Saturday, October 11, 2014

Critiques of the "Brick by Brick" Mentality

Brick by brick. Remember that? "Brick by brick" was quite the thing during the previous pontificate. I remember one popular priest-blogger was extremely fond of the saying and kind of popularized it among traditional minded Catholics. I must confess, I haven't heard so much about "brick by brick" lately, though...

How shall we define the "brick by brick" mentality? "Brick by brick" is an interpretive paradigm used to ostensibly find positive trends in the bleak world of post-Conciliar NuChurch. It is not a particular set of principles so much as a way of looking at things, a kind of hermeneutical schema for making sense of current events in such a way that is favorable to Catholic Tradition. Essentially, though we see the forces of chaos and dissolution raging everywhere about us, we can discern a certain thread of continuity in the actions of the hierarchy and the sovereign pontiffs which should give traditionalists consolation. Yes, brick by brick acknowledges that we are in dire straits, but there is grounds for good hope because the fallen building is being slowly restored. "Bricks" are being put back into place - in the form of a decent episcopal appointment here, a promising statement friendly to tradition there; a quality snippet from a homily or document on this side, a few photos of cardinal so-and-so wearing traditional vestments on that side. These charming little nuggets are strewn out on the table and assembled to form a coherent trajectory of action that is supposed to exemplify some hidden "strategy" of the Pope and Magisterium to restore the Church to sanity. Granted, we never really hear what this strategy consists of in its entirety, but we are to confidently assume that the Princes of the Church have her best interest at heart and ever so slowly, brick by brick, the edifice is being raised up. Therefore, we can be fundamentally optimistic about the way things are going; we are certainly not there, but we are at least on the way.

This, as far as I can tell, is the crux of the "brick by brick" approach to the modern Church. It is not a terrible position to take; in fact, many priests and laity I respect tremendously see things this way. It is good to have a healthy optimism, and inasmuch as is possible, we should think well before thinking ill. Even so, optimism does not mean we shut our eyes to evident problems, and while "brick by brick" is not a not series of propositions as much as a frame of thought, as mentioned above, certain default assumptions do flow from it. I have reflected on "brick by brick" for seven years now, and it is precisely the assumptions it takes for granted that I have come to question.

Therefore, I present my five critiques of the "brick by brick" mentality.

I. MISPLACED GRADUALISM. In the first place, "brick by brick" tends to incorrectly assume that we can licitly move from evil to good along a gradualist spectrum. There are many things wrong with the Church. Duh. Some of them are just a matter of lesser goods being preferred to superior goods, like when a priest uses Eucharistic Prayer 2 instead of the Roman Canon. Many problems, however, are a matter of positive evils and abuses being preferred over any good whatsoever. In this category would be theologians clamoring for recognition of same-sex unions, bishops giving a pass to Pro-Abort politicians, lay people standing up around the altar at the consecration or lay-homilies, retreat centers promoting New Age practices with the blessing of the local bishop and so on - you know, all the abuses the existence of which probably turned most of you reading this into Traditionalists.

Now, brick by brick would not deny these things are problematic; it would, however, insist that we should be patient with these sorts of problems because this is a complicated matter and change comes slowly. The important thing is that we are moving in the right trajectory. I mean, look! The pope mentioned the devil twice in his homily. That's good news, right? And here's some beautiful photographs of an FSSP Mass is Portsmouth. Isn't that gorgeous? And lo! There is Bishop So-and-So using the Benedictine altar arrangement. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we don't want to spoil the whole thing by coming off too whiny. We should be thankful we are on the right path and give these other things time.

So, aside from the question of whether "time" will heal these wrongs (see Section II below), this approach seems to forget that while it is licit to move from a lesser good to a higher good on a gradualist spectrum, it is never licit to propose a gradualist time frame for moving from evils to goods. Evils need to stop immediately. If we truly believe in the evil of many of these abuses, anything less than an immediate cessation is unacceptable. I would rather have the New Age retreat house shut down and forego the Benedictine altar arrangement; I would rather the Pro-Abort politician be denied communion or excommunicated and forego seeing pictures of the beautiful FSSP Mass; I would gladly never read or hear another homily from the pope if we could get the progressive theologians dealt with. That would be the right way to handle this. Unfortunately, we just get token gestures while the real abuses go unchecked year after year, decade after decade.

