The anti-integralist fallacy

Suppose you buy a new dishwasher machine.  Everything about it looks the same as any other dishwasher, except that there is a mysterious red switch in the middle, which can be set in position “1” or position “2”.  The machine is on setting “1” when you bought it, and since you don’t know what that switch does, you just leave it there.  The dishwasher works fine.  One day, overcome with curiosity, you decide to try setting “2” to see what happens.  The dishwasher melts all of your dishes and spews water on the kitchen floor.  Properly chastened, you turn the switch back to setting “1”, and again things work fine.  A couple weeks later, you think to yourself, “I have had no more mishaps with the dishwasher for weeks.  Perhaps I no longer need setting ‘1’, and I can go back to setting ‘2’”.  You put the machine on setting “2” and run a load of dishes with it.  The machine once again melts dishes and spews water.  You think to yourself, “The fact that these old problems started right up again when I switch to setting ‘2’ proves that my going to setting ‘1’ was not a good solution.  It didn’t really fix the problem.  Nay, the underlying cause must have been festering underneath all this time.  Probably it is worse now than if I had left the machine on setting ‘2’ and had everything out in the open.  Bad behavior under setting ‘2’ means that setting ‘1’ is bad.  Therefore, I will leave the dishwasher on setting ‘2’, endure the messes it makes, and hope that the problem will eventually sort itself out.”

Now, nobody would never actually reason like this.  They only expect the Catholic Church to be that stupid.  For it is common wisdom, so common that I’ve never heard anybody else question it, that the post-Vatican II anarchy in the Catholic Church proves that the anti-modernist campaigns of Pope Pius X and his immediate successors were ill-conceived.  The reasoning is the same as above.  There was a problem with priests promoting heresy among the faithful.  The Vatican took disciplinary measures to stop it.  Bingo, the problem goes away, and it stays away until the policy is reversed.  Pope John the Fool decides that priests are such special people that they should be allowed to spread whatever poison they want from the pulpit and still have the laity pay their bills.  The Church immediately goes to pot.  Everyone says that this means discipline was a failure.

No it wasn’t.  Discipline was working fine.  Taking away discipline is what has obviously been a failure, unless your idea of success is reducing the Church to a pile of crap.  “But discipline is wrong, because people are bad when you take it away.”  So don’t take it away.  Duh.

Can someone give me a reason why censorship and authoritarianism couldn’t be maintained in perpetuity, in the Church or in other areas of life?  A priori, it seems like a more stable arrangement than the soft anarchy we have decided is the natural state of ecclesial and social life.

59 Responses

  1. Yeah, but, you know, people have to follow their conscience, or something.

  2. But it did not go away! If it had gone away, there would have been no v2. The new theology and liturgical movement goofs came up through the Church in its anti-modernist phase. Some of Rahner’s work was condemned, no? (away from real computer and can’t check). Modernism just went underground. You actually sound a little like the catholic answers types here—they claim that modernism was fought and beaten by the anti-modernist popes. Dead and gone, just like arianism.

    To know what the Vatican should have done, you have to know lots of things that aren’t publicly known. To treat a disease you need to know its natural history, what treatments are available, and their likely effects. Sometimes, the right answer is amputate and sometimes it is do nothing. The Church has reacted to heresy with interventions ranging from crusade to benign neglect.

    The existence of Fr McBrien proves something is wrong. Is he a cancer cell or is he the baldness from chemo or is he a fever dream?

  3. Hi Bill,

    I defend my thesis as follows:

    V2 was caused by Pope John the Fool’s recklessness and stupidity, not some organized heretical movement. If the 1958 papal conclave had had a more fortunate outcome, all of this might never have happened.

    I won’t deny that there were a few modernist heretics doing their devilish work underground during the pre-V2 years, but no one can seriously imagine that there were as many heretics then as now, but they were just all underground. Remember that the best policy won’t produce perfection; it will just give the least bad outcome. There was nothing Pope Pius X could have done that would have made the number of traitor-priests zero, but he made it as low as it could possibly be, and much lower than it is now.

  4. “Can someone give me a reason why censorship and authoritarianism couldn’t be maintained in perpetuity, in the Church or in other areas of life?”

    I’ll have a go. The bulwark of modern liberal civilisation, whether you love it or hate it, is the existence in Western countries of an affluent, educated middle class which will not tolerate being indefinitely shut out of political power or having its conduct circumscribed from above.

    There are exceptions to this. A middle class will tolerate having its rights repressed if its mouth is stuffed with gold (Singapore, Dubai) or if the alternative is chaotic instability (Putin’s Russia, Nazi Germany) or communism (Pinochet’s Chile). But I don’t know of any example, since 1789, of a developed middle class being prepared to put up indefinitely – say, for more than a generation or two – with a counterrevolutionary-type authoritarian regime. The last such regimes in Europe were Salazar’s Portugal and Franco’s Spain, and the middle classes had lost interest in maintaining both of these by the time that they were dissolved.

    As for the Catholic Church, a policy choice had to be made after 1789 as to how to deal with liberal modernity. If the initial conservative policy had been maintained by Bl. John XXIII, the church today would bear some resemblance to the Mormon Church, which remains an essentially conservative and hierarchical institution with limited tolerance for dissent. The risk is that the Church would have seen an even more catastrophic loss of credibility and witness in the West than has happened, with it turning into something like the SSPX (in terms of size as well as doctrine). I would prefer to make the argument the other way round and note that the deep political and religious conservatism of Catholicism after 1789 was a policy choice, not an inevitability, and that, had the likes of Cardinal Consalvi or the younger version of Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti prevailed, the encounter of Catholicism with modernity would have taken place long before the 60s and would have been much less sudden, traumatic and destructive.

