An alert reader sent me this, from The Harvard Salient, a fortnightly student publication.
My emphases and comments.
Rediscovering Tradition in the Modern Age
February 16, 2009 by Brian
Pope Benedict wisely reconciles four Lefebvrist bishops
By Kevin M. Neylan
On January 26, Pope Benedict XVI found himself at the center of another major controversy after revoking the excommunications of four schismatic, [opps.. oh well…] traditionalist bishops, in an effort to reconcile them to the Roman Catholic Church. The press has focused most of its attention on one of the four, Bishop Richard Williamson, who has declared publicly that the Nazis never killed more than 300,000 Jews and never used gas chambers.
Surely Williamson’s outrageous views are nothing short of ludicrous. No term of reproach is too harsh. Indeed, the Vatican Secretariat of State demanded that Williamson “must absolutely, unequivocally and publicly” recant his position on the Holocaust if he wishes to serve as a bishop in the Church. [Point: he isn’t serving as one at this time] It declared further that Bishop Williamson’s statements are “absolutely unacceptable and firmly rejected by the Holy Father,” although they were “unknown to the Holy Father at the time he revoked the excommunication.” During his visit to France this September, the pope spoke vehemently about the Church’s opposition to “every form of anti-Semitism, which can never be theologically justified.”
Despite the undeniable tension occasioned by Bishop Williamson’s divisive remarks, Oded Wiener, director general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, praised the pope’s condemnation as “a giant step forward” and “an extremely important statement, not only for the Jewish people, but also for all the world.” “This was the sign the Jewish world has been waiting for,” agreed Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress. [*sigh*]
However, the pope’s repeated denunciations of anti-Semitism have done little to temper the firestorm of outrage erupting from the Catholic left. [NB: "the Catholic left"] But the unremitting furor — and panic [got that right] — evinced by the likes of leftist priest Hans Küng belies the fact that their uproar has less to do with the Jews, and much more to do with the pope’s signaled intent to reexamine the legacy of the Second Vatican Council with an eye more sympathetic to tradition that has the staunch proponents of modernist dogma now in a frenzy. [Well said. This is what I have been proposing as well.]
Bishop Williamson’s absurd remarks have been an unfortunate sideshow, [right] distracting from the true source of the controversies that have welled up over the past few years: after decades of adapting and modernizing, will the Catholic Church continue to affirm the sacred union between faith and reason, [Oooo… good one!] and the reality and comprehensibility of an eternal moral order, without either of which meaningful religious and political dialogue becomes impossible? [One of the Pope’s points at Regensburg.] Or will the Church embrace pluralism ad absurdum, and crack its head against the hard wall of moral relativism?
The four newly reconciled bishops were declared to have incurred automatic excommunication under Pope John Paul II in 1988 after Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, consecrated them without Vatican approval. Archbishop Lefebvre rebelled against the sweeping reforms the Church underwent after Vatican II (1962-1965), which sought to bring the Church into step with the modern world; according to Pope John XXIII, the Council meant to “distinguish between what is sacred principle and eternal gospel and what belongs rather to the changing times.”
There is nothing objectionable about John’s stated goal. However, many of the liturgical and theological changes that ensued served not merely to distinguish the eternal from the temporal. On the contrary, some of the reforms—including many that were enacted after the Council and never approved by a synod of bishops—along with the increasingly modern and even postmodern moral paradigms that both contributed to them and are perpetuated by them, serve instead to undermine the very idea of sanctity, to cast grave doubt upon the possibility of eternal truth. As Professor John Casey at Cambridge University explains, rather than allowing the “liturgy… [to] ‘illumine our changing times with its unchanging beauty and greatness,’ those who altered the Mass after Vatican II thought it possible to create a form of worship that was illumined, indeed determined by the changing times.” [spot on]
If it is not already apparent, more is at stake here than liturgical reform. Pope Benedict’s reconciliation of the four Lefebvrist bishops, and his implicit approval of the traditionalist philosophical framework they endorse, [hmmm… this might over state the issue a little.] should be seen as part of a long and much needed effort aimed at driving back the tide of moral relativism that pervades our age. After all, the first necessary element of the traditional framework is belief in moral objectivity, which of course entails the existence of certain intrinsically good and evil acts. Further, it must be held that all humans, as rational moral agents, are inherently capable of coming to know the natural law although it exists outside the realm of individual preference.
