Contra Traditionalists: Engaging With Tradition

With the close of the Synod of the Family, there is much discussion in the blogosphere about the outcomes.  My own post on St. Augustine has attracted for more commentary than I expected, and Julia recently posted the Pope’s insightful speech that closed this year’s synod.   To continue this discussion, I want to share an article I found thanks to conservative Vaticanista Sandro Magister.   As I have noted previously, Magister has been positioning himself as a critic of Pope Francis, and has devoted his weekly column to supporting those bishops and theologians most critical of proposed changes to Church pastoral practice on divorce and remarriage.  (See, for instance, the article linked to here.)

A couple days ago he posted on his blog a very long article by Fr. Paul Anthony McGavin, an Australian priest and theologian who is not an uncritical supporter of Pope Francis.  As he writes about himself:

I am not attracted to the present Holy Father. I think he needs to step out of his Latin American emotivism. I think he needs to step out of his Jesuit authoritarianism. There are things in his first sole-authored major writing as Pope, “Evangelii gaudium,” that I think are unsustainable.

(The article where he discusses this Exhortation in depth can be found here, again courtesy of Sandro Magister.)   In his current article, Fr. McGavin provides a thoughtful and supportive analysis of Pope Francis’ sustained critique of traditionalists, showing how Francis is not rejecting tradition but rather is willing to engage with it in a serious way.  He opposes this to traditionalists, whom he describes as “fixed-traditionalists”:  those who read the tradition as fixed, unchanging and as having given us the last word.   He criticizes this position as follows:

This fixed-tradition mindset lacks recognition that all reasoning takes place “within a context”. Making this recognition does not mean that all reasoning is simply “contextual” or “situational”. The fixed-tradition mindset lacks recognition that particular reasonings involve “modes of thought”, and that differing personalities and differing cultures have differing modes of thought. Making this recognition does not mean that all reasoning is culturally relative and relativistic.

I am not going to try to summarize this very detailed argument:  I commend you all to read it carefully.  However, as a follow up question to it, and mindful of the interesting questions raised by the guest post by Mike McG:  what is the approach to traditional Church teaching among those on the other side?  Here I am thinking of the people criticized by Pope Francis as those who succumb to

[t]he temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the do-gooders, of the fearful, and also of the so-called progressives and liberals…. [and also] The temptation to neglect the depositum fidei [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it].

Fr. McGavin has carefully unpacked the Pope’s critique of the temptation of traditionalism; can we do the same with his critique of the temptation of liberalism (for want of a better word)?    The final result will have to be very different:  echoing the comments I made to Mike McG, the two sides are not symmetric and have their own particular shortcomings.  My own take is that they do not (or at least the majority do not) simply reject or dismiss the tradition.  But they are willing to ask hard questions about it—e.g. their critique of the Tradition and slavery or the death penalty—which can lead to a hermeneutic of suspicion towards it.    What is needed to bring them and their perspective back into a living exchange with tradition, so that in the words of Fr. McGavin, both sides can

listen carefully to what he [Pope Francis] is saying and engage pro-actively in dialogue as a means – again in the words of the lead quote – of “grasping those possibilities which the past has made available to the present”.

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  • Tanco

    Fr. Paul McGavin: “Although I know cases of persons who have lived by the formalistic teaching of the Latin tradition, and who even wear it as a badge of religious probity and orthodoxy, this noetic and ontological manner of thinking is not accessible to most mentalities. Ordinary Catholics do not comprehend this formalistic mentality, and mostly do not have the personal resources to live by it.

    I am not surprised at all that Cdl. Burke and Cdl. Pell both find themselves in a perpetual hyper-deontic roundabout. I am also not at all confused by McGavin’s use of the term “Ordinary Catholics”. What he describes in his essay is sadly usual for many ordinary Catholics who have found themselves shut out of the annulment process. I have seen this play out in my own family, as two members of my close family are in precisely the alienation from the practice of the faith that McGavin describes. However, the reasons why the traditionalist bloc of prelates will not sway towards a more merciful place for the divorced faithful has much to do with many of the cardinals’ total immersion in the liturgical traditionalist life. This immersion is an explicit rejection of the “quotidian”, and therefore “lax”, life of postmodern Catholic liturgical life.

    An extremely noetic and an extremely ontological way of thinking are the core of the life of liturgical traditionalists. This is not surprising, as all “strict observant” or (daresay) fundamentalist religious sects value a certain aesthetic and praxis as the mark of observance. This aesthetic and praxis must remain unchallenged regardless of the emotional, psychological, or physical toll of this way of living. My local EF church contains families with double, triple, or (in a few cases) quadruple the replacement rate. Are these families “happy”, so far as content with the inner lives of their large families? How the the heck should I know or care? What is relevant is that Cdls. Burke and Pell, along with their bloc, can uplift these families as examples of marital fidelity and the Humanae vitae despite the on-the-ground reality of their lives.

