On December 22, 2021, a manifesto appeared online which is worth engaging with seriously. Entitled A Manifesto of the New Traditionalism (MNT), it was signed initially and subsequently by some very reputable Catholic scholars; it is worth reading in its entirety. Obviously offered in a sincere spirit with a desire to benefit the Church, there is an awful lot in it this writer definitely agrees with. There are some areas where he either differs or thinks further clarification is required; these shall be explored here with – it is to be hoped – as sincere a spirit.
An important key to understanding its intent is the statement regarding its timing in the concluding note: “the 16th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s ‘Christmas Address to the Roman Curia,’ in which he countered the ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ with the ‘hermeneutic of reform.’” For perhaps somewhat different reasons than the authors of MNT, I too welcomed that statement. But more of that anon.
The first thing to be pointed out is that the Manifesto is self-proclaimed to be in the spirit of the Catholic Worker (CW). For many people of a Traditional bent, that would be reason to read no further – but it would be a grave mistake. Despite the twists and turns that various Catholic Worker communities have taken, it founders were far more orthodox than they are given credit for. Servant of God Dorothy Day preferred the Traditional Mass herself, and got into a fight with one of the Berrigan brothers when he offered Mass at the Catholic Worker house using a Styrofoam cup. High School confessor, James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, a zealous enemy of Modernism considered Dorothy a good friend, though His Eminence said he could never decide whether she was a saint, insane, or both!
Her co-founder of the Catholic Worker, Peter Maurin, was deeply immersed in the literature of the interwar Catholic Revival in Europe, Britain, and America. He was – according to Dorothy – the ideological mentor. But he was very much a man of the Right, as he himself said in one of his “Easy Essays.” Indeed, even the list of his intellectual influences which is conveniently included in his Wikipedia article is filled with authors who would to-day be considered ultra-Conservative. Dorothy remarked on how he would sometimes shock other Catholic workers by quoting Fr. Coughlin and Marshal Petain; she attributed it to his willingness to search for truth from any source, as they would do later. But it is likelier that he quoted them where they reflected the common foundation of their various messages – Catholic Social Teaching. The reasons for their respective differences were the non-Catholic allies the CW, the Radio Priest, and the Marshal ended up with – but more of that anon also.
By the same token Folk of the Catholic Worker bent ought to beware of dismissing Vatican II-critical Traditionalists too swiftly. It so happens that most of the Catholics to-day who know of – let alone take seriously – the various voices that influenced Maurin and so the CW can be found in that camp. Here too, rather than merely labelling them as “rupturists of the Right,” the authors and supporters of MNT would do well to look a little more closely – not simply at the bitterness of Trad Twitter (of which this writer too has had more than his fill), but at the reality of Traditionalist Catholic life as it is lived. Just to name one example, in the vast majority of Latin Mass communities – whether under the aegis of dioceses and “approved” orders or of the dreaded SSPX – so far from being the liturgical wasteland prevalent in many Catholic parishes prior to the Council, the conduct of the Mass fulfils the goals of such early proponents of the Liturgical Movement as Dom Guéranger. MNT declares that “It has become evident that the Devil’s tool to ruin the traditionalism of the 21st century is the spirit of the Pharisees, who opposed the renewal of the Spirit and the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We reject the white-washed tombs of this dead traditionalism.” While one may recognise that this tendency exists, one must first enquire where it came from; why did it develop? The authors of the manifesto wax eloquent in praise of Vatican II, and attack “rupturists on both the right and the left, who both assert that the Council taught modernism.” Those on the left may look to themselves; but I think we have to look both at what actually happened after the Council, and how Benedict did his best to improve the situation.
The first thing to bear in mind with Benedict’s seminal message to the Curia is that he did something revolutionary – he admitted that the Council had changed Church teaching. To say this before hand was to be condemned as a schismatic or heretic by the hierarchy. But after identifying the three areas in which change had taken place, the Pope declared “In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church’s decisions on contingent matters – for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible – should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself.” This being so, however, it meant that changes in such areas were themselves contingent. Accepting or rejecting them is not a question of one’s own fidelity to the Faith, but simply the empirical reality of the issue – which is precisely why Benedict opened them up for negotiation with his talks with the SSPX (after all, the optimistic view of the Liberal State that was possible in 1965 looks quite different in 2022, when it appears that Bl. Pius IX’s views of it have been horribly confirmed). At that time, Australian theologian John Lamont made the comment that the SSPX and its supporters had difficulties with perhaps 20% of the Conciliar teaching, and no difficulty with the rest. The bigger problem, in his opinion, was the widespread rejection by Catholic theologians and prelates of precisely that 80% of the Council – while holding religiously to the residue questioned by the SSPX. It is in that light, and in the reality of the post-Conciliar situation that we must evaluate the Pope’s idea of the two hermeneutics – of rupture, and of continuity.
Benedict’s description of the two in this document might give the impression that the former was a strange view held by a few academics; alas, those of us who lived as laymen in the aftermath of the Council can vouch for the fact that the reverse was true. What the Pope dubbed the “hermeneutic of continuity” was in fact held by some few (and wondrously brave) scholars of the Communio school. In the world where most people lived, rupture was the order of the day. The gleeful iconoclasm of youthful clerics equalled anything seen in the days of Henry VIII and Cromwell. It was not restricted to playing with liturgy either, as altars and their rails were destroyed, statues and vestments discarded by the ton, private devotions discouraged, and “Catholic” schools transformed into gateways out of the Church. Eucharistic Adoration did not begin to return in most places until Pope St. John Paul II began to push for it in 1980.
