Thursday, May 11, 2006

Popular Traditionalist Myths

Over the past year or so this humble journalist attempted to do what could be called “cleaning house” in the traditionalist movement. Along with several other loyal traditionalists, we began turning the guns on a lot of what we saw as negative problems within the traditionalist movement. Many viewed this as “selling out” and no long being a traditionalist. However, reports of my death were greatly exaggerated. What will follow in coming installments is an examination of popular misunderstandings (or in some cases blatant misrepresentations) about traditionalists. However, before we do so, I must define what I mean by “traditionalist.” More importantly, I am going to explain what it isn’t, and I won’t be defending.

I will not be including such people as the schismatic Society of St. Pius X as traditionalists here. It is my firm belief that the only way one can be an authentic traditionalist is unity with the Chair of Peter, the source of all ecclesial unity. Nor will I be talking about those who believe that, based on what they view a coherent theory (I for the record do not find it coherent or permissible to hold) that the Popes since Vatican II are not popes. (I.e. sedevacantists.)

Now that this is defined, we must state what a traditionalist is. A traditionalist is one who seeks either the restoration or the promotion of the “Traditional Latin Mass”, the Mass which existed in almost the same form throughout the Roman Rite for over 400 years before the Second Vatican Council. This is the unifying factor. There are many other common characteristics amongst traditionalists, but they are not as central as that of working for the Classical Roman Rite.

Another central factor is their emphasis on tradition, whether ecclesiastical or Apostolic. In far too many circles of today’s Church, we constantly hear what new ideas we need too do, yet never do we hear about those before us. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes could be said to represent the concerns of traditionalists in this area perfectly:

All things are hard: man cannot explain them by word. The eye is not filled with seeing, neither is the ear filled with hearing. What is it that hath been? The same thing that shall be. What is it that hath been done? The same that shall be done. Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us. There is no remembrance of former things: nor indeed of those things which hereafter are to come, shall there be any remembrance with them that shall be in the latter end. (Eccl 1:8-11)

All too often today we hear people labor about for the past 40 years of how the Church “needs to speak to modern man.” While there is nothing wrong with this necessarily, we must also remember that the Church speaks to all ages. When the Church teaches, her teachings are not contingent upon a certain age, but are for all. The trick is to speak to men of all ages, but at the same time to men of this age.

It is in this aspect that I believe the traditionalist movement has been and will continue to be of great importance in the Church. As the Church begins to show how the “new ways” of speaking can be reconciled with the past, in many ways it was through the participation of traditionalists who knew of the things of the past. (Take for example Dom Basile Valuet of Le Barroux monastery whose work on the declaration on religious liberty is viewed as an essential explanation for what the mind of the Church is on this issue.) In this respect, traditionalists are not opposed to change, but we also want to make sure the change has reasons behind it, and that it can be reconciled with the past. As such it is a necessary school of thought within the Church, and essential for any talk about reform.

While not an essential unifying factor, traditionalists normally also favor what could be called “The Imperial Papacy.” It is generally accepted that the papacy is best when it is strongest, providing clear leadership and setting the tone, rather than relying on his brother bishops to set the tone. Here, it must be noted that this debate is far from settled in Church history, or now. Different circumstances have seen different applications. Saints like Irenaeus of Lyons, Pope St. Clement of Rome, St. Gregory the Great, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Pius V and numerous historians such as Frs. Chapman and Rivington of the time surrounding the First Vatican Council could be said to hold to a view of a very strong papacy. Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, Church Fathers such as Tertullian, Sts. Cyprian, Polycarp, and Chrysostom, and much of the Church following Vatican II tended to emphasize a far more localized notion of Church governance, where the Bishops took a lot of the initiative and leadership, with the Pope intervening only when necessary. (In showing the diversity within traditionalist thought for example, this humble journalist tends for the most part to favor the latter view.) Whatever view is taken, it is a papacy that clearly is a leader when situations warrant it.

While numerous other unifying factors could be considered, I believe these are the more important ones. Having defined the issue, in future installments we will go into the issue of popular myths that exist about traditionalists.