Ressourcement Theology: A Personal Narrative

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Blog Master’s note: My apologies for the long time since my last post. My travels to California for my interview with Bishop Barron have consumed my time and my energies. That interview will be posted on here on August 24th.

Sometimes you need to tell a story to avoid the denatured abstractions that can creep into intellectual discourse. I have been asked by many readers to explain what “ressourcement theology” is.  And I will. But first a story.  It is the story of my intellectual journey from a young firebrand “traditionalist” to a Communio/ressourcement theologian. And at the end of this narrative I will define ressourcement theology, but with an eye toward why I think it is as relevant today, even more so perhaps, than ever before.

When I was a very young man of nineteen years and heading off to minor seminary in Covington, Kentucky, I was an insufferable idiot.  An academically inclined idiot to be sure (a bookish nerd even when I was merely an embryo) but an idiot nonetheless.  The year was 1978 so the high silly season of post conciliar Catholicism was still in full vapor and this had an enormous influence upon my young mind.  My worldview, if you can even call it that, was a simple narrative of good guys versus bad guys. The bad guys were the liberal, dissenting Catholics with their low church, egalitarian, “fellowship” Catholicism of felt banners, denim vestments, pewter chalices, and the pill.  The good guys were the conservative Catholics who believed and upheld proper doctrine and discipline.  And my idiocy consisted in the fact that I thought that orthopraxy would flow from orthodoxy like morning from night.  How quaint.  

As I entered the seminary, I was full of piss and vinegar and spoiling for a fight with the liberal infidels. Like a “mini me” Torquemada I was ever vigilant to spy out the slightest whiff of heretical chicanery.  Unfortunately, my career as an inquisitor did not pan out since I was sent to a very conservative seminary where we were taught philosophy from the old neo-scholastic manuals, which I poured myself into with great vigor, confident that I was receiving “orthodox” Catholic philosophy.  However, over time my intellectual curiosity kicked in and I began to have serious philosophical and theological questions that my neo-scholastic manuals did not answer. I became intellectually restless and dissatisfied with the manuals, and indeed so much so, that my only defense was to dismiss it all as “temptations from el diablo.” Surely, I thought, it is the Devil who wants me to question the manifestly “Catholic” manuals and to abandon the path of orthodoxy.  

Nevertheless, my questions persisted and therefore on my own I began reading modern philosophers like Hegel, Kant, and Heidegger – – thinkers I scarcely understood – – and then brought the questions they raised, as far as I understood them, to my neo-scholastic texts seeking in vain for answers to the issues they raised.  There were no answers.  There weren’t even questions.  Just endless diatribes against “modernism, “subjectivism” and “historicism,” that only a steadfastly deductive “Thomistic” method could hold off, rooted in the certitudes of dogma as the first principles for all that then followed.  And that is what it was: a “holding off” of alleged errors in a defensive mode of thinking that was critical of any idea that did not arise from the scholastic tradition. Heck, we did not even read Thomas, lest we “misunderstand” him, and got instead a desiccated diet of arid commentaries.  It was fortress Catholicism contra mundum. And worst of all, it was so horrifically boring that no seminarian would ever remember a word of it out of pure self-defense. For me, it constituted a theodicy problem since I could not accept that an all good God would allow his Church to turn the exhilarating exuberance of the Gospel into the coma-inducing pottage I was being forced to read.

What I found attractive in the modern philosophers, despite their manifest errors, was their concern for the role played by human subjectivity in our knowing and the category of “history” as a constitutive metaphysical principle at the very core of human experience.  The neo-scholastics dismissed such topics as dangers to be overcome since their vagaries could undermine the “timeless” and “irreformable” dogmas of the faith, which stand astride, and above, history and subjectivity like blocs of immovable granite. This is of course a bit of a caricature, and there were some neo-scholastics who did indeed attempt to address these issues, but in my experience as a young student all I found were endless deflections concerning these deeper existential questions.  I also found it all profoundly propagandistic in favor of a peculiarly modern form of Catholicism – – ironic, considering their putative concern for “tradition” – – since I knew enough Church history to see through the mythology of “unchanging Catholicism” and its constant glossing over of the real history of doctrinal development.  It was also strangely silent on the ugly underbelly of the Tradition wherein, through papal bulls and so on, the Church countenanced not a few perfidies that we would deem today to be morally grotesque. But like the crazy, incestuous uncle hidden in the attic, the manuals preferred to treat such embarrassments as a sub rosa secret off limits to discussion.

