Some musing on our divisions

Did you know there are polarizations in the Catholic Church today? I try to be optimistic, and my Christian faith requires me to be hopeful. But I see troubling signs that the divisions are deepening.

First, on the ‘liberal’ side. (No, I don’t like labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ either, but sometimes you have to use them to make a point.) A friend, devoutly and actively Catholic, married (I hereby admit I had sort of hoped he’d join the monastery), stops me after Morning Prayer. The anti-gay marriage DVD from the archbishop arrived in the mail and it bothered him and his wife. He’s concerned about the rightward lurch of our seminaries. When they have children… I think I know where this is going, and I cut in, “You’re not sure you’d even want your son to go to seminary?” “No, it’s deeper. We don’t know if we even want to bring children into this Church.

An hour later I mention this to the dean of our School of Theology. He tells me about a board member, lifelong Catholic, St. John’s alum, big supporter at many levels of our School of Theology·Seminary. This man said to his son, “We’re thrilled to have a grandchild. And there will be a Catholic baptism soon, right?” This from the son: “I don’t know, Dad – if a store had a sign saying ‘We don’t hire gays and women,’ would you shop there?”

Next, on the ‘conservative’ side. I go to my office and start up the computer for another day of monitoring Pray Tell. There are, as usual, more comments from the ‘conservative’ side, some of them quite strong. Strong defenses of Pope Benedict’s new banner (or logo or stemma or whatever you call it) replacing the mitre with the no-longer-used papal tiara. Strong defenses also of his liturgical agenda, of the universal permission for the pre-Vatican II Mass, of the “hermeneutic of continuity.” Comments such as these are a window into an entire Catholic culture which, however small, seems to be planting ever deeper roots and growing in influence today. It is now acceptable to be skeptical of the Second Vatican Council and the reformed liturgy. This from highly engaged Catholics, many of them rather young.

I don’t see either group of people going away any time soon. But maybe the first group will increasingly walk away from the Catholic Church. If so, I hope the second group doesn’t welcome that too much.

I’d like to think that Pray Tell is a sign of hope. Where else do people with such divergent, passionately held opinions actually talking to each other on a daily basis?

Keep the opinions coming, everybody, and let’s all keep praying for the virtue of hope.



  1. It might sound kooky, but I know people who are liberal theologically (and would fit into the first group you mentioned), but exceedingly traditional liturgically. Conversely, I know people who are very conservative or “traditional” theologically (more like what you consider group #2 to be), but for whom the standard all-vernacular folksy OF is the best form of liturgy. I’ve mostly encountered these types in real life or on message boards and blogs that aren’t actually about liturgy.

    Not that I deny that the groups you mention exist and are the loudest and most obvious – I’ve just noticed that there are a lot of “in-between” folks who can’t be categorized one way or another. I actually have encountered people for whom Vatican II bombed both theologically (by not going far enough to liberalize things) and liturgically (for being too liberal in the liturgical revisions).

    1. I count myself as an in-betweener. I can’t stand contemporary music at liturgy and think the new translation does have something to offer (any translation will trade one set of problems for another). I adore “high Mass” and look back with a certain embarrassment at the “meaningful” all-school Masses I celebrated in my Catholic grade school days.

      At the same time, I see my Church focusing on issues that simply don’t engage the totality of our national and international condition. I’m sorry, but preventing abortion and gay marriage aren’t issues my millennial generation find most pressing. I am caught between establishment “liberals” who cling to the memories of the past they lived and the grass-roots “neo-conservatives” who cling to memories of a past they never experienced.

      What’s a twenty-something church musician to do?

    2. Jack – I couldn’t agree more! Yes, there are many, many varieties of peoples. Maybe that means that the possibilities for divisions are even greater than we thought? 🙂

  2. There’s open warfare in the Anglican Communion about these very same issues, sexuality, ministry, and liturgy. Accommodating the post Christian agenda on sexuality on an institutional level has not in any way brought any sort of peace or harmony to that Communion, in fact it risks fading into oblivion. Our own divisions become schismatic when we take the road away from Rome, i.e. stop being a Catholic because of “so-called exclusion of gays and women” or form a schismatic group because one does not agree with any of Vatican II, liturgy being the symbol. Then there is a middle group that is very private in its participation and spirituality and just want to be good people and squeak into heaven. Then there’s the group that is faithful to the pope, the bishops in union with him and follow him even when he and the bishops make decisions they think less than wise or less than what they desired. Fragmentation in Christianity is as old as the Church. At least we haven’t spilled blood over it as has happened in previous generations. Maybe no Catholic of any ilk is so extreme today as actually to die for their ideologies.

    1. Fr. Allan, just one tiny word use in your post is objectionable to me: “post-Christian.” You don’t agree with certain people, and you have your Christian convictions – all great. But please don’t call other Christian people’s positions “post-Christian,” as if anyone who has moved to a position different than yours isn’t Christian. Such unfair labelling stops the conversation before it began.

      1. Post Christian is a valuable term for many people who consider themselves as such. Wikipedia writes “Some groups, mainly liberal or radical ones, even use the term “post-Christian” as a self-description, not regarding it as an epithet whatsoever. Dana McLean Greeley, the first president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, described Unitarian Universalism as postchristian insofar as Christians no longer considered it Christian, while persons of other religions would likely describe it as Christian, at least historically.” I don’t think it’s a discussion stopper, but a discussion starter and has some historical significance in usage.

      2. No Allan, you missed my point. Let me try to state it more clearly. Of course there are people who are post-Christian. But (and here’s the point) those Christian who have moved to moral positions differing from yours on sexuality hardly wish to be called ‘post-Christian,’ so that is unfair to them. Anglicans, for example – and they are the group you referenced in your post. For discussion to happen, I think, we Christians have to begin by saying that ‘there are different Christian positions held by various Christians.’

      3. I have no problem with that, well stated and well advised. But when it comes to Catholic morality, I don’t think we should make it so personal and/or individualistic as to exclude the body of ecclesial teachings we have from Scripture and Tradition. I would love to know how one rationalizes a shift in a particular belief when the evidence against shifting is so great. That would be a great discussion.

  3. I don’t know if this will be passed on to the readers but comfort with female ordination, which is the simulation of a sacrament, does not seem to compare to something as mild as mere skepticism toward the most recent ecumenical council.

    1. All true if everyone accepts your presumptions. I think “simulation of a sacrament” is insulting, and those who support the Church’s non-ordination of women should stop using it. There is a serious theological discussion of this issue, with people of good will and depth of theological understanding on all sides. The “simulation” phrase is dismissive and suggests that one can ignore the whole discussion.

    2. How can you use “mild” to describe the insubordination implied in “skepticism toward the most recent ecumenical council”?

      I do not mean this in an inflammatory way. I am using “insubordination” quite literally, to suggest a rejection of the fundamental charism of the episcopacy. If the bishops, especially when gathered together in Council, are not a manifestation of our unity, what is?

  4. Isn’t the “liberal” perspective reflected above also a result of “skeptic[ism] of the Second Vatican Council and the reformed liturgy”? To reject the sacraments for one’s children? Is there any greater rejection of the liturgy?

    To be skeptical of the second Vatican Council? How can you read these words from Gaudium et Spes (which also describes marriage as being between a man and a woman #48) and not hear a call to act mutatis mutandis as Archbishop Nienstedt has?

    “47. The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family. Hence Christians and all men who hold this community in high esteem sincerely rejoice in the various ways by which men today find help in fostering this community of love and perfecting its life, and by which parents are assisted in their lofty calling. Those who rejoice in such aids look for additional benefits from them and labor to bring them about.

