Saturday, June 22, 2024

“Grillo’s Tradition resembles too much the Progress of the Marxian-Pragmatist rhetoric of yore”: Pietro de Marco Responds to Grillo, and Grillo Replies

The following article appeared first in Italian at Messa in Latino and is published here for the benefit of NLM readers. Pietro De Marco (b. Genoa, 1941) taught Sociology of Religion in the Faculty of Education at the University of Florence. He has taught Comparative Religious Systems in the Faculty of Political Science in Florence. A philosopher by training, under the guidance of Eugenio Garin, he worked on the history of the European intellectual field (Renaissance and nineteenth and twentieth centuries) and on ancient Jewish and Christian thought and medieval Islamic thought. He then conducted studies in church history and theology at the Institute for Religious Sciences in Bologna. He was editor of the Encyclopedia of Religions (Vallecchi) from 1969 to 1974 and collaborator of the Chair of Church History at the Faculty of Letters in Florence.

I have been asked to convey my opinion on the arguments with which Andrea Grillo responded to his interlocutor and somewhat mistreated readers of Messa in Latino. We have had a couple of confrontations with Andrea, over time, and that makes it easy for me, even in choosing the right tone. But it also makes clear my position, which I recall for those who have never read me: I do not intervene as a “traditionalist faithful to Rome,” as MiL legitimately expresses itself. Since I have been writing, and particularly, since I have felt it my duty to show disagreement with the communicative and governing acts of the reigning pontiff—I, who have always been pro-Roman!—I have spoken as a common christifidelis, endowed with some capacity for judgment, but first and foremost filled with concern for the Church, which since childhood, by God’s gift, I have truly felt to be my Mother.

I knew and shared, in the 1960s and 1970s, the conciliar reforming “point of view” and its radicalities. But, except perhaps for a very brief period, no one could convince me that much, if not all, of the past living human-divine history of the Catholic Church had been error or relative blindness or deviation. One failed to realize, as many still do not even now, that the possibility of thinking this way had already occurred, with all its consequences: it had been at the heart of the great Protestant crisis. The hermeneutic of rupture and restart from supposedly pure origins, proper to the Reformers, is not, cannot be, the Catholic one. Despite a certain theological greatness in the Reformed churches, which I know and recognize, the Reformation constitutes a paradigm of error already worked out in Christian history, all the more seriously in its “liberal” versions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I find it incredibly naive to retrace, with the blind tâtonnement of those seeking regenerations or rebirths, the dead-end roads already imagined or traveled by others.

I will not be kicked to the “right,” therefore, either my insignificant self or the theologians, clergy, intellectuals, and churches who in the world stand firmly in the center in opposing the destructive elites, to which unfortunately Grillo also belongs, who make use of a contradictory and disorienting pontificate, endowed with fixed personal ideas as much as an individual Christian can be in difficult decades, but not a pope. This premise was appropriate as a preliminary to all the remarks and boutades that Grillo reserves for “faithful traditionalists” but which want to hit very distant and lofty targets.

Marxian-Pragmatist Rhetoric

We see this immediately in what he argues in the first response. Having said that the “ritual parallelism” instituted by Benedict XVI’s Summorum pontificum had no theological foundation, Grillo asserts, with the drasticness of reformers who renounce all dialogical masquerade, that to be “faithful” one must acquire the ritual language communally established by Rome—in other words, the one established by the recent Traditionis custodes. Indeed, Tradition incorporates “a legitimate and unsurpassable progress, which is irreversible”; this would also be the meaning of the title of the motu proprio that seemed to many to be mocking.

But Grillo’s Tradition resembles too much the Progress of the Marxian-Pragmatist rhetoric of yore (its motion is unsurpassable, irreversible) to have anything to do with Christian traditiones, and with religious traditions in general. There is, strictly speaking, no progress in the Christian traditum (what is “dogmatic progress” I will not bother to remind Andrea), and nothing new is irreversible. It is curious that I have to remind someone of this who elsewhere would deny that Trent (and perhaps Chalcedon) were unsurpassable and irreversible moments of progress.

