I feel great and I support the nation-state

Yoram Hazony’s Edmund Burke Foundation has just sponsored the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C. Broadly, it was a collection of conservative thinkers who are more or less disillusioned with the liberal order. There were some interesting-seeming speakers (Tucker Carlson, Sen. Josh Hawley, Michael Anton, Patrick Deneen) and some much less interesting speakers (Rich Lowry, Richard Reinsch, Rusty Reno) and one appalling speaker (“Amb.” John Bolton). On the whole, it appeared to be a very mixed bag. This sense was confirmed by the Twitter coverage of some of the addresses.

For our part, the conference and the coverage has prompted some thoughts about nationalism or national conservatism or whatever one wants to call it. Broadly we are simply suspicious of the movement. For one thing, Brent Bozell’s Letter to Yourselves and Jean Danielou’s Prayer as a Political Problem seem to be more compelling visions of Christian politics than anything on offer at this conference. Bozell’s clarion cry cannot be repeated too often: “The public life is supposed to help a man be a Christian. It is supposed to help him enter the City of God, and meanwhile it is sup­posed to help him live tolerably, even happily, in the City of Man.” How a revived nationalism or national conservatism or whatever one wants to call this idea (if it be an idea) fits into this vision is a little foggy to us.

For another thing, there is room for some really serious thought about “the nation” in Catholicism. One can cite Aquinas on piety toward one’s country (ST II-II q.101 a.1 co.) or Pius XII’s Summi Pontificatus or whatever, but it seems to us that there is still room for coherent thought about the modern nation-state in a Catholic context. Not least since the modern nation-state emerged, in many instances, as a part of liberal opposition to Catholic rule. By no means do we claim to have a coherent idea, other than the sense that it would be good if someone engaged in such thought, taking into account not only Aquinas and the medieval examples but also the recent developments under Pius XI and Pius XII. Perhaps someone is doing that kind of thought, though we are far from clear that it was on offer.

In the meantime, turning back to the question of Hazony’s national conservatism conference, we cannot stop thinking about what Dr. William Marshner, writing in Triumph in early 1976, said:

If you assert the existence of a national spirit that gets into the blood and unfolds itself in the whole life of a people, then you cannot arbitrarily lop off vast cultural complexes (TV, movies, books) plus the whole articulate stratum of society (academics, writers, artists) plus the whole dominant class (liberal establishment) plus the great urban centers and call them all “not the real America”

Marshner is responding to a critic of Triumph at National Review—there was, as you no doubt know by now, a long-running feud between Triumph and National Review—but his point has broader resonance. It’s a really difficult point to answer, in fact. One can point to globalists and neoliberal capitalists, loyal to their class above their country, of no fixed abode despite owning multimillion-dollar apartments in New York, London, and Paris, and suggest that these people are alien to the American spirit. But this doesn’t actually answer Marshner’s point, so much as restate the objection to which he is responding.

Marshner provides the answer, though, to the conundrum:

Well, I’ll take money that throughout F.’s argument the talk about “America” is a front. I suspect it has very little to do with the (extramental) country, the people, the ideal or the national Geist. I suspect that F. is as dubious about the world-historical credentials of the real America — the country that tipped the scales against civilization in World War I and has muffed and squandered great-power hegemony since World War II — as I am. I suspect, therefore, that “America” in his text is a stand-in, and that what it stands in for is “the Conservative Movement.”

The answer is a sort of identification between the conservative movement and America the Nation. We suspect that precisely the same sort of thing is going on with the national conservatism moment today. Perhaps it is not a wholesale transformation of movement conservatism into America, but it certainly seems as though aspects of movement conservatism are attempting to put on a little nationalist shine.

Consider how Marshner reached his conclusion in this case:

Think about it: 1) this is the Movement which, if NR defines, Triumph has deserted. In fact, Triumph was never in it, but the fact was not clear to many people until “Letter to Yourselves.” 2) This is the Movement whose gloss on “Duty, Honor, Country” might indeed create problems for a serious Catholic. In fact, in the case of abortion and Countervalue, it already has. 3) This is the Movement, and the only movement, that explicitly excludes all the things F. says are not America from itself and from its constituency. And let me add 4): this is the Movement that claims, in a sense, to be America. It is, simultaneously, the remnant of the patriots, the champion of liberty (hence guardian of the national raison d’être), the true exponent of the Constitution (hence keeper of the national myth).

The logic here is pretty clear. And it seems to be pretty clear in the case of at least some national conservatives. They certainly exclude some things putatively “not America” and claim to represent a Real America. (This of course goes for any number of nationalist types around the world, lest anyone think we’re picking on the national conservatives.)

But it is still difficult to see an answer to Marshner’s original point: how do you exclude the cultural, political, and capital classes from the Real America and contend that there is some national spirit that animates everyone else? Clearly it does not animate everyone else, otherwise the cultural, political, and capital classes would not have been able to achieve their dominance. Unless, as Marshner suggests, what one means when one talks about the Real America is the faction consisting of the members of this or that political tendency. Consequently, there is considerable cause for caution with respect to the national conservative movement.