II. TIME EQUIVALENT TO PROGRESS. Next, I cannot help but thinking that perhaps "brick by brick" assumes a modernist conception of time as equivalent with progress? That if we just allow enough time to pass, things will automatically get better? After all, the problem was not created overnight and it will not be recitifed overnight. One brick at a time, here a little, there a little. But never fear! There is a grand plan, and ultimately the Church is in the process of restoration. Just. Need. More. Time. 

But is it true that time will make true reform more feasible? I don't think that's the case. Reform is brought about by persons, persons who are connected with the Tradition of the Church. Every day that goes by without authentic reform, the gap between the present and the authentic Traditional praxis of the Church grows wider and wider. Right now the gap is about 45 years; how much demand for reform will there be when that gap is 60, 80, or 120 years? In the Anglican revolution, there was a powerful movement to return to Catholicism in the years immediately after Henry's innovations; the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 are two prime examples. But how much a demand was there to return to Catholicism in 1605? In 1689? What about in 1715? By this time, Catholicism was but a distant and despised memory and everybody had gotten used to Anglicanism. If reform does not happen soon, the Church's Tradition will be a distant historical memory. Sure, groups like the FSSP, The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and the SSPX will keep Tradition alive - as well as the multitude of parishes that celebrate the Traditional Mass - but as more and more time elapses between the present and the era when the Tradition was universally accepted, it will have less and less relevance to new generations, just as Catholicism had very little relevance to an Englishman living around 1715.

Was there a better chance of reunion with the Protestants in 1525 or today after five centuries has elapsed?

I know us trads like to console ourselves by thinking time is on our side; the same priest who popularized brick by brick was also fond of saying that in time the "biological solution" would solve the problem of our older, liberal bishops. But is putting more time between ourselves and the pre-Conciliar era really an ultimate boon for our side? I mean, really? I'm not so sure it is. Therefore, I call into question whether or not time is on our side in this struggle.

III. TAKE IT SLOW? Brick by brick pretty much assumes that we have to take the reform slowly in order to do it right. If we don't, we could confuse people, offend people, and the whole thing could backfire on us, and that is  bad, mkay?

But who says? When did we all agree to that premise? I would simply ask, "Where was the moderation and careful approach when the original reforms were instituted after the Council?" Did the liberal reformers care about offending people or confusing the faithful when they ripped out the High Altars, removed the sacred images and relegated the Tabernacles of the world to closets? It was that quick; Friday the High Altar was there, and Monday it was gone. The 24th Sunday after Pentecost of 1970 Mass was said in the Missal of 1962; First Sunday of Advent seven days later and everyone's on the Novus Ordo. Bam. Done.

It can be objected that the quick implementation of these reforms is what caused so much mischief to begin with. Well, that's a cop-out because it dodges the question of the nature of the reforms altogether, placing blame instead on their pace. But what we all tend to forget is that the progressive reforms of the post-Conciliar era - for all the chaos they caused - were ultimately successful. The progressives wanted a horizontalized liturgy, and they got it. They wanted a democratized Church, and they got it. They wanted an end to papal centralization, and they got it. They wanted inculturation, and they got it. They got everything they wanted because they knew what they were after and were bold enough to reach out and take it.

If reforms can be brought about that quick in an errant cause, there is no reason it cannot be brought back that quickly in a righteous one. I understand that is is always easier to break down than to build up, but still...if the Magisterium were in earnest about fixing anything, it should not take forty-five years to undo the damage of ten.

Would there be disorders? Could such a swift restoration 'backfire'? Sure it could. And ultimately, there is no thoroughgoing "top-down" solution to our difficulties (see here). Yet we'd be foolish to disregard the restoration of Tradition because of fear of a hypothetical 'backfire' after Tradition is already restored. If we have to have problems either way, I'll take problems with Tradition than problems without it.

IV. DISREGARDS CONTRARY TRENDS. Suppose the tenuous connections between the positive nuggets strewn out on the table the way a person assembles a jig-saw puzzle are not completely arbitrary; suppose the brick by brickers are correct in their identification of a thread of positive movement in the modern Church. Even if this were true, the thread of positive movement is so thin, so small, and so inconsiderable compared to the massive contrary movement towards apostasy and liberalism that it is intellectually dishonest to make any claims about the trajectory of the Church as a whole based on it.

