Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Division Among the Faithful

A month ago, back on August 1, a Vortex episode  entitled “Thunder on the Right” was aired (embedded below). In it, MV addressed the deepening rift that can be seen between “traditionalist” and “non-traditionalist” Catholics. Well, we see clear evidence of that rift in the current uproar over MV’s comments about the seeming reluctance of the mainstream Catholic media to report on issues involving errant bishops and the crisis in the Church.

I have discussed previously Fr. Chad Ripperger’s distinction between “traditionalist” and “neo-conservative” Catholics; I think Fr. Ripperger supplies at least a partial explanation for the current “dust-up” in his 2001 article   “Operative Points of View” (in the British journal Christian Order).  Fr. Ripperger defines the groups in his footnotes 1 and 2 (my emphases):

(1) The term "traditionalist" has two different meanings. The first is the heresy condemned by the Church i.e. a philosophical/religious system which depreciates human reason and establishes the tradition of mankind as the only criterion for truth and certainty. This heresy denies the ability of reason to know the truth and so it must be gained through tradition alone. It is different from the current movement in the Church which clearly recognizes the ability of reason to know the truth but which sees the good of the tradition of the Church and would like to see it re-established.

(2) The term "neo-conservative" refers to those who are considered the more conservative members of the Church. More often than not, they are those who hold orthodox positions, but they would not assert that it is necessary or a good idea to reconnect with ecclesiastical tradition. The prefix "neo" is used because they are not the same as those conservatives in authority in the Church right before, during and after the Second Vatican Council. The current conservatives, i.e. the neo-conservatives, are different insofar as the conservatives of that earlier period sought to maintain the current ecclesiastical traditions which were eventually lost…  

In the August 1 Vortex, MV says:

It’s important for Catholics to grasp and understand this distinction because it’s important.

First point: both traditionalists and non-traditionalists believe the dogmas of the Church. They accept and hold forth The Resurrection, the Marian Dogmas, the Real Presence, Purgatory, etc. No disputes there. That’s not the point. In the areas that are sometimes called “BIG T” – BIG Tradition issues, the dogmas, there is no dispute.

But in the area of what is sometimes called “Little T” – there is a near war going on, and the war going on is over the Little T issues – things that are not sinful, but are not understood in any historical manner of viewing things to be Catholic.

Now, one area of dispute that has come to head in the current war over the role and motivation of the mainstream Catholic media concerns the crisis in the Church. The extreme position in the current argument is that the Catholic media, by and large, ignores the crisis and pretends all is well – because that’s what the bishops, by and large, would have us believe. However, some (at least one) of the “mainstream”, “neo-conservative”, or “non-traditionalist” types are saying that they don’t disagree that there is a crisis, they just don’t think it’s as bad as the traditionalists do. This makes the traditionalists wonder, “Are they looking at the world through rose-colored glasses? Are we talking about the same Church here?!”

Consider again Fr. Ripperger’s article. He suggests that:

Traditionalists and neo-conservatives often find each other mystifying and the reason for this has to do with the relationship each position holds with respect to ecclesiastical tradition. 

Fr. Ripperger discusses a two-fold division in the definition of ecclesiastical tradition (emphases in original):

Divine tradition is that tradition which constitutes one of the sources of revelation, i.e. a source of our knowledge about those things which were revealed to man by God… Since it is intrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, this form of tradition is sometimes called intrinsic tradition, a prime example of which is the magisterium of the Church and the sacraments since they were established by Jesus Christ and passed on and will be passed on until the end of time.

Ecclesiastical tradition is all of those things which are not intrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, but which form the heritage and patrimony of the work of previous generations graciously passed on by the Church to subsequent generations for their benefit. Because it is extrinsic to the Deposit of Faith, ecclesiastical tradition is also called extrinsic tradition, examples of which include the Church's disciplinary code as set out in canon law and non-infallible teachings of the ordinary magisterium. This would include those things contained in Apostolic exhortations and encyclicals in which infallibility is not enjoyed, e.g. Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei asserts that the Church is a perfect society.