Most of my fellow seminarians were intellectually uncurious (they were mostly dullards to be brutally honest) and of a pietistical bent, who didn’t give a fig for such questions, trusting, it would seem, that no future parishioners would ever have a crisis of faith while struggling with similar questions. There is nothing, evidently, that a good novena to the Little Flower can’t cure.  And I like the Little Flower.  And Novenas. (But I don’t like the Infant of Prague who freaks me out.)  But talking to these guys about philosophical matters was like mailing a letter to yourself and then expecting something novel when you opened it.  To make matters worse, many of them were also bona fide psychosexual weirdos riddled with all manner of fetishized obsessions. I am glad that I was a skinny and ugly library rat since that saved me from their advances. There was one exception, a guy who was apparently attracted to skinny, ugly, library rats, who I reported to the rector, only to be told that I was being “rigid and judgmental.”  I struggled mightily to repress the retort I had formed in my mind that in the encounter in question, I was not the rigid one.  I don’t think the rector actually believed what he was saying since he was actually a good man who I admired, but it was a convenient way to deflect the issue and to kick the can of responsibility down the road. Unfortunately, at that time, lots of rectors and bishops were doing the same thing, so we ended up with a lot of “kicked can” priests whose specialty was hiding their double life and their sexual crimes. 

I bring the issue of sexual deviancy up, not for prurient purposes, but to highlight the fact that this is when it first began to dawn on me that orthodoxy was no guarantor of orthopraxy.  And that really rattled my confidence in my “good guys vs. bad guys” narrative.  It was the first shot across the bow of my tidy little thought world and unsettled me deeply.  Indeed, many, if not most, of the dysfunctional predators I knew were hyper traditional theologically and liturgically, and well formed in the path of holiness via contractual Catholicism and its various cathartic ablutions.  For them, Catholicism was a perfect world of indulgence followed by indulgences, where Kinsey and Cajetan lived peacefully together.  Indeed, it seemed to me that the few “liberal” seminarians that were there were far more “human” in a healthy way than the conservative ones were, and I found a rapport with them that surprised and shocked me.  To this day I find that I am often far more at home with my pot-smoking liberal friends, whose worldview is a total hot mess of secular/pagan, syncretistic drivel, than I am with the pinched-up fiddleback fussbudgets I know who strike me as closeted skeptics in search of something – – anything – – to hang the hat of certitude on.  There is nothing wrong, of course, with seeking after the deep certitude concerning ultimate things that faith in Christ brings.  But that is an altogether different thing from the invention of reactionary and romantic ecclesiological/ideological constructs that have the net effect of producing a thousand Vigano clones, all of them living under the umbrella of a false “orthodoxy” of role-playing inauthenticity. I was repulsed by the ecclesiastical cosplaying of so many of my traditionalist seminary classmates who, even before getting ordained, had closets full of the latest Tridentine drag, purchased from some shop in Rome at great cost.  One can indeed be a traditionalist priest in one’s heart, but, like Barbie, the public accoutrement are sold separately. 

[Side note: I am reminded of the late, great Fr. Lorenzo Albacete who, while on the faculty of Dunwoodie seminary, was asked what his number one goal was as a seminary formator. His answer was simple and direct: to first make the young men “human” in a deeply authentic and Christian way, before worrying about their orthodoxy. If memory serves, I don’t think that went over well…]

And that brings me to the intellectual watershed moment of my life. I finally took all of my frustrations to my spiritual director, Fr. Anton Morgenroth, a German convert from Judaism whose family had fled Germany at the beginning of Hitler’s reign of terror. Father Morgenroth was a giant of an intellect who had known Balthasar. He listened to my tale of woe and, realizing that the time was right and that I was ready for it, gave me a copy of Balthasar’s “Love Alone” and ordered me to read it under pain of eternal damnation should I fail to do so.

I read the book in one night and was immediately aware that there existed an entire world of theological discourse that was asking the same questions I was and was putting into words what I could only inchoately intuit.  My questions! It was as if a jar of unstable nitro had gone off in my head as I immediately saw that I was not crazy, that “el diablo” was not tempting me, and that my questions were legitimate.  It was a tough book to read, and yet strangely not boring, since the repristinated Christ presented in its pages was a burning and bracing challenge.  In point of fact, it was the road to Damascus moment of my early life.  

