Kneading a Narrative for the Current Crisis

Another bit of a ramble, mostly an IDEA-SHARE – God speed it to whatever end – about some simple truth-telling in narrative form.

It’s worth noting from the outset, that to the rising generation the Second Vatican Council is not just fading in the rearview mirror – it’s already ancient history.

And that’s great.

What this gives the Church today is a kind of healthy space for reflection, critical appraisal, and perhaps most importantly: the opportunity to distill a sensible historical narrative explaining the current crisis in the Church.

(After all, time is greater than space; and as space permeates time it enables us to accompany others in realtime, actively engaging a needed dialogue space emerging between the timeliness of law and the spaciousness of real situations, always sensitive to timely pastoral approaches in evangelizing headspace, respecting the meantime of lived possibilities, and so timing our journey that its adequate spacing can be joyfully rediscovered, as it was never lost in the real concerns of life. Every time.)

Get the point?

Hopefully the above gibberish will in fact illustrate one – stick with us!

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See, we think it’s safe to say that awareness of the context of most Church Councils has almost no impact on the lived experience of Catholics in succeeding ages. Think about it: who today knows “what really happened” at Constantinople IV? Granted, upon closer research one can learn of all the preconciliar plotting, power politicking, thick conspiracies and intrigues, postconciliar strains, and even the ultimate failure of this Council in many of its intended aims… but in point of fact, that context just isn’t all that important for Catholics striving to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ and save their souls in His Church today.

However, this Council offered the Church for all time something perpetually significant: infallible dogmatic pronouncements, sacred Canons reaffirming perennial Catholic dogma, enshrining particular articulations of divine Truth against the common errors of the day. This Council therefore, even when its context had vanished to all but the historian, continues to offer irreformable monuments (more on that here) of one single, unchanging Deposit of Faith, which can still be accessed in the Church today.

Conversely, for all the pages of text that Vatican II produced (more than all previous Ecumenical Councils combined), it bequeathed to posterity no definitive acts – only documents ordered at a certain pastoral engagement with the contemporary world (read: the world of Western Europe in the 1960’s); and in many places, these texts read like the parenthetical nonsense above. The bare fact of continued official “clarifications” from Rome nearly 60 years later should be evidence enough that there are at least enough vagueries in the conciliar decrees themselves to have begotten… shall we say… a certain degree of confusion, which still has its effects today.

Yet as many continue to point out, it’s not just the Council that was “the issue,” and we increasingly find it a waste of time to wade into the context-of-the-Council-question; as much as we’re asked “What really happened at Vatican II?” we continue to feel that, much like investigating the nitty-gritty of other past Councils, energy is really better spent elsewhere (you know, like in saving our souls and spreading the Gospel).

BUT, amid the many little germs of restoration and returning health in the Church today, to know where to go as we “move forward,” it seems that we really need a kind of orienting elevator speech regarding the current crisis afflicting the Church’s earthly dimension.

For instance: What in the world are people presently telling Protestant converts to the Faith – all the more so if they’re knocking on the typical novus ordo parish door?

“Welcome to the Catholic Church, founded in perfect unity, upon the Successor of Peter… okay, yes he is kind of contradicting what earlier Popes had taught… no, no, it’s just a more merciful approach… well yes, our bishop does disagree on that, but the bishop one township over seems fine with it… no, I wouldn’t try RCIA at the parish next door, they teach things a little different there… well yes, the Faith is the same everywhere, it’s just that certain emphases… oh yes, I like incense too but see, we got this new liturgy committee last month… well yes, the Mass is the same everywhere, it’s just that it was updated in the 60’s to improve… no, it doesn’t really make a difference which form you prefer… well no, I wouldn’t go to that parish because the liturgical dancers can be distracting… anyways, welcome!”

Just imagine the need for a narrative once the formal correction is issued! What is Father Whomever going to say to pewsitters everywhere in his homily the next day? “It seems that a few Cardinals have, er, expressed some concerns…”

What is our short, zippy “showing of the form” for those who are still “waking up” from the Matrix of the postconciliar novelty-fest – or even more so, those stepping into the Church from without and wondering what is afflicting this perfect divine society, so scandalously riddled with contradiction and division in her earthly element?

The briefing can’t be all “Drill-Vatican-II,” as the problem was (and is) much broader… We really need a cohesive narrative.

Furthermore, as the Vatican II context fades to become yet another chapter in Church history, we propose that this narrative needs to touch on Vatican II, but aim at a wider context to equip somebody to read current events in light of perennial doctrine.

IDEA: If the current crisis is essentially a crisis of faith, methinks one should build the narrative around one single, connecting cause: heresy – the violation of right faith. Specifically, that heresy described, decried, defined and condemned by Popes (and Saints) for nearly two centuries before Vatican II; the tenets of which are largely the working principles underlying the current crisis.

That heresy, of course, is modernism.

Thus, our central idea: grow a concise narrative around modernism, not around Vatican II per se (although it must have a mention), and end with an illustration of its present manifestations in ecclesial life – or at least, equip others to ask the question.

