THE GREAT TRAGEDY OF THE WEST
By The Hermits, Jan 24 2016 10:03PM
THE GREAT TRAGEDY OF THE WEST
Last week the excellent John Henry Western, Editor of Lifesite News, was commenting on a recent sermon of Pope Francis, where the Pontiff scolded those Catholics, presumably traditional, and traditionalist Catholics, who range from what might be described as simple down to earth Catholics to those Catholics who attend the Tridentine Mass. The tragedy of this misunderstanding between the Pope and good traditional Catholics at present seems to hinge on the whole question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics should receive communion or not. The more radical Church leaders seem to want practicing homosexuals to receive communion. The Pope appears to be unhappy, and that is something that is not adverted to. If he is scolding he will not be happy. People who scold are not happy. Why he is not happy, I do not know.
In the days and months after Pope Francis’ election he breathed joy in his wonderful daily homilies. They were full of wisdom. He consecrated his Papacy to Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady was clearly his guiding star, and I am sure she still is. However he is beset on every side by, I fear, bad men, Cardinals, bishops, and priests, who are driven by the spirit of the world, who are in love with the modern world, with all its pomps and triumphs, and very poor triumphs at that.
Now the Pope is a very compassionate man. He wants the poor to be fed, the old to be looked after, and the young to have jobs. That is all well and good, but it is not enough. The Pope, like so many Latin Christians since the great tragedy of the Schism in 1054 between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West has been a prey to the concept of development. Since Vatican II everything has been about development. Catholics in the West, are continually lured into wanting to know as much about anything and everything that they can. The Jesuits more than any other religious order have been obsessed by every department of knowledge that comes within their grasp. Now the Old Liturgy gives us a hint of what is happening. In the Old Rite and I suspect the Anglicans may still adhere to this as well, we are celebrating Septuagesima Sunday, and so begins the remote preparation for Lent and the great celebration of Easter. In Matins in the Breviary, the First Nocturn takes us back to Eden. Now Eden holds the key to the present lamentable state of affairs in the Catholic Church, which has been building up for centuries and few have been able to see it, except for the monks, and this is another key.
The West is Eve
Chapter 2 of Genesis closes with the creation of Eve. The crucial verses are these:
Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh. And they were both naked: to wit, Adam and his wife: and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2: vv.24-25)
Eve had been “built” from Adam’s rib. 150 years ago most Catholics would have taken this to be literally true. Sadly this is no longer the case due to the preposterous, and unscientific theory of Evolution that has seduced the West and pretty well most societies in the World. However among the Orthodox East there is still a very considerable group who will hold to this as being factually true, and it goes without saying that many Evangelical Christians will hold this truth as well.
Chapter 3 of Genesis opens with a completely different feel and with a new actor. It is Satan who now takes centre stage. He begins by questioning Eve; “Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” What a brilliant ploy, as he knows that God did not command this, but he wants to draw Eve into his web. She answers by saying that she and Adam are free to eat of any of the trees of paradise, but not from “the tree which is in the midst of paradise”. Not only that, but neither should Adam and Eve touch it “lest perhaps we die”. Satan then in masterstroke tells Eve that neither she nor Adam will die if they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but will “be as God, knowing good and evil”. The rest as they say is history, and it really is. Now what is rather interesting is this, that prior to the Fall, neither Adam and Eve were ashamed of being naked. They were one flesh; they were one body. Now sin has sundered them. They are no longer in harmony. They no longer understand each other. A chasm, almost unbridgeable has grown between them. The future is sombre, tending to despair, but God’s prophecy to the distraught Father and Mother of the human race that a Messiah will come and put things right is a reason for the human race to hope.
However since that terrible desire for knowledge which caused Eve to eat the fruit and share it with Adam, the human race has been plagued with sin.
Since St. Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, who were great theologians, appeared on the scene, this desire for knowledge, which with them was kept just within limit, then began to get out of hand. Well they got out of hand with Abelard, and it needed the great if somewhat brutal hand, in this instance anyway, of St. Bernard, to prevent decadent scholasticism from swamping the Church. The best way to sum things up is in this vignette from the Chronicle of Thomas of Eccleston that I cannot lay my hands upon, but will have to rely on my memory. The founder of the English Province of Franciscans, Blessed Agnellus or Pisa was visiting the friars at their study house at Oxford. Listening to the students discussing whether God existed or not Blessed Agnellus wryly remarked “While the friars (in this case the clerical students) discuss whether there is a God or no, the lay brothers make their way to heaven.
