Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Peace-Builder or Pacifier? Some Considerations of Traditionis Custodes and Pope Francis

The following essay by Prof. Ruben Peretó Rivas was published on his blog Caminante Wanderer on July 31st, and is here given in a translation from the original Spanish which he has reviewed. Dr. Peretó Rivas is a member of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the National University of Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina. We are very grateful to him for his kind permission to share this with our readers.

Political theory in the Anglo-Saxon world makes an interesting distinction between the concepts of “peace-building” and “pacification”. The first, “the building of peace”, refers to a process by which peace is sought through dialog between the parties in a conflict. In the second, on the other hand, peace is achieved by coercive military action which forces the parties to keep silent about their complaints under pain of violent reprisals.
This schema can also be applied to the reading of what has happened in the Church in the last several years in regard to the traditional Mass. The conflict which dragged on from the very moment of the promulgation of the new Missal by Paul VI was previously almost resolved with Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, who in this way became a “builder of peace.” With the sudden appearance a few weeks ago of Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis has not only dynamited the dialog and peace reached in liturgical matters, but has also established himself as a “pacifier” in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the term: one who imposes peace by force, while threatening the punishment of those who do not accept his designs.
The trial-by-fire of the liturgical books of the Mozarabic Rite. “Both books were thrown into the fire.The Roman one leapt out of the fire. The Gothic one was unharmed in the flames.” (From an NLM quiz in 2011.)
This is the reading which the majority of analysts of the ecclesiastical and liturgy situation have made, such as Cardinal Mueller, Cardinal Burke, Mons. Rob Mutsaerts and Fr Guillaume de Tanoüarn, reaching the conclusion that Traditionis Custodes (TC) is, fundamentally, a profoundly anti-pastoral document, one which generates division and reopens a painful conflict, causing enormous damage to many of the faithful. Undoubtedly, this is the most important characteristic of the most recent motu proprio, but it may not be the most grave, since from the theological point of view, it dismantles the construction which Benedict XVI had achieved, and creates a thorny problem which becomes unresolvable.
Pope Francis bases part of what little argumentation he provides to justify his draconian measures in regard to the traditional Mass on the assertion that it was permitted by Pope John Paul II, and afterwards regulated by Pope Benedict XVI, with the “desire to favor the healing of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre.” Although it is certainly true that both Popes wished to resolve the problem posed by the SSPX, as all good Catholics should want to do, they also wanted to maintain continuity with the traditional liturgy. In the book The Last Testament. In his own words, Pope Benedict responded to the claim that the reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass was a concession to the Society of St Pius X, with these clear and conclusive words. “That is absolutely false! For me, what is important is the unity of the Church with itself, in its interior, with its past; that that which was holy for Her before should not be in any way an evil now.” (Pope Benedict XVI with Peter Seewald, London: Bloomsbury, 216, pp. 201-202).
And there are many other witnesses who can be cited in support of this. Card. Antonio Cañizares, as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, one with privileged knowledge of the thought and intention of Pope Benedict in Summorum Pontificum, wrote: “The will of the Pope was not only to satisfy the followers of Mons. Lefebvre, nor to limit himself to answering the just wishes of the faithful who feel attached, for various reasons, to the liturgical inheritance represented by the Roman Rite, but also and especially to open the Church’s liturgical riches to all the faithful, making possible in this way the discovery of the treasures of the Church’s liturgical patrimony to those who still do not know them.” (Prologue to the book The Reform of Benedict XVI, by Nicola Bux.)
His Eminence Antonio Card. Cañizares celebrates a Pontifical Mass in the traditional Rite at the high altar of the Pope’s cathedral, St John in the Lateran, in 2009.
The website of the now defunct Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which can still be visited, and which, according to the introduction by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, then president of the Commission, is not an opinion site, but a site that includes “information and material in absolute fidelity to the thought of the Holy Father”, affirms that “the legitimacy of the Church’s liturgy resides in continuity with tradition.” Therefore, the usus antiquior certainly has legitimacy; it has hundreds of years of history behind it, and the other rites both eastern and western recognized by the Church alongside it. It has the Tradition to defend it. The idea that brought Pope Benedict to hold this position is that a rite which was a sure path to sanctity over the ages cannot suddenly become a threat, “if the Faith which is expressed in it is still considered valid”, says one of the documents on the aforementioned site. To present an opposition of missals – one good and one bad, and therefore prohibited – as Pope Francis does in TC, although it may on the practical level go to the detriment of the old one, on the level of principles, reveals the weak foundation of the new one.
In this theological perspective, what is left weakened is the Missal of Paul VI, since it is clearly a construction hastily put together in a laboratory by a group of specialists, as the protagonists of its creation bear witness in their memoires. (E.g., those of Louis Bouyer, Bernard Botte, or Annibale Bugnini).
Joseph Ratzinger, while he was still a priest, wrote in 1976 to Prof. Wolfgang Waldstein, “The problem of the new Missal lies in its abandonment of a historical process that was always continual, before and after St Pius V, and in the creation of a completely new book, although it was compiled of old material, the publication of which was accompanied by a prohibition of all that came before it, which, besides, is unheard of in the history of both law and liturgy. And I can say with certainty, based on my knowledge of the conciliar debates and my repeated reading of the speeches made by the Council Fathers, that this does not correspond to the intentions of the Second Vatican Council. (Wolfgang Waldstein, “Zum motuproprio Summorum Pontificum”, in Una Voce Korrespondenz 38/3 (2008), 201-214).
This worry has accompanied Pope Benedict all his life – how to theologically save the Missal of Paul VI, which lacks the continuity with tradition that always existed in the Church’s liturgy. Since it was impossible to demonstrate this continuity as a matter of history, the only way to do so was, and is, through an act of the will, without further proof that this continuity existed. And this is precisely what he did in Summorum Pontificum. Pope Francis has just dynamited this theological assemblage, which saved the two missals and re-established the pax liturgica, thereby not only rekindling the conflicts of the ’70s and ’80s, but also, and more importantly, aborting the solution which was found in the theological field to justify the liturgical reform of the late ’60s.
Certainly, the theology which is hidden behind TC is not an original creation of Pope Francis. It is in fact no more than a by-product of the rupturist position developed by the School of Bologna, and curiously, coincides with the theories which of one of the lesser representatives of that school, Andrea Grillo, has published in recent years.
TC also shows the concepts of authority and obedience to which Pope Francis holds, nearer to perinde ac cadaver [note] than to the tradition and theology of the Church. His authoritarian and absolutist reflections bring to my mind a passage of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons
With TC, Pope Francis seeks to impose on the Church the mentality of Humpty Dumpty, and govern it as a despot: the question is, which is to be master?
We must recognize one success of TC: its title, Traditionis custodes, the opening words which gives the document its name, is perfectly true, since the bishops are the “guardians of the tradition”, which is to say, they are obliged to know it, contemplate it, and protect it. And for this reason, it is the tradition as something objective which ought to determine their actions as bishops. However, we must here note a certain nuance: the motu proprio seems to understand the expression in the sense that the tradition is what the bishops – and especially the bishop of Rome – decide it is: La tradition, c’est moi.
editor’s note: The Latin words “perinde ac cadaver – just like a corpse” are often used to describe a notion of religious obedience introduced by the Jesuits. A trenchant essay by Dr John RT Lamont, published on Rorate Caeli in 2018, describes it very well as one open to “tyrannical understanding of authority in general as based on the arbitrary will of the possessor of power, rather than on law.” Law here may also be replaced by “tradition” or “custom.”

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