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New Guidebook for Trads to Become Apostles of Tradition

I begin with a few thoughts before picking up Dr. Kwasniewski’s latest book, Bound by Truth: Authority, Obedience, Tradition, and the Common Good. I need to take stock of things before I read, mainly regarding how I view the modern Catholic Church right now. Meaning, mainly, how irritated I am at the wretchedness of everything. A pope unable to string two coherent Catholic sentences together. Cardinals very able to string many pornographic sentences together. Mean clergy. Spineless clergy. Persecuted clergy. A spineless Mass. A persecuted Mass. And a legion of lay folks unable to find a moment’s peace and so spend their days complaining shrilly on the internet (guilty as charged). To garble Dickens: it was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

One recent episode has me particularly riled up, all from an unlikely source. I decided to listen to an online talk from a well-known exorcist. I wanted my spiritual tires inflated. I chose the wrong talk. This traditional priest began describing how difficult things would get for Catholics. He said Truth has become so obscured it is near impossible for a layperson to know what is what. His solution? The laity must study a feverish amount of philosophy, theology, and history. If not, this priest didn’t see any way a Catholic might stay sane, much less Catholic.

Was he serious? The solution requires rigorous study? As a teacher on the front lines, I can tell you that never has there been a lower moment of intellectual astuteness as in recent history. We are dumber than ever. Grade six students who can’t do basic addition. University students who can’t write a complete sentence—but know there are 72 genders. Teachers who can’t do basic multiplication. Ordinary citizens who vote for Justin Trudeau because “he’s cute.” Cute… in a dictatorial murder-unborn-babies kind of way, I suppose. It is a disaster.

This same intellectual depravity surely can be attributed to modern Catholics. Two generations raised on Dan Schutte ditties and all-religions-are-cool theology are supposed to seek eternal salvation from an in-depth pursuit of Truth? Unless cheap graphic novels and thirty-second TikToks adequately explain Christology’s finer points, I sincerely doubt that will happen. Rather, modern Catholicism has gone the way of the rest of society. It is watered-down, bland, uninspiring. To which I ask, how can Catholics be expected to pursue Truth? How can Catholics engage with a Vatican that says 2+2=5 (again with the math)? Must Catholics get a Ph.D. and learn Greek, Latin, and Hebrew while studying Denzinger and Trent for four hours every night while the kids sleep… all to maybe toil their way toward Truth? Quid est Veritas? 

* * *

My rant is finished. Fast-forward two weeks, and I’ve also finished Dr. Kwasniewski’s book, Bound by Truth. It’s stirred more than a few thoughts and has addressed my previous concerns—not to mention concerns I hadn’t even thought about. In short, Bound by Truth hits the mark and deserves careful analysis.

In order to know what being bound by Truth means, one must first know what Truth is. Not just Truth, but also how Truth gets distorted in modern Catholicism. Tackling this query is precisely how the book begins. It starts with a thought-provoking analysis of the three pillars of Christianity (Scripture, Magisterium, and Tradition) and how unbalanced faith becomes when one pillar is awry. Following this, hyperpapalism, infallibility, the spirit of Vatican I (a sweet chapter!), and a Catholic’s proper response to the twisting of the papacy are raised. Salient points run throughout, with many witty examples and quotes to enjoy. For example, Kwasniewski gives a blunt analysis of hyperpapalism, writing: “The hyperpapalist’s Bible is paper-thin, comprising a single verse: ‘The Lord Pope giveth, the Lord Pope taketh away; blessed be the Name of the Lord Pope’” (p. 81).

Bound by Truth continues with instructions on custom, the common good, and how authority and obedience to Truth (including an epic rant in Chapter Eight) are to be rightly understood. Much of the context for these examinations involves the Vatican’s continued assault on the traditional Latin Mass. I must admit that several of these chapters humbled me greatly. With my university degrees and Thomistic studies, I thought I’d breeze through explanations of, say, the common good. Instead, I found myself learning point after point, example after example. That’s the thing with reading a Kwasniewski book: you soon realize how much you don’t know. However, this is part of Bound by Truth’s mission. A person could simply throw up his arms (as with my opening rant) and say following tradition and Truth is too difficult. For Kwasniewski, this is an unacceptable mindset, because we can know the Truth, and the Truth will set us free. For him, the answer is simple: get to work. He calls all Catholics, particularly devotees of the TLM, to “step up our game” (p. 100) and “move from being tourists of tradition to apostles of it, from nomads to homesteaders, from admirers to defenders” (p. 101). I felt attacked by these words. I deserved this attack.

While Part One of Bound by Truth examines principles of obedience, hierarchy, rights, and authority, Part Two jumps into how one indeed is still bound by these principles in a lost world. Part Two looks at all the current filth in the Church today and offers a way forward. In short, Part Two is spirited.