Marshner went on to point out at length that the movement conservatives did not care very much whether their beliefs were condemned by Pius IX and Leo XIII, who (infallibly, as we never tire of noting) condemned liberalism at great length during their glorious pontificates. And this seems to us to be the fundamental criterion when considering Catholic engagement with any political tendency: is this consistent with the teachings of the Church? There is room for legitimate disagreement about prudential solutions to purely political problems, but there is no room for contradiction of the Church’s teachings in the context of such solutions. And this seems to us to be a serious problem with this new project.

Recall the brief line up we mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Consider individuals like John Bolton, who were keynote speakers at the conference. Is there any doubt that Bolton is simply trying to find some contemporary packaging for the disastrous ideas he has been flogging forever, leading to innumerable human and fiscal catastrophes for the Republic? Consider the ambassadors from National Review at the conference: is there any doubt that, having put out a special issue “Against Trump,” they’re trying to stay current with donors and subscribers, lest their bottom line suffer? Consider Rusty Reno, from First Things: is there any doubt that he is selling what he is always selling, insofar as anyone knows what it is? It is simply true that these people are trying to identify their factions of movement conservatism with the Real America—or simply trying to put new drapes on their very 1980s house.

How many of these speakers are all that interested in conforming to the teachings of the Church of Rome? Even more to the point: how many of these speakers are especially interested in ordering public life in such a way as to make it easier for everyone—especially the poor—to be Christians, to enjoy temporal happiness, and to continue on their way to our heavenly homeland?

Report from the front lines: “The Lamp”

Surely you’ve heard the news by now: Matthew Walther and William Borman are putting together a magazine. They’re calling it The Lamp. Have you heard that they raised over $15,000 in about two days toward the project? (We, of course, contributed as soon as we could.) This is hugely exciting news. Walther’s journalism has appeared everywhere—or almost everywhere—and he is one of the most distinctive voices working today. If you didn’t follow his brilliant columns at the Washington Free Beacon during the 2016 election, you missed a great treat. He has since taken his talents to The Week, and runs a column well worth your attention just about daily. He’s also an expert in about a dozen other topics—ranging from the 1970s recordings of Herbert von Karajan to Dale Earnhardt, Sr.’s Winston Cup history—all of which are hugely interesting.

As for William Borman, you know him even if you don’t know you do. He is described as “a former consultant who now works in insurance,” which is a little like calling Wallace Stevens “in-house counsel.” He runs Incudi Reddere. He has done serious research into Brent Bozell and the output of Triumph. He has also helped popularize (anew) Ernst Kantorowicz’s brilliant Frederick the Second. Frankly, we have asked ourselves why a Catholic (or generally conservative) publishing house hasn’t picked him up and given him responsibility for a reprint series. He is one of these guys who drives the all-important discourse. If you want to know what conservative take workers will be talking about in six months, ask Borman what he’s working on right now.

We are not surprised that Walther and Borman have raised over three-quarters of their initial fundraising goal in a little more than a day. We could sneer a little and be mildly uncharitable and talk about First Thingsshift from integralism to tedious Hazony-style nationalism in recent months. We could sneer a little more and be a little less charitable and note that the U.S. edition of the Catholic Herald, which sashayed onto the scene with a champagne lunch at the Knickerbocker Club, has seen its founding editor (Michael Warren Davis) step down from that role and its U.S. CEO (a fellow named Wargas) resign—to say nothing of Damian Thompson’s dramatic resignation as editor-in-chief. But such sneering would be a little obtuse, not least since Walther and Borman are after bigger game than Nationalism Lite (All The Flavor, Half The Calories!) or Lifestyles of the Rich and Catholic.

In Walther and Borman’s words, they want “a magazine in the old-fashioned sense, witty, urbane, not pompous or shrill, full of serious reporting, insightful opinions, squibs, oblique parodies, bagatelles, and arts coverage that draws attention to those things that are true, good, and beautiful.” This does not mean a wholly secular project, though. They go on to say, “We are attempting something at once radical and blinkeringly, even painfully, obvious: to approach questions of public import as if what the Church has consistently taught were actually true.” Wouldn’t this be lovely? A real magazine in the grand style, informed by the good old Catholic faith.

In a broad sense, Catholic ideas are winning, even if people do not recognize them as Catholic ideas. Moreover, integralist ideas are gaining attention if not traction exactly. We have previously talked about the need for developments in terms of political thought; that is, serious policy discussions among integralists. And we were right to do so. But there is more to life than politics. And, as Cardinal Danielou argues in Prayer as a Political Problem, Christians ought to order everything toward the goal of reaching our heavenly homeland. Conceiving of the Christian life in these terms cannot but emphasize the importance of Walther and Borman’s project.

Moreover, and this barely bears noting, there is so much garbage out there. Once-venerable publications have reached new lows in their quest to prove that President Donald Trump is an existential threat to the Republic. Or they have reached new lows trying to impress various leftist extremists pushing agendas that would be ridiculous—but for the brutal enforcement of those agendas by capital and cultural institutions. Or they have reached new lows by cutting pay to writers and cutting editorial staff. We could go on, but you take our point. Walther and Borman have made it clear that they are committed not only to producing quality journalism but also to paying their writers a fair wage for their work. This deserves support.

