Stuart Reid on “Gnostic traditionalists”

Stuart Reid, weekly columnist for the Catholic Herald, England’s best Catholic weekly, has a few things to say about "traditionalists".

Calm down now, dears

Friday 31 July 2009

John Ryan’s 1975 cartoon

Let me throw caution to the wind and suggest that the Archbishop of Westminster was right last week when, in his interview with The Catholic Herald, he said that traditionalists who reject the ordinary form of the Mass are "inexorably distancing themselves from the Church".

One caveat, however. No one should supinely accept the ordinary form of Mass when it is used as a vehicle for liturgical abuse. But what is abuse? Now you are asking. One man’s abuse is another man’s caring outreach.

I myself am easily offended. I find it hard, for example, not to wave my stick when lay people (ie, women) distribute Communion, especially when I know there are enough priests at the back of the house to do the job without suffering from heat exhaustion, post-traumatic stress disorder or repetitive strain injury.

If the Oratory does not need to use lay ministers, why does the Cathedral?

But I digress. The interesting thing about what the Archbishop said last week is that it chimes with what some traditionalists have been thinking, and saying, for a little while now.

One such is Thaddeus Kozinski, a doctor in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. He believes that the old rite is vastly superior to the Novus Ordo, indeed that the NO represents a radical breach in liturgical tradition, but at the same time is convinced that many so-called traditionalists are as much children of Vatican II, and of the Enlightenment, as the liberals are. There is something about them, he contends, that is schismatic, even Protestant; perhaps even modernist. They are rebels.

Kozinski is not thinking here principally of Lefebvrists or sedevacantists, but of what we might call the far liturgical right in the mainstream Church, the people you sometimes find in the LMS and the FSSP and in parishes where the old rite is said regularly. Thaddeus calls these people "Gnostic traditionalists", and by Gnosticism he means "the attitude that leads one to believe he possesses an irrefutable insight into the truth of matters of great importance, whether natural or supernatural".

For some years, according to his account in the New Oxford Review, Kozinski attended nothing but indult Masses in the old rite. Then, two or three years ago, he moved with his young family to an area where such Masses were not available, and he was therefore obliged to attend the Novus Ordo again.

As he became familiar with his new surroundings – and found rich spiritual fruit in the new rite as celebrated by the Oblates of St Joseph – he saw that in his former unyielding traditionalism he had developed what he calls "an ideological and neurotic consciousness of being a ‘traditionalist’ ".

Kozinski believes that "traditionalism" can become an ideology that makes one spiritually sick, "as one becomes more attached to the traditionalist movement, its narratives, personages, publications, polemics, criticisms, etc than to the Church as a whole – and to Christ Himself". This ideology, he says, can manifest itself in paranoia, judgment, harshness, Jansenism, and lack of meekness.

That’s me all right, but Kozinski clearly does not want to condemn all traditionalists, and I feel I should speak up here for the thousands of hardcore trads who are not at all Jansenist or harsh but are decent, well-balanced human beings. Among them I would include the Lefebvrist godfather of my youngest son.

Perhaps, meanwhile, I should add that Kosinski’s article appeared two years ago, but under my management this column has never been at the cutting edge of news, and anyway I did not come across the article until May.

To make sure that Kozinski had not changed his mind, however, I got in touch with him last week. He has not changed his mind, but now believes that the Gnosticism of which he speaks is not confined to the traditionalist right but can be found among ultra-orthodox adherents of the Novus Ordo.

The Gnostics, in Kozinski’s assessment, see orthodoxy (whether trad or NO) as the best protection against "the world". They do not fearlessly place their trust in Christ, but live in a "constrained, fearful, and spiritually suffocating world" of their own creation. There is among these people, he believes, "fanatical, unhealthy zeal" for religious purity.

So: calm down, dears. Let’s be healthy zealots and follow the Pope. What he wants, obviously, is reform of the reforms. There’s no getting rid of all the changes – that would cause even more confusion than the calamitous Pauline revolution of 1970 – but we must put the clock back.

Traditionalism is a new ism. What we want back is proper Catholicism. [Can I hear an "Amen!"?]

If we get that back – and curb our tongues [While we are not being "supine"?] – the traditional Latin Mass will surely thrive alongside the upcoming revision of the liturgy: the new New Mass.

One of the many things I regret is that I did not know John Ryan better. He was so obviously a good man that it was foolish of me not to have stayed in touch with him when our professional association ended 34 years ago.

I got to know John, who died last week, when I edited this newspaper for three months in 1975, and I liked him a lot. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that he seemed to sympathise with my not entirely sober stand on behalf of Archbishop Lefebvre; but the most important thing about him was not that he agreed with me but that he was kind, funny, modest, tolerant and open-minded.

