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The first part of the title isn’t mine, but belongs to James Hitchcock who wrote a book of the same name, published in 1971 in the wake of Vatican II. Hitchcock was then a self-labeling progressive1 looking back on the predictions made by competing groups during the great Council.
The book reads like it will be written in 2016.
With Synod I: The Blessing Of Remarriage & Homosexuality playing everywhere now (Synod II opens in October 2015) in the secular press to enraptured audiences2, I thought it well we should revisit how the last efforts to “radically” modify the Church were viewed. The lens Hitchcock used was American made, of course.
Progressives before Vatican II were, Hitchcock tells us, dissatisfied. To which the natural reaction is: aren’t they always? Isn’t profound irrational unthinking unrelievable dissatisfaction the definition of a progressive? What the progressive then wanted was change, mainly in the form of leveling. He wanted “renewal”.
He wanted a modernization of the liturgy, to get rid of the beauty, rigor, and awful uniformity and allow use of the vernacular. And puppets. He wanted a putting away of stultifying Thomism. He wanted to align the Church with the political left: perhaps not to the point of Marxism, but aimed in that direction. He “advocated loosening up the curricula of Catholic colleges to allow secular philosophies to be taught non-polemically” (p. 18).
He praised ecumenism, admiring theologians like Baptist Harvey Cox who suggested “monasteries be turned into retreat and conference centers” and Protestant theologian Arthur Crabtree (who then worked at a Catholic university) who asked “in an ecumenical journal whether the pope is Antichrist”, and liberal rabbi Everett Gendler who insisted that Christians must “abandon belief” in Jesus as a “supernatural purger of sin” (all p. 21).
About the liturgy, now often populated by music that would make even the Beatles blush, and by clowns and giant puppets (what the hell is it with progressives and giant puppets?):
In typical hysterical fashion conservative critics charged that if the Church made the least concession, let down the least barricade, the reformers would prove insatiable. Nothing would be treated with respect and sacred awe but would be shunted around at the whim of the liturgist. Conservatives also raised the faith question: If the liberals actually believed in the efficacy of the sacraments, why did they feel a need to reform them? (p. 17)
Conservatives warned “the liberals did not really derive their social principles from Catholic tradition but were actually breathing in the secular humanist air, which they attempted to give a superficial odor” (p. 18). They “charged that reform was really the ‘Protestantizing’ of the Church” (p. 22).
Hitchcock then makes a startling admission (p. 24):
There are many curiosities in the history of the Church in the post-conciliar years, and not the least is the fact that so few progressives have noticed the extent to which the reactionaries’ predictions prior to the Council have been proven correct and that their own expectations have been contradicted. They continue to treat the conservatives as ignorant, prejudiced, and out of touch with reality.
The progressive predicted reform (p. 24):
would lead to a massive resurgence of the flagging Catholic spirit…Liturgy and theology, having been brought to life and made relevant, would be constant sources of inspiration to the faithful. The religious orders, reformed to bring them into line with modernity, would find themselves overwhelmed with candidates who were generous and enthusiastic. The Church would find the number of converts increasingly dramatically…
Yet Hitchcock admits, “In virtually every case the precise opposite of these predictions has come to pass.” Sound familiar?
Although it has recently had a resurgence, in 1971 Hitchcock could say, “Thomism has disappeared almost without a trace, and there is now scarcely a single traditional doctrine of the Church which is not seriously questioned by some prominent theologians, not excluding the ‘existence’ of God” (p. 19). In many places the “Eucharist is regarded as at best a symbolic act…there is no mystical reality present.” (p. 22).
Progressives looked at the Council’s results and wept but “In fact, Vatican II exceeded the hopes of the liberals” as noted by the presence of, say, giant puppet masses. “There is no question, then, that Vatican II initiated almost every reform which American progressives, prior to 1965, generally desired” (p. 26).