    “Yet the excellence of this institution is not everywhere reflected with equal brilliance, since polygamy, the plague of divorce, so-called free love and other disfigurements have an obscuring effect. In addition, married love is too often profaned by excessive self-love, the worship of pleasure and illicit practices against human generation.”

    1. Samuel, there are so many presuppositions here, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I won’t try to answer you, which is to say, I think your post is mostly a conversation stopper. I’ll just say this much: the answer to your first question is “No,” and your next two questions miss the point – perhaps intentionally?

      1. +JMJ+

        I’m not sure I understand how Samuel’s post is a conversation stopper? Is it his quote from GS which he says applies to the marriage-DVD issue? Or is it his questions which you say “miss the point”?

  5. Anthony, I admire your patience! As to “open warfare in the Anglican Communion” it is a sign that a real dialogue is going on, people are stating openly what they believe, and despite the intransigence of some African bishops there has been a very substantial movement of consientization. We will soon be dealing with the same issues; there are already leading hierarchs who are sounding a different note to the Vatican’s on the gay questions — Martini, Schoenborn, Nichols.

  6. I think it’s important to distinguish skepticism about the “reformed liturgy” and skepticism about Vatican II. To undermine a Council of the Church would be unthinkable to most traditionalists! (Obviously.) To a “traddie” it is rather upsetting to see a linkage being made. Traddies believe that Vatican II did not intend or even foresee what the “liturgical experts” so brutally imposed on the laity after the close of the council. (And yes, it was brutal! I was there!)

    Likewise juxtaposing the papal tiara and the reform of the liturgy. Is it being implied, however subliminally, that these are traddie shibboleths?

    It is good to have rational debate between libs and traddies: I’d love to see some. Let’s have less stereotyping! If one side can lay down its clown masses, perhaps the other can lay down the tiara, and we can address more carefully the important issues at stake. That there are differences is undeniable. Differences that are not honestly discussed risk developing into schisms. It would be horrible to think that one day we will see a SSHK (Society of S. Hans Kueng) as well as an SSPX!

    It would be good to see real engagement with some of the points of difference, real debate, instead of polarization and mutual suspicion. Let’s address important things, not papal tiaras.

    1. “If one side can lay down its clown masses, ”

      I hope you do not characterize the proponents of Vatican II by this standard!
      I don’t know what part of the country to which
      you refer, but I have lived in Baltimore and
      Providence, and have never seen a “clown mass”
      I’ve seen some pretty unusual things passed off
      as Roman liturgy (about 30 years ago!) but not a
      “clown Mass” As babies falter and fall as they
      learn to walk, so did the church when faced,
      at first, with the reforms. But, it seems to me, most of us have learned to walk steadily into the Ordinary Form!
      I am a fierce proponent of the reforms of
      Vatican II and I abhor the idea of a
      “clown Mass”

      1. Of course I don’t! Many progressives are as pained by over-the-top liturgical foolery as the traddies are. And, on the other side, many traddies would feel nothing but embarrassment to see a pope strolling about in a tiara. Let’s get rid of these unhelpful stereotypes!

        And while we’re on the subject, “the proponents of Vatican II” is a term which applies to all true traditionalists. What traddies don’t go along with is changes which they believe were (a) not mandated by the Council, and (b) not reconcilable with pre-conciliar teaching.

        I write as someone who very gently, but firmly, refuses to accept the errors that were introduced post-VatII and I deeply regret the unwarrantable reintroduction of “communion in the hand” and other innovations. What were people thinking? Of course such things were bound to create division.

        Only by understanding the reasons pro and con can we achieve the mutual respect that is necessary to overcome this sad divide. And it is necessary. Division over such things is a scandal!

      2. What on Earth is the scandal of receiving Communion in the hand? There is history and tradition of reception in the hand – Cyril of Jerusalem… make our hands a throne… As someone who is a EMHC, distributing Communion on the tongue is gross. And after much observation, I find reception on the tongue to be the primary cause of dropped hosts.

        If you absolutely have to receive on the tongue, fine. But for those of us who receive on the hand… unwarranted? Unreal!

        And my last rambling – we had an outbreak of swine flu in our area. The Diocese instituted instructions on reception of Communion. For a period, receiving on the tongue was not allowed, yet two or three people in the parish refused to follow this. Oh to be so holy so as to endanger the health of others.

  7. Roman Catholics should not underestimate the tremendous impact of the liturgical changes of Vatican II on the Ecumenical Movement and on Protestant Worship. In the Lutheran Church (ELCA) there have been the commonly worded texts which have been incorporated into worship, the introduction of the eucharistic prayer, weekly Eucharist, a richer use of ceremony in Eucharistic and Sacramental Celebrations.
    Unfortunately the ecumenical divide has grown greater, and I lament particularly the loss of the commonly shared texts with the upcoming new translation. There’s blame all around, to be sure, but I fear we are moving into a period where we will each go our own ways. Just as Roman Catholics face a move to repristinate the past forms, there are Lutherans now arguing against the liturgical “innovations” that came in to the Lutheran church after Vatical II. Human nature?

  8. (Continued)

    I confess to being worried by those who oppose the corrected translations that will be introduced next year. Worried, but not surprised. Some of us were worried – and surprised! – when a completely new liturgy was imposed on us all those years ago. (And that is how it felt: the laity weren’t involved or consulted, the “experts” knew what was best for us.)

    I acknowledge that the 1960s experts were right in many ways. The liturgy had evolved somewhat haphazardly and, seen from this or that standpoint, perhaps rather arbitrarily. I remember thinking how crazy it was that they would say “Ite, missa est” and then we’d be there for another quarter of an hour. Lots of things began to make more sense. The new, simplified, ironed-out liturgy threw light on the confusing, bewildering – but venerable – liturgy we were used to. I think that, for many of us, we began (through the OF) to love the EF even more because the OF revealed to us what a treasure it was, warts and all.

    Were they right about the vernacular? At my parish church, three different linguistic communities meet to celebrate in their several languages. We are not one big Catholic family, we are three separate families, with separate identities and separate cultures. Show me a church with a vernacular liturgy which has not endured damaging cultural/nationalistic splits over time.

  9. Pastor Tim: the mistranslations which will have been our common ground have been dividing Catholics from one another. Compare the French or Spanish texts with the Latin, and you will see faithful translations. Compare the English, and they are not even close. It is not healthy that the Anglophone world should split off from the main body like this, particularly when one day English may truly become our “lingua franca”. The Church as a whole must be particularly vigilant about translations into English.

    1. CPK: I do not see the problem of division of Catholics because of the difference of translation. I was at mass in Hong Kong last Sunday, and the fact that “we believe” where in France “je crois” does not disturb me the least. I really think this is a red herring.

      In any case, the sound of the French translation is much closer to the “sound” of the current English translation than to the sound of the forthcoming translation. It is fluent, normal French, not some kind of make believe Latin. So the new English translation in that dimension at least, would, according to your theory, also divide Catholics.

      Now, I propose that we do not speak anymore about translation in other languages: it could give bad ideas to some people in Rome.

      1. I am glad that the French translation is “fluent”. (I should point out that the 1970s English is not really a translation, more a paraphrase. Also that because French is closer to Latin, its fidelity does not damage fluency. Also that the Latin itself is not fluent: liturgical Latin was not intended to be.) Please remember that the Latin is not make-believe. It is very real. To speak of it as “make-believe” seems to indicate that you are denying reality.

        Translations of the liturgy are every bit as important as translations of the Holy Bible. They do not exist to make us comfortable: they exist to join in worship with the whole church, with the mind of the whole church.