    But McGavin is spot-on when he writes that most “Ordinary Catholics” can’t live according to these lofty and often Potemkin ideals. Nobody knows this better than the Holy Father himself. Pope Francis permits the liturgical traditionalist life in part out of the hardness of the externally hyperobservant. His heart is after the practical faith of those who have been dealt a few knocks. Pope Francis refuses to live in the plasticine village of the rigid. Instead, the traditional cardinals have tried to legislatively imprison Pope Francis for not seeing the world from the inverted perspective of traditionalists.

  • Flareon

    The liberals just need to be less cavalier. There are ways to change praxis which aren’t heterodox. They just need to learn how to argue “like a traditionalist.” If they would pay attention to fine distinctions and minutiae in theory, they might find that there are actually ways to construct, from that very scholastic approach, loopholes in practice.

    They also need to tone down the “we know better now” triumphalism. Even as Catholic doctrine has developed a deeper and deeper suspicion of the death penalty in practice, the popes (up through Benedict, at least) have always been careful to make the critique from deeply Catholic foundations which understand why this suspicion is something that has grown over time and makes most sense in our era/context…as opposed to some revolutionary liberal hermeneutic in which its wrongness is obvious and the people in the past simply wicked and wrong. And, yes, this has meant being careful to pay lip service to the idea that the state theoretically maintains this right.

    The approach shown towards slavery by Catholic Encyclopedia in 1917 or by Cardinal Dulles as late as the 2005 is also typical:

    No conservative will warm to any innovation as long as it looks like it’s a stalking horse for heresy or like the motives or philosophical framework of those proposing it is a revolutionary one.

    I’ll repeat: there are ways to initiate reform that would bring pastoral practice down out of the clouds and to a conformity with lived spiritual reality rather than sacrificing people in the altar of ideals. But as long as those proposing it are clearly taking their cues from secular enlightenment liberalism and acting as if its ascendency means it has a right to impose values on the Church “from without,” as if there is some independent criterion for judgment…they will be rejected. If they really want reform, they’re going to have to make the case rigorously from within. Not just by appealing to extremely broad values like “mercy,” but by making the case point by tiny-point according to the “legalistic” logic of the traditionalists. It can be so argued. I have some ideas, and I’ve seen others who have made the “traditionalist case” for, say, Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty:

    Many liberals will no doubt balk at this, as they’ve swallowed the Modern paradigm wholesale and have no interest in “saving the appearances” of something like the Syllabus of Errors. But saved they must be if the Church is to be reformed reconciled to Her own self rather than schismatically. Sadly, at this point many of the reforming voices mainly seem interested in extracting a confession that the Church was wrong and fallible and we know better now from sources of authority external to her.

    I don’t think Francis is like this, actually, but I think he’s having a hard time finding that voice, the people willing to make the “traditionalist case for reform” and so has leaned towards the Kaspers of the world for lack of better alternatives, even though his closing speech makes clear he has grave reservations about them too.

    • Tanco

      Flareon [October 25, 2014 8:33 pm]: “If they” [the liberals] “would pay attention to fine distinctions and minutiae in theory, they might find that there are actually ways to construct, from that very scholastic approach, loopholes in practice.” [my addition in brackets]

      What your asking for is the equivalent of a “liberal” climb of the sheer face of Everest. As I’ve argued, traditionalism is not just a liturgy or perspective on canon law, but a life. I lived this life exclusively for two decades, and it is all encompassing. There is absolutely no way that “liberals” can penetrate Tridentine perspectives on sacramental theology or canon law, because any overtures towards that community will be viewed as “liberal” condescension.

      Pope Benedict XVI erred by issuing Summorum Pontificum. He knew that by establishing a separate Tridentine rite with a major archbishop (probably ++Burke), he would enrage the liberals who did not want to admit that the Novus Ordo could be abrogated by positive legislation and the Tridentine missal made a sui juris rite. On the other hand, we see now that this “two forms, one rite” strategy does not work. Traditionalists act as the cliched sticks in the mud of well-meaning synods, thwarting even a millimeter budge of compromise. It would be better if ++Burke or ++Pell, as leader of the Tridentines, were greatly diminished in the voting quorum by the singular vote of their sui juris rite.

