From Pope Pius X’s encyclical on the evils of modernism, Pascendi Dominici Gregis:
That We make no delay in this matter is rendered necessary especially by the fact that the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church’s open enemies; they lie hid, a thing to be deeply deplored and feared, in her very bosom and heart, and are the more mischievous, the less conspicuously they appear. We allude, Venerable Brethren, to many who belong to the Catholic laity, nay, and this is far more lamentable, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who, feigning a love for the Church, lacking the firm protection of philosophy and theology, nay more, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines taught by the enemies of the Church, and lost to all sense of modesty, vaunt themselves as reformers of the Church; and, forming more boldly into line of attack, assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not sparing even the person of the Divine Redeemer, whom, with sacrilegious daring, they reduce to a simple, mere man.
These words, written in 1907 by Pope Pius X will, undoubtedly to some, seem incredibly prescient, while to others they will seem strident and reactionary. I confess to finding myself unapologetically in the former camp, even if the late pope’s context is not mine, and so his words are cast somewhat differently to the way I might choose to cast them. Then again, he was a pope, and I am not.
Having said so, I wish I could do otherwise, but such antics as those of the LCWR in America, such behaviour as that of any of the countless priests worldwide celebrating countless and countless Masses in ways that directly contravene what is clearly written on the page of the Missal and in the instructions of the Church, such mischief as the less obvious, less newsworthy, acts of wilful disobedience that take place on a daily basis by those who would set themselves above all authority: that they persist forces me not just to see in the words of Pope Pius X a very real understanding of the symptoms of modernism, but to acknowledge that even the forcefulness of those words is most apt.
In the Eastern Catholic Church, we must be on our guard against such things as would diminish our authentic traditions, lest we fail in our vocation to serve as the ‘other lung’ of the Church, and faithfully carry on what the likes of St John Chrysostom has given us to carry on. It is not as if we do not have our problems and challenges then, but warding off ‘Latinisations’ is a different sort of problem to that which the Western Church faces. Indeed, I would call what the Western Church faces ‘extreme liberalism’, except that it is really more like Marxism in its revolutionary nature. The Western conversation has been thrown into chaos: chaos wherein the forces of the opposition work from within and from without. Catholic schools in the United States, for example, quite rightly seek to manifest their Catholic identity, and then get challenged in the media, the courts, and by their own students for transgressing the tenets of contemporary secular orthodoxy. This is absurd, and misses the whole of the Church’s side of the conversation. But worse than such external attacks, are the attacks from within. When figures representing the Church fail to understand, believe, and articulate the Church’s worldview, when these same figures actively and publicly dispute the Church’s worldview, they come mighty close to the position of Dante’s unrepentant counterfeiters and risk dwelling forever among them.
But there is something worse behind these attacks. I could never get my head around the need for such an organisation as ‘Priests for Life’. I mean, how could one be a priest without inherently believing in the sanctity of life? But then I saw a picture of a woman wearing a ‘Nuns for Choice’ sweatshirt, and realised that, in some places at least, we can take nothing for granted. A nun for choice? That is like a tree eschewing leaves, or at least believing that fellow trees should have the choice as to whether or not they bloom. Such a position would be laughable, except that it is real, and deeply rooted in diabolical pride.
Old familiar pride is what gets in all our way when we set ourselves against our friends, our loved ones, the Church and, ultimately, God. We know that at the base of all sin is pride, but when it piggybacks on our other sins and eventually overtakes them to become the dominant sin itself, the devil is never more apparent. There are plenty of priests, for example, who may decide to bend their celebration of the Mass one way or another on the basis of some perceived pastoral need, but when that same priest has it pointed out to him that such bending is no longer appropriate, and that he should celebrate the way the Church intends the Mass to be celebrated but he persists in his bending, then he is beginning to manifest the mark of pure pride. He is, after all, placing himself above the Church, and depriving her faithful of the objective sense of nourishment proffered by Christ in the Sacrament and communicated in the Liturgy. Similarly, when a nun has been given the blessed opportunity to foster people’s faith, but, on the authority of her MA in liturgy from an ostensibly Catholic university, chooses to lead them in some bizarre sun-worshipping ritual (this actually happened), then she is saying to the Church, ‘You might have your traditions, founded by Christ, communicated through the apostles, thought out by theologians, and lived out by the saints, but I have my autonomy, and my autonomy trumps all.’
I do not like polemics. Polemical blogs bore me, and I am much more interested in thinking about the spiritual significance of numbers in Origen’s thought than I am about the nightmarish liturgy celebrated at this or that year’s Religious Education Congress in L.A. The fact is, however, that the Congress in L.A. exists, and just as Tertulllian said somewhere that if he was in the baths and a heretic came in, he would quickly exit lest the roof collapse, we have some responsibility for calling the Conference out. Pope Pius X did it in 1907, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is doing it now, and the world hates them both. The social and religious conversation has never been more in jeopardy; it is for all of us to be aware, and to join Pope Saint Pius X speak prophetically in response.