Some notable appreciations and critiques of Laudato Si’

Over at The Josias I defend the section of Laudato Si’ on world government, in the introduction a section of Henri Grenier neo-scholastic proof of the necessity of such an institution. At the same time, however, I wriggle out of the conclusion that the UN’s authority ought to be expanded by claiming that such a world government could only be just if it recognized the social kingship of Christ. Continue reading

Das Ende der Neuzeit

In the new encyclical, Laudato Si’Pope Francis quotes Romano Guardini’s superb critique of the Baconian program of progress through the technological domination of nature in Das Ende der NeuzeitSadly the Neuzeit (modernity) is far from having reached its Ende.

There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well”, [ROMANO GUARDINI, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th ed., Würzburg, 1965, 87 (English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 82)]. because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. Each age tends to have only a meagre awareness of its own limitations. It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. “The risk is growing day by day that man will not use his power as he should”; in effect, “power is never considered in terms of the responsibility of choice which is inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are taken from alleged necessity, from either utility or security”. But human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint. (§ 105)

Ildefons Herwegen’s Introduction to Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy


In a previous post I argued that Abbot Ildefons Herwegen’s introduction to Guardini’s famous book on the liturgy is an example of the pre-WWII Liturgical Movement reacting to liberal individualism. I argued that it–unlike the book that it introduces–goes to far in the opposite direction. I have now made a translation of Herwegen’s introduction: Continue reading


“The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24) These words, even applied though it is Judas to whom they are applied, are astonishingly harsh, and yet they are not only applicable to Judas. Jerome writes, “it is better not to be, than to be in evil.” And, as Guardini writes, this could apply to any of us:

Aren’t there many days in our lives on which we sell him, against our best knowledge, against our most sacred feeling, in spite of duty and love, for some vanity, or sensuality, or profit, or security, or some private hatred or vengeance? Are these more than thirty pieces of silver? We have little cause to speak of “the traitor” with indignation or as someone far away and long ago.

In Acts 1:20 St Peter applies Psalm 108 [109]: 8 to Judas. It is profitable to read the whole Psalm in that light: Continue reading

Politics and the Liturgical Movement


The Ratzingerian liturgist Dom Alcuin Reid has been having a little controversy with Prof. Andrea Grillo about the extent to which the actual reform of the liturgy after Vatican II reflected the mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the ideals of the Liturgical Movement. In his latest intervention Grillo divides the Liturgical Movement into three phases: “an initial phase (until 1947), a phase of reform (from 1947 to 1988), and a phase of reception (1988-2???) that still continues today.” He then proceeds to make the following contentious claim about the continuity of these phases:

But it is not legitimate to insert jumps, breaks, and ruptures into this history. The Council and the reform, in this perspective, would be the second phase of the liturgical movement! Here I am fighting for a true hermeneutic of continuity, while it seems to me that Reid suggests a dangerous rupture.

Now, I don’t deny that there are some continuities between the pre-1947 Liturgical Movement and mainstream liturgical thought in the 1960s and 70s, but when I read pre ’47 liturgical theology now I am far more struck by how different it is from what followedI claim that this discontinuity is partly a reflection of changing political ideology, and that it is present even in apparently unchanging liturgical projects. I want to show this with the example of celebration versus populum. Both the pre-’47 Liturgical movement (or at least many influential figures in it) and the post-conciliar liturgical establishment (obviously) were for versus populum, but for very different reasons. The pre- ’47 promotion of versus populum had to do with an anti-individualist, anti-subjectivist, reactionary politics that fit with the authoritarian and totalitarian political movements of the times; the post-conciliar promotion of the same liturgical posture was on the contrary tied to an anti-authoritarian, egalitarian ideology that reflected the egalitarian/fraternalist movements of the 1960s.

Charles De Koninck’s masterpiece On the Primacy of the Common Good provides a key for understanding what was going on. De Koninck shows that there are two opposite errors concerning the common good. The first is the individualist error (which he somewhat misleadingly calls “personalist”). This is the error of considering every common good as merely a useful good, a means to realizing purely private goods. The second error is the totalitarian error of considering the common good to be the good of a reified totality (“the nation,” “the classless society” etc.), to which individuals are entirely subordinated. The true position, which De Koninck unfolds with unrivaled brilliance, is that the common good is more truly the good of the person than any merely private good, so that the necessary and just subordination of the individual to the common good is not the alienation of the individual to someone else’s good. Now each of the two errors about the common good tends to produce a reaction toward the opposite error, and this is the key to understanding the Liturgical Movement.

