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The first part of the title isn’t mine, but belongs to James Hitchcock who wrote a book of the same name, published in 1971 in the wake of Vatican II. Hitchcock was then a self-labeling progressive1 looking back on the predictions made by competing groups during the great Council.
The book reads like it will be written in 2016.
With Synod I: The Blessing Of Remarriage & Homosexuality playing everywhere now (Synod II opens in October 2015) in the secular press to enraptured audiences2, I thought it well we should revisit how the last efforts to “radically” modify the Church were viewed. The lens Hitchcock used was American made, of course.
Progressives before Vatican II were, Hitchcock tells us, dissatisfied. To which the natural reaction is: aren’t they always? Isn’t profound irrational unthinking unrelievable dissatisfaction the definition of a progressive? What the progressive then wanted was change, mainly in the form of leveling. He wanted “renewal”.
He wanted a modernization of the liturgy, to get rid of the beauty, rigor, and awful uniformity and allow use of the vernacular. And puppets. He wanted a putting away of stultifying Thomism. He wanted to align the Church with the political left: perhaps not to the point of Marxism, but aimed in that direction. He “advocated loosening up the curricula of Catholic colleges to allow secular philosophies to be taught non-polemically” (p. 18).
He praised ecumenism, admiring theologians like Baptist Harvey Cox who suggested “monasteries be turned into retreat and conference centers” and Protestant theologian Arthur Crabtree (who then worked at a Catholic university) who asked “in an ecumenical journal whether the pope is Antichrist”, and liberal rabbi Everett Gendler who insisted that Christians must “abandon belief” in Jesus as a “supernatural purger of sin” (all p. 21).
About the liturgy, now often populated by music that would make even the Beatles blush, and by clowns and giant puppets (what the hell is it with progressives and giant puppets?):
In typical hysterical fashion conservative critics charged that if the Church made the least concession, let down the least barricade, the reformers would prove insatiable. Nothing would be treated with respect and sacred awe but would be shunted around at the whim of the liturgist. Conservatives also raised the faith question: If the liberals actually believed in the efficacy of the sacraments, why did they feel a need to reform them? (p. 17)
Conservatives warned “the liberals did not really derive their social principles from Catholic tradition but were actually breathing in the secular humanist air, which they attempted to give a superficial odor” (p. 18). They “charged that reform was really the ‘Protestantizing’ of the Church” (p. 22).
Hitchcock then makes a startling admission (p. 24):
There are many curiosities in the history of the Church in the post-conciliar years, and not the least is the fact that so few progressives have noticed the extent to which the reactionaries’ predictions prior to the Council have been proven correct and that their own expectations have been contradicted. They continue to treat the conservatives as ignorant, prejudiced, and out of touch with reality.
The progressive predicted reform (p. 24):
would lead to a massive resurgence of the flagging Catholic spirit…Liturgy and theology, having been brought to life and made relevant, would be constant sources of inspiration to the faithful. The religious orders, reformed to bring them into line with modernity, would find themselves overwhelmed with candidates who were generous and enthusiastic. The Church would find the number of converts increasingly dramatically…
Yet Hitchcock admits, “In virtually every case the precise opposite of these predictions has come to pass.” Sound familiar?
Although it has recently had a resurgence, in 1971 Hitchcock could say, “Thomism has disappeared almost without a trace, and there is now scarcely a single traditional doctrine of the Church which is not seriously questioned by some prominent theologians, not excluding the ‘existence’ of God” (p. 19). In many places the “Eucharist is regarded as at best a symbolic act…there is no mystical reality present.” (p. 22).
Progressives looked at the Council’s results and wept but “In fact, Vatican II exceeded the hopes of the liberals” as noted by the presence of, say, giant puppet masses. “There is no question, then, that Vatican II initiated almost every reform which American progressives, prior to 1965, generally desired” (p. 26).
In other words, Progressives got what they wanted (except for the “few persons [who] mentioned tentatively the question of remarriage after divorce”), but they felt like failures. Why the contradiction? My guess is that for the progressive no change short of constant revolution is enough. But Hitchcock perhaps more wisely says (p. 30):
By the end of the 1960s, however, many such progressives were forced to realize that their dislike of Scholasticism, their hankering after liturgical reform, their visits to choice monasteries, were really attempts to overcome a gnawing crisis of faith which they either did not recognize, lacking adequate self-knowledge, or did not want to recognized. However uncharitable, their conservative critics were simply right in postulating weakness of fundamental belief as being at the root of many liberals’ dissatisfaction.
Hitchcock says that conservatives “foresaw more clearly than the progressives the realities of change.” Further (pp. 30-31):
The progressives blithely assumed a period of swift, painless reform, in which desirable changes could be accomplished while undesirable ones were restrained. The conservatives realized that no large intricate society like the Catholic Church can be changed without considerable dislocation and outright loss, and they realized also that state programs for reform are never realized as they are set forth and that change tends to generate change, so that those who begin as moderate reformers sometime end as revolutionaries…
Here’s the kicker, as relevant then as now: “In retrospect it is possible to see the preoccupation of the progressives with changes of various kinds as a way of avoiding the ultimate question of their own faith.”
That’s just Chapter 1 folks, an overview. If this is popular, we can look into the book further.
Update Kinda sorta related. Newman “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” mugs.
James Hitchcock, 1971. The Decline & Fall Of Radical Catholicism. Herder and Herder, New York.
1Consider that 1971’s progressive is 2014’s conservative; a conservative or reactionary then is a reactionary now.
2There must be a Nicholas Cage pun lurking in there somewhere.