Sunday, March 12, 2023

Some Nonsense from Cardinal Cupich

[Mar. 12, 2023] Back on February 27, Cardinal Blaise Cupich published an article in America Magazine entitled "Critics of Pope Francis' Latin Mass Restrictions Should Listen to JPII."  In this essay the good Cardinal accused traditional Catholics who resist Traditionis custodes of a plethora of faultsingratitude to the generosity of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, undermining the See of Peter, resistance to the Holy Spirit, and, that most tiresome canard, rejection of the Vatican II. He attempts to tie embrace of the Novus Ordo with acceptance of Vatican II.

It is an interesting piece that aptly demonstrates how out of touch with reality Cupich is about the entire liturgical question. The article is a lament for the refusal of traditional Catholics to accept Traditionis custodes with sufficient docility. Cupich not only says we must accept the suppression of the old Mass, but even thank God for it!—quoting John Paul II, he says, "We should give thanks to God for that movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church which the liturgical renewal represents.” Obeying isn't even enough; the only appropriate response Cupich will countenance is "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

Cupich thus views trad resentment about the motu proprio as unfounded. He wants us to understand that it's for our own good, and most importantly, that we should not assume there is any ulterior motive in Francis' actions beyond the good of souls. Traditionalists should not feel like the pope is out to get them; he merely wants us to reap the rich fruits of the Conciliar reform. Cupich says:

My point is simply this; no one should now suggest that Pope Francis (or, for that matter, Cardinal Roche) has any motivation in issuing “Traditionis Custodes” and authorizing the “Rescriptum” other than the desire to remain faithful to the promptings of the Holy Spirit that gave rise to the teachings and reforms of the council.
According to Cupich, Francis' only motivation for issuing Traditionis custodes is a desire to be faithful to the Holy Spirit (the implication being that if you find fault with Traditionis custodes, you are finding fault with the Holy Spirit!). To refute this assertion we need look no further than the words of Pope Francis himself. In the accompanying letter to Traditionis custodes, Francis was very deliberate in explaining the rationale for his decision, which he returns to multiple times. He gives as his reasons: 

  • That the "pastoral objectives" of Benedict XVI and John Paul II had been "seriously disregarded" by traditionalists who were making a "distorted use" of the grants of the two pontiffs.
  • That the magnanimity of the popes was "exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division."
  • That the "words and attitudes" of traditional Catholics evidences a "close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions"; i.e., he thinks the TLM is a breeding ground for dissent, which is manifest in the "words and attitudes" of traditional Catholics.
It is beyond clear that Pope Francis intended his motu proprio to be punitive; he issued it to address what he perceived to be the bad faith of the traditional Catholic community. One need not agree with Francis' assessment to see that this is what Francis believes. Cupich is simply wrong when he asserts Francis had nothing but benign motives. His motives were punitive and he says so himself.

Of course, Cupich would probably argue that such punitive measures are simply part of the big picture of realizing the Council's vision, which Cupich admits still hasn't been accomplished after 60 years. Although (and this is rich!) he claims the failure of the Council is due to "pockets of resistance to the council’s teachings and reforms, especially the refusal to accept the restoration of the liturgy." It is traditional Catholics who have obstructed the Council's implementation! It was not the fault of the liberals who used the Council as a pretext for dismantling the entire Catholic heritage from the ground up. It was the fault of a statistically insignificant minority who refused to participate in said destruction. 

Speaking of the Council, Cupich habitually confounds the Councils and the Novus Ordo, as the chief proponents of the New Mass have been wont to do for decades now. (1) Quoting the ecclesiastical synod convened under John Paul II in 1985, Cupich says:
The liturgical renewal is the most visible fruit of the whole work of the Council...For many people the message of the Second Vatican Council has been experienced principally through the liturgical reform.
This is a remarkable statement that somehow manages to be true and false simultaneously. On the one hand, it is incorrect to equate the liturgy with the Council. The reformed Mass we eventually got was not envisioned by the Council Fathers; it was created by a bureaucratic organ that not established by the Council, incorporated elements never called for in Sacrosanctum concilium, and was not promulgated until five years after the Council's close. It is not only wrong but gaslighting to accuse Catholics of "rejecting the Council" when they criticize the Novus Ordo. Throughout the article Cupich cites Sacrosanctum concilium, implying traditional Catholics are dissenting from it when the Mass Paul VI gave the Church in 1970 was nothing like what Sacrosanctum concilium called for.

But, on the other hand, it is true that the Novus Ordo exemplifies the spirit of the Council. It was the upheavel of the Council that made the Novus Ordo possible. The New Mass truly does reflect the ecclesiology and priorities of the Second Vatican Council. It is the Spirit of Vatican II incarnate.

That the Novus Ordo is not the "Mass of the Council" is also disproven by the existenc of an actual Mass of the Council, the so-called "Missal of 1965." This Missal was a kind of modified 1962 Ordo Missae that incorporated the changes specifically called for in Sacrosanctum concilium. You can read about the Missal of 1965 in this article by Msgr. Charles Pope ("A Look at the 'Actual Mass' of Vatican II: the 1965 Missal," Jan. 2015). The Novus Ordo actually supplanted the real Mass of the Council.

Cupich again returns to his theme of the Novus Ordo as fidelity to the Holy Spirit:
Like St. John Paul II, Pope Francis takes seriously that the restoration of the liturgy was the result of the movement of the Holy Spirit. It was not about the imposition of an ideology on the church by any one person or group

This is simply unhistorical. As we known, Annibale Bugnini and his associates were deeply ideological about all things pertaining to the liturgy. The Novus Ordo Missae was crafted specifically to exemplify the anthropocentric and latitudinarian ideology of the reformers. Furthermore, it is wrong to say it was not imposed by any "one person or group" when it was literally the brainchild of Bugnini and the Consilium. The way Cupich speaks, you would think the Novus Ordo descended from heaven fully, leaping into the Council chambers to the universal acclimation of the bishops.  

He then calls for "acceptance of the restored liturgy" by all Catholics. This word acceptance is so meaningless, as it is never defined. What does it mean to "accept" the liturgy? To merely accept that it is valid? To accept that it is the unique expression of the Roman rite? To accept that it was necessary? To accept that it was a a good idea? To accept that it is the future of the Catholic liturgy? To accept that it is superior to the Traditional Latin Mass? To accept that the pope had authority to promulgate it? What exactly do you mean by "acceptance of the restored liturgy"? Of course, Cupich doesn't say. You see this all the time when normies discuss traditionalism; they speak of the need to "accept" the Mass and stop "rejecting" Vatican II but never seem to consider the variable meanings of these words. I think this is probably intentional. Were these words interpreted strictly, it would be plain that almost all trads already "accept" Vatican II, and hence the critique of trads as dissenters would be deflated; were these words intepreted broadly, however, it would impose a burden of assent so heavy as to be patently ridiculous. Hence, the words are never defined, with the result that even if trads cannot be proven disloyal, they can at least have the stench of disloyalty on them.

When arguing for the acceptance of the New Mass (whatever he means by that), Cardinal Cupich has the audacity to cite Propser of Aquitaine. The citation from Propser says:
Let us consider the sacraments of priestly prayers, which having been handed down by the apostles are celebrated uniformly throughout the whole world and in every Catholic church so that the law of praying might establish the law of believing (ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi).

