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Rome is ‘occupied’

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The following post, written in July of 2005, might have been written yesterday.

That’s why we post it now. It is one way of putting into context, for those aspiring to be traditional Catholics, the latest surge of interest in the ‘negotiations’ between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X.

The date of its posting is hardly an accident, either, in honor of St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria. It was penned by an Eastern Prelate.

Rome is “Occupied”

[…] Now on a less lighter note. Perhaps few Catholics realise how much [the Eastern] Orthodox wish the Catholic world would overcome the current crisis. To do so, one must listen and adhere to one piece of advice we [in the East] give to Catholics as well as to Protestants. There must be an unconditional (and intelligent) return to the matrix of Christianity. That does not (necessarily) mean that Western Christians must wear beards and long hair. It does mean, however, that Catholics must overcome a certain forma mentis inherent in the Counter-Reformation. I make a distinction between the Catholic Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Contrary to a popular thesis, the Catholic Church had no need of Luther’s shenanigans to remind her to reform her ecclesial life. We can in fact trace ecclesial reform back to the IV Lateran Council. But like any hospital, one does not expect all of the patients in the Church, God’s Hospital, to be without need of health care.

Without going into a long song and dance here, the 16th century Protestant Revolt merely caused the Catholic Church to accelerate a movement of ecclesial reform which had already been in course. Note, for example, the numerous reforms of religious orders, usually qualified by the names observants, discalced or recollects. The rise of the Clerks Regular (Theatines, Jesuits, etc.) is another sign of ecclesial reform pre-dating Luther’s eccentricities. In fact by the time the Duke of Gandia, St. Francis Borgia, joined Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, the Roman people were used to calling the early Jesuits Preti Riformati.

That acceleration of ecclesial reform can, therefore, be called the Catholic Reformation. It was a positive movement of preventive as well as medicinal ecclesial cure. That movement aimed at addressing the causes as well as the symptoms of ecclesial decline. However, after the periods of particular ecclesial decline, the Catholic Church enacted an organic series of medicinal measures aimed more at the symptoms than at the causes of decline. Those organic measures can be called the Counter-Reformation. One example of the Counter-Reformation are the five “secret vows” which Professed Jesuits of the Fourth vow make. Only the Professed Fathers make these five simple vows. After the profession of the three solemn vows, those Jesuits who have been admitted to the rank of the Professed of the Fourth vow are taken to the sacristy where they profess the following five simple vows: 1. Never to change the primitive observance of Jesuit poverty, 2. Never to change the Constitutions, 3. Never to seek honours either within or outside of the Society of Jesus and to report any Jesuit who(m) one thinks might be in quest of honours, 4. To teach Catechism to the poor (rudiores. This is somewhat of an antidote against the dangers of Jesuits’ presence among movers-and-shakers.) 5. If one is appointed bishop and, later, requires advice, one will seek counsel from the Jesuit superior general (obviously not excluding the Pope).

It should be obvious that these measures sought (seek?) to counter some of the decline among clerics. Clerical ambition is the greatest danger for ecclesial life. Ever since the Apostles asked Our dear Lord who would be first, heaven knows how many clerics have thought that the faithful were dying for them to receive a red hat. I have always thought that St. Peter’s flight from Rome (the Quo vadis Domine incident) had not so much to do with his fear of death, as much as a vision the Prince of the Apostles had of the torments the Curia would inflict on Popes!

Though I am not a doctor, I would argue that it is proper of medicinal cures, imposed after the start of illnesses, to be more energetic and less serene than preventive medicine. Moreover, if one continues to administer medicinal care after the effects of illness have disappeared, the body will react in an adverse manner.

What does this all mean? Today many Catholics (Liberals?) react negatively to certain Catholic realities because of the confusion between the meanings of the Catholic Reform and the Counter-Reformation. One notices aversion among Liberals as well as among neo-conservatives towards the “Tridentine” Mass because the Old Roman Rite is associated with or reduced to counter reforming medicinal measures. This is exasperated by the fact that the Counter-Reformation had a tendency to separate or allow a divide to arise between the Church’s public cult, “private piety” (pietas) and dogma and law. Thus many Catholics began to “specialise” in various aspects which are complementary and constitutive of Catholic life. We see this not only in, for example, varying degrees of suppression of liturgical solemnity within the Society of Jesus, but a gradual decline of mystical prayer after the generalate of St. Francis Borgia, third successor of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The early Jesuits were trained by St. Ignatius to seek and find contemplation in action, however that required and supposed a highly disciplined formation by the means of the apostolate or care of souls which also became the means by which the Jesuit prayed and reached the heights of contemplation, with the minimum of external liturgical solemnity and private formal prayer. The Monumenta Historicae Societatis Iesu show countless letters written by St. Ignatius to Francis Borgia, the Jesuit provincial in Spain, asking him to reduce the hours of formal private prayer.