His jokes were intended to make people happy rather than miserable, but his stuff could have a sharp edge. He once did a daring cartoon in defence of the agreeable but perhaps rather extreme Fr Oswald Baker, the traditionalist priest who stuck his toes in at Downham Market in Norfolk, and was eventually sacked.

At this distance I can’t quite remember the details, but I seem to recall that shortly before the turbulent priest was booted out of his parish the bishop visited Downham Market, perhaps to mount an inquiry. Fr Baker did not have the pleasure of meeting him, as John’s cartoon, above, shows.

It caught the mood of those of us who felt we were being ill-used by agents of a new reformation. It should be said, however, that John was never part of the paranoid tendency. He was far too kind and funny for that sort of caper. RIP.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. cor ad cor loquitur says:

    Amen, Amen, Amen! A fine article, many thanks for posting it Father.

  2. mpm says:

    “Amen” to “proper Catholicism”. But is that not also orthodox Catholicism?

    I had not read Stuart Reid before; I really like his style.

  3. Westie says:

    A good article, but I’m very curious what Dr. Kozinski means when he says that such “Gnosticism” is found among the “ultra-orthodox adherents of the Novus Ordo.” I mean, isn’t that what the reform of the reform is all about: fostering an orthodox faith in light of the Second Vatican Council? And who does he consider to be “ultra-orthodox”? Please help me understand what the author is saying, because he seems to contradict himself on this point.

  4. Ygnacia says:

    The Gnostics, in Kozinski’s assessment, see orthodoxy (whether trad or NO) as the best protection against “the world”. They do not fearlessly place their trust in Christ, but live in a “constrained, fearful, and spiritually suffocating world” of their own creation. There is among these people, he believes, “fanatical, unhealthy zeal” for religious purity.

    I knew Mr. Kozinski while he live in my area, where he attended the OF Mass at the Oblates. What he states is right on – his insights are much needed these days. If we want to evangelize, to attract our NO brethren to the EF (do we?…) we need to start with more humility (and yes, I speak of my own need for that too).

  5. mdillon says:

    Kozinski summarizes many of the my observations in “traditional” and “orthodox” Catholicism.

  6. Rellis says:

    His insights are correct. Too many on the “Catholic liturgical right” tend to worship the liturgy, not Christ. It’s an understandable error, given the liturgical abuse rampant in the Church. But it is, nonetheless, an error to be guarded against.

  7. JoeGarcia says:

    This reminds me of a parallel analysis in a wholly unrelated field. When we looked around at houses before buying the one we eventually did we saw one that had a “listening room” filled with WILDLY esoteric speakers, amplifiers, preamplifiers, and speaker wires which were easily 1/2 inch in diameter and solid silver. That sort of stuff.

    My wife looked at that room and commented that I, music lover that I am, would love such a room. To which I replied that guy’s hobby wasn’t music, it was sound reproduction.

    I think the same analogy applies to our friends on the right edge.


  8. Jack Hughes says:


    we on the ‘liturgical right’ do not worship the liturgy, we value a reverent liturgy becasue it is more conducive to worshipping Christ as abueses are minimal (if existant at all!!), before I started attending SSPX Masses I reguarly made sure I entered my old church 5> minutes before the Mass started because you couldn’t say your pre-Mass prayers due the talking of the congregation. Speaking to everyone here at St Saviours (SSPX chapel) the majority of them had the same experiance.

  9. I don’t know about Trads being “rebels.” I think “counter-revolutionaries” or even “reactionaries” is more accurate. Now it’s better to be Catholics than to be counter-revolutionaries or reactionaries, but is that option open to us before the revolution that still shakes the Church is settled?

  10. Davidtrad says:

    There’s a couple of misrepresentations here. First, Kozinski’s article in the New Oxford Review was not endorsed by the NOR editorial staff. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the editorial staff published a rebuttal of Kozinski’s article in the same edition. Saying that Kozinski’s position was something being put forward by traditionalist was a bit disingenuous. Secondly, that definition of Gnosticism is ridiculous. For what its worth, I took the time to post a full rebuttal to Reid’s article at:

    It would be too much for me to summarize all the points I made there, especially since it is way past my bedtime.

    In a nutshell, take this with a huge grain of salt.

  11. Seraphic Spouse says:

    What on earth is a “liturgical right”? Why on earth are we using political
    terminology that doesn’t even make sense today politically to describe people
    who want Mass to be said reverently and according to the actual words of the
    Roman Rite?

    Meanwhile, people who go to Mass to worship the Blessed Trinity and not to
    scratch an itch for community gathering and ethnic togetherness, hope to find a space in which to
    encounter the Mystery that is God. Both the Usus Antiquior and the Novus Ordo
    , when done reverently and BY THE BOOK, without interference with badly trained
    or under-talented lay ministers, provide such a space.

    I am not on a “liturgical right”. I am merely a Catholic who has been told she
    has a right to prayerful liturgies, and I demand my right to a prayerful liturgy.