  10. Dear Father Ruff, PrayTell is indeed a source of hope, and it is in great part thanks to you, to your sense of humour, to your ability to discuss with so many people. Thank you very much for all you are doing.

    It seems to me that the real problem of the current divisions is that we are not tackling the problems of the Church. Clearly, quite a number of things were not done right in the implementation of VII. “Conservatives” are proposing an agenda which basically says: let us start again as if it was 1966. “Liberals” are defending the last 50 years. And we are not discussing a sensible agenda for moving into the XXIst century. It is sad. (And I am as guilty as anybody else!)

  11. The current French translation is also due for hatcheting from the Vatican, as Cardinal George told the US Bishops. This is pure VANDALISM.

    1. With respect, this seems strong on emotion but weak on other grounds. If there is to be dialogue, we cannot shout “Vandalism” at one another in block capitals. We must stand up for our own points of view, certainly, but not by hurling invective at one another. Otherwise, one will perpetuate and deepen the divide which is the subject of this posting.

      1. I wouldn’t call it “vandalism,” but there’s more than one example of the Rome-directed re-translation that fails to meet any reasonable standard of translation into the target language. What about the German bishops response to a newly translated funeral liturgy? After a few months they sent it back to Rome and went back to the prior version.

        Repeat after me: Change is not necessarily improvement.

      2. Quote: Traddies believe that Vatican II did not intend or even foresee what the “liturgical experts” so brutally imposed on the laity after the close of the council. (And yes, it was brutal! I was there!)

        Quote: With respect, this seems strong on emotion but weak on other grounds.

        Quote: We must stand up for our own points of view, certainly, but not by hurling invective at one another.

        With sincere respect, your first quote seems rather “invective” to me. They were in fact liturgical experts in their own right, they were in earnest, and their revision of the Order of Mass was promulgated by the pope.

        Similarly, your first quote also seems just a bit “strong on emotion but weak on other grounds” in that, while the situation may have seemed (or perhaps indeed been in fact) “brutal” to you and most likely other traditionalists, even Cardinal/Pope Ratzinger has noted that the changes in the liturgy met with little resistance in most places, and were quite welcomed in others.

        Now, I’m not saying this was good or bad, nor am I taking a side here between “traddies” and others, for I tend to live among and in both worlds myself (it’s a catholic thing). I am just noting what you said, and then what you said, and then said.

        It is indeed very difficult to keep “invectives” and “emotion” out of the discussion, since the issue is overall somewhat subjective and is very much tied to our feelings. I agree with you, we should try to do so…

      3. “Repeat after me: Change is not necessarily improvement.”

        A statement that would warm the heart of any die-hard traddy. 🙂

    2. The French language is protected by the French Academy that regularly publishes official updates to the rules of vocabulary, spelling, grammar and verbs. If our texts start getting filled with Latinisms, they have the authority to step in and point out mistakes. I hope that some of its members will speak up, so that new texts, even if they are not beautiful, will at least be in grammatically correct French.

      But I also do not foresee as much compliance as there is in the US. Half of incardinated priests are 75 years old or more! ( Most continue to work as long as their health permits it. Are they really going to be willing to go through this change? I seriously doubt it. The great majority of French Catholics go to Mass irregularly, from a few times a year to once a month or so. Are they really going to be willing to go through this change? I also doubt it.

      Right now I predict that any (good or bad) major change in liturgy in France will result in: 1. instantaneously losing a large fraction of active priests (because many of those who are active but don’t have to be will decide to retire for real), and 2. an instantaneous large loss in Mass attendance (because those who go too irregularly to learn the new texts will stop going altogether).

  12. +JMJ+

    With the growing list of things that Catholics are skeptical of, pertaining to the Church and the doctrines and disciplines, I wonder if any should really be out-of-bounds. There are theologians who consider the Resurrection to be a purely transcendental event, a shared experience of Jesus-in-us by the disciples, and not an historical reality. If the Resurrection’s not safe, then surely women’s ordination is open for debate… and why not the Mass?

    And there are Lutherans who feel that “the Eucharist exists already in the local assembly and a book comes only to help,” an idea I’ve never really heard before. If that’s the case, who’s to stop “the local assembly” from using the book that helps them the most (1962, 1969, 2011, Ordo Romanus Primus, etc.)? And, of course, the Eucharist exists in some local assemblies to such a degree that they don’t need a book at all.

    Finally, if I have (and I fear that I have) at some point made comments to the effect of, “Why don’t [so-and-so] just leave the Church,” I apologize and recant. I’d love it if everyone were Catholic and believed the Catholic faith (however unecumenical that statement might be), myself included!

    P.S. (and non sequitur) “It’s acceptable to be skeptical” has an almost-rhyming quality to it that, apart from the actual contents of the words, I find quite amusing and almost slogan-like.

    1. Jeffrey, the idea that the eucharist exists in communities prior to a book reflects the practice of the apostolic Church. It’s a factual assertion. (I cannot speak for how Lutherans interpret this.) If you think about it you’ll see that it’s entirely reasonable claim. It does not entail refusing to use common books, when they are produced. It is a question of putting first things first. It is to say that the human “material” precedes the printed word. That is something that Catholics believe too. Were there no community, the book would be useless. The book is a help, not the reason for gathering, nor the gathering itself.

      1. +JMJ+

        Rita, that makes a lot of sense, and I see now that my initial reaction was a bit, well, reactive. Certainly the Church celebrated the Eucharist before there was a book instructing them how to do so, just like the Gospel was preached before it was written down. We’re not a “religion of the book”, but “of the Word.”

        At the same time, we must be cautious not to go beyond the Word. (2 John 9) And that is why I think the official books are more than just helps: they are testimonies, they are statements of faith.

      2. Jeffrey, I think we agree for the most part. I would probably rather say that liturgical books are authoritative expressions of Church norms regarding right worship, rather than testimonies. That’s still a “help” but an authoritative kind of help, just as law helps maintain peace in society, but is not help that one may freely reject.

        Just to follow up on your comment though… I sometimes wonder why it is that the early Church did not find it so necessary to determine the practice of liturgy as closely as we seem to find it necessary to do today. Evidently they did not stray from the Word, who is Christ — despite this lack of determined instruction — as much as we seem liable to do, despite all the guidance there is available to us.

        Why is it, do you think, that we need so much more instruction in order to avoid liturgical malfeasance? Are we just more wicked? I really mean this, it’s not an idle question. Christianity survived for hundreds of years, and reproduced itself furiously, growing by leaps and bounds, without ritual books or the guidance they offer. How is it that today even a step away from those books seems to produce unendurable chaos, and even while obeying them may produce lifeless liturgies?

      3. +JMJ+

        [Part 1]

        Evidently they did not stray from the Word…

        They were leaving the Gospel altogether in Galatia, they were forging letters about the end-times to the Thessalonians, and they were abusing the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. It didn’t take too long for letters to be written to correct doctrinal issues, and since the faith is so closely united to the liturgy, it doesn’t surprise me that liturgical instructions would soon follow. I don’t know when the first Christian “liturgical book” was written (possible hymns as found in Paul’s letters notwithstanding), but maybe they were written down for similar reasons as the Gospels.

        Luke wrote his gospel (as far as he was concerned) “for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” But the written record does not replace the historical event, nor the living Word and its living proclamation. So perhaps liturgical books were written so that Christians for similar reasons.

        But we must avoid the “sola Scriptura” approach by which the books themselves are divorced from the tradition out of which they sprung and in which they are rightly understood. Separating either from the other is disastrous. And I think that goes the same for the liturgy.

