Pope Paul’s “Sacrificium laudis”

At New Liturgical Movement, Peter Kwasniewski has a brief piece commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Sacrificium laudis, Paul VI’s 1966 apostolic letter to religious exhorting them to retain the choral office in Latin. Kwasniewski’s essay includes a translation by the eminent English Dominican, Fr. Thomas Crean, of Paul’s letter. Echoing a point we have made here before, Kwasniewski observes:

But in many ways the greatest tragedy of the postconciliar period was the sudden, dramatic, worldwide collapse of religious life, especially in its contemplative branches, and the disappearance, as if overnight, of the chanting of the Divine Office in Gregorian chant. It was an anti-miracle, so to speak — a feat of Satan who, appearing as an angel of light, lured the religious to their doom. The praises of God, which had been sung day and night for well over a millennium with melodies more beautiful than any the world has ever birthed before or since, fell silent, with the silence of the tomb.

And yet, Pope Paul VI, in words no less clear, stalwart, principled, and prophetic than those he uttered about birth control in Humanae Vitae, urged religious in 1966 to uphold their traditional choral office at all costs, for it was their special contribution to the life, health, and growth of the Mystical Body. While it is true that Paul VI, with his self-admitted Hamlet syndrome, walked a zigzag path in contrary directions, seeming to be trapped in the torments and doubts of his age, he nevertheless rose above the churning waters now and again to speak a clear word that, had it only been followed, would have been a blessing for the Church.

(Emphasis supplied.) For example, consider this passage from Pope Paul:

What is in question here is not only the retention within the choral office of the Latin language, though it is of course right that this should be eagerly guarded and should certainly not be lightly esteemed. For this language is, within the Latin Church, an abundant well-spring of Christian civilisation and a very rich treasure-trove of devotion. But it is also the seemliness, the beauty and the native strength of these prayers and canticles which is at stake: the choral office itself, ‘the lovely voice of the Church in song’ (Cf. St Augustine’s Confessions, Bk 9, 6). Your founders and teachers, the holy ones who are as it were so many lights within your religious families, have transmitted this to you. The traditions of the elders, your glory throughout long ages, must not be belittled. Indeed, your manner of celebrating the choral office has been one of the chief reasons why these families of yours have lasted so long, and happily increased. It is thus most surprising that under the influence of a sudden agitation, some now think that it should be given up.

In present conditions, what words or melodies could replace the forms of Catholic devotion which you have used until now? You should reflect and carefully consider whether things would not be worse, should this fine inheritance be discarded. It is to be feared that the choral office would turn into a mere bland recitation, suffering from poverty and begetting weariness, as you yourselves would perhaps be the first to experience. One can also wonder whether men would come in such numbers to your churches in quest of the sacred prayer, if its ancient and native tongue, joined to a chant full of grave beauty, resounded no more within your walls. We therefore ask all those to whom it pertains, to ponder what they wish to give up, and not to let that spring run dry from which, until the present, they have themselves drunk deep.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.

On Alan Jacobs’s Christian intellectuals

At Harper’s Magazine, Alan Jacobs has a lengthy essay, “The Watchmen,” more or less bewailing the disappearance, as Jacobs has it, of Christian intellectuals from the American scene. The problem with Jacobs’s piece, as we see it, is remarkably simple: when it isn’t an exercise in nostalgia, it’s pointless. He sets for himself a big project and then, apparently, decides that he’d rather not make a go of it. (He also has some weird ideas, at least from a Catholic perspective, as we’ll see, about Catholicism.) Political liberals, Jacobs explains, are living an increasingly reactionary world, and they are without the means of understanding the reaction that befuddles and terrifies them. Christian intellectuals, Jacobs says, who were most prominent in the middle of the 20th century, could explain the reactionaries to the liberals. What?

No, really. What?