  5. I think it’s important to keep a historical context here. Catholic literature from the 18th century onwards is permeated by complaints about liberal Catholics, some of whom occupied elevated positions in the hierarchy (remember the crack about Bl. Pius IX’s cats being liberals?). They didn’t just suddenly appear in St Pius X’s reign and then disappear underground until 1958. There are long-term trends at work here.

  6. If Lamentabili and Pascendi were designed to purge the Church of heresy, they were a failure. Modernism (which was a coterie or clique, rather than a movement) continued unabated.

    Catholic mystical theologians of undoubted orthodoxy, like Abbot Chapman of Downside and Dom Cuthbert Butler, whose “Western Mysticism” inspired the production of reliable editions of the Rheinish mystics, Tauler and Ruysbroeck, and of the English mystics, “The Cloud of Unknowing,” Walter Hilton’s works and Julian of Norwich, provided cover for their more radical brethren, notably Abbé Brémond.

    In his monumental works, like “Prière et Poésie”and “Introduction a la Philosophie de la Prière,” Brémond, whose work on poetry, symbolism and romanticism earned him election to the Académie française and a eulogy from the French Symbolist poet, Paul Valéry, was careful to cite with approval only saints and writers of undoubted orthodoxy, or, at least, those who had died in the peace of the Church. However, the selection and arrangement of these writings enabled him to produce something very like a vade mecum for Modernists – and all with the sanction of the ecclesiastical censors.

    In philosophy, Maurice Blondel, especially after he purchased the journal Annales de la Philosophie Chrétienne, with Lucien Laberthonière, as editor was able to do much the same in philosophy, especially as he and the journal were outspoken critics of l’Action française, which the French hierarchy feared and hated as a threat to their policy of « Ralliement a la République . »

    I could give any number of similar examples. Ecclesiastical censors and the Holy Office itself were unable to find examiners, both competent to evaluate the work of the crypto-Modernists and willing to criticise it. This was especially true of those who wrote as philosophers, mystical theologians and church historians; so long as they kept away from dogmatic theology, they were given free rein.

    In this way, by the time of the Second Vatican Council, most theologians and many in the hierarchy had been thoroughly infected with Modernist principles

  7. It was a bad idea to call V2, but V2 under John XXIII was merely pointless (apparently). All the damage was done under Paul VI. He installed the leaders of the Modernist minority in power and then repeatedly made decisions in their favor. He was in charge of implementation. He introduced the new Mass. The Modernists were a minority, but they were not a small minority (of the bishops!). And the periti (who were theologians) were worse. The conclave of 1963 is the strange one. How did all those cardinals appointed by good popes elect Montini? It was not a mystery what he was about. The danger was obvious—there was a council going on. And he was not an old man.

    You seem to be focused on priests for some reason, rather than bishops and theologians. I don’t understand why. I think the loss of discipline you are concerned with is, to a great extent, not real. Bishops have plenty of authority with which to discipline their priests, and they don’t seem shy about using it. Are you saying that if a priest started saying the NO ad orientem or started saying the old Mass, then his bishop couldn’t or wouldn’t bring enough disciplinary authority to bear to stop him? This stuff is all done in private and only rumors leak out, so we don’t really know, but my money is on the priesthood continuing down to the present in relatively good discipline.

    Similarly, I greatly doubt that most priests are trying to rebel against the Church. They study Rahner, von Balthasar, Teilhard de Chardin, Henri de Lubac and etc in seminary. And not as exemplars of what not to think. I would be willing to bet that the 329 priests you were talking about in the other thread believe that Shoenborn is on their side (in the privacy of his mind), and that they are being truly obedient to him

    My view is that the vast majority of priests are trying to be orthodox and to be obedient to their superiors.

  8. What if we believe in authority and discipline but don’t think that the Church or Christianity in general are the right sources to administer them?

    Vatican II happened because, even at that time, the Church was losing adherents and seeing its power rapidly diminish. The Pope wrong-headedly believed that some modernist reforms could stem or even reverse this process. That didn’t happen. While it’s easy to claim in retrospect that things would’ve worked out if they had merely maintained the status quo etc etc, I’m not so sure that was the case. Nor did Vatican II occur in a vacuum. Even in the early 20th century, the Church shifted away from some of its more reactionary positions and started to reconcile itself to democracy and modernization. Julius Evola predicted in the 1930s that the Church would eventually move further leftward.

    Let’s face it. Nietzsche was right about Christianity. Unless regulating sexual morality is the sine qua non for you (and for me, it’s not), finding stuff in the Gospels that aids a truly right-wing philosophy demands an extremely tendentious reading. The core of Jesus’s teachings is egalitarian, universalist, proto-communist, worshipful of the poor and oppressed while scornful of the rich and successful.

    You can claim that “but Christianity helped maintain a hierarchical authoritarian society for centuries blah blah.” Well, so did Buddhism, and for just as long a time, and yet look how much Buddhism has transmogrified recently. Nor is the egalitarian reading of anything new or unique. It was around even before the Reformation in the beliefs of John Wycliffe and the Lollards. It found particularly potent expression in 17th century Protestant movements such as the Diggers. All of these groups claimed to represent a more “authentic” Christianity and could find ample scriptural sources to justify their position.

    I admire some of Christianity’s historical accomplishments but neither am I overly sentimental about it. The Greco-Roman pagan religions lasted for centuries too and yet no one takes them seriously as religions anymore. Christianity has reached its nadir and I would not object if it died a quiet death, for there is a lot in it that is pernicious and needs to be outright rejected.

  9. Renzo De Felice has pointed that Italian Fascism was actually a movement of the middle class to assert its power that simply happened to manifest itself differently from other movements post-1789.