I wonder at times whether men like Cupich are truly so unaware, or if these sorts of quotes are intentional. What irony in citing Propser's admonition to retain rites that have been "handed down by the apostles" as an argument to embrace the Novus Ordo, which was a rejection of what had been handed down! Its citation is positively Orwellian:

The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. (1984, Part II, Chap. IX)
Cupich concludes his tirade by returning to the age-old staple of anti-traddism: traditional Catholics are disloyaly:
We should name it for what it is: resistance to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and the undermining of genuine fidelity to the See of Peter.
We cannot fail to be amused that only moments ago he was citing Prosper of Aquitaine's admonition to maintain the traditions of the apostles, while now he is accusing trads of resisting the Holy Spirit for refusing to embrace the liturgy that systematically discarded the traditions of the centuries. 

I have said before and will say again, the intellectual momentum is with traditionalists. The power is with the progressives. May the former continue to increase while the latter be found to decrease.


(1) While Sacrosanctum concilium did of course call for a revision of the liturgical books (SC 25), what the Council requested and what actually happened are a world apart. The rites were to be revised only "where necessary," and then "carefully in the light of sound tradition" (SC 4); Latin and Gregorian chant were to be retained (SC 36, 116). There is no call for new "Eucharistic Prayers." There is no mention of versus populum or communion in the hand, the two most notable elements of the Novus Ordo. The Novus Ordo Missae, as experienced in 95% of Catholic parishes around the world, is not the liturgy the Second Vatican Council called for. This is not to say the new Mass would have been acceptable had it stuck to the letter of Sacrosanctum concilium, but it is to say that the Mass we got is not what the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy envisioned nor what the Council fathers intended.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

The Church as a Barnacle Encrusted Ship

[Mar. 3, 2023] It has frequently been observed that the liturgical reform of the mid-twentieth century was founded upon false principles of archaeologism or antiquarianism, a fallacy whereby something is held to be better or purer the older it is. If you are not familiar with the concept of archaeologism, I humbly recommend my essay "What is Archaeologism?" on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website.

The premise that the Catholic liturgy is better to the degree that is approximates to (perceived) patristic custom depends largely upon an analogy of accretion and restoration—like the hull of a ship, the Church is conceived as something that accumulates barnacles over the passage of time. The accretion of these barnacles is a symbol for the way the Church amasses traditions over the centuries, the way a moving glacier picks up debris as it scrapes across the landscape. If the Church is to be restored to its original (i.e., superior) form, these accretions must be removed. The reformers are thus like seamen scraping barnacles from the sides of a ship to beautify her, returning her to her original splendor by making her "like new."

As well as this idea works for physical objects like ships, it is really not an appropriate analogy when dealing with something like religion. I would go so far as to say the validity of the reformer's historical views only work if one presumes this analogy. But once the analogy is abandoned, we see how errant the reformers ideas truly are, and why this comparison should not be made about the Catholic liturgy or religious ideals in general.

St. John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine addresses this issue when Newman treats of the development of ideas. Ideas have an entirely different sort of life cycle than a physical object like a ship. Unlike a car, which begins to depreciate the moment you drive it off the lot, an idea grows stronger with age. Its maturation unfolds new facets of the idea that were always latent within it but are only drawn forth by the vicissitudes of time. In addressing those who suggest primitive Christianity is the highest form of the religion, Newman observes:

It is indeed sometimes said that a stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope. At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and fall around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relation; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Ch. I, Sec. 1, § 7). 

If you have never read Newman's Essay, it is a fantastic work I highly recommend. Chapter I on the nature of how ideas develop in human society is particularly relevant to this discussion.

The Roman rite in its fully developed form—as codified by St. Pius V—is a mature expression of Catholicism, vastly richer than whatever rituals so-called experts fabricated from culling fragments of patristic parchment. [1] This is not to denigrate the role of the Fathers or the immense treasures of our patristic heritage, but it is to understand their proper place. The patristic era stands as the foundation of all that came later; the entire edifice of our faith rests upon like a house rests upon its foundations. Even so, I do not live in the basement of my house, but in the upper rooms the basement supports and makes possible. 

Similarly, we recognize that the perfection of the traditional liturgy is precisely in that it has developed over so many centuries. Where the reformers saw an accretion of barnacles, we see a grand and venerable oak, made splendorous by the passing of time. It is a much more organic view of the Church and its maturation, which is fully appropriate given St. Paul compares the Church to an organic body (cf. 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 1:23). We must cherish our Church's youth, to be sure. But there is a difference between cherishing our youth and trying to return to it. The former is a fitting sentiment for any mature adult; the latter is more akin to an embarassing midlife crisis.

For more related articles on this subject see these two pieces from New Liturgical Movement:

[1] The great irony of the reformer's archaeologism is that the product they created does not even accurately reflect patristic worship. It is not a return to ancient worship, but a modern construction based tenuously on fragments of patristic writing with the (considerable) gaps filled in by sheer innovation.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

"Preserve His Church from Falling Into Error" — The Canonization of St. Bonaventure

I was recently made aware of a fascinating text from the pontificate of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) with import to the infallibility of canonizations. The text in question is the 1482 Superna caelestis, the canonization bull for St. Bonaventure. 

After relating the virtues and miracles of the saint, Pope Sixtus relates how petitions had reached the Holy See from all orders of Christendom requesting the canonization; he specifically mentions Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, King Louis XI of France, and King Ferdinand of Sicily among the royal sponsors, as well as a host of Italian nobles. He also mentions petitions from the cities of Florence, Siena, Lyons, Paris, Venice, and Bagnoregio, places where the cultus of St. Bonaventure was thriving. The Bishop Protector of the Franciscans, as well as the Minister General, were also petitioning for canonization. Recognizing the existence of such widespread devotion to the saint from so many quarters, Sixtus said the Christian people "with such earnestness and such perseverance requested it [canonization] from Us that We would think it hard and impious to resist them in a thing so pious, which they even seemed to request as having been moved by God." (§13)

There was a slight complication, though. Pope Sixtus was himself a lifelong member of the Franciscan Order and expressed concern lest the canonization seem to be motivated from Franiscan partisanship rather than proper devotion. He therefore wished extra diligence to be taken in the inquiries of the saint's virtues and miracles. The pope says, "lest in this We seem more ably moved by our own affection than in due devotion, We applied that diligence and gravity, which the magnitude of the matter demanded. For We committed to three of Our venerable brothers, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, to order an inquiry into the truth of the miracles." (§14)

Pope Sixtus must have experienced some scruple on this point, because he relates that he was unhappy with the first report: "Nor content with this, when the process itself had already nearly been completed, and those who had been delegated had reported most faithfully; We however, to whom it did not seem that in proceeding such solemnity, as is required, was observed, ordered it to be begun anew." (§15) It is difficult to say what Sixtus meant that the report had not proceeded with appropriate solemnity; given the concerns stated in §14, we may presume the pope did not consider the report sufficiently thorough. Perhaps the cardinals treated the report as a mere formality, whereas Sixtus desired something more substantial. Whatever the case, the pope felt compelled to order the process to begin again, this time observing greater attentiveness.

The second report met the pope's expectations, and Sixtus reported that "it had been thoroughly proven from more abundant reporting and the faith of more worthy witnesses concerning this undertaking, that many and great miracles were worked by God through this Saint" (§16). The time was ready to move on to canonization.

We must pause to appreciate the balanced approach taken by the pope. In the first place, note that he takes care to point to a preexisting cultus for justification of the canonization, even listing the various centers where Bonaventure's cultus was flourishing. The cultus attested to the veneration of the saint, and the pope's canonization is the acknowledgement of a matter of fact. So well attested was the cultus that the pope thought "it hard and impious to resist" moving forward with the canonization. He was not interested in using canonization to fabricate a cultus, but rather as a means of affirming one that already existed.

