A very good article from 'Chant Cafe Blog'. I like to think of myself as straddling both the École française and Scuola Romana probably more firmly within the Scuola Romana. I am a great admirer of Cardinal Siri and firmly believe that had there been more priests and prelates who were like him, we would not be in the situation we are in.
A few days ago I posted an article on Chant Café entitled Sacra Liturgia 2013 and the
Transformation of Traditionalism. It was meant to be more a report on the conference
itself and how what was seen of “traditionalism” there was a very different variety than
that caricatured by detractors from various vantage points. I was surprised, therefore,
at how the article has been engaged by authors and Commentariats of blogs representing
a plethora of viewpoints across the Catholic spectrum. Raising the question of whether
the traditionalist phenomenon is undergoing its own transformation has obviously touched
So perhaps it might be the time for me to elaborate a little.
We have to remember that the word “traditionalism” first gets on the radar screen of
the Magisterium with the thought of Bonald and Lammenais. It proposed that human
reason in and of itself is radically
unable to apprehend truth, and thus it is faith alone which provides the certainty of truth.
It was a reaction against Rationalism, and Vatican I responded with its thundering declaration
in Dei filius preserving the legitmate sphere of reason in ascertaining knowledge.
Traditionalism was a kind of fideism, and as such, was condemned.
The word “traditionalism” does not have the same sense in Catholic discussions today.
In fact, like the word “pastoral”, it has been used to mean just about anything under
the sun. But most often it is attached to a certain type of thought that harbors
criticism of Vatican II and its aftermath. It is by no means a homogeneous
phenomenon, and unfortunate attempts to paint it with the same dark, ugly brush
stroke have served only to obfuscate and anger critics and criticized.
I would like to contend, though, that, the second half of the twentieth century has
been marked by two main strands of traditionalist thought: (By the way, this is built
upon the analysis of Nicla Buonasorte in the book Tra Roma e Lefebvre, and I do
not count it is particularly original)
1. École française. The Ultramontane spirit in its Gallican form, affected
sometimes with a sympathy for counterrevolutionary political thought, could perhaps
be incarnated in someone like Mgr Louis Pié, Archbishop of Poitiers (1815-80).
Its attachment to, and its own declension of, the scuola Romana of neo-Scholastic
Thomism in the wake of Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris, after the Modernist Controversies
during the pontificates of Blessed Pius IX and St Pius X, developed a remarkable
homogeneity of thought as a system by the eve of the Council. This theological
position can best be seen in the works of Fr Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964).
The position was deeply suspicious of anything outside of the system, as it were, and
the advent of the nouvelle théologie, and especially its apparent triumph around Vatican II,
was deeply worrisome to those who took this position. As French seminarians in Rome
around Vatican II saw that theology, and its practical consequences, in the ascendant,
they rallied around Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-91) as someone who in his person
was emblematic of the best of the école française. The Society of St Pius X, and,
to a lesser extent, some quarters of the communities founded from them and returned
into communion with the Apostolic See, to a greater or lesser degree reflect this position
even today. Wherever positions are at variance with the thrust of their own neo-Scholastic
Thomism, they tend to be rejected.
2. Scuola Romana. The prevailing neo-Scholastic Thomism of the world of the pontifical
university system, at least intellectually, shares much of the same humus as its French
counterpart. Where it differs is in its ecclesiological roots. Whereas French
Ultramontanism was in a sense a reaction to, and in some sense conditioned by, Gallicanism,
the Roman school was more properly papal. For it, the geographical closeness of the Pope was
more consistently formative, and, uncomplicated as it was by parries with Gallicanism,
it was (ironically) much more firmly attached to the Roman See than the French.
Garrigou-Lagrange can be seen as the type of theologian who bridged both schools.
Where the two schools depart is less a matter of substance as regards their crititque
of theological and pastoral trends outside the system, but in terms of their deference
to Rome. The iconic hierarch of the Roman school, and counterpart to Lefebvre, was
Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, the Archbishop of Genoa (1906-89). His sense of Romanità
figured more prominently in his thought than a Gallic version of Ultramontanism.
His book Gethsemane (1980) substantially reflects the criticism of both schools
of the theological and pastoral trends in the Church. What separates Siri from
Lefebvre, is that Siri was able to continue in visible communion with the Church
by accepting Vatican II in a nuanced fashion that might today be called closer to
a hermeneutic of continuity, and all without breaking visible bonds of communion as
a result of his critique.
