Monday, August 05, 2019

Surprising Convergences between an Anti-Catholic Textbook and the Liturgical Reform

Luther points the way?
The claim that the liturgical reform under Paul VI was “Protestant” or “Protestantizing” is one that is both frequently made by its critics and strenuously resisted by its defenders. To some traditionalists, it is enough to point to the presence of Protestant observers at the Consilium; others find support in the striking admission of the pope’s close friend Jean Guitton, a well-respected philosopher, who stated:
The intention of Pope Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy… There was with Pope Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or to relax, what was too Catholic, in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist service.
But as Yves Chiron notes in his biography of Bugnini, the observers at the Consilium played a fairly minor role, taking the limelight only during discussions of the expanded lectionary; and one should not accept without scrutiny a man’s interpretation of his friend’s motives.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny the basic agreement between the historical vision of the liturgical reformers and that of the Protestant Reformers. Both regarded the post-Constantinian history of the Catholic Church as one of progressive darkening and pagan relapsation, a deviation from the pure, simple, authentic springtime of the early Christians who met in homes to “break bread” and remember Jesus, the wonder-working carpenter from Nazareth. This deviation reached its nadir in the Middle Ages, which then transmitted a superstitious cult to succeeding centuries, embellished along the way by the courtliness of the Baroque, until the clericalist dumb-show known as the Tridentine Mass achieved its frozen perfection. The fiery breath of the Pentecostal spirit melted this paradigm and replaced it with forms of worship more in tune with the living faith of Christians: first in the Reformation, then, much later, in the period of Vatican II and the sweeping reforms it ushered in.

There is practically no mainstream book on liturgy from about 1965 to about 1985 that does not express something like this viewpoint, with varying degrees of mockery for the past and confidence for the future of vernacular, accessible, lay-inclusive worship. It simply becomes the unquestioned summary of where the Church has been and where she is going.

Now, this is a Protestant account if ever there was one. A friend pointed out to me the following passage from a popular Protestant homeschooling textbook, World History and Cultures in Christian Perspective, published by Abeka:
The pagans who flooded the imperial church [after the Edict of Milan] inundated it with heathen beliefs, practices, and traditions. Public worship was described by Justin Martyr in the second century as a simple meeting of believers on the Lord’s Day to hear the Scriptures read and explained along with the singing of hymns, the offering of prayers, the celebrating of the Lord’s Supper, and the receiving of gifts.
       The influence of paganism began to change the worship service into elaborate rites and ceremonies with all the trappings of heathen temple worship. The presbyters now became sacerdotes who offered up the Lord’s body and blood as a sacrifice for the living and dead. Little by little, these errors and distortions grew and developed into the false teachings and practices of the medieval church. … Some devout followers even purchased and worshipped relics.…
       The demands of their religion led the people to regard Christ as a stern and merciless Judge rather than a compassionate and loving Savior. They sought to placate the Son’s wrath against their sins by praying to His mother, the Virgin Mary, and seeking her intercession. Because even Mary sometimes seemed unapproachable, they also prayed to the long-departed apostles and other saints (deceased Christians officially recognized by the Church as holy because of martyrdom, miracles, or other merits). But the Bible clearly teaches that there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5).
We may wince and groan at this caricature of ancient Catholicism, but it is sobering to discover similar sentiments strewn throughout the books of Liturgical Movement authors writing in the twentieth century, paving the way for Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Pauline reform. In their different ways, Cardinal Ottaviani and Cardinal Bacci fifty years ago in their Short Critical Study, and Cardinal Ratzinger in his lecture at the Fontgombault conference of July 2001, recognized this powerful Protestantization of Catholic liturgical thinking. (Ratzinger noted that almost no academic theologian in Europe defends anymore the notion of the Mass as a true and proper sacrifice; even Catholics have come around to agreeing with Martin Luther.)

Ultimately, the Pauline liturgical reform rests on a Protestant understanding of Church history and liturgy. To accept it is to accept, to a greater or lesser extent, its foundation in the textbook Protestant vision of Catholicism as a history of obscurantism, mystification, ritualistic clericalism, and systematic exclusion from the liberties of the Gospel — in a word, a history of corruption.

The Dark Ages by Vladimir Manyukhin
Could we say that a recurrent problem within Protestants (admittedly I paint here with a broad brush) is that they do not place a positive value on the working of the Holy Spirit in history, over time? There seems to be no inherent weight to the witness of time, the sum total of the contingent, the course of development. Anything good about time or history is purely coincidental or extraneous. For example, in a certain year, say, 1780 or 1843 or 1921, there may be a camp revival somewhere, and that’s great as far as it goes, but it has nothing to do with the Christian religion as such. For Protestants, all dynamism takes place at the level of the individual man, inside the heart, where the Spirit moves; there is no relationship between the Spirit and a visible Church as a temporal/transtemporal whole.

