Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Are Traditionalists "Rebels of Korah"?

[Apr. 11, 2023] Bad biblical analogies are the bane of modern religious discourse, and those wielded by opponents of traditionalism are among the worst. Case in point is the comparison of trads to the rebels of Korah from the Old Testament Book of Numbers. Numbers 16 tells us that Korah was a Levite and relative of Moses who resisted Moses' authority. Korah and his partisans were smitten by the power of God as punishment for their rebellion; in the New Testament, certain "ungodly persons" who "reject authority" are compared to the rebels of Korah (cf. Jude 1:8, 11). 

"Rebels of Korah" is thus a generic label for those who disobey legitimate ecclesiastical authority; applying this name to traditional Catholics is an iteration of the old smear that trads are disloyal. 

If we take the time to delve into the story of Korah, however, we shall see that the context does not justify associating traditional Catholics with this label. Let us revisit the story of Korah from the Book of Numbers, paying attention to the rationale behind his rebellion:

Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abi′ram the sons of Eli′ab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to him; him whom he will choose he will cause to come near to him. (Num. 16:1-5)

Now we can understand the nature of Korah's gripe. We see that Korah resisted Moses because he believed "all the congregation are holy" and wanted the common people to assume a role in the liturgical worship of Israel. He was frustrated that Moses and Aaron seemed to "exalt themselves" above the assembly, essentially accusing Moses of clericalism. We might say that Korah wanted more "active participation" on the part of the assembly—a democratized worship where every Israelite was equal, "every one of them" assuming a priestly role in the public worship of Israel.

Is this label appropriate for traditional Catholics? Are traditional Catholics the ones clamoring for more active participation? For democratization of worship? For levelling the distinction between laity and clergy? Hardly. These are rather characterizations of the progressivists who malign the traditional Latin Mass an exercise of clericalism and clamor for more lay participation. They are the true rebels of Korah, all who refuse to recognize the divinely mandated hierarchy inherent in worship of the true God.

An interesting afterword to the Korah saga: Korah and his rebels are destroyed in the act of making an offering to God. God tells the rebels to present themselves before the Tabernacle with their censers and make an incense offering to the Lord. When they do, divine fire emerges from the Tabernacle and consumes Korah with all his confederates, two hundred fifty men in all (Num. 16:16-19, 35). There is a theological principle that the punishment for sin is contained in the sin itself; sin brings about its own punishment in the form of the disorders brought about by that sin. It is supremely fitting, therefore, that the liturgy is the occasion of Korah's punishment; he who would deconstruct the Israelite liturgy is killed by the Israelite liturgy. The democratized liturgy in which he placed his hopes became the instrument of his destruction.

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear." ~Matt. 11:15


Anonymous said...

I would say there are some self-proclaimed trads especially in certain "independent" chapels that would deserved to be called "rebels of Korah" because some of these "independent" chapels placed the authority of their lay boards/committees above the authority of the priests in the running of a church or chapel.

Boniface said...


Perhaps. I think the rebellion of Korah is very much in the spirit with which one approaches authority. There is nothing wrong ipso facto with lay people administering the temporalities of a church; such has been common in chuch history in many times and places. It becomes a problem when they siphon off resources meant for the maintenance of the church or when the system is used as a means of evading the just demands of ecclesiastical authority.

Anonymous said...

Ven. Catherine Anne emmerichs book mentions of a future pope, at that time, who was very small yet would carry the Vatican, he was in the world she said yet not yet a religious I looked up the dates and I think this could have referred to Pope pius the IX. She suffered much - I wonder if anyone is offering substantially in the world today as she did on behalf of the church.