Now, this is assuredly not to say that the Lefebvrists’ conclusions on theological or social matters are all correct, or that the pope either should or does endorse them. Rather, [pay attention] the crucial point is that once we abandon a traditional moral framework we are powerless to draw any conclusions about what is right and wrong. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “From within the Tao itself comes the only authority to modify the Tao… Outside the Tao there is no ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else.” In other words, the moment we step outside an objective order we forfeit any sturdy moral ground from which to condemn certain courses of action or modes of behavior—like, for instance, anti-Semitism. [A nice turning of the tables.]
Indeed, insofar as the legitimacy of modern society depends upon the authority of the state to enforce justice, to secure “fundamental rights” and liberties, etc., the crippling effects of pluralism gone mad—an inability to say definitively that certain things are right and others are wrong—erodes the foundations of the social order and guarantees to spoil the countless material fruits modernity has borne.
[This is good…] But many of the Catholics who oppose the pope’s recent actions have different priorities. They appear less concerned with discovering truth—some, including one or two of those who currently populate the theology department of my beloved Jesuit high school, will not even stipulate to the existence of truth. [!] Instead, they prefer the misguided pursuit of watered-down religious dialogue for its own sake, as an end in itself. This agenda was made clear by a controversy that sweltered over the summer.
Last July the pope drew the ire of many of the same leftists now in a tizzy after he issued the Apostolic Letter “Summorum Pontificum,” which freed [emancipated] Catholic priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass whenever they desired. The Tridentine Mass is the traditional Roman Rite of the liturgy, celebrated by the Church for many centuries before falling out of practice after Vatican II. It is high irony indeed that the Tridentine Mass, which is breathtaking in the beauty of its Latinate ritual and mystery and has inspired brilliant artists, poets, and composers for centuries, should be dogmatically suppressed by those same “progressives” who purport to champion religious freedom. As Prof. Casey recounts, “The parish priest of a famous Jesuit church, politely asked whether he would make some traditional Masses available, responded with unconcealed rage. (This church advertises a children’s liturgy, Japanese Masses, services for Brazilians and Filipinos, but apparently drew the line at the ancient Roman liturgy).” The Latin was thought too un-modern, the solemnity too inaccessible to other religions, the force too damaging to religious dialogue.
Without doubt religious dialogue can be a source of enormous good and ought to be encouraged always. However, the extreme pluralism advocated by certain modernists now up in arms, both within and outside the Church, flows from a conviction that all religion is, to a large extent, inscrutable, so deeply embedded in individual or cultural conviction as to operate beyond the faculties of reason. Few beliefs could be more damaging to the prospect of religious dialogue or moral rectitude.
As Pope Benedict stated in his brilliant, but widely misunderstood and controversial, Regensburg Address in 2006:
“Theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline… but precisely… as inquiry into the rationality of faith. Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid… A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.”
Therefore, religious dialogue must not be pursued with some naïve belief that all religions are more or less equal in their reasonableness or their potential to stultify. [Excellent.] Nothing could be more misguided, not to mention subversive of the fruits of real dialogue. However, our self-imposed divorce between faith and reason, and the blind embrace of pluralism, are two sides of the same coin. Both have the effect of sapping society of the very framework that allows virtue to flourish, that allows modernity’s material goods to be put to their best uses.
Insofar as the Second Vatican Council encourages the Church to engage other faiths in meaningful dialogue and to adapt to a world dominated by modern political institutions, it was right and proper to do so. However, Pope Benedict is equally correct to rein in the post-Conciliar excesses by trying to shore up a traditional moral and philosophical framework: in short, to preserve the marriage between Judaic religion, Greek thought, and European heritage, which allowed the Church and civilization to flourish for nearly two millennia. Few tasks can be considered more important, either for the future of the Roman Catholic Church or the future prosperity of modern civilization.
Save The Liturgy. Save The World.
Kudos to the author.