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The best illustration coming to mind now is Gandalf’s effort to bring Frodo up to speed on world events and the emergent contemporary situation in “The Shadow of the Past” from Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring (the film adaptation nailed this, here and here).

Now, apologies to Professor Tolkien, who loathed allegory – but having watched the above segments, try this analogy:

The Ring is modernism. Sauron is Satan. Frodo is Joe Catholic, still in the happy Shire of novus ordo parish life where the careful party line is still “all is well” – largely oblivious to the nefarious forces present and growing around him. Gandalf is the narrator, and his theme is chiefly the history of the Ringnot dwelling overmuch on its various keepers (heterodox periti, Council implementors, etc.), but emphasizing its origin (examining historical roots via papal condemnations from the late 1800s and following), its attributes (Pius X’s keen assessment of the tenets of modernism), and its intrinsically perverse nature in service only to Sauron – “Don’t tempt me, Frodo!” (the tenets of modernism cannot be employed, even in part or in a “proper hermeneutic,” to serve the propagation of right doctrine – for it only undermines it).

Only when this narrative is understood does Frodo come to realize that the Ring is a live-fire issue. “But Sauron was destroyed!” “No, Frodo…” In fact, the thing is in his own living room. Now he, little Hobbit that he is, has to do something about it. A new “wartime consciousness” has arisen in him, a new way of seeing and judging. To take our analogy, one might say that he has begun to understand a new dimension of his role in the Church militant.

Likewise, when a Catholic is given to understand the origins and tenets of modernism, coming awake to the awareness that this heresy has endured and is yet abroad – even in the highest ranks of the clergy – one hopes he will gain a greater sense of those doctrinal truths which this heresy opposes, becoming better enabled to know, love, and live his Faith, to the point of critically engaging its enemies where needed. Insert Aquinas on the increased clarity and precision of intellect, coupled with greater strength and endurance of will, that come from assent to right doctrine.

old-stack-of-books-istock_000007327179large.jpgNow, some will say “There are all manner of books with such an approach! Haven’t you read…”

Okay, point taken. But we’ve read a fair number of said books (see our Top 40 list here), and frankly they still aren’t quite what we have in mind…

First of all, none of the works we’ve read are short. For posterity’s sake, we need short – an elevator speech for one, an accompanying tract that can fit in a pamphlet for two, and then ideally some longer multimedia curricula pieces to boot.

Plus, most works that we have come across don’t focus on the story of the heresy, but rather on the story of Vatican II and detailing various problems since. While the latter approach is certainly valuable, we need something more cursory, that gets up to 10,000-foot level per the Council and then leaves a deep-dive to those who want it after the fact. This approach will:

  • Relegate the Council to the minimal historical importance it truly deserves, since “the truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.” (Ratzinger, Santiago Address of July 13, 1988)
  • Get at the “connective tissue” that prompted and exploded from the problematic pieces in the Council texts themselves
  • Equip hearers with a “heads up, this is a live-fire issue” sensibility, by connecting the history of an idea to the lived awareness of that idea and its effects in current Catholic (or not-so Catholic) life and thought

Start with the elevator speech; has anyone come by something like this?

On a related note, there’s the trouble of authorship. Unfortunately, many traditional Catholics know what happens when one attempts to hand off an extant (good!) resource from “one of those schismatic traditionalists.” As we look forward to the day when the “mainline” “conservative” Catholic press engine stops whistling past the graveyard long enough to call a spade a spade (God speed the day), we still need a narrative resource to come from at least a “non-suspect” source.

Anybody have any ideas?

I, for one, dream of the day when a Bishop tasks a skilled, well-organized Catholic media firm to commit some serious apparatus toward building out a compelling video curriculum along the above lines. Maybe it’s pipe dreaming at this point, but eventually we will need to be able to tell the story of this period as a whole, and who with even one eye half-open is going to continue trotting out the “new springtime” tale? All the more so if the current Pope is found (“following the Council!”) in a formal heresy.

So just dream with us for a minute…

Imagine some faithful, zealous Bishop (who escapes the label of “schismatic”) – he builds a fundraising campaign aimed chiefly at “telling the tale of modernism,” advocating for a return to Catholic Tradition. Red-pilled Catholics everywhere respond and support. At the Bishop’s direction, some rocking media firm (imagine the added clout if it were some “mainline” Catholic group also with technical excellence) builds it out with all the pros contributing and all the bells and whistles: an apologia for traditional Catholicism by way of telling the story of modernism, calling a spade a spade regarding Vatican II and the 50 years after, then leaving viewers begging the question as to whether or not they can spot this same heresy in their little Shire, and how to get the good old Catholic thing going at a parish near you. Plugs for Summorum and the traditional rites aplenty.

It runs at the local level – a diocesan conference or something. Then it redirects you to a clean, usable website (surprise!) built just for that purpose: it hosts even more traditional Catholic resources. It goes viral. BISHOP HARNESSES NEW MEDIA TO CONDEMN MODERNISM, PROCLAIMS RETURN TO TIMELESS CATHOLIC TRADITION.

Seriously, if a Bishop can pull something like this today, why not?

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