To be Roman Catholic these days is an unenviable business, especially if you’re aware of what’s going on in the Catholic Church (and many Catholics, sad to say, are not.) It’s easy to comment on what’s happening, but what really matters is how one plans to fix the problems that face the Church.
Let’s start with what won’t work: the idea of the Pope and the “reappraisers,” to use Kendall Harmon’s expressive term. As one who was raised in the Episcopal Church, one gets a “déjà vu all over again” feel about this. As I’ve pointed out before, the idea of Francis and other “reverends pères jesuites” using their “morale accommodante” to advance the Church has a long history. Progressive Protestants have done the same thing and the empty churches speak for themselves; Roman Catholicism can’t expect a different result.
So what is to be done? One group of people with “the answer” to these problems are the “trads,” those whose idea is to return to some kind of traditional Roman Catholicism. They’ve been around since their church was turned upside down with Vatican II, although many have had to operate in the shadows. Now, as was the case with the Anglican-Episcopal world, the combination of the internet, social media and wider broadcast choices have made networking easier to do. (A sympathetic former Pope didn’t hurt, either.) So do they really have the answer?
I think the best reply to that question is…sort of.
Stating the obvious is the quickest way to get Americans angry, but let’s start there anyway. “Trad” Catholicism is not, to use a good Scholastic term, univocal. We have the #straightouttairondale types and we have the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) types, and they don’t always get along. That’s a typical problem with groups which focus on liturgical precision, and Trad Catholics certainly do that. The first thing that Trad Catholics need to do is to promote unity amongst themselves, even if they don’t agree on every point.
That leads to the next problem: Trad Catholics are too focused on the sacramentals and not enough on the sacraments. What Trad Catholics of all types are trying to do is to reconstruct the Catholicism of the pre-Vatican II years, down to the last devotion and spiritual discipline. Their idea is that Vatican II wrecked the church by throwing the doors open, which led to the exodus of people and religious that has led to the current crisis. This ignores something that Europeans should understand but Americans don’t: that the decline in Catholic numbers in Europe long antedated Vatican II, Tridentine Mass and all. Vatican II was called in part to address this issue; for the American church, booming (like their Episcopal counterparts) in the post-World War II environment, such a reform was almost unnecessary.
The biggest challenge the Trads face, however, is the structure of the Catholic Church itself.
The church the Trads find themselves in is the result of the greatest triumph of long-term Trad Catholicism of all: ultramontanism. The term means “beyond the mountain,” and refers to the centralisation of power and authority in the Pope. Largely facilitated by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic upheaval, it eliminated practices such as the regale and curtailed the national autonomy churches had guarded for centuries. The proclamation of the Pope’s infallibility at Vatican I (the same time the Italians trashed the Papal States) sealed the deal. It eliminated meaningful national autonomy and certainly any lay input into the life of the church, something Vatican II tried to address without much practical effect. Both autonomy and lay involvement would have been handy for American bishops to deal with the sex abuse crisis; instead, the Vatican ran interference and the American church will suffer the consequences.
What this means for the Trads is that, should the Vatican continue to move leftward, they will leave the Trads in the lurch. That’s because it is difficult in the Catholic parish system, which have no voice in their selection of priests, to have a distinctive identity. That’s what messed up the Catholic Charismatics forty years ago; they found it next to impossible to have Charismatic parishes. Their solution was the covenant community system, but that had problems too. And ultimately those communities which remained found themselves being made offers they could not refuse. The Trads, which are more dependent upon the sacerdotal and sacramental systems, are even more vulnerable to this kind of pressure.
None of this should obscure the fact that the Trads have some strong points: they have a definite idea of what Christian life should be all about, they’re good at attracting people to vocations (something that may be a life saver in a priest-starved church,) and their people, like Bossuet’s characterisation of God, tend to be fertile.