 And from that point forward, and over the ensuing three years, Father Morgenroth gradually and gently tutored me with various ressourcement thinkers as our guide.   There they all were before me:  Blondel, Peguy, de Lubac, Guardini, Chenu, Bouyer, Ratzinger, von Hildebrand, Balthasar, and many others.  There were also literary figures like Bernanos and Mauriac, and philosophers like Pieper, Gilson, Maritain and Marcel.  In my intellectually immature state, it was like trying to get a sip of water from a firehose.  Nor did I agree with everything that I was reading (especially with Congar and Chenu.) But it was an introduction to a particular kind of theological pedagogy that altered my intellectual path from that moment forward.  And so … here I am, an unreconstructed pre-Vatican II “liberal.”

There are several points I want to draw from this personal narrative.  First, I tell my story because I do not think it is idiosyncratic but is rather broadly descriptive of the frustrations many ressourcement thinkers faced before the Council as they fought to be heard above the din of the debates between modernists and old-line traditionalists.  I also think that the sad binary of progressives vs traditionalists that I experienced is also the broad experience of most modern Catholics, many of whom can tell biographical stories eerily similar to my own.  The power of that binary is a perduring blight that has disfigured the conciliar reception and which now threatens to scuttle the heroic effort of Saint Pope John Paul to chart a theological course, rooted in ressourcement thought, that transcends the impasse.  The binary has once again returned with a vengeance, like a Covid variant eluding all vaccines, and with the battle lines even more pronounced, as both sides hunker-down in their hardened, ideological bunkers, hurling salvos at each other from afar over the no man’s land of a tired Church.  The center is not holding and the strong gods of tribal loyalties have returned.

This is deeply saddening to me since it is a disturbing recapitulation of a debate that I hoped was over. It is an interminable debate incapable of resolution since the war between the binaries is a civil war, a cage match between feuding backwoods cousins. The gravitationally locked binary stars of traditionalism and progressivism are both rationalistic in a bad, modernistic sense, (i.e., they both have an attenuated view of reason as something that pertains primarily to measurable things and strict logic) and are stuck in an Enlightenment model of the relation between the objective and subjective realms. The progressives favor the subjective and the traditionalists the objective, but they both tend to treat the one as the subverter of the other. There is no room at the Inn for viewing reason as most especially reasonable when it is a celebration of dappled things, as the effluence of the mind’s essentially poetic and symbolic landscape, and as the natural reaching out of the creature toward its one and single final end in the Triune God. And like all modern thinkers smitten with “isms,” they are both utopian purists who read history as a justificatory narrative for their own ideological prejudices, which means that neither one has a proper view of what constitutes a “tradition.” The traditionalists will scream at me for all of this and accuse me of attacking a straw man. But I have read their writings. Ecce Homo.

The hyper traditionalists romanticize and idealize a past that never was for the sake of terrorizing the present as they seek a field of wheat without tares.  They freeze frame post- medieval Catholicism, and especially Tridentine Catholicism, and hold it up as the only “true” form of the Church, and then, with anachronistic fervor, read the early Fathers through the lens of scholastic categories rather than the other way around, and then accuse ressourcement thinkers of introducing “novelties” as they seek to interpret the Tradition non-anachronistically.    

Furthermore, they separate nature and grace into principles extrinsic to each other in order to preserve the idea that God owes us precisely nothing, all the while ignoring the fact that God actually wants to give us – – all of us – – everything.  Theirs is a misinterpreted and hypertrophic Pauline world of undeserved grace which causes them to posit the absurd idea that God did not create us as constitutively oriented to divine life as our natural final end and that, therefore, salvation is some kind of “add on” to our nature that we can, in theory, live happily without (limbo.)  Well… except of course that in their scheme if you don’t get the “add on” God is not going to just leave you in a state of natural happiness, but is going to send you to Hell for all eternity.  This emphasis on “souls are at stake!” and the “deserved punishments of Hell!” is actually a backhanded way of saying that the question of God is indeed of decisive importance for our nature as such. Because even if I reject the gravy of theosis, why can’t I still have the potatoes of limbo?  Unless of course our inclusion in the life of the triune God is the only true fulfillment of our nature qua nature, the rejection of which constitutes our own self-destruction. It’s gravy all the way down.

And in all of this they miss the deeper Pauline inflection that only Christ fulfills our deepest nature precisely as nature, and is the very “Word” of creation as such, in which we “move and have our being.” In other words, for Paul the gratuity of grace is to our nature what the New Covenant is to the Old: an unmerited and superabundant fulfillment that was not “owed” to anyone but, paradoxically, is the only possible fulfillment that does justice to God’s creative intentions. They ignore the fact that grace is a “second” gift, the first being God creating us in the first place as beings fundamentally oriented to the divine life as our one and only final end.  