As far as the Traditional Mass itself was concerned, although Pope Benedict XVI rightly confirmed in his motu proprio that it had never legally been suppressed, an ultra vires note by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1974 purported to do just that – and hundreds if not thousands of clerical careers were destroyed thereby. Two years later, when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre appealed his suspension a divinis to the Apostolic Signatura, the Secretary of State, Cardinal Villot, forbade that court to hear his case. Regardless of one’s view of the SSPX, this egregious violation of canon law on the part of the highest authorities in the Church at the very least makes his ongoing suspicion of the Roman authorities understandable.
To Benedict’s credit, when he assumed the Papal throne in 2005, he at once attempted – not least through the Christmas message – to begin to repair the damage. His motu proprio on the Tridentine Mass was intended to redress the injustice done to the faithful whilst not causing further damage by calling attention to its criminal nature. As such, it was a valiant effort – as was his encouragement of the Reform of the Reform and creation of the Anglican Ordinariates. Unfortunately, his successor has seen fit to tear away the fig leaf Summorum Pontificum provided his generation of clerics, who so ruthlessly and illegally carried out orders back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Still, however abused Traditionalist Catholics may feel now, they may take cold comfort from the fact that the Underground Chinese Catholics have had much worse in this Pontificate.
An additional problem this writer has with MNT is its assumption of a certain symmetry between “rupturists of right and left.” The sad truth is that the latter are in charge, while the former at the moment have a negligible amount of influence at the Holy See. Whatever the signatories and authors of the manifesto may think of the shrillest Trad voices on Twitter, they have no influence in Rome or the various diocesan chanceries – save to provide a pretext for gaslighting the faithful.
All of that said, there is an awful lot in MNT with which I agree whole-heartedly. But I would like to extend to both its adherents and its inevitable detractors in the Traditionalist community a warning based upon the history of Catholic social movements in the time when the Catholic worker arose. The interwar period saw a huge explosion of Catholic movements and apostolates in both Europe and the United States, encouraged by Papal teachings and especially Quadragesimo Anno. Distributism, Solidarism, the Ladies of the Grail, the National Union for Social Justice, Agrarianism, Commonweal, Catharine de Hueck’s Friendship and Madonna Houses, the Catholic Worker itself, and many more emerged from this ferment. But in Europe, these groups split. On the one hand were those who believed the promises of the Great Dictators, collaborated, and were destroyed with them in their fall. The others joined liberals, Communists, and others in the Resistance, and formed the Christian Democratic parties after the War. When their various national hierarchies of Catholic Bishops made it plain after the Council – and claiming the Council as their authority – that they would not support these parties in resisting abortion and the like, they collapsed as vessels of the Church’s social teaching, and became the bands of opportunists they are now (this, of course, is not true of those in the former Soviet Bloc). In the United States – all the while citing the same Catholic Social teachings – the Bishops’ Social Affairs spokesman, Msgr. John Ryan, hewed closely to FDR’s line, earning the nickname of “the Right Reverend New Dealer.” Fr. Coughlin’s adherents swayed off to the right, and the Catholic Worker to the left. Catholic Social activism’s ability to affect the country’s course was lost because of their partisans’ splitting not over first principles, but over their choice of non-Catholic allies.
After the War, Catholic Radicalism was not restricted to the Catholic Worker, however. The group around Integrity Magazine was one such; the loose “Movement” centred on such figures as J.F. Powers and Eugene McCarthy was another. The pages of the long-defunct Integrity indeed show a criticism of American Society that Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day could not have disagreed with. But it is telling that the first attempt to republish it was done by the SSPX; it is now being undertaken by Arouca Press. In reaction to the state of affairs in Church and State after the Council, Triumph Magazine arose – its analysis was very similar. While taking in the end a similar view of Vietnam to the Catholic Worker, the Triumph crew were far more radical as regards the legitimacy of the United States government after abortion was made the law of the land; Cardinal McIntyre was a financial support of the journal as long as it lasted. Sadly – with honourable exceptions – while the CW strongly opposed Vietnam and nuclear weaponry, active opposition to infanticide was muted on the part of many of its groups. Nevertheless, a decade after Dorothy Day’s death, the Operation Rescue Movement drew inspiration from her witness, and Joan Andrews was often compared to her.
So where does all of this history leave us? One hopes with a realisation that division on lesser issues among people of the same basic beliefs is a tool of the devil to weaken their joint witness and relegate them to the ineffectual sidelines. In the spirit of Peter Maurin, both the MNT signatories and their inevitable Traditionalist critics should seek what common ground they can, rather than trading insults and attacking straw men. Otherwise, at a time when the “hermeneutic of rupture” is espoused by the highest authorities in the Church, they shall all learn the truth of the old American Indian proverb: “When friends fall out, their enemies rejoice.”
Photo: public domain. From left to right are Bishop Wiktor Skworc, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Franciszek Macharski on May 10, 2003, during the celebration of the 750th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Stanislaus in Szczepanów, Poland. Picture taken by Marian Lambert and released under CC-BY license by Szamil (www.szczepanow.pl).
Charles A. Coulombe is a contributing editor for OnePeterFive. He is the author of many books, most recently Blessed Charles of Austria: a Holy Emperor and His Legacy, as well as Puritan’s Empire: A Catholic Perspective on American History, Vicars of Christ: a History of the Popes, with A Catholic Quest for the Holy Grail. His writings have appeared at the Catholic Herald, Crisis, The European Conservative and he also has his own podcast with Mr. Vincent Frankini.