Second, the pope's desire to avoid even the appearance of partisanship is praiseworthy. He was aware that the canonization could elicit gossip; perhaps the canonization of a Franciscan saint by a Francsican pope would constitute a conflict of interest? "But mindful, that We had entered in same Order of Minors by vow...[and] lest in this We seem more ably moved by our own affection than in due devotion," the pope ordered extra diligence in the investigation of Bonaventure's life, going so far as to command a second investigation when he found the first insufficiently solemn. Sixtus had a pastor's mind; he wished to avoid the mere appearance of impropriety, ensuring that the canonization proceedings were unassailable as far as human prudence was concerned.

But this was still not sufficient for Sixtus. Before canonization, Pope Sixtus summoned a public consistory of clergy and laymen and imposed a triduum of prayer and fasting to seek God's will on the matter. The rationale for this consistory is fascinating. We shall quote the pope at length:

And since one and the same had been the opinion of all, namely that he should be registered among the number of the Saints, We thereupon held a public consitory, in which, with a great multitude of bystanders, We publicly proclaimed a triduum of prayers and fasting, so that God might enlighten us as to the correct course to pursue, and preserve His Church from falling into error, who strove to conform Herself to that [Church] Triumphant. (§16-17)

From a plain reading of this text, it does not seem that Sixtus believed canonizations are infallible. Why pray and fast for three days in order to "preserve His Church from falling into error"? This language strongly implies that Pope Sixtus believed it was fully possible for the Church to err in canonizing Bonaventure. 

The case is not so cut and dry, however, for shortly thereafter, when Sixtus moves on to the actual decree of canonization, he says:

Confident that God will not allow us to fall into error in the canonization of this saint, by His divine authority and that of His holy apostles Peter and Paul, we decree that Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, of blessed memory, Professor of Theology, of the Order of Friars Minor, who was raised from the office of Minister-General to that of Bishop and Cardinal, is a saint, and is to be inscribed in the catalogue of saints, and joined and associated with them. (§19)

In this section Sixtus seems to be implying the opposite of what he stated prior, for here he expresses confidence that "God will not allow us to fall into error in the canonization of this saint." The inability to fall into error is infallibility. Yet immediately prior he stated that he ordered three days of prayer and fasting so that God might "preserve His Church from falling into error" in the matter of the canonization. 

What is the solution to this apparent contradiction?

There are several possibilities that come to mind:

(1) Sixtus's latter statement that the canonization could not be errant is seen as a consequent of the prayers and investigations carried out previously. Since it would be possible for the canonizationtmo be errant, Sixtus wished to ensure it wasn't by means of careful deliberation and prayer, essentially saying, "After all the public devotion, all the inquiries, all the prayer and fasting, God would not permit an error." 

(2) It is possible that Sixtus did not know or was not sure whether infallibility would extend to protect canonizations. That would not be incompatible with theologians later concluding with certainty that they do. His latter statement could then just express confidence that God has heard his prayer in the particular case.

(3) Pope Sixtus may have believed in the infallibility of canonizations and prayed for preservation from error anyways. It is not inappropriate to pray for what God has promised to grant, since God commands us to pray and desires to work through our prayers. For example, we know that the Mass, offered according to the Church's rite, is always pleasing to God, yet the rubrics contain prayers that it may be acceptable nonetheless.

As to which is correct, if any, I could not say. With age I have become keenly aware that I am not competent to speculate on the finer points of theology, so I must profess ignorance as to the correct solution. In this essay I mean only to bring this document to the attention of minds wiser than my own, who may perhaps shed light on the proper interpretation of this document. 

I want to thank my friend dom Noah Moerbeek, CPMO for drawing my attention to these passages. The official Latin text of Superna caelestis can be found in the Opera Omnia S. Bonaventurae, ed. by the College of St. Bonaventure, Ad Claras Aquas, Florence, 1882: vol. I, p. XXXIX-XLIV. I used the English translations of the relevant texts as found in Saint Bonaventure: The Serpahic Doctor and Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Cardinal Bishop of Albano, by Fr. Laurence Costelloe, O.F.M. (Longman & Greens, 1911), pages 119-120, but the English document is also available on Papal, albeit with a slightly different rendering, though the meaning conveyed is the same.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Review: "The Once and Future Roman Rite" by Peter Kwasniewski

[Feb. 12, 2023] When Peter Kwasniewski's The Once and Future Roman Rite was announced (TAN Books, 2022), I was a little confused. Angelico Press had only recently published Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright (2020), a fantastic apologetic for the Traditional Latin Mass. I wrote a review of Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright on Unam Sancam Catholicam, describing it thus:

This book presents a forceful, cogent argument for the Traditional Latin Mass, yet without relying on the Novus Ordo as a punching bag to establish the point. The book is not about how the Novus Ordo is so bad—rather, it is a fulsome apologetic for the goodness, truth, and beauty found in the Traditional Latin Mass.

I wondered, therefore, how The Once and Future Roman Rite would differ from his previous work, perhaps thinking it might be a rehash of the former book from a different publisher. 

I am happy to say this was not at all the case.

Peter Kwasniewski's The Once and Future Roman Rite covers a lot of ground, but I think the most succinct way to describe this book is as an answer to the question, "What constitutes the historic Roman Rite?" Despite my years as a traditional Catholic, I must admit I did not fully realize the centrality of this question until I read this book. If your experience contending about liturgy with non-trads has often felt like fighting on shifting sand, you may want to review the fundamental concepts Dr. Kwasniewski elaborates in this work, which include questions such as—
  • What is a rite?
  • How do rites develop?
  • What do all rites have in common?
  • What makes one rite different from another?
  • What are the distinctive traits of the Roman Rite?
  • Why does the Novus Ordo does not preserve the historic Roman Rite?
The answers to these questions fill a gap that, in my opinion, has existed in traditonalist Catholic thought until recently. While we have always known the Traditional Latin Mass is far superior to the Novus Ordo, it was not as clear why, in a technical sense, the Novus Ordo was not equivalent to the historic Roman Rite, or even in what the Roman Rite consisted exactly. Reading this book made me realize that traditonalists had spent too long having the wrong arguments—Is the Novus Ordo valid? Is the Novus Ordo harmful? Was the promulgation of the Novus Ordo legal? How is the Traditional Mass better? Whether Quo Primum is still binding? 

All of these questions have their place; none of them get to the heart of the matter. Rather, the core of Catholic traditionalism hinges upon understanding the nature of the historic Roman Rite. There are multiple chapters delving into matters of what I would call "rite identification," sorting through the fine points of what makes a rite what it is. This was the most helpful aspect of the book for me personally, as clarity on this point helps make sense of other liturgical questions.

In identifying what constitutes the historic Roman Rite, Kwasniewski uses the Novus Ordo for contrast, demonstrating that the reformed liturgy lacks the constitutive elements of the historic Roman Rite. Pope Benedict's attempt to make the Novus Ordo and TLM kiss by calling them "two forms" of the Roman Rite was thus a sincere but ineffective means of squaring the circle. One may call the Novus Ordo the Roman Rite all day long—even declare it to be so in legislation—but the constitutive elements of a liturgical rite do not bend to the whims of legal positivism. One can delcare the Novus Ordo the Roman Rite, but such declarations are insubstantial, akin to the time Congress tried to declare Lake Champlain the sixth Great Lake, or when the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from being a planet: acts that, while true "on paper," do not correspond to reality and are not generally accepted save by the gullible.