  12. I don’t appreciate lumping everyone who loves the EF as “rebels”.

    We all know the vast majority of Catholics attend poorly done OF Masses, but to attack a tiny minority is unbecoming.

    Tsk, tsk.

  13. C. says:

    “In a nutshell, take this with a huge grain of salt.”

    But David, it reinforces my preconceived biases against all Traditionalists based on that one cranky person I met 6 years ago when I went to the Latin Mass. How can it be wrong? (sarcasm)

    BTW, replace “Kozinski” with “Kmiec”, and “traditionalist” with “pro-lifer”, and you’d get an entirely different reaction to what is essentially the same argument.

  14. irishgirl says:

    What you said, seraphic spouse!

    I got to a TLM chapel that would be called ‘outside the Church’. I don’t care about the ‘politics’…I only want a reverent Mass! That’s all…I’m not being disobedient…

  15. An old saying: Before you take a fence down, recall why it was put up! I saw a note that Pope Benedict wants Communion to be received on the tongue while kneeling. He wants this practice to be universal. Excuse me? Are we beginning to understand why the NO was introduced in the first place? Was it to diminish the Divine Presence?

    Time will tell.

  16. Real gnosticism is holding that what is mysterious and numinous is not for most people. By contrast, the holy Catholic faith teaches that God comes down to us, and especially to the little ones. People who advocate the traditional Latin Mass (PWATTLM’s?) believe this. They believe that what is holy and mysterious and reverential is meant precisely for the plebes. We are antithetical to the real gnostics, who think Joe and Mary Sixpack aren’t made for the Mystery.

    I agree that traditionalists can lack charity at times. That is what kept me away for several years. But now it is clear to me that by a miracle, Tradition will perdure and the Novus Ordo and its bad fruit will be gradually marginalized. I am on the side of Tradition.

  17. Dismas says:

    I remember hearing a talk by Archbishop Sheen where he actually addressed this situation, and amazingly well, though for the life of me I have forgotten what was all said.

  18. Malta says:

    First, I am a convert from…nothing. My dad is an anti-christian “deist,” my mother an erstwhile protestant. I am the most unlikely person to be pontificating on this blog. But I did convert to Catholicism (my wife before me) and now, I must say, I am somewhat of a Catholic prude. Ironic, since I dabbled in atheism while in college, but, by the Grace of God, I am a firm, ardent Catholic. I give this back-ground not to boast, but to assimilate, to you men, and also subjugate myself to God, who gave me the grace to believe, because belief is a great gift from God that we often overlook.

    Anyway, here goes my first post since being “blessed” :) to give such:

    I’d like to offer the following from my friend over at Rorate Caelei, since it, in a nice way, contravenes the general notion that all is “fine and well” in the Catholic Church, a Church I live and would die for:

    Paul Haley said…

    “I’m sorry but I just cannot accept the thesis proposed by some on this blog that there is no more state of necessity or, at least since 2000 for the SSPX, and I submit the following in rebuttal. Please view the youtube link first for it’ll put the rest of my post in proper perspective.

    State of Necessity….what state of necessity?

    Post 1965 priests and nuns are leaving their orders in droves and getting married, oftentimes to each other. Other members of religious orders discard their habits for secular dress and live in “apartments” rather than religious communities.

    Masses are being celebrated by priests wearing clown costumes and all manner of makeup and theatrical dress. They aim to be “relevant” at all costs. Ad-libbing during the liturgy is almost a cardinal rule.

    Lay people, including women in inappropriate attire, are all over the sanctuary performing functions previously reserved for the ordained clergy. Meanwhile the tabernacle is shunted off to some obscure place in the church building.

    Profane music is being used in liturgical celebrations and liturgical dancing is quite the fad in some churches. Gregorian chant and polyphony takes a back seat, if any seat at all.

    The sacrament of Penance is renamed and the penance aspect is placed in the background. Actions previously considered sinful are now not seen as such by some clergymen. Attendance at the confessional, if you can find one, dwindles down to a trickle on most parishes.

    Extreme Unction is renamed to Anointing of the Sick and what was previously considered the “Last Rites” is now for anyone who is sick. Priests are nowhere to be found in administering this sacrament as lay ministers have taken over the function in many places.

    The Mass of the Dead in which prayers for the soul of the deceased were said is now the Mass of the Resurrection and most of the old prayers are no longer said. The beautiful and sorrowing Dies Irae is relegated to the dust bin.

    Previous post continued…

    The altar is now a table and turned around so it faces the people and the meal aspect of the Mass is emphasized over the sacrificial aspect. People are all over the pews hugging and kissing each other at the “sign of Peace”.

    Manner of dress has changed from reverent and respectful to mundane and worldly; people receive the body of Christ standing rather than kneeling at the altar rail. It is said that up to 70% of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence.

