Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Traditional Catholicism: a synopsis of the discussion

This post is an attempt to draw together the discussion of "traditional Catholicism" that has been taking place on this blog and elsewhere in the last few days.

1. My starting point in asking the question about "traditional Catholicism".

There are two points here. The first is that of trying to see "traditional Catholicism" in the same way that I would see a new (or, for that matter, an old) movement or religious congregation in the Church - the presence of "traditional Catholics" at events such as the World Youth Days suggests this to me, and suggests to me that it is the way "traditional Catholics" would like to be seen. The second is the view that, after Summorum Pontificum, it is not possible to define the idea of "traditional Catholicism" only by way of attachment to the extraordinary form.

This is why I am trying to identify a charism in "traditional Catholicism", and this led me to want to look at institutes with approved statutes.

All the movements and religious congregations in the Church recognise that their charism is normative for those who are affiliated to them, for those who receive the charism as a grace. But one of the issues placed before the new movements in recent years has been what might be called generosity towards other charisms - in other words, recognising that their own charism represents a specific way of living Catholic life among other specific ways, and that some will receive a call to their charism and others will receive a call to a different charism. I think it was after the meeting of the movements with Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Square on the eve of Pentecost in 1988 that Focolare took on a mission of promoting unity among the charisms in response to this challenge.

What I am trying to discover is the same generosity towards other charisms in "traditional Catholicism".

2. Summorum Pontificum

My interpretation of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter from Pope Benedict XVI was posted earlier this year, and can be found here. These provisions can be seen as a kind of completion of the earlier provisions of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei issued by Pope John Paul II in 1988 shortly after the illicit episcopal ordinations in the Society of St Pius X. Ecclesia Dei called for a generous application of the permissions by which those attached to the (now known as) extraordinary form could continue to celebrate the Liturgy according tot hat form, and facilitated this by way of the Pontifical Commission of the same name.

As a response to the illicit ordinations, I would say that Ecclesia Dei's direction of glance was towards those associated with the Society of St Pius X who wished to remain in communion with the Holy See, intending that they should be given every opportunity so to do. Under the provisions of Ecclesia Dei, for example, the emerging FSSP was granted a general permission to celebrate according to the 1962 Liturgical books. So far as I can gather (and those who know the history of these societies in more detail than I are welcome to correct me via the comment box if I have misunderstood), it was within the framework of permissions granted under Ecclesia Dei that the Institute of the Good Shepherd, the FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign High Priest came in to being, all of them more or less directly from among former members of the Society of St Pius X.

Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter in my view added two things to the earlier position. In its direction of glance towards those who might otherwise be in schism, it established the possibility of celebrating according to the Liturgical books of 1962 as something of right rather than as something of concession or permission. It is therefore something that is now a normal part of the life of the Church (but read this in the context of my previously posted exegesis of Summorum Pontificum). This can be seen as a natural development of the provisions of Ecclesia Dei. But Summorum Pontificum also introduced a second direction of glance, towards the Church as a whole. This is expressed in the language of "ordinary form"-"extraordinary form"; in the agenda of "mutual enrichment"; and in the consideration that there should not be an "in principle" rejection of the ordinary form. This two-fold glance is referred to in my earlier post.

3. Societies dedicated exclusively to the extraordinary form

The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP), the Institute of the Good Shepherd, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and, I think, one or two more societies celebrate the Liturgy exclusively according to the extraordinary form. Founded in a more or less direct way from among former members of the Society of St Pius X, they all fall under what I have been expressing as the direction of glance towards those who would otherwise be in schism. Historically, their foundations and ecclesiastical approvals took place under the provisions of Ecclesia Dei rather than those of Summorum Pontificum. In this context, one can understand why they celebrate exclusively according to the extraordinary form and why this is established by their statutes.

I do find interesting and encouraging, however, that these societies also articulate a charism specific to their institutes which is not directly dependent on their celebration of the extraordinary form (though I suspect that they would argue that the exclusive commitment to the extraordinary form is either integral to their charism or, at least, closely derived from it). If you go here (first section) and here you will see what I am referring to.

However, post-Summorum Pontificum, I think these institutes do need to take on board the second direction of glance, that towards the wider Church. I do not think that this requires an abandonment of their exclusive commitment to celebration according to the extraordinary form, but I do think it might involve: (1) engagement with the ordinary form in the sense of encouraging that enrichment of the ordinary form that can come from the extraordinary form - and this will require some form of dialogue with/about the ordinary form on their part to address issues like the sense of the sacred and fidelity to rubrics; (2) engaging in a dialogue about how the celebration of the extraordinary form might develop in the light of the mutual enrichment of the two forms - issues like coming to a common universal calendar, inclusion of the new prefaces and texts from the ordinary form and considerations around the question of audible/inaudible canon.

4. The idea of "traditional Catholicism"?

There is a lot to be said for the remark made among the comments at Catholic and Loving It's discussion that we run into difficulties if we add "qualifiers" to the word "Catholic" as we describe ourselves. [Aside: this remark is quite compatible, in my view, with recognising that different charisms in the Church, be they religious orders or new movements, provide specific ways of being Catholic in this un-qualified sense.]