    Likewise, I’m not so sure that the middle-classes would not have happily supported Hitler if the Nazis had not lost the war (or managed to avoid it altogether). It was not merely some makeshift arrangement to avoid Communism. Hitler enjoyed genuine popularity from all social strata, and even after the war effort began to flounder, he would’ve likely been re-elected with an overwhelming majority if fair and free elections had been held. I know people don’t like admitting this nowadays, but it’s the truth.

    The same applies to Mussolini, although the Italian population was much less willing to suffer the war than the Germans were.

  10. That said, I should add that neither Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were “reactionary” in the proper sense of that word. Both were thoroughly modern in many ways. I would even argue that Fascist Italy had a lot more to recommend it than post-WWII liberal democratic propaganda (and, yes, lots of the “scholarship” on the topic does often devolve into propaganda) has led people to believe, but that would require a much longer and nuanced argument than I have the time for right now.

  11. The above should read “neither Fascist Italy nor Nazi Germany” but you get the point.

  12. This is all ultimately unprovable, but….

    The common feature of Mussolini and Hitler is that they came to power by promising order and stability after severe social and economic crises – the “biennio rosso” and pyrrhic victory in WWI in the case of Italy, and the Great Depression and the crisis of the Weimar Republic in the case of Germany. If WWII hadn’t happened, I suspect that the regimes would have stayed in power for a while but ultimately followed much the same trajectory as Franco and Salazar as western society continued to evolve along its long-term course. Robert Harris’ fantasy of a 1960s capitalist, consumerist Nazi Germany grown fat and lazy has a certain plausibility to it (it’s pretty much what happened in Spain in the desarollo).

    I strongly suspect that the same dynamic will seal the fate of the Chinese Communist Party circa 2025-30, but we’re getting into pure speculation now.

    The question of the relationship of fascism to reactionary conservatism is a fascinating one (which I’ve discussed on my Counter-Enlightenment blog in various places). I agree that Hitler and Mussolini were not men of the counterrevolution, though they and traditional conservatives did tend to co-operate because they had the same enemies, namely liberals and Marxists.

  13. I forgot to mention that even in France, the Vichy regime was welcomed by the middle classes (as well as the other classes) with little to no resistance. If you weren’t Jewish, you went on with your business more or less as you did under the Third Republic. It wasn’t until the Germans began losing the war and it became obvious that the regime wouldn’t last that people started “resisting” in order to portray themselves as the heroes they weren’t.

    The self-justifying arrogance of people that assume the liberal democratic status quo is here to stay is truly something to behold. Not that I believe we should revert to a theocratic monarchy like Bonald does, but I do think some non-democratic, inegalitarian alternative is possible and even preferable to what we have now.

  14. Oddly enough, President Roosevelt and his advisors appear to have thought the same.

  15. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not advancing an “end of history” argument whereby liberal democracy is the end point to which society is destined to evolve as its highest realisation. No doubt the current political and social structures in the West won’t last for ever. But they’re here to stay for the time being, and they’re the outcome of powerful long-term forces. I infer that Bonald believes that they can be held back by government policy, which is an unusual position for a conservative.

  16. I can’t reply to your other comment for some reason.

    You forget that the crisis of faith in liberal democracy among the educated classes *preceded* both WW1 and the Great Depression. The latter events merely exacerbated what was already an unstable situation. As luck would have it, many of the causes of that crisis of faith are repeating themselves now (the sheer stupidity of the masses, too many lukewarm compromises that left no one satisfied, the perception that elected officials were in the pockets of the wealthy, tensions between liberalism and democracy [the two are not necessarily linked], and many more).

    I don’t think that it was mere prejudice or lack or foresight that led many of the greatest thinkers in history to consider democracy the worst form of government.

  17. The malaise that preceded WWI is another interesting topic – though I believe that speaking of a crisis of faith in liberal democracy is putting it a little too strongly. In Italy, for example, if it hadn’t been for WWI, I suspect that the country would have continued to be run by a mildly conservative king and a cabinet of elderly liberal lawyers, while the Duce would have remained a second-rate left-wing journalist.

    I agree that you can’t write off anti-democratic sentiment in the likes of Aristotle and Aquinas as mere prejudice. Bear in mind that I’m coming from the British constitutional tradition, which historically tried to solve Aristotle’s problem by combining monarchic, aristocratic and democratic rule – and did so pretty successfully.

  18. As for the Catholic Church, a policy choice had to be made after 1789 as to how to deal with liberal modernity.

    This. What the Church did at Trent was to amputate and cauterize in response to Protestantism. The bleeding stopped, the disease was separated from the healthy flesh, but the leg was gone. And though the disease cropped up afterwards, it could be dealt with. Now, Trent did what it set out to do, though you could still argue that it should have done something else (did we have to lose the leg?).

    The anti-modernist popes tried to do roughly the same thing with respect to modernity. But they failed. V2 fans think they failed because they overreacted. For them, the Church should have engaged with modernity, embraced it, tried to soften its worst excesses, and tried to bend it to Her purposes. The mainstream TradCath thinks they didn’t fail, that the treatment was working just fine, that it was ended a little early.

    I think they failed because they underreacted. Catholics should have been taught a bunker mentality. Catholics should have been pushed to embrace more and more outre pious customs. Mr Perrin mentions Mormons. Magic underwear are a strength of Mormonism, not a weakness. Stores of non-perishable food are a strength of Mormonism, not a weakness.

    The risk is that the Church would have seen an even more catastrophic loss of credibility and witness in the West than has happened, with it turning into something like the SSPX

    It looked like this was the risk, in prospect. From the POV of 1958, this is a reasonable thing to think. Today, it is silly. Every year, we get to see pictures from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, as their dwindling, pantsuited cadre steer their walkers to the mic to tell each other how Relevant they are to the modern world. And, they play guitar!!