The enormously learned Father Cuthbert OFM Cap., who was one of the great Catholic English intellectuals of the early 20th century, has this to say about St. Francis’ prophetic understanding of the state of things that would come upon the Church with the Reformation. These things are coming again, as they did with the birth of Modernism towards at the beginning of 20th century and which is wreaking havoc now within the Catholic Church.
St. Francis’ ideal, it must be remembered, was to follow Christ in all simplicity of heart and sincerity of mind. Whatever would take away from this simplicity and sincerity was to him an evil to be avoided. As he saw the world, two evils especially afflicted Christendom ---- the arrogance of wealth and the arrogance of academic learning. The civilised world was overrun with scholars, the majority of whom sought nothing better than intellectual brilliancy and dissipation; and intellectual dissipation is as ruinous to the spiritual life as carnal luxury. The two chief studies of the schools at the time were dialectics and law. Here and there a thinker like St. Anselm was honestly searching for truth, but the general tendency of the schools was to stifle thought and exalt a lifeless legalism and brilliant sophistry. The contest between St. Bernard and Abelard was not merely a dispute about special points of doctrine, but rather an episode in the eternal struggle between the thinker and the mere logician. Abelard was little else than an intellectual juggler, and he typical of the temper of the age. It was manifestly against this temper of mind that St. Francis wished to guard the brethren. He was opposed not to Thought, but to the Intellectualism which is the caricature of thought. His was the prophetical instinct. For was not the break-up of Christendom in the sixteenth century due as much to this very intellectualism as to material luxury. (The Friars and how they came to England, trans. Father Cuthbert, Sands and Co. London 1903 pp.81-82)
If today we substitute modern theological discourse for dialectics, and moral/psychological/sociological discourse for law then we will find that we are fighting the old enemies that St. Francis was fighting, namely the arrogance of academic learning, which too often or not is muddled up with the arrogance of wealth. When we think of who funds Universities, and how wealthy some of the Catholic American Universities are, we realize how serious the situation is. God willing St. Francis and St Bernard are praying for the Church. Of course they are, as are the other great reforming saints are, such as St. Peter Damian, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Elizabeth of Shonau, St. Bridget of Sweden, St Catherine of Siena, and St. Teresa of Avila, to name but a few.
The real problem facing Pope Francis is that he is a Jesuit to his fingertips. He is part of an order that is absolutely mesmerized by the pursuit of knowledge. No other order in the history of the Church has been such a devotee of profane learning. That has never been the case with the other great intellectual order, namely the Dominicans, who have made the study of theology their main task. However what is a complete mystery is why they were simply unable to deal with Luther’s revolt. He was hardly a profound theologian. More worryingly is that with the explosion of the Reformation that shook Christendom to its extremities, the Dominicans were nowhere to be seen in the Counter Reformation. There is only one Dominican Blessed among the ranks of the martyrs of the Reformation in England and Wales. The laurels in the Counter Reformation were to be given to the Capuchins, and then secondly to the new order of the Jesuits, who in their infancy were still safe in what might be called a boyish fascination with knowledge. The order was still, to use an odd word innocent.
However the seeds of destruction were already in place, and it was given to that great, but slightly unorthodox theologian and ex-Jesuit, namely Hans Urs von Balthasar to note that Ignatius did something that was seemingly a very little thing. He drove a wedge between devotion and theology. Hans Urs von Balthasar said that anyone listening to St. Bernard would understand him, as it was all of a piece, since Ignatius they would not understand a theologian. However as I cannot now remember all von Balthasar’s argument I will say this. The rot had set in a long time before with Abelard, Duns Scotus, Bacon and Ockham. It seems that they were all fascinated by argument, and possibly argument for argument’s sake. This fascination for knowledge was going to ultimatel be fed by the Renaissance which was fascinated by Man. This fascination is with us today, but with the extraordinary advances in science the fascination has become dangerous. People are now fascinated by artificial intelligence, and robots and aliens and so Western Man will be looking more and more at himself; how can he prolong his life using artificial intelligence and machines. That Man wants to transfer the intelligence of his brain onto a computer is staggeringly daring and staggeringly stupid. He is born to be immortal and he insists upon being not so much human as mechanical and materialist. Now let us look at Eastern Orthodoxy.
