There’s a scurrilous article floating around on the internet by Stuart Reid, a weekly columnist for the Catholic Herald. It has appeared on Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say, and the New Liturgical Movement. I invite you to read the article at either site.
Reid’s article begins:
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".
The Archbishop in question is, of course, His Excellency, the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, who as proven in the past be somewhat of a friend to traditional Catholics in England.
Here’s Archbishop Nichol’s complete comment that he gave in the referred to interview:
Most troubling of all to my mind is the mindset that somebody might get caught into, because perhaps they don't like some aspect of how the Mass is being celebrated or the music that's been chosen or something, that they begin to turn their back on the Church's ordinary pattern of prayer, the ordinary form of the Mass and say: 'I can't accept that.' That's really quite serious, because if they can't accept that then they are inexorably distancing themselves from the Church.
This was a rather regrettable remark, because it simply doesn’t hold water. This extremely cryptic comment simply doesn’t make any sense. What is meant by “I can’t accept that”? Is he saying that all Catholics must accept anything and everything that happens at the new order of the Mass? If a Catholic says, “I can’t accept that rock band in the sanctuary during this celebration of the Ordinary form” that Catholic is somehow “inexorably distancing” himself from the Church? There’s a lot of things that have happened, and continues to happen, in the context of the Ordinary Form that aren’t acceptable. If pointing it out distances someone from the Church, then I’m sorry to say, but everyone who is calling for the “reform of the reform” is lumped in with all the traditionalists who are distancing themselves from the Church’s ordinary pattern of prayer.
What does the Archbishop mean by not accepting, or to use Reid’s word, “reject”? If not accepting the Ordinary Form means rejecting that the Ordinary Form is licit and valid, then he is speaking of a very small group of people. The vast majority of people who style themselves traditional Catholics agree and firmly hold that the new order of the Mass is both licit and valid.
If what he means by not accepting is a refusal to attend the Ordinary Form, then I'm really at a loss. Every single Catholic has the right to worship according their legitimate and recognized Catholic rite. If one wishes to only attend the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, would Archbishop Nichols say that that person is distancing himself from the Church because he does not accept the Extraordinary Form? If a Maronite Catholic refuses to attend both forms of the Roman Rite, and will only attend a Maronite liturgy, is that Maronite Catholic distancing himself from the Church because he does not accept the Roman Rite? Does a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic distance himself from the Church by refusing to attend a Greek Byzantine liturgy?
If what he means by not accepting is leveling criticism at the new order of the Mass, then what do we call the impetuous behind the “reform of the reform”. By holding that a reform of the current state of the liturgy is needed, one is affirming that there are deficiencies that need reforming. If the new order of the Mass is above criticism, then how can anyone call to reform it? If one is not accepting the Mass by criticizing the new order of the Mass, then we must conclude that every one seeking to “reform the reform” is distancing himself from the Church.
The concept simply does not hold water, but I’m inclined to think that this isn’t really what the Archbishop was trying to say. An interview isn’t a prepared statement, and I think that if given more time to choose his words more carefully, His Excellency would have said something quite different. He was, after all, speaking in the context of episcopal authority and the need for traditional Catholics to stay faithful in their obedience to their local ordinaries.
However, instead of treating the faulty logic of His Excellency’s off the cuff statement, the kowtow episcopal placaters jump on the traditional Catholic bashing bandwagon. Anyone who uses the phrase “the new New Mass” has no business saying that anyone has something about them that is modernist. That phrase exemplifies the modernist lust for all things new, as Amerio pointed out with due clarity in Iota Unum. New new Mass? If that doesn’t work, will there be a new new new Mass? Or how about fifty years from now we get the new new new new Mass?
Reid turns to Thaddeus Kozinski’s ridiculous article in the New Oxford Review, which, if memory serves me correctly, the editorial staff did not agree with Kozinski's argument, wherein he described the phenomenon of “Gnostic Traditionalism”. In a nutshell, Kozinski insinuates that most “traditionalists” have become Gnostics, according to Kozinski’s definition of Gnosticism, which is “the attitude that leads one to believe he possesses an irrefutable insight into the truth of matters of great importance, whether natural or supernatural.”
This definition of Gnosticism, however, is utterly preposterous. This isn’t Gnosticism. On the contrary, Gnosticism was a many faceted heresy in the early Church, characterized by a dualistic cosmology wherein human souls are trapped in a material world that was created by the inferior god of the Old Testament. The Gnostic, through a process of mystical experiences, gained secret knowledge that would ultimately liberate his soul from the material world.
There are plenty of Gnostics running around today, but they are the people who have crystals hanging from their rear view mirrors, treat Halloween as a high-holy feast day, and sell cheap bead necklaces at Glastonbury Tor. Unless they are there to steal a consecrated host, Gnostics aren’t attending the Traditional Latin Mass, nor will you find Gnostics among ultra-orthodox adherents of the Novus Ordo.
And what of Kozinski’s definition? Well, if you think about it, his definition would have to include any person of faith. A man for example, who holds by faith that there is a God, indeed, has an irrefutable insight, for he holds it by faith, into a truth that relates to a matter of great import. What is more important than God? It is the same with every other truth that Holy Mother Church proposes for our belief by faith. His definition also would have to include anyone who believes anything. By Kozinski’s definition every religious person is a Gnostic.
Kozinski’s definition Gnosticism is a handy tool for the intellectually lazy. It goes like this:
Person A thinks concept “T”, and person B disagrees with concept “T”. Instead of treating the merits or demerits of concept “T”, Person B concludes that Person A is clearly wrong based on Kozinski’s definition of Gnosticism. In thinking concept “T”, Person B states that Person A thinks she “possesses an irrefutable insight into the truth of matters of great importance, whether natural or supernatural”; therefore Person A is clearly a Gnostic, so we don’t need to bother ourselves with concept “T”. Both Person A and concept “T” are summarily dismissed.