Dr. K's book also spends a lot of time delving into the thought of Paul VI and what he was thinking when he promulgated the Novus Ordo. Reading Paul VI's tragically misguided reasoning here is sure to be eye-opening. It demolishes the neo-Cath narrative of a good Council hijacked by progressive revolutionaries against the will of the pope. The lengthy analysis of Paul VI's thought demonstrates that Paul VI (and no one but Paul VI) holds ultimate responsibility for what happened. Paul VI not only deliberately willed the Novus Ordo with all its inferior elements, but he did so positively knowing the treasure he was throwing away in the Traditional Latin Mass.  The post-Conciliar auto-demolition was not the work of a small cabal of revolutionaries, nor was it the work of a hostile media (as Benedict XVI weakly asserted); it was the Church itself, with the pope at the helm, that afflicted us with this grievous wound.

So, if I were to categorize Kwasniewski's two books on the traditional Mass, I would say that Reclamining Our Roman Catholic Birthright is an excellent text to give to tradition-curious newbs who are looking for a positive, affirming introduction to the Traditional Latin Mass. The Once and Future Roman Rite, on the other hand, is a critical study of the differences between the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo that identifies the essential traits of the Roman Rite. I highly recommended Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright and I highly recommend The Once and Future Roman Rite as well. Whether you are new to Catholic traditionalism or have been around for a long time, you are sure to learn something from both of these books.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of The Once and Future Roman Rite for review.

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Pope's Reductive Structuralism

[Jan. 30, 2023] When he issued Traditiones Custodes, Pope Francis argued that the Traditional Latin Mass was no longer needed because its constituive elements had all passed in to the Novus Ordo. Ergo, anyone who values the traditional rite should celebrate the new, for the heart of the old rite has been translated into the new. Pope Francis said in his accompanying letter to Traditiones Custodes that "all the elements of the [traditional] Roman rite" can be found in the Novus Ordo.

This is simply not the case, however. The research of Matthew Hazell has demonstrated that only 13% of the prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass survived the Consilium's hack job unchanged—a full 53% of the content from the historic rite was simply jettisoned; another 34% was subject to editing. Only a tiny slice made it unmolested into the New Rite. 

In what sense, then, can "all" the elements of the Traditional Roman Rite be present in the Novus Ordo? For that matter, what is an "element" of a rite according to Francis? In the same letter the pope says that "the Roman Canon...constitutes one of [the historic rite's] more distinctive elements." He is right, of course—the Roman Canon is probably the most distinctive element of the Traditional Latin Mass. But as Dr. Kwasniewski has demonstrated, not even the Roman Canon made it into the Novus Ordo without alteration; even the formulas of the consecration were altered, ostensibly to make them fit Scriptural narratives more closely (see The Once and Future Roman Rite, pg. 251-255).

The implication, here, is that Pope Francis does not view the liturgy as primarily consisting of an objective content; rather, he considers it structurally. He considers the liturgy to consist more of its "parts" and not so much the content of each part. The old Mass has a procession, the new Mass has a procession; the old Mass has the Kyrie and Gloria, the new Mass has the Kyrie and Gloria; both Masses have a homily, the Creed, offertory prayers, and the Roman Canon (even though the Novus Ordo also contains a wad of freely invented new, um, Eucharistic Prayers, for every occasion); the people receive Communion in both rites, there is a dismissal blessing in both rites. The pope compares the structural components of the two Masses and sees them as basically equivalent.

This is a very reductionist view of the liturgy. Such a structural view might be appropriate for a mass produced item, something that came off an assembly line where uniformity across products was guaranteed by structural consistency alone. But it is hardly suitable for an organic ritual like the Mass, where the distinguishing features of the rite are found in the particular content—the specific prayers and ritual gestures of the ceremony.

Lest you think the content doesn't matter, think if the shoes was on the other foot. We are all familiar with the Jewish food blessing prayer the Hamotzi, which says, "Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam, hamotzi lehem min ha'aretz" ("Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.") Could we rewrite this prayer from scratch and claim it was still the Hamotzi just because it was said before meals? Would Jews accept it as such? Would anyone buy it if we had a committee rewrite the Divine Liturgy and then asserted it was the still the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom? Such fabrications would not be bought by the Jews or the Eastern rites; it is only in the Roman Rite we are expected to buy such arguments.

Pope Francis essentially views the liturgy like a house; the specific content of the house is not all that important—what each room holds, what has been accunulated over the years. For him, what matters is the structure, that it has four walls, a roof, and some rooms. The house is reduced to its outer form; the liturgy is reduced to its most fundamental structure. This reduction allows one to admit wild diversity in the liturgy while maintaining that we are talking about the "same rite"—the way we could say two houses with similar floor plans are "basically the same house."

Of course, this view falls apart once we consider the content. Two houses might share a common structure, but going inside and perusing the content and living conditions in each house and its very different families will divest of any notion that these houses are identical. And any investigation of the content of the New Mass relative to the Traditional Latin Mass will make it clear that the Novus Ordo is not substantially similar to the Traditional Latin Mass. 

The comparison even fails on a structural level once we dig down beyond the bare minimum: while the new and old Masses share the elements mentioned above, there are many they do not share—the responsorial psalm, the "prayers of the people," the prayers at the foot of the altar, and the Last Gospel all come to mind. The structural comparison only works if our parameters are dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. It is as if I were to give a man a deer and tell him it was a horse because they both have four legs and run. This same point was observed by none other than Fr. Joseph Gelineau S.J., a member of the Concilium responsible for crafting the Novus Ordo. Using the same imagery of a building, Fr. Gelineau gloated:

“Let those who like myself have known and sung a Latin-Gregorian High Mass remember it if they can. Let them compare it with the Mass that we now have. Not only the words, the melodies, and some of the gestures are different. To tell the truth, it is a different liturgy of the Mass. This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman rite as we knew it no longer exists [le rite romain tel que nous l’avons connu n’existe plus]. It has been destroyed. [Il est détruit.] Some walls of the former edifice have fallen while others have changed their appearance, to the extent that it appears today either as a ruin or the partial substructure of a different building." (Joseph Gelineau, Demain la liturgie: Essai sur l’évolution des assemblées chrétiennes [Paris: Cerf, 1976], 9-10)

The Novus Ordo is a valid Mass with valid sacraments just like a structure with four walls and a roof is a house. But the question is not whether the Novus Ordo is valid, but whether it preserves the heritage of the Roman Rite. The answer is unambiguously no. And this is not merely my opinion; none other than Paul VI called the Novus Ordo "the liturgical innovation of the new rite of the Mass." Pope Benedict's attempt to reframe the old and new rites as two "forms" of the same Mass was legal legerdemain conjured up in an attempt to regularize the historical anomaly of having two competing rites each claiming to be the Roman rite. But this sort of accomodation was rejected by the architect of the Novus Ordo, who unabashedly called it a "new rite." We, too, should imitate Paul VI in this regard. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Let Us Rejoice in 2023

[JAN. 15, 2023] This New Year was quite somber in the Boniface household. The death of Pope Benedict XVI on New Years Eve aside, I was completely wiped out with Covid, an ordeal from which my strength has not yet fully recovered. Personal and ecclesiastical events seemed to portent 2023 as a year of sorrow and penitence. Time will see if this prognostication is correct.