In other words, Progressives got what they wanted (except for the “few persons [who] mentioned tentatively the question of remarriage after divorce”), but they felt like failures. Why the contradiction? My guess is that for the progressive no change short of constant revolution is enough. But Hitchcock perhaps more wisely says (p. 30):
By the end of the 1960s, however, many such progressives were forced to realize that their dislike of Scholasticism, their hankering after liturgical reform, their visits to choice monasteries, were really attempts to overcome a gnawing crisis of faith which they either did not recognize, lacking adequate self-knowledge, or did not want to recognized. However uncharitable, their conservative critics were simply right in postulating weakness of fundamental belief as being at the root of many liberals’ dissatisfaction.
Hitchcock says that conservatives “foresaw more clearly than the progressives the realities of change.” Further (pp. 30-31):
The progressives blithely assumed a period of swift, painless reform, in which desirable changes could be accomplished while undesirable ones were restrained. The conservatives realized that no large intricate society like the Catholic Church can be changed without considerable dislocation and outright loss, and they realized also that state programs for reform are never realized as they are set forth and that change tends to generate change, so that those who begin as moderate reformers sometime end as revolutionaries…
Here’s the kicker, as relevant then as now: “In retrospect it is possible to see the preoccupation of the progressives with changes of various kinds as a way of avoiding the ultimate question of their own faith.”
That’s just Chapter 1 folks, an overview. If this is popular, we can look into the book further.
Update Kinda sorta related. Newman “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” mugs.
James Hitchcock, 1971. The Decline & Fall Of Radical Catholicism. Herder and Herder, New York.
1Consider that 1971’s progressive is 2014’s conservative; a conservative or reactionary then is a reactionary now.
2There must be a Nicholas Cage pun lurking in there somewhere.
Categories: Book review, Culture
Sounds reasonable, and that is me saying this as an ex-Protestant. Problem with the Catholic Church is that you do not have that much choice, if you don’t agree with official practice.
Protestants have all kinds of churches so there’s much more of a chance that you will find on that is closer to what you want from one. Or you can always start your own.
Why was it, back in the second half of the 60s and first half of the 70s, when I was in school, that the teachers of call-it-anything-but-religion in the catholic schools I attended were, without exception, ex-nuns or seminary drop-outs? We really did sit on the floor, hold hand and sing kumbaya. (Aside: is it even imaginable to a sane person that having teenagers do this would NOT drive them screaming from the Church? Could you concoct an activity short of physical torture less appealing to your typical teenager?)
My wife and I discovered, after marriage, that we both were flabberghasted by people who chose their church based on anything other than ‘is it true?’ We’d put up with virtually any amount of nonsense and shenanigans because the Church is true. The reforms seemed to have been driven by people who thought the Church could be lots more true if it were lots more like them. Then it happened – they looked in the Church they had reformed as in a mirror, and didn’t really like what they saw. What do you do then? You try to get rid of or ignore anyone who points this out: that the church in your image is not very attractive, and this reflects poorly on you.
Where can I get ahold of that book?
Last year I gave in and read about half of “Rules for Radicals” (it’s too depressing to finish). All my progressive friends say the conservative obsession with RfR is crazy because they’ve never read it. But whether they’ve read it or not, they do it, and the book is quite clear that progressive reform can never end, because as soon as you reform something, then some previously less urgent issue will need to be reformed, and the new people in charge will need to be toppled, and the world will rightly be one never-ending reform movement and thus become continually more just, but never just “enough.” If people do not understand this about progressivism (which has certainly worked out exactly that way) they will always look at proposed changes as a stopping point. But progressivism doesn’t HAVE a stopping point — whether the changes work out badly or well. And I thnk that is why progressives in the Church won’t stop or turn around, they just keep deconstructing what they’ve already deconstructed, thinking it will get better the next time.
Book is lined to in the footnotes (though my edition is hardcover).
Already on order!
You’re just a willfully obscure snob as the populist and layperson respecting consetvative blogosphere now adopts the #gamergate rebellion. Who the [****] is Hitchcock, prude?
