Continuing in our presentation of the Crimson Cross - the posthumous arena for 7 of the 15 charter recipients of the Tower of Trent Trophy - we honor today the fifth of the seven alphabetically as we present today a tribute to a man who had the true sensus Catholicus long before few had ever heard of that phrase. He was Catholic through and through and lived his faith from his childhood to the minute he expired in the fragrance of grace with those he loved present. The fruits of his work for faith and family are abundant and countless and this pioneer of the Catholic press in America was a true Trailblazer for Truth and Tradition. And so today it is right and proper that we honor Sir Walter L. Matt with the Crimson Cross and enshrine him posthumously in the Tower of Trent Hall of Honor.
For a tribute to him we will borrow liberally from two tributes to him from his son Michael Matt and his dear friend Michael Davies. For their full tributes we encourage you to see Tributes to Walter Matt.
Walter was a Soldier of Christ in every respect. Faith, family and country and in that order he served. Faith was his compass for Christ and His Blessed Mother were always first and foremost in the loving Matt family, a German immigrant family who migrated to America where Walter's father Joseph and Marie Matt settled in St. Paul, Minnesota towards the end of the 19th century. Walter was born February 8, 1915 during a time his father was editing a Catholic paper in German Der Wanderer. Like Jesus, Walter learned his father's trade as a carpenter of the word, crafting the truths for German Catholics with Der Wanderer throughout the turbulent first half of the 20th century when Joseph's beloved motherland was embroiled in conflict. Joseph's strong stance against Nazism and Communism had a profound effect on Walter for his trials ahead in the sixties.
After graduating from the College of St. Thomas in 1938 he became an editorial assistant to his father until Uncle Sam came calling in 1942 when Walter enlisted in U.S. Intelligence and Army Public Relations to fight for his country against the terrors of Nazism. In the three years overseas he became a decorated soldier, serving in Palestine, Egypt, North Africa and Italy, all the while still moonlighting for his father's paper from these places of history significant to the Church as well. For his noble service Walter was awarded the Bronze Star and remained a proud veteran upon his return where in 1953 he married the bride God had chosen for him, his wife of 49 years - Marilyn. Eleven years later in 1964, after having proved his mettle in all areas and showing an extraordinary competence to take the reins of The Wanderer solo, his father Joseph chose him above his older brothers to carry on the responsibility of the newspaper.
We now share with you the words of Michael Davies,
"Every traditional Catholic owes a debt of gratitude to Walter Matt, not least for the fact that it is due to him more than any other individual, with the possible exception of Hamish Fraser, that we have a traditionalist movement in the English-speaking world. Walter was, to all intents and purposes, editor of The Wanderer for thirty years, and just as his father had done before him, used it to propagate the traditional doctrine which was accepted totally and joyfully by almost every member of the thriving and expanding Church in the United States. Then came Vatican II.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Second Vatican Council has been followed by the worst crisis in the history of the Church since the Arian heresy, which denied Our Lord's divinity during the fourth century, when the heroic Athanasius led the Catholic resistance. The heresy became so widespread that about the year 358 St. Jerome gave vent to his famous cri-de-coeur: "The whole world groaned and was amazed to find itself Arian." His dismay was hardly surprising when it is considered that Athanasius was in exile, a compromised Pope occupied the Chair of Peter, and hardly a bishop throughout the Empire possessed the courage to stand up for the true faith, which was, as Newman explained, upheld by laymen, inspired by Athanasius, who held fast to what their bishops had taught them, even though those same bishops had by then either abandoned it or lacked the courage to profess it.
The reaction of almost every bishop throughout the English-speaking world was that Vatican II had been called to initiate a renewal and therefore it had initiated a renewal. If that was what the bishops said, then the quasi-totality of the clergy had no hesitation in endorsing the judgment of the prelates upon whom their career prospects and pensions depended. Prelates and priests assured us that day by day in every way things were getting better and better, and nowhere more so than in the United States. There were constant changes, and, of course, these were invariably presented as changes for the better, and the phenomenon of constant change was presented as indisputable proof that we were in the midst of a constant renewal, basking in the warmth and light of a second Pentecost. The story of the Council is told in great detail in my book Pope John's Council, which is now in its sixth edition, and I will not attempt to repeat it here. It was a source of great satisfaction to me that Walter agreed so wholeheartedly with what I had written that he serialized the book in The Remnant.