Of course, there have been a lot of new and renewed projects in recent years, some of which have made big splashes. (The young Ivy League Christians even turned Fare Forward into a real-deal print publication.) But we think The Lamp is different. For one thing, we actually want to read something put together by Walther and Borman. Doesn’t matter what. They could put together a Highlights from the Manhattan Telephone Directory and we would still want to give it a once-over (everyone be talking about it in a few months). For another thing, Walther and Borman seem to have a real plan for sustainable growth. To that end, we urge you to check out their “GoFundMe,” read their first email newsletter, and pray for their success.

Postscript: We have been reliably informed that Fare Forward started out as a print publication. We do not especially regret the error, not least since we remember only the big re-rollout a year or so(?) back. 

The brick through the window

At Public Discourse, the Witherspoon Institute’s online journal of anti-integralist thought, Hillsdale professor Korey Maas warns that, “[i]nsofar as prominent and influential Catholics insist that Catholicism is fundamentally incompatible with the liberal tradition, liberals will feel increasingly justified in reaching the same conclusion.” He goes on to say, “[a]ttempts to convince fellow Catholics that the ‘teaching of the Catholic Church, always and everywhere,’ idealizes the confessional state and sanctions religious coercion will inevitably convince many non-Catholics, liberal and otherwise, that this is indeed the case.” However, Maas’s argument has more to do, we think, with silencing integralists and other Catholics not committed to the Catholic liberalism of the late 20th century than with warning of any impending doom.

This is unfortunate. Instead of coming up with silly arguments for why integralism is dangerous or whatever, liberals like Maas really ought to be doing what illiberal Catholics have been doing: rediscovering their own tradition. And they should cast their gaze on more than the tradition of the United States. The fusion between Catholic liberalism and American conservatism has permanently damaged Catholic liberalism, especially as American conservatism has failed to deliver on its promises. For reasons we will get into in a moment, Maas probably does not care all that much about specifically Catholic liberalism, but that’s neither here nor there. Focusing on policing integralist (or, more broadly, illiberal) rhetoric does not create a compelling case for liberalism. If anything, it reveals that the case for integralism is more compelling than any actually existing case for liberalism.

Maas’s argument goes like this. In the 19th century, America was deeply anti-Catholic. We see today flashes of that old anti-Catholicism in the treatment afforded to Donald Trump’s judicial nominees Amy Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. Maas contends that the Church blunted some of that old anti-Catholicism by the Second Vatican Council’s openness to liberalism. This is a sort of skewed view, since there were openings to the postwar liberal-democratic order under Pope Pius XII. But to tell that story would be to take some of the focus away from the United States. At any rate, Maas thinks that the Church’s apparent turn toward liberalism—exemplified by John F. Kennedy’s statements during the 1960 presidential campaign—is what made the proud American tradition of anti-Catholicism seem silly.

After the story of anti-Catholicism, we get the customary parade of horribles. A fellow named Philip Primeau was very 19th century when discussing Jacob Rees-Mogg’s denunciation of any scrutiny of one’s religious views. Maas is aghast that Primeau thinks Rees-Mogg should have stood his ground on truth. Maas is also disturbed that Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen has been so gauche to suggest that actually existing American liberalism may in fact be incompatible with orthodox Catholicism. Naturally, there is the stale lament about how First Things got radical for about two minutes. (Why Ryan T. Anderson, editor-in-chief of Public Discourse, has run so many pieces about First Things is a bit baffling, isn’t it?) Maas mentions, among other things, Fr. Romanus Cessario’s piece on the Mortara affair. He graciously declines to mention that R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, disavowed the piece subsequently. He also wrote at least one or two self-flagellating apologies before he disavowed it. No doubt Dr. Maas wanted to spare Reno from any further pain, though it would have been altogether more honest—even if less delicate—to have said that the Mortara exchange marked the end of First Things‘ flirtation with integralism.

We should be, once again, clear that the Church is fundamentally anti-liberal in its doctrine, no matter how unpleasant this may be to those committed to some flavor of liberalism. Maas cites Semiduplex for the proposition that the teachings of Quanta cura and Syllabus are infallible and irreformable, including the 77th, 78th, 79th, and 80th condemnations of Syllabus. Why he didn’t simply cite John Joy’s brilliant essays is beyond us. But behind John Joy stands the great canonist F.X. Wernz, among others, who argue for the infallibility not only of Pius IX’s teachings but also Leo XIII’s explanations of those teachings. One can also read John Henry Newman’s great anti-liberal writings if one needs a literary and philosophical expansion of the Church’s anti-liberalism. Whether or not this is politic, it is true.

