Posted on 5th November by Torch of The Faith :
Fiddling While Rome Burns: In the viral ”Carpool Karaoke” video from Rockford Illinois, Bishop David Malloy speaks of the sacredness that has been given to him as a responsibility in his capacity as a Successor to the Apostles. We must ask: Does this video really convey any of that to the young people being led by these two, erm, worthies? Would future generations – many of whom may not even encounter a living Catholic priest – glimpse anything of this sacredness if they were to uncover this clip as a primary source of historical evidence?
Considering a Valid Approach to History
There is one sense in which revisions in the understanding of historical events and periods can be valid. I speak, in the first part of this article, in terms of the discovery of new and authentic primary sources, or the rediscovery of long obscured sources, dating to the historical epoch being studied.
Whilst the above image urges us to exercise caution in such matters, there is no doubt that new historical discoveries can shed invaluable new light on the characters, events, motivations and previously unanswered questions relating to a given historical epoch.
A helpful example of this is provided by considering Eamon Duffy’s careful re-examination of the period leading up to the ”Reformation” here in England.
Professor Duffy presented a weight of fresh scholarly research and interpretation in his books The Stripping of the Altars – Traditional Religion in England 1400 – 1580 and Voices of Morebath – Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village.
Duffy’s return to – and careful handling of – the primary sources enabled him to overturn the popular understanding, dominant since the Reformation, that Catholicism in England had been in a moribund state in the era leading up to the Protestant Revolt.
In that popular view, founded as it was on the notions of the Protestant victors who had succeeded in supplanting the Catholic Faith here, late medieval England had just been waiting, like so much dry tinder, for the Protestant Revolt to set it alight with fresh life and new freedoms.
Duffy’s revision of history was able to overturn that faulty conception, through a scholarly bypassing of the popular Whig histories that still largely held sway, and having recourse to the reliable sources themselves.
Rather than a declining medieval paradigm which was already circling the drain, Duffy instead unearthed a vibrant Catholic civilization: it was one that was rich in faith, devotion, pageant; and which had a highly organized communal life centred on the Most Holy Eucharist and the cycle of the Liturgical Year.
It is Duffy’s contention, and the evidence for it is plentiful, that this Catholic culture proved very resistant to the ‘new religion’.
Indeed, the Catholic Faith ran so deep in the souls of the people and their society that the ”new order” had to be enforced on them by harsh coercement from on high.
Parallels to the last 50 years in the Catholic Church are acute.
Radical Subjectivism – An Invalid Approach of Postmodernity
In stark contrast to this careful recovery of historical understandings stands the postmodern approach of subjectivism.
To be sure, interpretation of history always includes some subjective elements. This is why the best historians are those who guard against their own prejudices by attempting to understand the people and events from within, drawing from original sources and data in a careful manner which is, as far as possible, unclouded by their own preconceptions and desires.
This approach constitutes a search for genuine objectivity.
Sadly, it is too often ignored in a postmodern culture which wants to reinterpret everything in terms of its own subjectivism and ideological agendas. Those who view history through such a postmodern lense, end up seeing only projections of themselves into the past.
The more objectivity enters into historical research, then the more likely we are to comprehend ourselves truly in light of the past which has contributed to our present cultural formation.
In this we glimpse the importance of demonstrating just how much Catholic Christendom actually shaped our Western civilization.
And so to Lund…
This brings us once more to this week’s events in Lund.
One of my favourite historians is the careful scholar Christopher Dawson. I was re-reading Dawson’s account of Martin Luther’s revolt last night, after watching Michael Matt’s quality ”catacombs” video over at the Remnant’s website.
In his book The Dividing of Christendom, Dawson provided a crisp summary of Martin Luther.
In part, Dawson’s critique reads: ”He recognized no truths except those which he felt and saw directly by an immediate act of psychological intuition. In comparison with this nothing else mattered. The authority of the Church, the witness of tradition, the religious experience of others, the dogmas of the theological schools, counted for nothing or less than nothing when they did not agree with his personal intuitions and convictions. This makes his teaching more subjective and one-sided than that of any other Christian thinker. What he saw, he saw with blinding intensity and certitude. What he did not see did not exist, or was the delusion of Satan.”