Reid points out that Kozinski is now finding Gnostics among the ultra-orthodox adherents of the Novus Ordo. I’m sure he will, no doubt, soon find Gnostics among liberals, neo-conservatives, bill collectors, and the valet service that left a scratch on his car. And he styles the traditional Catholic as paranoid? The fact that Kozinski is beginning to find his Gnostics in more corners of the Church should be an indication to the rest of us that maybe Kozinski is simply person B disagreeing with person A.
What Kozinski and Read are so quick to condemn as Gnosticism is something far less exotic, and much more common among Catholics of all stripes. It’s called spiritual pride. It does, admittedly, run rampant in traditional Catholic circles, and there is some merit to Kozinski’s concerns about paranoia and a lack of meekness. Traditional Catholics at their best are absolutely wonderful people. They are generous, welcoming, full of good cheer and good humor. They possess an unyielding love for Christ. However, traditional Catholics at their worst are paranoid, angry, and even intimidating. I’ve seen it and heard of it, and it is shameful.
This fact, however, does not change the objective fact that the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is superior to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite when considered on their merits alone. When considering the two forms in their prayers, form, postures, rubrics, theology, the Extraordinary Form out strips the Ordinary Form as a more complete expression of what the Catholic Church teaches, and exemplifies in a more complete way the Catholic identity.
If traditional Catholics are the modern depository of this form of the Roman Rite, just like the monks who hid the icons during the years of Iconoclasm in the East, then doesn’t it make sense that they are some of the primary targets of the Devil. The Immortal Mass is unshakable. The emergence of the usus antiquior after these past four decades is proof enough of that. However, man is weak and frail. The Devil is taking aim at the Extraordinary form by attacking the not so extraordinary human beings around it.
At any rate, its not about an “ism”. As a traditional Catholic, I’m not an adherent of “traditionalism”. I’m someone following Christ, loving Christ, longing to give fitting worship to Christ. And just like those who level accusations of “Gnosticism”, I need God’s grace in my life to become a better, more charitable, person. The spiritual combat is my primary concern, and I strongly believe that the same can be said for all my traditional Catholic friends, notwithstanding our countless faults and frailties.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!
It would seem I struck a nerve? I recieved a response from Dr. Kozinski, which deserves space in the main post.
Dr. Kozinski's response:
I see no persuasive argument in Mr. Werling's post showing that my basic point is wrong. On the other hand, the many supportive comments about my article I have seen on the blogosphere suggest to me that my basic point is right, that it is not "ridiculous" as he says. I do admit that other points I make in the article, and the way I make them, including not the least of which being my use of the term “gnostic,” might be somewhat off the mark, but I can't find a better word for this phenomenon. In any event, I don’t think my basic point is off.
Perhaps it would help to read the words of none other than Romano Amerio, who made a similar point to mine over ten years ago. He writes:
It is obvious that uncertainty about the law, which has become something very changeable and which is in practice applied diversely in accordance with the differing opinions of differing people,has had the effect of increasing the importance placed on private judgment, and of producing a multiplicity of individual choices in which the organic unity of the Church is eclipsed and disappears (Iota Unum, 157).
What I would add to Amerio's insight is that the emergence of the availability of a choice for or against traditional liturgy and doctrine made possible by the Vatican II event (but now completely diffused by the brilliant move of Benedict XVI in the Motu Proprio) produces adverse consequences— regardless of which choice is made. If someone chooses to remain loyal to Tradition, even if the choice is made with the deliberate goal of placing oneself in a ecclesial environment in which private judgment is not paramount and in which liturgical, doctrinal, moral, devotional, etc. choice is no longer a pertinent issue, it is still the case that the very exercise of this choice is psychologically and spiritually damaging, for the reasons I try to articulate in my article. To me, this dynamic indicates the gravity of the evil that seeped into the Church through the Vatican II event.
The only sure way to counteract some of the evil and avoid the worst of the damage is, I think, first to be aware of it, and then to realize that one can not altogether counteract or avoid it. As it seems to me, and this is my main point, being a traditionalist—and precisely the kind of traditionalist I try to describe in the article—can have the effect of rendering one impervious to this awareness and realization (and it is certainly not only sedevacantists who fall into this category). Of course, being a non-traditionalist can render one even more impervious to this realization, but that is not at issue here. My essential point is that being a traditionalist does not necessarily render one impervious to the evil, and that there is something about the post-Vatican II ecclesial context (especially before Benedict's motu proprio) in which traditionalist identity is formed that can make one think it does, and, even worse, preclude awareness of any spiritual and psychological danger to one’s soul in this regard.
to finish: In short, I think that traditionalist Catholicism had become something of a sect (I could have titled the article “sectarian traditionalism,” gaining in accuracy what I lose in provocativeness), whether Indult traditionalism or not. Of course, the sectarianism is intensely worse in the pre-moto-proprio, non-Indult traditionalist milieus, being present among a relative few in the Indult chapels, becoming much worse within the SSPX environs, and finally becoming downright pathological among the sedevacantists. But this is not the fault of the good, loyal, non-sectlike Indult and post-moto-proprio traditionalists or traditionalism per se! Rather, the danger of becoming sectlike, with all the spiritual ramifications that go with it, is the price we had to pay to remain loyal to Tradition, and not seeing, or being able to see, that a price has been paid is the greatest price. I say it is a price we “had” to pay, because Benedict has now “marked down” this price by officially “desecting” traditional Catholicism with the great motu proprio. Traditionalism is now free. If we traditionalists keep up a sectarian attitude now, then it will be our fault.