Inspired by Saint Augustine, the erudite classicist Aram Frenkian (1898–1964) formulated an extremely important question in one of his studies: “Is perfection at the beginning or at the end?” A rhetorical question, of course, as the answer from the African Doctor indicates the perfection of knowledge at the origins, before Adam and Eve committed the “original sin.” Similarly, for classical Catholic thinkers, things have always been the same: the apostolic Church was that of the fullness of knowledge and graces (especially extraordinary ones, manifested through great miracles), followed by the era of the brilliant Fathers of the Church. Even in terms of the content and sanctity of earlier eras, we consider them in many respects superior to those of the modern world. Who among us does not unequivocally admire Roman and Gothic styles? Or Gregorian music and traditional iconography? Or Catholic kings and empires?
For the progressive-evolutionary mindset, things are the opposite. Everything that came before is, at best, debatable, and at worst, must be entirely avoided, if not destroyed. This kind of mental framework Pope Benedict XVI tried, unsuccessfully, to combat when he stated:
“What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”[i]
Under the influence of a world systematically opposed to its own roots, nowadays not only common faithful, but most hierarchs consider many sacred things from the past as “harmful.” The way the Liturgy of the Ages is currently treated speaks for itself. But not only the Holy Mass is the subject of such radical rejection.
The supreme example of this disdain for everything that preceded the Second Vatican Council is embodied in the prohibition of the Liturgy of the Ages. Never in history has there been anything comparable to this self-destructive attitude.
In a discussion with a history professor, my wife believed she could use historical arguments to prove the continuity of feminine modesty. Thus, she presented the attitude of women of yore not only towards how they dressed but also towards maternity and marriage. The professor’s response stupefied us: “Those were stupid women!” Unfortunately, it was neither the first nor the last time we encountered such reactions. The erroneous, from all perspectives, image of the “dark” Middle Ages, or of an oppressive “Victorian” culture, is dominant. It is the best evidence not only of ignorance but, in many cases, of a true hatred directed against everything that was “before.” For generations educated to exclusively love the latest fashion and, moreover, to believe that what is “after” is good in itself, how could it be otherwise?
For those of us who love both the Holy Scriptures and the Christian Tradition of apostolic origin perpetuated through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance until the 20th century, the supreme example of this disdain for everything that preceded the Second Vatican Council is embodied in the prohibition of the Liturgy of the Ages. Never in history has there been anything comparable to this self-destructive attitude. A distinguished French philosopher and historian of religions, Jean Borella, described this attitude in his monograph, The Crisis of Religious Symbolism (1990):
“There has never been any religious authority that has separated itself, by decision and by the unanimous agreement of its members, from a ritual tradition of impressive antiquity and imposed the new ritual in the most totalitarian and implacable manner, while affirming at the same time that it is the same faith, the same religion, the same liturgy.”[ii]
Despite the retention of some expressions and beliefs from the Christian religion, it is increasingly difficult to recognize anything from the ancient Tradition in contemporary Catholicism. If any of the saints of the past had come to the church in Phoenix (AZ) where I attended a “Novus Ordo” Liturgy in 2006, they would not have recognized anything Christian, nothing Catholic. The “church” looked like a sports or conference hall, the priest had the demeanor of a group animator, and the furniture, architecture – in a word, everything – looked completely secular. This situation is the result of a systematic elimination of any traditional visual elements. Under the influence of post-modern art, not even the Holy Cross is easily identifiable.
The participation of the Catholic clergy in any ceremony involving the so-called communicatio in sacris with members of schismatic and heretical communities was absolutely forbidden in 1914.
However, the most serious things relate not to the external elements and details that embody and make faith visible but to the internal ones, directly related to the deepest convictions. And here, right into the core, the “mutations” are incredible. This can be seen, for example, in the journal of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bucharest, the learned Raymund Netzhammer (1862–1945). Rich in historical and political information related to the Romanian context in the first half of the 20th century, the text contains a detailed account of the funeral of the first King of Romania, Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, whose death occurred on October 10, 1914.
The episode is of particular interest for a simple reason: although Roman Catholic, Carol I was the sovereign of a country where the majority of the population belonged to the schismatic “Orthodox” Eastern Church. So, obviously, the political authorities imposed that the king be buried according to the specific rites of the national Church. The Minister of Cults at that time, Ion Gheorghe Duca, visited Archbishop Netzhammer on the morning of October 11 to discuss the most delicate issue: the participation of the Roman Catholic clergy in the funeral of King Carol I. Here is the text of the discussion as it has been preserved in the archbishop’s notes:
“Now we are both concerned, both the minister and me, about the manner of participation of the archbishop and the Catholic clergy in the actual funeral ceremonies. I asked directly:
‘Where will the king be buried?’
‘In the church of Curtea de Argeș Monastery!’
‘Isn’t it so, Mr. Minister, that this is an Orthodox church?’
‘My place cannot be in an Orthodox church, so I cannot take part in the funeral ceremonies at Curtea de Argeș.’
‘Alright, alright! Will you, however, participate in the funeral procession on the day of the burial, from the Royal Palace to the train station?’
‘Because even on this occasion, the Orthodox clergy will bless the lifeless body, I find that our presence is not appropriate.’
Since the instructions from Rome excluded any participation, in any form, of the archbishop, and because in all circumstances, one must avoid a so-called communicatio in sacris, I breathed a sigh of relief when the Minister of Cults did not object to my intention to stay completely away from the public funeral ceremonies.”[iii]
The fragment does not need comments. I could quote others from which a single thing emerges: the participation of the Catholic clergy in any ceremony involving the so-called communicatio in sacris with members of schismatic and heretical communities was absolutely forbidden in 1914. If we think about everything that has been happening for decades in the name of “ecumenism,” I believe that the “mutation” I already mentioned is not only evident but absolutely strident.
In practice, we can hardly say that we recognize the same church, the same religion. Most likely, the majority of priests trained after the Second Vatican Council consider the current relativistic and ecumenical attitude “good,” while Archbishop Netzhammer’s attitude would be labeled “retrograde,” “backward” – in short, “bad.” And if I also mention inter-religious meetings like Assisi and Abu Dhabi, I believe we have the picture of the most radical replacement of firm religious convictions with a “counterfeit” faith. A substitution that no “hermeneutics of continuity” can hide anymore.
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[i] Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Bishops on the occasion of the publication of the Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio Data” Summorum Pontificum, on the use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970. Link: https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20070707_lettera-vescovi.html [Accessed: 01 February 2024]
[ii] Although there is an English translation of Borella’s book, I did not have access to it. The present translation is mine.
[iii] Raymond Netzhammer, Arhiepiscop în România. Jurnal de Război 1914-1918, București, 1993, pp. 18-19.