â€œI grow weary of poets, of the old and the new. Superficial I hold them all, shallow seas. They thought not deep enough: therefore their emotion reached not to the bottom. A little voluptuousness, a little tediousness: these have yet been their best meditations. Their harp-strummings are to me as the sighs and rustlings of ghosts; what have they known as yet of the ardours of music! Moreover I find them not cleanly enough: they all muddy their waters that they may seem deep. And they love to call themselves reconcilers: but to me are they go-betweens and meddlers, and half-breeds and uncleanly! Alas, I indeed cast my net in their seas and sought to catch good fish; but I ever drew up some old god’s head.â€ – Friedrich Nietzsche (Thus Spake Zarathrusta 1891)
“In typical hysterical fashion conservative critics charged that if the Church made the least concession, let down the least barricade, the reformers would prove insatiable. Nothing would be treated with respect and sacred awe but would be shunted around at the whim of the liturgist. Conservatives also raised the faith question: If the liberals actually believed in the efficacy of the sacraments, why did they feel a need to reform them? (p. 17)”
Yes, indeed it happened, and I say that as a convert who came to the gelded Church, and only realize what it had been like by attendance at some Tridentine Masses and Masses given at Anglican Usage Ordinariate parishes.
By the way, here’s a relevant riddle:
Question: “How can you tell the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist?
Answer: “You can reason with a terrorist.”
Unfortunately that used to be true, but now there is no difference.
“Problem with the Catholic Church is that you do not have that much choice, if you donâ€™t agree with official practice.”
Excuse me? What does ‘practice’ mean here? Dogma? Doctrine? Liturgy? And your comparison with Protestantism is absurd; Protestantism isn’t a church, so you have precisely the same choice as a Catholic or Baptist when you disagree with this or that doctrine, respectively.
Edit that a few more times and you might even reach coherence.
Apparently lots of folks go to church because they enjoy the experience, or because it is expected of them, all kinds of reasons next to or instead of belief.
I gather that you are not familiar with the phrase â€œOne Dutchman is a believer, two Dutchmen are a church, three Dutchmen are a schism.â€: http://www.quirksmode.org/politics/kuyper.html
Sander, that doesn’t clarify anything.
Briggs: He’s quoting Nietzsche. Coherence is setting the bar too high.
The Nietzsche I got. What I could make out is if I was supposed to be a snob or populist. Or a layperson respecting conservative blogger gamergate rebel.
Ah, the three Catholic educated liberals in my household think this is the definition of a conservative. Go Figure.
So what is the ultimate question? Just want to compare answers.
We know priests on both sides of the fence (conservative/liberal or traditional/progressive). It’s most interesting, though not important, to see how people of the same faith can see things so differently.
Progressives–where’ they’re heading with our children (it gets “better”/”worse” [depending on how one frames the topic] the more one reads…the last page is one of those things that can render one speechless):
That from: http://watchdog.org/174768/gender-inclusive/
The guidance at the first link, above, is crazy insane (as in: “Isnâ€™t profound irrational unthinking unrelievable dissatisfaction the definition of a progressive?”) given that the target audience is & will be for years incapable of truly comprehending the themes being indoctrinated.
Once again, much of this is explained at: http://www.libertymind.com
@NikFromNYC was a reference to:
Forbes, of all places, has an article [of sorts] that appears to provide some insight:
As a Protestant you create a new church if you do not like the existing ones. You do not have to destroy the single one you do not like.
If you don’t like the Church of Rome you can join the Church of England.
“If you donâ€™t like the Church of Rome you can join the Church of England.”
Or better yet, the best of both worlds, the Anglican Usage Ordinariate of the Latin Rite..All the majesty and sonority of the Book of Common Prayer, and hymns and chants from the old world but in graceful (non liturgist) English.
I know how progress works (for a progressive).
Set your GPS navigator to anywhere that’s not in heaven or on earth. Set the language to that of a distant country, the voice to a Comedian from somewhere else… get drunk and pretend to follow the instructions.
Everywhere you go will be progress. And can be proven so by statistics.