The East is Adam
If we look at the Orthodox East, and the Oriental churches, like the Copts and the some of the other churches like the Armenian, we see a very different Church. These are churches of monasticism and mysticism. For the East it is about gazing on God, it is about being Divinized by the Holy Spirit. It was St. John Chrysostom who wanted everyone to live some form of the monastic life, and what drives Orthodoxy is the monastery. It is not for nothing that it was St. Antony of Egypt who was a staunch supporter of Athanasius in his titanic struggle with Arianism which was the heresy of a secular priest as we would call Arius these days.
If one wants to sum up in a nutshell what distinguishes Orthodoxy from Catholicism, then the following is a perfect example. A 19th century Russian Orthodox bishop was asked what Orthodoxy’s social program was. He replied “The Trinity”. This shows the utter difference, at the present time, between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The Orthodox, like Adam are lost in wondering contemplation of God, Modern Catholicism seems enraptured with Man.
The last Ecumenical Council for the Orthodox was Nicea III, which was the last of the seven ancient councils of the Church. And it was St. John Damascene who so to speaks closes that age with his great work ‘The Fount of Knowledge’ described by Frederic H. Chase Jr. as “the first great Summa of theology to appear in either the East of the West.”
Since that time sadly, and especially since the Great Schism, for all the talk of Unity, the Catholic Church looks to all intents and purposes as if it is moving in something of an Anglican direction, if that is not too much of a caricature. As the Anglican Church is constantly changing along with the Lutheran and many other Protestant Churches, so too does the Catholic Church seem to be doing. After all it really does seem that the New Mass has more than a passing resemblance to Thomas Cranmer’s Communion Service. But perhaps it is all part and parcel of the Latin West’s desire to know more and more about God, rather than simply loving him and worshipping, for if we get that right then everything else will fall into place. If “A little learning is a dangerous thing” as the saying goes, then a lot of knowledge is perfectly disastrous.
Is There a Way Forward?
Is there a way forward? I think that there is. The Liturgy in the Catholic Church must be restored to its former glory. That does not necessarily mean simply going back to the Tridentine Rite, but possibly going back to the different Ancient Rites like the Sarum, the Gallican, the Mozarabic, and the Ambrosian (The latter is still used as far as I can gather.), and then developing a truly profound understanding of the Fathers, and that everything must be referred back to them. The Patristic Age finishes really with St. John Damascene in the East, and some would say with Bernard in the West. Then it should be incumbent on every Catholic to live a more ‘monastic life style’ by belonging to some Third Order, the first in time of course being the Franciscan, or to be an Oblate of some Abbey so as to live a more intense Christian life, and more to the point to live a more liturgical life. Every parish should have a choir, and not some appalling ‘Music Ministry’ which is about barely sanctified secular music, usually played by middle aged people who ought to no better. This choir should have more in common with the Orthodox parish choirs and be a proper Scola that chants. Everyone in the West should be conversant with plain chant, which until the Second Vatican Council was making great headway in the Church as a result of the authentic liturgical renewal which was then capsized by some liturgical vandals headed by Anibale Bugnini. The Latin West must return to the East Facing celebration of the Mass, as is still the immemorial tradition of the Orthodox and Oriental East.
Finally we should heed the words of the French Orthodox writer Olivier Clement who insists that Christianity is essentially an Oriental religion, the other two being of course Judaism and Islam. And here is something to ponder, the more Western Judaism has become and the more Western the Jews have become, so too has their ancient faith withered and they have produced the great secular heresiarchs of the West, namely Marx, Freud, Durkheim and Einstein. The Moslems remain unrepentantly Eastern and Oriental, and their Faith though quite wrong does not change, but they do live it very publically.
I will leave you with a remark of the great early 20th century English Dominican Father Vincent McNabb. “There is only one thing worse than a bad Jew, and that is a bad Catholic” It is about time that Catholics reclaim their Eastern Heritage, and that they will find especially in Gregorian chant, which, experts claim, goes back to the chant used in Solomon’s Temple before its destruction by the Babylonians. One thing that I would ask of my fellow Catholics is to simply meet Christ in the Gospels and follow his teachings. This does not require theological expertise, or great flights of mysticism, it requires a love that sacrifices all for the beloved, namely Christ. The reason why contemporary Catholicism is in the shocking mess that it is, is because there is much comfort but little of the Cross. Soon the Cross will be thrust on us, and our reaction to it will seal our eternal fate.
A Final Thought
If Adam and Eve had not fallen then we would have a Bible of about four chapters. You would have the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two of the Apocalypse, because Man would have been steadily and surely making his way to Heaven, and that surely is what every Christian is about. It is certainly not about Utopia and building Heaven on Earth.