As has been my long custom, I like to ring in the New Year by recapping some of the notable posts of the previous year. But I'd like to go a little bit beyond that this time around to acknowledge some people who have blessed me in 2022 and talk a little bit about what else I've been up to.

The past year was a very notable one for me personally; the long awaited relaunch of the sister site kicked off in July. I also expanded my footprint considerably as a contributor to several fine publications, with articles in One Peter Five, New Oxford Review, Angelus News, Catholic Family News, and Catholic Exchange. For those who are fans of Restoring the Faith Media, you may have seen me as an occasional fill-in guest on The Rundown program. I also managed to start putting new videos up on the Unam Sanctam Catholic Youtube channel after athree year hiatus and the response has been very generous. I also revamped the website for my little publishing operation, Cruachan Hill Press. If you have not checked out the Cruachan Hill website for awhile, give it a look. It's really sleek looking and I have a lot of new titles available.

Much of this new exposure was due to the support of generous patrons I'd like to thank publicly, first and foremost Dr. Peter Kwasniewski who has been extremely kind in publicizing my content, as well as including my essays in multiple books he has edited. I'd also like to thank Matt Gaspers, Timothy Flanders, Kristen Van Uden, Mike Aquilina, Alex Barbas, Robert of Pater Familias, and the crew of the Rundown for being so welcoming. Special thanks to my dear friend, Ryan Grant. Longtime followers of this blog will recall that it this blog first took off as a result of Ryan's patronage way back in the day. After fifteen years of communicating only via the interwebs, Ryan and I were blessed to finally meet this past October at the Catholic Identity Conference in Pittsburgh. I am deeply grateful for his support and friendship throughout the years.

I am happy to say that 2022 was a year of fellowship for me. I made much more of an effort to build real life relationships with other Catholics and it has yielded some wonderful new friendships and the strengthening of those already existing. Twice I went to Canada to visit my traditional Catholic friends in Ontario; I traveled to many other states as well to meet other Catholics and enjoy the blessings of friendship in the Lord. And everyone I spoke to—whether in real life or online—has communicated similar sentiments: that they are ready to move beyond spiritual milk and on to the deep things of God (cf. 1 Cor. 2:20). In the face of increasing hostility to the faith from within and without the Church, I think there is a growing sense that our own interior life is the one thing nobody can take from us, that now, more than ever, it is time to "store up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal" (Matt. 6:21). While we continue to labor for the restoration of Catholic tradition, many are recommitting themselves to personal holiness. There is a sense that there is a great shaking come upon us, and those who wish to abide in faith must see to their own garden.

If we look at things according to the flesh, these are dismal times indeed. But, if we have eyes to see, you may discover that the Kingdom of God is advancing all around us. Forget the institutional Church for a moment. Think of the little victories. Everytime someone decides to start praying the Divine Office, the Kingdom of God advances. Everytime a Catholic decides they are going to start taking their spiritual life more seriously, God's kingdom extends. Everytime someone discovers the Traditional Latin Mass, or makes a good confession, or receives the Holy Eucharist rightly disposed. All of these are glorious victories for the Kingdom of our Lord. Everytime you persevere in some pious resolution, angels rejoice. Grace is all around us; souls are always being won for the Kingdom of God.

Here are some of my personal favorite essays published on Unam Sanctam in 2022:

Thank you as always for your kind support. The Lord is good and shows His kindness to me everyday through your continued interest in my humble works. May you be blessed in the New Year. Whatever 2023 brings us, let us rejoice, knowing that "all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28)

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Farewell Reflections on Benedict XVI

Normally on the New Year I post a list of what I consider the most important Unam Sanctam articles over the past twelve months. However, given the recent passing of Pope Benedict XVI, I thought it fitting to devote my first piece of 2023 to the memory of the late pontiff. This essay will be longer than most, for which I beg your indulgence, but it is difficult to sum up what I think and feel about this man with anything approaching brevity. Therefore, bear with me, I pray, as it is fitting that I should be allowed a bit of pontificating in an article about a pontiff.

Rather than attempt a topical synopsis of the late pope's thought and legacy, I have decided to opt for the more personal approach of unfolding Ratzinger through my own encounters with him and his work throughout my life. 


As the offspring of a family of Poles and Sicilians, I was baptized Catholic as a baby as a matter of course. But I never saw the inside of a Catholic parish after the day of my baptism for many years. My childhood had no First Communion nor Confirmation. I was scarcely aware of my family's Catholic heritage save for a lone crucifix my mother kept hanging on the hallway wall of our home. I lived a very typical secular upbringing in the 1980s and 90s. 

I came to the Lord in the year 1999, albeit outside of any church construct (more through the personal witness of a close friend). After dallying with various Protestant sects, I was drawn to the Catholic Church shortly thereafter and began studying the faith in 2000, with my formal reception into the Church taking place on October 4, 2002. 

Suffice to say, I had no idea who Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was. Most people entering the Church from a Protestantized context are focused doctrinal and moral matters, not who staffs various Vatican congregations and dicasteries. For people such as myself, learning about the machinery of the Vatican bureaucracy is generally an afterthought, like an intellectual placenta delivered after the hard work of conversion has been done. I recall my RCIA director gave me a print out of a talk Ratzinger gave on the proper understanding of the role of conscience in ethics, but to be honest it was over my head at the time. 


I first truly became aware of Cardinal Ratzinger when I was in college at Ave Maria. The campus had an unofficial Joseph Ratzinger Fanclub; I mean literally, there was a website, also called "The Joseph Ratzinger Fan Club," where you could by Cardinal Ratzinger merch mugs, T-shirts, and hats featuring pictures and quotes of the cardinal. There was a cadre of students on campus who proudly displayed these fun little tokens of admiration. Through this exposure I picked up, by osmosis as it were, that Ratzinger was known as "God's Rottweiler," that he was the head of the CDF and, as such, the guardian of Catholic orthodoxy, and that liberals hated him. That alone made me admire the man. I joined the fan club; I remember I bought a T-shirt with a pic of the Cardinal that said "Putting the smackdown on heresy since 1981." Incidentally, the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club site would later become the Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club, which is still up today under its original URL But you can still visit an archived version of the site to see what it looked like before Ratzinger was elevated to the papacy.

So Ratzinger entered my consciousness as one of the "good guys." John Paul II was a good guy, and Ratzinger was his lieutenant. It felt good to know there were such people at the helm. Still, I had little time to study the man's writings. After all, I was a full time college student with a young family and I was working full time as well. But I also knew nothing about the Traditional Latin Mass or the liturgy wars; I was scarcely aware that there even was a Traditional Latin Mass. This was in part due to a deception practiced in conservative Catholic academic environments where everyone just pretends that the Novus Ordo is the historic Mass: historic discussions about the liturgy are applied to the Novus Ordo, and sacramental theology is presented entirely within a post-Conciliar vocabulary and framework. The Novus Ordo is received as if it were of venerable antiquity while no mention is made of the events of 1969-70. Tradition is praised, but only through the lens of John Paul II or other "safe" post-Conciliar writers. A total outsider, someone who knew nothing about Catholicism, would assume that the Novus Ordo Missae was the historic Roman rite based on the way it was treated. We certainly had discussions about the merit of "traditional" practices, but these were generally about traditional pietistical practices completely abstracted from their liturgical context (e.g., "Is kneeling for communion more reverent than receiving standing?" "Is Latin more reverent than vernacular?"). We argued about the proper role of certain traditional practices based on their perceived reverence—call it their "reverential value"—while completely ignoring the liturgical superstructure all these elements once existed in.


