Monday, January 08, 2024

A Response to the Fury of Destruction: New Book Seeks to Articulate First Principles of Traditionalism

Many authors whose works I’ve enjoyed reading seem to follow a certain path as they write their books, almost as if they are working out a grand argument, the contours of which they can as yet barely perceive, but which become more distinct as time goes on. This is also compatible with a good deal of “off-roading,” where different lines are pursued, though even then there are more or less obvious connections with preceding themes; compatible, too, with occasional reversals of direction or the adoption of alternative routes.

This has certainly been my own experience. The first book I published almost ten years ago, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, was an initial effort to explain why I found the traditional Roman Rite superior to its postconciliar replacement. Most of what I have written there I still agree with; it was permeated with the Ratzingerian liturgical vision that still animates me. But at the time I was still inclined to believe there could be some sort of “reform of the reform” and that the new rites could be salvaged alongside the restoration of their elders and betters. A token of that is my insistence, in the opening chapter of that book, that “solemnity is the crux of the matter.” That is not my view any more: now I believe that continuity with tradition is the crux of the matter, and that solemnity is an epiphenomenon of fidelity to tradition.

As an Aristotelian philosopher by training, conviction, and temperament, I am constantly in search of “principles, causes, and elements.” I want to know why things are the way they are; if they are better that way, as more in keeping with their telos or goal; if the form suits the matter and vice versa. In the decade that followed, it seems to me that I was pursuing the principles, causes, and elements of traditional liturgy, trying to uncover the deepest logos or account of the beauty, reverence, integrity, and worthiness of the forms of worship that lovers of tradition intuitively perceive as good and holy.

But this was no peacetime operation; that decade also coincided with the reign of a pope not exactly benevolently disposed toward tradition in all its forms. All the while, in progressive and conservative circles, the liturgical tradition continued to be misrepresented and its adherents attacked; eventually, as we all know too well, it was subjected to official persecution.

One does not have to be an Hegelian to recognize, as Belloc’s epigraph to Essays of a Catholic puts it, “Truth comes by conflict.” Nothing motivates as powerfully as the prospect of eviction and the fear of extinction. The need to articulate and defend the principles of the traditionalists’ adherence to traditional forms and their decades-long resistance to the top-down twentieth-century liturgical “reform” was, therefore, no less an impelling force on my thinking and writing.

In short: what are the ultimate foundations of the traditionalist position? [1]

  • Of the many principles to which Catholics ought to adhere, where does tradition fit in, and how does it relate to ecclesiastical authority and the common good of the Church as a society?
  • How does tradition serve as (or as a norm for) law?
  • Why is a purely positivist conception of law and a voluntarist notion of authority incompatible with Catholicism? When does law cease to be law (or even fail to acquire the ratio of law)?
  • Why do we consider the so-called reform to be, in fact, an example of what Hegel called the Furie des Verschwindens, the fury of destruction or disappearance that characterizes revolutionary upheavals?
  • What is the problem with standing in judgment over the whole of tradition, picking and choosing from it as from a cafeteria, and reworking it all from a modern standpoint, so that even what is transmitted has been transmitted only because it was deemed compatible with the philosophical and theological lenses of the one who filtered it?
  • Can there be any basis for outright, public, enduring resistance to papal prudential and disciplinary measures, and if so, what exactly is that basis?
  • What moral, dogmatic, and spiritual goods are at stake in the ongoing war against tradition? (Some of them are obvious, but others are more subtle and pervasive.)
There are so many questions like this, and we have so many resources to bring to bear on them — yet discussions of them remain surprisingly shallow and inadequate. Or perhaps not so surprisingly: most discussions are conducted nowadays online, where the medium combined with attention span and a plethora of distracting rabbit-holes militate against serious thought.