The original Liturgical Movement was (in part) a reaction against an overly subjectivist, individualistic piety that its proponents saw as being prevalent in late 19th century bourgeois society. Thus Abbot Ildefons Herwegen of Maria Laach wrote the following in his Preface to Romano Guardini’s Vom Geist der Liturgie [published in English as The Spirit of the Liturgyunfortunately without Herwegen’s preface]:

The individual raised by the Renaissance and by liberalism has exhausted itself. It recognizes that it needs a connection to an entirely objective institution in order to mature into personality. It demands community [Gemeinschaft]… The age of socialism does have communities, but only such as form a collection of atoms, of individuals. But our desire is for organic, for vital community.

[Das Individuum, durch Renaissance und Liberalismus großgezogen, hat sich wirklich ausgelebt. Es sieht ein, daß es nur im Anschluß an eine ganz objektive Institution zur Persönlichkeit reifen kann. Es verlangt nach der Gemeinschaft […] Das Zeitalter des Sozialismus kennt zwar Gemeinschaften, aber nur solche, die eine Anhäufung von Atomen‚ von Individuen bilden. Unser Verlangen aber geht nach dem Organischen, nach der lebensvollen Gemeinschaft.] (p. 9, cited by Wolfgang Braungart)

Herwegen’s yearning for “objective community” infamously lead him (at first) to greet the rise of totalitarianism in Germany: “The Liturgical Movement is to the religious sphere what Fascism is to the sphere of politics.” [“Was auf religiösem Gebiet die Liturgische Bewegung ist, ist auf dem politischen Gebiet der Faschismus.” From a 1933 speech also cited by Wolfgang Braungart]. Needless to say, National Socialism turned out to be a bitter disappointment to Abbot Herwegen.

Guardini’s book itself is not at all totalitarian. Its second chapter on liturgical Gemeinschaft (jejunely Englished as “fellowship”) is a masterpiece of the authentic doctrine of the common good. It was, however, Herwegen’s less subtle ideas that were more suitable to popularization.

In this context versus populum celebration had the purpose of letting the congregation see the objective liturgical action so that they would not be shut up in their own private devotions, but rather absorbed into the action of the Mystical Body, considered as a kind of giant individual.

After the Second World War, however, people were understandably rather disillusioned with authoritarian and totalitarian ideas. It took a while for the reaction to set in with full force, but in by the 1960s egalitarianism was everywhere on the rise. It was in this climate that the liturgical reforms were carried out, and while liturgists continued to press for versus populum (without any mandate from Vatican II of course) the reasons had changed. Now versus populum took on an egalitarian, horizontalist, anti-hierarchical, almost anti-supernatural sense. The Wir sind Kirche ideal of a happy brotherhood gathered around the table.

Since 1988 (to take Grillo’s somewhat arbitrary dating system) radical egalitarianism has perhaps subsided a bit, and one now finds various versions of the reformed liturgy. The run-of-the-mill banal parish liturgy is perhaps correlated to political neo-liberalism (or neo-conservatism), whereas the more flamboyant type popular in certain cathedral churches correlates more or less with the multi-culturalist “new left.”

Guardini’s liturgical vision (which is simply the true Catholic one) is also present in some places both in certain exceptional celebrations of the usus ordinaria and (perhaps even more often, as Reid argues) in the usus extraordinaria. Ironically, given that Guardini himself was a pioneer of celebration versus populum, ad orientem worship has become a mark of celebrations in his spirit.

I want to emphasize that I am not claiming that liturgical theology or praxis is reducible to an expression of political ideology, but only that a false political ideology, and its embodiment, can have a distorting effect on the liturgy. And this is one reason why I think it so important to promote an authentic Catholic integralism; a political philosophy that would not tend to distort the culmen et fons of the Christian life.

