Category Archives: Theology

Modernism and the Church

modernism octopus

Fundamentalist cartoon: “The Octopus”, by E. J. Pace.

Postmodernism has been a common term for at least three decades. Because of that fact the term modernism may seem to refer to a thing of the past. Modernism has also been used to describe certain concrete developments in the history of art, architecture, literature, and other areas of human creativity. Thus we can speak of modernism in architecture with specific start and end dates, preceded by pre-modern architecture and followed by postmodern architecture. But in the area of ideas it is different, especially in relation to theology and Church history.

Modernism began before the industrial revolution, really earlier with the Protestant Reformers and the embracing of nominalism, and it continues today. In fact, it is so pervasive that one can fairly say modernism is the defacto set of beliefs held by most people, including most Christians. Sadly, I am a modernist in many ways, not because I want to be so, but because it is the ocean in which I swim and its tenets and presuppositions have become second nature to me. In fact, I don’t really see them, and when they are made evident to me I am often surprised. Thus, I have been digging into modernism with the purpose of eradicating it from my life and faith.

I also believe it can be argued that, for the most part, when we look at the Church today what we see is largely a modernist institution rather than a truly Catholic one. Whether that argument can be adequately countered I do not know, but I do think Catholics are very often unaware of modernism and its effects, and thus, because of modernism’s allure and its malleable nature, we are inclined to accept its ideas into their understanding of the faith. In short, modernism appeals to the natural “bent” of human nature, and is thus appealing to all of us if we are not on our guard.

1200px-Descent_of_the_Modernists,_E._J._Pace,_Christian_Cartoons,_1922

Fundamentalist cartoon: “The Descent of the Modernists”, by E. J. Pace, first appearing in his book Christian Cartoons, published in 1922.

Below are some excellent lectures and discussions on the topic of modernism. Each covers much of the same territory and terms, but each is also different and together they help form a complete picture. For those who love the Traditional Latin Mass, the first video is especially excellent.

Although understanding modernism, including where it came from, what it is, and how it has affected the Church, is an important task, Catholics are then faced with the question of what to do now? How does one combat the leaven of modernism within the Church?

Question: If modernism, the synthesis of all heresies, was significantly at play during Vatican II, and if it clearly influenced the formation of the Novus Ordo Mass, and if the so-called spirit of Vatican II is better called the spirit of modernism dressed in Catholic garb, and if the papacy of Pope Francis seems to be a thoroughly modernist papacy, then what are orthodox Catholics to do?

Leave a comment

Filed under Authority, Catholic Church, Church History, Curious, Dogma, Education, Liturgy, Philosophy, Theology, Tradition, Truth, World View

Michael Davies Four-Part Lecture on Vatican II

Michael_Davies

Michael Davies

Though not without his critics even among traditionalist Catholics, Michael Davies is one of the giants of the traditionalist movement. He was both prolific and masterful in conveying the key issues at stake for the Church in the 20th century and up to our own day. He brought a tireless passion to his studies on what many have described as the debacle of the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. He was a tireless crusader for traditional orthodoxy and right worship. He also brought a “punchy” straightforwardness to his delivery that I find refreshing in a Church that so often talks in loquacious circles and cautious euphemisms. He passed away in 2004.

Here is an excellent four-part lecture series by Davies on the machinations and troubling influences that were at play during the council:

I realize that the council was such a behemoth undertaking, and so complex, that any one perspective, even one as in-depth as Davies’ is, is bound to miss a lot. Regardless, if much of what Davies says is true, and I have no reason to doubt the content of any of his lectures, then what a profoundly troubling council.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authority, Catholic Church, Church History, Liturgy, Protestantism, Sacraments, Theology, Tradition