But the hyper traditionalists see grave danger in this since it might imply that God is so profligate in His dispensing of salvific grace that the Church and her sacraments are now superfluous. By contrast, theirs is a dangerously narrow view of “extra ecclesiam” and they turn the Church into the grand gatekeeper of gratuity, preaching a message of God’s parsimoniousness towards those who are “outside,” so you better get “inside,” and do so quickly. It is a religious vision larded with threats and contains a not so veiled spiritual violence toward human nature as such, viewed as something so corrupted that not even God can find a way to redeem it outside of explicit affiliation with the Church.  Christ and his Church are indeed necessary for salvation, but not in the manner that the traditionalists envision which is really a kind of sacramental protection racket: embrace the truth of Catholicism right now or else the God of love is going to break your legs. 

I will blog on the topic of the absolute necessity of the Church for salvation in future posts, but to belabor the issue here will derail my main point. And that point is this:  ressourcement theology, through a retrieval of Scripture and the Church fathers (a return to the sources) sought a more expansive view of the relationship between nature and grace as well as the related issue of the relationship between the Church and the world. And they did so precisely in order to widen the Church’s eschatological horizon beyond the narrow confines of the anathematizing of errors (necessary as those were) and into a vision of the Church as the sacramental locus of a cosmic liturgy marked by our participation in Christ’s vicarious suffering for the life of the world.  Ours is a mediatory and intercessory vocation, and the ressourcement theologians returned to the Fathers and their notion of theosis for a more wholistic understanding of the corporate and cosmic nature of what it means to be “saved.”

Put in the simplest of terms ressourcement theology is an attempt to retrieve elements of the Catholic Tradition that had been a bit ignored and eclipsed by the hegemony that neo-scholastic theology and philosophy had over the intellectual life of the Church.  Philosophically, Thomas would still remain supreme, but would now be placed in conversation with modern philosophy as a true interlocutor. The goal was to move beyond the “refutation of errors Thomism” of that era and into creative pathways for retrieving Thomas anew.  To that end, several new schools of Thomistic thought emerged in the 20th century with ressourcement thinkers leaning toward the “existential Thomism” of philosophers like Etienne Gilson, with some exceptions. Therefore, it is wrong in the extreme to view ressourcement approaches as “anti-Thomas,” as is often alleged, and more accurate to say that they were actually a part of a grand revival of Thomas as a patristic and even platonic thinker.  Traditionalists often dismiss ressourcement theology as just “modernism” in a different guise.  But this only betrays their ignorance of how profoundly Thomistic ressourcement theology is. It also betrays their ignorance of Thomas. The ressourcement theologian Tracey Rowland, in her wonderful book, “Catholic Theology,” identifies at least seventeen different kinds of Thomistic schools of thought.  Therefore, for traditionalists to dismiss ressourcement thinkers as “modernists” simply because their version of Thomism differed from that of someone like Garrigou Lagrange (who I like) is simply flat-footed nonsense. In fact, borrowing a phrase from David Bentley Hart, it scarcely rises to the level of nonsense.

I will not speak to the distortions introduced by progressive Catholic thinkers beyond repeating what I have said frequently in previous blogs: it is a dead end.  Theirs is the path of relativism and appeasement to the zeitgeist.  Many of the causes they champion are praiseworthy and they are not altogether worthless or wrong.  But theirs is not a specifically Catholic vision and so the fact that they dismiss ressourcement thinkers as hopelessly “traditional” does not surprise me.  Anything to the Right of Tom Reese is too traditional for them.  And they need to get over Rahner.  Nobody cares about Rahner anymore. Well, at least I don’t.  And that should be the last word on that since, as my long suffering wife Carrie points out, it is at the end of the day, a “Larry-centric” universe. 

Finally, ressourcement theology is timelier than ever as we see in the recent dust-up over Traditionis Custodes, which wasn’t as much about liturgy as it was about the ongoing relevance of Vatican II and the proper manner of its retrieval.  Shaun Blanchard has written the best analysis of the motu proprio in this regard (which you can read here) as he makes the same point with great persuasive force.  I swore I was done writing about the radical traditionalists but needed to do so in this post in order to drive home this very point.  Their mild to radical rejection of Vatican II as the source of our current woes is a classic example of post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking and betrays a deep historical ignorance of the fact that all truly great Councils left turmoil in their wake.  Just ask Athanasius if he thought Nicaea created ecclesial peace owing to its great “clarity.”  The traditionalist claim that Vatican II contains fatal “ambiguities” also seems blissfully unaware of the many ambiguities in the terminology of the early Councils – – ambiguities that we are still arguing about 1600 years later. Turmoil and ambiguity are not necessarily the marks of a failed Council but rather can be an indication of the power of its assertions and the deep, ongoing, significance of the questions it addresses.