A young Catholic writer and friend is fond of saying that every disagreement about tone (or, we might expand his saying, rhetoric) hides a substantive disagreement. And it is clear, given what we believe to be the clear theological notes of the anti-liberal and integralist teachings of Pius IX and Leo XIII, that Maas’s argument, superficially about the danger of illiberal rhetoric, hides a substantive disagreement. Maas clearly does not believe that the teachings of Pius IX and Leo XIII are infallible and irreformable. Indeed, based on a quick Twitter search, it appears that Maas may be some sort of protestant, maybe even a Lutheran. It would surprise us very much, then, if a Lutheran (or any other protestant, for that matter) believed that these—or any other—teachings were infallible and irreformable. One imagines that the only Catholicism pleasing to Maas is a Catholicism that looks basically the same as Lutheranism or whatever. It would also be altogether more honest just to say that and leave it there.

But of course Maas doesn’t. He does, however, eventually come to his punchline: the rising tide of Catholic illiberalism might be taken seriously by liberals. Maas warns, “[t]he ‘last acceptable prejudice,’ instead of an irrational prejudgment, will increasingly be deemed a warranted conviction based on the rational arguments put forward by Catholic intellectuals themselves.” The old anti-Catholicism, flaring up in the Barrett and Kavanaugh hearings, will take root because the liberals will once again see Catholicism as an enemy. We hate to be so blunt, but this is just about the dumbest thing we could imagine. There is also a sort of sinister note to it, isn’t there? The protestant Korey Maas warning Catholics that if they do not do something about the integralists, there will be trouble. A brick through the window in the dead of night or a mural depicting the heroic Orangemen would be more effective, we suppose, but folks do the best they can.

At any rate, Maas cannot really mean that because of some debates among Catholic professors, writers, and WordPress bloggers, liberals will suddenly realize that Church is doctrinally opposed to liberalism. We are flattered by the idea that Dianne Feinstein and Mazie Hirono read Semiduplex and decided to keep our influence out of the federal judiciary. But we are not so silly as to believe that that’s true. Democrats gave Barrett and Kavanaugh a rough time because Democrats achieved a bunch of policy victories in the federal courts—e.g., Roe, Casey, Windsor, Obergefell—and they are not interested in Donald Trump’s judicial nominees taking them away. Stare decisis is, after all, not in the Constitution. What Harry Blackmun and Anthony Kennedy gave, John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch can take away. That’s what the fight over Trump’s judicial nominees is about, not Quanta cura and the confessional state.

Moreover, it is clear that Catholicism is fundamentally incompatible with the trajectory of modern liberalism, not because Catholicism holds that the confessional state is the ideal or that heretics may be punished by the state, but because modern liberalism is fast going off the rails. Media outlets across the political spectrum report daily of cases where deviation from left-liberal consensus is punished severely. College campuses are unrecognizable, with even once-radical figures like Camille Paglia being shouted down for their problematic views. Major corporations are following the money and implementing the left-liberal consensus in various ways. The Masterpiece Cakeshop case shows that left-liberal activists are willing to weaponize state institutions, like the Colorado civil rights commission, in order to coerce individuals into accepting the views of others. Maas may not realize it, but prominent Catholic thinkers like Patrick Deneen and Adrian Vermeule devote a fair bit of time to discussing these trends, too.

In contrast, the spirit of the Second Vatican Council is hopelessly reactionary. Maas might not know this, but even Catholic liberals cannot accept same-sex “marriage” or abortion. (Even Fr. James Martin, SJ, one of the loudest pro-gay voices in the Church today, is a regular, staunch defender of the unborn on social media.) There are no signs that Pope Francis, regularly accused by friend and foe of reinvigorating the spirit of the Council after the perceived setbacks of 1978-2013, intends on retreating in any meaningful way from the Church’s positions on those issues. He also gives few signs of willingness to retreat on the question of women’s ordination—though after the interventions of Paul VI and John Paul II, it is clear that he could not change the Church’s teaching on that, even if he wanted to. Any one of these positions, which are held even by liberals like those at Public Discourse, would be enough to get the Church “canceled” as the kids say. To hold all three? Unforgivable.

And it is simply not clear that defending liberal toleration will achieve even tactical objectives in the current climate. For one thing, the people who are loudest about problematic views on college campuses, on social media, and in various boycott campaigns are simply not all that liberal. They themselves do not recognize a meaningful “right” to profess unacceptable opinions. Indeed, as Professor Paglia recently discovered at the University of the Arts, these unacceptable positions are seen as actual violence. We are simply unconvinced that pleas for liberal toleration will have much success with people who view one’s opinions as actual violence. The anti-Catholicism Maas professes to be worried about is already here, whether it is overt or not, and it is based on issues entirely unrelated to the confessional state and the use of state power to coerce heretics. Just ask the Pennsylvania state legislator who harassed teenagers praying outside a Planned Parenthood. Dollars to donuts, he wouldn’t know integralism from a load of coal.