If you want to know which way traffic is moving, you judge this by the direction most cars are driving. You certainly do not look at the one or two cars here and there that are driving off the main road against the flow and make a judgment based on them. That would be not only foolish, but inaccurate. You judge direction by the trajectory of the majority. Similarly, you cannot latch on to positive developments within the tiny traditionalist community and use them to make sweeping generalizations about the Church whilst ignoring massive trends to the contrary.

V. THE TERRIFYING CRUX OF THE MATTER. Finally, what in my opinion is the strongest criticism of the brick by brick mentality is that it assumes that the Supreme Pontiffs have some 'grand plan' to restore the Church. It necessitates that we believe in some sort of supreme insight the popes have into the current crisis, some lofty vision of how to solve our current problems that we mere mortals are not privy to. Remember Benedict XVI's "Marshall Plan" for restoring the Church? Remember how we were supposed to find coherence in the gibberish of our current Holy Father by "reading Francis through Benedict"?

This is really the terrifying crux of the matter - my dear friends, believe me, there is no plan. There never was a plan. John Paul II did not have a plan. Benedict XVI did not have a plan. Francis sure as hell does not have a plan.

Did JP2 and BXVI occasionally do wonderful things? Of course. Does Francis occasionally say something orthodox? I admit it seems to have happened. But to the extent that John Paul or Benedict or even Paul VI made some truly good moves, it was absolutely not because they had some sort of "master plan" of how to fix the crisis; rather, the opposite was in fact true. Have you ever noticed that the good things about JPII and BXVI were always erratic and mixed in with many negatives as well? In the past I have called John Paul II a "mixed bag"; all the post-Vatican II popes have been mixed bags. This is because John Paul II and Benedict were sincerely conflicted men, torn between a strong, pious pre-Conciliar tradition they cherished nostalgically, but also committed intellectually to the post-Vatican II reforms.

After the Council, when the Church was in free-fall, neither pontiff really knew what to do. They had no plan to solve the crisis they both helped create. Neither seemed to be able to reconcile their pre-Conciliar formation with their post-Conciliar experience. At the best, they seemed to have believed in some sort of vague synthesis of the traditional thesis with the progressive antithesis. Thus occasionally they did something friendly to tradition while other times working to undo it; occasionally they threw traditional Catholics a bone and other times tossed a bone to liberals; sometimes they displayed great care for Catholic Tradition while other times their disregard for it was appalling and devastating to faithful Catholics. I don't think they ever knew how it was going to work out. John Paul II knew that the liturgy of the Eucharist had to be celebrated with reverence, but he had also committed himself to a particular form of evangelism which required things like the scandalous World Youth Day masses, the animist masses in Togo, etc. Benedict XVI, author of Dominus Iesus, certainly understood the salvific uniqueness of Jesus Christ, yet he also remained committed to a program of interreligious dialogue that brought about Assisi III and gave implicit recognition to Assisi I and II, again scandalizing the faithful.

While the conservatives bent over backwards trying to explain how all these actions were coherently orthodox and the sedevecantists coherently heretical, the fact of the matter is that there was no coherence to these actions at all. The reason Catholics disagree so vehemently about reconciling these contradictory actions is because the pontiffs themselves did not know how to reconcile them. At most they seemed to have shared a vague optimism that tradition and novelty existing side by side would somehow reconcile themselves over time. Remember the "mutual enrichment" of the two forms of the Roman rite? The brick by brickers latched on to the part about the Traditional Latin Mass enriching the Novus Ordo, but recall, the enrichment Benedict envisioned was mutual; it was meant to run the other way, too...

We are discussing brick by brick. Laying brick upon brick presupposes you are working towards constructing a final structure - that you have some sort of blueprint or plan or telos for your actions. My friends, Benedict XVI had no plan. John Paul II had no plan. There is no blue print and there never has been a blue print. The previous two popes acted erratically because their sentiments were erratic. They served two masters and had no idea how to satisfactorily reconcile their conflicting loyalties. Ironically, this is one sense in which Francis is refreshing: having never been formed in the Old Rite, Francis is purely a pope of the post-Conciliar period. Whatever you think about Francis, what you see is what you get. He displays none of the wrestling between novelty and tradition displayed by Benedict and John Paul. Francis is not hampered in his actions by a nostalgia for a period that never meant anything to him.