To that end, ressourcement theology is the key to unlocking the conciliar project since it was that theology that won the day and framed the discussions.  The takeaway in the personal story I narrated above is my own discovery of this hermeneutic and how liberating it was to me to realize that I did not need to choose between progressivism and neo-scholastic traditionalism.  The other takeaway is the rejection of any notion that the key to ending the current scandals in the Church is to double-down on the Tridentine form of the Church since it is by now quite clear that traditionalism is no hedge against personal sin and clerical skullduggery of a grave nature. Latin is not going to save the world. Holiness is going to save the world.

Therefore, in the renewed struggle to retrieve Vatican II properly we must retrieve the retrieval begun by the ressourcement theologians and carry forward their unfinished project. For me, this is just a no-brainer and I hope it becomes so for everyone else as well. Because if we don’t carry forward this project we are going to be stuck in the ecclesial mud spinning our wheels for many decades to come. And there are great signs that this is happening, most especially in the rapprochement that is developing between ressourcement and Thomistic theologians. Intellectual history is often characterized by the swinging of the pendulum and it is true that ressourcement thinkers, in their desire to overcome the neo-scholastic hegemony, ignored many of the latter’s manifest strengths. But the pendulum is swinging back and theologians like Matthew Levering and Matthew Minerd are seeking to bring together the best of the Thomistic thinkers and to place them in conversation with ressourcement theologians. This, it seems to me, is the only viable path out of the mud.

Dorothy Day, pray for us.

37 comments

  1. Good stuff. I’m a young convert so all this is so interesting. Would love to see a post about your thoughts on usury in the modern world in the future, particularly considering your affinity for SOV Dorothy Day.

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  2. I guess I’m lucky in the sense that I am JPII generation and Resorcement thinking comes naturally to me, and I always had access to dignified NO liturgies growing up. I only started hanging out with “trads” and sometimes attending the 1962 liturgy recently as a grown man in my 40s, basically because I prefer silence to being constantly irritated during Mass.
    My black-sheep older brother is just starting to practice his faith now at age 60 – a miracle of grace – but he’s converted in the age of Pope Ambiguity, Vigano, Trad Twitter and the Lavender Mafia. I am always trying to tell him “It is God’s church, HE is in charge” but then I go on a boozy rant about how the fags running the church aren’t going to drive me out, etc, etc.
    What a pile of poor sinners we are. Hope, hope, hope.

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  3. Dr Chapp
    Concerning ultra-traditionalists in our current time, you have identified Michael Voris, Taylor Marshall, Archbishop Vigano, and perhaps Ralph Martin or Bishop Schneider. Perhaps First Things magazine from your comment on a podcast, but I’m guessing. I am wondering who or what might have filled these roles from the 70s through to the coming of the internet. Ralph Martin has been around a long time, so has First Things but who else? Does ETWN deserve mention here?
    In Australia there was a magazine called AD2000 which liked to assure us that the battle of Lepanto was won by prayer against overwhelming odds. Recurring a-historical statements like that turned me off, because I knew that the odds at Lepanto were not that overwhelming and superior tactics provide the explanation. But AD2000’s circulation was very small, First Things circulation is only a fraction of Better Homes and Gardens, and I am at a loss to identify any influential sources of traditionalist thinking prior to the internet. Perhaps they were present in the Charismatic Movement, which I didn’t join.

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      1. Ralph Martin has always supported Vatican II since the beginning. He was a leader in the Cursillo movement and then in the Charismatic renewal. He moved to Belgium at the invitation of Cardinal Suenens and lived and worked there for several years. I distinctly remember reading a special edition of the National Catholic Register back in 1981 where a number of people were asked to give their reflections on VII. Martin’s reply impressed me the most as he said that the great contribution of the Council was the call to holiness on the part of the laity. JPII liked Martin very much and invited him to Mass at least once in his private chapel. Ralph Martin has made mistakes in the past and I think he is wrong about Balthasar and von Speyr. But he is a holy man who has made great contributions to the building up the Body of Christ. No one is perfect.

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    1. Marcel Lefebvre’s SSPX and a few other semi-schismatic groups carried on the root-and-branch rejection of Vatican II. Other groups that tried to keep the old Mass or were critical of Vatican II’s implementation were still mainstream, EG Von Hildebrand’s Una Voce Society. EWTN is within the mainstream. First Things is not a Catholic publication, it is ecumenical.
      Ralph Martin is a Charismatic.