What does not hold up—and what I am sorry to see proposed instead as obvious—is that Traditionis custodes is deemed unsurpassable and irreversible, but not Summorum Pontificum. Yet neither document has more value than that of an act of government willed by the prudentia of the head of the Church. Instead, it will be a matter of debate which of the two prudentiae is to be recognized as more solicitous of the good of Christians.

About Summorum pontificum, Grillo and I publicly debated back in 2007, in Parma Cathedral, with Luise moderating. At that time I supported the following perspective, and I remain fully convinced of it:
The new “legitimization” of the Missale romanum [of 1962] decreed by SP brings Catholic life back to its essential nature as complexio. Catholic history “preceding” the Second Vatican Council is proposed as a vital horizon for the “spirit” of the Council itself and its realization—a “realization” that many extremisms have experienced instead as incompatible with the past. Thus the goal of “internal reconciliation within the bosom of the Church” becomes part of a broad medicinal intervention for the universal church…. The recovery of the Latin rite may, contrary to objections, act as a stabilizing paradigm for the fluctuating and impoverished modern-language liturgies. As Cardinal Lehmann said, the motu proprio is good reason to promote with new attention a worthy celebration of all Masses.
The misunderstanding of many bishops has moved politically against this stabilizing paradigm of the liturgy. I cannot help but add that the sensibilities and/or theories stated by Grillo stand against the perennial, ever-acting value of mystery-sacramentary ontology in the millennial life of the Church. I firmly think, against what Grillo derisively dismisses in his answer to the fifth question, that “what was sacred for past generations cannot but be sacred for us as well”; breaking with the Christian Sacred, with the sacramentaria, was the illusory and dramatic act of Calvinist Entzauberung. Here is not the place to argue this point, but having taught and worked in the sociology of religion for decades, I distinguish between the sensory variability (but not volatility) of the sacred and its ontological status. Grillo and I both admire Odo Casel, but we may not be reading the same author, so to speak.

Christological Void

Let us therefore not be fooled: the defense of postconciliar reforms is, for the leading liturgists, only political. Hostile to the Ratzingerian correction of 2007, they aimed and have aimed for decades to proceed (as soon as possible) much further subversively and authoritatively, toward an opposite atheological polarity: abolition of liturgical books, threshold situations, effervescence, theatricalizations, and ritual primitivisms. Grillo knows just what I am talking about. It is the desperate hope of the generative negation of the new or the authentic.

The common ecclesial life, even as it is not devoid of differences of opinion and practice, and the (mostly) wise governance of the bishops, have prevented this outcome, but liturgical celebrations in general have conflicted with common sense, have been lacking strong paradigms, and have shown frequent slips toward designification. These slippages have, moreover, a worrying de fide relevance—opening up a Christological void perceptible to anyone—that catechesis is incapable of correcting.

In this recent poverty of lived meanings, of fides quae and of fides qua, the “non-ordinary” form of worship and and its language bring back the certainty of an antiquitas of the Christian rite, of its originality in Christ, into which the present may profoundly and necessarily implant itself, maintaining continuity. Nothing nostalgic, then, about this, I would say to Grillo; rather, it’s a matter of fundamentals of the Faith.

Don’t Adopt Left-Wing Strategies

I turn to the next questions and answers. Grillo opposes to MiL’s emphases on the weight of the “traditional charism” in the church—the vitality of the families of traditionalists, their “una cum Papa” response to the famine of seminarians—a sort of disqualification, or condemnation of the theological, formative, pastoral paths of “traditionalism.” They are, he thinks, the “easy” solutions: they seek refuge in the normativity of the past, finally in “contrast to tradition” (in Grillo’s sense, of course) rather than in conformity to the present Church.

