February 12, 2002
volume 13, no. 27

A Brief Defense of Traditionalism

Responding to 'conservative' attacks and misconceptions

Part Three

By Peter Miller
    In this issue we continue a special series on what Traditionalism truly is - Roman Catholicism. Peter Miller, editor of the Seattle Catholic at www.Seattle Catholic.com, first published this on his excellent web site and shares with our readers a simple, concise response to 'conservatives' who see their beloved Church collapsing everywhere but continue to keep their heads in the sand, refusing to see the obvious. Peter shows the distinctions between 'traditionalist' and 'conservative' and clears up misconceptions that hopefully will better alert neo-Catholics to the true path they need to follow and to dispell the many myths about Traditionalism as we present the third part of his excellent essay A Brief Defense of Traditionalism.

7) "Traditionalists view the current crisis of the Church that has occurred since the 60's as somehow 'caused' by Vatican II or the New Mass or the actions of the Church Leaders. That is ridiculous and similar to claiming Humanae Vitae 'caused' the modern crisis."

    This comes closer to the heart of the traditionalist position. Traditionalists tend to place the "blame" for many modern issues on the Vatican Council and the New Mass (also Church governance which could be seen as an extension of conciliar-style "ecumenism" and "collegiality").

    "Conservatives" revel in the claim that since such a "cause-effect" relationship cannot be "proven", assigning any blame or trying to reasonably demonstrate how one could lead to the other is completely unreasonable. They cite the basic principle of scientific research that correlation does not demonstrate causation. Unfortunately for "conservatives", such exact causation cannot be determined outside experimental settings and thus has little bearing on examinations of history. Political scientists will always debate whether America came out of the Great Depression due to the "New Deal" or World War II, but neither can be scientifically "proven" as the cause. Because one cause cannot be proven, another cannot be discounted especially one with reasonable logical support. Traditionalists make a compelling case for the role the "renewal" of Vatican II has played in the modern crisis. To discount such an argument due to the failure of establishing an impossible "proof" is intellectually dishonest.

    Traditionalists believe the Second Vatican Council to be harmful to the Church. As with criticisms of the Pope, this does not represent a denial of the Church's indefectibility. Just because an ecumenical council is called, does not guarantee it will succeed or be good for the Church.

    "It is entirely possible that an ecumenical council can simply fail in its stated goal. The fifteenth-century Council of Ferrara-Florence failed to bring about a lasting reconciliation with the Orthodox. The Second Council of Constantinople, held during the 550s, seems only to have confused people further about the controversy surrounding Monophysitism. For that reason, St. Isidore of Seville believed that the Church would have been better off had it never been called." 9 9. Dr. T. Woods, The Remnant (2000)
    This is not to say that all the directors of this new pastoral orientation which begun with Vatican II were evil or subversive. Many (but not all) certainly were well-intentioned people who bought into the idea of a "renewed" Church with an "improved" outlook towards the world. But given the results we have all witnessed, such initial optimism is no longer reasonable. Even Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger admits as much: "I am repeating here what I said ten years after the conclusion of the work: it is incontrovertible that this period [following Vatican II] has definitely been unfavorable for the Catholic Church." 10 10. J. Ratzinger (12/1984)     Such a conclusion did not take very long to realize. The results could be seen immediately after the council. In 1968, Pope Paul VI lamented: "We looked forward to a flowering, a serene expansion of concepts which matured in the great sessions of the Council. ... [Instead, it] is as if the Church were destroying herself." 11 11. Pope Paul VI, "Address to Lombard College" (12/7/1968) And the following year, Fr. Louis Bouyer wrote:
    "Unless we are blind, we must even state bluntly that what we see looks less like the hoped-for regeneration of Catholicism than its accelerated decomposition." 12 12. Fr. Louis Bouyer, "The Decomposition of Catholicism", p. 3, Franciscan Herald Press (1969)
    The Church has never been guaranteed that it will take the wisest and most prudent path. Infallibility on matters of faith and morals does not extend to every decision and pastoral technique the Church leaders may try. As Dr. Thomas Woods reminds us:
    "... [how can one] conclude that an orientation could itself be a magisterial teaching? How can an orientation be 'true' or 'false'? It can only be wise or unwise, fruitful or barren. Thus if the Pope were to declare that the pastoral experiment inaugurated by Vatican II, having produced more dissension and confusion than genuine fruit, was to be abandoned in favor of the Church's traditional posture, that would be entirely his prerogative. If the suggestions of Vatican II fall short of their expectations, they can be revised or rejected by the Church. For example, in the wake of the Council of Trent and in the face of the Protestant Revolt, the Church granted the request of some of her members that Communion be offered to the faithful under both species. Over time the practice seemed to produce more confusion than piety - some laymen simply could not be persuaded from the superstitious notion that one receives more grace by receiving under both kinds - and so the very churchmen who had originally requested the Holy See's permission for this experiment finally asked that the previous discipline be restored." 13 13. Dr. T. Woods, The Remnant (2000)
which agrees perfectly with Dietrich von Hildebrand, praised by Pope Pius XII as the "20th century Doctor of the Church" who, besides saying, "If one of the devils in C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy, he could not have done it better." said:
    "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 will be taken back; indeed, they can work, with all due respect for the pope, for their elimination."
    The alternate "conservative" theory of causation (that the current situation would have happened anyway due to unavoidable changes in social climate) is possible but seems unlikely for several reasons. Anecdotally, we've seen that non-Latin Catholic Rites and Eastern Schismatic churches did not see the same drop-offs and mass exodus. We've also seen the popularity of Islam explode in Western civilization, especially in Great Britain and the United States. One would expect a debilitating societal condition to afflict different "religious groups" equally (or at least somewhat proportionally).

