in connection with the synods on communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. It’s the opposite of the universal call to holiness, which Dr. Chapp insists Vatican II was really all about (or, at least, should have been all about but was’t?). Truly ironic. And emblematic of post-Vatican II era despite the valiant efforts of St. JPII and BXVI.

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    1. No. I am Catholic. The Anglican Ordinariate was established by Pope Benedict to allow Anglicans to become Catholic but to keep their Anglican liturgy, with some Catholic modifications. I am a cradle Catholic but I attend an Ordinariate parish because I love the liturgy.

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  17. What a deep and beautiful post. I recently found your blog, and I am deeply moved by it. Very good work, brother. The honesty is what touches me most. We have stopped speaking honestly. Peter denied Christ three times. We deny Him far more. Lord have mercy.

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  18. Reading back through this essay, I was struck by this bit: “The culture of bourgeois well-being had become the religion of most Catholics in their day-to-day lived existence with a deep bifurcation between daily life in the “world” and a merely forensic, pietistical, and superficial “faith life.” It was the religion of Western style affluence but with Friday fish fries and “the Sunday obligation.” ”

    Now we don’t even have fish on Fridays and, judging by most parishes, a Sunday obligation. I think one reason people are so attracted to “trad” things is that they don’t have ANYTHING. They sense, rightly or wrongly, that the outer things their grandparents jettisoned might be the key to developing inner ones, or at least to a more meaningful life than just doing whatever you want to any time or day you want to do it. I know lots of very devout Catholics who have “inner things” and have never attended anything but a Novus Ordo parish. But they don’t make up the majority of people who attend. Assuming that the majority of people at ANY parish don’t have much of an structured/developed inner life (I think that’s a fair description of the human condition, when no knowledge or discipline is taught) I also assume they are the sort of people who learn such things as how to play instruments without taking lessons, or master a complex subject entirely by studying on their own with whatever books and materials they find. That’s admirable, but it’s not something most people do, and it’s not something you can build a civilization on.

    Now we don’t have a bifurcated “everyday” and “spiritual life.” As a people, the West has “everyday life” and “religious hobbies.” And no matter how much we love our hobbies, we know they have to go when something more important calls. Very little about the Church as most experience Her today says that she is more important than much at all.

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