Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mosebach on the Church

It has been awhile since we heard from German traditionalist and author Martin Mosebach. Last time we heard from him was around 2007 when his excellent book Heresy of Formlessness was gaining notoriety in America for its aesthetic arguments in favor of the traditional Mass (around that time he also gave a lecture at Yale on Gregorian Chant; see here); I also did a few posts on Mosebach's ideas about veiling and the concept of liturgical innocence. He is a really interesting traditionalist to follow because his approach is more philosophical and artistic rather than dogmatic or canonical. 

In the Spring of this year Mosebach gave an interview to a European magazine (which is aptly named The European) in which he discussed the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the liturgical crisis in the Church and the Christian foundation of Europe. I have painstakingly transcribed Mosebach's interview with The European from the monthly newsletter put out by the Miles Christi religious order, where it was first printed in English this month. Miles Christi's monthly newsletters, by the way, are excellent because they often contain articles and news from Europe that we would not otherwise hear about in America (such as Mosebach's).

Anyhow, on to the interview, with my comments following afterward; the translation is a little awkward at places but overall the article flows well:

TE: Personally, how do you assess the five years in which Benedict XVI has been in office?

Mosebach: Benedict XVI has set for himself a most difficult mission. He wants to heal the evil consequences of the Church's Revolution of '68 in a non-revolutionary manner. This pope is precisely not a papal dictator. He relies on the strength of the better argument and hopes that the nature of the Church will overcome that which is inappropriate to her if certain minimal assistance is provided. This plan is so subtle that it can be neither presented in official explanations nor understood by an almost unimaginably coarsened press. It is a plan that will show its effects only in the future - probably only with clarity after the death of the Pope. But already now we can recognize the courage with which the Pope establishes reconciliation beyond the narrow limits of canon law (through the integration of the Patriotic Church in China; in relation to Russian and Greek Orthodoxy) or by his novel fusion of traditional and enlightened biblical theology that leads us out of the dead end of rationalistic biblical criticism.

TE: And how do you relate this to the serious problems that lately have been affecting the Church?

Mosebach: There is no way of avoiding the bitter realization: the experiment of "aggiornamento" [i.e., the assimilation of the Church to the secular world] has failed in a terrible way. After the Second Vatican Council, most priests dropped their clerical garb, ceased celebrating Mass daily and did not pray the breviary daily anymore. The post-conciliar theology did everything in its power to make people forget the traditional image of the priest. All the institutions which had given the priest aid in his difficult and solitary life were called into question...The clerical discipline that had been largely formulated by the Council of Trent was deliberately eliminated. At that time the urgency was likewise to resist the corruption of the clergy and to reawaken the consciousness of the sanctity of the priesthood.

TE: How will the Catholic Church look after Benedict?

Mosebach: One would wish that this Pope might perceive himself the first manifestations of a healing of the Church. But this Pope is so modest and lacking in vanity that he hardly would view any such glimmerings as the results of his own actions. I believe that he wants to spare his successor not pleasing yet necessary labors by assuming them himself. Hopefully this successor will utilize the great opportunity that Benedict has created for him.

TE: The "Reform of the Liturgy" has fundamentally changed the Catholic Church - in what way?

Mosebach: The interventions of Paul VI in a liturgy over 1500 years old are called "reform of the liturgy"; in reality is was a revolution that was not authorized by the instruction of the Second Vatican Council; to "delicately" review the liturgical books. The "liturgical reform" centered upon man, a celebration that had been oriented for the last 2000 years to the adoration of God. It underminded the priesthood and largely obscured the doctrine of the Church on the sacraments.

TE: In the late 1960s there were many upheavals: the Cultural Revolution in China, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, the student riots in Germany, the Vietnam War - and the Second Vatican Council. Can we name all these upheavals in the same breath?

Mosebach: 1968 is, in my opinion, a phenomenon that is still not sufficiently understood. Here, in Germany, we like to occupy ourselves in this context with happy memories of communes and battles over the right interpretation of Marx. In reality, 1968 is an "axial year" in history with anti-traditionalist movements over the entire world that are only in appearance fully separate from each other. I am convinced that, when sufficient distance exists, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Roman liturgical reform will be understood to be closely connected.

TE: Pope Benedict XVI participated in this upheaval as a theologian of the Council. What do you make of his commitment today to revive individual liturgical elements of the pre-conciliar Church?

Mosebach: Benedict XVI believes making the essence of the Church more clearly visible - for Catholics and non-Catholics - as one of his main tasks. The Pope knows that the Church is indissolubly bound to her Tradition. The Church and the Revolution are irreconcilable contradictions. The Pope attempts to intervene where the image of the Church has been distorted through a radical break with the past. But the Church, like its Founder, has exactly two natures: historical and timeless. She cannot forget from where she came and cannot forget where she is going.

TE: The controversy surrounding the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X has yielded no visible success for the Vatican up until now. In your view, what does this group bring to the Catholic Church other than its love for the old liturgy?

Mosebach: Other than the old liturgy? What is there more important for the Church than the liturgy? The liturgy is the body of the Church. It is faith made visible. If the liturgy falls ill, so does the entire Church. This is not merely a hypothesis but a description of the current situation. One can't present it drastically enough: the crisis of the Church has made it possible that her greatest treasure, her Arcanum, was swept out of the center to the periphery. The SSPX is due the historical glory for having preserved for decades and kept alive this most important gift.

