Sunday, August 02, 2009

On "Gnostic Traditionalism"

I had missed this piece by Stuart Reid in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald which references some reflections made by a reader that will be known to the NLM readers who participate in the comments, Thaddeus Kozinski.

Thankfully, WDTPRS picked up on it and re-posted it, thus it was brought to my attention.

While there is a certain admitted punchiness to this piece, there is embedded within that a number of very important and pertinent considerations and criticisms and I have determined to simply repost it in full.

Let me throw caution to the wind and suggest that the Archbishop of Westminster was right last week when, in his interview with The Catholic Herald, he said that traditionalists who reject the ordinary form of the Mass are "inexorably distancing themselves from the Church".

One caveat, however. No one should supinely accept the ordinary form of Mass when it is used as a vehicle for liturgical abuse. But what is abuse? Now you are asking. One man's abuse is another man's caring outreach.

I myself am easily offended. I find it hard, for example, not to wave my stick when lay people (ie, women) distribute Communion, especially when I know there are enough priests at the back of the house to do the job without suffering from heat exhaustion, post-traumatic stress disorder or repetitive strain injury.

If the Oratory does not need to use lay ministers, why does the Cathedral?

But I digress. The interesting thing about what the Archbishop said last week is that it chimes with what some traditionalists have been thinking, and saying, for a little while now.

One such is Thaddeus Kozinski, a doctor in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. He believes that the old rite is vastly superior to the Novus Ordo, indeed that the NO represents a radical breach in liturgical tradition, but at the same time is convinced that many so-called traditionalists are as much children of Vatican II, and of the Enlightenment, as the liberals are. There is something about them, he contends, that is schismatic, even Protestant; perhaps even modernist. They are rebels.

Kozinski is not thinking here principally of Lefebvrists or sedevacantists, but of what we might call the far liturgical right in the mainstream Church, the people you sometimes find in the LMS and the FSSP and in parishes where the old rite is said regularly. Thaddeus calls these people "Gnostic traditionalists", and by Gnosticism he means "the attitude that leads one to believe he possesses an irrefutable insight into the truth of matters of great importance, whether natural or supernatural".

For some years, according to his account in the New Oxford Review, Kozinski attended nothing but indult Masses in the old rite. Then, two or three years ago, he moved with his young family to an area where such Masses were not available, and he was therefore obliged to attend the Novus Ordo again.

As he became familiar with his new surroundings - and found rich spiritual fruit in the new rite as celebrated by the Oblates of St Joseph - he saw that in his former unyielding traditionalism he had developed what he calls "an ideological and neurotic consciousness of being a 'traditionalist' ".

Kozinski believes that "traditionalism" can become an ideology that makes one spiritually sick, "as one becomes more attached to the traditionalist movement, its narratives, personages, publications, polemics, criticisms, etc than to the Church as a whole - and to Christ Himself". This ideology, he says, can manifest itself in paranoia, judgment, harshness, Jansenism, and lack of meekness.

That's me all right, but Kozinski clearly does not want to condemn all traditionalists, and I feel I should speak up here for the thousands of hardcore trads who are not at all Jansenist or harsh but are decent, well-balanced human beings. Among them I would include the Lefebvrist godfather of my youngest son.

Perhaps, meanwhile, I should add that Kosinski's article appeared two years ago, but under my management this column has never been at the cutting edge of news, and anyway I did not come across the article until May.

To make sure that Kozinski had not changed his mind, however, I got in touch with him last week. He has not changed his mind, but now believes that the Gnosticism of which he speaks is not confined to the traditionalist right but can be found among ultra-orthodox adherents of the Novus Ordo.

The Gnostics, in Kozinski's assessment, see orthodoxy (whether trad or NO) as the best protection against "the world". They do not fearlessly place their trust in Christ, but live in a "constrained, fearful, and spiritually suffocating world" of their own creation. There is among these people, he believes, "fanatical, unhealthy zeal" for religious purity.

So: calm down, dears. Let's be healthy zealots and follow the Pope. What he wants, obviously, is reform of the reforms. There's no getting rid of all the changes - that would cause even more confusion than the calamitous Pauline revolution of 1970 - but we must put the clock back.

Traditionalism is a new ism. What we want back is proper Catholicism.

If we get that back - and curb our tongues - the traditional Latin Mass will surely thrive alongside the upcoming revision of the liturgy: the new New Mass.

One of the many things I regret is that I did not know John Ryan better. He was so obviously a good man that it was foolish of me not to have stayed in touch with him when our professional association ended 34 years ago.

I got to know John, who died last week, when I edited this newspaper for three months in 1975, and I liked him a lot. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that he seemed to sympathise with my not entirely sober stand on behalf of Archbishop Lefebvre; but the most important thing about him was not that he agreed with me but that he was kind, funny, modest, tolerant and open-minded.

His jokes were intended to make people happy rather than miserable, but his stuff could have a sharp edge. He once did a daring cartoon in defence of the agreeable but perhaps rather extreme Fr Oswald Baker, the traditionalist priest who stuck his toes in at Downham Market in Norfolk, and was eventually sacked.

At this distance I can't quite remember the details, but I seem to recall that shortly before the turbulent priest was booted out of his parish the bishop visited Downham Market, perhaps to mount an inquiry. Fr Baker did not have the pleasure of meeting him, as John's cartoon, above, shows.

It caught the mood of those of us who felt we were being ill-used by agents of a new reformation. It should be said, however, that John was never part of the paranoid tendency. He was far too kind and funny for that sort of caper. RIP.