      It’s not too late for Pope Francis to admit that the accomodation of traditionalists by inclusion in the postmodern Roman Church has failed, and that the Tridentines must be semiautocephalous for the postmodern Roman Church to develop doctrine in a legally positive, organic, and orthodox manner.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        I think you are conflating “traditionalists” in the sense used in the article with the liturgical traditionalists of those who favor the EF. There is overlap: in fact it may be the case that the vast majority of EF supporters are “fixed-traditionalists”. But I am sure there are many of the latter who are content with the Novus Ordo. In which case, this looks a lot like a strawman argument.

      • Tanco

        I think you’re right, David. Nix that one then. I should lick my wounds somewhere else. I tend to use my reverse gear a lot on VN.

        It would be better perhaps to say that Burke and Pell as individuals are unwilling to cooperate at all, but even that is not for me to say with a unshakable certitude. Besides, saying that does not advance any argument.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          We all use our reverse gear a lot. One beauty of blogging here is that my readers really do challenge me, and often times I have to back up or nuance my position considerably.

        • Flareon

          Yes exactly, Melody!

          I think of cases like…allowing keys to be carried on the Sabbath as long as they are a real part of belt buckles or on earrings.

          Liberals would be inclined to say “bah! If you’re going to that, just say carrying keys is ok! Why these contortions?!”

          But the orthodox jew understands that just making an all out exception will weaken the sacred nature of the sabbath rest. If you find a workaround, though, the practical effect is the same BUT the law remains that much purer.

          If liberals had this sort of respect for tradition and the deposit of faith, they might find they could still argue for their reforms in practice, but on a foundation that was fully traditional.

      • Flareon

        Yeah, Tanco. Traditionalists here just means “conservative” I think. And there are plenty of them at the Novus Ordo.

        I also find it funny you group Pell and Burke.

        • Tanco

          Flareon [October 27, 2014 6:27 pm] “I also find it funny you group Pell and Burke.

          Why would Pell and Burke not make a good team? They’re both doctrinally conservative, resistant to change in general, and share liturgical tastes. What am I missing here? Thanks for filling in the gaps.

    • dismasdolben

      What Flareon writes appeals to me on one level–the level of me that actually WANTS the Catholic Church in the West to be anti-“modernist” and “counter-cultural.” However, on the other hand, unlike him, I can point to several ways in which the Church DID “learn from science” and DID adapt herself to new understandings of human rights and liberties by using elements from OUTSIDE of her tradition. Once again, I think Newman’s interpretation of “tradition” is needed here; for instance, in his Letter to an English Nobleman, he is using a concept of “liberty of conscience” that is more informed by English cultural and political tradition than by continental ones, and it works for English-speaking peoples, if not for Jesuits like our Pope Bergoglio.

    • Melody

      Flareon, if I am understanding right, you are suggesting that to approach these issues in a manner similar to Talmudic scholars, from precedence and previous writing, might set better with the traditionalists, and stand a better chance of being reaching a consensus that would be accepted by both sides. You may have a valid point.

  • Mark VA

    Mr. Cruz-Uribe:

    I’m a little confused by the final paragraph of your post, the key unclear sentence being:

    “My own take is that they do not (or at least the majority do not) simply reject or dismiss the tradition.”

    Are “they” the port, starboard, or engine room (faithful and disengaged from ecclesiastical politics) Catholics, who need to be brought into a “living exchange” with Tradition?

  • dismasdolben

    Look, I strongly recommend to this website that it devote some time to a detailed study, over a number of entries, to John Henry Newman’s Development of Doctrine, because I think that it is the seminal text for understanding how wrong-headed most “traditionalists” are in their understanding of the true “tradition” of orthodox Christianity.

    I studied the text many years ago, in a graduate seminar course in Victorian Literature, and I distinctly remember how confused and appalled the religious fundamentalists–both Catholic and Protestant–were by the claims and the implications of the claims.

    This is the book, by the way, that Newman began writing as a defense of Anglican Protestantism, and ended, in the course of the writing, by realizing that the claims he was making for Anglicanism could not be true. In Anglicanism, Newman absolutely WAS a “conservative,” as the Catholic “traditionalists” claim, but, as a Catholic, he becomes one of the “Fathers” of modern, post-Vatican II Catholicism.

    Somewhere in that text appears a sentence that reads something like this: “Any human institution that claims perfectitude will have changed, and will have changed often throughout its history.” Newman gives full credence to the Scriptural text, “What you shall bind on earth, I shall bind in heaven, and what you shall loose on earth, I shall loose in heaven.” I don’t think that the “traditionalist” actually do, and I believe that THEY are the ones who lack faith in the authority of the “teaching Magisterium” and in the guidance of the “Holy Spirit” through a time-space continuum called “history.”