Catholic Cultus / Catholic Culture: Thoughts on Building a Catholic Church

I think it is fair to say that I read my way into traditional orthodox Catholicism but then, to my surprise and chagrin, I ended up somewhat disappointed in modernist Catholicism. How can this be you ask? I am a convert to the Catholic Church. I came from a very non-Catholic “version” of Christianity (anti-Catholic really), and I felt nervous going to Mass on my own (and I knew no Catholics at all to hold my hand and guide me). So I didn’t go the Mass. Rather, over a period of several years I read my way closer and closer to entering the Church. I read books, blogs, and articles. I also listened to podcasts and interviews. Again and again the theological answers given to my questions made sense. I also heard many attractive things about the Church.

procession

Tradition is not a fad (source)

I heard of the magnificent history or the Church, and of the glories of Catholic art and architecture. I knew something about that already because I had been an art history major in college, and in those courses I studied some of the great paintings and cathedrals of Europe. I heard of the glories of Catholic music. I heard of the Church’s amazing intellectual history. I read more amazing histories of the Church, its battles, its saints, its universities and how it created what we today call science and modern medicine, and I was amazed at all that it has done in the world.

I also studied its theology, comparing it to the Protestant theology in which I was raised. I grew to love the doctrine of the Real Presence. I learned about the sacraments, the role of priests, the value of Tradition, and more. Again and again I was overwhelmed at the riches that had been kept from me by my ignorant Protestant culture, and at just how ignorant I myself had been. I came to see the Catholic Church had better answers to my questions, and a better grasp of Scripture. I also came to see that the Catholic view of man corresponded to both scripture and my experience than what had previously been articulated to me. I began to shift towards a sacramental view of reality. I began to long deeply for the Eucharist. A song was singing to my soul, calling me to the Church. I knew the Church was the home I longed for.

tourisme_mont_saint_michel_aeroport_dinard_2

Mont Saint Michel. We still look at this with awe. And rightly so.

In my mind had growing visions of cathedrals and richly decorated churches. In my mind I heard chant and I smelled incense. I saw old manuscripts and ornate vestments. I sensed history, depth, and a profound connectedness to a cloud of witnesses. This was not a longing for merely a different style or for some medieval live action role playing experience. I longed for an antidote to the ravages of modernity and the false, modernist view of man. And the Church seemed to offer just that. Noted apologists for the Church would tell me to look at the riches of the Church, and I did.

high altar

Why can’t all churches have this kind of beauty? This is, I believe, a legitimate question and deserves a reasonable, thoughtful, and theologically sound answer.

But I also heard stories of clown Masses, and terrible music, including playing bongos in Church. I heard about the indifference and even anger of some Catholics towards their rich heritage. I heard about the focus of the new Mass being on the priest rather than on Christ. I did not really know what “new Mass” meant, but I thought it couldn’t possibly be so bad. I read that some Catholics didn’t like to hold hands during the Our Father, or didn’t like to receive the Eucharist in their hands while standing, or even refused to sing some of hymns because those hymns were terrible musically and, gasp, theologically bankrupt or even heretical. How could this be I thought? I didn’t know a thing.

All of this I heard about and I knew nothing of the debates about Vatican II. I knew nothing of the traditionalists and the radtrads. I knew nothing of Marian apparitions and her prophecies. I just didn’t know much at all. I really had just fallen off the turnip truck in front of the Catholic Church and thought this is the place.

Blessed-Virgin-Mary-at-St.-Margaret-Mary-Catholic-Church-Wichita-Kansas

Kitsch in Wichita (source)

Then I started going to Mass. And there, at my first Mass, was literally a bongo player amongst the guitarists and bassist. And everyone held hands during the Our Father. Parishioners walked all the way across the nave to hug people during the Peace of Christ (sometimes it seemed this was the moment that brought them to Mass). And the music was terrible, terrible, terrible. And the neighborhood Novus Ordo church building was anything but beautiful and glorious. Everything was so ho-hum, so bourgeois and American, so suburban, so blah. And I knew it wasn’t just a question of money. Like when we see a person who decides to buy ugly clothing for the same price as beautiful clothing because they have bad taste, what I saw seemed a reflection of something wrong at the heart of the Church and culture.