One American bishop did break ranks, Bishop Adrian of Nashville, Tennessee. He explained that although most American bishops came to the Council as inveterate conservatives, many returned home as rabid liberals. He wrote:
As the council developed, some of the originally somnolent American bishops, catching fire from their alert European colleagues, became the able engineers of liberal proposals, going beyond the Europeans in ferocious, vituperative attacks on the Roman Curia....The European periti, who really imposed their theories upon the bishops, were themselves deeply imbued with the errors of Teilhardism and situation ethics, which errors ultimately destroy all divine faith and morality and all constituted authority.
Bishop Adrian appeared to be a man crying in the wilderness, but Walter Matt, who knew him well, agreed wholeheartedly that beneath the mantle of euphoria enveloping the Church in the USA, just as the mantle of smog envelops the City of Angels, all divine faith and morality, and all constituted authority were being destroyed, and to this litany of destruction he added the Roman liturgy. The traditional Mass of the Roman Rite, the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, as Father Faber described it, had become almost unrecognizable by 1967, two years before the imposition of the Mass of Pope Paul VI in 1969. Walter Matt saw clearly that if he was to remain faithful to the principles of journalistic integrity that he had learned from his father, Joseph Matt, KSG,[Papal Knight of St. Gregory] he must make a public stand against the destruction masquerading as renewal. He must speak out as did St. Basil, who wrote in about the year 372:
Religious people keep silence, but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in their faith avoid the places of worship as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitudes, with groans and tears to the Lord in heaven. Ep. 92.
Only one offense is now vigorously punished—an accurate observance of our fathers’ traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries and transported into deserts. The people are in lamentation, in continual tears at home and abroad. There is a cry in the city, a cry in the country, in the roads, in the deserts. Joy and spiritual cheerfulness are no more; our feasts are turned into mourning: our houses of prayer are shut up, our altars deprived of the spiritual worship. Ep. 243.
For reasons of ownership, which I need not go into here, Walter Matt could not speak out in the way he wished while Editor of The Wanderer, and he founded The Remnant so that he could campaign for the continued “observance of our father's traditions.” In doing so, he placed himself in what, to put it mildly, was a minority position, a minority so small that from a numerical standpoint it could not even be described as insignificant."
Walter's son Michael picks up chronologically, "In 1965, the Second Vatican Council ended and, just as it began to spread division throughout the whole world, it successfully divided the Matt family very soon thereafter. Viewing the Council (and especially the collegiality that grew out of it) and the prospect of a New Mass as disastrous for the Church, my father left The Wanderer and founded The Remnant in 1967. At that time, he had seven children. His year-old baby at the time is now the present Editor of The Remnant.
Thus was founded what was to become the uncontested flagship of the traditional Catholic movement in the United States.
In 1972, my father’s good friend, Father Harry Marchosky, introduced him to a promising young Welsh writer from London by the name of Michael Davies. Those Americans who’ve benefited over the years from the excellent books and articles written by Mr. Davies have Mr. Matt to thank for it. He introduced Mr. Davies to American Catholic readers through his fledgling Remnant and maintained an alliance with him for the next thirty years."
We now return to Walter's good friend Mr. Davies' words,
"In the first two decades of The Remnant’s existence, Walter Matt was dismissed as being out of step, even by many of those who had been his friends. How could he be right and almost the entire Catholic hierarchy wrong? Why could he not fall in step and rejoice at having the good fortune to live during the glorious days of the great renewal? His opinions were considered singular in the sense that they were unusual, odd, extreme, and must therefore be wrong." Not so, wrote Davies as he quoted the esteemed Cardinal Newman:
Those who serve God faithfully must ever look to be accounted, in their generation, singular, intemperate, and extreme. They are not so; they must guard against becoming so; if they are so, they are equally wrong as the many, however they may, in other respects, differ from them; but still it is no proof that they are so, because the many call them so. It is no proof that they are so, because others take it for granted that they are, pass their doctrines over, put their arguments aside without a word, treat them gravely, or are vexed about them, or impatient with them, or ridicule them, or fiercely oppose them. No, there are numberless clouds which flit over the sky, there are numberless gusts which agitate the air to and fro: as many, as violent, as far-spreading, as fleeting, as uncertain, as changing, are the clouds and the gales of human opinion; as suddenly, as impetuously, as fruitlessly, do they assail those whose mind is stayed on God. They come and they go; they have no life in them, nor abidance. They agree together in nothing but in this, in threatening like clouds, and sweeping like gusts of wind. They are the voice of the many; they have the strength of the world, and they are directed against the few. Their argument, the sole argument in their behalf, is their prevalence at the moment; not that they existed yesterday, not that they will exist to-morrow; not that they base themselves on reason, or ancient belief, but that they are merely what every one now takes for granted, or, perhaps, supposes to be in Scripture, and therefore not to be disputed:—not that they have most voices through long periods, but that they happen to be most numerously professed in the passing hour. On the other hand, divine truth is ever one and the same; it changes not, any more than its Author: it stands to reason, then, that those who uphold it must ever be exposed to the charge of singularity, either for this or for that portion of it, in a world which is ever varying.