He attributes disagreements between “traditionalists” and “neo-conservatives” to “the relationship each position holds with respect to ecclesiastical tradition”. He develops this argument quite convincingly, I think, and I encourage you to read the entire article (there’s quite an education to be had in the footnotes!). He explains (emphasis in original):

Neo-conservatives have fallen into this way of thinking, i.e., the only standard by which they judge orthodoxy is whether or not one follows the current magisterium. Traditionalists, as a general rule, tend to be orthodox in the sense that they are obedient to the current magisterium, even though they disagree about matters of discipline and have some reservations about some aspects of current magisterial teachings which seem to contradict the previous magisterium (e.g. the role of the ecumenical movement). Traditionalists tend to take not just the current magisterium as their norm but Scripture, intrinsic tradition, extrinsic tradition and the current magisterium as the principles of judgment of correct Catholic thinking. This is what distinguishes traditionalists and neo-conservatives i.e. their perspectives regarding the role of ecclesiastical tradition and how the current magisterium relates to it.

Returning to the current scuffle, perhaps the mainstream Catholic media people see less of a crisis because they are evaluating the state of the Church based on the “current magisterium”…which of course would include the current bishops. Perhaps what the traditionalist sees as an alarming departure from orthodoxy on the part of some bishops is perceived by the neo-conservative as “further development of Church doctrine”. With this difference in perspective, we would of course expect to see a difference in reaction.

Here’s Fr. Ripperger’s conclusion (my emphases):

The differences between traditionalists and neo-conservatives are rooted in their respective attitudes to extrinsic or ecclesiastical tradition. Even if a neo-conservative holds notionally that the extrinsic tradition is of value, nevertheless in the daily living of his life and in his deliberations, he simply ignores a large portion of it, if not completely. But there is hope, even outside the circles that hold to tradition. Many of the young, even those in neo-conservative seminaries, are no longer weighed down by the intellectual baggage which afflicted their counterparts in the previous generation. Because they have been taught virtually nothing about religion, they lack a perspective that might influence them negatively in favour of one particular view of extrinsic tradition. Many of them are eager to learn the truth and do not have any preconceived ideas about the current state of the Church. As a result, if they are provided with or are able to arrive at the knowledge of their patrimony, many of them seeking it out on their own, then we can be assured of a brighter future. But this requires knowledge of the problem and the willingness to adopt or connect to the extrinsic tradition by embracing it as something good. It is unlikely that the role of ecclesiastical tradition will be sorted out soon, but we can hope that its restoration is part of God's providential plan.

Remember, Fr. Ripperger wrote the above in 2001, twelve years ago. A lot of water has gone under that bridge, and it may be that seminarians today do have some preconceived ideas about the state of the Church. In fact, I hope they do!

Here’s MV’s conclusion from the Vortex:

Traditional minded Catholics have seen what happens when you surrender even one inch of turf on matters spiritual – regardless if they are dogmatic or just cultural. They are sick of the disaster which follows in the wake of such surrender and are not sitting by quietly anymore – and yes, a battle how now begun, in case you are wondering about all that thunder coming from the right.

And here’s my conclusion: the Truth must be proclaimed.

If the neo-conservatives think the traditionalists are wrong on a particular issues, then let’s examine what the Church has historically taught on that issue, where changes were introduced, and how the perceived changes can (or even if they can) be reconciled with the past teaching.

Thunder on the Right
Among the small number of Catholics who actually still go to Mass and believe the teachings of the Church, there is division, varying degrees of division depending on the issue at hand, but division nonetheless.

Now to put this in focus – the group we are talking about is relatively small. Of the total number of Catholics in the United States, somewhere around 20 percent, give or take,  actually go to Mass each Sunday and Holy Day.

Going to Mass is the obligatory minimum activity, the threshold one would have to achieve to be able to call yourself a Catholic, a practicing Catholic.

This of course means that 80 percent-ish, 4 out of 5 do NOT got to Mass, so we aren’t talking about them in this Vortex episode.

Of course, we can’t forget that in that small 20 percent that do go to Mass, there are so-called Catholics like New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Vice-President Joe Biden, both of whom have been declared by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan as “Catholics in good standing”.

But if we look deeper into the numbers, the 20 percent, and throw out about half who, while they do show up on Sundays, do NOT believe the Church’s teachings on a variety of subjects, we are left with about 10 percent – 10 percent of all Catholics who are actually believing and faithful. THIS is the crowd we are talking about today, just this 10 percent. No one else.

Within this world of the 10 percent, which is usually labeled “right-wing” Catholics or generally labeled “conservative”, there is a further breakdown – what you might call “traditionalists” and “non-traditionalists”.