VI. CONCLUSION. Please do not misunderstand this as an attack on anyone who has held to or promoted the brick by brick mentality. As I said above, I have nothing against brick by brickers. I love brick by brickers. Some of my best friends are brick by brickers. I read the blogs of brick by brickers. But I have come to see that this paradigm is intellectually dishonest and ultimately insufficient for making sense of what's going on in the Church, especially in light of the current pontificate. 


BM said...

I agree 100%.

Brian said...

Good Summary

Shortly after Benedict was elected, I wrote him a letter, pleading with him to celebrate publicly our traditional Latin Mass. I reminded him of the example of Pius VII, who, while in France, for the coronation of Napoleon, celebrated faithfully. The people erudite and rustic attended and sang the Credo with him. The pontiff's example went a long way in stopping the liturgical lunacies of the Jansenists. Sadly, Benedict never did. I think he was, like John Paul II, scared of the bishops, and, as you say, terribly conflicted.

Nate C said...

You sir, are quickly becoming my favorite blogger.

Jeffrey Coogan said...

Powerful and honest analysis.

Anonymous said...

As a devout brick by bricker I must say you have a good point. One of the things I've been thinking about is that if we wait too long to restore tradition in formerly Catholic countries then the modernists could have a firm grip of places like Africa and Latin America, where the Church is not dying and our best hopes is to expand there as well, especially there. This might be a naive thought but a smaller church could facilitate the restoration, but as seen as with collapsing churches such as the Anglican one they are beyond hope even though they are smaller, and the same could be for Rome.

David said...

Thank you for this! Even though in my estimation the troubles stretch further back in history than "the Council"*, and has its deep origins a few centuries back and more immediate origins in the reforms of the Breviary and the Holy Week during the 1900-1960 period. The latter is to me one of the more scandalous ones in the entire 20th century, definitely up there along with the change in Ordo Missae. Enough of my rambling...

On the point of "brick by brick" I think there's a certain sense I think we can give to it, albeit not the one as outlined above. To me it has always been the way I see myself working toward the final goal: I make sure I lay the bricks even though the earthquake is on its way because it's for God's glory. Something akin to a banner I saw a couple of years ago: "Even if the world were to end tomorrow, I'd still plant a tree today."


* As an aside, I think even talking about VII as "the Council" subconsciously enforces the mentality of VII as "the biggest thing that ever happened in Church History".

Boniface said...


I agree. To the degree that brick by brick means that we take what we can get and move along one day at a time, that is simply the way anybody moves towards a goal. But the theory I have described also included the idea that the scattered bits of good news we occasionally hear constitute a "trajectory" towards restoration, and -biggest assumption- that the popes have some sort of "grand plan" for getting the Church back on track. These are the characteristics of the approach I am critiquing here.

Augustinus said...

A superb article, Boniface.

Just to add:

1) "Brick by brick" and "Biological solution" goes BOTH ways. Liberals grow old? So do conservatives and traditionalists, and it is not true that all young clergy are conservatives and the only liberals around are old. Or that only conservatives enter seminaries.

If there is anything we have seen in the last 50 years it is that young conservatives have a frightening tendency to turn or reveal themselves as liberal as they grow older -- how many of today's liberals were once conservative darlings? Think Cardinal Schonborn. Think Cardinal Mahony. Even Cardinals Kasper and Lehmann used to be considered part of the "conservative " wing of the German Church! Never underestimate the power of Church politics and conformism to change opinions and transform people. The last two years alone have shown the power of this reality. How many Cardinals and Bishops who used to be vocal about the restoration of traditional aspects of the liturgy have suddenly gone silent -- if not immediately after March 13, 2013, then after a couple of months? Do you still hear or read any prelate invoking "hermeneutic of continuity"?

2) Many conservative / traditionalist heroes have had no real successors. There are no real analogues in today's College of Cardinals to such men as Cardinals Stickler, Oddi, Siri, Ottaviani, or even Joseph Ratzinger himself. Cardinal Burke may be another Cardinal O'Connor, but he has no See right now, and may never get one again. The pinnacle of "conservative" theology (in the academic sense) today in the College of Cardinals is Cardinal Muller -- and that alone speaks volumes about how much we have fallen. (Burke is a Canon lawyer and it shows.)

