Thursday, June 14, 2007

Living the Examined (Catholic) Life

There is an interesting piece of 'traditionalist self-criticism' offered by Dr. Thaddeus Kozinski over at the New Oxford Review. The piece is called, The Gnostic Traditionalist and it is stirring up quite a bit of discussion and debate over there. I'm sure it will do the same here, though it brings up a number of themes and discussions that NLM readers will already be quite accustomed to.

In a nutshell, Dr. Kozinski is concerned with the worldview (one might call it) of a certain class (note emphasis) of traditionalist for whom anything but the 'Tridentine' liturgy is virtually outside the pale, not to mention a whole other host of assumptions and absolutizations about the Council, the modern Roman rite, and so forth.

Now before jumping to any conclusions, it should be noted that Dr. Kozinski is himself in love with the classical Roman liturgy and he sees the issues at stake at the heart of the liturgical reform. What he is seeking to do, however, is address a particular subset of attitudes that can exist within "the traditionalist movement." This is important context to note, for what Dr. Kozinski is offering as criticism does not pertain to the liturgical rite itself, nor to the central critiques of the liturgical reform (as raised by the likes of a Ratzinger or Nichols for example), and certainly he is not making accusations or generalizations about all people attached to the classical Roman rite. Rather he is speaking of a danger that must be avoided on a personal level (both there and elsewhere it is worth noting) and he is speaking of a particular subset of Catholics attached to the classical Roman liturgy who have adopted problematic ways of thinking about the Church and their relationship to it.

For some, upon reading this piece there will likely be two divergent temptations which must be avoided. One is that some might see this as an opportunity to "bash" the classical liturgical movement, if that ideologically suits them, thereby avoiding consideration of some of the deeper issues, points or qualifications made in the piece. On the other hand, some might likewise see the piece as being precisely that: bashing of the classical movement generally, thereby rejecting the article wholesale -- thus also avoiding consideration of the deeper issues, points and qualfications. Neither follow as conclusions because both would fail to make the proper distinctions. To properly understand the main points of the piece, the issues must be both considered in their parts and also taken as a whole; this is how one will understand what the problem is, and where the problem does and does not lie -- not to mention how it is not necessarily unique to parts of the traditionalist movement per se.

After a quick reading of the piece, like the colleagues he mentions, I too would have some reservations about certain aspects of his piece, and would make clearer certain nuances or qualifications. For example, I wouldn't even wish to infer that the classical Roman rite is somehow the "real Mass" since there are a variety of liturgical rites beyond the Roman rite. As well, while I understand the point about the protection of the classical liturgy from certain modern liturgical tendencies by means of its relative marginilization from mainstream parish trends and think there some truth to it, at the same time I think there is something more and deeper to it as well in terms of the objectivity of the classical rite, as compared to the subjectivity garnered by so many options in the modern rite -- a critique offered by Oratorian, Fr. Jonathan Robinson in his book The Mass and Modernity; this insight is something that can help a reform of the reform. Moreover, I think "choice consciousness" while it can be problematic, is problematic dependent upon what those choices are, what principles they are based upon and whether or not we absolutize them. One could belong to an "intentional community" in a way that is very healthy, in the same way one adopts a "spirituality" such as Benedictine or Carmelite. What can matter in any such thing is the attitude brought to it. Therein lay the key. Approached this way, routine and regular adherence to a Tridentine liturgy/parish, as with any other parish, is a very good and healthy thing -- while still having all the potential stumbling blocks put in our way that every other parish and rite presents, and which we must protect against and be aware of -- very much a part of his own point of course, and a good point at that.

Those caveats aside, I think the core of Dr. Kozinski's piece has merit and highlights a real issue, giving much fruit for consideration -- or even an examination of conscience as the case may be. There can indeed be such problematic attitudes in some of our numbers, and those attitudes aren't helpful; they are in fact counter-productive and it is a theme we tackle here from time to time as we try to maintain a healthy balance of realistic, moderate critique, avoidance of absolutes where they are not found, and fidelity to the Magisterium.

For my own part, I interpret Dr. Kozinski as offering this piece out of love for the Church, for souls, for the classical rite, and out of a desire to not see the deeper issues of critique and concern obscured and taken over by the problematic approaches of some. He acknowledges the important points of legitimate critique while also raising a number of good points as regards the Council documents, and the modern Roman rite itself as a rite and vehicle of grace. None of this obscures or trivializes the deeper issues that need to be examined and addressed.

Ultimately what it comes down to is we must understand what the issues are and are not, and we must remember that, whatever side of the proverbial liturgical fence we find ourselves mainly on, that fence is not necessarily the fence that separates two warring factions (that fence exists, but it exists further on down the line); it is rather the fence that is shared between two neighbours. All this proverb suggests is what Dr. Kozinski says here: "I think it is prudent to associate with as many Catholic groups as possible as long as they are orthodox and love Tradition. This keeps us in constant Socratic dialectic with the "other," which is good preventive medicine for the intellectual and spiritual narcissism that is rampant in our gnostic culture." That prudence, incidentally, is not solely a one-way street, but goes two ways -- a point Dr. Kozinski also hits when he notes the injustice of the classical rite and its communities having been marginalized (something that is now changing thankfully).

In other words, co-existence and alliance. There will be points for discussion and debate, and that is important, but we need to discern what are and are not absolutes, be aware of the (imperfect) context in which are all working (thus being a little forgiving), and be keenly aware of where the variances still operate from the one and same principles of orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

From the specific perspective of the classical Roman rite movement, we do well to engage these aspects, particularly as the movement moves into a period of definite demarginalization -- and in all likelihood, great growth. It will not only give a further evangelical power to that movement, but it is also an act of charity for any of our fellows who might have, through the trials and turmoils of the confusion we find ourselves in, adopted such positions.

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