We have not seen any desire among political liberals—and Jacobs never clarifies what he means by that term until it’s too late—to have Donald Trump, for example, explained to them in Christian terms. Political liberals already know what they think of Trump and the voters that have propelled him to the Republican nomination. They don’t need Christian intellectuals to explain these trends. And that’s assuming that Christians could explain the broader trends. Even conservative Christians seem to be divided on Trump, with many Christians adopting an exhausted, “think of the Supreme Court” approach to Trump. Which is not exactly a robust approach to a new political movement, for what it’s worth. (And recalling Scalia’s Obergefell dissent, about which we have changed our mind in recent months, it is strange to imagine Christians voting for Trump in the hope that he’ll find another proceduralist to replace Scalia.) So, we wonder why Jacobs thinks that Christian intellectuals are necessary to interpret the Trump trend—or any of a whole host of trends—to centrists or leftists.

And Jacobs never really answers that question. Indeed, he quickly abandons the idea of the intellectual-as-interpreter. Instead, he seems to conceive of the Christian intellectual as someone who gives political liberals a religious explanation for things they were predisposed to believe. (Though why he thinks political liberals want a religious justification for things they already believe is, again, beyond us.) Jacobs explains:

Oldham’s Moot and Finkelstein’s Conference shared a pair of beliefs: that the West was suffering a kind of moral crisis, and that a religious interpretation of that crisis was required. The nature of the problem, the believing intellectuals agreed, was a kind of waffling uncertainty about core principles and foundational belief. Faced with ideological challenges from the totalitarian Axis powers and from the communist Soviet Union, democracy did not seem to know why it should be preferred to alternatives whose advocates celebrated them so passionately and reverently. What democracy needed was a metaphysical justification — or, at least, a set of metaphysically grounded reasons for preferring democracy to those great and terrifying rivals.

In was in this context — a democratic West seeking to understand why it was fighting and what it was fighting for — that the Christian intellectual arose. Before World War II there had been Christians who were also intellectuals, but not a whole class of people who understood themselves, and were often understood by others, to be watchmen observing the democratic social order and offering a distinctive interpretation of it. Mannheim, who was born Jewish but professed no religious belief, joined with these people because he saw them pursuing the genuine calling of the intellectual. Perhaps Mortimer Adler felt the same way: it would otherwise be difficult to explain why he, also a Jew by birth and also (at that time) without any explicit religious commitments, would think that the West could be saved only through careful attention to the thought of Thomas Aquinas.

(Emphasis supplied.) Whatever this process is, it is not explaining to political liberals the forces of reaction. Instead, it seems like a process of explaining to political liberals why the forces of reaction are not just wrong in the hic et nunc, but wrong in the only analysis that matters, the religious analysis. One doubts—we doubt, at any rate—whether such they need the help.

But who are these voices? W.H. Auden, Reinhold Niebuhr, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and a few others. In other words, for the most part, sort of high-church protestants from the middle of the 20th century. Auden died in 1973, Niebuhr in 1971, Lewis in 1963, and Eliot in 1965. On Twitter, Matthew Sitman, associate editor at Commonweal, makes the point that these men did most of their most important work in a short time, mostly in the context of actual war. We draw very different conclusions than Sitman, but his series of tweets is well worth reading. His most cogent point is that, by the 1950s, the men Jacobs discusses had moved on to more personal, perhaps less compelling, projects. (By way of example: Little Gidding appeared in 1942 and the collected Four Quartets appeared the United States in 1943. [They would appear in England in 1944.]) And he’s right. If you consider the Christian intellectual project as winning the peace by finding a religious justification for western liberal democracy—and that seems to be Jacobs’s definition—it lasted about 25 years in the middle of the 20th century (1945–1970). And by returning to this brief period—which is probably briefer than we say, since, as Sitman notes, Niebuhr’s last great book was published in the 1950s—Jacobs lays himself open to the charge of sentimentalism and nostalgia. And, we suppose, to high-church liberal protestants, there is much to lament with the passing of that moment in the public discourse.

