A brief follow-up to my last post: Why I criticize certain kinds of “traditionalists.”

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I want to address, briefly, an issue that has been raised by several of my readers in emails to me in response to my post on Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope” thesis.  And that is the issue of why I seem to go after “traditionalists” more than I do Catholic liberals, despite my obvious disdain for the latter.  In answer I will borrow an argument from the traditionalist’s own playbook who, when asked why they go after Bishop Barron far more than they go after Cardinal Cupich, reply that it is because they do not expect orthodoxy from the latter but they do from the former. Likewise, I do not write much about Catholic liberals because they bore me and I think that their views are clearly animated more by the popular zeitgeist than by the Gospel.  In short, I do not take their views seriously and think that they will eventually be eclipsed by saner Catholic voices, despite their current influence in the Church.  And those saner voices will come from some version of Catholic traditionalism. 

Therefore, the only truly interesting debates for me are those between differing versions of traditionalism. And they are interesting not only because the theological ideas are captivating, but also because it matters greatly which version of traditionalism will emerge as the most influential.  I am a traditionalist of the ressourcement/Communio school and I have serious and deep disagreements with some people in the currently emerging neo-traditionalist school, especially among its more prominent internet pugilists.  Therefore, the fact that I write so much on that debate is because I think that it matters far more in the big picture than trying to convince Fr. James Martin and his epigones that they are wrong.  And yes, I am often a bit snarky, as is my style.  But hey, it is a blog – – my blog – – and I like to write in a style that is both intellectually substantive and entertaining, which are not, after all, mutually exclusive.  And besides, what is “overheated snark” to one person is “funny and spot-on satire” to another.  I write as I want to write and I like to interject humor into my posts. And I make no apologies for that.   Quod scripsi, scripsi. 

However, in response to the charge that my snark is every bit as nasty as the traditionalists I criticize, and that I am therefore “just as guilty” as they are, I will respond with an analogy.  If I were to see my sister unfairly attacked, physically, by some street bully I would, of course, rush to her defense even it that means using the same tactics as the bully – – fisticuffs.  Now, someone watching the whole thing could later say to me, “hey dude, you were just as much of a bully to that dude as he was to your sister,” I would respond by saying that he was nuts.  And any sane person would say the same.  The means might be the same – – fists – – but the moral quality of my actions are of a different kind altogether from that of the bully.  Likewise, when I “punch down” at some traditionalists it is for that very same reason.  Folks like Taylor Marshall and Michael Voris, when it comes to their gross and unfair mischaracterizations of people like Balthasar, von Speyr, and Bishop Barron, are the moral and intellectual equivalents of that bully.  They use their highly visible platform and their popularity to engage in ad hominem attacks on those with whom they disagree theologically.  For example, Fr. Altman, despite his many apparent qualities, recently said in an interview with Taylor Marshall that Bishop Barron is a heretic who needs to be excommunicated.  This statement is beyond idiotic and is just a click baiting effort to toss red meat at his base and to gin-up opposition to Barron on utterly false premises.  Theological disagreement is fine and I have engaged in civil and legitimate theological debate my entire career.  So my issue is not that some disagree with Balthasar or Barron, but the ignorance and mean-spirited manner in which they do so.  Thus, to accuse of me of “doing the same thing they are doing” is, I think, a profound confusion about the difference between ignorant and unfair theological bullying and a spirited defense of the bully’s targets. 

As I said, I have no issue – – none – – with traditionalism as such and count myself as one kind of traditionalist.  Indeed, even among those traditionalists of a more Tridentine orientation than myself, I count many as my dear friends and respect them greatly for their love of the Church and their devotion to Our Lord.  Folks like Janet Smith and Steve Skojec are fine examples of this kind of traditionalist and I say, “let’s have at the debate” and will engage them as befits the charitable manner in which they conduct their conversations.  Most of the traditionalists of my acquaintance are devoted Catholics who want nothing more than I do – – a renewal of the Church – – and I tip my hat to their devotion. 

Nevertheless, the traditionalist movement has spawned an ugly underbelly of internet bullies who do not conduct themselves with this kind of dignity.  And they are giving the wider traditionalist movement, which I largely support with some caveats, a bad reputation.  In short, the traditionalists of this type have weaponized a certain form of the Church and used it against people who should be viewed as their natural allies even if those people do not share all of their views on traditionalism.  The traditionalist movement needs to fight back against these kinds of folks in their ranks and see them for what they are:  a detriment to their overall message.  And if, for example, “Summorum Pontificum” gets rolled back then the fault for that will lie, at least in part, with the fact that many bishops who were formerly open to it have grown weary of the subculture of animosity toward those outside of the TLM community that many such communities display.  Having a variety of differing liturgical forms is great and I love the TLM and I support Summorum and hope it does not get overturned.  But using the TLM as a cudgel against the broader Church, and to use it as a reference point for creating a “remnant Church against the Church” mentality, is counterproductive in the extreme and it will become identified with something negative and will end up in self-destruction. 

