If Rocco’s gave up the ghost by closing time tonight, I would find myself at a total loss explaining why. The proprietors own the building, are in position to charge low rates for their customers, actually do so, and have a thriving business in consequence. Hence, finding reasons for the café’s sudden closure would be a first class chore.
I cannot say the same for the physical demise of the Church. Yes, I suppose that if news came out that every parish was to be handed over to fashion outlets this very afternoon, that St. Peter’s was being demolished first thing tomorrow morning to provide better parking facilities for tourist buses, and that every member of the clergy was being given an entire week to decide whether to go for his M.B.A. or to enter the rehabilitation center of his choice, it would be momentarily shocking. Nevertheless, a minute’s recollection would remind me why it all made perfect sense. And the only shock that two minutes’ reflection would cause would be bafflement as to why the final physical dissolution had taken so long.
Obviously, no one reading The Remnant needs a catalogue enumerating the specifics of the disaster that has befallen the Bride of Christ over the last fifty years. Remnant writers and readers have themselves aided in the compilation of that catalogue. In doing so, we have imitated our forbears in analogous situations through the ages: men and women who both stubbornly and loudly identified the diseases crippling Holy Church, regularly employing as their battle cry the only prescription for a cure that could seriously work—the need for a “Reform of Both Head and Members”.
Their banner is still our banner. And given our recognition that there will be no turnabout in the fortunes of the Church until her Head definitively leads us in the work of putting things straight, it is no surprise whatsoever that we endure the same abuse that past reformers did at the hands of those who consider any criticism of a pope to be an attack on Catholicism. Like past reformers, we have to contend with opponents who have confused Apostolic Tradition with the standard operating procedures of institutions that have become familiar and comfortable to them; the standard operating procedures that have turned the Church in her human element into a rotting corpse.
A brief example from the Theatine reformer, Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa, underscores the historical analogy. Before becoming the ferocious Pope Paul IV (1555-1559)—as well as afterwards—Carafa was absolutely scathing in his attacks on an erroneous Roman ideology and those who devastated the Church while defending it. He joined with fellow cardinals in the Consilium de Emendanda Ecclesia of 1537 in declaring that “the fundamental cause of the ills of the Church is the immense exaggeration of the pontifical power occasioned by the refined adulation of canonists without conscience”. (See my article, “The Theatines and the Question of Catholic Renewal”, at jcrao.freeshell.org; quotation from Gennaro Maria Monti, ed., Ricerche su Papa Paolo IV Carafa Benevento, 1923, p. 42).
It was this transformation of the Holy Father into Il Supremo which, given the nature of bureaucratic institutions, was to allow “those most rapacious Cerberi that surround the poor prince, selling, at base price, the soul and the honor of His Holiness” to guarantee “the immoderate favor which so many—not merely the most pernicious and criminal, but also those most heretical and hostile to Christ, His Holiness, and the whole of Holy Church—find and enjoy in that Court to the great dishonor and offense of God and His Church. (Monti, pp. 156-157). He who most loudly praised the pope proclaimed infallibility for his own personal fantasies and crimes in the process.
Carafa and the school of spirituality that he represented were convinced that one thing alone could effect a return to health: a root and branch change of spirit. That change of spirit required a total abandonment of an equation of “business as usual” with “tradition” that had enabled the “Catholic” powers-that-be to continue their riotous and destructive dance upon the ecclesiastical corpse. Abandonment of this false conservatism divinizing intellectual distortion and personal corruption opened the highway to embrace of Christ, Apostolic Tradition, and true Catholic recovery.
Our Neo-Catholic conservative enemies are among “those most rapacious Cerebri” whose praise of the “business as usual” of the post-Conciliar era allows our current dance upon a “corpse” that can always be revived joyfully to continue. Something makes them “comfortable” amidst all the ruins and stench; pathetic deniers of the great historian of the Council of Trent, Hubert Jedin’s, warning that nothing does more to abet a disaster than an unwillingness to recognize its real existence and character.
I have become convinced that that something is an unshakeable commitment, conscious or unconscious, to the basic foundations of an American culture rooted in the so-called moderate Enlightenment of John Locke and Company and the perks they believe they get from this. Until they break with this most dangerously successful of individualist and materialist ideologies they will continue their unconscionable praise of ignorance of the true Catholic Tradition, their refusal to admit that a Head that for fifty years has played ball with the Enlightenment must be reformed along with the Members, and their joyful dance upon a corpse: not only the corpse of the Church, but of the whole of a society rapidly approaching a dissolution that will be even easier to describe.