There are plenty of Protestants destroying their church, just ask an Anglican.
“Suffer little children to come unto me”. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus would approve of the interpretation far too many Catholic priests have put on that. And then, of course, there is the enormous wealth and conspicuous ostentation of the Catholic church. I wonder what Jesus would do if he came back, and saw the Vatican?
And the diktats about sexual matters handed out by celibate crossdressers, And the brutality of nuns towards unmarried mothers. And the sadism exhibited by monks who run schools. (Of which I was a victim, long ago.) And…
On top of all that, the argument from authority is one of the best known of logical fallacies. No, “it says so in this book” is NOT evidence – or authority.
One might also ask what is it with Catholics and statuary? The obvious answer to both is an unrecognized pagan inclination toward idolatry in its most primitive form. And of course bigger is more impressive.
Idolatry? Hmm. Some might claim there is a difference between the giant puppets pictured in the header and this:
Here is more on the supposed idolatry.
The abuse scandal is also handled in detail in Allen’s book. Priests—mostly “oriented” towards boys and young men—abused at rates lower than other truested groups, as is actually well known. What some of the bishops did, on the other hand, was not seen as quite American. But we’ll not be able to summarize that scandal sufficiently here.
About the supposed wealth and ostentation, the best apology for these are in John Allen’s All The Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks. I’ve forgotten the exact figure, but the Vatican’s budget is about equal to a small college. It’s far dwarfed by, say, Apple. The “ostentation” is the natural inclination towards beauty and holiness, of which I’m sure our Lord would approve.
The “diktats” are, if you heard them right, the simple consequence of natural law, like forbidding sexual contact with minors. About the other matters; well, I’m sure you wouldn’t exaggerate, but you’d have to explain in more detail.
“It says so in the book” is never the first premise, of course. But that it is has been abused is true, especially by (strangely) atheists and those churches not in union with the Catholic church.
Though whatever disagreements we have on theology, I’m sure you’ll agree with the argument of this post: that the conservatives nailed their forecasts and the liberals blew theirs.
That, incidentally, was my main interest. I mean, the epistemology of the thing and not the theology.
As a Presbyterian, I must admit to my limited understanding of Catholic sacramentology. That said, should the word in
Rats! Thanks! Another typo placed by my enemies!
I agree completely with the point of your post and think we’re not too far apart on theology. But I find the practice of Catholicism has some elements, such as the statuary, to be peculiar to say the least. Having lived most of my life in the most Catholic state in the US, my observations are long and varied. The PietÃ was meant to evoke emotion and contemplation, not worship. Sadly, I’ve seen the statues of the saints prayed to, even if that isn’t official policy. I recognize it’s a sensitive subject, but would point out that the bronze serpent Moses made in the desert (cited in your reference) ultimately was destroyed because the people began to worship it. My point is that humans seem to have a latent inclination toward idolatry waiting for an object to focus on. Anyway, you DID ask an interesting question.
Why does everyone forget the Orthodox Church when they say “Catholics this” and “Catholics that”? Statutes, forsooth. That people pray before a statue of a saint does not mean that they are praying to the statue.
It was Harvard. Aside from accumulated artwork, which is held in trust for all mankind, the actual wealth of the Vatican is about the same as the endowment of Harvard.
Sadly, many ‘Traditionalists’ I know who despise(d) any liturgical abuses and hate(d) guitars are now to be found encouraging non-practising or vulnerable young people at gatherings to go into dimly-lit rooms with guitars, swaying to a monstrance in a spotlight, like zombies – most of the girls weeping. Aren’t they just ‘Clown benedictions’? Anything that works to get the punters in?
In short, they’re adopting the ‘Pastoral Pragmatism’ of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’, trying to be ‘relevant’ to the young.
This ‘New Evangelism’ is becoming just like the ‘seances’ they started having in Evangelicalism in the 1980s when it was clear there was something very suspicious and sick emerging where the ‘Holy Spirit’ started to be considered more authoritative than doctrine (‘How can it be wrong when we all feel the Spirit’s telling us the same thing?’).