There are too many topics to mention in this short analysis, such as clandestine ordinations (featuring JPII), whether traditional priests must or should participate in a Novus Ordo Chrism Mass, the reality concerning non-traditionally blessed ‘holy’ water, pro-TLM strategies in a Traditionis Custodes world, how persecuted religious must proceed, and how to go “underground” for a TLM if necessary. I found that each topic illuminated, with coherency, the entire Bound by Truth context.

I will briefly mention three specific issues deserving particular attention.

The first comes from Chapter Fourteen, titled “Why a Bishop Should Ignore His Unjust Deposition by a Pope.” This chapter uses the example of Bishop Joseph Strickland’s unfortunate ouster from his former diocese of Tyler, Texas. Kwasniewski, via dialogue format, argues that Bishop Strickland should not have consented to his removal. To be honest, I have disagreed with this position. For me, removing one’s “enemy” when engaged in battle makes perfect sense. If I were pope—oh boy—places like Washington, Chicago, and most of the world would be in for the “Strickland” treatment. However, Kwasniewski carefully elevates the discussion away from a surface-level reaction. He gives the particulars of what constitutes just cause, disobedience, and even the nature of what a bishop is. In short, Kwasniewski argues convincingly for when “disobedience” is permissible.

A just “disobedience” inevitably leads to the SSPX debate, which Kwasniewski hits with a refreshing outlook (as opposed to the usual two-sides-eternally-fighting account). Reasonableness is the best word to describe it. For instance, Kwasniewski is not shy about choosing an FSSP Mass over an SSPX Mass due to canonical circumstances, which he says retain importance even in our chaotic situation. However, he also responds with vigor on how Catholics must choose true spiritual nourishment over a deprived Mass that simply bears the “in communion” label. He writes:

I am quite sick and tired of people who, for all intents and purposes, ignore the plight of the ordinary faithful, even today; who seem to think the only thing that can possibly matter is for Catholics to “stay in communion” with whomever and do whatever, even if it’s false or harmful, unworthy of Our Lord and of souls purchased by His Blood, even if it’s likely to lead their children to exit a lame-duck charade they will soon grow bored with. No: this attitude is insulting, irrational, inhuman, intolerable. Parents, in particular, have an obligation to seek out tried and true ways of supporting their own life of faith and the transmission of faith to the next generations. (p. 239)

I need add nothing.

A final topic I will mention, one encapsulating the entire discussion of Bound by Truth, is found in Chapter Twenty-One, titled “The Sunday Mass Obligation in a Time of Liturgical Crisis.” This is a subject near and not-so-dear to my heart. My family’s liturgical situation continues to be tumultuous. Saskatchewan is a beautiful and expansive place, but it is liturgically barren. We live some distance from a TLM. The potentially eternally-damning question is: are Catholics bound to attend an irreverent Novus Ordo Mass? Or still further, are Catholics bound to attend any Novus Ordo Mass? It is the ultimate test of the book’s principles! Kwasniewski begins with some stunning examples of how, historically speaking, Catholics have understood the Sunday obligation. Eye-opening hardly begins to describe it. Following these examples, Kwasniewski makes a delicately crafted case for there being circumstances that render Catholics not obliged to attend a liturgy even when it is the only one available. He backs up his case with extensive quotations from Bishop Schneider’s new catechism Credo. I will not give away any more details. I urge people to read it for themselves.

All of this is to say that I found Bound by Truth: Authority, Obedience, Tradition, and the Common Good to be a powerful book—it may be Dr. Kwasniewski’s best work yet. The clarity of teaching, salient examples, personal stories, ease of reading (it has tremendous flow), and overall importance to today’s modern crisis puts Bound by Truth in the realm of obligatory reading.

To end, I return to my opening rant and where my mind was before reading Bound by Truth. I was discouraged, unwilling to fight, and too willing to say, “All is lost!” All is not lost. Rather, “when tradition is under attack, the only right response of the orthodox Catholic is to defend it, to cleave to it the more, and to resist those who are attacking it” (p. 93). In other words, though our times are enveloped in darkness, the bold light of Truth still penetrates. Discerning Truth is not some hidden gnostic Catholicism intended for a favored few. Instead, Kwasniewski has demonstrated the Truth of the Catholic faith to be accessible, understandable, and implementable. It is a Truth that asks more of us and demands more from us, for “[t]he one thing we need more of, much more of, is courage, fortitude, boldness” (p. 100).

To all this we are bound.

Bound by Truth is available from the publisher (here), from all Amazon sites, and also from Dr. Kwasniewski’s publishing house Os Justi Press (here), where any book of his you order will be delivered to you signed

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