Monday, 17 February 2014

The seductive lure of Fifties Catholicism

Though the Church in the 1950s certainly had Her good points; conversions, especially with missionary growth in third world countries, far greater evil was already outweighing the good. The Providential blessing of the Second Vatican Council, if there was one, was to detonate the fraud of fifties Catholicism. Firstly, we need some definitions. When I use this term I refer to the socio-economic-religio mindset of the vast majority of Catholics in western Europe and North America. Fifties Catholicism was the result of well over 100 years of moral and spiritual degeneration that turned Catholicism from being counter-cultural to a mushy, feel-good religion that outside of Mass barely distinguished the Catholic from his or her nominal protestant neighbour. 

Early signs were the ignoring of Gregory XVI's Mirari vos, and the American bishops desperate equivocations vis-a-vis Pius IX's Syllabus and Quanta cura. The bishops were more interested in being good Americans then good Catholics. The end result of Americanism was the establishment rejoicing in the election of Kennedy to the Presidency. Worldwide, a few decades earlier, Pius XI's Quas Primas on Christ the King received a similar treatment to Mirari vos: silence, obfuscation, rejection...

Open decadence exploded after the Council to reveal the true spiritual state of the Church in these affluent countries. It was Fifties Catholics who wrecked the Church after Vatican II; it was Fifties Catholics who were caught asleep when neo-Modernists seized control of most of the organs of control in the Church. Fifties Catholics were, as religious sentimentalists, unable and unwilling to react. Though not doctrinal modernists, they were - and in their modern reincarnation, still are - social modernists. 

Pius XI was well aware of this disease in 1922, when he wrote his inaugural encyclical, Ubi arcano. These sentimentalists recited (note, they did not pray) Rosaries, novenas, went to Mass every Sunday; perhaps were in the choir, the Sodality etc,; but the Church, the parish had been reduced to a feel good social club. Gone was the missionary, counter-cultural spirit, gone was the fight for conversions, gone was opposition to secularism in all its hideousness. 

Do you wish to know the name of a priest who was a real missionary, a real fighter, a real counter-culturalist? St. Maximilian Kolbe. Yet it was this radically militant priest, who was able, in that hellhole of Auschwitz, to achieve the impossible: ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est... and thus save the souls of the doomed men. Radical Catholicism has that divine ability to spread true love where hatred exists! Yet this same man would no doubt be suspended from the priesthood if he were alive today. Doubt it? Read his writings! You know he would be suspended! A sign of grave spiritual illness in the Church.

Sadly, there are those who wish to return to some form of fifties Catholicism, thinking that a return to the mere externals of worship prevalent at that time will bring a revitalization. Not a chance. It did not work back then, and it will not work today. The culture has changed; and it is always changing. We can no more go back to 1955, then Catholics during the Council of Trent could return to the Church of Aquinas. It is a question of radical evangelization at the moment in time, and moving this into the future. It is a question of doctrine, and living that doctrine, not time travel.

An even greater danger is that this neo-fifties Catholicism is a delusional re-creation of a pseudo-fifties. What some wish to reconstruct is actually even worse than what existed in the fifties, for it is a caricature. One certainly can understand why some seek the all elusive (so they think) doctrinal solidity of the 1950s, but a review of the facts does not support this. 

One example of this externalist fantasy is the use - more the abuse - of the Mantilla. The wearing of it is symbolic not so much always of piety, but an attempt to import a foreign cultural expression from Spain amongst peoples predominantly of northern European extraction to the degree that it has become a totemistic affectation. Polish, English, Irish etc. women did not wear the lace headdress of wealthy Spanish women. Affluent northern European  women wore hats. Poor women wore scarves (usually with delightful folk designs and colours). Nothing is odder than chapels populated with women dressed as neo-Mennonites or flower children - with little pre-pubescent girls in ankle-length dresses  and mantillas. Ridiculous sentimentalism and dangerous Manicheanism. This North American phenomena, driven by influences drawn from puritanism, will not rebuild the Church. To try to go back in time is foolish, to try to go back into a fantasy world, even more so. The Church is not going to be saved with ensuring little boys attend supper resplendent in dinner jackets (not to mention crew cuts), nor blocking out the sun with an umbrella of mantillas. The Church is not localized culture, however quaint or charming; it is the Body of Christ. It is a question of reality, not fantasy. 