And then I looked around some more. I came to realize that all those Catholic glories of art, architecture, music, and all that culture building of Christendom, and all the influence in the sciences and education, were essentially historical realities of past ages and no longer contemporary activities of the Church. The Church had become a poor shadow of its past.

And yet I still loved it. Once I came into the Church I fell even more in love with Catholicism. I love the Eucharist. I love the Real Presence. Sunday Mass is the highlight of my week. But it was still hard. Hard for me and hard to drag my family along to the sappy Mass in the ugly church with of lousy music. I sometimes felt embarrassed and self-conscious about having them with me and knowing I had been promoting the Catholic Church for several years and now abject mediocrity is what they were getting. (Eventually they all entered the Church as well, thanks be to God.)

So I fell back on two things. First, I still got the Eucharist. That, I have to say, has been my sustenance. Second, I thought a lot about a recommendation from J. R. R. Tolkien. I took solace in the reality that most of us live humdrum lives anyway, that Mass is about Christ and the Eucharist, that we shouldn’t get caught up too much in seeking some kind of perfectly celebrated Mass with dynamic homilies and gorgeous music, and that I just needed to do my best to trust in the Church. We also began attending a more conservative Catholic parish (with more traditionally minded priests) that, while still Novus Ordo, nonetheless sought greater reverence in worship — and has a much more traditionally beautiful building, one that is inescapably a church.

IMG_0606

I have also met a number of Catholics who have had similar experiences as I have, and are now working towards changing the Church by incrementally steering it back to the traditions of centuries past. This encourages me.

But, the truth remains: Modern (modernist) Catholic culture is radically devoid of almost all of its great riches and depth that, perhaps, were taken for granted in those past centuries. What greatness is still there is like a dwindling bank account of an inheritance assumed to be inexhaustible. But this modernist church’s art, its modernist church buildings, its modernist worship, even its prayers, are poor copies, and at times outright repudiations, of past riches. Modernist Catholicism does not create a true Catholic culture. In fact, it tends to create a somewhat bland culture that does not propagate itself very well. It is only by reaching into the past and bringing forward those riches that we have any at all with us today. This is why, I believe, Traditional Latin Mass parishes (SSPX, FSSP, especially those with no Novus Ordo option available) tend to create richer, more integrated and more complete local social cultures than the modern Novus Ordo parishes. Or so I’ve heard, I have yet to witness that first hand. But I wrote something about it here, based on what I saw in the video of a Traditional Latin Mass in Paris. And I’ve heard others say it is true. This is what I hope. Show me that I am wrong.

When I say integrated and complete I mean more than social programs and a “happening” Sunday evening “youth” Mass. I mean an alternative way of life that sees the family as the domestic church and the fundamental unit of society, the parish as an actual community made of and for believers, the Mass as the central activity of that community, and an unabashedly Catholic aesthetic permeating every aspect of the parishioners’ lives that is born out of a shared way of worshiping rooted in deeply orthodox Catholicism expressed in timeless praxis. I also mean a recognition that Catholicism and the world are inherently incompatible, and thus the culture of the parish must act in light of that truth, forming good Catholics, supporting the struggle of parishioners to be in the world but not of it, and creating meaningful alternatives to the allures and seductions of the secular society that pervades nearly every aspect of our lives.

But all too often we instead get namby pamby bishops talking psychobabble, “listening” rather than preaching the Truth with which they have been entrusted, swooning over an emotions-based modernist faith and the possibilities of a youth-led Church, and making the social-crisis-du-jour their primary concern. Far too often the hierarchy seems to live in a self-congratulatory bubble while showing almost no regard, let alone recognition, of the profound destruction the Church has experienced in the past 50 years.

awful vestments

Aesthetically nauseating vestments for the 2018 World Meeting of Families. If you want bishops to look like the silly gumdrops so many have chosen to be, have them wear these.