However, the specter of coming anti-Catholicism is rhetorically useful for Maas. The implicit point of his article is: if things get bad, it will be the integralists’ fault. From here it is only a short step to arguing that integralists must be silenced before they make things get bad. In a sense, Maas’s essay concedes the wild success of integralism in the terms that actually matter (i.e., doctrinal and forensic), and mounts a last-ditch defense by ginning up the specter of anti-Catholicism as a response to Catholic illiberalism. Sure, he cites some of his fellow Public Discourse authors like Robert T. Miller, who have argued gamely and wrongly that integralism does not have the theological note that the integralists think it does. But these pieces have not been all that successful, for a variety of reasons ranging from “They’re not right” to “They’re boring.” There is no sense waiting for the liberals to mass and make a compelling counterattack. Instead, Maas makes the only play available: he retreats to warning about the inherent danger of illiberal Catholicism.

This is a pity! For our part, we believe that the only way liberalism is going to make a comeback among Catholic thinkers is by abandoning the tedious connection with American conservative politics. Instead, it is necessary to argue for the sort of postwar Christian democracy that formed the core of the European project. To be sure, it went wrong like American liberalism. It is awfully hard to see the ideals of the heady days of the 1950s and 1960s in the micromanaging Brussels bureaucracy or the smug condescension of contemporary European leaders like Guy Verhofstadt. Nevertheless, it is in the Christian-democratic project that liberalism’s best hope lays. This will no doubt be a grief to Catholic liberals who have long seen Catholicism and American conservatism as two peas in a pod, but they will be more grieved by far if they continue to see liberalism slide into irrelevance.

Recordings of Harvard conference now available

Back on March 2 and 3, the Thomistic Institute held a conference at Harvard University on “Christianity and Liberalism.” We were unable to attend, though we know quite a few people who did. However, as you may remember, March 2 and 3 were bad days to be in Boston with a windstorm battering the northeast. Thus even people who planned to attend met with great difficulty in getting to Boston. Recordings of the conference are now, we are told, available on the Thomistic Institute’s Soundcloud page. (The page is a goldmine for anyone with an interest in Catholic thought, with many interesting lectures recorded and freely available.) One may now catch up on what we are reliably told was one of the most exciting events in a long time.

The wedding of Charles Stuart

Gerardus Maiella, of the wonderful blog Lumen Scholasticum, presents a translation of an excerpt of Lambertini’s De synodo diocesano on communicatio in sacris. Lambertini, better known as Benedict XIV, was, among other things, one of the great lawyers and canonists in the history of the Church. Of course, since 1965, the doctrine on communicatio in sacris has gotten very muddy indeed. It is, then, an excellent tonic to see the traditional doctrine—particularly the historical condemnations of communicatio, going back all the way to the Apostles themselves—presented by one of its finest exponents. And we encourage you to read the whole thing. However, we wanted to call your attention to Lambertini’s account of the wedding of Charles Stuart, the protestant king of England, to Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of Henry IV and a devout, unapologetic Catholic.

In the Ecclesiastic Collations of Paris, De matrimonio, tom. 3, lib. I, coll. 2, coll. 2, §5, there is found a rite, with which nuptials were celebrated between Henrietta, Princess of the Royal blood of the French, and Charles I, King of Great Britain, to whom Pope Urban VIII had for that end granted an Apostolic dispensation: which nuptials are described also in the History, or Commentary, whose title is Mercurius Gallicus, tom. 2, p. 359. And so they relate that the matrimony between the aforementioned Catholic Princess, and the Proxy of the heretic King, was contracted outside of a Church, at the threshold of the Metropolitan Church of Paris, before the grand Almoner Cardinal La Rochefoucauld, from whom there was yet no nuptial blessing given: from there, the Proxy of the British King led the new wife up to the entrance to the Choir: but there Mass was celebrated by the aforesaid Cardinal in solemn rite, the King and Queen of France present, and the new Queen of Great Britain, and the whole Royal Family: but the aforementioned Proxy of the English King, although he was himself a Catholic, yet since he stood in place of a Prince devoted to the Anglican sect, went for the meantime to the Palace of the Archbishop nearby, until the Mass was finished—which finally having been completed, he acceded to lead the Queen from the Church.

Imagine today such care being taken to avoid even the appearance of communicatio in sacris in the context of a mixed marriage. Indeed, imagine today such care being taken on any mixed marriage.

The call is coming from inside the option

Rod Dreher has decided that none of the critics of The Benedict Option have understood him.  Either they are reading things into the book that he did not put there or they are working out obscure personal grievances. This is, of course, a risible assertion, not least since Dreher has written (and written and written and written) about the Benedict Option over the past several years. It is also in keeping with Dreher’s near-constant redefinition of the Option in the face of criticism. The idea is very simple: Christians have lost pretty much every political engagement they’ve fought over the past, oh, fifty years (draw a straight line between Roe and Obergefell, if you like), and they need to withdraw from society. But what happens when they withdraw from society? Dreher is convinced that most Christians possess only a watered-down faith. The problem, we think, is more serious than that.