But it goes even deeper. The fixation on accidental cultural externals is indicative of a desire to be "safe", to "feel good" to have a sense of "belonging". My apologies to those of you who may be shocked. True religion is not about safety, feeling good, belonging. It is about risk, abandonment, the Cross, suffering. It is about evangelization; not mirror gazing. A sack of a dress, a mantilla, coming out of Mass on Sunday and feeling good is not true religion.  The  Catholic Church is not a social club for self affirmation, for the indulgence of a nice, warm, mushy inner feeling. The Church is not a quasi-political association!

The Church preaches Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. Nothing more. Her preaching is the Cross; living the Cross. One does not get to Heaven on Feather beds! as St. Thomas More would say. One gets to Heaven on the Cross. Fifities Catholicism was a Catholicism of a cross-less Christ. Blasphemy! 

Fifties Catholicism will not bring back the Cross; it will only bring back a more horrendous replay of the disaster of the immediate conciliar and post-conciliar years.


Unknown said...

I guess this post is really about taking a shot at those who favour a return to tradition. Like any other period of history the fifities was a time when you had people living and worshiping in the true sense of the word and those who merely attended to the faith out of a cultural experience, much like today.
I suggest that the empirical evidence would support the fact that the knowledge about right and wrong, the basic tenents of the faith and the living of faith practices which were of themselves missionary witness was much much stronger back in the fifties and early sixties than now.
So I remain puzzled by your attack on this era and some Catholics' desire to return to tradition where the faith was taught and practiced to the fullest.

Barona said...

No, it is not an attack on a return to Tradition. On the contrary it is a call for a real return to Tradition. If you re-read the post carefully you will notice that I said there were good things: to deny that would be a grave error. However, there was - for decades - a gradual decline in true religion. Catholicism had become cozy, dry...the Faith was not practiced to its fullest or we would not have had such a fall and so quickly. If the churchmen had had a strong Faith, they would not have succumbed to neo-modernism. If the faithful had had a strong faith they would not have been so easily misled by misleading churchmen. God draws good out of evil, and He used the Council to blow aside the decadence of fifties Catholicism. We cannot go back: we need to return -certainly - but to the spirit of the early Church. Why? Because it is the early Church that will show us the spirit of how to live in a violently anti-Catholic age. Fifties Catholicism will provide no defense; it would be swept aside again.

I prefer the Tridentine Mass. If I had a choice I would only attend it. However, I am also very well aware that attendance at that Mass in no way guarantees piety. I know many Catholics who attend vernacular novus ordo masses, but are infinitely more Catholic. Why? Because they live the Mass. They live the Cross. They live Jesus crucified. This is the key.

Barona said...

I also presented St. Maximilian Kolbe as an example of Tradition and evangelical fervor as the role model for priests. This is true, radical Catholicism - there is no other. |So, I am calling for a militant spirit to return into daily life, daily living, to live the Faith.

Gabby said...

I have also been watching the 'return to the 50s' phenomenon in puzzlement. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and I attended Mass in a lot of different parishes and none of what I see now did I see then. The idea of 'returning to veiling' is so foreign to my experience that I wonder who is rewriting history. Even the term 'veiling' is foreign to the Catholicism of the 50s & 60s.

Barona said...

Gabby thanks. This post really evolved over a few weeks. Ideas were absorbed from friends.... I think - I believe I tried to articulate this - people naturally want security. We see a crisis; we seek something to get us around this crisis. The idea is that the 1950s was a great time for the Church, a great time for Catholics. No doubt, compared to much of today it was. But today did not come out of nowhere: what happens yesterday affects today... the Church in the 50s was much too comfortable....Catholics today get hung up on Her European visuals, forgetting that Her origins were Middle eastern. Also, not to be forgotten is the Church's massive Eastern Rite(s) heritage. The Divine Liturgies of the east are even more venerable than the usus antiquior. We must not forget this.