I am also grateful to Agellius for the contributions in the comments to this earlier post; I am grateful for the willingness shown to be involved in the discussion. If I take those contributions as a fair reflection of the concept of "traditional Catholicism", I still think it is defining itself in terms of affiliation to the extraordinary form and to a particular understanding of the ecclesial tradition in relation to the contemporary teaching of the Church, in particular, in relation to the Second Vatican Council. My premise, of course, is that the former is not feasible post-Summorum Pontificum. And the status of discussion about the latter is expressed in the incorporation of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The question of a charism that "traditional Catholicism" tries to live in the Church will, in this context, remain unanswered outside the context of the societies referred to above.

5. Tradition!

Let me put an extract from Fr Rapperger's article ...
Neo-conservatives have fallen into this way of thinking i.e. the only standard by which they judge orthodoxy is whether or not one follows the current magisterium. Traditionalists, as a general rule, tend to be orthodox in the sense that they are obedient to the current magisterium, even though they disagree about matters of discipline and have some reservations about some aspects of current magisterial teachings which seem to contradict the previous magisterium (e.g. the role of the ecumenical movement). Traditionalists tend to take not just the current magisterium as their norm but Scripture, intrinsic tradition, extrinsic tradition and the current magisterium as the principles of judgment of correct Catholic thinking. This is what distinguishes traditionalists and neo-conservatives i.e. their perspectives regarding the role of ecclesiastical tradition and how the current magisterium relates to it.
... next to an extract from the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei:
The root of this schismatic act [ie the illicit episcopal ordinations of 1988] can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".
The two analyses seem strikingly similar.

Fr Rapperger's concept of extrinsic tradition seems to me to refer to historical disciplines of the Church, which are only normative in the sense of disciplines (that the Church might or might not feel she wishes to change), though they may gain a certain standing from custom and practice; and I think they are being given a level of authoritative status which is not justified.

There is a careful sense in which it should be possible to live entirely with the Catholic faith as taught by the contemporary magisterium - because it is the living expression of the "traditional magisterium". This is, I think, the force of the citation from Ecclesia Dei, and, one might suggest, the meaning of "tradition" as "handing on" the faith. It is the way of being "Catholic" without adding a qualifier. I am distinctly uncomfortable with Fr Rapperger's formulation with regard to "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" tradition, in the otherwise more usual formulation of "Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium" as the norms according to which we receive the content of Revelation.


Catholic Mom of 10 said...

Posted again so I can get follow-up mail..

agellius said...


I'm glad to hear back from you on this topic. I decided to post my response on my own page, here: Due to its length it would be tough going trying to read it in your combox. However if you would like me to post it here as well I would be happy to.

Joe said...


This post has been in preparation over a few days. I am going to leave the topic alone now - but do appreciate your engagement in the discussion. Other readers can follow the link in your comment to read your post, so I agree that it is better not to post it in the com box here.

Agellius said...

Joe writes, "[I] do appreciate your engagement in the discussion". Likewise.

Of course you're under no obligation to respond to anything. But I am disappointed at the number of questions you are leaving unanswered.

If time doesn't permit answering all of them, will you at least answer the question of how you are using the term "traditional Catholicism"? Whether you are referring to anyone who prefers the EF mass, or if there is more to it than that? And if so, what?

Or do you only mean those who call themselves by that name? If so, can you specify who it is that does so?

Or is it, people who espouse certain views? If so, what views? And can you name some people who do so?

Joe said...

I copy this from Jackie Parke's blog:

The Society was set up to promote the EF.

The LMS has always confirmed the full validity of the Ordinary Form – how could it be otherwise? – but our charism is to promote the Extraordinary Form, just as the charism of those attached to, e.g., the Catholic Melkite Rite is to promote that Rite [My comment: I am not convinced by this argument]. Hence our aim is not to promote the Extraordinary Form over any other rite as such – merely to promote the Extraordinary Form.

A little convoluted but I trust this suffices.

John Medellin

Joe said...


I have taken your contributions in the comments to the previous post as an expression of what "traditional Catholic" means. And also the websites of the Institute of the Good Shepherd etc. I think they all make reference to "traditional Catholicism", to greater or lesser extents, and I feel that I have fairly summarised it in this post.

Agellius said...

In that case it seems your answer is, by "traditionalist Catholics" you're referring only to people who call themselves by that name.

In which case, when you say that traditional Catholics "[define themselves] in terms of affiliation to the extraordinary form and to a particular understanding of the ecclesial tradition in relation to the contemporary teaching of the Church, in particular, in relation to the Second Vatican Council", you mean me, the LMS, and certain priestly orders. Is that right? But in that case don't you need to specify when and where I, or the LMS, or the priestly orders, indicated their adherence to that particular understanding? I for one don't recall doing so, since I'm not even sure which "particular understanding" you mean. (I asked you to tell me but you have thus far declined.)

I guess my point is that if you are going to criticize people publicly, it might be better to specify whom you mean, and provide evidence, in the form of quotes and citations, that they view things in the way you claim. As it is you use the term "traditional Catholicism" as a blanket term and leave people unsure exactly whom you are criticizing. They can only assume that you're referring to "certain people" of a "certain bent", which makes the whole thing seem like sort of a vague smear.

Of course it might have been less confusing if you had not said that "adherence to the EF is an insufficient basis upon which to call oneself a traditional Catholic", while seeming to refer to precisely those adherents yourself, by that very term.