  19. One only has to look at a list of the most influential names in 20th century theology to see the extent to which Modernism influenced the divinity schools

    Louis Bouyer
    Jean Daniélou
    Marie-Dominique Chenu
    Yves Congar
    Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
    Henri de Lubac,
    Joseph Maréchal

    Even those who kept within the bounds of orthodoxy fostered a atmosphere congenial to Modernism; their historicism could be used by others to defend relativism.

    Partly as a reaction to the climate of suspicion generated by Lametabili and Pascendi, they developed close personal links and a strong ésprit de corps that made them ready to defend those accused of Modernism.

    Now, these were men who shaped two generations of clergy and profoundly influenced the educated laity, too, before Vatican II

  20. If you ask me, there wasn’t enough of a climate of suspicion, as one can see by how easily the well-meaning but soft-headed, like de Lubac, were duped by enemies of the faith like Teilhard. Also, to get a better appreciation for this time, we should add names like Chesterton, Dawson, Pieper, and von Hildebrand, who were effecting the Catholic world as much as the shady figures you named. And there was a strong Thomist presence, represented by Garrigiou-Lagrange, Gilson, and Maritain which–whatever else it could be accused of–was not in any way historicist.

  21. I would contend that here was an over-reaction in 1910.

    Early Modernism was an esoteric teaching within a small group of intellectuals. Men like Loisy and Tyrrell and Von Hugel would have been appalled by the liturgical changes after Vatican II. They believed the “picture language” of popular preaching and the traditional rituals were well-suited to arouse the religious feelings – the only thing they really cared about – of the mass of people. You have only to look at the union of Liberalism and Ritualism in Anglcanism, with its reverent scepticism to see that.

    The essence of their teaching was a neo-Kantian dichotomy between truths of fact and truths of value: people experience a sense of alienation, this can be replaced by a sense of liberation and union; that this is supremely valuable in itself; that traditional Catholic forms are the best way to elicit them. They did not believe their teaching was suited to the condition of most people.

    Left to themselves, their impact on the life of the Church would have been negligible. The campaign against them produced an irritated, organized, subversive body of intellectuals, utterly convinced of the triumph of instruction over ignorance and knowledge over numbers. It was the consequent undermining of ecclesiastical authority that opened the door to the Progressives, who are the polar opposites of the interiority, indeed the Quietism, of the early Modernists.

  22. Mr Paterson-Seymour makes some good points. “Modernism” was indeed an élite movement of intellectuals who liked the Tridentine Mass and disliked liberal Protestantism. They would not be comfortable at a congress of pant-suited American nuns. Their writings can still be read with profit today (I was a great admirer of Tyrrell in my student days).

    However, I gather than Bonald is using modernism as a proxy for liberal Catholicism in general, which is a much broader and older movement. It didn’t appear at the time of modernism, and it wasn’t created by the anti-modernist campaign.

  23. Mr Perrin is right to draw a distinction between Liberalism and Modernism. Liberalism is essentially rationalistic, whereas Modernism is essentially intuitive and experimental.

    Mgr Ronald Knox observes “Basically it is the revolt of Platonism against the Aristotelian mise en scène of traditional Christianity. The issue hangs on the question whether the Divine Fact is something given, or something to be inferred. Your Platonist, satisfied that he has formed his notion of God without the aid of syllogisms or analogies, will divorce reason from religion”

    The true heirs of Loisy and Tyrrell are the Charismatics

  24. Michael and Reggie,

    I don’t see such a big difference between the original modernists and post-VII radicalism. The two may have had different aesthetic sensibilities, but they agreed on the main point: that the doctrines of the faith are not true, that they are actually bullshit that we tell ourselves to get warm feelings. That’s what they were saying in 1900. That’s what they’re saying in 2011.

  25. I’m not sure if I recall Loisy or Tyrrell using the term “bullshit”, but I’ll agree that there is a common factor in terms of departing from the scholastic and Counter-Reformation interpretations of the Catholic faith.

    In the interests of bringing the discussion back to the final question, Macaulay said it better than I could have done. This is an extract from one of his speeches in the debates on parliamentary reform in Britain in 1832:

    “I believe that over the great changes of the moral world we possess as little power as over the great changes of the physical world. We can no more prevent time from changing the distribution of property and of intelligence — we can no more prevent property and intelligence from aspiring to political power — than we can change the courses of the seasons and of the tides…. The feeble efforts of individuals to bear back are lost and swept away in the mighty rush with which the species goes onward…. It is because rulers do not pay sufficient attention to the stages of this great movement… that so many violent and fearful revolutions have changed the face of society…. What then can you do to bring back those times when the constitution of this House was an object of veneration to the people? Even as much as Strafford and Laud could do to bring back the days of the Tudors — as much as Bonner and Gardiner could do to bring back the days of Hildebrand — as much as Villéle and Polignac could do to bring back the days of Louis 14th. You may make the change tedious; you may make it violent; you may — God in his mercy forbid! — you may make it bloody; but avert it you cannot.”

    This is a vein of slightly naive Whiggery in this (he didn’t predict Stalin or Hitler as part of the “mighty rush onward”), but I think he was basically right. As many conservatives would agree, government policy is a poor tool for engineering society.

  26. You are making two different points, I think. First, that Modernism can usefully be detached, as an intellectual exercise, from the rest of the package of reforms the Church went through (your point that some Modernists would not have liked the LCWR). Second, that Modernism would have died out had the Church not resisted it.

    Would you mind fleshing out these claims?

    On the first, as you and St Pius X and Mgr Knox say, Modernism draws a line between stuff which we know rationalistically, i.e. the physical world via science, and the stuff we know because God is dwelling in us, i.e. the supernatural world. Regardless of what opinions, per accidens, particular Modernists would have about the ladies of LCWR, these ladies seem pretty committed to the view that their interior experience of the divine is just as good as anyone else’s and that their external expression of that experience is similarly valuable (and, more to the point, that this is the right kind of analysis to apply). Once you have thrown away rationalism, how do you answer these claims? The fact that the ladies seem out of step with some dogmatic formula or another is no big deal, right? Pius X seems to have seen this problem quite clearly, noticing as he did the way that Modernism conduces to indifferentism.