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  4. I’m surprised at your like of Garrigou-Lagrange, given the fact that he gave the ressourcement theologians such a hard time, de Lubac in particular. I’m doing a some posts about Charles de Gaulle over at my blog and what really struck me about support for him and the Free French in Catholic circles was predicated on whether you were in the ressourcemnent camp or not. RGL’s rupture with Maritian was precisely over this issue. RGL was an enthusiastic supporter of the Vichy regime–which itself had a lot of support from the French Catholic right–so much so that he declared that anyone who supported de Gaulle and the Free French was committing a mortal sin.

    Now, in many ways the Vichy regime was a willing accomplice to some of the actions of the Nazi’s. It wasn’t “forced” into some of its more odious policies. The fact that a man like RGL could champion such a regime, despite all of his theological training and “spirituality” should cause a lot of disquiet. I’m mean the whole point of being a Christian is not to come to such a conclusion, it’s even worse when you come to that conclusion after a lifetime of piety and study. The fact that the Church allowed him considerable influence post-war also says a lot about the moral corruption of it before Vatican II.

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    1. I knew my comment on Lagrange would eventually garner a response. Thanks for being the first! And what you right is actually entirely correct and I have very little respect for Lagrange and his antics. And yes… the fact he was given so much influence speaks very poorly of the state of the pre conciliar church. A fact that the traddies always want to gloss over. If the preconciliar Church was so damn healthy why did it collapse overnight after the Council?
      My remark about “liking Lagrange” should have been more nuanced. Because all I meant was I actually have profited from reading some of his earlier works before he got embroiled in various controversies and debates. His early works often have some rather profound insights. A pity he did not live by them….

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      1. What did you find profitable about Lagrange? I read his book on predestination until I was too horrified to continue and never touched his stuff again.

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      2. The problem with blog writing is that you have to be brief. However, with regard to my off handed comment about Lagrange I was too brief. I should have said that there is one aspect of his theology that I like and that is his writings on John of the Cross. But that is about all I like.

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  5. Thanks Larry. What are your thoughts on the recent retrieval or attention given to Matthias Scheeben as a theologian who could perhaps provide a path to dissolve the differences of the camps in the nature /Grace debate

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    1. I think many of the mid century ressourcement thinkers were very influenced by Scheeben. Scheeben was very interesting because he was definitely within the Neo-Thomist camp (not really in the Neo-scholastic camp) and yet really moved the needle in terms of reading Aquinas within the broader framework of the Fathers. As such I think he does deserve renewed attention as a kind of bridge thinker.

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      1. Thanks . I am just starting to read Andrew Stafford’s book “Nature and Grace” which looks at this very question of Scheeben as a bridge

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  6. Larry, what author/book would you recommend as an introduction to ressourcement theology? I’m currently reading Benedict XVI”s “Introduction to Christianity” on your recommendation. Can’t thank you enough for that.

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  7. “A fact that the traddies always want to gloss over. If the preconciliar Church was so damn healthy why did it collapse overnight after the Council?”

    I see this argument a lot, and it obviously has merit. My retort is, the preconsciliar Church was of course not healthy–indeed, the Church as whole throughout time, in this fallen world, has probably always been very unhealthy. Cripes, the first Pope was a dullard, coward and virtual apostate (you will deny Me three times). Nevertheless, the preconciliar Church had a number of structures (mainly devotional and especially liturgical) that help buttress and fortify itself. (Amy Welborn just wrote on this indirectly, in her post today about Ego in the liturgy, how the older form of the Mass had various features that (often but not always) tended to limit the silliness and unpredictability that is often (but not always) found in the newer form of the mass. This provided a certain sense of stability and maybe also contributed to stability. Plus, this is tied to a number of truth claims by the Church, including those of ritual praxis (the seriousness of keeping meatless Fridays for example) which underscored the authority of the Church and also contributed to a sense of Catholic identity (I am wading into sociology here, I am sure, and that is not my realm of expertise. Forgive the amateur.)

    So, when all of this seemed to evaporate virtually overnight, not only the liturgical form of the mass, but all of these other forms of devotionals, etc.–and worse, when the Church (or at least Churchmen) seemed to be saying that what was once sinful a year before was now OK…that surely undermined the teaching authority of the Church.Sure a healthier Church would have weathered the storm better. But perhaps a more realistic/less optimistic attitude by the Church hierarchy during and immediately after the Council would have seen that such rapid changes–meant to address the very unhealthiness of Church–would perhaps actually exacerbate the poor health.

