Revolution or Reformation?

I knew a Catholic bishop in England who decreed that at all services where he presided there were to be no hymns written before 1965. It does not take a very clever monkey to figure out that a hymn (or anything else for that matter) is neither good nor bad just because of it’s date. What the decree revealed was that the poor man suffered from the Hermeneutic of Revolution.

The Hermeneutic of Revolution is the dull perspective of the ideologue. He sees that something is wrong, and like a dunderhead, instead of fixing it he wants to break it. Like the dull boy who is frustrated by a toy he can’t make work he throws it against the wall. And more often than not, if it is a living thing he wants to torture it before he kills it.

The revolutionary justifies his actions (as all ideologues do) by appealing to his vague, but lofty ideals. He wants to bring about a better world. He is not precisely sure what that better world will be. He will figure that out as he goes along, but of one thing he is certain: that the first step to the better world is to destroy the old world. The future brave new world can only be built– according to the hermeneutic of revolution–out of the blood and ashes of the old.

The bishop in England unconsciously (I hope) followed the hermeneutic of revolution which infected the Catholic Church in the 1960′s, but this revolutionary hermeneutic had a diabolical pedigree. It began in the revolution of the so-called Protestant Reformation, and continued in the revolution of secular humanism of the eighteenth century which spawned the bloodthirsty French Revolution. The ideologues continued with Marxism, Communism and Nazism–all revolutions that sought to overturn the old order in favor of a brave new world–and all ideologies which have their philosophical roots (that such revolution is possible and good) in the Protestant Revolution which destroyed Christendom.

The same negative and violent mentality–which is always dressed up in blind self righteousness and reformer’s zeal–swept into the Catholic Church itself. This is why beautiful old churches were literally torn apart–venerable old images relegated to the basement, holy relics thrown in the trash, beautiful marble altars demolished, reredos smashed–all to make way for the mediocre, common and banal trash of the revolution.

This is why choirs were suddenly transformed into praise bands in the sanctuary, sisters and brothers left their communities in droves to ‘find themselves’. This is why architects build churches that were intentionally brutal in design, and why others built churches with no connection with the Catholic past–actually glorying–as all revolutionaries do–in their ignorance, their violent iconoclasm and their hatred of tradition.

And what do we have to show for it all now fifty years later? What do the greying ideologues have to show for their revolution? Precious little. Collections of dog eared soft back ‘hymn books’ with music that is a blend of the night club and broadway show with words that sound like 1960s protest songs. The church buildings they slapped up were often badly built out of cheap materials and already, after fifty years are not only dated but dilapidated. The children the ‘catechized’ in emotional claptrap and social activism are now adult Catholics (if they are Catholic at all) who do not know the faith and are unable to pass it on.

The antidote is the hermeneutic of continuity. Where something is broken. We fix it. Where some group has lost their way, let them rediscover it by returning to their roots–not by re inventing themselves completely. Where the tradition has become stale, let us rediscover what it meant in the first place. Where the catechesis or moral life has become dull legalism, let the true meaning and purpose be understood and taught anew. Most of all, where the liturgy has become rote and formal and dull, let the people and the priest renew it and re-charge it with love and passion, and may the whole endeavor be inspired and energized by the Holy Spirit–a spirit that brings renewal, and true reform, but never revolution.

More on the Benedict Option
All Are Welcome....To What Exactly?
The Holy Trinity, Feminists and a Nice Cuppa Tea
The Rise of Militant Catholic Men
  • Father Shelton

    "The children…do not know the faith and are unable to pass it on." That this generation is unable to pass on the True Faith to non-Catholics or to future generations is perhaps the greatest tragedy. Most European and US Catholics are descendants of long lines of Catholics, but now wander away without even knowing what they've left. And I wonder what percentage of US Catholics have ever made any effort to invite their Protestant neighbors into the Church? Do they even know what we have that others would want? But you end on a positive note, so I'll try adopting the same attitude.

