Friday, March 15, 2019

Zachary Thomas Reviews “Tradition and Sanity” by Peter Kwasniewski

NLM is pleased to present the following review of our contributor Peter Kwasniewski’s latest book, by one of our favorite guest contributors, Zachary Thomas.

Finding a Pearl of Great Price
For the millennial generation, the discovery of the old Mass has been like finding a pearl of great price, inexplicably boxed away in the attic. In the old Mass, so many of us have found, for the first time, the basis for a coherent life of religious practice, an integral Catholicism of mind, body, and spirit—a seamless lex orandi, lex credendi, lex agendi. The Mass was a portal to the sources of theology, to the Fathers, to Latin as a living language, to the sacred arts, and most of all to authentic prayer.

In this journey of rediscovery, already yielding its first fruits, Kwasniewski has been a sort of Virgil to us. He has led us with wit and wisdom through a fraught Church-scape in which, paradoxically, we have been compelled to argue for our right to practice the Catholic Faith whole and intact, just as it was passed down to our grandparents. In so doing, Catholics everywhere have contributed to actualizing Ratzinger’s hermeneutic of continuity, knitting back Catholic thought and piety in the turbulent aftermath of the last Council.

Kwasniewski’s new book Tradition and Sanity: Conversations & Dialogues of a Postconciliar Exile (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2018) differs from his earlier books in two major ways. The first is the genre of the contents. Instead of essays, we find three types of chapters: interviews given to various people over the past several years (reminding one in this respect of Ratzinger, whose interview books have always been favorites); then, delightful fictional dialogues, sometimes between monks distressed about church news and sometimes between laymen at the coffee hour after Mass; and finally, the transcript of a wide-ranging conversation held in Vienna on April 2, 2017, “Gnosticism, Liturgical Change, and Catholic Life,” featuring Mr Wolfram Schrems, Dr Thomas Stark, Dr Kwasniewski, and Pater Edmund Waldstein O. Cist. As a result, the book feels both less formal and more gritty: less formal than a polished essay due to the dialogical format, more gritty because of the highly current, concrete questions presented to Kwasniewski or hashed out between real or imaginary interlocutors.

While Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (2014), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (2017), and Tradition and Sanity (2018) have in common a focus on the sacred liturgy, they differ in regard to how much they venture into controversial non-liturgical territory as well. The first two books seldom step outside the sanctuary, as it were; the new one, in contrast, repeatedly tackles contemporary Church problems: Pope Francis and the papacy, the synods on marriage and the family, the death penalty, and the “new evangelization.” Kwasniewski also speaks here at greater length about the history and role of church choirs, the theology of sacred music, and the problem of vernacular translations. The chapters engaging the role of the pope and the limits of the Petrine office, especially in its obligations to ecclesiastical tradition and to the sacred liturgy, are some of the most helpful in our present crisis. The author’s critique of hyperpapalism skewers this simulacrum of Catholicism.

Kwasniewski follows in a line of Anglophone forebears—Buckley, Waugh, Hildebrand, Davies, and other active lay apologists—who have had to arm themselves against the wolves, as the clergy threw down their staves and dismantled the fold. This unlikely band of intra-ecclesial apologists have in Dr. Kwasniewski perhaps their most articulate, learned, and effective leader to date. A respected scholar and writer, composer and choir director, husband and father, and Benedictine oblate, Kwasniewski brings his erudition and life experience to the service of articulating the appeal of traditional Catholic faith and practice in the 20th century. His words are a clarion call for Catholics everywhere to recover their spiritual and cultural heritage.

If I had to identify two guiding ideas among the many found in Kwasniewski’s work, the first would be that Catholic Orthodoxy does not consist in propositions alone, but in an integral reception of the Catholic faith in all its aspects: dogma, fasting, religious life, devotions, sacred art, etc. Orthodoxy is simultaneously right worship and right belief. For Kwasniewski, the supernatural virtue of faith is acquired and passed down in the mode of tradition, through sacred practices that dispose us to the reception of supernatural virtue. And tradition, far from being a quaint abstraction, is most powerfully expressed in concrete liturgical rites, which sum up and communicate the whole faith, because they contain Christ Himself, set within a whole drama of sacred signs and actions pointing mind and heart toward His presence.

Secondly, if the Eucharist is the “font and apex” of the Church’s life, then in one sense the Church’s only mission is to conform herself ever more deeply to the sacrifice of the Cross, to make her life an ever more perfect icon of Christ’s total oblation. In this light, the Church’s life is a continuous Liturgical Movement, an unceasing vocation to invite the world into a conscious and active participation in worship around the altar of sacrifice, and to make that sacrifice an ever more perfect expression of the Eternal High Priest’s heavenly worship. This makes the recovery of a truly sacrificial form in the Roman liturgy paramount for the renewal of Her life.

But the significance of Kwasniewski’s work extends beyond the ad intra reform of Christian life. He has also skillfully articulated why the Catholic religion, in its more classic expressions, meets the urgent needs of the people of our times: the solid and unchanging ritual forms of the Latin liturgy, its lofty universalism, the perennially appealing beauty of Gothic and Baroque architecture, and sacred music’s moving expression of man’s deepest longings, are all means for drawing people of today—as they drew people of yesterday—into the Church’s bosom.

Pastors and laymen alike have found in Kwasniewski’s writings a treasure trove of insight and argument for the recovery of tradition. For many, he points the way forward out of our institutional malaise. I therefore highly recommend his new book, which completes a handy trio with Resurgent and Noble Beauty. One could describe the chapters of Tradition and Sanity as snapshots of the hopeful process of healing taking place in the Latin Church, now that the ruptures of the twentieth century are being slowly closed and believers are slowly returning to the sources of faith.

Tradition and Sanity: Conversations & Dialogues of a Postconciliar Exile. Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2018. 232 pages. Hardcover $26.00 (link). Paperback $17.95 (link).

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