    Please consider a detailed study of this particular text. I do not think that Newman will be found to be wholly in either of the two camps that the modern Church seems divided into, but I think that what both camps will find him saying will cast the whole conversation in a discourse that has far greater integrity than what is going on now.

    • dismasdolben

      Another good thing about Newman is that you will find him to be a bona-fide scholar who is not interested in “popularity” or what “sells” to the “people in the pews.” Just as much as any “traditionalist” theologian, he is only after the truth. What Cardinal Pell has recently said about the “good people in the pews” AND what Cardinal Kasper has said about “Africans” would be equally repellant to him.

  • trellis smith

    Excellent analysis Tanco though theoretically how many candles one places on the altar need not reflect the liberal or conservative nature,, Anglo Catholics for example are much more politically liberal than their evangelical counterparts.

    Vatican 2’s capitulation to the Reformation and the Enlightenment was the sin qua non of the unravelling of traditionalists conceptualizations of the church as the genie cannot be put back into the bottle. I believe this pope wishes to coopt the radical traditionalists by reinstating a more ancient,robust and diverse tradition going beyond papier mache statues and a rigid morality perfumed with clerical piety or the modernist pasting of a philosophical current to mask artificially the underlying premises of a rigidist position of a piling on of burdens, a position more properly placed as heresy.

    For the tradition to be alive it must engage the currents in the church as well as outside the church in such a way that speaks authentically from the deposit of the faith conferring upon it a social authority which is the only authority that is listened to. This requires a humble papacy and hierarchy in a listening mode. Pope Francis articulates well the necessary dialogues and the obstacles to dialogue and the forces opposed or resistant to the deposit of the faith.
    For progressives the temptation is to elevate works above faith unheeding that “the poor will always be with you” and that nothing is accomplished without our intervention ultimately undermining belief in grace and trust in God.

  • Julia Smucker

    David, I was with you here until the end where you play down the critique of the left with a degree of generosity you don’t appear willing to extend to our brothers and sisters whose sympathies lean more to the right. And this fits with my observation over the past couple of years or so that it tends to be my left-leaning friends who take greatest pains to insist that “the two sides are not symmetric”. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that, but it often sounds to me like a kind of comparison-based self-excusing.

    In my own experience I have encountered a good number of people who are willing to ask hard questions of the tradition without dismissing it (I would count you among these), as well as many others who are all too eager to dismiss the tradition out of hand and mistake cheap shots for hard questions. I have also encountered people of what Mike refers to as “the anti-anti-abortion persuasion”. My sense is that he’s not talking about people like you and me who take issue with the means exercised by the more shrill and demonizing anti-abortion activists (and I feel it worth mentioning that I take the same issue with shrill and demonizing anti-death-penalty rhetoric, for example, as strongly as I agree with the end goal in both cases). I think he’s talking about people who viscerally resist any opposition to abortion at all, even its inclusion in the seamless garment. My experience corroborates Mike’s; for every Catholic who wants to talk about nothing but opposing abortion, there’s another who wants to talk about anything but that. For every Catholic who makes an idol of a certain conception of tradition, there’s another content to take potshots at tradition in general, or another equally mistaken conception of it. Neither of these, of course, is engaging the tradition.

    To be fair, and against the temptation to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to all but myself, I must admit that my own frequent temptation is to take my own perspective as a measuring point for some center of balance and critique everyone’s ideological biases based on where they are in relation to me. I recognize the arrogance of assuming I am uniquely free of ideology, which I suppose is a frequent pitfall of aspiring to that freedom, which I do.

    • Mark VA


      I think that what you wrote is wise.

      By the way, the same reasoning applies equally well to the degree of awareness of one’s ethnicity – those who are hyper-aware of others’ ethnicity, are often “hypo-aware” of their own. They often unthinkingly take the latter as “normative”.

      Going back to the subject at hand, from my traditionalist perspective, something like this may have happened at the part one of the Synod on the Family. Some of the Western European bishops acted as if they, and only they, correctly understood how to proceed with the Pope’s “assignment”. Take a look at George Weigel’s point number two in the link below:

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Mark, you may be pleased or disturbed to know that your observation about ethnicity is a central observation of critical race theory: calling out the unstated assumption that “white” is not a race but an absence of race and therefore normative.

        • Mark VA

          I’m very pleased – thank you, Mr. Cruz-Uribe, for this illuminating expansion of the concept.