  • Evagrius Ponticus

    Fr., I'm sorry but you are too unkind to broadway musicals, 60s protest songs and the night club. The Farrell, Mayhew and Kendrick line-up is in a class of its own!More seriously, do you not think that the "hermeneutic of revolution" cuts both ways, Fr.?There are, after all, those who, seeing what ideologues did, insist that nothing good can have come out of the reigns of the last four Popes, and we must roll everything back to the state of play in the reign of Pius XII. Or Leo XIII. Or Pius V. Or Pius II. Or…As you say, the hermeneutic of continuity and reform (that oft-forgotten second part to the Holy Father's coinage) is the way forward, fixing and tweaking rather than upending and destroying. And that is why the change in the Church will be slow, and drawn-out, and will infuriate 'traditionalists', who believe in a Church stuck in a perpetual 1956. (And no, I don't think a perpetual 1976 is any better. :) )

  • Anil Wang

    Very true, but you are forgetting one thing. If you actually try to fix it rather than destroy it, you often have an uphill battle and it might take a lifetime of suffering or ten before you succeed. No human is able to put up with that.What separates a Martin Luther from a St Francis is not the zeal for the ideal, it is precisely that the first relied on human effort while the latter relied on God. What separated the Early Muslims from the Early Christians was that one relied on human effort to spread the faith while the other relied on God.In both the cases of Martin Luther and the Early Muslims, the results of their revolution were quick and decisive and involved relatively little suffering. The opposite can be said about St. Francis and the Early Christians. By secular standards, the first were wise while the second were foolish.

  • James C.

    Tell it, Father!This new translation is one step forward. It's funny, today I went to a lecture by one of the USCCB bigwigs about the new translation.Of course, he totally whitewashed the history of it, I wouldn't expect the bishops to admit that they totally blew it and have taken 40 years to fix it.But it's getting fixed. And for that I am glad.

  • torculus

    A good essay, Father L.Let's hope that, as the fog of the "Spirit of Vatican II" begins to lift, more and more Catholics will join the pilgrimage to rediscover authentic Catholic identity.Would it be fair to suggest that a recovery and renewal of Catholic identity will depend on Catholics letting go of their personal (small "p" protestant) magisterium for the magisterium Christ put in place? Exorcising the revolutionary spirit seems to call for the strength to throw off the addiction to disobedience, or in newspeak "loyal dissent". If ever there was a Catholic oxymoron, eh?A positive note – today's Cathedral bulletin contained a substantial introduction to Sancrosantum Concilium, unvarnished, in it's own words, under the title "What Vatican II really said". I assume it's the first in a series of presentations. Brick by brick, as Fr. Z. says.

  • flyingvic

    If the 'Christendom' of your understanding had truly been based upon sound doctrine, truly upheld by the faith of its people and truly inspired by worship that uplifted and strengthened the soul, how could a revolution have prevailed against it?Was it not the case with the French Revolution, with Marxism, Communism and Nazism, that what the revolutionaries revolted against was already rotten to the core and over-ripe for revolution?Before you blame the philosophy of Protestantism for all the evils of the past five hundred years, (and for the liturgical revolution that is still affecting the Roman church today,) should you not be taking a careful look at the state of the mediaeval church in western Europe, totally dominated by Rome, that invited such a revolution in the first place?

  • Anneg

    Somebody used the word "exorcised". Interesting. I refer to the "Ghost of VII" and hope it is being exorcised. What were they thinking?@Vic "The same negative and violent mentality–which is always dressed up in blind self righteousness and reformer's zeal–"Pretty well describes your founder, Henry VII, doncha think? As for the others mentioned: Communism: who, Marx or Lenin? French Revolution: Voltaire?Nazi: Hitler? They are all well described in the above quote.And, remember 40 or 50 years for the Catholic Church is not much. We've been through worse (not sure if music was ever worse, though)Restoration and healing, brick by brick, but, please can we skip the '50's?