      4. +JMJ+

        [Part 2]

        Here’s another possibility. Maybe because we do not have the capacity for memory — or or waste it on trifles like the lyrics to songs on the radio or scripts to Monty Python’s Flying Circus skits and movies (guilty as charged) — we rely on the written word more than our ancient predecessors. (Genesis 24 sounds to me like oral story-telling recorded in writing, with all its repetition.)

        As the Gospel spread and Christians grew further and further away from “ground zero” in time and space, there was possibly a desire to make sure they were “doing it right”, even if they weren’t mimicking a liturgy exactly, which is why we have such a wealth of liturgical traditions. People knew generally what to do and what to avoid, but that sort of knowledge is not always easily passed on it if it is not made explicit.

        (Example: Growing up, I never heard my parents or siblings use foul language, but I don’t recall ever being told not to use it. But one night while watching TV with my dad, someone in a movie said “son of a b—-“. I turned around on the couch, and said to my sister playing a computer game, “Get that son of a b—-.” I didn’t know it was wrong because I’d never been told.)

        Maybe innovations started to creep into liturgies from people who didn’t know better, and that were never explicitly prohibited, but which the rest of the community knew were wrong, and so they wrote things down to more clearly encapsulate their liturgy.

      5. +JMJ+

        [Part 3, last part!]

        Christianity survived for many hundreds of years, and reproduced itself furiously … How is it that today even a step away from those books seems to produce unendurable chaos, and even while obeying them may produce lifeless liturgies?

        Changing circumstances, I would guess. But even as Christianity was “furiously reproducing”, so were heresies.

        Anyway, following the liturgical books CAN produce lifeless liturgies, just like reading the Bible CAN lead to utter boredom. That’s not the the book’s fault, it’s the fault of the person (or community) celebrating or reading. Yes, a by-the-book Mass can be utterly devoid of a sense of prayer when the prayers are recited and not prayed. That’s why the “ars celebrandi” is so important, and why Scripture needs to be read in the Spirit by which it was written: divorcing the words from the their context (which includes the tradition which produced them) can lead to confusion and displeasure with them.

        These three comments have been a lot of conjecture on my part, for which I apologize.

  13. As a parish minister, I’m far more concerned with handling divisions that occur within living communities, not among Catholics on the internet.

    That said, I’m glad for open discussion in a reasonably “safe” environment such as this. There are a lot of heavy hitters on the progressive side here, and the conservatives keep coming back.

    And as with any challenge such as this, rather than lay blame as the current hierarchy seems satisfied to do, I’d prefer tackling these divisions as a challenge. Maybe it’s good practice for healing Christian disunity. We live in a church that includes Fr Z and Joe O’Leary. Maybe in a thousand years there will be an icon of the two of them embracing. Wouldn’t that be remarkable?!

      1. How about Cardinal George, and his talk about the failure of what he called the “exhausted project” of liberal Catholicism?

  14. CPK, answer to your #21 (there seems to be no way to reply to replies to replies!), when I was speaking of make believe Latin, I was speaking about the new English translation, which to me sounds like “make believe Latin”, not denying the reality of the Latin text.


    1. To reply to a reply, just click on the heading of the post you want to reply to and then click the “reply” button.

      I should welcome a translation that called to mind the Latin original!

      In particular, I think most Catholics would find fidelity to the true meaning of the liturgy to be an issue of primary importance, and issues of “fluency” and “style” to be very much secondary.

      In any case, matters of “fluency” and “style” are notoriously subjective. It’s very much a matter of what you’re used to. Language is rather like haute couture: what’s ridiculous and ungainly one minute is the height of fashion the next.

      Let’s focus on matters of substance, where we have more prospect of rational discourse!

  15. Jacques Crémer ”Clearly, quite a number of things were not done right in the implementation of VII.

    Is not this a common starting point on which all Catholics of good will—both “conservatives” and “liberals”—can agree? Of course, I realize that there is a fringe group at one extreme that thinks Vatican II ought not to have happened, and a fringe group at the other extreme that thinks that everything that’s happened since Vatican II is hunky-dory. But surely the vast majority lies between these two extreme fringe positions.

    Why can not the rest of us agree on the common goal of an authentic interpretation of Vatican II and a good and faithful implementation of the Council?

    Then it might be possible to constructively discuss what would be an “authentic interpretation” and a “faithful implementation”, without immediately going down a rat-hole in which two sides are simply talking past through each other to no avail.

  16. I was just listening to a lecture on the development of music over the course of time and the speaker made the point that, unlike math or science, music isn’t something that is necessarily becoming better throughout history. One era’s music isn’t better or worse than previous ones, just different. Of course music develops with some idea of what preceded it, but it’s more related to who is creating the music and in what context. We often speak of liturgy and even theology in terms of trying to make progress, thinking our liturgical practice or theology is somehow superior to previous generations, in the same way we might compare modes of transportation (would you rather sail on a boat from New York to Brisbane, or take a 747?). Conservatives and liberals often fight over what they call “authentic” liturgical practice, an argument no one can win. This might be a radical statement, but perhaps we should think about liturgy less in this way, trying to improve over the past, and instead think about it in terms of the present, utilizing the many tools and structures that have come before. Mind you, I’m not advocating individual experimentation (that leads to fracture), or forgetting the foundations of our faith, but rather a universal Church focused primarily on the present.

  17. Having foregone the discussion about a silly banner that is devoid of important meaning, I would like to add this thought here:

    The divisions are far starker on the Internet than they are in most parish communities. That’s because the Internet as a medium appeals by its nature to to the divisive. Such people are typically at the margins of parish life (which is why they congregate at St Blog’s, or in communities that are already (or are on their way to becoming) ghettos of the like-minded).

    In reality, most parishioners are not interested in having a deeply thought-through perspective on many matters that consume terabytes of discussion at St Blog’s. What we discuss and are passionate about can edify and delight us, but we should not presume to imagine our delight and edification here are important to most PIPs.

  18. As frustrating as the Internet can be, I think it’s a useful medium for discussions of this sort. In our parish, conflicts about liturgy get sorted out over coffee or in the parish council and the terms of discourse are rarely captured. The advantage of the internet is that it creates a written record.

  19. “The divisions are far starker on the Internet than they are in most parish communities.”

    Indeed, they are. I attend two parishes that have both OF and EF Masses, and I am not aware of any resultant divisions (on this score in itself).

    Our traditional Latin Mass community includes folks from a number of neighboring parishes. Many or most of them are active in their home parishes (as choir members, religious education teachers, staff members, etc.), attend the OF regularly on weekdays as well as the EF on some Sundays, and readily move back and forth between the two forms, apparently not perceiving a great chasm between the two.

    Whereas one could spend a lot of time in Catholic blogdom without seeing any hint of the existence of such Catholics and parishes.

    1. In my diocese, the lone EF parish has been ripped apart by strong attitudes – and it’s the EF folks who are far from charitable. Families who have had generations in the parish are leaving for other churches – or are so turned off by how they are treated, leave the faith all together.

      It would be quite interesting to see a survey done involving those parishes in which the EF has been allowed to be offered.

    2. What C Henry Edwards described would be my experience as well. Most of the EF folks at my parish come from neighboring OF parishes and two of the priests who celebrate it either serve or have served in what would be primarily OF settings. I’m sure there’s probably some snotty divisive people who go (but then, I’ve met divisive OF people who have nothing but contempt for anyone who flirts with the EF), but mostly people seem grateful that we can have the EF without driving to another city.

      The division in Sean Whelan’s diocese seems somewhat unusual in my experience, and I kind of wonder if it is truly just the EF folks who are the ones being uncharitable and divisive, as it usually takes two to tango. Perhaps there are two sides to the story there.