Catholics might feel otherwise, since from October 1978 to April 2005, the Church was led by John Paul II, who was very much a Christian intellectual of a very different stripe than the ones Jacobs wants to talk about—recall Wojtyla’s corpus from Love and Responsibility to the Theology of the Body discourses to his major encyclicals as pope, whatever one makes of any particular contribution in that vein. The point is clear: the intellectual discourse in the Church, both about Christianity and how Christianity relates to a world hostile to it in many respects, especially moral, remained at a high level. But, Jacobs, for some reason, makes clear that the Christian intellectuals he admires so much did not necessarily include Catholic voices:

To be sure, in America the Fifties were a time of public emergence for many Catholic intellectuals, especially writers of fiction: J. F. Powers, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy. But these figures were almost assertively apolitical, and when Catholics did write politically, it was largely in order to emphasize the fundamental compatibility of Catholicism with what John Courtney Murray — a Jesuit theologian who was the most prominent Catholic public intellectual of that time — called “the American Proposition.” Murray was not wholly uncritical of the American social order, but his criticisms were framed with great delicacy: in a time of worldwide conflict, he wrote, “there is no element” of that proposition that escapes being “menaced by active negation, and no thrust of the project that does not meet powerful opposition.” Therefore, “America must be more clearly conscious of what it proposes, more articulate in proposing, more purposeful in the realization of the project proposed.” The American idea is in no sense mistaken, though Americans might need to be “more articulate” in stating and defending that idea. This Murray was willing to help us do, by explaining that the Catholic tradition of natural law was the very same principle that the Founding Fathers appealed to when they declared “that all men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” It is wholly unaccidental that Murray’s book We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition was published in 1960, when a Roman Catholic named John F. Kennedy was standing as the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is a strange point to make, though fundamentally correct: the Catholic intellectuals of the immediate postwar period spent a lot of energy trying to make American-style liberal democracy compatible with Catholicism. Yet, Jacobs seems to miss the deeper connections between that project and the sort of Christian intellectualism he would like to see restored to the public sphere.

Beginning with Pius IX, whose great Quanta cura and Syllabus Errorum condemned propositions that many red-blooded protestant Americans would have considered essential to American democracy—and continuing through Leo XIII’s great encyclicals on social affairs, including Testem benevolentiae nostrae, a warning about Americanism (narrowly defined) and Pius XI’s own, towering contributions to the social teaching of the Church—the good and holy popes of the modern age critiqued aspects of American-style democracy, while on the whole encouraging the American experiment. (Cf. Leo XIII, Encyclical on Catholicism in the United States Longinqua oceani, Jan. 6, 1895.) The upshot of all of this is that, for a Catholic adhering to these teachings, as a Catholic must, there are aspects of American-style democracy that were (and remain) questionable propositions at best. And this is where Jacobs misses his own professed point when discussing the Catholic intellectuals of the postwar period.

We said that Jacobs abandons his original thesis pretty early on, and this a good example of that. He says that Christian intellectuals are necessary to relate reactionary trends to liberal democrats. From an American perspective, few things are as reactionary as the Church’s pre-conciliar teaching on the proper relationship of Church and state, as well as religious freedom and toleration. (From a traditional Catholic perspective, they are far from reactionary and instead represent a deeper liberty, but that is a debate for another time.) Seen in that light, Murray represents a better example of the sort of intellectual that Jacobs wants: showing Catholics that American-style democracy was ultimately compatible with Catholic principles. And Murray was ultimately successful, since the Council’s declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis humanae, represents a partial victory for his thinking. (For an example of what he thought, see his 1964–65 article, “The Problem of Religious Freedom”, or this article from America.) Perhaps the direction is reversed—certainly Murray didn’t spend a lot of time explaining the Church’s historic position on indifferentism to liberal democrats—but the basic idea is the same, and it cannot be denied that Murray’s project was more concretely successful than simply giving liberal democrats a theological dimension for their preexisting belief in liberal democracy.