It’s important for Catholics to grasp and understand this distinction because it’s important.

First point: both traditionalists and non-traditionalists believe the dogmas of the Church. They accept and hold forth The Resurrection, the Marian Dogmas, the Real Presence, Purgatory, etc. No disputes there. That’s not the point. In the areas that are sometimes called “BIG T” – BIG Tradition issues, the dogmas, there is no dispute.

But in the area of what is sometimes called “Little T” – there is a near war going on, and the war going on is over the Little T issues – things that are not sinful, but are not understood in any historical manner of viewing things to be Catholic.

They aren’t evil in and of themselves, but they have suddenly appeared on the Catholic scene, in parishes for example in the past 50 years, and don’t really have any roots in Catholic tradition, or culture or fabric.

They are cut from a completely different cloth, oftentimes Protestant, but not always; and look like they are sewn on in an awkward fashion, kind of like when your mom would sew a patch on the knees of your jeans – it did the job sort of, but never quite looked right.

Now the more non-traditional Catholics don’t generally care about these things – like altar girls, Protestant hymns in Catholic Mass, applauding the singers, chatting before
Mass, Holy Communion in the hand, standing to receive, resurrexifixes in place of crucifixes, the tabernacle off to the side, nuns out of habits, priests saying Mass in just an alb and stole, and so forth.

For the non-traditionalists – who still believe the Catholic Church is the One True Faith – the issues over these things are mostly blasé, and anyone who brings them up is some sort of mal-adjusted mean-spirited Pharisee-type Catholic who needs to be more in touch with his heart than his checklist.

Ah, but for the more traditionalist-minded Catholic, the presence of these things in the
Catholic world is a warning sign, an indication of the slippery slope that the Church has been sliding down for about 40 plus years now, perhaps even longer.

The removal of the altar rails – the communion rails – the constant yammering about
“The” Lord as opposed to the more Catholic expression of “Our” Lord waters down not dogma, at least not directly, but it waters down a sense of Catholic self, of our history, our identity, Catholic air and a Catholic sense.

And their fear is this: when you give up some of the “small T” stuff, sooner or later the
“Big T” stuff gets dumped as well. Now, maybe this doesn’t happen with THIS generation of non-traditionalists, but it will with their children.

The reason why is that the “small T” stuff is very often the outward expression of the “Big T” stuff – so, Gregorian Chant for example, with its sublime rhythm, reminds its hearer of the reverence and beauty and harmony in the sacred liturgy which accords with those things in the interior life of God.

The “small T” item of the Brown Scapular for example reminds the wearer of the deep relationship each Catholic should have with the Mother of God as expressed in the Marian dogmas.

A de-emphasis on the Rosary impacts a Catholic’s ability to meditate on scripture and thus contemplate the mysteries of Our Blessed Lord’s life.

These things are all Catholic identity markers: nuns in habits, altar BOYS in cassock and surplice, the priest facing God and not us; they are all cultural markers that say “I’m Catholic!”

We could go on and on. You get the picture. When these things, like statues and stained glass windows get thrown out, all “small T” items to be sure, the groundwork is laid for the “Big T” items to be dumped in short order.

These “small T” items are kind of like the first line of defense, in a manner of speaking, against the challenges to the dogmas of the faith. So while non-traditionalists think these things are not that big of deal, they actually are – obviously not as big as a direct challenge to the faith, but the loss of them, or the side-lining of them, sets the stage for those bigger challenges.

It is the refusal of the non-traditional crowd to see this connection that creates the problems on the “right” – among the orthodox.

They accept Catholic dogma, but eschew Catholic culture and are willing to accept all manner of novelty – in the Mass, in Catholic life, usually for the sake of feelings and keeping everyone happy.

Traditional minded Catholics have seen what happens when you surrender even one inch of turf on matters spiritual – regardless if they are dogmatic or just cultural. They are sick of the disaster which follows in the wake of such surrender and are not sitting by quietly anymore – and yes, a battle how now begun, in case you are wondering about all that thunder coming from the right.


  1. I love Fr. Ripperger and my son grew up listening to his talks on line as part of home schooling, as he is the clearest priest in short, sharp talks regarding so many good issues.