          It seems that this observation cuts across many domains. I wonder if the male gender may be included here as well, as in the English word “mankind”.

          I also think that this observation may be considered a good starting point on the meditation that in heaven there are no Greeks, Jews, or Romans, that is, they all belong to a set of temporary earthly categories.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Yes, in feminist studies it is sometimes pointed out that maleness in our culture is treated as normative—almost as the absence of gender rather than a gender itself. But I am most familiar with this idea from studying race and ethnicity.

            And your final point is well made, indeed.

        • trellis smith

          Mark , You start out well but I am rather surprised that you seem to have taken the liberal argument of ethnic-centricity as if that was a bad thing with its underling premise that all cultures are equal. I believe Mr. Weigel assertions speak more of his soft bigotry than of any out right prejudices of the European bishops. The attraction to dogmatic rigidity of African Christianity is not all surprising in the general sense that the outrageousness of the gospel is always a hard sell, but that and Mr. Weigel’s “Iron law” explanation are far too facile to really explain anything.
          I wonder if either you and David think man’s dominion over woman is a consequence of the fall as written in Genesis.

      • dismasdolben

        But as Blessed John Henry Newman showed in the classic modern discussion of the subject, all authentic development is in organic continuity with the past; it’s not a rupture with the past. Nor is there any place in a truly Catholic theory of doctrinal development for rewriting the words of the Lord or describing fidelity to the plain text of Scripture as “fundamentalism.”

        The Lord said absolutely NOTHING about “homosexuality,” and Wiegel knows it; the Lord said that lifelong celibacy was the preferable Christian lifestyle, rather than the “hetero-normative” lifestyle that the modern Church pushes as the “ideal Christian life,” and Wiegel knows THAT, too. The Lord said a lot of contradictory things that the Church has “contextualized” into a “development” of doctrine–which she has every right to do, under the “Petrine commission”–such as “Call no man holy but the Father,” and “I saw Lucifer fall from the heavens like the stars”–and Wiegel knows all of that, too.

        Wiegel is as much of a “cafeteria Catholic” as you and your “traditionalist” ilk are, and as the secularism-accepting “liberals” are. What you don’t get is that, to be Catholic, you have to accept that the Bark of Peter has the absolute RIGHT to “move with the times” through a “time-space continuum” (called “history”) because it is led by a “Holy Spirit” toward a FULLER possession of the “Truth.”

        • Mark VA

          You know Dismas, when I provided that Weigel link, the thought that you might want to comment on his remarks actually crossed my mind.

          At any rate, take a look at your post from an engineering point of view. Hot air balloons move “with the times”, ships and airplanes do not – they can move with, against, or across “the times” at any angle, and follow their navigational equipment, not the currents of their respective medium. Something tells me our Lord did not launch His apostles in a balloon, but in a sturdy ocean going vessel equipped with sails, oars, and a rudder.

          One more thing: come on, Dismas, admit it, you enjoy talking “AT” my, and the others, “ilk”. However, we’re all ilks, and we suffer from isms, but so far we have avoided schisms.

        • dismasdolben

          A “ship” moves through a “time-space continuum,” too, and the persons–humans–who are in command of the ship don’t refuse to consider the medium through which they move.

          Look, MarkVA, you are NOT a “traditionalist,” because you either don’t know as much Church history as you think you do, or, like most “romantics,” i.e.Protestants, you think that the “Early Church” is something that we can or should wish to return to.

          Yes, the Catholic Church doesn’t do “dogma”-change (though even dogma “developed” from the time of the Apostles, but she sure as hell has done “moral theology”-change to fit the context of the times, over and over again historically (e.g. slavery, capital punishment, just war, usury, the primacy of lifelong celibacy as the most sanctified sexual posture, etc. etc.)

          And as for the “mortal sins” that you think all the queers and the divorcees are committing by receiving communion whilst “living in sin,” have you ever heard what a priest once responded after asking his parish how many of their fellow mass-attendees were committing “mortal sin”? He answered, “none.” Why? Because no one who thinks he’s not committing a “mortal sin” really IS committing one. For a sin to be “mortal,” you have to commit it with the INTENTION of “offending God.” The only one who can tell that he or she is in a state of “mortal sin,” then, is the sinner him or herself, and, if he or she genuinely isn’t violating his or her conscience, then they are NOT committing such a sin, and the Church has no business telling them that they are.

        • Tanco

          dismasdolben [October 28, 2014 6:32 am]: A “ship” moves through a “time-space continuum,” too, and the persons–humans–who are in command of the ship don’t refuse to consider the medium through which they move.