Jacobs’s weirdness on Catholicism doesn’t stop there, either. Jacobs turns to the life of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the tremendously influential publisher of First Things, to illustrate a point about the Christian intellectual’s reaction to the trends of the 1960s and 1970s. But again Jacobs draws a weird point. Jacobs’s point is this: Neuhaus, previously known for socially progressive politics, was shocked, as any thinking person was, by the horror of abortion loosed after Roe v. Wade in 1973. He hoped that the antiwar and civil-rights tendencies within American Christianity would join him in opposing abortion. That did not happen, and, in fact, Neuhaus lost his access to the mainstream media. So he went and started First Things, which Jacobs calls a “subaltern counterpublic,” which began arguing for mutual toleration through separatism. Maybe Jacobs’s narrative is right, but his perspective is one sided. To many traditionally minded Catholics, however, Neuhaus’s project is essentially a fusion of Catholics, evangelicals, and Jews to articulate, essentially, basic conservative politics. This project may have had its roots in the prolife movement—since horror at abortion was by no means confirmed to Catholics—but its scope is broader than that. It encompasses most of the major goals of the American political right. In other words, no less than John Courtney Murray, Richard John Neuhaus represents an attempt to make American politics compatible with Catholicism. Thus, it is not surprising that Jacobs misses Neuhaus’s greater significance.

How, then, does Jacobs fail to understand that, more than the liberal protestants he focuses on, Catholics have been performing, though perhaps in different ways, the role of the Christian intellectual? Indeed, even after the death of the men he mentions, there have been prominent Catholic intellectual figures, like Neuhaus, or Robert George or George Weigel or Rusty Reno or whoever,  who have performed the basic thing Jacobs wants to see. So why doesn’t he see it? The key to all of this, really, is this paragraph:

It was the Sixties that changed everything, and not primarily because of the Vietnam War or the cause of civil rights. There were many Christians on both sides of those divides. The primary conflict was over the sexual revolution and the changes in the American legal system that accompanied it: changes in divorce law, for instance, but especially in abortion law. (Many Christians supported and continue to support abortion rights, of course; but abortion is rarely if ever the central, faith-defining issue for them that it often is for those in the pro-life camp.) By the time these changes happened and Christian intellectuals found themselves suddenly outside the circles of power, no longer at the head table of liberalism, Christians had built up sufficient institutional stability and financial resourcefulness to be able to create their own subaltern counterpublics. And this temptation proved irresistible. As Marilynne Robinson has rightly said in reflecting on the agitation she can create by calling herself a Christian, “This is a gauge of the degree to which the right has colonized the word and also of the degree to which the center and left have capitulated, have surrendered the word and also the identity.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Ah. There it is. Jacobs is only interested in liberalism in the American political sense, not in the sense we more regularly see it used in Catholic circles. (Not as in, for example, liberalism is a heresy.)

And this is, we think, explains everything. On one hand, it explains the nostalgic tone. The Christian left in the United States is not an especially powerful force. Part of this has been the collapse of the mainline protestant denominations, and part of it has been the remarkably durable coalition of Catholics, evangelical protestants, and Jews on pro-life issues, which has translated into the substantial alignment of that coalition with the Republican Party. There has also been, at least from 1964 to the present, the rise of the organized political right in the United States, which has long included a strong religious element. One could probably plot all the trends on the same graph—presuming one could find statistics to represent the trends—and they’d line up pretty neatly. Jacobs, then, is nostalgic for a time when Christians on the political left had popular prestige and widespread influence, neither of which do they have in any quantity today.

On the other hand, it explains the weirdness about Catholicism, which has never lined up neatly on either side of the American political spectrum, though in recent years Christ’s Church has found herself on the right more often than the left. Certainly some of that shift can be attributed to John Paul’s general direction, especially on moral questions. But even during the Cold War years—which are, it seems, Jacobs’s preoccupation—the Church was engaged in various projects, such as the Second Vatican Council and the major reforms following the Council, that only incidentally lined up with the interests of the American political left. (One wonders, and we suppose that a historian would have the answer, what effect “Seamless Garment” ideology propounded by John Cardinal Dearden and others had on the American left more broadly; it always seemed like an attempt to import conventional leftism into the Church, not the other way around.) It makes sense, therefore, that Jacobs has strange notions about what was happening in American Catholicism, to say nothing of an apparent desire to minimize its importance, since what was happening was, as we say, only incidentally related to what Jacobs is talking about.

In all of this, Jacobs never answers the question we started with: why do political liberals want or, indeed, need Christian intellectuals to explain these trends to them? Especially since Jacobs’s idea of the Christian intellectual does not include voices—mostly Catholic—who might be able to explain the sense of loss and alienation from the culture that Trump voters allegedly feel. Jacobs seems to want liberal protestants around to comment on these trends. But he does not consider that the insights—or lack thereof—of liberal protestants might explain in part why there aren’t too many liberal protestants around any more.