I’m not sure that the Trads Latinate, legalistic and overly sacramental view of Christian life will have the broad appeal they think it will, although they will attract some in this way. I would like to see the Trads, to borrow more Scholastic terms, differentiate more meaningfully between the essentials and the accidentals. But I’m afraid, as was the case with the Charismatics a generation plus ago, that the Church itself will be the worst enemy of those trying to renew it, and that’s the saddest part of the whole business.
I recently got an email from one of my visitors which went as follows:
came across the hashtag #straightouttairondale in some of your posts and wonder what it refers to …
It refers to trad (traditional) Catholics, who frequently (unless they’re TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) diehards) take their inspiration from EWTN, whose headquarters is in Irondale, AL…
Also, the movie which documented the start of rap music was called “Straight Outta Compton.”
Put the two together and you get…
It’s cool. It makes a point. Use it.
A favourite pastime of the #straightouttairondale crowd is to trash just about every piece of Catholic music written after 1965 (except, of course, what they put out.) Boosting the “Jesus Music” era is a goal of this blog, but this gem has an appeal that gets past not only their idea but Roman Catholicism itself: it’s a good carol for just about anyone.
A great carol for your Christmas service, but remember Catholics: if it doesn’t start at Midnight, it’s not Midnight Mass.
Under the breakthrough, Pope Francis recognized the legitimacy of seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government. Because they had not been selected by the Vatican, they had previously been excommunicated.
For centuries, the monarchs of Europe exercised authority in the choice of bishops in their realm. The triumph of Ultramontanism in the wake of Napoleon put an end to the practice; since that time the Church has stoutly resisted bringing back what the French called “la regale.” It has paid the price for it; relations between the Vatican and the then-newly independent states of Latin America got off to a sour start because the Vatican refused to extend la regale, which had been in place during colonial times.
The ultimate fruit of Ultramontanism, which places a heavy emphasis on the central power of the papacy, wasn’t this but papal infallibility. Given the erratic nature of the current occupant of the See of Rome, the wisdom of that decision needs to be seriously reconsidered, although getting the #straightouttairondale types to do that won’t be easy. But Francis’ decision to recognise these bishops, in the historical context of la regale, is a major move that may come back to haunt the RCC, especially in countries where secular governments like to exercise authority over just about everything.
Pope Francis’s condemnation of capital punishment is simple and unambiguous: It is inadmissible. No exceptions for especially heinous crimes; no loopholes allowing execution when other lives might be in jeopardy, as in past Catholic teachings. No, declared the pope; state-sanctioned killing is always an unjustifiable attack on the dignity of human life, it’s always wrong.
My senior year in prep school, one of my teachers was both a recent graduate of the school (which was not even ten years old at the time) and a newly minted “Sixties radical” to boot. He brought this up, using the same commandment as the New York Times to oppose capital punishment. My parish priest (I was a newly minted Roman Catholic) had, in accordance with the teaching of the Church, told us back at the parish that the commandment meant “Thou shalt do no murder.” (Given the place of capital punishment in the old law, that makes sense.) I repeated this to the teacher and he did what his kind are best at: he exploded in my face with rage.
Some things never change…as Andreas Killen pointed out, the issues that were at the forefront in 1973 are still with us, and this is one of them. But now we have a pope, who prefers damage control to solution in the sex abuse crises, going against the teaching of his own church. Personally I think he’s using the capital punishment issue to deflect attention from the abuse crisis, which only gets worse.
But that illustrates the duplicity of those struggling to hold the “moral high ground.” Most of those who oppose the death penalty also support abortion and euthanasia, and now explode in our faces on social media with the hope that many of their opponents can be liquidated. The question is not really keeping people alive but shifting who’s chosen to die from one group to another.
P.S. One of the most impassioned pleas for the restriction of capital punishment except in the most heinous cases comes from Blaise Pascal’s Provincial Letters, but Jesuits like the Pope and James Martin would sooner have us forget this masterpiece, as it shows what happens when you let the Jesuits run wild on issues of faith and morals.
Is he or is he not on the road to being canonized?
In the coming weeks, the fate of Gilbert Keith Chesterton will be known.
Soon, all eyes will turn upon Canon John Udris as he presents his written report to the bishop of Northampton, England, with, thereafter, a decision being made.
I’m not optimistic about seeing “St. Gilbert” anytime soon, although the Roman Catholic Church is full of surprises. Some of that is due to his anti-Semitic remarks, which should endear him to the current Labour Party. But frankly I’m surprised that the RCC in England, as liberal as its hierarchy is, is even allowing consideration of Chesterton for anything.
On a broader view, the Roman Catholic Church has always had an aversion for canonising or even celebrating its best post-Reformation thinkers and preachers. Whether you’re an Old Folk Mass or #straightouttairondale type, Catholics in parishes are presented with some of the most banal examples of Catholic thought and life out there. For the better ones, one in particular whose cause is a main item on this blog is Jaques-Bénigne Bossuet. AFAIK, he’s never been considered for canonisation, although he is the Church’s best and most eloquent defender since Trent. Perhaps it is best that Chesterton be left to his fans to insure his legacy.
In the UK, he is known mostly for the Father Brown series; his magnificent apologetic works are mostly admired outside of Old Blighty. With Bossuet it’s different; the French still consider him a major literary figure of the XVIIth Century, in some ways the country’s Golden Age. But then again the French are better at appreciating their literary heritage en bloc, as they did recently when they re-entombed Simone Veil (a Holocaust survivor) in the Pantheon.
Another good reason for Brexit?
The history of the Twentieth Century is one written in blood. Between two world wars, the procession of genocides from Armenia to Stalin to the Holocaust, China and the Killing Fields, millions seemed to vanish for causes that are better hated than understood. Is there one conflict that we can look at than encapsulates the century better than others? Although it’s forgotten outside its home country today, I think it’s fair to say that the Spanish Civil War should top the list. Just about every ideology that dominated the century was represented there, either by Spanish adherents, foreign ones, or both. And the combination of the conflict’s intensity and the tendency of the participants to romanticise their own cause and demonise their opponents’ certainly has lessons for our own polarised society today.
Probably the best single volume work on the subject in English is Hugh Thomas’ The Spanish Civil War. He later acted as an adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Most of what follows is derived from this work.
The existence of Spanish Latin America, from the Rio Bravo del Norte to the Tierra del Fuego–and beyond–is a testament to Spain as a world power for three centuries. Napoleon’s invasion, with the loss of most of the American colonies, put it into more than a century of instability, ranging from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy to succession disputes (the Carlists) to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and finally to the Spanish Republic, which was established in 1931.
Through all of this, like France and Italy, Spain was a country with a wide variety of political parties, a system which tended towards fragmentation. On the left were the Socialists, Anarchists, Communists (whose role increased as the war progressed) and other parties supporting the Republic. On the right were Catholic parties (CEDA,) Monarchists and Carlists, Falangists and Agrarians. There were some parties in the centre. Complicating the scene (then and now) were the regional parties, primarily the Catalan and Basque parties, which themselves had an ideological range. The one thing that Spanish parties had in common was a intensity of commitment to their cause that was extremely bore-sighted, first figuratively and soon literally in the war.
Most Americans will be surprised that Anarchism was a serious political movement, associating it as a fringe terrorist group involved with the assassination of President William McKinley. In Spain it certainly was serious; the idea that we didn’t have to have a government had traction. As Thomas explains:
To these a great new truth seem to have been proclaimed. The State, being based upon ideas of obedience and authority, was morally evil. In its place, there should be self-governing bodies–municipalities, professions, or other societies–which would make voluntary pacts with each other. Criminals would be punished by the censure of public opinion.
The last point indicates that they were waiting for the advent of social media…the Anarchists on the one hand and the Socialists and Communists on the other had a great deal of bad blood between them going back to Marx and Bakunin, and this conflict bedeviled the Republic’s war effort when crunch time came.
With a Republic came a constitution, and at this point the Republican-Socialist majority made a strategic error: they decided to make the document a political one, embodying their own idea rather than creating a document acceptable to a broad range of Spaniards. No where was that more evident than in its anticlerical clauses regarding the Catholic Church: religious education was ended, the Jesuits were banished, no more payment of salaries to priests (which were compensation for the seizure of the Church’s lands in the last century,) etc. Overplaying one’s hand is a hallmark of religious conflicts; that was certainly the case in France, but in Spain the shoe was on the other foot. One tireless advocate of these measures–even in face of opposition in his own coalition–was Prime Minister Manuel Azaña, who would play such a large role in the coming civil war.
Some of Azaña’s confidence that he would succeed in his quest–a quest whose genesis came from his own bad experiences in the Catholic educational system–came from the desultory way in which Spaniards related to the Church. In 1931 only about a third of Spaniards were practicing Catholics, this in the home country of the Inquisition. But under that low level, Spaniards wrapped their identity as such with the Church, and same Church was an instrument of social justice in many instances. In their hard-line anti-clerical policies Azaña and his allies made unnecessary enemies which would come back to haunt them on the battlefield.
The next four years were times of conflict and instability that rivalled France’s Fourth Republic (to say nothing of postwar Italy.) The elections of February 1936 brought a strong majority to the Republican Popular Front. The right felt it had been cornered. In July, part of the military rose at two ends of the Republic: in Spanish Morocco and the Canary Islands, under Francisco Franco, and in the North, under Emilio Mola. The Spanish Civil War had begun.
From a military standpoint, as was the case with its American counterpart, the war was the steady advance of one side (in this case the Nationalists, eventually under Franco) and the steady retreat of the other (the Republicans, with Azaña as its president at the start. As also with that war, the details in between were complicated, and only a cursory summary can be done here.
The basic reason why the Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War was that their military organisation was superior and coherent. The Nationalists had a real army; in the early stages, the Republicans had a collection of political militias. Only as the war progressed did Soviet and Communist influence help to weld the Republican military together, and by then it was too late. This was also reflected politically; the Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Catalan and Basque nationalists and other made for a fragmented scene that consistently undermined the Republic’s attempts at a united front. They spent a great deal of energy fighting each other, and this contributed to the Republic’s defeat. That result is always the great “Antifa” fear, one that dominates their thinking to this day.
The Spanish Civil War became a proxy war for the various powers in Europe, themselves preparing for the much greater war that was coming. It wasn’t a straightforward or uniform process. Starting with the Nationalists, the one power that was “all in” for Franco was Italy, who contributed more support than just about anyone else. Much of this support left something to be desired of; Franco, for example, wished that he could sent the Italian ground troops back, finding them as useless as Hitler shortly did. Hitler and the Germans used the Condor Legion as a military experiment for their equipment and strategy, which they put to use in Poland and France. Their support of the Nationalists was not entirely enthusiastic; at one point Hitler wished that the Republicans would win to crush the Catholic Church, for him a desired result.
The Republic’s foreign aid was, if anything, more desultory than the Nationalists. The power that corresponded to Italy for the Republic was the Soviet Union, although their aid was sidetracked from time to time by events at home, namely Stalin’s purges and then the pact with Germany. They also used that aid to forward the Communist’s status in the Republic, usually at the expense of the Anarchists. As far as Britain and France were concerned, the 1930’s were the “decade of indecision.” As one right-wing French paper observed, how was France (then under Leon Blum) supposed to help the Spanish Republic if they couldn’t keep the Germans from reoccupying the Rhineland? Ultimately these two lead the Non-Intervention movement, which included Germany and Italy, and this amounted to having two foxes guard two chicken coops. In any case their lack of support for the Republic was one cause of its defeat.
But the Spanish Civil War was the golden age of “volunteers,” from all over Europe and the US. Not even World War II excited intellectuals and writers from these places like this conflict did, and many of them fought–and died–for the Republic. The International Brigades were the stuff of legend, a phenomenon recently replicated in Syria (which is a good recent analogy for the brutality of the Spanish conflict, at the opposite end of the Mediterranean.)
Mentioning brutality brings up the subject of the atrocities, and there were plenty. Most people think of Guernica, whose bombing was a complete waste in every sense of the word. (Guernica is the sacred city of the Basques, with its tree, the way the Basques look at it echoes something out of J.R.R. Tolkien.) The majority of the brutality, however, was more direct and personal. The rule on both sides was to shoot first, no questions later. The difference between the two sides was the context of the brutality. The Republicans kicked off things with a massacre of Catholic religious and the destruction of churches. Later the Communists would import techniques of torture and execution from the Soviet Union. In executing most of the pre-war right-wing leadership, the Republicans did Franco a favour by clearing the field of most of his potential political rivals when the war was done. The Nationalists did their dirty work, as with the fighting, in a more methodical manner. The brutality of each side sickened their respective intellectuals, which is more than one could say for their foreign counterparts.
Although the Nationalists became the champions of Catholic religion in Spain, that process was not instantaneous. Franco was indifferent to the faith (his wife, however, was not.) The Falange was largely secular; the existence of a secular right was certainly a reality in those days and is becoming one again with the alt-right movement. The use of Catholicism to bind the Nationalists together was a process encouraged by the conflict, another by-product of the Republic’s overreach in that regard.
Franco’s ultimate victory–just before the outbreak of World War II–was followed by his neutrality. For all of his faults, Franco had no territorial ambitions beyond Spain and its existing colonies (Morocco had furnished him some of his toughest fighters) and was a profoundly cautious man. Hitler tried to get him to join the Axis, but his was one of the few people who stiffed Hitler and got away with it.
After Franco’s death, Spain finally got a constitutional monarchy with a Republican political bent. Franco got what the Romans called damnatio memoriae, he cannot be mentioned. For the most part the social issues that helped push Spain leftward have been resolved in the modern welfare state, with the good and bad that goes with that. But issues such as Basque and Catalan separatism–and of course the perennial issue of the Catholic Church–still remind us that the issues for which 600,000 people died are still very much with it.
And not just for Spain either. It is hard to convey the relevance of the Spanish Civil War in a piece this short. The polarisation, the heated rhetoric, the refusal for anyone to see the broader picture–all of these things are very much with us, and if we do not take some lessons from Spain’s experience–the most riveting single story of the Twentieth Century–than we risk having our own nation go down the same road.
In all of their glorification of the “giants of the faith,” evangelicals either overlook or ignore the fact that same giants were usually far better versed in the classics of antiquity than is common today. To some extent this is understandable: study of these works has taken a beating the last fifty years, and we have the ignorant national discourse to show it. But it is also indicative of Evangelicals’ own narrow view of things. They learn enough about classical antiquity in order to read the maps in the back of the Bible, and that’s about it.
One giant of the faith who was well versed in them was G.K. Chesterton. When he looked at the clash between Elijah and the followers of Yahweh and Jezebel and the followers of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he saw more than two competing teams: he saw a civilisational conflict between those who put there trust in the intangible and those who were driven strictly by commercial considerations. To him the competition between the Romans and the Carthiginians (Carthage was a colony of Tyre) was just the “Western Front” of this war, and archeology has borne this out in a grisly way.
In addition to such unappetising customs, the Carthaginians brought crucifixion to the western Mediterranean. This grisly combined punishment and execution was Middle Eastern in origin; Herodotus mentions it, probably came from Persia. It percolated across the Levant and from there to Carthage. The fact that it combined punishment and execution meant that, in most cases, it was deemed enough by itself.
The Second Punic War (of three) between Rome and Carthage had several classical historians document it and one of those was Livy. His history from the start of Rome to Augustus is sweeping in its scope. Much of the history is centred on battles and punishments, and it’s the latter we will focus on. Although as noted crucifixion was usually considered punishment enough, Livy records two instances during the Second Punic War where people were both scourged and crucified.
The first took place after Hannibal’s victory at Lake Trasimene, in the early stages of his Italian campaign:
He (Hannibal) then ordered a guide to lead him into the territory of Casinum, as he had been informed by people familiar with the country that the occupation of the pass would cut the route by which the Romans could bring aid to their allies. His pronunciation, however, did not take kindly to Latin names, with the result that the guide thought he said ‘Casilinum’; he accordingly went in the wrong direction, coming down by way of Allifae, Calatia and Cales in the plain of Stella, where seeing on every side a barrier of mountains and rivers, he sent for the guide and asked where on earth he was. The guide answered he would lodge that day at Casilinum, whereupon Hannibal realised his mistake and knew that Casinum was miles away in a different direction. He had the guide scourged and crucified as an example to others… (Livy, XXII, 13)
The second took place towards the end of the war, when the Carthiginian general Mago attempted to enter Gades (Cadiz) in southwestern Spain. Formerly a Carthiginian ally, their change in heart proved deadly for the town’s leadership:
Mago on his return to Gades found himself shut out of the town. Sailing to Cimbii, which was not far distant, he sent representatives back to Gades to complain of the gates’ being barred against a friend and ally; the people of the town tried to excuse themselves by saying it had been the work of a section of the populace which was enraged because the soldiers had stolen property of their when they went aboard ship; whereupon Mago enticed to a conference the sufetes of the town (the highest sort of Carthaginian magistrate) together with the treasurer, and, once they were in his power, had them scourged and crucified. (Livy, XXVIII, 37)
The Carthiginians were hard masters, which may in part explain why the Italian allies/subjects of Rome did not bolt en masse after Cannae. But the Romans, the supreme adapters as they were, made crucifixion part of their arsenal against those who had the bad idea of challenge or revolt against Roman authority. Our Lord had predicted that he would be the victim of such a treatment:
When Jesus was on the point of going up to Jerusalem, he gathered the twelve disciples round him by themselves, and said to them as they were on their way: “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem; and there the Son of Man will be betrayed to the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, and they will condemn him to death, And give him up to the Gentiles for them to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify; and on the third day he will rise.” (Matthew 20:17-19, TCNT.)
The Romans lived up to his expectations:
Pilate, however, spoke to them again: “What shall I do then with the man whom you call the ‘King of the Jews’?”
Again they shouted: “Crucify him!”
“Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them.
But they shouted furiously: “Crucify him!” And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified. (Mark 15:12-15, TCNT.)
Scourging someone before crucifixion made death on the cross more rapid, something that Pilate, mindful of the Jews’ Passover, may have wanted to take place.
But that scourging, anticipated by Our Lord, had a purpose, as did the crucifixion:
He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 Brenton)
In his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus won a victory, not only over sin, death, and the physical pain of this life, but over those who would posit life only as an extended business deal like the Carthaginians who, with Jezebel’s co-religionists, sacrificed their own children as part of their bargain with the gods.
This series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day, is complete. The table of contents for this is below. There is more here on the Bossuet Project.
- The snake.
- The temptation. Eve is attacked before Adam.
- The tempter proceeds by underhanded questioning to first produce a doubt.
- Answer of Eve and reply of Satan who reveals himself.
- The temptation and the fall of Adam. Reflections of Saint Paul.
- Adam and Eve perceived their nudity.
- Enormity of Adam’s sin.
- The presence of God is fearful for sinners: our first parents increase their crime by seeking excuses.
- The order of God’s Justice.
- More excuses.
- Eve’s torment and how it is changed into a cure.
- Adam’s torture, and first the work.
- The clothes and the injuries of the air.
- Following the torture of Adam, the derision of God.
- Death, true punishment of sin.
- Eternal death.