There is an extremely interesting article from the Latin Mass Society Chairman Joseph Shaw in his blog – Mystical not ascetic: a response to Pope Francis, Part 5. This is the last part of a series of articles on Pope Francis. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am of the conviction that we don’t need the Pope to be Catholics, and that we are Catholics in various Churches that are not in communion with Rome. Of course that subject is open to debate, but I do not flinch from such a position.
What is of interest to me is that what seems to be entering the picture is a third way, one that is neither liberal nor conservative. He begins with the distinction in Pope Francis’ mind between mysticism and asceticism – “Ignatius is a mystic, not an ascetic”. Mysticism is openness to the influence of the supernatural, of the Holy Spirit, and asceticism in his mind is close to legalism and being closed in on oneself. He is very insistent on criticising the kind of Christian who wants to turn back the clock, go by rigid rules and want everything clear and safe. Being attached to Tradition transcends looking to authority and discipline for doctrinal security. Tradition is the wholeness of the Church and the Christian experience in the whole of history, and not merely the period when the Church seemed to offer the most security and certitude.
This distinction may seem to be a little tortured, but it reflects some of my own thought over the years, and also that of some so-called “modernists” from the beginning of the twentieth century, Tyrrell in particular. That is a notion of being attached to traditional forms of liturgy and spirituality without being of a legalist or authoritarian attitude. We come to the idea that such “traditionalism” is not a part of the “liberal” and “conservative” dialectic. Many traditionalists are not “extreme conservatives” but rather of another category altogether. The points on which “traditionalists” differ from the “conservatives” are exactly legal positivism and Ultramontanism. Incredible! That this should come from a Roman Catholic’s pen!
Being a traditionalist in this perspective is being critical of these conservative tenets. We find Pope Francis showing opposition to canonical positivism and the centralisation of the Church with its logical consequence in Ultramontanism. One capital principle of canon law is salus animarum seprema lex – laws are overridden by the spiritual principles of Christianity. The moral obligation to obey laws is overturned when their literal observance would go against the whole purpose of ecclesiastical law. Laws have to promote the common good, and it is not legitimate to use law as a tool for gaining personal power – for example. Looking through the layers, I see Pope Francis calling upon the principle of subsidiarity – decisions being made at the lowest levels possible: leaving to diocesan bishops what diocesan bishops find within their competence, and the same with parish vicars and vestry councils. In that way, we don’t need to hear doctrines and moral teachings repeated ad nauseum by the Pope so that they may be that much “more true” for us. Still, many things said by Pope Francis seem to be incoherent, far from “infallible” and often confusing. It is not my duty to defend him at all costs – though there is a very appealing “core”.
Traditionalists like Dr Geoffrey Hull have influenced my own thinking in that they are critical of centralism and absolute Papal authority. In this, they differ from conservatives. A highly apposite point is that traditionalists appeal to the principle of preserving and fostering local liturgical rites and uses. Conservatives see liturgical pluralism as a source of problems and a lack of unity in the Church, above all a lack of lock-step discipline. Traditionalists are more likely to disobey through the use of their conscience. Do not we Anglicans see our own faces in this particular mirror?
One thing I do notice about this Pope is that his positions are not typical of the old liberalism of the 1970’s or the Anglican Establishment. I try to see through the tacky vestments and externals that seem to have taken the post-Benedict XVI Church back to the 1970’s. His doctrine of the priesthood is completely traditional. The liberal sees secularism as the yardstick to which religious practice should be conformed for the purpose of fostering political issues or “going beyond” Christ. We should be open to the world – but not of the world. Liberals love bureaucracy, committees and meetings. The Jesuit Pope sees the priest called to the front lines of his ministry and the sacrificial dimension. One thing by which we will be able to judge the Pope in the coming years will be how he deals with bureaucracies and all the stuff that makes the Church inaccessible to ordinary folk.
These considerations will not classify the Pope as a “traditionalist” and certainly not a “traditionalist” who is really a “super conservative”. Anyone’s words can be twisted around to mean anything. This is why I am not interested in “Pope-sifting”. We have to try to understand the underlying philosophy and get beyond the “buzz” phrases and the trappings.
We need to explain that Traditional Catholics are not hyper-conservatives with all the baggage of Ultramontanism and legalism…
It’s an interesting thought, but many of the RC traditionalists I came across were “super conservatives” and “true church” fanatics. But not all by a long chalk. All we can really understand from Pope Francis is his criticism of both conservatives and liberals. Does he recognise a “third way” transcending Tweedledum and Tweedledee? Only time will tell.
In regard to the use of the old Latin liturgy, the Pope seems concerned that it should become a kind of “ideological banner”. On the other hand, he has wonderful things to say about the Orthodox Liturgy and everything we attribute to our own traditional rites and uses. As mentioned in an earlier article, much will be discovered by the Pope’s choice of someone to head the liturgical department of the Vatican.
The traditionalist world is extremely diverse, with Jansenistic (“Augustinian” puritanism) undercurrents together with other theories more or less detached from reality or common sense. We continuing Anglicans, especially Anglo-Catholics, have much in common with the eminently liturgical motivation of our dissidence from the “mainstream”. Problems arrive when there are obsessions, single-issues and hobby horses, rather than an honest attempt to see the big picture. We have analogical problems in our circles.
I suppose, as this series of articles was written by a Roman Catholic, it is an appeal for “traddies” to get their act together and get rid of the cranky “stuff”. It would be a start. One lesson can be learned from the American experience of Prohibition in the 1930’s. Ban alcohol, and human nature will bring people to want to drink it increasingly. Ban the old Mass – and it is a most unpastoral thing to do. Prohibiting the old liturgy brings people to revolt and come up with self-justifying theories. If people could just get on with life, there would be no controversy, and the Church would be one in peace. We still have alcoholism and drunkenness in countries where people can drink freely, but perhaps less so than under Prohibition. I think the comparison is valid.
Wherever we are, in the RC Church, some dissident traditionalist community, or among us continuing Anglicans on the “other side of the fence”, the priority is not our self-justification but our Christian commitment and to the living and incarnate Christ through the Sacrament, the liturgy and beauty. Once we just get on with life, the world might become that little bit more peaceful – and nearer to God.
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Update: see Alms and Liturgy. How Francis Wants Them by Sandro Magister. For all the good words we read, we cannot count on this Pope for the liturgy. Thank goodness we Anglicans don’t have to!