    On the second, I am especially baffled. Consider the Gramscian march of the left through the West’s institutions. This march was not resisted really at all. But, as you say, an attitude of aggrieved victimhood, of speaking truth to (corrupt) power, is very useful to the left. So, they just concocted persecution fantasies: The Red Scare, McCarthyism, The Blacklist, etc. They are still doing this, with their bizarre bleating about theocracy and the religious right in US politics, and, within the Church, with their incomprehensible complaints against the current and previous Pope.

    The modern world burns with unquenchable hatred against anything that isn’t itself (and the Church isn’t the modern world). How could not resisting such an enemy be a good idea?

  27. Reggie, are you saying that the Church was simply driftwood that had no choice, but to be pushed where the rushing waters about it were going?

    Was the modernist incursion, loss of traditional teaching and identity inevitable for the Church?

    If so, how did the Amish manage to stay so distinct? To a lesser degree the Mormons?

    Is it really that hard to maintain the faith?

  28. I wouldn’t accept the driftwood analogy. The fact is that the Church exists in the world, as it always has done since the days of the Roman Empire. I’d also question whether maintaining the faith means maintaining unaltered the precise interpretation of scripture and tradition that prevailed at the Counter-Reformation.

    The advent of modernity was and is a fact, love it or hate it. Adopting a stringently defensive and immobile position – which is essentially what popes like Gregory XVI and St Pius X did – would have led precisely down the Amish route, which would have made the current decline of the Church in the West look like a walk in the park. My claim would be that being “in the world but not of the world” calls for a more subtle and sophsiticated response to modernity than just continuing to behave as if it’s still 1788. I accept Bonald’s premise that mistakes were made during and after Vatican II, and it’s easy to poke fun at elderly liberal nuns in pantsuits. But I deny the conclusion that maintaining a Pius X policy indefinitely would have produced a better outcome.

    You also have to remember that the providence of God is found in the way in which the course of history works itself out. I suspect that those who condemn modern liberal civilisation in its entirety sometimes forget that (or else, like Maistre, see it in explicitly satanic terms).

  29. Bill

    Two points – Firstly, the Modernist, as such, is not naturally a non-conformist: he has no wish to challenge institutions, to oppose traditional formulations of doctrine or to change hallowed forms of worship and devotion. Why would he? For him, this world is a shifting, intricate, half -real process, over against Something Else, transfused by Something Else, which is not shifting but is wholly real: something abiding, fully given, prevenient in the language of the Schools. For him the visible world derives all its significance from that Something Else; and the hours in which he has communion with It are, as St. Gregory has it, “alone the true refreshment of the mind.” If others can only approach this reality through myth and symbol, what is that to him? He grudges no one his own means of approaching the reality that is seen by being sought and possessed in being desired.

    The Liberal or Progressive, on the contrary, is almost wholly taken up with externals. Social rather than solitary, active rather than contemplative, they often believe they can do God no better service than to persuade others they are serving Him amiss.

    Secondly, stupid repression by unsympathetic authorities will tend to unite those who really hold the condemned doctrines and those, far more numerous, who fear they may be suspected of holding them. They will attempt to justify themselves; even more, they will attempt to justify their friends; what was a coterie or clique becomes a movement. Counter-charges are brought: as Knox puts it, “contempt of the half-Christian, ominous references to old wine and new bottles, to the kernel and the husk.” The results are obvious.

  30. Hi Michael,

    I’m always impressed by how you seem to be an expert on every topic. As I said before though, modernists and liberals “may have had different aesthetic sensibilities, but they agree on the main point: that the doctrines of the faith are not true, that they are actually bullshit that we tell ourselves to get warm feelings.” None of these other differences interest me.

    Here’s the lesson I take from the 20th century. The Church has been suppressing heresy in her ranks since apostolic times, with generally satisfactory results. If the heretics have seized power this time, that just means we weren’t suppressing them hard enough. If–although it seems impossible–the orthodox ever reestablish control over the Church, we should be sure not to make that mistake again. If we have to purge every theologian and leave half the parishes without priests, that would be a small price to pay to free our own organs from enemy control.

    If I had been alive in 1900 and heard someone say what I’ve just said, I would have been horrified. That was before I saw what “freedom of conscience” does to the people of God. Who would have thought that in so short a time, the vast majority of Catholics would deny Transubstantiation and live in mortal sin via birth control? I now think almost any sacrifice is worth keeping this contagion out.

  31. “Adopting a stringently defensive and immobile position – which is essentially what popes like Gregory XVI and St Pius X did – would have led precisely down the Amish route, which would have made the current decline of the Church in the West look like a walk in the park.”

    Firstly, not sure I grant any of that. I certainly do not see how much worse can be done in terms of retaining the young than has been done achieved across the western world in the post-VII era.

    I am intrigue that you think we would have ended up with an Amish effect. Considering they have achieved decidedly higher retention of their young, even without their high birth rates, a Catholic Church that mirrored their route, as you called it, could be many times larger and would have lost many less of the faithful.

    Personally, I do not think our traditional ways were similar enough to their restrictive set-up to achieve that kind of success, but I can certainly see it as distinctly possible that we would have done better than we have. Sadly, the bar is not a high one.

    I think this is one of those ones where we will have to amiably agree to disagree.

    By the way, I did like the Macaulay quote. Good choice.

  32. For “He grudges no one his own means . . .” to be non-problematic, it’s important that almost nobody hold it. “I don’t like cheese-head Masses; I believe in the historicity of the Resurrection; but whatever floats your boat, dude,” isn’t the kind of attitude which is conducive to keeping wolves away from the sheep. A Church which is full of Modernists is a Church one determined minority away from falling entirely apart, no? So, to get the conclusion that Modernism should not have been suppressed, we really need the fact that Modernism would have quietly died.

