Saturday, May 23, 2009

No such thing as "traditional" Catholicism?

This morning I was perusing a back issue of The Wanderer and came across an article by George A. Kendall entitled "More on the Sacrifice of the Community to Progress" (Wanderer, Feb. 2009). The article was quite good, all about how the modern socio-economic establishment causes people to pursue economic efficiency at the expense of personal relationships and community.

Unfortunately, Kendall began the article with a statement that, while not at all central to the point of the rest of the piece, rubbed me the wrong way and made me wonder why in fact it was even brought up at all. He said:

The fact is there is no such thing as a traditional society. There is just society and not society...the same thing applies to talk of "traditional Catholicism." There is no such thing as traditional Catholicism. There is just Catholicism and non-Catholicism. If you are Catholic at all, you are traditional. If not, you are non-Catholic.

I could agree to this statement if the author meant it in the sense of "If you are not an orthodox Catholic then you have no business calling yourself a Catholic," but this is not the tone of his statement. He is rather approaching it along the lines of those who say that just being Catholic was "enough" for them and that the labels of 'traditionalist' or 'progressive' don't mean anything.

This would be true if all Catholicism was traditional. If all Catholicism was traditional Catholicism as it has been known in the West up until the 1960's, then of course the label "traditional" would not really make sense, since all Catholicism would simply be "Catholic" ; i.e., faithful to its own tradition. But labels do indeed come in when there is a deviation from the tradition or the historical norm. Something starts to deviate in practice or belief from what came before, and so it is called "progressive" to distinguish it from what has always been accepted everywhere. When the "progessive" position starts to become dominant, then it is the progressives who label what came before as "traditional." These labels do have real, positive value in distinguishing what type of Catholicism one is getting into.

To suggest otherwise is to say that there is no difference between the shameful Cardinal Schoenborn Youth Mass in Vienna or a Mass at Cardinal Mahoney's "Taj Mahoney" basilica and a traditional Mass in the Extraordinary Form done by the Canons of St. John Cantius or the FSSP, or that there is no real difference between the Catholicism of Richard McBrien and Father Corapi. The fact is, persons in both of these groups call themselves Catholic, but one or the other is more faithful to Catholicism. To insist that just the name "Catholic" somehow inserts one into the tradition is ludicrous - it puts the substance of the faith in the name only and follows the same mindset as those who would say that we can never have gay marriage but a civil union is acceptable - all that is preserved is the name "marriage," though the reality of what marriage is is lost if a civil union is accepted instead.

Just the same, to say there is no such thing as progressive or traditional Catholicism is to say that the essence of what it means to be Catholic resides in the self-identification with the name "Catholic," not in what that person believes, how they worship or how they live their moral life. This is the mentality that accepts Pelosi, Biden and Hans Kung as Catholics just as equally as Archbishop Burke or Ven. Solanus Casey, and woe to you if you suggest that the former group are not as faithful to Catholicism as the latter!

I maintain that the labels "traditionalist" and "progressive" are helpful and necessary; even the label "conservative" holds value if by it we distinguish Catholics who are orthodox but perhaps not as in tune to Tradition, though this distinction is somewhat more blurred and can overlap with traditionalists. Though no label is perfect, labels overall are helpful in drawing distinctions; if they weren't we wouldn't have them and use them. I may be misunderstanding Mr. Kendall, since he does not elaborate on his above quote and simply goes on to another topic. If I have miscontrued him I apologize in advance, but everything I said here holds true nonetheless. Perhaps someday we can have a Catholicism that is so universally in line with its own tradition that the labels are no longer necessary. But that time has not yet come.

1 comment:

Nick said...

You said: Cardinal Mahoney's "Taj Mahoney"

Nick: A better term for Roger Mahoney's so called 'cathedral' (architecturally designed to bring dishonor to God and Church) is better termed the "Roj Mahal."

Other than that, I agree with what you wrote.