EDIT: After publishing this piece, we noted a few mistakes that we did not want to leave in this piece. We have gone back and cleaned them up, but we have not changed the substance of this essay. – pjs

Further interesting developments in the SSPX situation

We admit, at the outset, that, perhaps, “developments” isn’t the right word.

From the Society’s standpoint, one probably ought to assume that SSPX situation is where Bishop Fellay left it in his communiqué regarding negotiations with the Holy See (obliquely) and his communiqué to the members of the SSPX. That is, the Society will continue to do business as it has done business for some time, waiting, in its words, for the restoration of Tradition. Easy enough. That said, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei and the Vatican’s point man on negotiations with the SSPX, has given an interesting interview to Die Zeit‘s Christ & Welt section. Dr. Maike Hickson at One Peter Five has translated portions of the interview. Some coverage has been given to Pozzo’s suggestion that the canonical structure of a personal prelature (e.g., Opus Dei) has been offered to the SSPX, and Fellay has accepted. However, we’re inclined to leave that to one side, not least since there does not appear to be any confirmation from the Society that that is the case. Indeed, the public statements on the matter appear to be quite otherwise. (More on this in a minute.)

It is good, however, that there has been more, and more serious, coverage of some of Archbishop Pozzo’s statements about the Second Vatican Council. And it is perhaps proper to speak of “developments” primarily with respect to Pozzo’s statements, though we recall that these statements are not the first statements that Pozzo has made regarding the Council. In this latest interview, Pozzo continues to articulate a vision of Nostra aetate, Unitatis redintegratio, and Dignitatis humanae that seeks to assign them their proper magisterial weight, but no more than their proper weight, particularly in contrast to Lumen gentium and the Nota explicativa praevia.

In particular, Archbishop Pozzo characterizes Nostra aetate, Unitatis redintegratio, and Dignitatis humanae as essentially pastoral documents, which do not contain binding dogmatic or doctrinal declarations. Indeed, Pozzo notes (or suggests) that an erroneous interpretation of Nostra aetate has indeed sprung up, which had to be corrected in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Declaration Dominus Iesus. Father John Hunwicke has caught on to this last bit, and observed that the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in its fiftieth anniversary “reflection” on Nostra aetate, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”, has itself acknowledged that there are frequent over-interpretations of Nostra aetate. (Though the Commission immediately cites John Paul’s address in Mainz in support of the interpretation that was not supported by Nostra aetate.) This is, we think, a good development, in line with Benedict’s project of the hermeneutic of continuity, though perhaps a little stronger than that project.

Of course, Archbishop Pozzo seeks to emphasize that his interpretation of the Second Vatican Council was well supported from the beginning, by noting a statement by Pericle Cardinal Felici, general secretary of the Council, that only those pronouncements explicitly declared to be binding were binding. We note, as a brief parenthesis following up on our comment on Timothy Wilson’s translation of Cardinal Bacci’s intervention, that it would be helpful if the faithful had ready access to the volume of the Acta Synodalia covering November 16, 1964, when Cardinal Felici made his statement, and November 18, 1964, when the secretary of the commission for the Unity of Christians made a similar statement about Nostra aetate. We could, then, read the statements, make our own judgments, and discuss them. But, closing the parenthesis, one wonders why Pozzo hastens to tie his interpretation to the proceedings of the Council if he does not know that, over the last fifty years, the conciliar declarations and decrees have been given nearly dogmatic weight, without serious resistance from the Roman authorities. Thus, one may speak of an implicit admission that the prevailing popular interpretation of the conciliar documents has been mostly wrong this whole time. (And the Society’s mostly right, by the same token.)