Reading the various internet sources, it becomes apparent that there are not a few observers who claim to discern this kind of subjectivism, even Lutheranism, in the actions and words of Pope Francis.
There appear to be parallels here too, with the warnings uttered by Pope St. Pius X against the Modernists’ notion of ”vital immanence”. That is to say, the suggestion that all things to do with the divine and religion have their source only within man and not from God.
Such ideas lead to a never-ending subjectivism, which places individualistic experience, as opposed to Divine Revelation and Grace, at the centre of the religious quest of mankind. It is this false conception which has issued into the populist ”experiential catechesis” and has proved to be so corrosive of the systematic handing on of the Faith in recent decades.
In the days leading up to the events in Lund, we drew attention to a couple of attempts to ”airbrush” the history of the Reformation as just ”one big misunderstanding”. If widely accepted, this would enable today’s ecumenists to pull a sleight of hand and construct a new ”history” in their own image and likeness.
It is the way of the post-moderns to refuse to submit to reality as it is received, in their headlong rush to impose new constructions of their own making on the world.
This mentality has led to too many people living in a world of make-believe that has little to do with any kind of objective reality. It is extremely dangerous from a spiritual perspective.
That such a reading and approach to history is invalid remains clear from the wide divergence of the Lutheran World Federation from any Catholic understandings of dogma, doctrine, liturgy and moral practice. To speak truly: such radical subjectivism is the very enemy of any unity worthy of the name.
Against that, we must recall that true unity can only ever be a fruit of Truth and Grace; it will never be achieved by merely man-made constructions. In fact, such unity already exists in the very essence of the Catholic Church which Christ founded on the Apostles and their successors.
Telling History Differently…
During an address given in Lund, Pope Francis quoted from the ”Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity, From Conflict to Communion, 17th June, 2013, 16”. He read: ”With this new look at the past, we do not claim to realize an impracticable correction of what took place, but to tell that history differently”.
Similar words have been uttered by the lay-dressed Sr. Susan Wood of Marquette University. A member of the International Lutheran-Catholic Dialogues, Sr. Wood gave an address at a seminar in Rome during last May.
As reported at the time by Vatican Radio she spoke of a new unity to be reached between Lutherans and Catholics, ”not by telling a different history, but by telling their shared history differently”. It is a notion being put forward by various key figures in the ”ecumenical movement” in these days.
If it sounds dangerously like the kind of subjectivist reading of history discussed above – itself so fundamentally Lutheran – then we suggest that this is because it is such a subjectivist reading!
After all, have Pope Francis, Cardinal Koch, Sr. Wood, Bishop Kenney, Msgr. Mark Langham or any of the Lutherans suddenly brought forth some new primary source evidence to cause us to tell our history differently? Or even to demonstrate that we really have a shared history?
To the contrary, Luther left behind him an immense body of literature, which still constitutes the primary source evidence for any historical understanding.
And as Bishop Athanasius Schneider so rightly pointed out this week, during his time at the Cosmos Club meeting in Washington D.C., the Council of Trent has already given us an infallible response to the collected errors of Martin Luther. The immense canon of Trent presents us with another key primary source. And as Bishop Schneider recalls, this is one having immense spiritual authority.
Becoming Messengers of Truth
During his speech in Lund, Pope Francis quoted from St. John Paul II’s letter to Cardinal Johannes Willebrands. He read: ”We must not allow ourselves to be guided by the intention of setting ourselves up as judges of history, but solely by the motive of understanding better what happened and of becoming messengers of truth.”
In this article, we have demonstrated that such an understanding can only be reached by having the humility to receive from the actual historical sources, rather than by attempting to impose newly post-modern and subjectivist constructions to fit a pre-ordained agenda.
To do that would only make us all Lutherans.
As the Catholic historian Professor Roberto de Mattei has just announced in the Corrispondenza Romana, ”The Council of Trent pronounced the decisive word on the incompatibility of the Catholic Faith with the Protestant one. We cannot follow Pope Francis along a different path.”