The Catholic, on the other hand, sees the Faith as an historical, social, visible, incarnate reality, living a life that develops and unfolds, and that retains its earlier phases within itself while it grows beyond them. This is why the view John Henry Newman arrived at in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine is so profoundly un-Protestant:
The following Essay is directed towards a solution of the difficulty which has been stated,—the difficulty, as far as it exists, which lies in the way of our using in controversy the testimony of our most natural informant concerning the doctrine and worship of Christianity, viz. the history of eighteen hundred years. The view on which it is written has at all times, perhaps, been implicitly adopted by theologians, and, I believe, has recently been illustrated by several distinguished writers of the continent, such as De Maistre and Möhler: viz. that the increase and expansion of the Christian Creed and Ritual, and the variations which have attended the process in the case of individual writers and Churches, are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the intellect and heart, and has had any wide or extended dominion; that, from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas; and that the highest and most wonderful truths, though communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients, but, as being received and transmitted by minds not inspired and through media which were human, have required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation. (Introduction, §21)
In fairness, we may assume that many or most of the Catholics involved in the liturgical reform would not have agreed with a purely Protestant view; but it can escape no one’s notice that their attitude is at best semi-Protestant, in the sense that they think and act on the basis of a profound skepticism about most of the history of the Church, from the middle of the first millennium to the end of the second millennium — the period from which they felt free to discard whatever features they deemed “corrupt” or “redundant” or “obscure” or “outmoded.”

In other words, their conception of faith is not the incarnational and pneumatological confidence in the unfolding of tradition that Catholics have always held, but, like Protestants looking for the stirring up of the heart in the revival tent meeting, they bring to bear a set of subjective criteria based on what they deem “effective” or “relevant.” In this way they have a basic stance of skepticism towards tradition that is incompatible with Catholicism.

Cardinal Journet quotes a passage from Soloviev that is remarkably pertinent:
How unreasonable is he who, seeing in the seed neither trunk nor branches, neither leaves nor flowers, and hence concluding that all the other parts are only applied later and artificially from the outside, and that the seed has not the force to issue forth these parts, totally denies that the tree will appear in the future, admitting only the existence of the single seed. Just as unreasonable is the person who denies the most complex forms or manifestations in which divine grace appears in the Church and wants absolutely to return to the form of the early Christian community. (Theology of the Church, 145)
It is only apparently paradoxical that antiquarianism and modernism go hand-in-hand. Cardinal Newman perceived this connection when he claimed that dogmatic Protestantism, which took as its justification the proclamation of the “original uncorrupted” Gospel, has a tendency, due to hermeneutical subjectivism, to degenerate into liberal Protestantism, which in turn tends to degenerate into ethical rationalism, agnostic naturalism, and atheistic secularism. In short, Protestantism has a way of self-destructing. Once one starts down this path, one will reach the end of it, short of a miraculous divine intervention. Hence, if the liturgical reform adopted the same mental framework toward historical and traditional Catholicism that dogmatic Protestantism did in the sixteenth century, it is only a matter of time before this newer version of Catholicism will enter its liberal mid-life, and move on from there to ethical, agnostic, and atheistic decrepitude.

In fact, a good case can be made that, like a time-lapse film of a tree losing its foliage in the fall, the Church (in the main) has already passed through the second phase and is well advanced in the final one. When a pope prioritizes environmental ethics, give interviews to atheist-communist journalists, and eviscerates Scripture of its supernatural sense, we are already looking at the Church of Latter-day Socinians. It took our separated brethren centuries to separate themselves from Christ as God, God as real, and, at last, man as man. Catholics, goaded by an inferiority complex, have done it in a matter of decades.

The Modernists against whom Popes Pius X and Pius XII battled had, of course, their own version of the “corruption claim.” For them, however, it was not the inadequacy of the medieval church, but the inadequacy of premodern Christianity as a whole, from the death of the last Apostle to the advent of the first paleontologist, that compelled a fundamental shift in understanding and practice. In response to a defrocked priest whom he calls “Fr. G.,” Teilhard de Chardin wrote on October 4, 1950:
Basically I consider — as you do — that the Church (like any living reality after a certain time) reaches a period of “mutation” or “necessary reformation” after two thousand years; it is unavoidable. Mankind is undergoing a mutation, how could Catholicism not do the same?
This mutation of Catholicism from its dogmatic-liturgical essence to a loosely-defined moral therapeutic deism in symbolic pantomime has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen, for as long as the Protestant distrust of incarnational ecclesiology and the Modernist skepticism of divine revelation and apostolic tradition continue to exercise their sway in the Vatican, the academies, the chanceries — and upon the altars of our parishes.

There is, however, a solution as obvious as it is simple: to embrace, once again, the fullness of Catholic tradition in its century-striding grandeur, doing away with the real corruption that threatens us: the faux ancien, crypto-Protestant, congenially modern papal rite of Paul VI.
The solution is at hand.
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