    The dynamic you describe in your second point seems implausible to me. In fact, it sounds like the kind of self-congratulatory fairy tale of oppression I mentioned. It seems to drink deeply of the idea that repression brings on revolution. But repression does not bring on revolution. Sometimes relaxing repression brings on revolution. More commonly revolution springs from one faction of a privileged elite smelling weakness in the dominant faction.

    Was the repression conducted by Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky smart or sympathetic? It must have been one of these, because it sure didn’t set off the dynamic you mention. Rather, it set off a dynamic of terrified informers desperate to vindicate their orthodoxy by turning in their neighbors.

  33. Hello again, Bonald, and others.

    There’s a great deal of subject-matter for discussion here. Forgive me for sounding like an eirenic liberal, but my eye is on the clock (22.45 BST, quite late in London), and I’d like to suggest that we temporarily bury our differences as Catholics and observe some appropriate devotions. We’ve missed the first Friday devotions, but no doubt we’ll each find an appropriate way to mark the weekend. I’m thinking that a Friday evening rosary wouldn’t go amiss.

  34. Thanks, Mr Griffin, I appreciate that. WIth regard to your point about the preservation of the faith, my reply would be that we have a ready-made example of what happens when Catholicism adopts an insular, self-defensive strategy, and it’s called the SSPX. My view is that this isn’t an encouraging precedent. For all the faults of the post-V2 Church, it is at least outward-focused and inclusive.

  35. Good night, Reggie.

  36. A perfect example of the difficulties in the way of a policy of repression is the discovery by Benedict XV of Cardinal Merry Del Val’s letter to his predecessor, denouncing him as a Modernist, The unfortunate Cardinal was transferred from his post of Secretary of State to Archpriest of St Peter’s, where his apostolate consisted of singing the capitular mass each day for the canons of St Peter’s. The influence of his tool, Mgr Benigni and his Sodalitium Pianum suffered a sharp decline and he offered his undoubted talents to the new fascist party, founding the Entente Romaine de Défense Social.

    That little episode showed many ecclesiastics the danger of ill-judged zeal on either side of the controversy, as not a few, once suspected of Modernism, became bishops or major superiors of religious orders

    Bremond, expelled by the Jesuits, was incardinated into the diocese of Paris by an Archbishop who remarked, “There is no heresy in the Church,” giving a pretty clear indication how future denunciations were likely to be received. As in the case of Blondel, Rome had no wish to clash with the French hierarchy, or revive old arguments over the liberties and immunities of L’église gallicane.

  37. The Modernists certainly did not consider dogma “bullshit.” Bremond somewhere described religious knowledge as like bathing in a fathomless ocean, or breathing an intangible and limitless air. It gives contact and certitude, but not understanding: as breathing or bathing give us certitude about the air and the ocean. For them, dogma is the Church’s response to and reflection on that experience, within the limitations of human language, a response that can be reformulated.

    Thus, the 8th Canon of the Fifth General Council condemned as heretical the Monophysite formula “the one nature of God the Word incarnate” [Μία φυσις του θεου λογου σεσαρκωμενε] – unless it was understood in an orthodox sense!

  38. Oh, brilliant. Today is Friday. All the days start to look the same after a while. Welcome to the world of corporate law.

    Mr P-S is right. Loisy’s attitude towards dogmas, for example, was that “The dogmas the Church holds out as revealed are not truths which have fallen from heaven. They are an interpretation of religious facts which the human mind has acquired by laborious effort” (I’m quoting from Lamentabili, where this proposition was condemned). This may not be an orthodox position in the sense that Aquinas would have understood it, but it’s a long way from saying that dogmas are bullshit that just make us feel good.

  39. I like the story about Merry del Val. A similar story is told about John XXIII, who allegedly discovered an old denunciation of himself in the 60s and wrote on the document in question “I was not a modernist. Signed, John P.P. XXIII”.

    I think that Tyrrell nearly got himself incardinated into a continental diocese (in France or Belgium, if I remember rightly) after he fell foul of his superiors, but Rome intervened to prevent it.

  40. I recall hearing the same story about Tyrrell and I rather fancy the diocese was Liège. The his whole story is replete with oddities. He received Extreme Unction, but was denied Catholic burial, something that, for inconsistency, Bremond compared to the giving of communion to Jeanne d’Arc before burning her as a heretic. Bremond made the sign of the cross over the grave, for which the Archbishop of Southwark (Amigo) suspended him. Bremond had a fair knowledge of English literature and his retort to Archbishop Amigo
    “…I tell thee, churlish priest,
    A ministering angel shall my brother be,
    When thou liest howling.”
    was not designed to conciliate that outraged prelate. On his return to France, he was promptly absolved from censure by his ordinary, Cardinal Amette.

  41. Mr Perrin,

    Can you provide some support for your view that the Church would have suffered a more catastrophic decline in the absence of V2? What evidence there is seems to cut against it sharply. The collapse in vocations, adult conversions, and the like (at least in the US) were coincident with the conclusion of V2. So, in your view, these declines were fated to happen in the period of V2’s implementation and would have been even worse without it? So, the Church held V2, by design or coincidence, at just the last possible moment of history before the collapse?

    The comparison with the SSPX seems inapt. They are working against both inertia and against the Church’s hierarchy, and they started more or less from zero more or less five minutes ago. In the counterfactual with no changes or with changes towards more distinctiveness and “rigidity” the SSPX-like Church would be working with inertia and the hierarchy. So, I would expect the Church to be no smaller than it is now, in terms of Mass attendance, and much larger in terms of vocations. In the same way most Catholics more or less went along with the changes of V2, most Catholics would have gone along with the changes (or lack thereof) of counterfactual anti-V2. The big difference would be with the young. The LCWR would have tons of young, habited sisters plotting their next strike against the abortion industry. It would be harder for the young to abandon practicing the faith or to go to Protestant denominations because they would lose the distinctive experience and sense of community you get from being different from the surrounding world.