At any rate, I was in my final semester at Ave when John Paul II died. I had loved John Paul II; I wept listening to the coverage of his death on the radio while I drove to school. He had been the only pope I had ever known. 2005 was my first experience of watching a papal conclave unfold along with all the gossip about papabile. As I recall, Ratzinger did not seem to be taken seriously as a candidate. There was considerable speculation about this on campus, and the theological faculty, who followed these things more closely than others, seemed to favor Angelo Cardinal Scola, then Patriarch of Venice, or Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, as the most likely to be elected. The consensus seemed to be that "it would be nice" to have Ratzinger, but that he was too conservative to have a fighting shot—similar to the way today we would say "it would be nice" if Cardinal Burke got elected, while knowing the odds against him are steep.

It was April 19, 2005, midmorning, local time. The white smoke had been seen, but the new pontiff had not yet emerged. I was gathered with other students and faculty in the library of Ave Maria College (which was, of course, then in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the "real" Ave as us Michigan alums tend to think of it). One of the librarians had let some of us students back into his office to watch the on a primitive, severely pixelated live stream. We watched for about ten minutes before seeing the new pope emerge on the balcony. The live stream was so pixelated we could not make out the face of the new pontiff nor read the text on the screen. But the librarian heard the words "Joseph Ratzinger" on the audio feed and yelled, "It's Ratzinger!"

We all shouted in delight like little children. Ah, that day was a moment of pure Catholic joy. I recall how we all ran out of the library, running through the hallways yelling like seniors on graduation day. I ran out into the campus; it was a lovely spring day, warm and bright. Students were randomly hugging each other and shouting, "Papa Ratzinger!" I felt immediate filial devotion to the man. The contrast between the exuberance of that bright spring morning and dreariness of March 13, 2013 couldn't have been more stark.


Ignatius Press had the rights to all English language editions of Joseph Ratzinger's works by virtue of Fr. Fessio's longtime friendship with the Cardinal. This copyright extended to his (private) writings as pope, as well. Ignatius wasted no time in inundating the market with new editions of Ratzinger's old works, with a shiny golden "POPE BENEDICT XVI" sticker slapped on the front. Sometimes this marketing zeal bordered on deception: books would be promoted as written by "Pope Benedict XVI," only for the reader to find they were hastily cobbled together collections of Ratzinger's essays from the 1960s. Be that as it may, it was during this Ratzingerian-publishing burst that I picked up copies of some of Ratzinger's seminal works, including Spirit of the Liturgy, but also Milestones and The Ratzinger Report, both of which would be essential in understanding Ratzinger's view of what had happened to the Church in the second half of the twentieth century.

These considerations were becoming timely as the question of the liturgy was becoming ever more pressing in my mind. This came about from a convergence of events:

In the first place, my parish priest—who was accustomed to saying a Latin Novus Ordo—had suddenly been removed because of a "credible" accusation. The investigation dragged on for years and the priest, who was in poor health, died before its conclusion. The charges were never substantiated; my priest died in exile in a monastery in a foreign country, isolated from his flock. The pastor who replaced him had no interest in the Latin Novus Ordo and immediately suspended it indefinitely. First vernacular, then guitars, began to creep back into the liturgy. My parish suffered one of the reverses that are so tragically common in conservative Novus Ordo parishes. I could not fathom this; why would someone hate the Church's official language so much to simply cancel our beloved Latin Novus Ordo without so much as consulting the parishioners? This made me aware of the divisiveness of liturgy within the Church. 

Furthermore, I had been doing more historical research on the Council at college. I had read Ralph Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber and was stunned by the real story of the council. The Ave Maria College library had at that time a set of the actual council daybooks (the literal moment-by-moment agenda of the council sessions with records of every episcopal intervention and summaries of what each of the bishops spoke about). I spent a semester pouring my way through these books, literally reading summaries of every speech at the Council. I wrote a term paper on the history of the Second Vatican Councila theme I would return to many times in life—the Council is imperfectly understood when considered only as a collection of teachings; it must be considered as a totality, it's teachings within the context of the historical event in which they are embedded and are the product of. I began to be aware that the divisiveness about the liturgy was grounded in fierce debate about the Second Vatican Council itself: what it meant, and what its role was in the Church today.

Finally, the first two years of Benedict's pontificate saw the emergence of the traditional Catholic blogosphere into the full light of day. I was introduced to Rorate Caeli and The New Liturgical Movement, among others, seeing that these matters were the subject of intense discussion across the Church—even if my college and parish experiences would have me believe otherwise. I started devouring everything I could read on the subject of liturgy and the Traditional Latin Mass. My friend and fellow Ave alum, the now-renowned Dr. John Joy, gave me a copy of Msgr. Klaus Gamber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy. This book was instrumental in helping me understand the problems with the Pauline reforms from established liturgical principles. But, more germane to this essay, Gamber's book featured a preface by none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, wherein he penned his famous words, " the place of ‘liturgy as the fruit of development’ came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it—as in a manufacturing process—with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product." 

I began to connect Ratzinger's thought with Catholic traditionalism, specifically as it pertained to the liturgy. Whether this entirely accurate remained to be seen, but it was enough to recognize that Catholic traditionalists at least viewed him as an ally. I read Spirit of the Liturgy around the same time I read Mosebach's The Heresy of Formlessness; I don't think I need to summarize either of these works (indeed, how could I?) but, like many traditionalists, I found that Ratzinger's principles furnished a theological-liturgical vocabulary to describe the Church's liturgical crisis. 

I, too, began making my meager contribution to this great discourse with this blog, which I launched in the summer of 2007 and began identifying as a traditionalist in the Ratzingerian mold.


At this time there was considerable chatter going on in the blogosphere about an imminent motu proprio from the Holy Father that was expected to liberalize the Traditional Latin Mass. I was at that time in the employment of the Church in the Diocese of Lansing and was already helping my diocesan pastor obtain the celebret required under the Indult, as he had desired to say the Traditional Mass for some time. I had some correspondence and even a phone conversation with Fr. Bisig about getting my pastor trained to say the TLM. As for what was coming from Rome, we knew neither the day nor the hour nor what the anticipated motu proprio would contain, so we continued assuming the Indult legislation would continue indefinitely.

When Summorum Pontificum dropped on July 7, 2007, "we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy" (Ps. 126:1). At the heart of Summorum was the admission that the Missal of 1962 was "never abrogated" (Art. 1), and that "the priest needs no permission from the Apostolic See or from his own Ordinary" to celebrate Mass in the traditional rite (ibid). The letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum explained this further, when speaking of the Traditional Mass, Benedict said, "I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted...What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful." This was the true revolution of Summorum Pontificum; Benedict did not legislate the Traditional Latin Mass back into usage; he declared that it had never been legislated out of usage and hence was always permitted. The motu proprio did not legalize the old Mass; it recognized that it had always been legal and invited bishops to do the same.

This is what is so insane about Traditiones custodes. Pope Francis stated therein that John Paul and Pope Benedict "granted and regulated the faculty" to use the pre-Conciliar Missal. This is completely contrary to the point Benedict stressed in Summorum, which was that the old Mass needed neither grant nor regulation to be used. Furthermore, for a document that purports to supersede Summorum, Traditiones custodes does not quote it even once. A charitable reading of these facts suggests that Pope Francis doesn't truly understand Summorum; an uncharitable reading suggests he knows but doesn't care.