Returning to the question of a personal prelature and whether or not Bishop Fellay has already made a deal, the details of which are simply being hammered out, we observe that the Roman authorities’ position is proceeding to a place where one needs to ask if a deal is even necessary. As author and lawyer Chris Ferrara points out in the comments at One Peter Five (we’re not so clever as to think of all this ourselves), when Benedict XVI remitted the excommunications of Fellay and the other Écône bishops, he was at pains to note that the problems between the SSPX and Rome were essentially doctrinal. Indeed, Ferrara notes that Benedict stated that the Society did not possess a canonical status for doctrinal reasons, though he did not really articulate what the doctrinal roadblocks were. (One could assume that they had to do with the Council, however.) However, Archbishop Pozzo argues now that the most vexing documents with respect to the SSPX situation—documents that have been problematic from the outset of the case, if you’ll recall, for example, Archbishop Lefebvre’s unanswered dubia regarding Dignitatis humanae—are not really binding or not really doctrinal or whatever he intends to argue. The upshot of Ferrara’s argument is clear: Benedict said the problem was doctrinal, but Pozzo now says that there really is not a doctrinal problem. Based upon the evidence available—Benedict’s letter and Pozzo’s interview(s)—we find Ferrara’s position fairly compelling.

So, then, what is the problem? Is there even a problem—other than that some high prelates don’t like the Society all that much?

 

Cardinal Bacci on the vernacular

We have remarked before that one of the major problems that confronts Catholics who want to know more about the Second Vatican Council is the relative unavailability of crucial documents. Certainly, the conciliar constitutions, decrees, and declarations are all freely available on the internet in many modern languages. But the working documents for the Council remain hidden away in obscure volumes, usually in Latin. Most important among these documents are the Acta Synodalia—the floor debates, as it were, of the Council. Matthew Hazell has been making digital copies of the Latin Acta available, slowly; however, for those without Latin, that is not a huge improvement.

Translator Timothy Wilson, however, has made an important contribution to the discussion by translating Antonio Cardinal Bacci’s October 24, 1962 intervention, De lingua latina in sacra Liturgia, into English. The introduction to the translation, which is published at Rorate Caeli, reminds the reader that Cardinal Bacci was one of the sponsors of the Short Critical Study on the New Order of Mass—the so-called Ottaviani Intervention. (The Dominican Guérard des Lauriers—who advised Pius XII on the dogma of the Assumption and who would himself become the subject of some controversy in time—was one of the key authors of the Short Critical Study, in point of fact.) Somewhat strangely, the introduction omits to mention that Cardinal Bacci was one of the preeminent Latinists in the Church when he gave his address to the Council, having served nearly thirty years as the secretary for briefs to princes in the Curia, which meant that, under Pius XI, Pius XII, and John XXIII, Bacci was responsible for the Latin text of the more solemn papal documents and statements. At any rate, Wilson’s translation gives us a window into the thinking of an influential Latinist, recognizing, in large part, the harms that would befall the Mass once the vernacular was introduced into it.

Read the whole thing there.

Some background on “Vultum Dei quaerere”

We wrote a couple of days ago about Vultum Dei quaerere, the Holy Father’s new apostolic constitution addressing female contemplative life. We remarked that, frankly, the document was a little mysterious to us; it seemed very specific, but ultimately obscure in its specificity. Ann Carey, at the National Catholic Register, has answered some of our questions with a lengthy, detailed background piece. Carey’s sources present Vultum Dei as a necessary update to Pius XII’s 1950 apostolic constitution Sponsa Christi, addressing particular concerns that have cropped up among cloistered religious since then:

For example, formation was a topic stressed by Pope Francis in the new document, and Sister Gabriela noted that formation had been “a major concern” that religious voiced to the CICSAL in response to the questionnaire.

“Contemplative life is so special and so demanding that it demands good formation specific to the life,” she said.

The prayer and liturgical life of the nuns also was stressed in the document, and this is related to formation as well.

“Our life will depend on our spirituality,” she said, “and the depth of our spirituality determines how well we are going to live our vocation. Cloistered life doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have a deep prayer life. It’s our relationship to Our Lord that makes the life, that demands the enclosure.”

Sister Gabriela explained that this need for good formation, plus the difficulty for modern young people to make a commitment and trust authority, no doubt prompted a change in which the Pope raised the required number of years in formation before final vows from a minimum of six years to nine years.

(Emphasis supplied.)

We still have some questions about Vultum Dei quaerere, but Carey’s informative piece has cleared up some of the mystery. Read the whole thing.