At least the puppets don’t look remotely Catholic, whereas most heresies in the past were the things that looked deceptively similar to, or barely indistinguishable from, the real thing.
Like the Evangelicals who, in the 1980s repudiated what they termed ‘liberalism’, but are now the epitome of it (it’s taken 30 years of gradual change), it seems to me Traditionalists seem to be starting down an identical route: slowly and imperceptibly becoming what they despised.
I think this is a great post, and I also think Decline is a great book. It’s amazing how current it seems. I first read it in 1978 and was amazed that he was able to see all he saw in 1971. I think somewhere he points out that the more power the liberals got the more unhappy they became. In the 1950s if they were accused of not believing in the Real Presence, they reacted with sincere indignation, and although you could call them “discontented” then, they weren’t “enraged.” They wanted a little reform, but didn’t want to mess with the essentials. As soon as they got power they couldn’t help themselves, and the more they messed with the essentials the more unhappy they became. Soon “enraged” was a description of their permanent state. Anyway, I hope I can find my copy and may want to read along with you.
Or perhaps not…
The thought that many of the reforms in practice post-council (1965-71) were motivated by a lack of faith, or at least, doubts about the faith to be interesting. What might a reform prompted by the opposite impulse look like in our modern era?
It follows then that each ecumenical council increments A to B to C, etc. By your count, what letter are you guys on currently?
Held IN ancient times, not from. Seems to me that there would be no need for a decree if the belief had been held throughout. As an outside observer I get seasick watching these changes-that-aren’t-changes, I can only imagine what it feels like for those actually sitting in the boat.
Francis is the first Pope I’ve genuinely liked. I figured that was trouble in the making. Nope, it does not look comfortable in that boat. Not one bit.
It follows then that each ecumenical council increments A to B to C, etc. By your count, what letter are you guys on currently?
I love the way when a question has been answered, you guys shift to another question.
Held IN ancient times, not from.
I love the way fundamentalists get hung up on particular words.
Seems to me that there would be no need for a decree if the belief had been held throughout.
Then you don’t understand why dogmas are specified. There is no need to declare something generally held; but when it comes under attack, it gets reinforcements. The various Christological dogmas that gave Western jurisprudence the concept of “person” were declared when Arianism was riding high under imperial patronage. It is no coincidence that the Marian dogmas were declared during the heyday of patriarchism in the West.
As an outside observer I get seasick watching these changes-that-arenâ€™t-changes
It is far more convincing to actually cite examples that to fall back on Theory. The Love of Theory is the Root of All Evils.
I love how you think that your answer is final, and not subject to further scrutiny. Where does THAT come from, I wonder?
Scratch one irony meter.
Translation: when disagreements arise in the laity as general society evolves, it becomes necessary to find some ancient authorative basis for resolving the dispute. Since even the ancients didn’t always agree, there are a multitude of options from which to choose.
I did. Liberalizing views on homosexuality is sure to be Not Popular among the more conservative adherents of your faith. I’m endlessly amused that Briggs kept the Pope’s name out of it. Between you and me, I don’t think an omniscient being would be fooled by the omission.
You missed a few steps. Theory is the result of critical thinking, and independent skeptical inquiry.
A background in mathematics. Further scrutiny is always welcome — that was the methodology used by the medievals, in fact — but it has to be scrutiny of the actual argument and not of some imaginary version.
No, I think you need one. You really don’t realize how much Internet atheists mimic fundamentalist arguments and hang-ups.
Sure. The Supreme Court does something similar, except the authorities are somewhat less ancient.
Perhaps we could explain what is meant by debate and consensus?
Depends on what you mean by “liberalizing views.” The teaching is that love is always good, homosexuals should be treated with compassion, but that sodomy is a serious disorder. Similar things are said about other popular pastimes, like adultery. Perhaps she should “liberalize” her “view” on adultery, too. The problem comes with abandoning natural reason in order to sail with the current winds.