    That’s my two cents, from someone not at all a theologian, with really no skin in the debate over Thomism or Ressorcement thinking etc.

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  8. To add, my comment assumes that the fact that Church seemed to implode after the Council is a wholly bad thing, It is admitted this is a debatable point. For some (in my simple terms: the progressives) blowing everything up was necessary for changing doctrine, dogma, etc. However, even some highly orthodox folks like Weinandy and Farrow seem to see the implosion as a sad but almost necessary course to heal a Church so badly diseased. Weinandy refers to this as as the “severe grace” of the Holy Spirit at work, or more gruesomely as Farrow puts it as a sort of lancing of a deep boil letting the infection drain (https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/08/29/dethroning-christ-the-error-at-the-root-of-the-vigano-controversy-part-one/). I remain sceptical, and think there must have been a better path to renewal. But then, like I said, I am no theologian, just an amateur (of a decidedly traditionalist bent, admittedly), trying to muddle and puzzle my way through.

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  9. I wonder what would happen if a bishop ordered a church to discontinue its TLM and the church replied, Ok, we’ll replace it with an ad orientem Novus Ordo said (or sung) in Latin. Would the bishop go for that? If he’s the type that wants to suppress the TLM then my sense is no, even though legally I imagine there’s nothing to stop the church doing exactly that.

    I think what’s needed more than anything in the life of the Church are deep and prayerful celebrations of the NO. Putting what was actually written at V2 into liturgical practice. Even 50 years on I think this has only been patchily done and for people like me (born 1970) it’s this all too often lack of reverence and holiness at Mass that leads people to seek out a TLM or, more frequently, leave the Church altogether.

    It’s actually a myth that the TLM holds all the aces in terms of a prayerful liturgy. I went to two weekday Latin Masses at a Cathedral in England recently. The priest, both times, recited the prayers at the speed of light and it felt to be honest like the sacred was being hustled out of the building. The Cathedral’s morning NO, by contrast, felt really spacious and calm. One felt like one could pray there if you know what I mean. I felt like I could just be with God for half an hour.

    My sense, however, is that the Pope’s latest intervention will have a knock on effect on the NO too. It’s the general drift of the document and the way it’s being interpreted. I don’t think it will encourage greater reverence – certainly not more NO Masses in Latin. And that’s a shame. It makes a real ressourcement all the harder to find, in liturgical terms at least.

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  10. Larry,
    1. What were the neo-scholastic manuals you speak about?
    2. Could ressourcement include a return to the source texts of Aquinas, (which includes the Summa but are very many besides) as well as church fathers and Scripture? I see hardly anyone returning to Scripture. Like, no one makes it a primary text today. (Our family read today the Gospel text where Jesus explains that Pharisees are wrongly teaching human traditions as divine doctrine. Surely this would be relevant to our discussions!)
    3. Lastly, do the ressourcement thinkers ever discuss Aristotle and his establishment of the art of Reasoning as a necessary source?

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  11. Oh boy some of the contents of this post were eerily similar to past experiences… if you’ll humor me, Larry, I’m going to try to shake off the deja vu by asking you some deeper theological questions.

    “Furthermore, they separate nature and grace into principles extrinsic to each other in order to preserve the idea that God owes us precisely nothing, all the while ignoring the fact that God actually wants to give us – – all of us – – everything.”

    Isn’t it true that God owes us precisely nothing? For example, he didn’t have to create any of us. Just existing is already an incommensurable gift. Does the fact of our existence entitle us to His love? Note that the question is not, ‘is He going to love us regardless?’ (the answer there is yes) but rather, ‘are we owed the love we receive from Him?’ Answering yes to this question seems wrong.

    “Theirs is a misinterpreted and hypertrophic Pauline world of undeserved grace which causes them to posit the absurd idea that God did not create us as constitutively oriented to divine life as our natural final end and that, therefore, salvation is some kind of “add on” to our nature that we can, in theory, live happily without (limbo.)”

    One of the ironies of reading Pope Francis is that it is hard to take him seriously and not end up a two-tiered Thomist. Take Fratelli Tutti. The Holy Father explicitly desires us Catholics to work toward universal fraternity and social friendship with all men, including non-believers. He does not see the lack of shared faith in Christ as an obstacle, to wit: “The intellect can investigate the reality of things through reflection, experience and dialogue, and come to recognize in that reality, which transcends it, the basis of certain universal moral demands. To agnostics, this foundation could prove sufficient to confer a solid and stable universal validity on basic and non-negotiable ethical principles that could serve to prevent further catastrophes.”