Giving us a gentle ribbing, the blogger Subsannabit suggests that it is error to think that modern western liberalism is doing politics. Subsannabit, in an interesting post about true radicalism, also observes that most people simply do not do politics. Of course, Subsannabit may err by setting the bar for doing politics too high (cf. ST Ia IIae q.92 a.1 co. & ad 4; Ia IIae q.96 a.4 co. & ad 3), but s/he is not wrong about the fact that modern western liberalism is not really politics in any meaningful sense, at least as the term is rightly understood. Certainly the liberal is not interested in applying practical reason to frame laws to make people simply good. Such a process would force a modern western liberal to concede a bunch of things he would be loath to concede. The modern liberal prefers to write laws to create in essence a neutral playing field on which everyone can pursue his or her personal good without much restraint or even much interference. The common good does not factor into this sort of thought. And, for this reason, this sort of liberalism is, of course, corrosive of the very idea of civil society (Grenier, 3 Thomistic Philosophy no. 1154, pp. 455–56). For proof of the thesis, one has only to open a newspaper or turn on the TV.

Such liberalism is, for most people, an omnipresent, omnipotent force. The law, we know, is a teacher, even if the lesson is a bad one. There is simply no escape from it. Some people can see the problem and even sketch proposals for a solution, but it is hard to imagine the implementation of such proposals without adverting to liberal ideas. After all, liberalism is, for most westerners, as natural as the air we breathe. And this is fundamentally the problem with Dreher’s Benedict Option—and any number of similar proposals—retreating from society will do no good if you bring liberalism with you. Whatever polity or society you create will have the same flaw at its heart as the one you left behind. It is like the scene in any number of horror, science-fiction, and thriller pictures, when Our Hero or Our Heroine reaches a safe spot, only to discover that he or she is Not Alone. Or worse, when Our Hero or Our Heroine has asked the phone company to trace the menacing calls, only to be informed that the calls are coming from inside the house.

And Dreher, whether he understands it or not, wants to bring liberalism with him. Religious liberty, however helpful it may be to Christians at the moment, is the lynchpin of the liberal order. Once one puts truth and error on the same plane, the rest falls into place quickly. And it has the same consequences that liberalism always has. Leo XIII explained this admirably in Libertas praestantissimum (nos. 19–22). And this is, as it was expressed in Dignitatis humanae and Nostra aetate, a major problem for Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, holding to the Church’s traditional teachings, even beyond those difficulties posed by the New Mass. To say then, that Christians, withdrawing from the most part from society, will remain politically engaged to the extent that it is necessary to defend religious liberty—which is what Dreher has said—is to say that Christians will carry with them the seeds of liberalism. This guarantees that they will get to their communities, breathe a deep sigh of relief, and turn around to discover that they are Not Alone. The menacing calls from liberalism are coming from inside the Option.

If you don’t like the analogy to popcorn flicks, consider the emotional climax of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen: Act Two of Die Walküre. Wotan’s long-suffering wife, Fricka, has demanded that Wotan do something about the incestuous adultery of the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde, despite the fact that Wotan was Siegmund’s father and teacher (“So ist es denn aus mit den ewigen Göttern?”). In point of fact, Fricka demands that Wotan do nothing when Sieglinde’s husband comes to settle accounts. Wotan hoped to raise a free hero who could recover the titular Ring, which, as one remembers from Das Rheingold, Wotan himself cannot touch, lest he break the contracts that give him his authority (“Als junger Liebe Lust mir verblich”). Wotan then has to explain the situation to his daughter, Brünnhilde, and comes to the realization that in all his efforts to make a free hero, he finds only himself (“Nun einer könnte, was ich nicht darf”). That is, all his creatures are, just that, creatures, and they reflect him and his all-too-real flaws. The optioneers will discover, Wotan-like, that they’ve made communities resembling primarily themselves: good liberal subjects.

This is, in part, why we have talked so much about a ressourcement of Aristotelian-Thomistic political theory, which finds its best modern expression in the magisterium of Leo XIII. Without a proper understanding of the polity, how just laws are framed, and a proper conception of politics, it is simply not rational to expect a withdrawal from society in any meaningful sense to spark a restoration of Christian life. One will most likely create enclaves of religiously flavored liberalism that rely ultimately on liberal concepts such as religious liberty to survive. Now, perhaps the withdrawals proposed are not withdrawals in any meaningful sense. Perhaps they are merely histrionics, designed to emphasize to secular liberals the age-old point “You’ll really miss us when we’re gone.” Such histrionics are understandable—as we say, draw a line from Roe to Obergefell—but ultimately not productive. Either way, no progress is going to be made against the forces of liberalism without rediscovering the teaching of Aristotle, Thomas, and Leo XIII.