But in 2007 that was all still thankfully years in the future. My pastor asked me to review Summorum and make a good faith effort to understand what was required of him to be a sound footing to say the Latin Mass. Of course, the document said no permission of any sort was required, but my pastor wanted to make sure every possible difficulty was tucked away. For example, Article 5 seemed to envision cases where a group of parishioners wants the Latin Mass and asks the priest for it, but it did not seem to envision cases where the priest himself wants to introduce the parish to the Latin Mass at his own initiative. Knowing how divisive such matters could be—and that letter accompanying Summorum had directed bishops to intervene if the implementation of the motu proprio gave rise to conflicts a parish priest could not resolve—my pastor wanted to avoid any such opportunities for grievance. It was decided that it would be best if we could demonstrate that the "stable group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition" mentioned in Article 5 actually existed. We therefore created a petition asking our priest to celebrate the Latin Mass and circulated it amongst our parishioners. Myself and one other gentleman gathered signatures; we gathered 82, which was considerable for a small country parish. 

Seeing the desire was there, my pastor spent some time learning the Traditional Latin Mass and then began offering it at our parish. It has continued being offered to this day. Every time I attend the TLM at my parish, I owe a debt of gratitude to the wisdom of Benedict XVI.


My early days with Benedict were a honeymoon phase of falling in love with the pope's liturgical vision. I dutifully read his encyclicals as well and was particularly impressed by Spe Salvi, his 2007 encyclical on the theological virtue of hope. This encyclical was fundamental to my understanding of note only hope, but faith as well. He wrote that faith and hope are "not just informative, but performative" (SS 4).  It is a vibrant hope that the Catholic (by the very act of faithful hoping) actually changes himself in Christ and brings himself closer to the very object of his hope. We do not hope for heaven in a merely future looking way, but by hoping for heaven we actually bring heaven closer to us and in a way participate in it here and now. Consider this quote:

"Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future" (SS 7).

Anyone who has ever read my essays on faith or spoken to me in person about these matters will see the echoes of Benedict's thought in my own. To this day I think this beautiful little encyclical is one of Benedict's best theological pieces and is an excellent text to help grasp the meaning of a virtue that many misunderstand.


But as I read Benedict's writings, I began to run across things that were theologically troubling. This was particularly true of his pre-pontifical writings, which were being published in abundance by Ignatius Press. I remember I read a book called Credo for Today: What Christians Believe. This was a collection of Ratzinger's essays, most dating from the 1960s and 70s. The essays that dealt with creation, cosmology, and eschatology were particularly troubling as Ratzinger displayed a distinctly Teilhardian sympathy. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit theologian and anthropologist who made striking heterodox claims about the place of evolution within Christian cosmology. It was not merely that Teilhard believed evolution, but that he made it the lynchpin of his entire cosmic system, whereby all creation is in the process of a continual evolution from matter to spirit that will terminate in something called the Omega Point, an endpoint where all human consciousness evolves beyond its current state and is merged into a kind of theo-cosmic singularity with God, which Teilhard called the "Cosmic Christ." It was a bizarre theory, bordering on pantheism, which was repeatedly censured during Teilhard's own life but which became avant-garde in the years after Teilhard's death. 

It is not my purpose here to establish Benedict's Teilhardian sympathies; interested readers should look at my essay "The Solemn Enthronement of Evolution," as well as the fantastic essay by the late James Larson entitled "A Living Host: Liturgy and Cosmic Evolution in the Thought of Benedict XVI and Teilhard de Chardin." But as Ratzinger himself publicly declared himself an admirer of Teilhard's thought, this is no innovative conclusion of mine; we have it from the late pope's own words.

Now, I point this out not to criticize the late pope, but as a necessary step in my own story with him. I wondered how a man who, in other regards, demonstrated such a tender affinity for the Church's liturgical tradition could embrace a theory as bonkers as Teilhard's. There were other oddities I found throughout the writings of Benedict as well. There has been a tendency among Traditionalists to view Benedict XVI as a theological traditionalist whilst Pope John Paul II's pontificate was more egregiously modernized. However, as James Larson once pointed out to me, it is actually easier to find theological novelties in the writings of Ratzinger than it is in JP2. 

Which begs the question: In what sense was Benedict XVI a "traditionalist" pope? Is it right to see him as such?


Teilhard de Chardin's theory is a type of vitalism. Vitalism is the idea of a successive, evolutionary emergence of new properties out of a prior substrate, a process Teilhard referred to as the "complexification" of matter into spirit. Benedict, too, ultimately viewed matter as but a "moment in the history of spirit," a "prehistory of the spirit" (see his essay "Creation" in Credo for Today, pages 43-47). It is a view that is essentially Hegelian, of the stormy conflict between matter and spirit ultimately resolving in the emanation of a new and higher reality in which the limitations of our current order are resolved in a synthesis at the Omega Point.

This Hegelian approach was also evident in Benedict's liturgical vision. The great liturgical question that occupied the mind of the pontiff was the relationship between the traditional liturgy and the conciliar liturgy. For all his wonderfully lucid critiques of the post-Conciliar regime, Benedict was too much a creature of his age to fundamentally reject the new liturgy. He advocated what we today call a reform of the reform, arguing that the problem was not the new liturgy but the failure to properly implement it; it is the liturgical version of the "Real Communism has never been tried" argument and it sounds just as silly applied to the Novus Ordo. Yet it was a position Benedict argued until his dying breath. 

Benedict needed to reconcile the two liturgies without denigrating either. He accomplished this through his idea of mutual enrichment. This concept is found in Summorum Pontificum and its accompanying letter, in which Benedict expresses his hope that the two liturgies (which he coined as "Extraordinary" and "Ordinary" forms of the Roman rite) will enrich each other. This is a profoundly different from how traditional Catholics received the document. Traditional Catholics embraced Summorum as a liberation of the Traditional Latin Mass; Benedict viewed it also as an opportunity for the Traditional Mass to enrich the Novus Ordo and for the Novus Ordo to enrich the Traditional Latin Mass. He viewed it as a two-way exchange. It can be argued that the reverence of the TLM bled over into certain NO liturgies; I witnessed this at diocesan parishes where both forms were celebrated. But in what sense did Benedict hope or expect the Novus Ordo would "enrich" the Traditional Mass? What would a penetration of any aspect of the new rite into the old look like concretely?

It is hard to say. But, judging from Benedict's thought, I personally believe he envisioned a Hegelian synthesis where the mutual enrichment of the two "forms" eventually led to the emergence of a new "third" liturgy, in which all of what Benedict considered to be the best aspects of both "forms" was preserved. Thus the schizophrenia of the Roman rite introduced by the Novus Ordo would be reconciled with the emergence of a new liturgy that did not negate but transcended the others, showing both the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo to be but "moments" in the meta-development of liturgy, both constituting a kind of liturgical "pre-history" to whatever the coming liturgical synthesis brought forth. 

I realize the radical nature of this claim, and I pose it only as a hypothesis. Even so, it is not without ground given Benedict's statements, and I am certainly not the only one who has considered this.


In time, I thus came to see Benedict as a multi-faceted individual. He was a man who obviously had a deep love for the old liturgy, but could only bring himself to go so far with it (it is notable that he never celebrated the Traditional Mass publicly during his pontificate). Even his support for the TLM had to be packaged within a larger Conciliar apologetic. He seemed to me a man who did the right thing but for the wrong reason—which, to be honest, is not terrible. St. Paul rejoiced that Christ was bring preached "whether in pretense or truth," (Php. 1:18) and I similarly rejoice in whatever good Benedict did for whatever reason.