I agree. You’re saying that there is some A composed of people who believe X, Y, Z. If someone calling themselves A who believes X and Y but Q instead of Z, they’re no longer A but B. As a practical matter, that just does not work at any given point in time due to differences in how people believe. It doesn’t work over time because the people defining A have subbed out Z and inserted Q in its place, thus creating B, but still calling it A.
Actually I do, and your point is well taken. Having more or less gone the fundy –> atheist route myself, it’s amusing to watch for a round or two of them scrapping before it gets painful.
Scalia and Ginsberg are somewhat long in the tooth, but there’s no need to be rude.
Now see right there you’re striking right at the heart of the lost illusions of my childhood. When I learned of the politics within the hierarchy of my church, my faith took a rather serious drubbing from which it never recovered.
Broadly, getting more in synch with secular society, which is my main interest here.
Call me cynical if you wish — the problem appears to be defining natural.
Lots of people confuse the truth of the message with the peccability of the messenger. Heck, in some of the early councils, there were bishops yanking each other’s beards and in at least one case, throwing a punch. That’s what happens when fallible humans debate matters of interest. Who knows how much your faith in democracy has suffered since learning that politics takes place even in the Senate.
Ah, sailing with the winds of fashion. Would that be the secular society that enslaved blacks? The secular society that set sumptuary laws? The secular society that exalted the nation-state? There are so many secular societies to choose from!
Lots of people, despairing that I had openly renounced my faith, proffered the same warning. Actually, I heard that a lot before my faith was even a question to me. I took great care to make sure I had other more compelling reasons for taking my leave.
Our elected representatives (usually) don’t hold themselves to be spiritual leaders serving as the mouthpiece of any Diety. The defining documents explicitly form a secular governing body.
Getting a boat “into irons” is the result of having attempted to sail directly upwind, deliberately or accidentally, long enough to lose way. Heaving to is a superficially similar maneuver, but done properly leaves the boat with the bow off the wind and therefore ready to resume navigation in a controllable fashion. The only way to effect a bearing directly upwind in a sailboat is to get there indirectly by changing course across the wind every so often. Good seamanship calls for planning tacks ahead of time, yet always being ready to come about at a moment’s notice.
Yes to all.
And at least as many religions representing various different Gods. You have chosen yours, just like everyone else has.
I bought it and am on chapter 2. I cant’ believe this was written so soon after the Council. I’m 50, so I was very young when this was published — to young people today this is ancient history. To say that I’m shocked at this kind of comprehensiveness and vehemence is an understatement. Things changed that quickly???
We can only go by what you have actually written; which was:
No doubt upset to discover politicking in a human organization, and not recollecting that even worse is possible: the weeds grow up along with the wheat. It’s the difference between an idealized view of human nature and a realistic view. Literalistic thumpers seem especially prone to this cycle of devotion-to-disillusion. Heck, even that “instrument of the Devil” St. Augustine of Hippo, noted this some 1500 years ago.
Sure, I completely agree.
Heh, one of my favorite and most dear parables. Yes, I was upset, disillusioned and ultimately furious at having been systematically misled in more than one way. It took me a while to direct my angst away from the congregational level (read also: family) and more toward higher ups.
Group identity via the mechanism of feeling special or chosen in play here. In LDS-dom, aside from a minority of “radical” liberals, being insular is considered somewhat a virtue. Suggesting that the Book of Mormon would be better read as metaphor than literal historic truth has resulted in some high profile excommunications. The leader of a movement lobbying for women being allowed ordination into the priesthood was forced out just this year. I think she leaned into it; everyone loves a heroic martyr and that’s very much part of Mormonism’s cultural DNA.
Can someone please check out the web site, vaticancatholic.com.
It will redirect and take you to a monastery in New York.
They say, in a nut shell that the Post VII church is no longer Catholic.
Being not to well acquainted with the doctrine of the church I can not refute some of the things posted. Can anyone here?
I have asked this of Catholics before and all I ever get is the time honored “shoot the messenger” response.