          Fully agreed from a physics perspective, but the “ether” through which a religious spaceship moves is the sociocultural context of dogma and doctrine. Perceptions of dogma and doctrine cannot be divorced from what a person or persons are convinced, wrongly or rightly vis a vis religious history, constitute orthopraxis and orthodoxy. Some of the positions often held by ISIS significantly contradict the orthopraxis/orthodoxy of historical Islam. This incongruency will not be resolved through rational argument. Similarly, for many in Catholicism, questions of doctrinal anthropology are “ether” and necessarily culturally conditioned and not easily, if ever, modified.

        • dismasdolben

          Perceptions of dogma and doctrine cannot be divorced from what a person or persons are convinced, wrongly or rightly vis a vis religious history, constitute orthopraxis and orthodoxy.

          Tanco, this is PRECISELY what I’ve asked the commentators and the moderators of this website to explore, regarding the LIBERAL (which, I insist, is the more “traditional”) perspective on “orthopraxis and orthodoxy,” and that it should start with a close examination of Newman’s Development of Doctrine, as one of several original, seminal texts of the more “liberal” modernist theological positions. (Newman wouldn’t have been able to write Letter to a Catholic Nobleman with its justification of the primacy of conscience over Magisterial “teaching,” if he hadn’t first justified the dialectical system he first sets up in the Development). Most of the folks commenting here seem to be much more interested in expounding on and apologizing for the reactionary, anti-modernist, “Theology of the Body”-type “orthopraxis and orthodoxy.” I’m only asking for equal time for the other side.

  • Agellius

    What Flareon said. The two sides argue from different premises. In my experience, most liberals seem not to understand something so foundational as that the purpose of the Gospel is to save souls. When we can’t even agree on what the Gospel is for, it’s hard to agree on more subtle things like who should and should not receive communion.

    I think this difference in understanding the purpose of the Gospel goes far towards explaining our different views on the marriage/communion issue: A liberal has a hard time seeing how denying some people communion can be anything but stubborn and heartless; whereas a traditionalist, believing the purpose of the Gospel is to bring people to repent of their sins and thereby be saved, has no problem conceiving how denying people communion can itself be an act of mercy, done not out of a gleeful cruelty but by way of pointing up the gravity of a situation that it may be repented of.

    Thus Francis writes of they who, “in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots.” If this is the focus of a liberal, then treating the causes and roots is the focus of a traditionalist.

    I don’t mean to say that no criticism can be leveled against traditionalism, but that is not the focus of this post. For a change. : )

    • trellis smith

      An excellent post Agellius in that I think you have distilled certain distinctions. In some ways the differences may only be a matter of semantics but in some ways the (mis)readings of the foundational aspects of the Gospel and understandings of salvation is indeed a profound difference.

      To “repent of their sins and thereby be saved” is seriously putting the cart before the horse when we are in fact saved before we have even repented. Is the great commission to save souls or to announce the Good News that we have all been saved? I have rather interpreted the great commission less grandiosely but rather mundanely to go out and make friends and thereby to make conversion of hearts not the least one’s own.
      And while politically I agree with you and Pope Francis about the missteps in how we treat the problems of this world, we cannot escape that a well intentioned cruelty meant as mercy is still a cruelty as a deceptive mercy is still mercy.

  • Mark VA


    Thank you for your response, and a “reading of my mind”.

    I value Tradition, but don’t pine for some “ideal past age”. I merely think that all Catholics should viscerally know their heritage. What they do with it is up to their consciences and intellects.

    As far as the mortal sin question, while you correctly point out that conscience is primary, I would like to add that this conscience needs to be formed – correctly. In its latent form, conscience is neither here nor there, but a God given potential to think in a moral mode.

    On a lighter note, Dismas, admit it: don’t you sometimes miss the clear Calvinist air of the Bible Belt?

  • dismasdolben

    On a lighter note, Dismas, admit it: don’t you sometimes miss the clear Calvinist air of the Bible Belt?

    You must be trying to be funny; the main reason that I don’t, despite the incredible beauty of the American South is that its “Calvinist air” has polluted the Catholic religion of such as you.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Okay, it was a joke. Let’s not turn this nasty.

    • Mark VA


      I was trying, perhaps less than artfully, to put some humor in my post. Mea culpa.
      How about these vignettes from the same region:

      (1) Going to the Piggly-Wiggly for ice cream on a hot Saturday evening;
      (2) Driving over to the next county for beer;
      (3) Listening to the rain fall on a tin roof at night;
      (4) Sultry Augusts and Gulf rains;


      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        I found August in Savannah, Georgia, many things, but sultry was not one of them. Marlene Dietrich was sultry; Savannah was really hot and humid.