    Your post is monumental, but I rarely is ever, and I do not think I have, written about the difference between trads and neo-cons except in a humorous way years ago comparing test match cricket with the newer limited overs with trads as the former and neo-cons are the latter.

    I shall say this, however, outside the trad community I find little complete orthodoxy. I do not know any of those who go consistently to the Novus Ordo who do not have a black area of disobedience, such as contraception, the accept of homosexual acts, socialism and so on.

    Perhaps the neo-cons are more common in the States than in Europe where the Church is becoming extinct is so many places. As you know, I have travelled a lot and in Malta and Ireland, neo-cons accept contraception and homosexual civil unions, as well as IVF, and this to me is the real problem.

    A priest a long time ago of the same order as Fr. Ripperger, the FSSPs, told me that liturgical abuse is connected to spiritual laxity, especially in sexual ethics. A neo-con cannot consistenly go to Masses where there are abuses and where the truth is not being proclaimed without being affected.

    Now, devotions are not necessary for salvation, but the way, and curiously I find neo-cons more into devotions and even apparitions not approved by the Church more than trads.

    The Tradition of the Church includes not only the TLM, but the writings of the Early Church Fathers, the Doctors of the Church and the encyclicals.

    May I add that neo-cons seem to me to be less intellectual, using reason less than the trads, who become steeped in the rich intellectual heritage of the Church.

    And, that is what I do write about Faith and Reason, rather than differences which hid the roots causes of disturbances.

  2. As to devotions, I meant a way not the way...and the connection between feely religion and the neo-cons involves these devotions, which are taken more seriously than doctrines or dogmas, which is my point there. This is a serious problem among neo-cons who may have never read the CCC but know every Marian apparition supposedly on the planet. The root is anti-intellectualism which separates the trads from the neo-cons in my book.

  3. The diference is about what is Magisterium, and what is not.
    If a Bishop, p.ex, says that an homosexual behaviour is connatural to the person because it comes from the womb (as a mexican Bishop said last week), well that is not. That is not Magisterium but a sin. And if a cardinal writes that Resurrection is not an objective historical fact, but something that happens in the community intersubjectivity (i read that), that is not Magisterium either, but heresy. The thing is that Neo-Conservatives would be tempted to consider that both arguments as valid because of the formal authority. Its just an argument ad verecundiam, magister dixit. Or in the best case they would keep silence about it, letting the error to spread around. And if the Pope hypothetically says, declares, or do something wrong the case is even worst.
    Not everything that Priests, Bishops, Cardinals or even Popes says or do are infallible, and Prudential Judgment must be applied.
    Yes, it is true that sometimes, we (the so-called trads, or rad-trads) overreact. But if we would have good shepherds we would be more relaxed. But the smoke of satan entered the Temple of God. Everybody can see it. Its just that some people dared to talk about it and some people just don´t. That is the diference between what a catholic and a neo-conservative are.
    Yesterday I was talking to a friend and he was telling that he doesn´t want to use so much energy studying so much theology, that he just want to read the Cathechism, but with so much rubbish coming from Bishops, he must go deeper.

    I am grateful to God that MV and other brave catholics still speak clearly, without fear. Its a duty, its not an option. Silence can be a sin in such circumstances.

    (Dr. Jay, please be kind and correct syntax and structure and orthography, if you consider this post worth enough to be published.)
    You blog is excellent. Thank you.
    From Argentina,


  4. "J", good points. Don't worry about your syntax etc. You are doing great - I certainly couldn't do nearly as well in Spanish!

  5. What I find interesting is how if you tell neo-conservative Catholics something the Church has always taught, they act as if it's changed. Take, no salvation outside the Church for instance. That has never changed. None of our teachings have changed. The Church didn't begin with Vatican II. Yet, if we adhere to everything the Church has always taught and believed, we get persecuted for it. And for what? We just what to believe and worship as we always did. We don't want to go along with all this innovation and nonsense we've had stuffed in our faces these past 50 years.

    Mark me words: Making the Church look protestant has been a failure! It hasn't been appealing to those outside the Church, now has it? It isn't appealing to the young people, now is it? It sure as heck ain't appealing to me.

    Time to start restoring tradition and the sacred. Until then, nothing much will change.

    There's a saying that goes like this. Read it carefully:

    We believe what you once believed. We worship as you once worshiped. If you were right then, we are right now. If you were wrong then, we are wrong now.

    I find it very appropriate for this post.