Anonymous said...

I agree in theory, and yet... What exactly is to be done? I have been ready for a revival in my parish since I came home, but how?

Boniface said...


Great a prime example of the phenomenon you mentioned about "conservative" darlings turning liberal, look at the meteoric rise of Cardinal Dolan among the neo-cons pre-Conclave when he was trumpeted as a conservative papabile - now he has outed himself as just another liberal in only a year and a half.

Anonymous said...

My biggest complaint of the Brick by Brick blog is that it is heavily into food, beer, travel, and an immature patriotism.

That having been said, I still check in regularly.

On the other hand, Pope Francis is clearly giving the lie to claims that the pope's authority "ends at that door." Pope Francis is doing what he wants, when he wants, and with whom he wants. Shows that the other popes were either pansies, or were not capable of commitment and/or sacrifice.

It'd only take one or two bricks, thrown by a good pope, to turn things around.

Augustinus said...


Let me add this, please.

As the situation grows worse, two different forms of delusion are taking hold of both conservatives and traditionalists.

Traditionalists tend to focus on the nice bits, here and there, of good news about the TLM -- and then proclaim that this and this alone is the "future of the Church"! Perhaps the worst example of this that I've seen in recent months was the jubilation in some blogs over projections that in a little more than 20 years, Traditional Catholic priests (SSPX + Ecclesia Dei + birituals) will outnumber the secular clergy in France. I'm quite familiar with the statistics myself. This projection may be true, but it has little to do with growth in the Traditional Catholic congregations, and has more to do with the collapse of French Catholicism and of the French clergy. Celebrating this makes as much sense as being happy that one now has the biggest chapel in the city, because the enormous Basilica that used to tower right beside it has fallen down.

Among conservatives, the delusion takes the form of assuming that liberalism is an exclusively Western European and North American phenomenon, while the rest of the Church (Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe) are safely and solidly conservative.

A good example of this: recently one of the Patheos Catholic bloggers wrote an article asserting that we should not worry because the future is with the "Burkeans" and not with the "Kasperians" -- after all, the majority of the papabili in 2013 were "Burkeans"! He overlooked the obvious flaw in his argument, namely, that the College of Cardinals with a supposedly "Burkean" majority of candidates still ended up electing a Kasperian. If a group of electors that was entirely appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI still elected someone like Francis, what makes anyone think that a Francis-appointed body of electors (which it will be in about 5 more years) will suddenly elect a Burke? It is crazy.

Asian and African Catholicism may be conservative when it comes to morals, but not when it comes to doctrine and liturgy -- much of the craziness in syncretism and the worst excesses in interreligious dialogue have happened with the Catholics of Asia. Africa has a well-known problem with clerical celibacy, and in Africa and Latin America Catholicism is under siege from an Evangelical Protestantism that, at least, offers a simplistic but firm doctrine -- no Jesus, no salvation. Over and above these is the fact that the Catholic Church in Africa, Asia and Latin America does not have the same strong cultural link to Catholic Tradition that the European Church has. For better or for worse the battle for Tradition and orthodoxy will have to be fought in Europe and North America.

Pardon me for sounding so pessimistic -- but the truth has to be told. If, perhaps the supporters of Tradition and orthodoxy are not praying and fasting as hard as they could, perhaps this has much to do with them not really knowing the extent of the crisis. I believe that only when Tradition-minded Catholics wake up to the real extent of the difficulties of the Church will they begin working and praying as much as they should.

As to what should be done -- perhaps that is for a future post...

Boniface said...

Yes...the Weigel crowd has always consoled themselves with the "future of the church is in Latin America" argument. We can see how that is working out right now, no? Eh?

They have a very simplified definition of what it means to be a "conservative", which they take to mean simply "prolife". A prolife bishop is conservative. But the church has always meant something different by "liberal" than liberal on moral questions.


As far as what is to be done, I am here critiquing a mindset, not a program. As with many other problems, simply admitting the truth of the situation would be a good start.

Woody said...


A very good and realistic essay, which stimulated much good comment. I agree especially with the observation that there is no guaranteed biological solution. Most of the younger supposedly conservative leaning Catholics I know are totally divorced from Tradition, and they are a big majority of the frequent Mass attendees.

Along this same line you may wish to critique Msgr Livi's recent observations reported here

c matt said...