    What is remarkable about the SSPX is not how small they are but how large and successful they are. They have over 550 priests, are ordaining at about 25/yr, and complain that their seminaries are full. By comparison, France has about 9000 active diocesan priests and is ordaining 90 per year. And this is an exaggeration of how well the reform in France is doing since these ordinations disproportionately come from the few places where the EF is celebrated. Assuming no big increase in vocations, the long run number of priests will fall to about a tenth of its current number in the developed world. So, France should have around 1000 diocesan priests, maybe a sixth of whom will have been ordained for the EF. The SSPX, right now, has 200ish French priests. So, in our lifetimes, if the French bishops continue as now and the SSPX stops growing, the SSPX will have around 20% of French priests and the EF more broadly will have around 35% (I’m ignoring other trad groups, so it’s probably higher). This is in the teeth of resistance by the French episcopacy. The numbers are less shocking elsewhere (they seem similar in Switzerland, but statistics are harder for me to find), but the SSPX is Franco-centric and still growing, so things are going to show first in France.

  42. I think the first point to make is that all this is essentially speculative. We don’t know what would have happened if St Pius X’s policy had been maintained – we can only guess.

    I start from the premise that modernity, with all its benefits and problems, was and is a fact due to long-term social forces. The Church had to address the challenge of modernity at some point. She should have done so early, proactively and on terms of her own choosing. Instead, successive popes (including popes whom I personally admire like Leo XIII) chose to believe that it was all a freemasonic plot which would go away if they issued enough anathemas and banned enough books. It didn’t. When the lid was finally lifted off the pot in the 1960s, uncontrollable pressures had built up and the process was needlessly destructive.

    I accept that a community like the Amish and the SSPX can create a distinctive, cohesive subculture which is relatively resistant to modernisation, but I do believe that this is at the cost of marginalising itself. It’s not an evangelical approach. I believe that the purpose of the Church is to bring as many people as possible closer to God, not to create a small, pure community of hardcore believers.

    I take your point about the relatively high proportion of traditionalist priests in France, but that to me is a commentary on the catastrophic weakness of the mainstream church rather than the strength of the traditionalist movement. 35% of not much is still not much. The French bishops wantonly destroyed the French Church by first heading down the historical blind alley of monarchist legitimism, then refusing to emerge for the best part of 200 years, then hurriedly chasing after the Zeitgeist by embracing an insipid brand of humanitarian socialism. They had the worst of both worlds, first refusing to engage with modernity and then doing so too late and in the wrong way. It’s not a bad microcosm of the Church as a whole, actually.

  43. I should have said that I’d see the decline in baptisms, vocations and so forth after Vatican 2 as being a post hoc ergo propter hoc matter. The decline was mirrored in other religious communities, and the root cause seems to have been the social changes of the 1960s, which themselves formed part of long-term secularising trends in the West.

  44. “I’d see the decline in baptisms, vocations and so forth after Vatican 2 as being a post hoc ergo propter hoc matter”

    That is a distinct possibility and thus I certainly agree that “this is essentially speculative”.

    “the Amish and the SSPX can create a distinctive, cohesive subculture which is relatively resistant to modernisation, but I do believe that this is at the cost of marginalising itself. It’s not an evangelical approach.”

    First a distinctive sub-culture has been coupled with successful evangelism by the Mormons. Let’s also not forget Muslims in the UK who – according to some reports – can boast around 100,000 native converts, which seems fairly successful to me.

    Also, before we knock the evangelisation of the SSPX we should remember that they have grown from nothing in 1968 to 725 mass centre and priests in 31 nations (active in 32 others). I admit, though, they are not the best example as they are obviously mopping up a lot of people who have been pushed out of the ‘inclusive’ post-VII Church.

    I do not, on the other hand, view the post-VII approach, which has witnessed massive decline rather than growth, as successful evangelisation. Still, no way of knowing for sure that things would not be worse in the counter-factual.

    Bill, on the vocations and mass attendance front: the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska might interest you. Led by a Bishop known for being conservative (no altar girls, auto-excommunication for joining certain groups, etcetera), it has had consistently high mass attendance and large numbers of vocations (relative to the rest of the nation). Again, proves nothing for certain.

    Mr Perrin, do you have any examples of Christian denominations that have succeeded by adapting to the modernist trend? If not, did those that have adapted, such as the Church of England, also, as you claim of the Church, adapt to late?

  45. The fact of the matter is that, in Europe, the pattern of church attendance varies greatly between countries, suggesting that religion in a given country is affected more by history, social structure and culture than by internal changes in the Church itself. The decline in Church attendance (those who attend church 2 or 3 times a month) between 1980 and 2000, in Ireland (82% to 71%), Poland (67% to 61%), and Italy (49% to 44%) is hardly precipitous. The decline in the Netherlands is very great, 25% to 18%. Austria, Hungary and Switzerland are all relatively stable. Britain and France have shown the greatest decline.

  46. Yes, it’s all speculative. All macro scale social science is speculative. This doesn’t really get anywhere, though. If you want to ask whether a macro scale policy decision was good or bad, you have to speculate.

    I agree that the Church had to confront modernity. She had to formulate a strategy to deal with it. What we should have learned, certainly by 1789, is that modernity is implacably hostile to anything which isn’t modern. Once it became clear that modernity was not going to be beaten or even contained any time soon, the right course of action was the lifeboat.

