Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Vagabond

One of the most disturbing trends I see in the traditionalist Roman Catholic movement is an incredible distrust of modernity. I can understand where this fear comes from, and there is little doubt that the world in which we live in today is thoroughly godless and an exultation of decadence, luxury, and an overbearing sense of the self. Any Catholic should be rightly fearful and cautious of such environments, not only because they can be detrimental to one's faith, but it can also be incredibly dehumanizing as well.

But there too is to be found error in outright antiquarianism. To live as if the fruits of modernity were completely that of the Devil, or to see it as a negation of all that is good and worthy is, to me, more worthy of the Manichaeans than the Church. I think a sizable majority of those who consider themselves traditional can be prone to this, as I myself have been, and in some cases, still am. To negate this negation, we run the gamut from fierce apologias as to why modernity is inherently evil, to establishing nigh-utopian communities. I think this kind of thinking is very dangerous, in that it supposes Tradition, or even a certain epoch in time, as an impregnable bastion to the thralls of Hell.

This attitude is crystallized and manifested at its best in the various Sedevacantist movements that have sprung up within the last few decades or so. Like the tactics of many revolutionary groups (such as the New People's Army here in the Philippines), the arguments of these bodies are based purely on negating the positions of another; it is an endless flow of anathema after anathema, that one has to wonder, just what do these people stand for. What would become of their arguments, and their bodies as a whole, when the situation is 'normalized'? Would the Brothers Dimond, for example, cease acting like a terminal madhouse case once the Tridentine Mass is exclusively celebrated once again, or would they clamor still for the return of the American 1940s?

At best, it can perhaps be said that the animating ethos behind most of the 'radical traditionalist' factions is one that is primary psychological. To be a 'good' Catholic means being gloomy, downcast, grim, unsmiling, utterly prim, with no time for ribaldry or any kind of fun at all, and wearing three-piece suits in a quaint cottage with a nice piece of farmland managed with the fewest bits of technology; for women, it's wearing a frumpy dress made out of tablecloth and being utterly submissive to their husbands. Assuming that X,Y,Z are done, then it follows that there is world peace, peace on earth, and an endless litany of other utopian ideals.

Let's not stop there. If we really want to be traditional, let's just get rid of our modern hospitals. Sick children? Bah! They should learn to take it like men. I also think that our Catholic women are not dressed conservatively enough; I mean, just look at those Muslim women! Those burqas sure are elegant. And while we're at it, let's get rid of such modern 'conveniences' (instruments of the Devil, really) like the internet, television, cars and whatnot.

The majority of Catholics in the past never had any Missals, and just sat and knelt at the prescribed times in the Mass. My grandmother, for example, prayed a decade of the rosary at the Gospel, said a novena during the homily, lit a candle during the offertory, and left the church immediately after receiving Holy Communion. They toiled at the farm all day long, without the benefit of any modern tools, which led to her having callos on her feet, and a perpetual back ache for my grandfather. In fact, surprisingly, many Catholics were more exuberant and attentive in extra-liturgical ceremonies, like processions and various Filipino traditions like the pabasa, and the pasiyam. The simplest answer is, of course, the language: Latin, which was treated as a language of incantations and incredible power, but just that and nothing more.

I'm not saying that we should get rid of Latin and completely destroy our Catholic heritage; but what I am saying is that we need to be more sober in dealing with others who are not of a traditionalist bent. The only reason we can say that the Second Vatican Council was a disaster is because we have seen its fruits and know better; our liturgies are in disarray and our praxis of faith is sloppy. But for all our pining and whining, are we really losing sight of the big picture? Again, we need to ask ourselves this question: are we really more Catholic than the rest by the mere virtue of our support for the old ways? Or is it really a Manichaean paranoia that drives us to seek shelter in the past?

I attend the Tridentine Mass because it is perhaps the most beautiful thing I've seen this side of the world. I attend it because it is the same Mass that an army of saints knelt before, the same ceremony that brought wonder into the eyes of many a child. But to politicize it is perhaps one of the gravest mistakes we can commit. To see the Tridentine Mass, or indeed any of the traditional sacraments (as if the sacraments we have are decidedly and completely different from those 45 years ago) as agents, tools, of furthering a political end is to me an act of gross scandal.