Romano Guardini on Teleology in Nature


I have just discovered that the the Catholic Academy of Bavaria has a searchable concordance of Romano Guardini’s works online. It’s one of those things that I have always wished existed; how splendid to find that it actually exists. The database contains not only the works published during his lifetime, but also many of the lecture notes posthumously published in recent decades. I recently read his lectures on Dante–they are amazingly good. Someone ought to translate them into English. Here is a passage on the arbitrariness of an a-teleological view of nature:

The world is not a mere mass of reality causally ordered, and indifferent from an ethical point of view. That is how modernity sees it. And we would do well to realize clearly that this way of looking at things is not at all the result of science, but rather an a-priori. Modern man sees the world thus not because the world is thus, but rather because that is the way he wants to see it, and thus his view is the result of a selection. Max Weber’s famous definition according to which science must remain value-free–pure ascertainment of fact and analysis of reality– is a postulate, an expression of a certain attitude towards reality, not the result of an authentic encounter with the real. One of the points on which our future hinges is this: whether or not we recognize that the good is not some humanly imposed valuation of things, but rather that condition of the fulfillment of life which is given in being itself.

[Die Welt ist nicht eine vom ethischen Gesichtspunkt aus indifferente Wirklichkeitsmasse, die rein kausal geordnet ist. So sieht sie die Neuzeit, und wir tun gut, uns klarzumachen, daß diese Sehweise durchaus nicht Ergebnis von Wissenschaft, sondern ein Apriori ist. Der neuzeitliche Mensch sieht die Welt nicht so, weil sie so wäre, sondern weil er sie so sehen will, und nach dieser Voraussetzung eine Auswahl vollzieht. Die berühmte Definition Max Webers, wonach Wissenschaft wertfrei bleiben müsse, reine Wirklichkeitserfassung und Wirklichkeitsanalyse, ist Postulat, Ausdruck von Gesinnung, nicht Ergebnis echter Wirklichkeitsbegegnung. Und es ist einer der Punkte, an denen sich unsere Zukunft entscheidet, ob wir wieder erkennen, daß das Gute keine vom Menschen her aufgesetzte Charakterisierung des Daseins ist, sondern im Sein selbst gegebene Voraussetzung der Lebenserfüllung bildet]

Guardini on Our Similarity to Judas


“Betrayal of the divine touches us all. What can I betray? That which has entrusted itself to my loyalty. But God—entrusted to me? Precisely. God did not reveal himself merely by teaching a truth, giving us commands to which he attaches consequences, but by coming to us, personally. His truth is himself. And to him who hears, he gives his own strength, again himself. To hear God means to accept him. To believe means to accept him in truth and loyalty. The God we believe in is the God who “comes” into heart and spirit, surrendering himself to us. He counts on the loyalty of that heart, the chivalry of that spirit. Why? Because when God enters the world, he puts aside his omnipotence. His truth renounces force, as his will renounces that coercive power which would set the consequences immediately after every deed. God enters the world defenceless, a silent patient God. He “emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). All the more profound his summons to the believer: Recognize an unassuming God! Be loyal to defenceless majesty!…And yet, aren’t there many days in our lives on which we sell him, against our best knowledge, against our most sacred feeling, in spite of duty and love, for some vanity, or sensuality, or profit, or security, or some private hatred or vengeance? Are these more than thirty pieces of silver? We have little cause to speak of “the traitor” with indignation or as someone far away and long ago. Judas himself unmasks us. We understand his Christian significance in the measure that we understand him from our own negative possibilities, and we should beg God not to let the treachery into which we constantly fall become fixed within us. The name Judas stands for established treason, betrayal that has sealed the heart, preventing it from finding the road back to genuine contrition.” (The Lord, V,7, helpfully transcribed by “mind your maker”)

(Guardini is hard to translate. Here are the last three sentences in his magnificent German: “Uns selbst enthüllt Judas. In dem Maße versteht man ihn christlich, als man ihn aus den bösen Möglichkeiten des eigenen Herzens heraus versteht, und Gott bittet, er möge den Verrat, in den wir immer wieder gleiten, nicht sich verfestigen lassen. Denn daß der Verrat sich verfestigt; daß er vom Herzen Besitz nimmt und dieses Herz keinen Weg mehr in die lebendige Reue findet – das ist Judas!” How jejune the translation is in comparison.)