While it is perhaps simplistic to say that contemporary traditionalism tends
along this binary path of école française and scuola romana, it does explain some
of the differences among traditionalists, differences which must be grasped if
an accurate portrayal of the movement is to be had. While both remain skeptical
of much of the theological and pastoral climate of the post-Vatican II Church,
the latter reflects a hermeneutic of continuity much more than the former,
which stressed, sometimes almost exclusively, rupture.
It is perhaps also simplistic to say that both strands could continue on as they were
throughout the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II. Both were synonymous for those
who accused them all equally of being traitors to the Council, and both also substantially
continued in the same vein of critique. Ecclesia Dei of 1988 may have granted more
access to people to the classical Roman liturgy, which became the most potent symbol
of traditionalist resistance. But it did little to change the perspectives of either school
of traditionalists or their detractors.
Pope Benedict XVI changed all that. On the surface, the Bavarian theologian
belonged to the same nouvelle théologie that both schools found suspect. His dealings
with the affaire Lefebvre had gained him some modicum of respect, albeit it at a
distance, with the école française, which grew in numbers as the scuola romana became
the preserve of some very few circles in Italy. French traditionalism was imported as a
missionary endeavor along with the Mass of the Ages all over the world. But Benedict
was also to challenge that école française as well. His overtures to the Society of
St Pius X and his increasing questioning of the implementation of Vatican II became
apietra d’inciampo for the traditionalist world (and a scandal for those who hated it).
Were they a ruse to lure the faithful into Modernism, or were they a sincere gesture
of a loving pastor concerned for unity in the Church? In all of this, Benedict XVI
emerged, not as a liturgical traditionalist, but as a liturgical pluralist. While he remained
committed to the Council and to the initial motives for the nouvelle théologie’s departure
from Scholasticism, he also gained the confidence of many traditionalists, who migrated
from a more polemical anti-Roman attitude of the postconciliar école française to a
nuanced hermeneutic of continuity which was a kind of rebirth of the scuola romana.
After Summorum pontificum of 2007 effectively ended the exile of traditionalists
within the Church, as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was introduced to more
people, especially the younger with no historical memory of the affaire Lefebvre,
a new Ratzingerian strand of traditionalism seems to be emerging.
It is it possible that there is now a new Ratzingerkreis emerging in the traditionalist world?
The école française in many ways risks disintegration as the Society of St Pius X experiences
its own internal divisions and spinoffs, such as sedevacantism and strict observances.
The classical scuola romana approximates many of the traditionalist communities who have
followed the path from Ecône back to Rome. But now there are many people, who are
perhaps a bit more open to certain insights outside of the pre-conciliar manualist
theological tradition, such as those of Ratzinger, who now find themselves engaging
the same critiques of the traditionalists, but from within the desire of a hermeneutic
of continuity. Such a school of tradition is no mere reincarnation of Ultramontanism
in its neoconservative Amerophilic form. It is embued with the classical liturgical movement,
with an eye to the Patristic age, the East, as well as certain insights of the nouvelle théologie
One thinks of a Ratzinger scholar like Tracey Rowland as perhaps more of an example of
this type of thought.
In its own way, contemporary traditionalism, like Catholic liberalisms of the 19th century
and the post-Vatican II era, is a critical resistance movement. Both shy away from a facile “
everything is alright in the state of Denmark” false piety that is lamentably very much
alive in self- identifying "conservative" Catholic circles, which carry forward Ultramontanism
after a series of popes and a council have disavowed the possibility of any such attitude
being authentically Catholic. Both also caution against a one-sided fundamentalist
reading of Vatican II, a reading which arguably is hardly tenable given Blessed
John XXIII’s inspiration for the Council to break with anathematizing people and invite them
to dialogue in charity.
Yet it is hard to maintain an essentially critical spirit for long without descending
into bitterness, a lack of communion, decreasing charity, and the rise of ideologism.
If traditionalism (or for that matter, antiquarian strands of liberalism) remains fixed
in a position according to which the true nature of the Church is such that, to be who
she really is, the Church must return to a status quo ante, regardless of whether that
ante is 313, 1054, 1570, 1962 or 1968, it cuts itself off from a dynamism which
makes the Tradition living and present to every age.
It is clear to me that, many of the participants in Sacra Liturgia 2013 have moved
beyond traditionalism as a particular school of thought tied into a certain time
period and critique, towards a desire for profound immersion into the Traditio which
is the glory of the Catholic religion. And that transformation, whether it be caused by
or only chronologically successive to the Benedictine papacy, is, for me at least, a sign
of hope for the Church, the real Gaudium et spes of the 21st century.