Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cleaning up the mess that Pius XII left.

Liberal Catholicism is dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of its burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge  signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Liberalism is as dead as a door-nail.

The mention of liberalism Catholicism's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that it was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

Okay, enough fun. The point remains, however, that if you are going to understand where Catholicism is going, you have to grasp that liberalism is a dead letter. It has very little influence in the church today and it will have even less tomorrow.

So where do we go from here? Or, to put it another way, what is at stake with the election of a new pope? I think David G. Bonagura, who writes for a site called The Catholic Thing has summed up the future tensions within the church well. He divides Catholics into two groups, "the new Orthodoxy" and "the Benedictines". 

He does a fairly good job of describing the two groups but I think he fails to see how much divides them.

Here is his description of the new orthodoxy:
They adhere to the true teachings of Vatican II as expressed by the Council fathers, not the liberal “spirit” as falsely advanced by what Benedict recently called the “Council of the media.” Their theological standard is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and they are employing it to foster the New Evangelization.
And here he is on "the Benedictines":
... for them reverently celebrated liturgy is the ultimate standard of orthodoxy. They believe wholeheartedly in the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi – how and what we pray directly influences how and what we believe.
That is pretty good as far as it goes. Where he goes wrong, I think, is the synthesis he so obviously believes in.

For example, Bonagura says that the Benedictines share the New Orthodoxy's enthusiasm for a moral crusade "against the immoral demands of the secular West". It's not that the Benedictines disagree with the church teaching on sexuality, for example, but I don't think they are particularly enthusiastic about being actively and personally involved in the struggle to promote NFP.

He is more aware of the tension on the new orthodoxy side. He grasps that they are perfectly happy with the blander aspects of Post Vatican II worship. This isn't surprising as they tend to see Catholic life as a matter of moral duties and going to mass is just one more of these. They can see that the mass can be a beautiful thing and are aware of enough of the history to know that there are tremendous resources to draw on to make it more beautiful. But they don't see beauty as a moral duty so they don't see that every mass should be beautiful. They might even see mass as one responsibility  among many and look to it mostly for a homily that will talk about moral duties.

Okay, but what has all this to do with Pius XII. Well, the big hint is in the maxim"lex orandi, lex credendi" that Bonagura quotes above. Literally, that translates as the "law of prayer, the law of belief". The important thing about the maxim is which one comes first: you pray to God and you worry about getting that down right before you worry about getting all your theological and moral beliefs straight. Well, not just that, that and more. But how much "more" and exactly what "more".

Pius XII worried about this, and worried quite correctly about this, in an Encyclical called Mediator Dei. What worried him is a complex subject but one aspect of it was that people had begun to argue that the form of prayer should determine the form of belief. That is that you worked out what should be in the catechism by working out what the form of the liturgy should be—that the law of prayer should determine the law of belief.

And if he had left it like that, everything would have been fine. But he didn't. He reversed the maxim he didn't like (always a bad idea):
But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say,"Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi" - let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.
And with that he handed the reformers the sledge hammer they would use to nearly destroy the church when they were let loose after Vatican II. For what we believe about God should never determine how we pray. Prayer, especially liturgical prayer, is always at heart a mystery. o put the form of worship into the hands of a bunch of moralists and pedants or liturgists (but I repeat myself) is to always to cheapen it.

And that is what is at stake with this election. It is absolutely essential that the spirit of Benedict regarding the liturgy, the spirit of Communio not be allowed to die.

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