The biggest difference and stumbling block between conservatives and the progressives is that the progressives are not afraid to show the courage of their convictions. Progressives are ruthless. Conservatives/traditionalists are squeamish. And I am not even saying that Trads don't want to use improper means - it seems they are afraid of using even proper means to achieve their ends. For all his talk of "be not afraid," seems JP II was rather afraid of crushing dissent even though he had every right to - nay, it was his job to do so. Same with BXVI.

Boniface said...

C Matt,

Good point. The reason is that they committed themselves to the vision of collegiality, by which the Roman pontiff "respects" the autonomy of individual bishops. Once the popes started giving away their power and decrying papal centralization, how could they turn and crack down on heretic bishops and theologians without looking like they were going back on their commitment to collegiality?

Again, at least Francis understands the nature of power and is not afraid to use it.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of good content in what you write, but the picture you boldly posted on this page is disrespectful and inappropriate. You speak from both sides of your mouth to write that whilst you disagree with this priest (who you've made a point of very well tangentially identifying yet for some reason refusing to name), you respect this priest...but then you take a picture of him and mock him publicly. C'mon, you cannot be serious. That is ridiculous. I'm not a fan of this priest myself for other reasons than "brick by brick", and I will likewise not state his name, as I don't wish to emboldening you. But disagreement with a person should be neither a justification for, or nor a motivation to, publicly portray your adversary as a clown. To do so must apparently be some attempt to bolster your position, and it is utterly childish. If your point is strong and your argument congruent in the first place, you don't need such insulting hyperbole as that photo-shopped picture. You have no justification for portraying the priest in that fashion. It is improper; you should remove it, and you should send that priest an written apology.

Boniface said...


Don't be absurd. There is nothing in the post itself attacking the priest on a personal level or saying anything uncharitable about him. The Trollface meme picture does not indicate that one is trying to "make him look like a clown"; it just indicates having fun with something or goofing off. I am not speaking out of both sides of my mouth; I am simply critiquing an idea and have not made any personal attacks against the individual in question.

Loneliest Place in Rome said...

1) I agree with Anon above about the disrespect towards the priest in question. We all know who it is. To mock someone's likeness is not charitable.

2) I do not agree with the brick by brick idea supported by the priest in question, nor do I disagree with much of what you've written, but I do wonder about your first point regarding time and gradualism if that is not how God often works with us, individually? Conversions sometimes take time and happen seemingly invisibly. Could it not be the same with the Church, even well apart from this brick by brick stuff?

3) What are we laymen to do? What is the answer to all of this, the right 'plan'? Seriously, what should you and I do, practically, realistically?

Thank you

Boniface said...

well, to repeat:

1) Making a caricature is not disrespectful.

2) This issue is not one of gradual change per se but of presuming that a certain "line" or "trajectory" towards restoration exists when in fact it doesn't.

3) What do we do? Start by admitting the trajectory does not exist.

Loneliest Place in Rome said...

1) A caricature as I understand it can be either positive or negative, complimentary or insulting. I think a good rule of thumb on the internet ought to be that if you're going to use someone else's likeness for your 'fun', then you ought to let the public have at yours as well should they so desire.

2) I know that the line or trajectory is illusory as it has been articulated as an overall sea change for good in the Church, but if God is restoring at all, then perhaps the points often noted as signs of hope do represent the gradual work that God is doing, and so is significant at least as far as those individuals involved are concerned.

3) Many already admit the trajectory does not exist. So then what? What do readers of this blog and the Remnant, etc. who are on board with what you're saying do? Do we keep writing and writing until others listen?

Athelstane said...

For me, "Brick by brick" was always understood to be a "bottom up" phenomenon, for the most part. Perhaps the mileage of others (like Fr Z) varied.

I don't know exactly what John Paul II and Benedict XVI had in the way of "plans." From what I've been able to gather, if they had plans, they were limited ones, with limited scope and ambitions. To seed particular promising regions with better bishops (like the American Midwest). To create some critical mass of traditionalism that might contribute to something down the road. Who knows? I expect they had their reasons for refraining from more. Perhaps that there wasn't enough support on the ground to do more. Perhaps because it might have provoked major schisms (look how much opposition that the Catechism, Summorum, the Ordinariates, and MR3 - all very modest efforts - encountered). Perhaps because of a failure to share our diagnosis of the crisis (more likely in JPII's case). Perhaps those concerns were right. Perhaps they weren't. Perhaps they were right and should have gone ahead anyway.