        • elialuz

          I Have been reading these postings for over two years now and what I have found most interesting is that the word “liberal” is truly not understood by traditionalists/conservatives. I also have noticed that some of us most certainly interpret the Gospels very differently. For me the desire to receive Communion in and of itself is proof that Jesus has accepted my act of contrition. When I read Jesus saying that He came to heal the sinners and not the righteous I hear a message of mercy. And this message is not one of convenience based on laziness; I work on developing my conscience constantly. I’m not trying to gain eternal life with green stamps but I also don’t believe that God’s mercy is conditional or based on human measures. I am convinced that the Eucharist is a source of healing without equal that no one can refuse me when I’m in need of it.
          And only God and I know when I am in the state of mortal sin. The Church teaches that if I have a well developed moral conscience I can tell when I have sinned. So I cannot be denied the Eucharist willy-nilly according to some traditionalist.

        • Mark VA

          OK, Elialuz, how does the sacrament of Confession (aka Reconciliation) fit into your view of contrition?

          I would also like take this opportunity to assure you that no traditionalist would ever be interested in denying you any sacrament, willy-nilly or otherwise.

        • Georgh

          The best source of healing is confession.

          It’s really not that hard. What are people’s problem with completing the first part of what is really a two part ritual.

          In the Eastern churches it’s not even a question of state of grace vs mortal sin; they just confess before communing, period.

          The pope ought to put the whole First World under interdict. Maybe that would teach us something.

        • elialuz

          Thanks for the suggestion, Mark, I already know the benefits of the sacrament of Reconciliation. And I don’t rely on it only when I am in a state of serious sin; I find great solace and healing in resorting to the many gifts and graces found in that Sacrament. However, the reason that anytime I have had serious doubts about staying in the Church, the only reason, the only hold on me is the Eucharist, Jesus’ healing balm, Jesus’ proof of His all powerful and merciful love. So, yes, I have tried and do “confess” but I find that the Eucharist trumps any healing done by any other Sacrament.
          I also find that it’s interesting that you mind that I would receive the Eucharist without going to confession. Why?’the Eucharist is not as good at healing? Why are we so interested in policing other people’s lives instead of making them welcome into the Kingdom of God? Why don’t we enjoy the Bridegroom instead of being the Pharisee? I like Penance but I love the Eucharist and crave It. It feeds my soul and keeps me yearning for more goodness. It helps me stay committed. Nothing speaks to me like Jesus in my heart. Nothing. So I’ll continue counting in the Eucharist as my Source of Healing. Thank you.

        • Georgh

          It’s not either/or…

          It’s saying the two things go together and really should be seen as part-in-parcel.

          Now maybe someone doesn’t need to confess daily if they’re communing daily.

          But it seems to me that something like weekly confession (even without mortal sin) should be simply the ritual requirement for taking communion that week.

          It’s not either/or.

          It doesn’t need to be absolute. Heck, people are even allowed to receive communion apart from mass, or to walk in right at communion, receive, and leave (assuming there’s been no question of a mass obligation being missed).

          But that’s highly irregular and non-holistic. Holistically speaking, communion really shouldn’t be separated from the whole Mass too often, and the same goes for communion and confession. It’s just part of the preparation.

        • Tanco

          re: Georgh [November 1, 2014 9:56 am]. It’s important to remember Georgh that while the sacramental theology of confession is the same for East and West, the Roman practice of the sacrament can be quite different than the Greek or Russian.

          From an Eastern standpoint, confession is a holistic process which involves the renovation of the mind and soul. The sacrament should be practiced with the same priest, who knows a person’s spiritual strengths and weaknesses. It’s true that this is the ideal of the Roman practice as well, particularly after the renewal of the sacrament of penance in the Second Vatican Council. In practice, many Roman Catholics simply confess to any available priest who often has no personal connection to the penitent. In that way, confession becomes just a sacramental tollbooth on the way to communion.

          I cannot see how your exhortation to link confession and communion every week would be fulfilling. I think it would be better for a person who has not mortally sinned to receive communion at every available opportunity, even once daily. The Eucharist is not only a means of grace, but a preservative against sin. A person might benefit from spiritual direction with or without sacramental absolution, but this practice should not be intrinsically tied to the reception of communion. A person who has committed mortal sin habitually might benefit from confession to the same confessor to strengthen himself or herself spiritually. Confession simply as a means of “admission” to communion might not provide practical spiritual advice.