Perhaps I’m dreaming. But here’s a basic fact: Adults who come into the Church, whether from Protestantism or something else, are often looking for a way of living that is distinctly (historically, traditionally) Catholic, and instead they all too often find something rather thin and bland; aesthetically more like a half-hearted 1970’s experiment to which the person in charge hasn’t had the courage (or balls) to say “times up;” and which is often more an expression of a culturally bourgeoise Americanism (or western Europeanism) than authentic Catholicism. And what’s perhaps most disheartening is that so many Catholics don’t see this. But I think more are beginning to. I hope so. I pray every day we all see it more clearly.

Descent_of_the_Modernists,_E._J._Pace,_Christian_Cartoons,_1922

You’ve seen this image before. It seems so simple and obvious, but is it really? Modernism is more than a logical set of steps, it is now our culture, and culture is more powerful and slippery than we think. Modernism is the leaven of our age, and our Church.

The simple truth is we are going to have to create the culture we want, by God’s grace. It is going to take effort, and some hard choices, and tenacity. It’s going to be a battle just like it was for the early Church. We are going to have to root out modernist ideas and presuppositions. This will be harder than we think. In many way modernism is essentially invisible to us. And if we want a Catholic culture with depth and longevity and substance beyond our own whims, we are going to have to get at it with a vengeance. But also with joy. We must always keep before us that one does not start building a culture by trying to build a culture. Rather, we begin with what (or who) we love, and with how we worship. Culture is the product of cultus, and cultus is not merely a Sunday thing, not merely a TLM thing, although that’s huge for many reasons. It’s a totality that encompasses our whole life in one way or another. Let us then turn our hearts and minds towards God and worship Him as we ought. Let us pray in the manner of the historical and orthodox Church. Let’s live as Catholics are called to live.

So, let’s get to work. Consider this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this. And remember, the Traditional Latin Mass is not great so much because it is traditional, but because it is timeless. Maybe we should call it the Timeless Latin Mass. Also, I hear often of bishops not supporting the TLM, and even trying to shut it down in many parishes. But many bishops are vain and may succumb to increasing pressure if enough Catholics make enough noise. In my parish some parishioners organized a 40-hour adoration event and got good support in our community and from our priests. We also have a great bishop who gets it. There are many things to do other than strictly the TLM. Bit by bit, inch by inch we can take back the precious ground that had been tilled and planted in centuries past.

Of course it is God who creates the culture ultimately. We just do the best be can in fear and trembling, and He does the real work. We, the Church, are His handiwork, and He honors those who honor Him.

Saint Francis, pray for us that we might rebuild the Church.

Saint Francis

Saint Francis of Assisi by Frank Cadogan Cowper (1877-1958)

Leave a comment

Filed under Authority, Catholic Church, Christian Life, Church History, Dogma, Theology, Tradition, World View

It’s Not A Question Of Validity, It’s About The Efficacy Of Grace

I have often heard the defence of the Novus Ordo Mass in terms of it’s being valid. As though all that needs to be settled is whether a Mass is valid and then all is good. Validity is truly important. Flee from invalid Masses. I believe the new Mass it is valid. The Church says it is and I am bound to accept it, and I do. I have very serious concerns related to its validity, which I wrote about here. However, this lecture by David Rodríguez gets closer to the heart of the matter of what, I suppose, I was really trying to say. For the real issue of the new Mass is not a question of validity, rather it is about the efficacy of grace.

[I have previously posted another amazing lecture by David Rodríguez, this time about the Mass and its relationship to the message of Fatima, here.]

Always, but perhaps more so now, we should be choosing those things which draw us closer to God, and which bring about the grace of God most fully into our lives. We must drive away sin, and root out evil, and cast off the world, and with passion and tenacity turn to Christ, bow before Him, and worship God with utmost reverence. If we fail to see the spiritual battle that surrounds us then we may find ourselves outside the refuge God has provided. And the winds blow strong across that wasteland. David Rodríguez argues that the refuge God has provided us is the Traditional Latin Mass. This does not mean the Novus Ordo cannot be celebrated with reverence, or that God’s grace cannot work through it (which it often does in individuals’ lives), but if one can have more or less grace available, why choose the lesser? Listen to this lecture and decide for yourself.