    The right strategy was to keep as many people alive as possible until the storm passed. I don’t see this as different from your view that “the purpose of the Church is to bring as many people as possible closer to God.” The question is one of feasibility and of how you count closer. If you think you can evangelize without teaching the faith and that you can bring people close enough to God without actually mentioning much of anything about Him or His law and you also think that doing those things would drive people away, then I guess you can make out the case that the current set-up is the right way to go “for the hardness of their hearts,” and all that.

    One could put a very positive spin on V2 by claiming that it *is* a lifeboat strategy. Lifeboat via camouflage. Clearly some people within the Church get how different what is preached from the pulpit and taught in RE classes is from Catholicism. So, maybe the point is to hide those folks in among the masses in the Church in the hope that they will emerge after modernity has run its course. Nobody here but us Modernists!

    As I recall, the decline in Protestant denominations was very sharp for “mainline” denominations and less sharp or even non-existent for conservative ones. And post hoc ergo propter hoc is Latin for “evidence.” 🙂

  47. “in a given country is affected more by history, social structure and culture than by internal changes in the Church itself”

    So the post Vatican II changes did little to help or hinder?

  48. What a sad state we’re in when losing ten percent over the course of two decades is our relative *success* story!

  49. Bonald, I did enjoy reading that three part piece.

    I got: traditional Catholicism was the only significant brake preventing the moral decline that many were pushing for, with VII as the release on the brake. So, it did not so much cause the decline as fail to arrest it as traditionalism would have.

    I want to accept this, but am trying to hold off judgement until I have pondered for a bit as it too easily plays to my biases.

  50. You make a good case as always, Bonald, but I’m afraid that I’m not convinced.

    When looking at the changes associated with “the 1960s”, we come back to long-term trends and events that were not susceptible to governmental regulation. Look at the growth of the middle class, allied with the social upheavals associated with the Second World War (thanks very much for sending 1.5 million overpaid and oversexed GIs to our country – though, as a friend of America, I’ll admit that it was very much the lesser evil compared with speaking German/Russian).

    I would also draw a sharp distinction between liberalism and Marxism/communism. As a liberal, I am an unapologetic and implacable anticommunist, and I know that my views are/were shared by millions of other Catholics. In terms of British conservatism, your friend Peter Hitchens (whom I actually have some respect for) points out that, after WW2, it was middle-class Conservatives rather than working-class Labourites who were in favour of easy divorce, contraception and abortion. I would also respectfully disagree with aspects of your analysis of western European politics. For example, the CDU were/are largely Protestants rather than Catholics (except in CSU-controlled Bavaria), and the SPD renounced Marxism very quickly after WW2. In France, the victory in 1968 of de Gaulle – a man whom I admire – was the victory of a secular military man achieved through republican institutions (it is said that the Fifth Republic was described as “une république monarchique” – “Non, non,” replied de Gaule, “c’est une monarchie républicaine” – perhaps you have to speak French to appreciate the distinction).

    Finally, as to John XXIII, I would agree with Paul VI’s judgement on the eve of Vatican 2: “This holy old boy doesn’t realise what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up”. I give you credit for simply adverting to his naivety and not attacking his character, when many traditionalists would do just that.

  51. Hi Reggie,

    I actually agree with you about the ultimate causes of the sixties. My theory is just meant to explain why what had been a drift in the forties and fifties proceeded so explosively in the late sixties and early seventies. Most of the usual explanations for this fact (assuming it really is a fact and not just a misperception) seem inadequate to me.

  52. Hi Stewart,

    That is indeed my claim.

  53. “So the post Vatican II changes did little to help or hinder?”

    That would be an exaggeration; because other factors were more significant does not mean that the impact of the changes was negligible.

    The Russian Orthodox Church furnishes an interesting comparison. Affiliation has risen from 32% to 62% over the past 30 years. Here we have a church that is deeply conservative in its liturgy, discipline and dogma, but one that is remarkably tolerant towards “theologoumena” or theological speculation and hospitable to theologians like Bulgakov, Berdaev and Florovsky, regarded as the greatest Russian theologians of the 20th century and all of whom would have been condemned as Modernists in the Catholic Church. In fact, it is a church that perfectly fulfils the aspirations of Loisy, Tyrrell, Bremond and Blondel for the Catholic Church.

  54. “Bulgakov, Berdaev and Florovsky”

    Sergei Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev and Georges Florovsky?

    Can you flesh out how the Russian Orthodox are the modernist ideal?

    What did post-VII Catholic Church do differently to the Russian Orthodox?

    “The Russian Orthodox Church furnishes an interesting comparison. Affiliation has risen from 32% to 62% over the past 30 years”

    Isn’t that the exact same period in which the state went from repressing it to supporting it? For instance, weren’t buildings handed back to them in the 1980s as the Soviet Union started its transformation prior to complete collapse? Wouldn’t that example be the just about the most contaminated, by confounding variables, of any imaginable?

  55. By affording freedom of speculation and interpretation to its theologians, whilst preserving forms of worship that resonate with the religious feelings of the mass of the faithful.

    That it should have retained the support of nearly a third of the population, even under 70 years of persecution speaks volumes and that it now encompasses nearly two-thirds is impressive, even with state support

  56. […] millenium if deist freemasons hadn’t imposed an accursed democracy.  The argument I’m always seeing is “We were doing A and it seemed to be working fine.  Then we switched to B, and all hell […]

  57. Have you read James Larson’s War Against the Papacy? If you do not wish to buy the book he has most all if not all of the contents online on his website: The War Against Being. I used to be very critical of Popes in the past, but after reading Larson I don’t think I would call any pope (not even Francis) a “fool.” I am not trying to make you feel guilty, I enjoy your blog immensely and I think you might like Larson’s work.

  58. I completely agree that the problem is not with persecution of modernists, but with the lack of persecution. Modernism ought to be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

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