I leave to Andrea the responsibility and consequences of maintaining this certainty about the inconsistency of other fellow Catholics—especially if in his head he really does believe what he is saying, for that makes all the difference. Ridiculing one’s opponent creates illusory scenarios, soothing but incapable of diagnosis and prognosis. The world that he trivializes, even just the one that self-describes and self-limits as “traditional,” has much more reason and much more substance to it that he lets on. It is the Church; moreover, it occupies Catholic spaces abandoned by “reformers” and little frequented by the average christifidelis.

I pause on the answer to the fifth question, which I would summarize as follows: “Is it possible that a ritual form that has been normative for long centuries can no longer have a place, within the admittedly pluralistic framework of the universal Church? And why be afraid of the variety of charisms?” Indeed, this formulation has the weaknesses of a defensive tactic, as well as being imitative of the opposing reformist tactics of decades ago: it makes an argument from existing pluralism, an argument from diverse charisms, etc. Such a tactic may work with a benevolent interlocutor, who might then answer, “Sure, that’s fair, but…”

Personally, I would discourage the various “right-wing” critical constellations of today from using arguments that are already “left-wing.” First of all, arguments aimed at weakening the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome. In fact, “progressive” arguments are not neutral, they are inherently instrumental. They do not care about merit; they are technically revolutionary; they are, in short, catholically unusable. Thus, when Grillo uses rhetorical indignation, exclamation, or perhaps here, precisely apostrophé (“And you cannot use from the right the great Pauline ideas so shamelessly…to nurture a ‘top-down anarchy’...”), he perfectly evokes those decades gone by, not even too long ago, when this top-down anarchy was demanded of the pontiffs “from the left,” a “free for all” for theologians and local churches. The pontiffs rightly objected. “From the right,” nothing should be done that would lead to retracing à rébours that widespread and inauspicious strategy.

Reducing Tradition to a Dispensable “Covering”

A nod to the depositum fidei and its “coverings”: here is yet another deterrent argument in Andrea’s skillful tactics, for the history of Christian doctrines, lef to liberal historicism, shows how insidious is the criterion for differentiating between the covering and the authentic body or core. Theoretically inconsistent, I consider it; consequently, an unusable concept in serious discussion.

That Grillo then thinks that it is “nostalgia” that makes us protect the authentic body of fides quae so as not to dismiss it as a mere “variable” garment shows that we have put behind us the great and decisive dogmatic debate that has accompanied Christendom since the Tridentine age, up to and including the discussions of Vatican II. The rhetoric of “coverings” [namely, that we need to remove the useless externals] remained the preserve of the external pseudo-council, the journalists, and the battle theologians, of the intelligentia of yesterday and today.

It remains to comment on what Grillo ascribes, somewhat blindly (as in a fistfight) to Pope Benedict XVI. I have already spoken about “anarchy from above.” This involves a subversive intelligentia dictating to the ruler in order to allow him to survive. Quite otherwise was Benedict XVI’s intent, considering how much his solution was intended to reduce the structural disequilibrium of recent practices. That it may have been inadequate strategy and theology is an empirical judgment, but could we agree on the parameters to be used to judge it?
When Grillo and I worked together, each in his own trench, on Universal Church or Introverted Church: A Debate on the Motu Proprio ‘Summorum Pontificum’ , the liturgical question was in the hearts of many, and in the heart of the pontiff. By the time St. Paul’s Editions published the volume in 2013, no one was interested—first and foremost in Rome. Sic transit.

But the subsistence, the bare subsistence, of the traditional liturgy—that which Andrea and other radical liturgist friends see as an unbearable stumbling block for the life of the Church (not only liturgically speaking), and which, by now, in contrast, I see as a cornerstone of a realized and lived paradigm of ancientness, placed there as an icon of the Church that cannot be renounced—is crucial as a concrete dialectic. That is, it counts as a dialectical negation of the fragile ecclesial presentism to which the Catholic Church seems reduced nowadays (and for whose gift we thank the Lord anyway), a negation that realizes a perennial ideal and reality of the Church. All in the synthesis of the Mystical Body.