Comments Off on It’s Not A Question Of Validity, It’s About The Efficacy Of Grace

Filed under Catholic Church, Christian Life, Church History, Curious, Dogma, Eschatology, Kingdom of God, Liturgy, Mary, Sacraments, Theology, Tradition, Truth, Video

Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us…

…because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us. (2 Kings 22:13)

RedNoseDay

This year I have been reading through the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The plan has me reading from three separate passages in the Old Testament, one passage from the New Testament, and a section from the Catechism. I started on January 1st and have not missed a day, yet. If I stick with it, God willing, I will finish December 31st.

Reading recently through the books of 1 and 2 Kings I am once again struck at the repeated faithlessness of the Israelites. Again and again they turn away from God. Again and again the kings go after other gods, play the harlot, refuse to tear down the “high places,” and even offer their own children as sacrifices to demons. I cannot and should not claim I am any better than they. We have been blessed with the hindsight provided by Holy Scriptures. But it is, nonetheless, remarkable how often God’s chosen people turned to other gods. What a remarkable lesson for us.

However, in 2 Kings 22 we read of the story of King Josiah, a 7th century BC king of Judah. He began reigning when he was only eight years old. When Josiah was eighteen, the high priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law, which had apparently been set aside and forgotten in some temple storeroom many generations earlier. This, of course, was the law given by God to Moses and handed on to the people of Israel to instruct them in right worship and right living before God. Hilkiah then gave it to Shaphan, the king’s secretary, and Shaphan brought it to the king himself and read it to him. King Josiah’s reaction was faithful and powerful:

And when the king heard the words of the book of the law, he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilki′ah the priest, and Ahi′kam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micai′ah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asai′ah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

Think about those last words: “…for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” After this King Josiah set about rectifying the situation, reestablishing right worship, and turning the nation back to God. It’s quite a story.

Can we learn from King Josiah?

Some argue that we shouldn’t live in the past. Of course we can’t, technically, but we can go back into that dusty storeroom and find the riches that were set aside and have been gathering dust and bring them out into the light. God may be a God of surprises, but He is also a God of Tradition, of immutable Truth, and He demands faithfulness. What He has established does not shift like sand, is not not tossed about like a rudderless boat on the waves. Only the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Consider the Church today. Consider the profound and undeniable destruction the Church has experienced. Today we are swamped with stories of systemic sexual abuses and the disgusting clericalism that was marshaled to protect abusers. Today we have a pope who feels he can do and say what he wants irregardless of scripture or tradition. But for decades now, under several popes, the Church has suffered greatly. The sexual abuses, as we know, go back decades and is symptomatic of a terrible spirit of darkness that descended upon the Church over the past 50 years and cleared out the pews, the seminaries, the monasteries, the abbeys, the cloisters, and driven many Catholics to abandon their faith. And it’s not just the episcopate who’s to blame. The “faithful” are culpable too. Though difficult, at any time they could have fought back, but most just ran away. They gave up their faith in Christ and blamed it on other human beings. This is a spirit of darkness.

But it’s the leadership that owns the blame the most. It is they who mostly deserve the millstones. It is the Church’s leadership that eagerly began to play the harlot, bowing down to the spirit of the age, tearing up the traditions, and dismissing the longings of the faithful as old fashioned and out of touch. Many faithful Catholics have even been mocked by members of the Church hierarchy because of their faithfulness.

Is it not reasonable, then, to think the changes in worship brought about by Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Missae have fomented much of the destruction and evils we witness today? Has not the “spirit of the council” gone hand in hand with the withering of the Church? Certainly we can argue about a chicken and egg situation, and we can debate causation and correlation, but is there not an undeniable relationship?

Those who laugh and say a change in worship has no connection to either the troubles in the Church or to their solution are woefully ignorant of Holy Scripture and the God who calls them to repentance and proper worship. Just consider the history of the Israelites and King Josiah.