  • flyingvic

    Anneg, I think you meant to say 'Henry VIII' – but I don't agree with your description at all. I see precious little 'blind self righteousness and reformer's zeal' in him at all. Now if you'd said that he was a self-serving political opportunist, I'd have agreed with you!For the rest, I don't quite see your point. Father offered a number of examples of revolutions that he said were spawned by a Protestant philosophy. Whether or not that is true, I tried to suggest that a revolution only happens in an unhappy society and only succeeds with popular support.That being the case, the question arises why the Protestant revolution happened in the first place and why it had such widespread popular support.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Vic, I always like to compare the responses to church corruption of St Francis and Martin Luther.One chose the way of renewal and reform. The other chose the way of revolution. One brought renewal and reform. The second brought war, division, economic inequality, injustice and then more war and more revolution.I am not blaming the Protestant Revolution for all the subsequent revolutions directly–but a precedent was established. Something became possible because something which had been considered an abhorrent sin–rebellion–became acceptable.No one is questioning the existence of corruption. We're questioning the response to it.

  • flyingvic

    Which way did Christ choose when opposing the corruption of Judaism?And you're surely not suggesting that there was little in the way of 'war, division, economic inequality, injustice and then more war and more revolution' before Martin Luther? Was it not the inability of the Church to accept either the problems that Francis identified or the solutions that he embodied that left so many ordinary, unrich, unpowerful people open to the reforms of Luther and his ilk?

  • Sam

    The reality of the late iconoclasm within the Church became so horrifyingly real for me while staying in Mexico this spring. We were visiting the Brady Museum in Cuernavaca, and I saw wall after wall of corpus… no crucifix, just the corpus. Different styles, different materials. I kept asking myself why this was so, but my question was answered a week or so later when we visited the cathedral. There was a bishop in the 70s nicknamed the red bishop. He tore down all the statues and stripped all the frescos off the walls. He took the corpus off the cross. He started a Mariachi mass. All this within living memory of the Cristeros.

  • Anneg

    Henry VIII, sorry, forgot one I. He looks like a poster child for self-righteousness as well as self-centeredness and extremely destructive.You said each of the "reformers", French Revolution, Marxism, Communism, Fascism were a reaction to a system rotten to the core. My point is that they were more actions by a self appointed, self-righteous elite telling people what they needed and destroying what's there. Luther certainly did that. They tore down and ended with no ability to build anything. Well, Naziism built Walhalla and a couple of stadia, but otherwise, pretty destructive. Some people are attracted to destruction at any time. Maybe because of Original Sin which CoE used to teach. No matter how sound the teaching is. Isn't that the point of the post? The propensity to choose revolutionary violence because of ideological self-centeredness which becomes sin.

  • James C.

    While acknowledging the sins and failings of people in the Church both past and present (and their contributions to conflict in the Church), it is good to keep in mind that Lucifer and his disciples had nothing to rebel against in the heavenly order, but they still raised a rebellion. It appears to me that Satan used Luther's pride, paranoia and scrupulosity to sunder Western Christendom. This sundering was a fatal blow.As for the 1960s, it breaks the heart to think about the horrific hubris and lustful enthusiasm with which Church elites (with collection money) raped and disfigured churches for which countless pious people had saved up their pennies to build and beautify. The underlying diabolical evil of this (however "good" the intentions of the arrogant "experts" who perpetrated the destruction) takes my breath away.I hope I never run across notorious Iconoclast and church rapist Fr. Richard Vosko, because (to put it diplomatically) I would be tempted to treat him in a manner not fitting for a priest.