  20. I’m fascinated by the divisions here in the UK. Those who abide by the rules (for example, making sure the Sanctus can be sung by the whole assembly) are considered left-wing liberals. Those who break the rules (for example, keeping the Sanctus as a choir-only item) are considered traddies. Seems to me we can’t even get the labels right.

    By the way, I believe myself to be a total traddie and am, therefore, a liberal! However, I’m seen as a liberal and am, therefore, a total traddie. My head hurts and I need another scotch!

  21. Speaking of divisions! Check out the excellent pro-active move on the part of Detroit’s Abp. Vigneron concerning a planned convention by …get this… the “American Catholic Council” !

  22. Since I’m a new reader here. Let me begin by expressing my appreciation for being allowed to participate in this forum.

    I’m very interested in this conversation. I too am troubled by divisions I see in the Church. I too believe that there should certainly be a constructive dialouge between “liberals” and “conservatives.” I know that the partisans must have far more in common than seems evident. But even on this thread they do not seem to be listening to one another very well.

    I suppose I would be considered “conservative,” what I’m curious about is what it is that is disturbing about me to my fellow catholics. I can’t imagine that my being drawn to an older liturgical form should upset anybody. A large number of non-catholics are angry with me for having 10 kids. They don’t hesitate to share their feelings with me at the grocery store and the library. Is this something the “liberal” catholics also find disturbing? Is it that we homeschool? We want to provide an education for our children informed by the Christian Tradition. Since it seems that it is this self-same tradition that inspires the “liberals” in their work for the poor and opressed, I don’t see how this could be threatening.

    So could somebody please explain just what is so distrubing about me? I understand why my neighbors mught not like me, I drive a big van, I have a lousy yard, and I’ve been working on getting the house painted for over a year, but why do I disturb…

    1. Thank you, Ben for your comments, and God bless your family.

      When you present the notion of live and let live, it seems logical and charitable enough. And yet, we know that we don’t live in a Church that permits this. American women religious, for example, insist they’re doing fine. And whether they are or aren’t, do they really need Vatican men to tell them so? Or if they want to ensure all liturgical references to people aren’t “man”made, and if we’re all sure of the root languages of the Bible and the liturgy, why would anyone be bothered by inclusive language, a “new” translation, as it were?

      Do we live in a grouping of congregational churches, or is there some real unity in our Catholicism? And how do we express unity without getting bogged down in a needless uniformity?

      These are difficult questions that I, for one, think are being glossed over in many Church circles. The pope and bishops seem all too willing to blame others rather than look inward. I think we could be doing a lot better on many fronts. And I feel very impatient with some conservatives who seem too enamored with the past.

  23. @Sam Whelan: “distributing Communion on the tongue is gross.”

    This comes across as a sort of gut reaction. Not a rational argument.

    The objections to communion in the hand rest on theological, not subjective, grounds, connected with the symbolism of the act, the nature of a sacrament, and the Catholic doctrine of grace. They deserve to be discussed more carefully in a separate thread, if one were provided, because there are many issues that deserve to be cleared up. But perhaps under this subject it would be a bit of a “rabbit hole”.

    1. It’s Sean, not Sam.

      As a EMHC who has an occasional person who receives on the tongue, I can only say, gut reaction or whatever, it’s gross. I don’t care how long it’s been done. Without fail, you get someone who will make a move and you end up with their spit on your hands.

      While this is not the main topic of the thread, I am interested in a link or basic outline of what or whose theological stance makes reception on the tongue more “proper.”

      1. You will be aware that according to the Christian doctrine of grace, mankind can do nothing to “earn” grace: it is a free gift (CCC 1996 et seq.).

        The symbolism of being fed like a helpless infant better expresses the utter reliance on God’s free gift.

        It is not only intrinsically important, for the formation of our own spiritual lives, but externally because (a) the Pelagian tone of much post-Vatican II catechesis has the potential to alienate the more thoughtful Lutheran separated brethren who might otherwise recognize their doctrines intact in Catholic life; and (b) this is important in Orthodox liturgy.


    2. CPK Smithies,
      Your sentiment has been expressed before on this blog, and I’ll try to repeat now what I’ve said before. In human salvation, we are utterly dependent – no doubt about it. But our dependency is upon GOD, not upon a clergyman who feeds us like an infant. There is much in the teachings of Jesus about complete dependence on God. But please show me where he says that lay Christians should be dependent upon the ministration of an ordained class of clergyman within the Church – I don’t believe he ever said any such thing. The problem with communion on the tongue is the clergy-laity relationship it implies.

      1. “Our dependency is upon God, not upon a clergyman”: I am truly astonished!

        Whence this focus on being a “clergyman”? I thought that the priest’s job was to act _in persona Christi_. In the liturgy, the person of the priest doesn’t matter. (Perhaps the OF makes it possible to make too much of it.) It is Christ who gives his body to us; it is from Christ’s that the “clergyman’s” priesthood derives; and if it does not point us directly to Christ, then either the office or the exercise of that priesthood needs calling to order.

        If there is a Christ-laity relationship that is not dysfunctional, then the problem is: how can the priesthood reflect that healthy relationship most effectively?

        If the priest cannot convey “Christ feeds you, the laity, (through me his unworthy servant)”, then how is it better to substitute “I feed myself?”

  24. I too am thankful for this forum where these things can be discussed.

    Maybe this has been brought up — I only had time to skim the other comments– but Father, I’m sort of troubled by the description of the “conservative” division. I don’t fit all of those descriptions (I’m not skeptical of the Second Vatican Council, nor do I think that it would necessarily be a good idea if the Holy Father brought back the actual papal tiara), but I do believe in a hermeneutic of continuity, and I support the Holy Father in his liturgical “agenda” — although I hesitate to use such a word for what he is implementing, and I’m not sure why things like bringing back the liturgical vestments of past Holy Fathers is any more of an agenda than throwing them out was??

    I guess I’m concerned that faithfulness to the Papacy, supporting the teachings of the Church, encouraging catechesis on the teachings of the Church, agreeing that there is a hermeneutic of continuity by which the Council documents should be read and interpreted — are seen as “conservative” when they’re actually just plain orthodox. Does one HAVE to be in one of those two camps? Or can I just be a loyal orthodox Catholic?

  25. “With respect, this seems strong on emotion but weak on other grounds. If there is to be dialogue, we cannot shout “Vandalism” at one another in block capitals. We must stand up for our own points of view, certainly, but not by hurling invective at one another. Otherwise, one will perpetuate and deepen the divide which is the subject of this posting.”

    Thanks, Miss Manners; but you made no comment on my italicized (block capitals had to do) remark that to undo the current, perfect, French translation of the NO would be VANDALISM.

  26. “there is a hermeneutic of continuity by which the Council documents should be read and interpreted” — there are also clear DISCONTINUITIES that most who invoke a hermeneutic of continuity such as the SSPX want to undo, e.g. the teachings on collegiality, the Church as people of God, the Church as subsisting in but not exclusively identical with the Roman Catholic Church, the dignity of Judaism and other religions, freedom of conscience.

    The papal remark about hermeneutics of continuity was, in fact, primarily directed against SSPX who claim to see such a discontinuity between Vatican II and the past that they cannot accept these legitimate developments in the Church’s teaching.

    1. Yes. The Hermeneutic of Continuity is *the* route by which SSPX etc can be brought back into the fold. The whole problem with SSPX (and perhaps some liberals) is that they follow a hermeneutic of discontinuity/rupture. There is no hope of reconciling them unless the continuity hermeneutic can be defended; and it will be to all our advantage if that can be done as luminously as with the “substitit in” question:

      We must keep Bl. JH Newman’s theory of the Development of Doctrine in mind!