    This makes sense from a two-tiered Thomist perspective. One does not need to have faith in revelation to understand that (e.g.) murder is wrong, and so we can reason about this with unbelievers without waiting for them to receive the supernatural gift of faith. If grace is not something that a man can live a life of natural happiness without, how does Fratelli Tutti (not to mention other, similar, post-conciliar statements) make any sense?

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    1. I have only seen “two tiered Thomist” used as ridicule by DB Hart in his First Things/Public Discourse “debates” with Edward Feser. For example: “Leave it to a two-tier Thomist to devise a definition of love that does not actually involve love.” and “Somewhere behind Feser’s argument slouches the specter of what is often called “two-tier Thomism”: a philosophical sect notable in part for the particularly impermeable partitions it erects between nature and grace, or nature and supernature, or natural reason and revelation, or philosophy and theology (and so on).” So I deduced from the context that “two tier Thomist” was derogatory, and from memory, Feser did not apply it to himself.

      Surely any theology (not just Thomism) would have to draw distinctions between nature and grace. So I would have liked to read an example of what a “particularly impermeable partition” was, but none was on offer. Are there people who happily call themselves “two tier Thomists”? Is it a thing?

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      1. In the current post-conciliar era two-tiered Thomism is a much maligned term. I only know of one person in my day-to-day life who self-identifies as one, and as it happens he is a very enthusiastic supporter of the Holy Father.

        I think the term does refer to a real and popular pre-conciliar train of thought: faith is a superabundant gift given to those whom God chooses. Unbelievers, whom God for His own reasons has elected not to gift with faith at this time (and maybe He never will), can still achieve natural happiness in this life by obeying the natural law, which is knowable to all by the light of human intellect and reason. This view was especially popular among Catholics in Protestant countries since it allowed Catholics to sweep away contentious theological disagreements to the realm of individual piety and ground all public action on the territory of “pure nature.”

        When Henri de Lubac visited the U.S. in 1968 he warned that this view of nature and grace will result in “a total secularization that would banish God not only from social life but from culture and even from relationships in private life.”

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  12. Larry this post was immensely helpful to me—especially given our current “cultural” moment in the Church. I had never heard of Ressourcement Theology, but after reading your post, it has helped me give a name to a place where I have always resided—and to feel more comfortable in it. To paraphrase other great thinkers, I’ve always been too conservative for my progressive Catholic friends, and too liberal for my very conservative Catholic friends—and that’s probably because I view my faith as would a Ressourcement Theologian!

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  13. Ditto on the Infant of Prague, Larry! This has got to be the post that has hit most closely to home. Boy! If that was not my experience, but with a Third Order Franciscan group…

    I do think we are too fond of distinctions and clarity. They are necessary, to be sure, but, ironically, they also muddy the waters, or keep us from seeing the forest for the trees. How so? If you’ve ever taught second grade CCD, the answer given to every question is Jesus, Love or God. Being supremely catechized ourselves, we proceed to instruct the children that is not the correct answer. On one level, a real level, however, it is. That is not to reduce everything to some pantheistic goo, but to get to the reality of God, of Love, that undergirds and permeates every aspect of our life more so than our distinctions, or need for distinctions, will allow.

    God is simple. God is Love. Everything God has created is an act of love. Jesus is Love. Calvary was Love. Love keeps us in existence. When God gives us grace, sanctifying or otherwise, it is not something extrinsic to Himself, but Himself. We are a creation of love and for love. Does He owe us grace, er love? Does the Father “owe” the Son love? Yes. He owes us love because we are His children. As a father I owe my children, adopted and natural, love and I am a mere shadow of the Love that the Father is.

    Even in our natural state He created us in His image and likeness. That is NOT just intellect and will, but relationship and love.

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    1. Well said. Jesus Love God. Jesus reveals who God is in the way He died as a human being. Like God put His thumb on the scale. But does He owe me? Everything is gift, what do you have that you have not been given? In being Himself and freely loving me into existence He has already given me everything; He has given me Himself. By creating me, He forever and immediately defined me as belonging to Him and being the object of His desire; we cannot contain more than this.

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  14. Larry – Thanks for taking the time to write these blog posts, which always leave me thinking. Where does St. John Henry Newman fit in to ressourcement theology? It strikes me that given the impact which studying the Church Fathers had on his decision to convert to the Roman Catholic Church, there is some connection.

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