TE: Christianity is one of the foundations of Europe. In the future will it still be relevant for the continent?

Mosebach: Christianity is the foundation of Europe - I don't see any other foundation. All intellectual movements of modern times, even whent hey opposed Christianity, owe their origins to it. We have also received ancient philosophy and art from the arms of Christianity. If European society should turn away totally from Christianity, it would mean nothing less than the denial of its very self. What one doesn't know or doesn't want to knw nevertheless exists. Repression cannot be the basis for a hopeful future.

TE: You were in Turkey for awhile. Would Turkey enrich the European Union as a full member or is it difficult to integrate a land dominated by Islam into the Western community of values?

Mosebach: I can only see that Turkey - especially the anti-Islamic, modernizing Turkey - has had enormous difficulties with its Christian European minorities. Until the 1950's there was still a Greek-dominated Constantinople. But living together with Christians was intolerable for the modern Turk so they put an end to it. Now they seem to find it desirable to draw near to Europe because of economic interests without, however, rethinking in their internal politics the battle against Christians. I believe that we are very far from what you call "integration into the Western community of values."

What I think merits more discussion here is Mosebach's philosophy of history. He sees the advent of the Novus Ordo as part of the same wave of anti-traditionalist sentiment that was sweeping over the whole world in 1968, which he says is an "axial year" in human history. It is hard to define what an axial year is, but good examples would be 1917 and 1848, years in our history when momentous social and political change have swept across whole nations and civilizations to alter, not only the political landscape, but the very paradigms through which we view our political and cultural values. Therefore, the liturgical revolution of the Novus Ordo should not be viewed in isolation, but in the context of a global "anti-traditionalist" wave.

I discussed this in an earlier post, in which I posited the theory that it was naive to hold the Second Vatican Council in the midst of the 1960's and think it would not be caught up in the zeitgeist of modernism and progress that was raging around the world. Even though some pointed out that the early sixties was relatively conservative compared to the chaos of 1968-1970, the progressive ideals that erupted in '68 did not just come out of nowhere; they were already latent and simmering beneath the surface, going as far back as the late 1940's. That the Second Vatican Council itself came in on the crest of this wave of progressivism is affirmed by none other than Joseph Ratzinger himself, who in his memoirs states that Vatican II represents the crescendo of a movement of "renewal" that had been swelling in the Church since the death of Pius X:

"John XXIII had announced the  Second Vatican Council  and thereby reanimated, and for many, intensified even to the point of euphoria the atmosphere of renewal and hope that had reigned in the Church and in theology since the end of the First World War" (Milestones, 120).

Granted, the hopes of renewal and hope that Ratzinger mentions as "reigning" before the Council were quite different than what came out of the Council; but the point is that, even before the Council was convened, there was already an incredibly intense desire for drastic change in the Church, which Ratzinger describes as "euphoria." This sounds similar to the kind of "euphoria" experienced by the people of France on the eve of the Estates-General of 1789 - everybody knew that change was coming, and most had good intentions; but the euphoric drive for change and reform pushed the democratic movement in France beyond what anybody had expected; it took on a life of its own, and what people got afterward qas quite different than what they expected going in. Perhaps the lesson of 1789 is that it is dangerous to summon a general meeting of individuals to reform an institution when they are all animated with a feeling of euphoria!

While I think it might be a stretch to try to connect the Novus Ordo directly with the Cultural Revolution in China, as Mosebach suggests, I do think he is correct in his assertion that in time the tumultuous history of Vatican II, and the reform of the Roman rite, will tend to be seen in the context of the radicalism of the late 1960's. Will this not prove an obstacle to those who try to emphasize the continuity between the pre- and post-1969 Church? Most certainly, which is why (in my opinion) it will not be enough to just suggest that the laity need a few more decades to let the teachings of Vatican II "soak in" and then things will right themselves. What needs to happen is some more concrete actions/movements on the part of the Magisterium unambiguously in the direction of Tradition - Summorum Pontificum is the best example, and many other lesser acts of Benedict also point in the same direction. What is needed is not implementation, but reorientation - to the degree that we go on and on with the idea that the problem with the post-conciliar Church is that Vatican II was not fully implemented, we ought so subsume this opinion under the more general one of the necessity of a fundamental reorientation of the Church's course back in line with Tradition.

This is what Mosebach praises Benedict for taking upon his own shoulders - and I, too. May our Lord grant Benedict XVI long life and wisdom from on high to govern His Bride, the Church!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Mosebach: 1968 is, in my opinion, a phenomenon that is still not sufficiently understood. Here, in Germany, we like to occupy ourselves in this context with happy memories of communes and battles over the right interpretation of Marx. In reality, 1968 is an "axial year" in history with anti-traditionalist movements over the entire world that are only in appearance fully separate from each other. I am convinced that, when sufficient distance exists, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Roman liturgical reform will be understood to be closely connected."
68' is also the year where, in Sweden, the leftists finally completely took over schools, media, politics, and the protestant state Church. What that led to, well, two words: Ecce Homo. He is right, it is a conspiracy and a plan that was set to motion from far higher up, what it leads to eventually I know, but on the human plane there's alot of theories.