03 September 2013

Authority alone will not re-found the tradition. . .

I want to draw your attention to a post from Mark Shea titled, "I Hate Being Right All the Time."

Mark notes the tendency of cultural revolutionaries to dismiss the possibility that their revolutionary ideals will be either 1) taken to their logical conclusion, or 2) overthrown using the revolutionaries' logic.

Here's an excerpt:

The basic point of the series is that we are living on borrowed capital from the Catholic tradition and burning through it like Paris Hilton spending Daddy's money while creating nothing of value to replace it.  As each phase of history passes by, we keep saying that nobody will ever take the next logical step from the premisses we have just set up as a platform for jettisoning some aspect of the Christian tradition.  Then we are perpetually surprised when somebody does and the new revolutionary attacks the old one by citing the precedent established by the previous revolutionary. 

We can see this logic playing out in the Church.

As the Vatican Two Baby Boomers* slowly cycle out of institutional power, those who follow them will likely adopt the Boomer "logic of revolution" and seek to restore Catholic tradition by a kind of will to power; that is, rather than nurture an organic regrowth of doctrine, liturgy, etc. over time, we will be treated to a piecemeal overthrowing of the aesthetic choices made by our immediate ancestors through the exercise of raw authority. That's how They did it, so that's how We will do it!

We see this sort of thing happening already. And I think it's a bad way to proceed. Yes, we need to restore a sense of reverence in the liturgy; and yes, we need to re-teach the faith after wandering aimlessly in the catechetical desert for 40+ years. . .BUT how we go about restoring the tradition is as important as what we choose to restore. 

Restoring Catholic tradition as an exercise of authority alone will not ground that tradition in the culture of the Church anymore than the liturgical/catechetical revolution of the 70's/80's forever established the dictatorship of sentimentality as our working model for evangelization.

In fact, simply ordering changes in local liturgical practices or banishing bad textbooks from Catholic schools (etc) will likely reproduce the JPII/BXVI generation's reaction against the Boomers. . .in the other direction.

What we need is catechesis, catechesis, catechesis! And not the touchy-feely junk that's passed for teaching these last few decades.  I mean, hard-core, text-based, critical-instruction on the documents of the faith AND inspired preaching on living the faith within the truths of the tradition. Memorizing theological propositions from the Catechism won't do.

All of this means that we need a workable apologetics; that is, a means of teaching, defending, and living the faith that doesn't adopt modernist assumptions about truth, beauty, and goodness; or simply concede to the Enlightenment its definition of reason. 

So, I'm all ears. . .

*I know, I know. . .not ALL Boomers are the same.  I'm using the term as a form of shorthand.

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  1. Anil Wang9:25 AM

    While I agree great preaching and critical examination of the faith are important, I don't think its the most important.

    The liturgy, private devotions, sacramental life, and the Church building itself must be the grounding. If you get these wrong, then anything else you add will just be academic game-play. If you get all those right, then all you really need to know is that "Our life in Christ is the most important vocation we have in life. The Church has been around 2000 years and out-survived all its critics. It has had to face every question knows to man and is protected by Jesus' promises to survive until the end of time. If you have any question, no matter how critical, it has an answer, and here are some ways to help you find answers....and here are some of the basics to help you get started on your lifelong quest to sainthood".

    As a side note, while I fell way because of poor catechesis (solidly moral but more Deistic than even Arian in theology), I returned more because I saw an Orthodox Church. Wall to wall icons arranged according to the hierarchy of heaven, taught more clearly that the mass was a participation with Heaven itself in the worship of God. With that building, everything else made sense. Without it, my faith had no foundation.

  2. Great post, Father Powell! I see the same disturbing trend among many catechetical leaders, including some I like and respect, but who feel that "now that we're in charge things will be DIFFERENT." Seems like a recipe for Geneva more than Rome.

    Anil -- Catechesis includes all those things! True catechesis is more than just doctrine (although doctrine is certainly part of it); remember that the Catechism has four "pillars" -- doctrine, sacraments, morality, and prayer. We need to utilize all of these in our evangelization and catechesis if they are to be authentic.

  3. Anonymous11:50 AM

    I couldn't agree more. I think that the greatest danger to the Church come from the good guys, the traditionalists. I'm quite in favor of ours traditions, but where I differ from them is in the approach. I'd much rather see people gravitating back to our traditions, not being commanded to, for the simple reason that it'd be not only violent, but also ineffective after a couple of decades. IOW, I'm not as interesting as jerking the pendulum the other way as tearing it off its hinges.

    For example, many people fond of the EF have quite infantile notions about it, from its having been formulated in the year 33AD to 100% of its audience having been made saints. They fail to understand that those who gave us the OF, that many of them despise, have been only to the EF through their lives until then. Sometimes it seems to me that they believe in some superstitious properties of the EF, probably confusing the devout audience with the object of their devotion. Yet, I've heard good people say that it should be made the only liturgy in the West by fiat. Surely, because what they did in the US with the NO worked so well, right?

    PS: other countries implemented the NO in more gentle ways with much less scandal (e.g., Brazil, which chose to have the EF in the vernacular for a year before transitioning to the NO without forbidding the EF for a couple of years).

    1. The ecclesial revolutionaries in the US were fueled by psychobabble, feminism, modernist aesthetical propaganda, and righteous fury. . .no waiting for us here.

  4. Re: "*I know, I know. . .not ALL Boomers are the same. I'm using the term as a form of shorthand."

    The kind of reaction you are addressing is depressingly common. The inability to distinguish between a universal statement and a general statement is a mark of stupidity or of cultural laziness or, as is often the case, a defense mechanism against the anxiety of having to make a negative judgment about a group, something which our Zeitgeist forbids. Unless, of course, the group is White or male or Christian or Republican or Southern...

  5. ".BUT how we go about restoring the tradition is as important as what we choose to restore." Agreed. And yes, catechesis! So much of what is being taught is fluff - I declined to teach religious education here because the choice of texts was abysmal. This year, the choices are better. I have found that when doctrines are simplified too much, they can easily become downright incorrect - and the logical inconsistency that I've found in some of the texts have driven me batty. I have a lot of ideas, since I have given this much thought and am teaching my own children - I'll let you know when I've written my blog post, humbly entitled: They Should Just Ask Me!

    But, no it cannot be done just because I'm the One With The Power And I Say So. But I think there needs to be a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach . . . .