Triumph or Chaos
“Let the rule of belief determine the rule of Prayer.”
( Pius XII, Mediator Dei)
In my previous article on the subject of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, I reflected on evidence from the past – 1): Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings concerning his agenda for “essentializing” the faith; 2): the Cardinal’s 1994 sermon which applied this principle of “essentialization” and “necessary” change to the Mass itself; and 3): Pope Benedict’s December 22, 2005 address to the Roman Curia – all of which would seem to indicate that the Traditional Mass will be changed now that it has been incorporated as an extraordinary form of the one Latin Rite. This conclusion is based on the principle laid down by the Pope himself in the Motu Proprio that the rule of prayer conforms to (or is determined by) the rule of belief, and the fact that the rule of belief of Benedict XVI demands this process of change.
Seventeen days after the publication Summorum Pontificum, this analysis received a striking confirmation. On July 24 Pope Benedict, while meeting with the priests of Belluno-Feltre, and Treviso, responded to a question from a priest who was bewildered about the disappointing fruits of Vatican II.
Admitting that the aftermath of the Council has proved more “difficult” than was hoped for, the Pope went on nevertheless to make the following assessment:
“Nonetheless, it is still true that the great legacy of the Council, which opened a new road, is a ‘magna carta’ of the Church’s path, very essential and fundamental.”
The first thing we should understand, consequently, is that this Pope is absolutely committed to Vatican II, and that he does not intend Summorum Pontificum as some sort of major historical turning point back towards tradition. Benedict XVI considers Vatican II to be the “great charter” for the Church’s path into the future.
Secondly, the Pope offers us a solution for understanding and properly living out these “difficulties” which we have encountered on this “new road:”
“Along this road, we must grow with patience and we must now, in a new way, learn what it means to renounce triumphalism.”
Triumphalism? It was a word that was fairly common when I converted 27 years ago, but I haven’t heard it used for years. Why now? And what does the Pope mean when he says that we must learn “in a new way” what it means to renounce it?
We will start with a good definition of triumphalism. Fr. Hardon gives us one in his Modern Catholic Dictionary:
“Triumphalism: A term of reproach leveled at the Catholic Church for the claim that she has the fullness of divine revelation and the right to pass judgment on the personal and social obligations of humankind.”
I would consider this a very good definition. What is more, it very much characterizes Catholic teaching and belief up to Vatican II.
But what does Pope Benedict XVI believe? Again, we will let him speak for himself:
“The Council had said that triumphalism must be renounced – thinking of the Baroque, of all these great cultures of the Church. It was said: Let’s begin in a new, modern way. But another triumphalism had grown, that of thinking: We will do things now, we have found the way, and on it we find the new world.
But the humility of the Cross, of the Crucified One, excludes precisely this triumphalism as well. We must renounce the triumphalism according to which the great Church of the future is truly being born now.”
So now there are two triumphalisms that must be renounced: the triumphalism of the past, and any triumphalism of the future. This means that any hope which conservative Catholics might entertain for a “springtime of the Church,” in which the Church would once again appear “triumphant” is doomed to failure. Remembering our definition of triumphalism to be the belief that the Catholic Church has the fullness of divine revelation and the right therefore to pass judgment on the personal and social obligations of humankind, this renunciation of all triumphalism in effect denies the Gospel itself.
The Gospel, in fact, is very fond of the idea of triumph and victory. St. Paul writes:
“Now thanks be to God, who always maketh us to triumph in Jesus Christ and manifesteth the odour of his knowledge by us in every place.
For we are the good odour of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.
To the one indeed the odour of death unto death, but to the others the odour of life unto life. (2 Cor 2:14-16)
Notice that the triumph which God always makes us manifest in Christ has to do with knowledge of His truth. He makes us to “manifest the odour of his knowledge by us in every place.” This, of course, is a very apt description of Our Lord’s commission to his disciples:
“All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
Our Lord’s teaching, in other words, is undiluted triumphalism, as are the following words from Paul”
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels, and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ.”
(2 Cor 10: 4-5)
Triumphalism is, therefore, at the very core of the Gospel.
In his answer to the priest’s question concerning the aftermath of Vatican II, Pope Benedict replied that “the periods following Councils are almost always very difficult,” and he attempts to draw a parallel between the “difficulties” which followed the Council of Nicaea and those which have followed Vatican II. He says that the situation after Nicaea, despite all the hopes for reconciliation and unity that accompanied the Council, was one of total chaos. And he suggests that the reason for the difficulties encountered in accepting Vatican II, as it was in accepting Nicaea, was a problem of “digesting the message.”
There is one very serious deficiency in this argument – a deficiency which, in fact, would seem to prove the very opposite of the Pope’s thesis. As we have seen, the word triumphalism is defined primarily in terms of the Church’s claim to posses the Truth, and the right and obligation to teach this truth to all mankind. In accord with this definition, the Council of Nicaea was an act of pure triumphalism on the part of the Church. It was the triumph of the pristine clarity of formulated truth concerning the Divinity of Christ over all those confusing denials, obfuscations, equivocations, and compromises which obscured that truth. It was, in fact, the first great doctrinal triumph of the Universal Church over error. It was a premier act of the Church Triumphant.
Vatican II, on the other hand, and as the Pope has so clearly affirmed, was by its very nature a denial of triumphalism and the victorious clarity which is its primary characteristic.
In other words, the chaos which followed the Council of Nicaea was the result of a rejection by the enemies of truth of the triumphalism and clarity of defined truth which the Council itself proclaimed; while the chaos which is the aftermath of Vatican II is the result of the Council itself rejecting the very possibility of such triumphalism and clarity. This is a very big difference indeed.
Pope Benedict XVI does not approve of the Church in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. As I have pointed out elsewhere, he considers all the Anti-liberal and Anti-Modernist condemnations of such Popes as Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XI to have been “provisional,” and to have been superseded by the new openness to the world as envisioned in Gaudium et Spes. In his answer to the priest’s query, he explains:
“After the Church’s withdrawal from the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it seemed that the Church (of Vatican II) and the world were coming together again, and that there was a rebirth of a Christian world and of a Church of the world and truly open to the world.”
The Catholic Church of the 19th and first half of the 20th century was, of course, the Church which aggressively confronted the accelerating principles of the French Revolution head on, especially through the promulgation of the magnificent social encyclicals of the Popes mentioned above. But it was also the Church of self-sacrifice in imitation of Christ: of a tremendous response in the minds and hearts of youth to follow Christ in religious and priestly vocations; of a huge missionary effort to bring the merciful message of Christ’s Truth and Love to all the far corners of the world; of Catholic Action by which the laity attempted to incorporate Christian values in the work place, in recreation and entertainment, and in politics. It was the Church of John Bosco, St. Therese of Lisieux, Pius X, Anthony Mary Claret, Bernadette Soubirous, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and the Martyrs of Uganda. It was a Church which was truly triumphalistic. And yet, it was a Church which, according to Benedict XVI, was “withdrawn from the world.”
So where does this “new way”, which rejects all triumphalism, lead us? The Pope answers:
“So it is not now, in retrospect, such a great surprise how difficult it was at first for all of us to digest the Council, this great message. To imbue this into the life of the Church, to receive it, such that it becomes the Church’s life, to assimilate it into the various realities of the Church is a form of suffering, and it is only in suffering that growth is realized. To grow is always to suffer as well, because it means leaving one condition and passing to another.”
So this is the essence of the “New Way”: we have left one condition [of the Church] and passed to another. We have left the Church Triumphant and passed over into the Church Suffering. This, according to the Pope, is the humble way of Christ:
“We must renounce the triumphalism according to which the great Church of the future is truly being born now. The Church of Christ is always humble, and for this very reason it is great and joyful.”
In other words, triumphalism and humility are opposed to one another. The way of the Crucified Christ is exclusively a way of suffering and humility. We must abandon triumphalism and embrace suffering and humility as the “new way” of the Church. This appears to be the Lex credendi of Pope Benedict XVI.
But is this a true way? Does it truly reflect the Gospel?
Christ’s Resurrection was a triumph over death. His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection were a triumph over sin. The Truth which He taught was a triumph over Satan, the Father of Lies, and He commissioned the Apostles to convert all nations, and to bring into the captivity of Christ all minds and hearts.
The humility and suffering which are integral to the Catholic life are therefore not a matter of “leaving one condition (triumphalism) and passing to another.” but rather of truly living out that triumph which is the Cross of Jesus Christ. The growth and sanctification which is an absolutely necessary part of the Christian life is in itself a triumph over those principles of darkness in ourselves and the world around us that wish to deny us this victory. In other words, true humility is a spoil of war – that war in which we engage for the triumph of Christ’s Kingdom on earth as well as in Heaven.
Astonishingly, after having rejected the triumphalism of the past and also the triumphalism of a future Church, Benedict XVI, in the very last paragraph of his answer to this question, proposes his own version of triumphalism (one which, as we shall see, does not at all accord with our definition):
“But we must also learn, together with this humility, the true triumphalism of the Catholicism that grows in all ages. There also grows today the presence of the Crucified One raised from the dead, who has and preserves his wounds. He is wounded, but it is in just in this way that he renews the world, giving his breath which also renews the Church in spite of all of our poverty. In this combination of the humility of the Cross and the joy of the risen Lord, who in the Council has given us a great road marker, we can go forward joyously and full of hope.”
Pope Benedict finds hope in the Resurrection. But the Resurrection is the triumph of Something as well as Someone. Jesus Christ told Pilate that He came into this world to give testimony of the truth. St. Paul calls the Church the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). The substance of the Cross and Resurrection is the triumph of this truth, without which belief in a Resurrection becomes a mere nebulous, ungrounded, and eventually unsustainable hope.
It is a haunting phrase which the Pope uses to describe what has happened to the Church since Vatican II; “To grow is always to suffer as well, because it means leaving one condition and passing to another.”
It is the word “condition” that is so bothersome. We are obviously here not speaking of some sort of gradual organic growth. A rich man may lose some money, but if he lose it all he passes over into the “condition” of poverty. The health of a patient may worsen, but to die is to pass from one “condition” into the next. We are, in other words, dealing with a radical change that touches the very depths of what a thing is. In proposing that the Church must leave the triumphalism of truth, the Pope is saying that the Church is now in a radically different “condition” than it has been for the past 2000 years. This is a change which reaches down to the core of its very identity.
All this is very reminiscent of von Balthtasar. In his book Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, he writes:
“So it would be wrong to think that the Church had some kind of immortal framework exempt from destiny (often referred to nowadays pejoratively as ‘institutuion’) that, while it is inhabited and represented by vulnerable human beings with their changing roles, is somehow timeless….
“Thus, Church will suffer the loss of its shape as it undergoes a death, and all the more so, the more purely it lives from its source and is consequently less concerned with preserving its shape. In fact, it will not concern itself with affirming its shape but with promoting the world’s salvation; as for the shape in which God will raise it from its death to serve the world afresh, it will entrust it to the Holy Spirit. We have already observed that nothing in the Church is exempt from death and destiny; there is no ‘structure’ existing independently of the event of Christ.”
It certainly might be argued that the Pope does not go this far – he does not speak of the death of the Church. But the consequences of his own views may be even more destructive, simply because they are clothed in language and conceptual frameworks that are less jarring. Affirming that Triumphalism must die is not as alarming as saying that the Church must die. In reality, however, they are the same thing, for triumphalism is simply the reality of the Church as Guardian and promulgator of truth. It is this Guardian which has been stripped away in post-Vatican II life, and the firestorm which we have experienced is its fruit.
It is into the eye of this holocaust of his own making that Benedict XVI has now inserted the Traditional Latin Mass. We may choose to be optimistic by believing that, according to the alleged principle lex orandi, lex credendi (condemned by Pope Pius XII), the Mass will work as some sort of miraculous leaven to change the rule of faith now dominant in the Church. Or, we may believe that Pope Benedict will apply his “rule of faith” (which is integrally tied to “essentialization”), and the Mass will be changed.
The Traditional Mass is the supreme act of Catholic Triumphalism. I am convinced that Satan, having failed to eliminate it, will now seek to corrupt it from within. This is the strategy which he has used so successfully against the Church, and it makes perfect sense that this is now his stratagem for that which is the source and summit of all that is holy within the Church and in the world.
Authored by: James Larson – ©2008