A comment on deaconesses

The Holy Father, following up on a promise he made in a Q&A to some nuns or some such, established a commission to study the question of deaconesses or women deacons, particularly the role of deaconesses in the early Church. Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is the president of the commission, and its members are frankly a mixed bag. For example, American Professor Phyllis Zagano has been appointed to the commission, and she has been a longtime advocate for ordination of women as deacons. However, other members are allegedly somewhat more traditional in their mindset.

The argument—which can be seen at some length in the 2002 International Theological Commission study of the diaconate—is that there were deaconesses in the early (i.e., patristic-era) Church, though there remains some question about the nature of their ordination and their duties. Thus, the argument goes, notwithstanding Ordinatio sacerdotalis, the Church can return to the practice of the early Church by blessing or ordaining women to serve as deacons. Of course, in Mediator Dei, Pius XII warned us about the archaizing mindset—an “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism”—so often adopted by progressives in the Church:

The same reasoning holds in the case of some persons who are bent on the restoration of all the ancient rites and ceremonies indiscriminately. The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.

Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.

Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.

(Emphasis supplied and paragraph numbers omitted.) Of course, Good Pope Pius’s argument, despite its evident authority, has not uniformly carried the day in the Church, especially since dear Archbishop Bugnini and his industrious Consilium relied on its understanding (or, occasionally, as in the case of Eucharistic Prayer 2, what it claimed as its understanding) of the antiquities of the Church to justify so many of its most egregious quote-unquote reforms. Indeed, since 1947 there has hardly been an enormity or outrage propounded by the progressives in the Church, many of whom so obviously yearn to make of the Church an ecclesial community as vibrant as the Anglicans and liberal Lutherans, that is not justified by some or other practice of the early Church.

All that having been said, we wish to contribute in a small way to the discussion by rescuing the meat of a lengthy post we had written once commenting and expanding upon a series of fascinating posts by Fr. John Hunwicke about the true nature of the diaconate. The thrust of the post was that Amalarius of Metz (Liber officialis 2.12), citing a letter of St. Jerome to Evangelus (No. 146, PL 22:1192), points out that the Levites of the Old Testament were the forerunners of the deacons of the New Testament. Amalarius then goes through the Book of Numbers at some length to outline what the duties of the Levites were, coming finally to the point that the deacons of the Church of the New Testament are responsible first for guarding, bringing, and arranging the vessels to be used on the altar during the Mass. Amalarius even views the evidence of Acts 6 as evidence that the diaconate was constituted primarily for service at the altar. Of course, there are other roles of the deacon, such as the reading of the Gospels and service as a servant in the Church, but Amalarius, citing the earlier evidence of Jerome, focuses on the deacon as a liturgical assistant to the bishop and the presbyter. St. Jerome, of course, lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, and Amalarius in the eighth and ninth. Thus, if we are being exaggerated, senseless antiquarians, we ought to be consistently so and consider their evidence, too. If we wanted to be especially polemical we would ask whether there were female Levites and whether tradition is also a means of revelation, leading you inexorably to a certain conclusion.

Once upon a time, if we wanted to be especially polemical, we would have remarked about the unity of the orders of bishop, presbyter, and deacon, but, as we learned to no small chagrin and even mild horror today, among the canon law changes implemented by Benedict XVI’s Omnium in mentem was a change to canon 1008 severing, to a greater or lesser extent, the diaconate from the episcopate and presbyterate, implying strongly that deacons do not act in the person of Christ the Head. (What precisely the deacon does when he proclaims the Gospel, thus, is somewhat mysterious to us.) Therefore, we will refrain from discoursing upon that subject, though with perhaps a haunted look over our shoulder to the older tradition of the Church.

And we have no wish to be hugely polemical on this subject—in part because others will play that part better than we could, in part because every time questions have been asked under the Holy Father, the discussion always seems to tend, as if by magic, to a particular conclusion—only to point out some interesting resources that might inform you, dear reader, as you grapple with these changes. Also, we did not want to lose forever our work with the resources of Jerome and Amalarius on the question of deacons. We are not without our vanity, it seems.