Yesterday I talked about how a modern Catholic “civil war” is leaving us, and all mankind, weak, confused, and vulnerable to the assault of the ancient enemy on mankind. This Catholic civil war is being fought between three main camps within the Church; Political Catholics, Traditionalists, and Modernist. I talked about political Catholicism in that post. Now I’ll talk about Traditionalism. In the next day or two I’ll go over Modernism and start to wrap up this series of posts on the subject.
Labels, Titles, Terminology
Some readers will doubtless be thinking “But I’m a traditional Catholic. What’s wrong with that?”. The answer is “Nothing”…or “Everything”. It depends on what kind of Catholic the person labeling themselves as “traditional” really is.
It can be a little confusing, so I think it’d be helpful to go through some terminology, so that what I’m trying to say in this post is conveyed clearly to you, the reader.
Since all Catholics, and the institution of the Church itself are bound by Sacred Tradition, the term “traditional Catholic” has always sounded redundant and silly to me, and therefor an unnecessary title. We don’t have to say “wet water” or “hot fire” and we don’t have to say “traditional Catholic”.
But following the great and tragic harm that many secularized Catholics have done to the Church, wielding an errant understanding of Vatican II as their chief weapon, many Catholics have found it necessary to distinguish themselves from their left-leaning, “spirit of Vatican II” brethren. So by calling themselves “traditional Catholics”, what they’re really saying is “I’m a normal Catholic, not a liberal one”. This post is not intended to address that. Because, as I said, those types of “traditional Catholics” are just CATHOLIC.
TraditionalIST Catholics are characteristically different from others who call themselves “a traditional Catholic”. Those calling themselves “traditional Catholics” were traditionally just orthodox, faithful Catholics. They were normal Catholics. That’s it. But nowadays the term has evolved and includes a wider, more divergent class of Catholics, all using the same title, but not engendering the same theological attitudes. Some “traditional Catholics” are much more conservative than others, and that’s not a good thing.
So when I talk about traditional Catholics here, I’m not addressing the “normal” or orthodox ones who call themselves “traditional Catholics”, I’m rather addressing the more extreme of the traditional crowd, which I’ll call Traditionalists.
Traditionalists today are no longer just orthodox or faithful Catholics. The term today includes a more extreme persona. Today traditionalists largely favor the Latin mass (for good or bad reasons), believing it to be substantially superior, and more efficacious than the Novus Ordo (the “new” mass). They take issue with the Second Vatican Council itself, not just with the implementation of its documents. They adopt an erroneous, purist point of view, calling everything “heretical” or “Modernist” if it doesn’t agree with their often incorrect or off-base understanding of the faith, or the Church or her history. They correctly acknowledge that the Church is bound to Sacred Tradition, but they also believe that Sacred Tradition precludes the Church from growing and developing through time.
The Church—including her people—is supposed to grow and develop through time, but not change with time. Yes, there’s a difference. Our practices sometimes grow, our understanding of theology grows, and our theology develops. A development isn’t a departure from a foundation (that would be modernism), it’s an expansion from, and guided by a foundation. That, my brothers and sisters is Catholicism. Not “traditionalism”, just Catholicism. Anything less than that is modernism, and anything more than that is malignant traditionalism.
Good Intention, Bad Destination
Many have gone over to the “traditional” side out of reasonable and understandable frustration with some objectively problematic practices and habits in the Church today. They’re tired of masses not being celebrated well, or reverently, or even illicitly in some cases. They’re tired of bad theology being presented as actual Catholicism. They’re tired of what has become an environment in much of the Church that fails to take itself seriously in a secular world that needs the Church to take itself seriously now more than ever. Their reaction to all of this has been to become more and more traditional in their practice of the faith. That’s not altogether a bad thing. It’s not bad to become more prayerful or to have a more regimented prayer life, to receive communion kneeling down, and/or on the tongue, to learn more about the saints or about the Church fathers, read the bible, to study the Church’s teachings, or councils or papal documents. But, again, to me that isn’t a Catholic being “traditional”, it’s just a Catholic being Catholic. And it’s a good thing. But becoming ‘more traditional’ becomes a problem when it locks a Catholic in the past. They begin to view everything not through the prism of the Church throughout history, but rather from a fabricated point of view of the Church in the past. That’s a very different thing, and it’s a very dangerous thing.
Traditionalism is part of the Catholic civil war, because it creates division, and a combative atmosphere. The combat is between Traditionalists and every other Catholic (orthodox and modernists alike), and between Traditionalists and the Church. Neither holiness nor piety flourish in this fog of war. Only division, fear, confusion flourish. Which is exactly what the devil wants.
Traditionalism is dangerous. It assaults unity, confuses the faithful, perverts the faith, and disorients and sours the lifeblood of the Church. Every manifestation of Traditionalism, therefor, bears, by its nature, a characteristic of evil, antithetical to the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And that should be your first and only needed clue as to its true origin.
Being a so-called “traditional” Catholic—that is to say a normal, orthodox, faithful Catholic—is a good thing. But when our obedience to Sacred Tradition becomes merely a cult of customs (customs and Sacred Tradition are not the same thing), the Catholic heart is made to stop beating, to stop living; the body of the Church is forced to stop growing. Catholics themselves become more old-school Catholics, but they do not grow. They become more regimented, but not more faithful. They become more devout, but not more holy. They become more saint-like, but not more saintly. More purist, but not more pious.
Stick to what the Church teaches. The Church never teaches error. She never has, and she never will. Trust and believe in the Church, which is, has always been, and will always be guided by the Holy Spirit. Be patient with the bumps in the road, because the Church is driving over many of them right now. There is the occasional bad/silly mass. There is the occasional foolish/wrong thing spoken by some priests or bishops. There is a spirit of fear and political correctness. The list goes on. There are bumps in the road. But the road is sure, and the Church’s direction is true. Despite the bumps in the road the Church continues to drive forward toward a glorious destination, and is being driven by the Holy Spirit. Don’t let your Catholicity be defined or shaped by the bumps in the road. Remember our history, and remember the goal. The Church will get there. You won’t be there with her if you’re not along for the ride now. Be brave. Be Catholic. Stay Catholic.
In a later post I’ll talk about Modernism, why it’s so bad, and ways in which Modernism and traditionalism are eerily similar, and how they play off of each other to achieve the devil’s main goal—to hamstring the Church by hamstringing Catholics.
Ave Maria, virgo fidelis