I thank the Holy Father for giving us Summorum Ponitificum and 'freeing' the Tridentine Mass from the immobility brought about by the politicizing of the Second Vatican Council. At the end of the day, though, it is the countless millions who attended Mass in the 'halcyon' days before the Council, who knew its rhythms even before speech flowed from their mouths, who never knew a drop of Latin nor owned a hand Missal, that I thank: the nameless who silently wished for Mass in the vernacular, but kept silent out of obedience and love for that Rite.

We stand on the shoulders of giants-- but this is something we have forgotten. And so I pay my respects to those who have long since died, who wished to see the Mass of their youth restored to the altars. And I pray for myself, that my arrogance would be quashed and silenced, and that I may cease to be a vagabond, wandering and shouting and cursing at the graves of those 'foolish' enough to have abandoned the Old Rite. In the immortal words of Robi 'Draco' Rosa:

Rodando por el mundo camino, camino
Pregunto a la Quimera el enigma del destino
Nómada loco, noctámbulo y soñador
Un vagabundo
trono sin rey
Un vagabundo
Templo sin dios
Un vagabundo.


Matt said...

Let me first say that I've been following your blog for awhile and find your posts by turns enlightening and entertaining. Keep up the good work!

I find the pervasive antimodernism of many traditionalists to be rather amusing, especially since the internet and other means of rapid media distribution serve as their chief forums. Were it not for cheap printing and the web, their influence would be severely limited, I suspect.

Andrew said...

Colossus of Rhodes? =)

Rachel said...

I agree with your post. I have also been disturbed by the anti-modernism and the lack of humor on the part of many traditionalists (just take a look at the Angelqueen forums..). My fiance, my brother, and some friends of mine who are all traditionalists want to move away from this image. We need to learn to laugh at ourselves and be merry in a good way. After all, many of these traditionalists use the internet, drive cars, and avail themselves of modern conviences.

Rita said...

Tolle lege, indeed! How can one person have so many brains, be so insightful, humble and wise? Has nobody given your site an award yet, or are you just too cool to post them?

Archistrategos said...

Thank you all, and I'm so sorry for being late in answering your queries! Been busy the past few days, hehe.

Matt, I completely agree with you that the traditionalism one is most likely to encounter across the net these days is a very different creature from the spontcaneous, organic tradition that we had before 'The Interruption'. However I suspect that this over reaction can be just as bad, if not worse, than the actions of the Council: this type of traditionalism is self-compartmentalizing, espousing a very 'you against us' mentality. It's this isolationist solution that troubles me most, because it goes against the very meaning of the word 'Catholic', which is, of course, universal.

Yes Andrew, that's the Colossus of Rhodes. I used to associate it with my enemies in first grades-- I would, of course, pretend to be Godzilla, and blow them to smithereens with my atomic... er, 'unfresh' breath. I think many people, regardless of creed or politics, have a tendency to act is if they were the sole, colossal possessor of the truth, hence the picture.

Rachel, I completely agree! The medieval Catholics had a very pervasive sense of humour, and this is something which I think many, many Catholics need to re-discover. I just find it a bit difficult to swallow that someone can laugh at the image of heretics roasting on an open fire while decrying the prayer of pots and pans as a satanic, demoniacal thing. (Even Solomon Kane had more humor, LOL).

Rita, I am humbled by your comment! Thank you so very much for reading my blog. I'll admit that I'm not exactly a paragon of virtue in real life, but God has been good to me, even when I haven't exactly been doing my best. And no, I've never received an award for this blog; believe me, I honestly wish I were too cool to post them (LOL!), but I have been known to lapse into occasional dorky-ness every now and then.

Andrew said...

I must leave another comment and say that rather than table cloth material, the frumpy dresses must be made with old curtains... that inches the frumpiness up a notch =)

Ok, with the awards thing, that's an oversight that has gone on long enough. Be aware that I've nominated you under the Best Religion Blog category.

Haha... good luck.

éric said...

great post !