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.