Mosebach, the Extraordinary Form, and the Offertory

At First Things, Martin Mosebach, author of The Heresy of Formlessness, has a provocative essay reflecting upon the restoration of the Roman Rite under Benedict XVI. It is a long essay, and well worth reading and reflecting upon at length. We doubt that you’ll need much incentive to check it out, but we wanted to call your your attention to a couple of excerpts. (And to criticize, very gently, a statement Mosebach makes about the offertory in the Roman Rite.) He concludes,

The movement for the old rite, far from indicating aesthetic self-satisfaction, has, in truth, an apostolic character. It has been observed that the Roman Rite has an especially strong effect on converts, indeed, that it has even brought about a considerable number of conversions. Its deep rootedness in history and its alignment with the end of the world create a sacred time antithetical to the present, a present that, with its acquisitive preoccupations, leaves many people unsatisfied. Above all, the old rite runs counter to the faith in progress that has long gone hand in hand with an economic mentality that is now curdling into anxiety regarding the future and even a certain pessimism. This contradiction with the spirit of our present age should not be lamented. It betokens, rather, a general awakening from a two-hundred-year-old delusion. Christians always knew that the world fell because of original sin and that, as far as the course of history is concerned, it offers no reason at all for optimism. The Catholic religion is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a “philosophy of disillusionment” that does not suppress hope, but rather teaches us not to direct our hope toward something that the world cannot give. The liturgy of Rome and, naturally, Greek Orthodoxy’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom open a window that draws our gaze from time into eternity.

Reform is a return to form. The movement that seeks to restore the form of the Latin Rite is still an avant-garde, attracting young people who find modern society suffocating. But it can only be a truly Christian avant-garde if it does not forget those it leads into battle; it must not forget the multitude who will someday have to find their way back into the abundant richness of the Catholic religion, once the generations who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, sought the salvation of the Church in its secularization have sunk into their graves.

(Emphasis supplied.) We add that what is true of the Mass is true too of the Breviary and other time-honored forms of the Church’s liturgical prayer, like the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are reminded of Bl. Ildefonso Card. Schuster’s observation, made near the end of his life (translated a couple of years ago by Gregory DiPippo at New Liturgical Movement):

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude.

(Emphasis supplied.) To join so many of our forebears in prayer is to begin to join them in other ways, and, bit by bit, to leave behind the blandishments of the modern world for the faith that they passed down to us.

Now, we cannot discuss the question of the traditional Roman Rite without engaging in some harmless antiquarianism and mild disagreement. And we found ground for disagreement in the way Mosebach characterizes the offertory and the necessity of the epiclesis in the traditional Roman Rite. This is, as you’ll see in a moment, a bit of a capital-T Thing. Mosebach observes:

This hope of restored liturgical continuity was connected to the concept of a “reform of the reform,” a notion Benedict had already introduced when he was a cardinal. What Ratzinger wished to encourage with the idea of reform of the reform is exactly what the council fathers at Vatican II had in mind when they formulated Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. They wanted to allow exceptions to the use of Latin as the common language of the liturgy, insofar as it should be beneficial to the salvation of souls. That the vernacular was presented as the exception only emphasized the immense significance of Latin as the language of the Church. They imagined a certain streamlining of the rite, such as the elimination of the preparatory prayer at the steps of the altar and the closing Gospel reading, which would have been highly lamentable losses without any noteworthy advantages, but which would not have damaged the essence of the liturgy. Of course they left the ancient offertorium untouched. These prayers over the bread and wine make clear the priestly and sacrificial character of the Mass and are therefore essential. Among these, the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit who will consecrate the offerings, is especially important. According to the apostolic tradition, which includes the eastern Roman Empire, this prayer of consecration is critical.

(Emphasis supplied.) While the loss of the traditional offertory was by no means something to be happy about, we should not allow ourselves to get carried away when lamenting its loss. Recall that Mosebach is talking about the restoration of the traditional Roman Rite, not a comparative study of the various liturgies with apostolic or patristic origins.

Mosebach’s first mistake is characterizing the offertory as “ancient.” In his article on the offertory in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, Adrian Fortescue observed:

Originally the only Roman Offertory prayers were the secrets. The Gregorian Sacramentary contains only the rubric: “deinde offertorium, et dicitur oratio super oblata” (P.L. LXXVIII, 25). The Oratio super oblata is the Secret. All the old secrets express the offertory idea clearly. They were said silently by the celebrant (hence their name) and so are not introduced by Oremus. This corresponds to the oldest custom mentioned in the “Apost. Const.”; its reason is that meanwhile the people sang a psalm (the Offertory chant). In the Middle Ages, as the public presentation of the gifts by the people had disappeared, there seemed to be a void at this moment which was filled by our present Offertory prayers (Thalhofer, op. cit. below, II, 161). For a long time these prayers were considered a private devotion of the priest, like the preparation at the foot of the altar. They are a Northern (late Gallican) addition, not part of the old Roman Rite, and were at first not written in missals. Micrologus says: “The Roman order appointed no prayer after the Offertory before the Secret” (cxi, P.L., CLI, 984). He mentions the later Offertory prayers as a “Gallican order” and says that they occur “not from any law but as an ecclesiastical custom”. The medieval Offertory prayers vary considerably. They were established at Rome by the fourteenth century (Ordo Rom. XIV., 53, P.L. LXXVIII, 1165). The present Roman prayers were compiled from various sources, Gallican or Mozarabic. The prayer “Suscipe sancte pater” occurs in Charles the Bald’s (875-877) prayer book; “Deus qui humanæ substantiæ” is modified from a Christmas Collect in the Gregorian Sacramentary (P.L., LXXVIII, 32): “Offerimus tibi Domine” and “Veni sanctificator” (fragment of an old Epiklesis, Hoppe, “Die Epiklesis”, Schaffhausen, 1864, p. 272) are Mozarabic (P.L. LXXXV, 112). Before Pius V’s Missal these prayers were often preceded by the title “Canon minor” or “Secretella” (as amplifications of the Secret). The Missal of Pius V (1570) printed them in the Ordinary. Since then the prayers that we know form part of the Roman Mass. The ideas expressed in them are obvious. Only it may be noted that two expressions: “hanc immaculatam hostiam” and “calicem salutaris” dramatically anticipate the moment of consecration, as does the Byzantine Cherubikon.

