Monday, May 21, 2018

The One and Only Pentecost: Against the Neo-Joachimite Heresy

(The continuation of the argument of “Divergent Political Models in the Two ‘Forms’ of the Roman Rite” will be published next week. Today’s post honors the Solemnity and Octave of Pentecost.)

The Second Vatican Council was billed as a “new Pentecost.” But a new or second Pentecost is impossible. Pentecost is the mystery of the Church’s identity and vitality down through all ages until Christ returns in glory; Pentecost is not a simple event like a Fourth of July fireworks display, repeatable at will, but a permanent dynamism, expressed in the perennial freshness of the liturgy over which “the Holy Ghost … broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings” (1), warmly remembered in all those “Sundays after Pentecost” that fill the authentic Roman calendar with bright green.

There can be a new Pentecost only if the old one has failed; and in like manner, there can be a new Mass only if the old one has failed. (2) If there can be a new Pentecost, there can be a new form of Catholicism, with new doctrines, new morality, a new liturgy, for a new humanity in a new creation — all of which can be openly in conflict with their old counterparts.

Martin Mosebach eloquently diagnoses the problem:
The “spirit of the Council” began to be played off against the literal text of the conciliar decisions. Disastrously, the implementation of the conciliar decrees was caught up in the cultural revolution of 1968, which had broken out all over the world. That was certainly the work of a spirit — if only of a very impure one. The political subversion of every kind of authority, the aesthetic vulgarity, the philosophical demolition of tradition not only laid waste universities and schools and poisoned the public atmosphere but at the same time took possession of broad circles within the Church. Distrust of tradition, elimination of tradition began to spread in, of all places, an entity whose essence consists totally of tradition — so much so that one has to say the Church is nothing without tradition. So the post-conciliar battle that had broken out in so many places against tradition was nothing else but the attempted suicide of the Church — a literally absurd, nihilistic process. We all can recall how bishops and theology professors, pastors and the functionaries of Catholic organizations proclaimed with a confident victorious tone that with the Second Vatican Council a new Pentecost had come upon the Church — which none of those famous Councils of history which had so decisively shaped the development of the Faith had ever claimed. A “new Pentecost” means nothing less than a new illumination, possibly one that would surpass that received two thousand years ago; why not advance immediately to the “Third Testament” from the Education of the Human Race of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing? In the view of these people, Vatican II meant a break with the Tradition as it existed up till then, and this breach was salutary. Whoever listened to this could have believed that the Catholic religion had found itself really only after Vatican II. All previous generations — to which we who sit here owe our faith — are supposed to have remained in an outer courtyard of immaturity. (3)
What we have seen in the past half-century is a clumsy revival of the medieval Joachimite heresy by which the Church would have entered the third and final age, a new age of the Spirit, which leaves behind the Old Covenant of the Father, represented by the tables of the decalogue and the animal sacrifices, and the New Covenant of the Son, represented by the Constantinian conjunction of Church and State and the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The new age ecumenically and interreligiously “moves beyond” commandments and Christendom and traditional divine worship. With Paul VI’s liturgical reform, we move beyond the inherited liturgical tradition; with John Paul II’s Assisi meetings, we move beyond the absolute difference between the true religion and false religions; with Francis’s Amoris Laetitia, we move beyond the rigid confines of the Decalogue and the Gospels.

Now, obviously, all this novelty would be nothing but a new religion, and a new religion is a false religion. In this way, the most distinctive features of the so-called “new Pentecost” or “new springtime” are manifestations of a neo-Joachimite heresy that is incompatible with confessional Catholicism. The collapse of the Church in our times has been the divine stamp of disapproval on the deliberate departure and the passive drifting away from Scripture, Tradition, and (yes) Magisterium, in these decades when amnesia has replaced anamnesis and sacrilege has supplanted sacredness. As a writer at Rorate Caeli noted on May 2, 2014:
It is the general untrustworthiness of much of the official Catholic media and printing houses that has made blogs so popular. This is especially true regarding the obvious cognitive dissonance any serious Catholic feels between the placidity and jolliness of the official media, and the reality seen on the ground, from the abuse of children to the abuse of sacraments, from the abuse of liturgy to the abuse of confidence, from the promotion of dissidents to the hiding of the statistics of the general collapse of Catholic demographics and practice in most of the world since this wintriest of springtimes began.
The Church today suffers from heart disease: she is lethargic from fatty tissue and clogged arteries. She needs a heart transplant — but rather than getting a different heart, she needs to get rid of the artificial mechanical heart installed by her ill-informed doctors and take back the heart of flesh that her tradition grew within her. When this occurs, we shall witness, not a new Pentecost, but a renewal of the worship of God in spirit and in truth, even as Our Lord prophesied and has already provided for us. Dom Paul Delatte (abbot of Solesmes from 1890 to 1921) wrote, concerning the traditional sacred liturgy:
In it the Holy Spirit has achieved the concentration, eternalization, and diffusion throughout the whole Body of Christ of the unchangeable fullness of the act of redemption, all the spiritual riches of the Church in the past, in the present, and in eternity. (4)
It is no wonder that Dom Guéranger, in a line I love to quote, said: “The Holy Spirit has made the liturgy the center of his working in men’s souls.” This is where our Pentecost is to be found; this is where the Church is perpetually reborn in her youth, finding ready to hand the one common language with which to praise, bless, glorify, and adore her heavenly King, until He returns from the east in glory. “I will go up to the altar of God, to God, who giveth joy to my youth.”


(1) Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur.”

(2) A “new Mass” is a contradiction in terms; the Church has no mandate to do such a thing.

(3) “On the Occasion of the 90th Birthday of Benedict XVI,” Foreword to P. Kwasniewski, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages (Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2017), xii–xiii.

(4) Commentary on the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, 133.

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