    High ranking prelates seem to be teaching that anyone can be saved without belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic And Apostolic Church. Ecumenism has taken precedence over evangelization; missionary orders are almost extinct.

    Latin is hardly ever heard in church anymore despite the fact that it was to be given “pride of place” in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

    The Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ on earth visits a mosque and kisses the Koran giving scandal to millions of true believers. This same pope invites non believers to pray at the Holy Shrine of Assisi raising questions about indifferentism and core beliefs of Catholicism. Meanwhile a group of SSPX followers is denied permission to celebrate Mass at the Mother Cabrini Shrine outside Denver.

    Millions of dollars are spent by dioceses to pay claims for clerical sexual abuse while Catholic schools and churches are being closed. The most horrendous crimes by clerics are seemingly covered up by bishops who simply transfer the offending clerics to another assignment in the diocese. Homosexuals are allowed to parade their “lifestyle” in Catholic churches and parades in honor of saints like St. Patrick are forced to allow such demonstrations.

    Catholics brought up in the Faith prior to 1965 are marginalized for their views are no longer considered “relevant” and they have a right to ask the question: “Are the foxes guarding the hen-house?”

    State of Necessity…what state of necessity? You must have a schismatic mentality.

    Would that the Holy See would recognize our legitimate complaints and act to restore the Faith in practice and belief throughout the Christian world! Oh, I see, that’s not PC anymore. Cardinals Kasper , Sodano and Bertone would not approve. No state of necessity? Give me a break!”

    03 August, 2009 17:35

  19. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    Could you please clarify a perplexity I have with regard to the following red bracket comment:

    If we get that back – and curb our tongues [While we are not being “supine”?] – the traditional Latin Mass will surely thrive alongside the upcoming revision of the liturgy: the new New Mass.

    The question mark is throwing me: surely there is a great ocean separating prudent custody of the lips and doormat status?


  20. Dear Malta: you needn’t fret that the readership pf this blog might be unaware of the dire state of things liturgical, especially in the days when Abp Lefevbre founded the SSPX.

    In the wake of SP, the liturgical point is moot.

    More to this: the state of necessity the SSPX identified in 1988 was not limited to the liturgy. They accused Peter and the vast majority of bishops with him, of persisting in error – and in this, they were way out of line, essentially placing themselves above the Council Fathers and the Successor to Peter.

    The whole sad episode was, with the exception of the work of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, about as miserably mishandled as possible, by everyone on all sides.

  21. C. says:

    In the wake of SP, the liturgical point is moot.

    Chris, That’s like saying in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, racism was moot.

    Articles like this one tend to instill the sort of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) that keeps people away from the Traditional Mass and keeps priests from learning it and celebrating it. Whether intended or not, it serves as enemy propaganda.

    Think: “Most Blacks are non-violent, but there’s still a lot of random gunfire in their neighborhoods.” Will there be tourism and commerce? Gnosticism — heresy — is worse for the soul than a random bullet. Is a faithful OF Catholic going to pay a visit to check out a TLM if he mistakenly fears it could be rife with heresy? Is he going to be relaxed and open-minded enough to reap the spiritual fruits of the sacred liturgy? People would do well to beware heresy, but they’re less likely to find it at a TLM.

    I’m pleased that Dr. Kozinski has decided to retract his baseless allegation of Gnosticism (in the NLM combox). It’s a shame he has decided to baselessly substitute another random ism in its stead. It’s getting to be like MadLibs. Is this what passes for academics at CUA?

  22. Dear C.

    You write: “Chris, That’s like saying in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, racism was moot.”

    No, it is not. It is like saying, “After the passage of the 13th amendment, race-based chattel slavery was moot.”

    It is a juridical question.

    In any case, I was not addressing the merits of the article. I was addressing Malta’s support for the SSPX’s rationale for their founder’s commission of a schismatic act along with his successors, and his apparent willingness to accept their continued insistence on the “state of emergency” justification for their ongoing acts of contumacy in the face of BXVI’s patient, gentle and even sympathetic solicitude.

  23. Malta says:

    Kozinski brings up legitimate points, but he aims them at one group unfairly, as if they, as a group, deserve blame. Sure, some Trads fall into the rules-over-love mentality, but the vast, vast majority do not. The vast majority want to preserve that which was–that which was passed on from the time of Christ, over the novelties of new. They wake, eat, sleep, and want spiritual good for their children. They see wreckovated churches, morally-corrupt clerics, and a world spiraling at the bottom of the toilet bowl, and yet get castigated for their single strong-hold in favor of tradition, and goodness in their lives. While the majority of American men view porn, their men are castigated for continuing to see the Mass as the Sacrifice of Christ.

    I think we’re so thrown for a loop by modernism that we too often see foul as fair and fair as foul, in the words of Shakespeare.

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