  • Melody

    “But it seems to me that something like weekly confession (even without mortal sin) should be simply the ritual requirement for taking communion that week.” I was under the impression that the Penitential Rite of the Mass addressed this issue.

  • Mark VA


    Thank you for your replies.

    I found your original post somewhat unclear, thus I asked a question. If that makes me a Pharisee, then so be it. Also, I’m not quite sure why you feel this way about the “traditionalists”, but here it is.

    Interesting exchange of views.

  • trellis smith

    A great danger of the conservative (but not orthodox) mindset even in regards to the sacramental life is wrapped up in a Pelegian accounting aspect of what is necessary to achieve eternal life, when in fact our salvation is already achieved for us. The good news is that we are forgiven before we repent and loved unconditionally by the only one that ultimately matters. God is not a bookkeeper nor your disapproving mother in law. The doctrine of free grace is so subversive and undermining of all religion and the supporting human mindset of wanting to get what we deserve or rather what we believe someone else deserves that no one really believes in it. (which can only underscore that all are in need of it) The full irony of evil lies in its sense of self-righteousness. We perversely want to apply conditionality to the Creator’s love as to delimit the awful freedom that the Creator’s free grace grants to us.
    A Christian is one who struggles with this human quality in face of the absolute freedom he or she believes they are given, as well as being confronted with what they are going to do with it. ( a generous hat tip to Capon).

    • Mark VA

      I’m not sure what you are saying, Trellis.

      Do we still need to repent of our sins, or is repentance no longer necessary? Somehow, something about the “last mite” rambles thru my head.

      • elialuz

        Sorry, Mark, if my original post was not clear. I feel that, perhaps, I was carried away by wanting to preface my thoughts about other previous posts and then proceeded to write about receiving the Eucharist(I’ve noticed that I refer to the Eucharist while others use the word “communion”). First, I still feel very strongly that the Eucharist is not only a source of grace, but a clear source of healing and as Tanco mentioned in his post a “preservative against sin.” Second, as I mentioned previously it seems to me that many traditionalists are too ready to read the “law,” try and justify why it must be followed and then sit in judgment of those who differ with them. Even as I write this I feel uncomfortable because I don’t like to judge others. So I apologize if I seem to judge you. But Georgh use the word “interdict” regarding our posts. A little too harsh, perhaps, when our Lord, was often speaking of love and loving each other? I’m not a theologian although I have studied religious topics and morality and have two masters. The only reason I posted this time was because of my love for Jesus in the Eucharist. However, I feel as a teacher for many years, I would be more convincing in the class room than some of you. No disrespect intended since I have learned a lot anyway. And Mark, I’m sorry, for the misunderstanding.

  • trellis smith

    Have you ever noticed that some conservatives always latch on to the repentance and amendment of life of sinners seemingly as a necessary condition in the dispensation of grace. Its always God forgives the sinner but Jesus says go and sin no more.( and for most of us sinners-how’s that working out for us?) Its always proposed as a sort of vindication which suggests almost an interpolation into the text by someone with the same understandable and very human mindset. Anything else is cheap grace.T

    here is a very different emphasis
    in the parables which are for the most part about the true nature of God. There we have many reversals of our conceptions of justice and that deeply offend these cherished conceptions. Grace isn’t cheap its free and the game despite this world’s evidence is entirely rigged in our favor.

    Orthodox Catholicism and by that I probably mean a variation of Augustinian theology, repentance is a realization of , a response to, or in traditional terms a cooperation with grace not a condition thereof.

    There seems to be a great confidence here in the sacraments for the amendment of life and for the corrigible saints among us that may be true but for us incorrigible sinners, for the addicted or the insane- do you think we are getting better,? I don’t know about you but sacraments or not I’m not getting better in fact the older I get I can well imagine a future of being more conservative(in the bad sense), more frustrated, impatient, and crotchety . so much for self improvement. The only hope we have is grace and the only goodness we have apart from the residual original blessing is amazing grace.

    The implications of this truly sets us free which can be particularly frightening.

  • Mark VA

    Elialuz and Trelis:

    Thank you very much for your responses, I enjoyed reading them. I think it’s time to step back, relax, re-compose, and laugh at ourselves. So, in this spirit, here are two doggerels:

    This one pokes fun at some of the notions of Catholic traditionalists like myself:

    When Liberals rule our parish,
    Love and acceptance we all must cherish,
    Happiness and harmony mandatorily abound,
    And traditionalists are nowhere to be found.

    This one is for “the other side”:

    Beware of traditionalists skulking in the pews,
    Bidding their time, squinting for cues,
    One tiny misstep, it is all it takes,
    For them to screech at your liturgical mistakes.