    But the main reason to discount such a "would've happened anyway" hypothesis is that Vatican II and the New Mass were extremely visible and major changes if not in substance than appearance. Such appearances (or accidents) are not insignificant details but have always been regarded as important. The result of changing them does not have to be theorized. It can be seen by the statistical drop in conversions, ordinations, practicing Catholics and every other vital sign one wishes to examine. It can also be heard in the words of confused Catholics:

    "If it now seems that salvation can be obtained in other religions, why remain Catholic?"

    "If anyone can participate "actively" in the liturgy, why be a priest?"

    "Why is the Mass now very similar (in prayers, music, architecture) to the heretical ones previously condemned?"

    "If the Mass and the Church can change this much, why can't it change further to whatever my particular cause is?"

    "If that which was formerly condemned is now acceptable and the 'old' Church was mistaken or 'out of touch', how do we know the current Church isn't the same way, and will be judged as 'out of touch' at some future point."

    All understandable concerns concerns which had no real basis in pre-conciliar days. They do now. Which brings us to the much heralded "Spirit of Vatican II" which is used to justify any and every aberration or heresy. Regardless of whether you see this as an abuse of the Council or the result of the logical progression it unleashed (I tend to favor the latter), such novelties would have no excuse were it not for the Council, and the laity would be less likely to accept them. Novelties on a far smaller scale went on before the Council but received limited support and were clearly seen for what they were.

    The Archdiocese of Seattle went through a disastrous time in the 1980's under Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. Everything from "altar girls" to lay-run "liturgies" to pagan architecture to invalid sacramental matter was justified by conformance to the elusive "spirit of Vatican II". What if no such Council could be used for such abuse? They may have found another excuse but it would be much less likely to succeed and certainly less widespread. Pope St. Pius X's Oath Against Modernism warned of this: "...I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously."

    When Modernism and liberalism were emphatically condemned from the highest levels of the Church, when priests were required to take anti-Modernist oaths, when diocesan councils were encouraged to root out these errors, such a thing could never be justified nor carried out. When the fight against these forces turned into an implicit (or explicit) acceptance and such outward changes could be seen by Catholics every week, the Catholic Church became fertile ground for a revolution. When confusion reigns, those things that would normally cause mass protest are accepted.

    All this is defended as the necessary cost of the "renewal". No matter how enthusiastic the Pope is about the current Church and Vatican II, no "renewal" is happening. The evidence of this fantastical "Springtime" is nowhere to be found, except in those small pockets of grace which find the faithful rediscovering the traditional teachings, practices and rites of the Catholic Faith.

    With regards to the "Humanae Vitae" argument, equating a significant change in the orientation of the Church towards the world (accompanied by a change in worship experienced every week by every member of the Latin Rite) with a single encyclical which upholds Catholic teaching, and discounting the possibility for either to significantly effect the Church is, at best, careless. It seems that "conservative" Catholics are frantically looking for some explanation of what's going on, convinced it couldn't be the Council or anything the Church leaders have done. Why not?

    Some have gone so far as to claim that most every modern problem in the Church from low Mass attendance to a lack of vocations was "caused" by dissension from Humanae Vitae.14 14. New Oxford Review (9/2001) And that through a sort of "radiation" theory, the "plague" of dissent has brought the Church to its knees and driven away priests and converts, leaving the Pope and bishops absolutely helpless. Again, if you'll believe this, why discount the possibly of significant wide scale changes made by the Church itself having some negative effects?

    "Conservatives" are faced with another problem when they start blaming the current crisis on certain dissenting bishops and priests who spread heresy, dissent and scandal. If they are to blame, so is their leader. Who is the one in charge of governing the bishops and priests? Who is responsible for keeping them in line? If local policemen start a riot, you can bet the police chief and mayor will be held accountable. When Palestinian suicide bombers attack Israel, Arafat will certainly be held to blame. When a company is facing bankruptcy and losses, the CEO needs to answer for it. Pick any organizational analogy you like teachers, parents, sports teams, schools, businesses, organizations, societies the result is the same. The state of a household in ruin has something to do with its head whether through misguided actions or the lack of appropriate response.

    So any attack against a liberal Cardinal or dissident bishop is an implication of Our Holy Father. Who has the power to reprimand heretics? Even if you excuse the Pope as "too busy" or claim he "has his hands tied", who has the power to assign bishops? Why has the Pope made bishops out of Thomas Gumbleton and Matthew Clark? Why are Francis George and Roger Mahony named Cardinals and electors of the Pope? You can only pretend for so long that the Pope is oblivious to "what's really going on". John Paul II was very familiar with the "views" of Karl Lehmann and Walter Kasper when they were named Cardinals last year. Again, does true loyalty mean remaining silent or, much worse yet, making excuses? Or is the proper Catholic response to question what's going on?

    St. Basil put it quite succinctly, "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."

    As a final clarification, most traditionalists do not see the Second Vatican Council and Novus Ordo as formal "causes" of the modern crisis but catalysts which allowed a number of Modernists to come to the forefront and foist their ideas and heresies on the Church under the guise of a "renewal". Both marked a sort of "triumph" of liberal, masonic and Modernist ideals within the structure of the Church. It is not wholly inaccurate to claim that:

"What the French Revolution was to France, the Second Vatican Council was to the Catholic Church."

Next Tuesday: Part Four of "A Brief Defense of Traditionalism" in refuting more misconceptions

Peter Miller is the webmaster for the excellent Roman Catholic website Seattle Catholic at www.SeattleCatholic.com. You can contact him at Peter Miller


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Tuesday, February 12, 2002
volume 13, no. 27
Traditional Thoughts