      1. CPK Smithies,
        Pope Pope Benedict XVI says, interestingly, that there are “discontinuities” within “larger continuities” in Vatican II. But his would-be supporters seem to talk only of “continuity.” To them, “continuity” appears to mean that everything from before Vatican II is now legitimate and worthy of retrieval. But this can’t be right. How do the “continuity” folks propose to discern which things from before the Council and now abandoned should stay that way, in accord with the Council? Or is it the case for some “continuity” partisans, as I suspect, that “continuity” is a slogan which really means undoing Vatican II gradually?

  27. exactly. The Pope used the term “hermeneutic of reform and renewal … in continuity”. The opposite term is more like “hermeneutic of obstruction”, which is what we see quite a lot of these days.

  28. I agree with Joe on two fronts. On ‘vandalism’: well intended and knowledgeable observers point out that large parts of the new translations bear little resemblance to any known form of English, ancient or modern – that they represent a discontinuity. These concerns are glibly dismissed: the laity don’t pay attention to the text, we can teach them to understand, this is a new language, worth learning for its ‘sacrality’. A truly astonishing claim is that bad English, like Latin, creates a ‘verbal iconostasis’ that enhances our Encounter with Mystery. In fact it takes us back to Genesis 11.6 … not a Good Thing.

    ‘Hermeneutic of continuity’ has become a meaningless shibboleth. Continuity with what? There is little evidence for an unchanging ‘Mass of All Time’ or a process of ‘organic’ liturgical development that went smoothly until the 1960s, when it all fell apart. Appeals to ancient practices (e.g. communion in the hand) are met with charges of ‘archaeologism’. Is a maniple more in ‘continuity’ than the berakah prayers at the offertory?

    We are left with personal aesthetics: we choose the maniple over the berakah prayers because of our idiosyncratic liturgical sensibilities. As Joe says, we’re back to the ‘dictatorship of relativism’.

    1. “‘Hermeneutic of continuity’ has become a meaningless shibboleth. Continuity with what?”

      With what came immediately before – the tradition as actually handed down to us. If there’s no evidence of “organic development,” there would seem to be even less evidence of picking and choosing early practices that gradually died out either hundreds or even more than a thousand years ago and replacing a living tradition with them. The maniple would seem to be more in continuity than the new offertory prayers, as it evolved from a practical garment and was actually still in use by modern Christians while the berakeh prayers hadn’t survived or remained in use (serious question – were they ever used at Mass? I recall reading that the offertory prayer was originally what became the “secret” prayer in the EF, which was later augmented by the addition of Gallican prayers).

    2. If the “hermeneutic of continuity” is hard to understand, perhaps consult Bl. JH Newman’s thinking on the development of doctrine. The basic idea is very simple: authentic teachings don’t contradict what went before. More difficult: they may involve adoption of different conceptual schemes to relocate what went before; i.e. the new teaching cannot be expressed using the conceptual scheme in which the prior teaching was expressed. In order to verify the non-contradiction, the prior teaching must be expressible in the new conceptual scheme and shown to be non-contradictory with the new.

      1. CPK Smithies,

        I’ll let pass without comment your insulting suggestion that things are hard for me to understand and go to the heart of the matter. The question on the table is how Vatican II should be interpreted. The claim from some is that Vatican II innovated, more than any previous council in the Church, and is thus a special case. Fr. John O’Malley has shown this, for example, with respect to the innovative vocabulary used by the Vatican II (see our previous post on this). The counter claim is that Vatican II should be interpreted not by over-emphasizing the seeming innovations therein, but by interpreting everything Vatican II stated in the context of the entire preceding tradition.

        It is no disrespect to Newman to point out that he never wrote anything on the question at hand.


      2. DPKS –
        Furthermore, the ‘no contradiction’ theory of development of doctrine doesn’t work, I don’t think. It is for good reason that Newman’s important and ground-breaking work (for his time) on this topic has been superseded by so many thinkers by now. The stubborn facts of history get in the way. It just isn’t tenable to claim that there is no contradiction between “Slavery is permitted” and “Slavery is condemned,” or “Jews should be pressured to convert and forced to listen to Christian preaching” and “Jews like all peoples deserve freedom of religion and freedom of conscience,” or “Women are naturally inferior and by nature incapable of leadership roles” (the traditional reason for non-ordination of women) and “Women and men are equal in nature and dignity.” This list could easily be extended. As I’ve asked many times, Why is it so hard for Christians, of all people, simple to admit “We were wrong,” especially in the face of incontrovertible evidence??

  29. The secretary of the Ecclesia Dei commission, a Msgr Pozzo, recently told an SSPX gathering:

    What is the origin of the interpretation of discontinuity or of rupture with Tradition? It is what we may call the conciliar, or more precisely, para-conciliar ideology which took hold of the Council from the beginning and superimposed itself on the proceedings. By this expression we do not mean something concerning the documents of the Council, nor the intention of the participants, but rather the general framework of interpretation in which the Council was placed and which acts as a sort of internal treatment [conditionnement intérieur] affecting our subsequent reading of the facts and the texts. The Council is not the same thing as the para-conciliar ideology, but the story about that ecclesial event and about the mass media has served in large part to mystify the Council, and that is precisely the para-conciliar ideology.

    Not surprisingly, Msgr Pozzo then appealed to the “hermeneutic of reform in continuity” of Pope Benedict. The SSPX were sharply critical of his proposals.

    ‘Hermeneutic of continuity’ doesn’t work, because we need a hermeneutic to interpret the hermeneutic.

    1. The secretary of the Ecclesia Dei commission, a Msgr Pozzo, recently told an SSPX gathering:

      Err, no. It was a speech in Wigratzbad at the seminary of the Fraternity of St. Peter. (Cite)

      ‘Hermeneutic of continuity’ doesn’t work, because we need a hermeneutic to interpret the hermeneutic.

      Your problem seems to be with the idea of a hermenutic, not with the hermenutic itself.

      1. You are right on the first point. The cited article (from an SSPX newspaper) was reporting on Msgr Pozzo’s speech to the FSSP. I plead fatigue and alphabet-soup confusion. Mea culpa.

        I believe I was nonetheless correct that the SSPX wasnt’ buying Pozzo’s “hermeneutic of continuity” solution.

        I have no problem with the idea of a hermeneutic; but for a hermeneutic to be useful as more than a slogan or an identity symbol, it needs to give us some principles of interpretation that people can agree on — a shared framework, a model, a lens through which documents can be read. “Hermeneutic of continuity”, without further unpacking, doesn’t do that.

      2. I have no problem with the idea of a hermeneutic; but for a hermeneutic to be useful as more than a slogan or an identity symbol, it needs to give us some principles of interpretation that people can agree on — a shared framework, a model, a lens through which documents can be read. “Hermeneutic of continuity”, without further unpacking, doesn’t do that.


        Of course “hermeneutic of continuity” is not by itself a complete hermeneutic. I take it then that you’re just not familiar with the context: (the 2005 Christmas Adderess to the Curia as referenced by the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. Now that you know it’s not just sloganeering but has a long explanation, do you have a more specific objection?

    2. To elucidate what Samuel Howard wrote, a hermeneutic is a method or principle of interpretation. As such, it is not itself in need of interpretation (although a document explaining it might be).

  30. IF a national study of Catholics were done, and liberal Catholics were defined as people who support ordaining women and married men, my guess is that we would find there are more liberals who would like to have a lot more Latin and chant in the OF Mass than we would find traditional liturgical Catholics, defined as people who personally would like to be able to go to an EF Mass.

