Sympathy for the liberal devil

15 03 2019

I should state again that I am sympathetic to theological liberalism of all stripes. Part of this is due to my good personal relationships with people with progressive religious worldviews. They are generally nicer people (using my “Would I invite this person to a backyard barbecue?” standard). Even though my own ideological preferences often dip into the reactionary, and my ritual preferences definitely so, my inclination to exclude people using these criteria dwindles more and more as time passes.

I am then most unwilling to join two minute hate sessions against “modernists” (whatever those are), especially online. The primary reason for this is because, to mimic a sarcastic song, everyone now is modernist in their own way. Most Catholics have no problem with evolution, for example, reducing the opening of the Bible to the status of an edifying fairy tale. Yet entire books of the Bible that are mostly about how to sacrifice various animals still have to be taken literally when condemning this naughty activity or that one? I don’t think these “conservative” or “orthodox” people have thought all of this through. The idea that the Church gave us the Bible and thus gets to determine what has to be taken literally and what doesn’t (until it changes its mind about it) shouldn’t strike anyone as particularly credible. That, and the radical changes to how we talk to God in the first place (liturgy and piety), the “nuts and bolts” of religion itself, are taken as subliminal messages that all is really up for grabs if one has enough patience to wait out the current defenders of whatever irrational hill “conservatives” have chosen to die on.

In that spirit, I have read Fr. James Martin’s book on Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits. There’s not much to comment on it, really. There are some amusing anecdotes from Jesuit tradition, as well as a good overview of Ignatius’ founding story. I am somewhat impressed by how effortlessly many of the old Jesuits and Fr. Martin himself can cast off tradition without really thinking about it. Tradition is only adhered to in the way one does spring cleaning followed by the mandatory garage sale afterwards to get rid of all of the non-essential, “outdated” stuff. But hasn’t that always been the Jesuit modus operandi? Think of their spiritual allergy to anything smacking of liturgy. Their non-chanting of the Divine Office. The Chinese / Malabar rites controversy. And so on and so forth. For all of the good they have done, their assumption is that there are always things from the past “getting in the way” of spreading the Gospel. “We can’t do / worry about that. There are souls to save.” Blaise Pascal cites one incident in the Provincial Letters of Jesuits “going too far”:

“Thus, are they prepared for all sorts of persons, and so ready are they to suit the supply to the demand that, when they happen to be in any part of the world where the doctrine of a crucified God is accounted foolishness, they suppress the offence of the cross and preach only a glorious and not a suffering Jesus Christ. This plan they followed in the Indies and in China, where they permitted Christians to practise idolatry itself, with the aid of the following ingenious contrivance: they made their converts conceal under their clothes an image of Jesus Christ, to which they taught them to transfer mentally those adorations which they rendered ostensibly to the idol of Cachinchoam and Keum-fucum. This charge is brought against them by Gravina, a Dominican, and is fully established by the Spanish memorial presented to Philip IV, king of Spain, by the Cordeliers of the Philippine Islands, quoted by Thomas Hurtado, in his Martyrdom of the Faith, page 427. To such a length did this practice go that the Congregation De Propaganda were obliged expressly to forbid the Jesuits, on pain of excommunication, to permit the worship of idols on any pretext whatever, or to conceal the mystery of the cross from their catechumens; strictly enjoining them to admit none to baptism who were not thus instructed, and ordering them to expose the image of the crucifix in their churches: all of which is amply detailed in the decree of that Congregation, dated the 9th of July, 1646, and signed by Cardinal Capponi.

“Such is the manner in which they have spread themselves over the whole earth, aided by the doctrine of probable opinions, which is at once the source and the basis of all this licentiousness. You must get some of themselves to explain this doctrine to you. They make no secret of it, any more than of what you have already learned; with this difference only, that they conceal their carnal and worldly policy under the garb of divine and Christian prudence; as if the faith, and tradition, its ally, were not always one and the same at all times and in all places; as if it were the part of the rule to bend in conformity to the subject which it was meant to regulate; and as if souls, to be purified from their pollutions, had only to corrupt the law of the Lord, in place of the law of the Lord, which is clean and pure, converting the soul which lieth in sin, and bringing it into conformity with its salutary lessons!

All of these would be unimportant observations, but now we have a Jesuit pope who seems to be steamrolling over everything current conservatives cherish. I don’t want to make this into another Pope Francis post. The post I intended to write is one questioning “Tradition” itself, and the assumption of the current self-appointed orthodox that they are somehow in communion with St. Vincent of Lerins, Pius X, etc. mostly because they think these past figures are pretty swell guys, when in reality what they believe about the world, faith, morality, etc. is so radically different that it would be deemed unrecognizable to anyone living one hundred years ago.

One could accuse me of “deepity” for pointing something like this out (“OMG, time passes and people change, checkmate conservatives!”) I accept that objection, but I take the risk of making myself look foolish only because the cyber Inquisition is often so lacking in self-awareness that it borders on parody. For example, how can one have a liturgy based on hierarchy in a world based on egalitarianism, with bows and kissing of the hand, and then turn around and rebel against a hierarchy that isn’t hierarchal enough for refusing the liturgy based on hierarchy? “Put on this cappa magna as a sign of your wisdom and dignity or I will roast you on the Internet forever, dammit!”

That is one thing I appreciate about the liberals or “modernists” or whatever you want to call them. At least they are honest. At least they don’t lie about wanting to be accepted by the world. Yes, they are basically committing demographic suicide and I don’t see a future for them in a progressive climate where the only response to doubling down on licentiousness is to double down again. I haven’t really met a lot of observant young theological liberals, but maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough. But when reflecting on the theological Reaction, and its bizarre theological “Daddy Issues”, I am tempted to raise the Felt Banner and talk about Singing a New Church Into Being, since we all were compromised a long time ago, and I am loath to condemn the rest of the world to Hell based on a hunch and a series of unexamined aesthetic preferences.

 


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