But for the health of the society of the Church, it is necessary for some members of the faithful — and, I would say, especially the clergy to whom the celebration of the liturgical rites is primarily entrusted, and who thus bear a particular responsibility vis-à-vis the transmission of tradition and the nourishment of the faithful with their birthright — to seek and find this ultimate foundation, for God only knows what further attacks against the Catholic Faith’s lex orandi, lex credendi, and lex vivendi are in store for us in the years to come, and if we do not wish to see what we value and ought to value the most burned down to cinders, we had better be prepared to resist the vandals to the fullest extent compatible with the Faith.

It was for all these reasons, and more, that I devoted the latter part of 2023 to my latest book: Bound by Truth: Authority, Obedience, Tradition, and the Common Good, published by Angelico Press. It bears the following dedication:
For all priests who have sacrificed comfort, security, ambition, or reputation to remain true to Catholic Tradition and to keep it alive for Christ’s faithful: the Lord is your inheritance and the Church will one day sing your praises.
Here is the publisher’s succinct description (based on the book’s Preface):

“At the sixtieth anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the situation on the ground for Catholics is more chaotic than ever. A liturgical reform meant to usher in a new age of full churches and ecumenical rapprochement delivered neither; instead, churches are emptying and closing at an unprecedented rate. Meanwhile, an ancient old rite, grown to maturity in the Middle Ages, encrusted with Baroque pearls, and officially pronounced dead in the 1960s, has made an astonishing return around the world. Tolerated by Paul VI, permitted worldwide by John Paul II, declared free for everyone by Benedict XVI, and most recently put under ban once more by Francis, the Tridentine Mass remains a powerful and polarizing reality in the Church of Rome — an ark of holiness and beauty to the priests and faithful who love it, a belligerent ‘backwardism’ to those who seek its abolition. In this state of spiritual civil war, questions of authority and obedience are never far from anyone’s mind.

Bound by Truth grapples with the momentous issues of authority, obedience, tradition, and the common good. Part I, ‘Papacy, Patrimony, and Piety,’ addresses the teaching of Vatican I on the pope’s universal jurisdiction; the limits of his authority, in light of other authoritative principles such as liturgical tradition and local custom; the properly Catholic way to interpret and follow the Magisterium; and the virtue of intelligent, God-fearing, and communally perfective obedience versus its vicious distortions — willful rebelliousness on the one hand, and a blind, thoughtless, self-destructive submissiveness on the other. Part II, ‘Faithful Resistance,’ looks at historical examples of prelates who legitimately pushed back against papal overreach; discusses how clergy should navigate unjust episcopal decrees on private Masses, concelebration, the use of the Rituale Romanum, etc.; shares advice and strategies for laity who seek to promote and defend tradition in their dioceses; and draws inspiration from persecuted religious sisters, whether their tormentors were Soviet Communists or apparatchiks of the postconciliar ecclesiastical bureaucracy.”

In sum, Bound by Truth is my fullest effort to date [2] to articulate and defend the principles, causes, and elements of Catholic traditionalism, and to offer practical advice, to both clergy and laity, about what to do when tradition is sidelined or outlawed.

It’s also worth noting that the status and role of the Society of St Pius X are discussed at some length (pp. 227–46), and a detailed treatment of the Sunday/Holy Day obligation is given, probing, with the aid of reputable preconciliar moral theologians, questions about when that obligation ceases to bind due to ritual illicitness and irreverence, and what the faithful should or may do in such circumstances (pp. 247–74).

The table of contents, preface, and endorsements may be previewed here.

The book is available from:
“Now to Him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us — to Him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus unto all generations, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3, 20–21).


[1] Whether you want to call it “traditionalist” or not is somewhat beside the point, although I have defended the usage here for those who wish to see a case made in its favor; in any case, we all frequently use “-ist” words because they are practical, just as we refer to “Catholicism” though we do not intend any ideology or camp thereby.

[2] And no doubt will remain so for quite some time, as I have turned my attention to other more granular (albeit related) topics.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s Substack “Tradition & Sanity”; personal site; composer site; publishing house Os Justi Press and YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify pages.

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