There is a lot at stake here and we need the traditionalists.  I am happy – – very happy – – that they exist.  But they need to get out of their own way and to understand that their message is a profound one that should stand on its own merits without all of the bullying towards anyone who might harbor a different view of what “traditionalism” means.

That is all.  I am now off soon on a much needed vacation to visit my family in Lincoln, Nebraska, my home town.  Therefore, this will be my last post for a while and will resume in late June.  Peace to all. 

Dorothy Day, pray for us.

7 comments

  1. This reminds me of that scene in ‘A Night at the Opera’ when Groucho remonstrates, “Hey, you big bully! Why are you picking on that little bully?”

    Enjoy your hols, Dr Chapp, and come back refreshed

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  2. Spot on. Gives new meaning to the gospel truth that the path indeed is narrow . Don’t go off the rails to either side . But we see this happening in a very intense way right now. People are tempted where they are at. A Taylor Marshall is not going to be tempted to join the German bishops in a de facto abandonment of the faith. Instead he has been tempted according to where his dispositions might be more easily misled . Satan is very good at his “job” and right now it is like shooting fish in the barrel across the spectrum.

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  3. “And if, for example, “Summorum Pontificum” gets rolled back then the fault for that will lie, at least in part, with the fact that many bishops who were formerly open to it have grown weary of the subculture of animosity toward those outside of the TLM community that many such communities display.”

    I do marvel at your ability to make things up out of whole cloth.

    Rolling back Summorum Pontificum has a doctrinal purpose, it serves as a repudiation of Benedict XVI’s interpretative key of Vatican II in continuity with tradition. As Benedict asked rhetorically, quoting Vatican’s II’s constitution on the liturgy (SC 2), at a conference in 2001 “Who still talks today about “the divine Sacrifice of the Eucharist”?”. He noted further that Luther considered viewing the mass as a sacrifice with “the greatest and most appalling horror”. He adds that today “a sizeable party of Catholic liturgists seems to have arrived in practice at the conclusion that Luther, rather than Trent,” was right on this point. Hence, after Vatican II this led people to think of divine worship chiefly in terms of the feast of Passover related to accounts of the Last Supper. Needless to say, Benedict XVI disagrees, and disagrees strongly.

    Let me quote verbatim Benedict’s view as to the source of the hostility to the celebration of the Latin mass which he stated at that conference in 2001:

    “Only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent can one understand the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 missal after the liturgical reform. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the strongest and thus (for them) the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its validity.”

    I’m much more worried about what’s currently happening with the Successors of the Apostles in Germany than on what’s being said on a couple of American traditionalist websites, but as you rightly say, it is your blog. Still, conservatives like yourself should be standing shoulder to shoulder with traditionalists in defending Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, if for nothing else, out of simple self-interest. It goes way beyond simply having a “variety of differing liturgical forms”, if one puts any stock in what Benedict XVI has to say about it.

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    1. Make stuff up out of whole cloth? I am not alone in making the observation that the traditionalists can often be their own worst enemy. Here is an article from The American Conservative that makes a similar point: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-popes-tough-love-for-angry-trads/
      And another from Catholic World Report: https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/06/13/opinion-on-liturgical-wars-and-rumors-of-wars/?fbclid=IwAR2kLuTFvEx_DkoTetoSCN0DSTKVFG9Xe-kJZ0PbSNtbsZPb0Iif1xm4UHo

      Furthermore, the main point of my blog post was not Summorum but instead focused on why it is the trads can be their own worst enemy. Therefore, I did not go on at length about Summorum since that would require another blog post in its own right. But even so, you give this post an uncharitable read since I made it clear that the angry trads are only responsible for what may come “in part”. I clearly stated that I support Summorum and the TLM and the traditionalist movement in general. I DO stand shoulder to shoulder with them which is why I think it is in their best interest to stop supporting the internet bullies and to stop populating social media with all kinds of negativity toward Vatican II and so on. It will only hurt them in the long run. I do in fact know bishops who support Summorum but who have grown weary of the “remnant Church within the Church” mentality that many of these parishes harbor. And so they might not push back against Rome as strongly as they might have had they not begun to think of the trads as a pain in their ass. And these are good, orthodox, bishops.

      I agree with you that if Summorum is modified that the main reasons will be doctrinal. And I will reject those reasons for all of the reaons you state. I agree with your analysis in this matter 100%. However, we need to remember that Rome forms its opinions of the traditionalist movement largely from the internet. And the trads there who are nasty and vitriolic are more than just a few. They are a real problem. Nor is my criticism of them a zero sum game with regard to also criticizing the German synodal way. If you are a faithful reader of this blog then you know I have frequently gone after the apostasy that they represent. In fact, my interview with Kale Zelden that I posted last week had a half hour long segment on just that topic.

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      1. Agree Larry. The internet traditionalist bullies are poisoning that community . We all need to double down on our spiritual life and discipline our disordered passions – especially disordered anger . It is very hard to moderate anger to an appropriate anger so one should Always pause . To me the parish that beat exemplifies Summorum is St John Cantius in Chicago .

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