  • Paul Rodden

    Hi, Vic!You said:"If the 'Christendom' of your understanding had truly been based upon sound doctrine, truly upheld by the faith of its people and truly inspired by worship that uplifted and strengthened the soul, how could a revolution have prevailed against it?"Might it be that you're actually describing your understanding of Christendom? – the Protestant 'all-or-nothing' mentality – "Here I stand, I can do no other!" Protestantism always seems to trade on this 'aut-aut', Either/Or, thinking.As far as I understand it, it is Protestantism, and not Catholicism, which wants 'Pure Church' (TM), and so I think you're actually projecting your ecclesiology onto us. A 'Hermeneutic of Projection'. :)The Catholic Church is 'Casta Meretrix': both Chaste and Whore (see Cardinal Biffi's little monograph on the subject).The 'Pure Church' notion is what drives the endless schisms today:Pastor Z is not pure enough, so Y goes off and starts his own Pure Church. But, pastor Y is not pure enough for X, so X goes off…As Father pointed out in his reply, renewal and reform come from within. The Church is always one of wheat and tares, as Ronald Knox pointed out in 'The Creed in Slow Motion'.Martin Luther saw himself as the Weedbuster Royal. For him there was no 'Ecology of Church'. He mistook uniformity for unity.

  • flyingvic

    Hi Paul, I don't think that sound doctrine, true faith and inspiring worship is the sole preserve either of the Romans or of the Protestants, (though both, surely, would aspire to it?) nor is it descriptive of some mythical Pure Church that you seem to associate with me and my question. Please don't be so swift to pigeon-hole or stick a label on me!My question simply supposed that if these qualities had been existing in the mediaeval church in sufficient measure then there would not have been either the space to build the reformation bonfire nor the fuel to make it burn the way it did.That, to my mind, is the similarity between the Reformation and the other more overtly political movements that Father originally mentioned (the French Revolution, Marxism, Communism, Nazism): without making any moral judgements about these movements, I suggested that the reason why they flared up with such energy was that the systems they opposed were weak, bloated and corrupt, and failing in the purposes for which they existed.To point an accusatory finger at Protestant philosophy, therefore, while ignoring the ecclesiastical failings that gave it its strength, is rather to miss the point!

  • Paul Rodden

    Hi there, Vic.Thanks for your reply."My question simply supposed that if these qualities had been existing in the mediaeval church in sufficient measure then there would not have been either the space to build the reformation bonfire nor the fuel to make it burn the way it did."Yes, but they weren't, so it's merely a counterfactual. We cannot assume that if they'd been there in sufficient measure, then the Reformation would not have occurred.You are assuming Luther's motives were good. They might have been, but they might not have been, too.But, more importantly, it sounds very Pelagian and/or fatalistic – that certain (human) qualities or actions will guarantee certain outcomes – I just don't think we can say that.It seems to me your comments about tyrannical 20th Century regimes fall into the same trap.The 'rise' of Protestant Philosophy wasn't anything to do with ecclesiastical failure, but simply Nominalism applied to ecclesiology. It was anti-essentialist and so denied the substantive nature of the Church.Luther didn't attack the failings but the very fabric of the Mystical Body of Christ.

  • flyingvic

    Paul, I've been talking about the space within which things might happen (and did!) not claiming that those things were guaranteed to happen. If the selling of indulgences had not been actively encouraged, perhaps Luther's touch-paper would not have been lit. But they were, and it was. If the Allies (especially France) had not demanded such enormous reparations from Germany after the First World War, perhaps the conditions would not have been so favourable for the rise of Nazism. If the French and Russian monarchies had not become so remote from the people they governed…etc., etc.These things were possibilities, not inevitabilities (is that a word?!) but they happened; and it makes sense, therefore, to look for contributory factors.Whether or not his motives were good (and I don't think that Rome today encourages the sale of indulgences, does it?) if the church on earth in his day had been more readily recognisable as the Mystical Body of Christ then Luther might well have been just a footnote to history rather than the major figure that he has become.