"Walter Matt’s arguments were indeed put aside without a word and even ridiculed, but time has proved him right. Great liturgical scholars have now endorsed the negative judgement which he passed on the liturgical reform, better termed a revolution, from its very inception. Mgr. Klaus Gamber was described by Cardinal Ratzinger as 'the one scholar who, among the army of pseudo-liturgists, truly represents the liturgical thinking of the centre of the Church.' Like Walter Matt, Msgr. Gamber insisted that what we have experienced is not a renewal but a débâcle that worsens with each passing year:
The liturgical reform, welcomed with so much idealism and hope by so many priests and lay people alike has turned out to be a liturgical destruction of startling proportions — a débâcle worsening with each passing year. Instead of the hoped-for renewal of the Church and of Catholic life, we are now witnessing a dismantling of the traditional values and piety on which our faith rests. Instead of the fruitful renewal of the liturgy, what we see is a destruction of the forms of the Mass which had developed organically during the course of many centuries.
Search through the back numbers of The Remnant and you will find that Walter Matt used no stronger language than this in denouncing the liturgical débâcle hailed even by the post-concilar popes as a movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church, for which we should all give thanks. In his Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus of 4 December 1988, commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Liturgy Constitution, Pope John Paul II accepted that “the application of the liturgical reform has met with difficulties”—surely the understatement of the second millennium."
Yet, while the popes, bishops and priests as well as the vast majority of Catholics have accepted mediocrity and are in denial, never Walter Matt. One of the frequent contributing writers to The Remnant was Jonathan Tuttle who wrote, "In an age when politics trumped the Faith, Walter Matt knew that nothing trumped the Faith." Tuttle also affirmed in his tribute that "Walter Matt didn’t just appear on the scene in 1967; by that time he had already made a name for himself—but it was then that he became our General. The smell of battle still heavy in the air, Walter Matt looked at the battlefield and saw two groups of people: First, the liberals, who had just won a major victory on the Tiber; and second, traditional Catholics, who felt like they had just been sold down that river. The traditionalists were without a leader until then, and someone needed to galvanize them. That is what Walter Matt did.
The traditionalists wandered around and complained that they had just lost the war, while the liberals toasted themselves, contending that they had just won the war. Walter Matt showed both groups they were wrong. With the publication of The Remnant, it became clear that the real war was just beginning. Walter Matt reminded us that traditional Catholics don’t own white flags.
All Remnant readers have an idea as to what he did for the Church and for her members. But there is one story that I keep thinking of lately when I think of him. I remember Michael Matt telling me about his dad marching his whole family out of a Mass in St. Paul, after the priest had crossed the line into heresy. Although the rest of the congregation probably watched them walk out and thought he was crazy, Mr. Matt was the only one with the grit to do it. I could imagine that the scene, although tragic in a way, was also very comical. Priest makes a heretical comment, man in the pew stands up, along with his wife and nine kids, and they all march out of the church, oldest to youngest, military-style. That probably happened a lot in those years."
Besides his steady words, he backed up what he said for Walter was a man of action and, as Mr. Davies asserts, was right in the course he took:
"Walter Matt was criticized frequently for having the temerity to disagree with the Pope, but we have no obligation whatsoever to agree with papal opinions on matters of fact if they do not correspond with fact. That great friend of The Remnant, Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand, reminded us that, although we must accept everything promulgated ex cathedra by the Pope as absolutely true:
In the case of practical as distinguished from theoretical authority, which refers, of course, to the ordinances of the Pope, the protection of the Holy Spirit is not promised in the same way. Ordinances can be unfortunate, ill-conceived, even disastrous, and there have been many such in the history of the Church. Here Roma locuta, causa finita does not hold. The faithful are not obliged to regard all ordinances as good and desirable. They can regret them and pray that they be taken back; indeed, they can work, with all due respect for the pope, for their elimination.
During his editorship of The Remnant, Walter Matt did precisely this. He worked, with all due respect for the pope, for the elimination of those aspects of contemporary Catholicism which are undermining the Church to which he was totally devoted."