Worship, faith, blessing, salvation, and all that makes up the Christian life are intimately intertwined. Early on in the story of the world God established that right worship was fundamental to human nature, human flourishing, and the relationship between God and human beings. Remember God’s reaction to the offerings of Cain and Abel. One offering was right and one was wrong, and that was important. God has not changed. Neither has human nature. Christ solved the inadequacies of Old Testament worship by fulfilling the law, but giving us His body and blood, by giving us the Eucharist. However, He did not come to do away with worship, because worship is a gift from God. The rules around worship are only a burden to those who do not love God.

But weak men change how they worship God, rejecting what God has given and replacing it with what they themselves deem appropriate, because they do not have faith and their hearts have turned from God. They fear man and not God. Many have argued this is what happened with Vatican II. Many today are arguing that the series of sex abuse revelations (and there will be many more to come) and the abject clericalism of the Church hierarchy have their connections all the way back to the council and its supposed “spirit.” They say we are seeing the “smoke of Satan” spoken of by Pope Paul VI continuing to damage the Church. They say that the Devil has been attacking the Church intensely for many years and many shepherds have gone gleefully over to the dark side.

I agree. It’s all of a piece.

laughing cardinals

“…for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

Pray every day for the Church.

Leave a comment

Filed under Catholic Church, Christian Life, Church History, Dogma, Kingdom of God, Liturgy, Sacraments, Theology, Tradition, Truth

Tradition Reviled and Recovered: A Study of False Assumptions about Substance and Accident

Peter Kwasniewski

Here is a great lecture by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski. I suppose a brief (and poor) summary might be: While the core essence of the Mass is Christ offering Himself on our behalf to the Father, all the other elements of the Mass are also important because it is through the “accidents” of the Mass that we have access to the “substance” of the Mass. This is true not only for the Eucharist and the doctrine of transubstantiation, but everything else, the smells and bells, kneeling and genuflecting, chant and prayers, etc.

Having recently finished his excellent book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness
Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages, I look forward to finding anything else he has done. Dr. Kwasniewski is a particularly eloquent spokesperson for the usus antiquior.

His lecture is perhaps a bit technical, but still easy to follow, and worth the listen. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I myself have been interested in this topic, especially the physicality of worship, for some time. Three years ago, after I had begun to make a more concerted effort to pray in the morning, I wrote on the physicality of faith. And more than four years ago I wrote a piece on reducing faith and worship down to some absolute minimum, which I called an inhuman experiment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Beauty, Catholic Church, Church History, Curious, Liturgy, Sacraments, Theology, Tradition

John Vennari on Pope Francis & Modernism

John Vennari was the editor of Catholic Family News from 1994 until his death by cancer in 2017. Here is one of his last lectures before he died. According to his obituary, “John Vennari’s single mission was to teach people how to recognize and resist the pernicious errors of Modernism, especially since Vatican II.”

I found in this lecture a great overview of the history from a Catholic traditionalist perspective of how we got to where we are today, and providing key insights as to how we should understand Pope Francis’ papacy past, present, and future. I’m am very curious about the traditionalist perspective. I don’t really know where I stand on all of it, but it is fascinating. As you will see, Vennari was no fan of Pope Francis. However, this really isn’t about the current Holy Father, rather it’s a much bigger story, in which Pope Francis plays one part of many. You may agree or disagree, but I hope you are encouraged by considering the complex and rich way the history of ideas has played out, for better or for worse, and how your prayers can become that much more focused.

The video is presented by the Society of Saint Pius X, a group that has a complicated relationship with Rome, and with which I am not associated. Increasingly I find myself having strong traditionalist sympathies, but I don’t (yet) consider myself a full-blown traditionalist, and I have mixed feelings about the SSPX. But I do pray every day they may become fully reconciled with the Church. Until then I keep them at a distance. Nonetheless, I appreciate this lecture and others they have made available.

Leave a comment

Filed under Catholic Church, Church History, Curious, Dogma, Liturgy, Marriage, Philosophy, Theology, Tradition, Truth, Video, World View