A last thought. Concerning the “failure” of the liturgical reform, I agree with Grillo that the argument of numbers is weak. First, because correlations between church practices and numbers of practitioners are very difficult to obtain and to interpret; interpretation presupposes licit utterances of the if-then type that we lack. And then, as usual, the argument for the decline of practice has been contested by the most diverse, indeed opposing, factions for decades. Over the years I have formed my judgment rather in the experienced practice—mixed Vetus and Novus—of missalizing, listening to homilies, evaluating what is said as well as what can’t/won’t be said anymore, in observing the behaviors (within and outside the rite) of clergy and people.

I note, in closing, that Grillo’s final jab—“tradition is not past but the future”—characterizes well (I don’t know how willingly and consistently) an underlying philosophy of my liturgist friend, namely a Nietzsche-Bloch-style ontological and nihilistic utopianism, cultivated by many today, even among young philosophy undergraduates. This much can be said: it is certainly incompatible with the theology of salvation history, therefore with Christology also; and finally, with common sense.

* * *
Prof. Andrea Grillo’s Response

Dear Pietro,

Once again we are involved in a discussion. I read your article and, as always, I admire its tone and culture and always find that, even in the harshness of definitions, you never cease from being affectionate. While with Alcuin Reid we have so many times conducted a dialogue of the deaf—with the perception that, on the other side, there was a theological and liturgical simplism, nourished only by arrogance—with you I have always perceived not only the friendship that has bound us together for decades, even when we have argued most strongly, but fairness and mutual esteem. That is why we wrote together, in 2013, a book in which we constructed a small “medieval quaestio disputata,” with “videtur quod” and “sed contra.”

Even then, it seemed to me that you had, of liturgists, a vision only political and only fixed on the ’68 revolution. This, I pointed out to you even then, is not a good way to understand liturgists. For your approach has in common, with Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, the demonization of the “enemy,” which does not bear good fruit in the reconstruction of either the Liturgical Movement or the Liturgical Reform.

Those who are seriously concerned with liturgy do not instrumentalize the rites politically, but want to restore to the rites their authority, which cannot in any way be reduced to “politics,” as traditionalism and progressivism do. You are always tempted to move me to a “progressive” extreme and to confuse me with a “Marxist,” while I am simply a theologian who tries to give everything its value, and who cannot remain silent in the face of a pope’s attempt to make an ecumenical Council incidental. The fact that I take Vatican II just as seriously as I do the Council of Trent—which you know how much I appreciate for its reforming intent—cannot be read as “Marxism,” but as an opening of the Church to the future.

Connecting tradition to the future is the oldest sense of paradosis and traditio, for otherwise we make fidelity to the Lord Jesus a contradiction to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Compared to the book, today we argue in reverse: then Summorum Pontificum was in force, today Traditionis Custodes is in force. Back then, I already argued that SP had no theological foundation: the idea of two parallel “leges orandi” was and remains a true theological “monstrum.” That it was the “theologian pope” who conceived it is aggravating. In regard to the liturgy, as we know well, not only evidence, but feelings, affiliations, and attachments that are difficult to rationalize are triggered.

Today, thanks to Francis—against whom you repeatedly lash out; we have discussed this over the years—we have gained a more traditional point of view. It is curious that it was Benedict XVI who gave in to the postmodern spirit of anarchy, while it is Francis who reestablishes the conditions of an ecclesial fidelity. It would be a mistake for you to go along (not with words, but in feeling) with the idea that Benedict was a liberal pontiff, while Francis would be a Stalinist. Instead, I think that the former succumbed to the ideological reading of the Council that threatened the Council Fathers (including him), while the latter is just a “son of the Council” and enjoys this primarily biographical condition. I see more “political” conditioning in the former than in the latter and believe that an “ecclesia universa” cannot be an “ecclesia introversa.”

I am grateful for your reply and consider even this small exchange a sign of friendship.

Andrea Grillo
(source in Italian)

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