    If we probed the belief system of liberal Catholics as defined above, we would probably find their ordination beliefs are best described as political and moral (the practical and right things to do) rather than theological (founded upon lasting doctrines).

    We would probably also find the liking of liberals for Latin and chant are matters of musical taste rather than theological beliefs. “This is good music, why shouldn’t we have it at Mass along with contemporary music.”

    While most of the liberal Catholics as defined above would likely support the availability of the EF Mass as a concession to people who like it, my guess is that most view the EF as an attempt to undo Vatican II and therefore as theologically suspect.

    My guess is that the belief systems of liberals as defined above are so different from those of traditional Catholics as defined above that intellectual clashes let alone discussions are unlikely outside the blogosphere and other rarified places. You have to have a common framework in order to carry on an argument.

  31. It seems to me there are two ways of dealing with this issue on a parish level.

    Some dioceses erect a separate EF personal parish: I think that does nothing for our unity although in practical terms it may suit those who prefer only to attend an EF, and may suit those who do not want an EF anywhere near them. This seems to me to be mutual self-segregation.

    The other way is, where there is demand for it, to have an EF available in an otherwise OF parish. That is the case in my parish.

    There are some people who only attend the OF and never attend the EF, either on principle or because the time (1pm) does not suit. There are some who will only attend the EF (more on principle, I expect, although I do not have data to back that up).

    We sometimes attend the OF on a Sunday but are more likely to attend it midweek. We normally attend the EF on Sundays.

    Many people from the parish usually attend the OF on a Sunday but occasionally attend the EF.

    Both forms are the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, both celebrated with reverence (Deo gratias), and all regularly scheduled Masses of our parish. There is no self-segregation here.

    It is not much different from occasionally seeing a person who attends the 9am OF attending the EF: interesting, but no big deal. I think that is what His Holiness intended with Summorum Pontificum.

    For those here who do not like that idea, what is your solution? Simply saying one wants to play a ‘winner takes all game’ gets us nowhere. Assuming (like it or not) the EF will not be abolished, where would you prefer to go from here?

    Integrate it into parishes as in mine?

    Seek to undermine it by trying to insist on receiving standing, EMHC’s, altar girls, etc (that approach will not work as the Holy See has made clear)?

    Support personal parishes for the EF and keep them as ‘at arms’ length’ as possible (sadly, I predict many on both sides favoring this)?

    Going one step further and setting up a separate ‘sui juris’ church for those who prefer the EF, along the lines of the eastern Catholic churches?

    Any other options?

  32. I think Jack makes some interesting points.

    I have a question for the “liberals.”

    Setting aside the question of married clergy, which a number of “conservatives” seem to have no real issue with as evidenced by their enthusiasm for Eastern Rites and Anglican converts.

    Would you consider opposition to women’s ordination indicative on an attitude that trying to “undo” Vatican II? Would you consider it to indicate a suspicion of the Council? or a violation of the spirit or direction of the Council?

    How about an opposition to girls serving the mass? Do you think that being opposed to girl altar servers is indicative of an attitude opposed to Vatican II?

    If so, why? If not, then can the decrees of the Council be used as a starting place for discussions about them?

    1. Ben, I’m not sure what you’re after. Is it to play “gotcha” and catch a liberal mistakenly believing that Vatican II called for altar girls or women priests? If so, I hope no one takes your bait.

      In any case, keep in mind that interpreting Vatican II involves more than taking its explicit directives (which are rather few) literally. The Council laid out broad patterns for thinking in a reformed way about many things, e.g., the Church’s relationship to the modern world and modern culture.


      1. Vatican II was doing nothing very new theologically. The “thinking in a reformed way” it embodied had been going on for ages beforehand, exemplified by the vibrant neo-Thomist movement, greater awareness of non-Catholic Christian thought, and a more up-to-date metaphysics. For example, Bl JH Newman was surely a huge influence on Vatican II.

        I would be interested in an elucidation of this “broad patterns” idea. Not absolutely sure Bl JHN would have liked the sound of it.

      2. CPKS – It’s hard to predict what anyone in the 19th century would have thought about Vatican II. But the tradition didn’t end with Newman, of course, so it’s entirely possible (even likely) that V2 went beyond Newman in some respects.

        That some of the innovative changes of Vatican II, compared to Church positions from, say, the 10th or 14th or 18th century, are foreshadowed by some thinkers in the early 20th century, or even from the later 19th century, hardly solves your “problem” that there allegedly can be no real innovation or change in Catholic teaching. It merely moves the problem back a few decades or so.


  33. I’m not interested in playing “gotcha.” I’m interested in understanding why it is that other dedicated catholics have a different view of these things than I do, and where those views might have originated.

    I’m not sure what is meant by a “broad pattern for thinking in a reformed way about many things” I must admit that I have no real knowledge about what catholic life was actually like prior to the council. Sure I can read about it in books, and speak to people who are older, but I’m not sure I will ever really get it because I didn’t live then.

    My patterns for thinking are the product of the public education system. There has never been any question for me that I might not be engaged with the modern world, it was al I knew for my first 24 years. My introduction to thinking with the church came largely from reading the work of John Paul II in the years prior to my conversion. I would have imagined that an engagement with his work as an intellectualy formative process would have taken any change in orientation suggested by the council for granted.

    1. Ben,

      Since you asked, no, I do not think opposition to the ordination of women indicates a desire to undo Vatican II, or even violate its spirit. I do not think opposition to female altar servers in necessarily contrary to either the letter or the spirit of Vatican II, though I do sometimes wonder at the rationales that are offered.

      What I do find contrary to the letter and the spirit of Vatican II are knee-jerk negative reactions to the modern world, triumphalist and even contemptuous attitudes toward non-Catholic Christians, the desire to return to a confessional state as the best form of government, ecclesiologies that reduce the Church to the hierarchy, and overly-centralized forms of Church governance. Perhaps no one on this or any other blog engages in such behavior or has such attitudes, but if they did I would think that would constitute rejection of the Council.

  34. Thank you for the reply FCB.

    While I strive hard not to be contemptuous towards anybody, and don’t see the return to the confessional state as a possibility, I do have knee-jerk negative reactions to the modern world.

    I’m suspicious of the modern world. I find the modern world a very difficult place to be a Christian. The choices that I’ve made in answering the call to Christian marriage have caused me to live in some fundamentally different ways than my neighbors. Because we’ve not used contraception and have had many children, we are not able to afford the expense in childe care for my wife to work outside the home. This makes us materially poorer than our neighbors with smaller families. But that’s not the main difference. There are a lot of people who hate and are contemptuous of us because we have so many children. We sometimes get yelled at in parking lots. It is made clear to us that the modern world is not okay with how we live. If you doubt this attitude is out there ask your friends and acquaintances what they think of the Duggars. I doubt you will hear many talk about how blessed they are.

    So yes, I have that knee-jerk reaction, but it is based on experience. The main reason we go to an FSSP parish is because it is the one place we can feel like normal members of a community and my kids do not feel like outsiders.

    maybe our various reactions to modernity are a place to begin dialogue?

    1. Ben,

      Though I often find myself fuming at the modern world and all its detestable enormities, I do think that the Second Vatican Council calls Catholics to be discerning and to “read the signs of the times” with regard to the modern world (or, as Gaudium et Spes calls it, “the world of today”). In other words, I take it to be the teaching of the Council that the world of today (or of any era, for that matter) is a mixed bag, neither to be accept nor rejected in toto. I suspect that, despite you exasperation with certain modern attitudes, you are in actual practice discern not only the bad but also the good things that the modern world has to offer.