While this was no doubt a good thing for the Society of Jesus and a few of the other newly founded orders of Clerks Regular, it gradually became somewhat of a universal trend throughout the Latin Church, with varying degrees of spiritual success.

A certain divide between public cult, private prayer dogma and law was no doubt thought to be useful as an antidote against the 16th century Protestant Revolt. For example, it was felt necessary to “specialise” in the Mass in order to counter the imminent dangers of the errors of Luther. The Orthodox Church feels that it might have been healthier to have highlighted a more comprehensive and organic counter-reform, reaching back to the Latin Church’s Eastern matrix, as well as highlighting those aspects of ecclesial life more immediately under siege by the Protestants. But we know that hindsight is a perfect science!

Today few Catholics seem to understand that we are at war. It is a full-scale war waged against all aspects of Catholicism, and not only the Mass. It follows the ancient forms of the Roman Rite must be revived and spread within a COMPREHENSIVE CONTEXT, which is not limited nor does not specialise in the Mass. Otherwise one would imply that ecclesial life was perfectly without blemish one hour prior to the promulgation (or five minutes after the vacatio legis) of the Novus Ordo!

Now is the time to correct what the Orthodox believe was an error of judgement. Do not “specialise” in asking for the “Tridentine” Mass, without all of its accompanying ecclesial realities. This logically requires some kind of ecclesial structure, for Rome is “occupied” by men who are hell bent on changing the face and “soul” of Catholicism. The Holy Father and a “few good men” are the exceptions which confirm the rule. More ignorant than evil, the ignorance of the “occupiers” does not allow them to grasp the sens Chrétien d’histoire by which the strength of the Catholic Church is based, in part, on her ability to purify and dominate the genius temporis, rather than to be seduced by it to the exclusion of the charms of Tradition.

Without some kind of traditional ecclesiastical structure to “cushion” all aspects of ecclesial life, traditional Catholics may find themselves with a Tridentine Mass in every village but, like Elizabethan Catholics, very little else to sustain and promote the Catholic Faith. Does one seriously think that the majority of Curialists and local bishops will readily establish or allow the foundation of authentically Catholic schools, religious orders, etc.? If one is so naive to think that, I have a few bridges to sell! No, the request for greater freedom for access to the Old Mass must be integrated with a comprehensive project of ecclesial reform, which can only be achieved within a traditional ecclesiastical structure. For that reason, it would be inappropriate to fear the creation of a ghetto. Of course it would become a traditional Indian Reserve, if traditional Catholics allow Liberals to convince them that they are the exception which confirms the rule. Traditional Catholics must stop going about with their tails tucked between their legs, as though they were an endangered species trying to duck the firing range of poaching Liberals. While one does not subscribe to some of the hysterical cries of the fringe element among traditional Catholics and with due respect for women and Rome, some elements in the Curia are like those women who harass but who retreat when one puts one foot down.

As far as politics is concerned, while the characteristics of the serpent must be joined to those of the dove, one must avoid even the appearance of compromise. Liberals in Rome nor anywhere else for that matter are going to mellow simply because a few traditional clerics concelebrate with local bishops on Holy Thursday. Besides, that is not what the late Pope John Paul II asked for in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta. To go beyond what is established in that motu proprio would send the wrong, confusing, signals to Rome, where they are waiting with bated breath for the first signs that traditional Catholics are “coming back” to the Church. Unless it is one’s duty to play in a political arena, mixing politics with faith can produce an explosive cocktail. There’s nothing more embarrassing than Christian armchair politicians who wind up playing bad politics and turn out to be underwhelming as Christians. Traditional Catholics must lead the banner of the new Catholic Reformation which will assist Benedict XVI to clean up the stables, with God’s grace, ad aedificationem Ecclesiae.

This was written very hurriedly and within the next day or two I will send the schema about a traditional ecclesiastical structure. It is almost completed, but poor health creates a few problems for me.


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