    Great post, Dr. Jay. Your blog is my favorite and I enjoy coming here to see what you've gotten into next! :-)

    God bless.


  6. Dr. Jay, if I could add a few other thoughts.

    The neo-cons get stuck in wanting to belong the the Church Triumphant on earth-like a new millennialism or utopianism. These are the Catholics who do not want to hear about suffering, purification, sin, hell, and so on. So many of them only want to be successful on earth and want to see the Church in that light. They hate the idea of the remnant Church, as Benedict Pope Emeritus spoke of and they absolutely do not want to hear about coming persecution.

    The reason is that they are rooted in the protestant ideal that if one follows God, one is rewarded here and now. It is similar to the charismatic problem of wanting all the cookies and candies from the Holy Spirit without the pain of spiritual growth.

    Neo-cons choose to go to the NO because it suits their emphasis on the now, like community, instead of the next world. Sadly, they get stuck in adolescent religious ideals and do not appropriate an adult faith which would take them through hard times. I think many will fall away when persecution does come. By denying the "old" ways of sermons on hell and purgatory, or the need for fasting and penance, they blind themselves into thinking they are holier than they are-these are the same Catholics who wish each other happy feast day on the Feast of All Saints.

    Again, excellent post.

  7. Dear Hannah,

    You are such a GEM!

    Now tell the truth: you are REALLY a young homeschooling Mom, with an advanced degree in theology, 12 children and a husband who adores you, right? Am I close?

    It gives my old heart great hope knowing that YOU are part of the emerging Catholic generation.

    God bless you!

  8. Terry,

    LOL! No, I'm actually just 16 and on fire with love of the Holy Catholic Church and her traditions. AND I'm the biggest Michael Voris fan. :-)

    I'm quite flattered you took the time to write that post to me (I read in other comments you work with him! I wish I were you!) Could you tell him that I'm praying for him and really appreciate all he does? I'm know I'm just a random teen, but it would mean a lot. He does so much and I want him to know how much I appreciate it. I never miss his vortex and I look forward to it every day.

    Thank you. And keep the Faith. God bless you and all at ChurchMilitant.tv.

    God bless!


    1. It's always very flattering when Terry writes... ;)

      Please pray for Michael--he is under attack from all sides.

      If you are on Facebook, get in touch with me. I'd be glad to know you.

      God bless you,
      Christine Niles

  9. Go Hannah!

    Thanks, SuperT, for your excellent thoughts!

  10. Thanks for the article. I think the main difference between Trads and Novus Catholics is that Trads simply point out the obvious contradictions between what The Church taught before Vatican II and what it is teaching now. Most Neo- Cons are infected with Modernism, they will claim that a Truth can actually change with the times. Perfect examples of this are Ecumenism & Freedom of Religion. Both of these ideas as Taught by The Church today were condemned clearly by the Pre –Conciliar Magisterium. When this is pointed out to Neo Cons they will go into contortions to explain that this Truth has changed to fit modern times.
    On Altar girls the Neo –Cons went from denouncing the practice, to enthusiastically endorsing it once JP “The Wonderful” caved in. (Even though this practice has zero history to support it) Trads just simply kept going to exclusively Latin Masses where they did not have to deal with this nonsense.
    It really saddened me to listen to a Vericast podcast recently, where Tim Haines joined in on the side of The Neo Catholics. He made some outrages claims such as: The New Mass is Traditional and can be reverant (Like on a beach in Brazil?), Vatican II did not change anything, Trads are creating a schism( not the Homos and heretics in the Church but the Trads !!) , of course the usual cheap shots basically saying we set up our own Magisterium, that we have no right to criticize the changes blah blah blah. But the one that really upset me was when he spoke about the hate mail he gets from Trads, and one guy from the SSPX who said he needs to talk more about how Jews are corrupting families with the TV. (This is the old anti-Semitic brush Neo Cons love to paint Trads with), Of course on his show Muslims, Prots, Athiests, etc are fair game, but another attribute of Neo Cons is their worship of Talmudic Judaism .
    I tried to find the link to the Vericast show but it is no longer listed , I believe it aired on 8/18 and was called “Blackberry Catholicism” or something similar to that.
    I pray for the day when The Church is restored and the Novus Ordo is a bad footnote in the glorious history of Holy Mother Church!


Please be courteous and concise.