    2. Ben,

      Why do you ascribe this reaction to the modernity part of the modern world? Couldn’t it just be “the world” reacting to you?

  35. “The basic idea is very simple: authentic teachings don’t contradict what went before. ”

    That is a very simplistic hermeneutics, though it is one followed by Cardinal Avery Dulles. He says that the Church’s current teaching on slavery does not contradict the teaching of Pius IX that slavery is compatible with both natural and divine (revealed) Law. In short, the simplistic hermeneutics leads to the weirdest mental acrobatics to sustain it.

  36. #62 – sorry, I cannot reply inline. But you raise some interesting points. I think the best way to analyze this is to examine Bl JH Newman’s theory of the development of doctrine.

    As I’m sure you know, the basic test is that a genuine “new” doctrine does not contradict an “old” one.

    The problem gets deeper when we understand that the new doctrine is expressed in a different conceptual framework from the old. (Here, I strongly recommend Roger Trigg’s _Reason and Commitment_ as a philosophical grounding.)

    I informally propose a “continuity” test like this:

    1) D1 is a doctrine expressed in scheme S1.
    2) D2 is a doctrine expressed in scheme S2.
    3) D2 is “in continuity with” D1 if:
    3.1) D2 adequately expresses D1 in S2.
    3.2) For all doctrines Dx contradictory in S1 with D1:
    3.2.1) Dx’ adequately expresses Dx in S2; and
    3.2.2) Dx’ can be shown to be contradictory to D2.

    Obviously, “adequately expresses” is a fudge and needs much further work.

    If such a schematic roughly presents a way to “cash” the concept of continuity, then no, there is absolutely no justification for saying that the concept of continuity invalidates the later conceptual scheme (in this case, that of Vatican II).

    So, no.

  37. Re #79: I would no more want to say that there is no “real innovation or change in Catholic thinking” than to say that there is no real innovation nor change in science or the arts. After all, human thinking does constantly change and develop (most untidily!).

    I would merely hold that (a) legitimate innovation/change must be shown to be non-contradictory with that which went before (“Change” should of course be understood as accidental, rather than essential, change.); and (b) it must be shown to be grounded in, or the logical/theological consequence of, what went before.

  38. Regarding #68: It is always possible to re-express non-contradictory propositions in a seemingly paradoxical way. For example: a number that is less than 100 can be smaller than a number that is less than 50.

    In order to show that an earlier statement is contradictory with a later statement, we have to have a view to the conceptual schemes within which they were made. It is not OK to say that, e.g. elliptic geometry “contradicts” Euclidean geometry, even if, within these different schemes, apparently contradictory true sentences can be formed.

    To show that the statements are truly contradictory, we have to establish a conceptual scheme which can express the Euclidean statement and all statements contradictory to it (and show them to be contradictory), the elliptic statement and all statements contradictory to it (and show those also to be contradictory), and finally to demonstrate a formal contradiction between the elliptic and Euclidean statements.

    Regarding the “traditional reason for non-ordination of women” as expressed in your post, I think this is an extremely tendentious straw man! “Naturally inferior” indeed! By all means let’s discuss the topic seriously, but not like that!

    1. Your posts raise a specter that is perhaps even more troubling than that of contradiction: the incommensurability of conceptual schemes. Given that there is no reason to think that those of us who don’t see things sub species aeterni can come up with some sort of super-scheme, would this not consign us to agnosticism regarding the contradiction or non-contradiction of propositions in different conceptual schemes? How would we ever determine that D1 in S1 “means the same” as D2 in S2? I am not saying that it is impossible, but I would be interested in knowing how you would go about doing it.

      Also, it seems to me that “the traditional reason” for not ordaining women — at least as given by St. Thomas — was their natural inferiority. I don’t see why this is unacceptable to bring up.

      1. There is no question that we see things as they are. The issue is one of how we explain things, and that is where conceptual schemes come in. Because explaining the equivalence of D1 and D2 inevitably involves explaining, the exercise is problematic, but a number of approaches can be chosen. Among those I would include being able to give an account in S2 of how statements in S1 contrary to D1 correspond to statements in S2 contrary to D2.

        Not conceded that “inferiority” was the ground of S. Thomas’s reasoning; the “traditional reason” goes back to the will of Christ and was attested e.g. by S. Epiphanius in the Panarion (79,3) in the C4. It is as always important to distinguish reasons from theological explanations.

  39. #67 presents some interesting points also. However, I take exception to this introduction:

    “I’ll let pass without comment your insulting suggestion that things are hard for me to understand and go to the heart of the matter.”


    a) You did comment. You said it was “insulting”.

    b) You implied that I thought that something was “hard for [you] to understand”.

    I accept that I might have implied that the author of #65 found the concept of the “hermeneutic of continuity” difficult. If there was anything demeaning to be inferred by what I wrote, I unreservedly apologize. I was not addressing anyone else.

    As someone who finds lots of things very difficult (and familiar with teaching things which my pupils find extremely difficult), I understand difficult things to be part of our common human experience and identifying them not a way to insult someone.

  40. If non-contradiction is meant only in the very stretched sense that would say Einstein does not contradict Newton, certainly most doctrines can be saved within the radically changed horizon of today. Often they then turn out to mean something less shockingly magical or miraculous than was commonly thought — as in the cases of infallibility, the Marian doctrines or the mode of the real presence.

    However, some doctrines that traditionalists regard as sacrosanct they see as contradicted by Vatican II, such as Florence’s extra ecclesiam nulla salus. The flexible hermeneutics that would claim to erase the contradiction only makes them more uneasy.

    That taking interest on a loan is unnatural and slavery natural is prima facie contradicted by today’s teaching.

    1. Non-contradiction should certainly be understood in the “stretched” sense when we consider the development of doctrine (or science, etc.). To use the notion of in-system contradiction is quite unwarrantable and the cause of much needless grief and misunderstanding. It does however call us to rise above a completely relativistic understanding of the relationship between conceptual schemes.

      The problem that some traditionalists have with Vatican II is due to precisely this shortcoming: they evaluate Vatican II according to the conceptual scheme of a previous era.

      Yes, in an important sense we do have a radically changed horizon. (The sense in which the horizon gives us a point of reference.) In another sense, the horizon is the same old horizon it always was: the unchanging commitment to the one truth that underlies all our conceptual revolutions.

      I’m not entirely happy with “flexible” for hermeneutic, but agree that we cannot apply an e.g. C20 conceptual framework to a C4 statement or vice versa. (This seems more “realistic” than “flexible”!)

      In summary, I am more or less agreeing with everything #92 says, and hoping that we can see a path to an understanding.

  41. “We live in a church that includes Fr Z and Joe O’Leary. Maybe in a thousand years there will be an icon of the two of them embracing. Wouldn’t that be remarkable?!”

    On the issue of liturgical translation, it is true that Fr Z supports the Vatican and the Bishops and the still silent masses of the clergy and faithful. However, the issue is not one of alleged ideological extremism but very simply this: are the forthcoming translations good or bad? The answer to that question is already apparent to those who have read them carefully, and will soon be apparent to all. Ideological huffing and puffing is an irrelevancy, a smokescreen of those who unconsciously know they have bought a pig in a poke in their foolish enthusiasm for the forthcoming translations.

  42. #94: part of the problem is in categorizing a “good” translation. I suggest that there are at least 2 criteria, viz.

    a) is the result “good” output-language? and
    b) is the result a representation of the input-language?

    There are plenty of others, but these are perhaps the principle two!

    I don’t think it fair or reasonable to focus exclusively on criterion (a). For example, how should Catholics evaluate Cranmer’s “translation” of the Sarum rite?

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