(Emphasis supplied.) Fortescue makes much the same point on pages 304 to 308 in the 1914 edition of his The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy. When Mosebach describes the offertorium—in the context of the traditional Roman Rite—as “ancient,” he is saying something simply not supported by the historical development of the Roman Rite. They’re old enough, but they’re not as old as the Canon Romanus itself. And the prayers of the offertory are not uniformly Roman; in fact, they’re mostly Gallican and Mozarabic. Perhaps this is merely traditionalist exuberance finding tremendous antiquity and Romanità in every corner of the traditional Roman Rite, as a very sharp friend of ours has suggested. However, writing a prose poem about the value of the traditional Roman Rite and then getting sloppy about the development of the traditional Roman Rite is something else.

Mosebach makes a more serious mistake when he turns to the matter of the epiclesis. Indeed, Fortescue clearly establishes that Mosebach goes too far when he says “the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit who will consecrate the offerings, is especially important. According to the apostolic tradition, which includes the eastern Roman Empire, this prayer of consecration is critical” in the context of the traditional Roman Rite. It is, we submit, not “critical” to the Roman Rite by any stretch of the imagination, and we’ll see in a moment that it may not even be an especially Roman idea. In an appendix to The Mass (pp. 402–07, 1914 ed.) devoted to the question of the epiclesis in the Roman Rite, Fortescue argues that the Roman Rite originally had some sort of epiclesis (a point with which John Hunwicke might disagree, but more on that in a second, like we said), but that it was dropped from the liturgy as a result of patristic insistence on the words of institution as the form of the consecration. We don’t know, Fortescue says, what this primitive epiclesis looked like, as it disappeared before the various sacramentaries were prepared. But, according to Fortescue, the primitive epiclesis likely came at about the same place the Supra quae and Supplices come now. (And the Supra quae and Supplices came in essentially the same form and in essentially the same place in the Gelasian Sacramentary, as one can see on page 235 of Wilson’s edition. Likewise the Gregorian, viz. p. 3 of Wilson’s edition.) The upshot is that the epiclesis was so important in the Roman Rite that it was omitted very early on in order to avoid confusion over the form of the sacrament. Whether this prompted heartburn among the popes of the age is another question.

There is no question, however, about conflating the offertory with the primitive Roman epiclesis. In Fortescue’s judgment, this Roman epiclesis came after the words of institution. At any rate, the Roman offertory could not have been this primitive epiclesis, since, at the time when the epiclesis was purportedly part of the Roman liturgy, the offertory was simply the secret, with the congregation singing the offertory chant. (The prayer, Veni Sanctificator, included in the offertory prayers as codified by St. Pius V, was a much later addition from the Mozarabic Rite, as Fortescue notes.) Now, John Hunwicke would object strenuously (and did over a series of posts in 2015) at the idea that the Roman Rite had to have an epiclesis. He suggests that, theologically, the Quam oblationem is the quintessentially Roman prayer in this context. However, regardless of the theological question: he is manifestly correct: the primitive Roman epiclesis was omitted to avoid confusion about the form of the sacrament. The Roman Rite did not need an epiclesis, whether or not it had one in its early form.

And this does not take into account the orientalizing battles in the 20th century about the epiclesis. Perhaps it should, though. Mosebach talks about the conservative—organic?—reforms envisioned by the Council fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and then dives right into one of the favorite topics of the professional liturgists who hijacked the liturgy in what Mosebach characterizes as the “Spirit of 1968.” (We might quibble with that, too, and call it the “Spirit of 1910” or the “Spirit of 1955.”) Now, all of this might be harmless antiquarianism and mild disagreement, not to say waspishness or pedantry, but it goes to a point Mosebach tries to get at in his essay. He argues:

The time has come to set aside a widespread assumption in the Catholic Church that the liturgy and religious education are in good hands with the clergy. This encourages passivity among the faithful, who believe that they do not have to concern themselves with these matters. This is not so. The great liturgical crisis following the Second Vatican Council, which was part of a larger crisis of faith and authority, put an end to the illusion that the laity need not be involved.

(Emphasis supplied.) If the faithful are to involve themselves in the liturgy—especially with a view to defending the traditional forms of the liturgy against the professional liturgists who, quite unlike Wotan in Die Walküre, seem entirely thrilled to find only themselves in their creations—then the faithful must know the history and theology of those traditional forms of the liturgy.