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.

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