Yes. Yes. Yes! Powerful stuff.
But that’s what’s made me so wound up: because you get it, and so many others don’t… 🙂
The fundamental shift was at the Enlightenment. Voltaire in France, Jeremy Bentham in England. ‘Utility’ – ‘Greatest Happiness to the Greatest Number’ – became the moral slogan.
But unfortunately, it seems to me, the values of the French Revolution are embodied by both the so-called ‘Traditionalist’ and the ‘Social Justice’ Catholic, rather than the Gospel. Why?
Because the ‘Social Justice’ take the Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality part, as their point of departure, and the ‘Traditionalists’, Descartes, Kant, and the Deists, as how to ‘fix people’ or ‘fix the church’.
They both see themselves as the great saviours, because they both cut grace out of the picture (as Pope Francis points out in both Evangelii Gaudium and Gaudium et Exultate). One is Pelagian, wanting to save the world, the other Gnostic (Cartesian either/or), wanting to save the mind, from corruption, by human strength alone (arguing incessantly with fellow parishioners about doing and believing the Right Things).
In a sense, it seems to me, presumptuous at the least. They want, in Eric Voegelin’s words, to ‘immanetise the eschaton’: bring heaven to earth (because Christ is incapable of doing it by himself?). Of course, it’s not an either-or, but an et-et. We are co-operators with Grace. We are not Monergists or Pelagians (salvation relies on God/relies on man), but ‘synergists’, grace augmenting and perfecting nature.
So, it’s not the *ideas* of Descartes, Kant, and the Deists (which are Modernist, and the Traditionalists rightly reject those), but their *principles, methods, and worldview*, which is the problem. It is in this sense the ‘Modernists’ and ‘Traditionalists’ are both Modernists, to my mind. A hubristical over-reliance on ourselves, on the centrality on our beliefs or actions, rather than what God had done, or is doing, discerning that, and then aligning ourselves with it.
Both are fundamentally objectifying of the human person, as if this world is all there is. So, the assumption is it’s not about the supernatural – God’s not going to enter the picture through grace to affect the person’s life, so I have to do the job for him – because, like the Enlightenment, ‘Externalism’ became the name of the game: changing others through ‘cold’ reasoning or cajoling to a set of objective standards, and not a call to Virtue and Excellence/holiness and sainthood. This is the Deist stance. The ‘demythologising’ of the faith into human reasoning (Rules/Rubrics) and human action (Social Justice) ‘alone’.
For both, it is not primarily about facilitating movement towards the transcendentals (True, Beautiful, and Good), by exemplifying them, but by force, debate, manipulation, etc.. The ‘Traditionalist’ is as bitter and aggressive in his intellectual attempt to convert me to his worldview by ‘reason alone’ – as if we are all ‘brains-on-a-stick’ (an Enlightenment (Cartesian) value, if there ever was one), as the ‘Modernist’ is in their approach of self-righteous moral grandstanding and virtue-signalling to make me feel guilty so I change in the way they want me to, confusing uniformity (which you rightly condemn) with unity.
What they have in common is more than how they differ, as neither is interested in calling me towards Christ, but their own worldview: to make me in their own image and likeness (of a revolutionary in their respective battles).
But also, as I think you rightly say, the Pareto Principle – the Darwinian ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (Spencerian Ethics) – is written through culture, and they embody it. They both see the survival of the church and the world as relying on their intervention, except they see themselves as the elite, the fittest, when in the world of Christianity, it’s God who decides that.
This battle of ideologies is going on in the Church, exactly because both sides of it – the ‘Traditionalist’ and the ‘Modernist’ – have the ‘survival of the fittest’ worldview of Modernism as their point of departure for their argument.
They are so aggressive, because they see themselves as responsible for saving and fixing the Church and the World, and if they believe they are (which they’re not), then they will see the outcome relying on themselves. (Or they could simply be narcissists, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility these days.)
Most ‘Traditionalists’ simply don’t realise they’re Modernists, because the Enlightenment reasoning which they use to prove their point and everyone who disagrees, wrong, is the water they swim in.
Getting embroiled in bitter debates over truth (even if it is true) which leaves a lot of emotional and relational carnage (even if not physical), was the way of the French Revolution and it’s what I experience from ‘Traditionalists’ and ‘Modernists’ if they sense I’m resisting. They never ever assume that most people might be resisting *them* because of their obnoxious and condescending behaviour, not the truth of doctrine and Social Justice they’re supposedly defending.
They don’t understand Modernism isn’t (only) a set of beliefs and behaviours, but a worldview, a Weltanschauung: a way of looking out on the world. In other words, the content of their words might be doctrinally squeaky clean, but the reason they believe it, and the way they preach it – their ‘frame of reference’ – takes its cue from Descartes, Kant, and the Deists, not Jesus and the Church.
This is what really galls me about nearly every homily on a Sunday morning: I receive a scold to become more morally upright, to comply to some set of dogmatic principles, not a call to virtue and excellence and a closer walk with Jesus. Not a call to be a saint, be holy, but an exhortation to become part of a Moral Majority: become the politically Right, rather than spiritually right.
Many priests seem to limit what they call ‘Modernism’ to what they were told it was in their seminary classroom (which was correct), without realising it’s also stance towards life more than correct beliefs and behaviours. In other words, despite them being Latin-Mass-lovin’, hell-fire-preachin’, priests, they sound more like Kant and the Deists because their framework is the Enlightenment. It sounds more like Frank Buchman (Moral Rearmament), than Jesus. I’m told to act like and mimic Jesus – as if he was simply a good moral teacher – but there’s no intimate connection or relationship made between the two, as if Jesus should be copied because he was a nice person, not because he is ‘the lover of our souls’ through the sacraments, beginning at Baptism.
It’s as if the ‘Modernist’ priest thinks Jesus is up in heaven, so we have to get on with it, and the ‘Traditionalist’, the world is so evil, he won’t come near it (or fear of being ‘too emotional’). Both, it seems to me, embody the classic Christological heresies, and what goes along with those. Jesus isn’t holy enough/Jesus is too holy.
The ‘Traditionalists’, however, are right that what we used to believe was correct, and much of what’s believed today is existential hogwash, but it was correct, because of the underlying principles which governed it, not merely that its content stood alone – like Kant’s vision of ‘Pure Reason’ – without its context of the Church.
As you imply, it’s about inspiration – a call to transformation in Christ, and not ’emulate me’ – not brow-beating and logic-chopping to force people into my own (narrow) worldview, but the call of love to become great: a magna anima, not an Enlightenment pusilla anima.
Fr Leo Trese wrote a great little book: ‘You Are Called to Greatness’. We are: and it’s not the world’s way of greatness and success according to Descartes’ children…
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