  • Paul Rodden

    Hi Vic.I think you're now just back-pedalling. :)You made a statement to the effect that implied, A, B, and C were the case, but if D, E, and F, had been the case, then, 'how could a revolution have prevailed against it?'.Your views, even in you latest post, STILL imply that the closer man was capable of realising the 'Mystical Body of Christ', so the Protestant Revolt would have been less likely:'…if the church on earth in his day had been more readily recognisable as the Mystical Body of Christ then Luther might well have been just a footnote to history…'This kind of 'theological utopianism', or what Eric Voeglin referred to as the attempt to 'immanetise the eschaton', I hear almost daily from my Evangelical friends in their attempts to justify why they've just shifted to (yet) another 'church', ditching most, or all, their friends.'Church', to them, is more like a Social Club or Facebook, where you just 'defriend' those in your old group you no longer like, and 'friend' those in your new congregation.It's not a matter of truth, but how much this current congregation 'meets my need', compared with the others.It's such a horrible, utilitarian, view of persons, yet they seem to genuinely believe there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.When I was an Evangelical, I was always uneasy, realising my 'fellowship' with those around me was tenuous and conditional, often based on invisible lines which, when crossed, led to being 'disfellowshipped', and those who used to ring you to go out, stopped ringing, and started giving you 'the smile' reserved only for pagans and Catholics.As one cannot avoid sunglasses changing the whole of one's visual field to the colour of the lens, so with Modernism.

  • flyingvic

    Paul, my friend, I think that the line that I have been taking is a consistent one, based upon my premise that revolutions only 'succeed' where there is great dissatisfaction with the status quo. So I would question whether the Reformation would have been as 'successful' (i.e. as far-reaching in its consequences) as it has been if the church at that time had been in better shape. That is all. This has nothing whatever to do with 'theological utopianism': at every point in its history the church has been undermined to a degree by human failings. Nor has it anything to do with pretending that in history A follows B as surely as night follows day. Both action and inaction have consequences,but they are far from being predictable in their detail. Time and again in history, however, an authority that has become weak or corrupt has been challenged. Luther was not alone in recognising the need for reform in the church; sadly, the leaders of the church in his day were not prepared to set about reforming it.I also think that you have been consistent in taking my words beyond their true and intended destination!

  • Cantor Nikolaos

    It breaks my heart and angers me when I look at pictures of old catholic churches from before and after the "reforms". What was done is nothing short of sacrilege. I think Cromwell or Knox would be proud. I hope and pray for the day when all the high altars and Communion rails are restored and all the ugly interlocking chairs are replaced with wooden pews and all the hideous polyester vestments with bizarre designs on them are replaced with beautiful silk vestments with traditional orphreys. I would also love to see all the space ships, circus tents and the like be demolished. 19th Century houses can wait. Can we tear down some of those UFOs?I wouldn't cry too much (actually not at all) if some bishop somewhere would treat modern church furnishings the way traditional (proper) furnishings were treated during the "reform". If they jackhammered a "Star trek Altar" and sold DVDs (in HD) to raise funds for a new and/or restored marble high altar, I'd buy a copy! If they had a sledgehammer event involving praiseband instruments and maybe an Allen "organ", I'd be there with my 5 bucks in hand! Y'know, that might actually be a great way for the Catholic Church to raise money to restore all the desecrated churches!

  • Paul Rodden

    Hi Vic.There are plenty of things with which I am dissatisfied, and certainly one is the 'status quo', or manifest dissent, of many of the clergy and bishops of the Catholic Church in England, just like Luther was dissatisfied with similar issues in his region in Germany.The difference between true reform and revolt is that an individual challenges, in charity. Luther spawned an army of followers, and he stirred up dissent and strife.True reformers would back off if schism became a possibility, because they would see it as endangering the unity of the Church (John 17).Which is why, although obviously not agreeing with absolutely everything, I have no problems supporting Fr Longenecker. But, I'm also a keen supporter of nearly all Michael Voris and Fr Tim Finigan say, yet with them, I find myself needing to proceed with, and advise, caution…

  • Paul Rodden

    "I must begin by telling you that I do not like to preach on Reformation Sunday. Actually I have to put it more strongly than that. I do not like Reformation Sunday, period. I do not understand why it is part of the church year. Reformation Sunday does not name a happy event for the Church Catholic; on the contrary, it names failure. Of course, the church rightly names failure, or at least horror, as part of our church year. We do, after all, go through crucifixion as part of Holy Week. Certainly if the Reformation is to be narrated rightly, it is to be narrated as part of those dark days.Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday."- Stanley Hauerwas, Sermon on Reformation Sunday, 2011.