But my deep reading of Benedict's theology made it impossible for me to think of him as a bastion of orthodoxy. He was capable of striking theological novelties. As a theologian, he falls into the same category as Hans Urs von Balthasar (another hero of Ratzinger's); Balthasar is a theologian whose writings are full of novelties. Taken on his own terms, his thought represents a revolutionary departure from theological tradition. But, taken relative to other contemporary theologians such as Rahner and Teilhard, Balthasar appears orthodox. The radicals make him seem safe. Similarly, Benedict XVI appeared as a stalwart defender of tradition compared to the Marxs, Mahoneys, Küngs, and James Martins of the Church. But, taken on his own terms, he was quite a revolutionary thinker who proposed many novelties.

It is ironic that Benedict the "traditional" pope committed what is undoubtedly the greatest papal novelty of the modern era—the resignation of the papal office, an event that ushered in so much mischief for the Church. Whatever Benedict's physical condition, it is hard to imagine our situation today would not have been better had he stayed the course. Dr. Kwasniewski has said somewhere that, while we cannot know the mind of God, history seems to suggest that the Lord does not look kindly on papal resignations. The past nine years has been an unremitting train of catastrophe; it is difficult not to see these disasters as directly proceeding from Benedict's resignation. The pope may have been buried this week, but he died in 2013.


I loved Benedict XVI and always shall. I will ever be grateful for what he did for Traditional Catholics, whatever his motivation. While his writings are not free of problems, whose writing is? He was a man who was right about what was wrong but wrong about what was right. He deserves our respect and requires our prayers. I am grateful for the time we had with him and there are parts of his thought that will always remain with me. Despite his complexities and failures, I am still, and always will be, a member of the Ratzinger Fan Club. 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Fides Quaerens Intellectum, "Faith Seeking Understanding"

[Dec. 22, 2022] I see it everywhere. I see it in the online threads of Trads debating the powers of the papacy. I see it in dialogues between Protestants and Catholics about the idea of an interpretive authority for divine revelation. I see it in the brain-dump posts of skeptics and the wavering questioning the very concept of religious faith. I see it in the tedious, dreary, back-and-forth discussions between Catholics and Orthodox. It is ubiquitous in religious discussion today.

I am speaking of a hyper-rationalistic approach to matters of faith that insists upon absolutely incontestable logical demonstrations for every point of belief before it is deemed worthy of assent. I refer not to the mere expectation that faith be logical, nor people's reasonable expectation to be convinced of what they are asked to believe; rather, I am referring to people wanting every point of faith to be proven to them in unassailable rational exactitude before they grant it any credibility. What's more, there is the implicit assumption that a point of faith that cannot be proven with ironclad, indisputable, logical certainty is ipso facto untrustworthy. 

This way of thinking is very damaging to faith, as it imposes burdens upon faith it was never meant to carry. Essentially, faith and reason are getting muddled. The propositions of faith are being treated as propositions of logic that must be logically demonstrable in order to have credibilty.

Though I see this as foundational, I think we should nevertheless revisit the nature of faith and the type of certainty faith affords, because it seems to me that people on all sides are subjecting faith to the methodology of reason, with the effect that the entire edifice of belief is being treated as one enormous logical demonstration.

Faith and reason are both modes of knowledge. Reason pertains to what we can know from our own powers of observation, whether empirical or logical. Faith pertains to what we know based on the authority of someone else. Both are true ways of knowing, but each is grounded in a different certainty. The certainty of reason is as good as our own powers of observation and intellection; the certainty of faith is as good as the person we put faith in. Whereas reason implies logical deduction, faith implies confidence. Faith itself is an act of trust.

If we go back to the First Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius, we see the following comment on the nature of faith:

We believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because of the intrinsic truth of the things, viewed by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive. (DF, III)

When Dei Filius says "we believe...not because of the intrinsic truth of things viewed by the light of natural reason," it does not mean that the propositions of faith are illogical; rather, it means it is not their inherent logical intelligibility that convinces us to believe. Rather, we believe based on the authority of the one who reveals—in this case, Jesus Christ. But to use a more everyday example, if my mother tells me a story about getting ice cream with her father at the fair when she was a little girl, I believe her not because the truth of her assertion is immediately apparent to my intellect, but because I know my mother and I trust her. Because of my confidence in her trustworthiness, I assent to her story; I believe it on faith.

Indeed, sometimes faith is the only way to know about a thing. In the story above, suppose I subjected my mother's story to the rigorous standards we apply in logic: "Well ma'am, that's a fine story, but is there anyone that can corroborate it? Your father? Oh, he's dead? Well can you produce any other eye-witnesses? was in 1961 you say and no one else you knew was present? Convenient. Are there any photographs? Journal entries? How about this fair...where was it? don't remember the exact city it was in. I see. Do you remember the name of the company that put the fair on? Well if I knew the exact date this happened, maybe I could check some archives and...oh what's that? You don't recall the date from sixty-one years ago? What's that? It might have been 1962 or 63 now that you think about it? Ma'am, you must admit, this story sounds incredibly suspicious. Your entire account is full of gaps; I can't understand how you expect me to believe this."

Propositions of faith were never meant to be logical demonstrations. Of course, in the Catholic religion, our core articles of faith fit into the same category as the above example—the Trinity, the Incarnation, the salvific death of Jesus Christ, the grace of baptism, His real presence in the Eucharist, etc. are all truths we would have no way of knowing had they not been revealed. They require faith to accept.

But the Christian faith is not illogical, nor was it meant to be blind. Faith does not depend upon reason; but it is in accord with reason. We do not believe because we understand, but as St. Anselm said, we believe so that we may understand. Fides quaerens intellectum ("faith seeking understanding"), to use the formula attributed to St. Augustine. Faith is logical, but not logic-based. It corresponds to reason but is not derived from it.

That this might be more clear, God gives certain "exterior proofs" to aid our reason, called motives of credibility. These motives of credibility do not establish the truth of the faith in a logical sense, but they do testify to it. Dei Filius says:

Nevertheless, in order that the obedience of our faith might be in harmony with reason, God willed that, to the interior help of the Holy Spirit, there should be joined exterior proofs of His revelation; to wit, divine facts, and especially miracles and prophecies, which, as they manifestly display the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are most certain proofs of His Divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all men. (DF, III)

While we should certainly not assent to something we are not convinced of, we should likewise understand that the faith does not demand every single jot and tittle be accounted for before assent can be given. Faith is a form of knowledge, but it is imperfect, characterized by a "not yet-ness"; "for now we see in a mirror but dimly" says St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:12). "Wrestling" with various problems is an inherent aspect of faith (see "The Dark Mirror of Faith," USC, March, 2022). Faith will always be riddled with difficulties. But, to quote St. John Henry Newman, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." Being tripped up with a "difficulty" that you wrestle with is not an argument against assent. The motives of credibility help by lending intellectual weight to our assent, creating a momentum towards belief that encompasses the intellect and will. But we should never confuse the motives of credibility with the act of faith itself. Newman said, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt"; but we say, "I will continue to doubt, so long as even one difficulty remains unresolved."

I have deliberately chosen not to mention where I have seen this sort of thing happening because I don't want to drag particular individuals into it, but it is going on all over the place. And I see people's faith being wrecked by it left and right. We are always our own worst enemy.