Monday, September 06, 2010

The Vicar ...

... otherwise known as The Pope. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

First, let me link to this post from some years back, in which I take the Church to task rather sternly.
This a characteristically fine Bryan Appleyard piece. My only quibble would be to the use of the term conservative. I am often thought to be conservative, but my socio-political thinking is very much the product of that Catholic social teaching Bryan refers to. The foundations of that teaching are the principle of subsidiarity and what Chesterton and Belloc called Distributism. Together these address two main problems of society: the concentration of wealth and the concentration of power by suggestion that both wealth and power should be as widely dispersed as possible -- and not by a top-down redistribution of wealth (which would merely amount to the sole concentration of wealth and power in the state.
I would also demur regarding the references to liturgy. The English vernacular Mass has been a disgrace from the start: willfully mistranslated, hopelessly tin-eared, and doctrinally obtuse. The Tridentine Mass represents the culmination of a liviing tradition; the Novus Ordo is a jerry-built monstrosity. And Pope Benedict knows this: He studied with Romano Guardini, a pioneer in liturgical reform, a clear thinker and fine writer as well as a good priest. You want a religious service that makes you sense that you are part of a vital 2,000-year-old tradition? Attend the sung traditional Mass at my parish some Sunday at noon.


  1. Conservationism, as opposed to conservatism, perhaps. Conserving what is good, as well as moving forward.

    Personally, as a non-Catholic, I thought Vatican II was a great thing, a real step forward for the Church to join the rest of the world in the 20th Century. Certainly some things were lost, while others were gained.

    I've watched with dismay as the genuinely anti-progressive conservatives in the Church have worked very hard, ever since Vatican II, to undo all the good that it did. it's hard not to see the current pope as central to or at least strongly complicit in that undoing, as the Church authorities circle the wagons and become ever more strident and hypocritical in their rhetoric. That's frankly very sad for the rest of us to watch happening. It's a genuine loss to the world.

  2. I am not a fan of Vatican II, though I had great hops for it when it began. The problem in the hierarchy is that you have one group that doesn't want to change at all, that simply can't grasp that a living tradition changes continuously; and on the other group that sees change as merely accommodation to fashion. You see the same thing in the arts. I actually think the current Pope has a better grasp of the sort of creative change the Church needs, as opposed to the the trendy crap on the one had and the arthritic stasis on the other. Their problem re homosexuality could be solved if they look a little more closely at Aquinas treatise on the natural law. Aquinas does note that the natural law is itself unchanging; but he also notes that ur understanding of it is not: as we learn more about the world -- genetics, for instance -- we should change the inferences we draw from the natural law. We ought to understand it better now than we did a thousand years ago, not insist on understanding it the same way as a thousand years ago.

  3. They could solve their problem with homosexuality, with child abuse, and a few other things if they'd just let go of strict celibacy for their priests. That's at the root of several problems.

    They could also revive the entire priesthood by not forcing gay priests to live closeted lives; there would be a huge resurgence of spirituality returning to the church on the priestly and local levels.

    Everything I've ever read about Vatican II, and I've read a lot, including commentaries from ecumenical outsiders, tells me that Vatican II was a sincere attempt to include the truth that a living tradition does change continuously, as you say. It wasn't about fashionability, it was a very thoughtful attempt to adapt the church to the changing times, to assure that it remained a living tradition, and didn't become a dead one. That's both in the documents produced by the Council, and noted by observers present such as artist/writer Frederick Franck and Catholic novelist Morris West.

    I'm reading one of the definitive books on fuzzy math right now, Bart Kosko's "Fuzzy Thinking: The new science of fuzzy logic," and the basic principle is that everything is a matter of degree. Fuzzy logic is actually the logic we all use every day. The problem is that logic when codified into strict black-or-white either/or categories doesn't serve us, because it doesn't reflect actual life. Aristotleian philosophy, Euclidean math, and even Aquinas suffer from the either/or assumptions built into linear binary logic, where everything has to be black or white. In fact "the church" and :"priests" are very fuzzy sets with unclear boundaries, for example. If the church really wanted to adapt to the times, they would give up their rigid either/or thinking entirely; as you say, draw new inferences from the existing data set. Which is what it seems to me that Vatican II did in fact try to do. And which some have attempted to repeal ever since. Some people don't have the psychological fortitude to handle uncertainty, which is perhaps why they're drawn to ideological rigidity, of whatever stripe.

  4. Well, we'll have to agree to disagree on this , Art. I lived the changes brought about by Vatican II. It started when I was in college and continued for some years thereafter. I also met Morris West once and found him immensely impressive.
    I also don't agree about celibacy. And if gay men want to be priests nothing is being asked of them that isn't being asked of them of straight priests (please rad the link to mat earlier post).
    Some years ago, when I was writing for The Inquirer's religion page, I met a Jesuit who had been involved in much dialogue with Buddhist monks. Asked what was the principal difference between Buddhist monks and the Catholic clergy, the Buddhists said they had no problem with celibacy. In other words. their living tradition had spared them ludicrous Freudian notions. They understood that you could sacrifice something precious for God. It is a shallow society that makes the libido its highest value.
    And I say that as someone who has hardly been chaste in his life. But I sure don't identify myself in terms of my sexual orientation, which I confess to taking rather for granted.

  5. Regarding celibacy, it's instructive to compare the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic views on celibacy, and look at the comparative results. Since after all there were the same rite till that split happened.

    it's not about sexual orientation, it's about what repression of personal sexuality does to the individual, and the ways that that tempts them, or can tempt them. It's about forcing one important aspect of self into sublimation, where in many cases it re-emerges elsewhere in very inappropriate ways. (Affairs of priests with married church women, for example.)

    As for the Buddhists saying they had no problem with celibacy, well. . . LOL Having been personally involved in several branches of Buddhism for some time, I've heard stories about monks and priests who were unable to keep their vows of celibacy in exactly the same way that some Catholic priests have not been able to. in other words, that comment given to your Jesuit acquaintance was either PR or a load of wishful thinking on their part. LOL Human beings are sexual beings, period. When sexuality is repressed, rather than channelled into something scared, it tends to create well-known species of problems, period.