Mr. Davies continued a few paragraphs further, "Time has proved Walter Matt correct in every aspect of his denunciation of the errors which ultimately destroy all divine faith and morality and all constituted authority. Who would have believed when he founded The Remnant in 1967 that in 2002 all the American cardinals would be summoned to Rome to be admonished by the Pope for the gross immorality rampant among the clergy in the United States. Nor would it have been believed that the Pope would content himself with stating to prelates who had allowed priests to abuse children that priests should not abuse children, and allowing them to return home in full possession of their sees—another prudential decision with which we are entitled to disagree."
Walt's son Michael wrote, "In 1976, Walter Matt received a letter from a certain French archbishop who was making headlines throughout the world for standing against the Council and the New Mass. The archbishop asked to publicly meet with The Remnant’s team here in St. Paul. My father enthusiastically arranged that historic meeting. The archbishop’s name was Marcel Lefebvre, and my father used the occasion to introduce American Catholics to the heroic churchman. He supported Monsignor Lefebvre at a time when it was most unpopular to do so. The Remnant did a great deal to support Archbishop Lefebvre as he began to build his priestly enclaves here in the States.
Over the years, my father collaborated with such notables as Hamish Fraser, Michael Davies, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Solange Hertz, Father Vincent Micelli, Father Marchosky, Father James Dunphy, Father Urban Snyder, Father Lawrence Brey, Father Vincent Schneider, Dr. William Marra, Arnaud de Lassus, Neil McCaffrey, Malachi Martin and so many respected writers, journalists and priests who saw the Council and the introduction of the New Mass for what they were— calamitous events in the Catholic Church!My father used to refer to himself as a 'pick and shovel' editor. He didn’t reinvent the wheel. He just chained himself to the traditional Catholic Faith and never let go. He was a journalist whose every line demonstrated that he was a Catholic who lived in the world but not of it. He didn’t care what the world thought of him; he only cared what God thought. He was a man who called a spade a spade no matter who was using it to bury God.
Finally, we return to Mr. Davies' closing words:
"I will conclude by noting that Walter Matt did not content himself with denouncing error. He campaigned constructively to uphold and preserve the most sacred traditions of the Church — liturgical traditions in particular. While the overall state of the Church in the United States still continues to degenerate with each passing year, and is almost certain to continue doing so, the state of the faithful remnant has improved immeasurably since 1967, not least as regards the traditional Mass for which Walter Matt campaigned so courageously and consistently.
The greatest legacy of Walter Matt is the faithful remnant of Catholics inspired by him, and found throughout the English-speaking world, a remnant certainly selected out of grace, loyal to the Church and to the papacy, and dedicated to the fundamental principle upheld by Walter Matt as a Catholic and a journalist that, as Archbishop Lefebvre expressed it, 'Our future lies in our past.'
'Thus saith the Lord,' we read in Jeremias, chapter 6, 'Stand ye on the way, and see and ask for the old paths, which is the good way, and walk ye in it: and you shall find refreshment for your souls. And they said: We will not walk.' Walter Matt refused to abandon the old paths when all around him were doing so, and because he kept to the old paths he finished his course, kept the faith, and enabled many thousands to do the same. 'Blessed be God!' wrote Cardinal Newman. “We have not to find the Truth, it is put into our hands; we have but to commit it to our hearts, to preserve it inviolate, and to deliver it over to our posterity.' Walter Matt preserved inviolate the truth that he received and delivered it inviolate to us. May we preserve it with equal care and hand it down just as he did."
His son Michael, who, like his father Walter learned in the same manner as his father Joseph had imparted, was more than capable to carry on the tradition of the Matt family and The Remnant. Yet, as Michael expressed with so much heart, Walter's passing, though inevitable, was still painful because he was so loved. Yet in Walter's case there was no doubt he could not have been escorted out by the angels in a greater light and grace, dying a happy death having received the saving sacraments and in the bosom of the hospital bearing the name of his father's patron saint, the holy St. Joseph, and in eyesight of the twin spires of the old church Walter had attended for so many years. Again we encourage you to read the tributes to Walter and especially the two Michael's masterpiece tributes at Defender of the Old Faith.
And so we honor this valiant trailblazer for Truth and Tradition who never compromised, who cherished his Catholicity and lived it in every way, resigning himself to walk the lonely road with our Savior for Walter L. Matt knew indeed that narrow is the path that leads to salvation. Thanks to his efforts, hopefully that path has become a little more crowded. It is with great respect and admiration that we present to Sir Walter L. Matt posthumously the Tower of Trent Trophy and Crimson Cross and declare this day Walter Matt Day in all of Christendom.
For other charter members honored in this inaugural presentation of the Tower of Trent, see Charter Recipients of the Tower of Trent Trophy