So "bottom up" is how I proceed, because I don't have any other option; I'm not going to be Pope. I help lead a local Juventutem chapter. We try to train priests. We train servers. We set up chant workshops, help build scholas. Get more TLM. More spiritual retreats. Perhaps before long we can get an Ecclesia Dei society to run a parish. We pray. We do spiritual and corporal acts of mercy. There's always risk, of course: you can build a Blackfen or an Our Saviour and watch it all ripped down by a new cleric. But that's just our lot.

Otherwise, what's our other options? Despair? Go Orthodox? I could run off and join an SSPX or sedevacantist chapel, and that would certainly remove any risk of a liberal prelate ruining my day, but those communities have their own sets of problems. I say that without any rancor or judgment of those who have gone the SSPX route, since I object to the very same things that drove most of them in those directions. But those just aren't options for me. I'm committed to rebuilding Tradition in the Church, and I know it's going to be a very long slog, one that will not be consummated in my lifetime.

Glendon Cheshire said...

You are usually good at ascertaining the situation, but you are completely wrong about the current situation and about what the brick by brick mentality really means. How did you miss this?

? said...

That's a really good argument, Glendon.

What does NuChurch stand for? Nu?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post! Never heard the term "brick by brick", but have heard that all will change when the liberals die off, etc.

Good to know that someone else thinks that there was no restorationist plan. John Paul II said right off the bat that he was following Paul VI's program to implement Vatican II. That's what he, Benedict, and Francis had in common.

However, none of them received their youthful formation in the post-Vatican II church, and doubt if any of them thought seriously about how the changes would roll out for the rank and file, although things appear to have gone better in Poland than in North America.

Perhaps that's why we have World Youth Day now - so the Pope can say to himself that the changes are really working?

john said...

I'm with some of the other commentators. The image is disrespectful. If you knew him and he knew you, would you still post such an image? I was originally drawn to the blog because it was free of some of the excesses of other traditional blogs. I hope that this does not change. You do amazing work here and I have learned tons from you. Please don't mock or charictature good priests and allies in the fight!

Aloysius Gonzaga said...


Enoch said...

It's just my opinion (and I don't expect that anyone will agree with me), but brick-by-brick has been hired by someone in Rome in order to placate traditionalists, which he does a good job of. The rad trads have to be calmed down whenever and however possible (or at least some of them).

Titus said...

"My biggest complaint of the Brick by Brick blog is that it is heavily into food, beer, . . . travel . . ."

Then write your own blog that doesn't talk about food, beer, or travel. Good grief.

On the main question, I've read Fr. Z's blog for a long time, and I never got the impression that it was his thesis that the various "brick by brick" things he highlighted were pieces in a calculated effort at a gradualist Traditional Restoration on the part of the Holy Father. Many of them were never even connected to Rome, they were the result of purely local initiatives. That tagline was just shorthand for the principle that you build an edifice, physically or culturally, a little bit at a time.

Did Benedict have a plan for the renewal of the Church? Perhaps. It certainly didn't work, but Benedict was absolutely beset by obstruction. If he had been surrounded by men who believed in and would have competently implemented his plans, he would certainly still be reigning and the end of his papacy would not have been a tabloid subscription. I think we underestimate how easy it became for the curia and the papal household to isolate and undermine the pope.

Does that make Boniface's article entirely wrong? No, not in the least. But there's some more nuance here than he hints at.

Boniface said...


Well, Fr Z is certainly not the only one who uses this approach, so don't take this as applying to him alone.

Athelstane said...

"Please do not misunderstand this as an attack on anyone who has held to or promoted the brick by brick mentality."

In fairness, however, it's rather difficult to see the graphic chosen to accompany this essay as anything but an attack of sorts on Fr. Z.

Boniface said...


A critique is not an attack.

Athelstane said...


I would agree in characterizing the essay itself as a critique, not an attack.

But the something else. And it's the graphic I was taking note of, not the text. It's a lot sharper edged than your essay.

Boniface said...

Humor and caricature is always a grey area where people disagree. I personally do not see the use of the troll meme as an attack. It's more of a "having fun with" sort of thing. But I appreciate your concern.