Further Cardinal Ratzinger has written that a return to an all Latin west is not the solution; even Bp. Fellay has so much admitted this in the past. The solution, as I see it is a return to the spirit of the Church under persecution: because that is what it is coming down to - at least in the "West".

Eugene said...

My wife recently rescued her mantilla from a trunk in the loft, she now wears it again to the TLM we attend once monthly and she does so out of her personal reverence for the real presence of Christ during Holy Mass.She does so without affectation nor of fashion awareness as viewed by Francis'somewhat recent jaundiced reference to the "Vetus Ordo" itself. Every era and epoch in the church's history has not been without problems and defects, but your cruel caricarture of the fifties is cruelly insulting.

Barona said...

Genek, if you re-read what I wrote I carefully qualify that not all who wear the Mantilla do so as an affectation. I refer to it as an external symbol that is not integral to the re-building of the Church.

Alas, if what I wrote were only a caricature. However, the Church was high on the cliff (and, as I noted not all was wrong in the 50s); but too much was wrong for there to have been such a great fall and so!!! quickly. Laity, churchmen solid in the Faith, do not torpedo their Faith in a few years. But they did. Neo-modernism, the enemy was from within. Examples abound: "Catholic" Quebec, "Catholic" Belgium....

50s Catholicism is not so much a 50s phenomena, but a gradual, nearly 200 year build-up of internal corruption since the French Revolution: it is nothing but an attempt to join the liberal culture. Americans had their own unique form: Americanism. Other nations - e.g. the French had the Sillon etc.

Mark Thomas said...

I am always surprised when certain traditionalists long for the so-called "Church of the 1950s." If they were transported to that time, and the Internet existed, then they would bash and trash Pope Venerable Pius XII daily.

The reason is that while by everything that we can measure, Pope Venerable Pius XII was a holy man and great Pope in many ways, he also — and the following is undeniable — initiated the liberalization of the Church via radical reforms.

Pope Venerable Pius pushed the Church into the Ecumenical Movement, launched (with Monsignor Bugnini at his side) radical liturgical reforms, promoted liturgical vernacularization, introduced radical reforms that relaxed traditional fasting practices...and so forth.

The Church did not collapse during Pope Venerable Pius XII's reign as it took time for his liberal reforms to take root within the Church. He did not live to see the results of his reforms, which, again, he had launched with good will. That time would not arrive in full until the 1960s.

It also had taken time for the many liberal Cardinals and bishops appointed by him to implement their programs within the Church.

But there isn't any question that if returned to the days of the 1950s, today's traditionalists would attack Pope Venerable Pius XII daily. They would do so as they would witness the liberal dismantling of the Church that had been launched during the 1950s.

Again, it wasn't until the 1960s, when sufficient time had passed for Pope Venerable Pius XII's reforms to have taken root within the Church, that the downside to his reforms had surfaced beyond doubt. (That said, during the 1950s, objections to Pope Venerable Pius XII reforms were heard here and there within the Church.)


Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas said...

Barona, your portrait of the Church of the 1950s is akin to that which Father Leonard Feeney had painted during that time. During the 1950s, Father Feeney insisted that beneath the Church's surface was rot and pending collapse.

Actually, as early as the 1940s, Father Feeney had sounded the alarm that the Church was on the wrong course and headed into a state of collapse.

Anyway, it is interesting to me that Barona's take on the 1950s is in line with Father Feeney's (requiescat in pace) bleak assessment of that time.

That said, I believe that the restoration of the TLM is required if we are to lift ourselves from the (Latin) Church's state of collapse. However, the reality is that even if the TLM becomes widespread throughout the Church, the Novus Ordo will not disappear as the Novus Ordo is favored by millions of Catholics.


Mark Thomas