Traditionalism is an Affirmation

One of the most important things for a person to have is an identity. This is why names are so important to us. Adam was given power to name things in the Garden of Eden, showing that he had dominion over the rest of creation, including Eve, whom he named. When a child finds out that a large, strange-looking animal has a name, he finds comfort in the fact, knowing that, if it has a name, and if Daddy can identify it, the thing must not be all that terrifying. It is known.

Traditional Catholics, or traditionalists, name themselves thus because of their embrace of the traditions of the Church. That they do so in the face of large-scale abandonment of those traditions by hierarchy, clergy, and faithful alike is why the name “Catholic” is not always adequate, though it should be. Beyond that very generic concept of what traditionalism is, there are manifold and disparate understandings of what exactly defines the identity of the traditionalist. Avoiding a rigid dogmatism where the Church has given us no dogmatic definition — we must be willing to die for Catholic dogma, but not for our own opinions — I would like to consider what traditionalism is in its essence.

Contrast clarifies the mind, so I will begin with what traditionalism is not. Traditionalism is not a negation. It is not a denial. It is not a finger-pointing followed by a “you’re wrong!” There is a name for that ideology: Protestantism. Protestantism is not a content, but an anti-content. It is not an affirmation, but a negation.

Certainly, the Catholic must assent to the Church’s condemnations as well as to her definitions, but a condemnation’s existence is contingent on two things: the truth that came first, and an error that denies truth. In other words, a condemnation, though good and necessary, only arises because some villain (perhaps Satan himself) concocted a denial of God’s truth. But God’s truth came first.

The texts of the Council of Trent provide us with an illustration of this. Trent affirms Catholic truth in its decrees, which are comparatively lengthy texts that explain Catholic doctrine in detail. At the end of those content-rich decrees, the Council then condemns various errors in its brief canons.

So, the short answer to the question concerning a traditionalist’s identity is that he is a Catholic who affirms the dogmatic truths, moral teachings, and liturgical traditions of the Church. This is substantial and primary. That he does so in the face of opposition, not only from the world, but from others calling themselves Catholic, is secondary and accidental. Let us not invert that order, lest we allow the enemy to dictate our identity to us.

Doing Tradition: The Mass

Doing Tradition: The Mass

A word about the quest for an identity: I believe it is a very modern thing, a product of the rootlessness of modern culture, which severs us from our traditions, our land, and our people. Modernity homogenizes us all, effectively uprooting local customs and cultures. The Catholic is a member of the universal Church, but he is not thereby a citizen of the universe. He is localized, and his encounter with the Faith is in the context of place, language, and custom. A Catholic from fourteenth-century France and his coreligionist from fourth-century Egypt possessed the same faith, morals, and religion (with priests, bishops, Mass, sacraments, etc.), but the variety of language, ritual, and custom was great.

That is as it should be. We receive the Faith locally. We live it in our families. We utter it in our own tongues. We practice it in this church building, with people from this community. (The Italian notion of campanilismo and the Carlist conception of fueros are cultural and political expressions of this.) The living out of the true Faith is what produces a Catholic culture, and that culture is what ought to impress itself on our young, forming their convictions, eliciting their actions, commanding their reactions. An identity — a genuine one, anyway — is forged in this organic fashion. We don’t put them on and take them off as an indecisive college student does his major. That is what the rootless, restless modern man does, and this is one cause of his insanity.

Doing Tradition: The Family (of Toribio Romo)

Doing Tradition: The Family (of Toribio Romo)

In our day, of course, the Faith is not being lived in places where it used to be. The Italian bell towers that give those in their hearing a sense of home still toll, but they often herald the offering of a bizarre liturgy, the preaching of a watered-down doctrine, and a religiosity of conformity to the standards of this world. So campanilismo, “spirit of the bell tower,” does not fully represent what it once did. The same is true elsewhere in the universal Church. Thus is it that traditionalists travel, sometimes great distances, for a traditional Mass, with the catechesis and culture that go with it.

But we can still do very much to live the Faith in our families and our communities. In doing so, we must resist the temptation to make traditionalism into an ideology, a reaction, or a negation of what other people do. Traditionalism is what we are, what we know, and what we do. Here, then, I will catalogue some of the things traditionalists affirm, or ought to affirm:

  • We affirm the Catholic Credo in all its integrity.
  • We affirm that the Catholic Church is the one bride of Christ, and that its Faith and its religion are the only divinely revealed ways to believe in and serve the living God. Consequently, the Catholic Church is the only path to salvation.
  • We affirm that divine truth is assailed by enemies of God’s Church, and that the faithful must “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
  • We affirm the supernatural constitution of the Church, the natural hierarchy of the family, and the rule of Christ the King in society. To what degree we can, we will work to preserve or restore these things in our own families and communities; for the the world, the flesh, and the devil are undermining this order established by God.
  • We affirm that the Church’s public worship of God, her liturgy, has been handed down to us with great care by our fathers in the Faith. This has been done in a beautiful variety of rites. It is wrong to cast off these treasures of centuries of careful development under the protection of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, we will practice them, honor them, love them, and teach them to our children.
  • The authentic response to evil is a life of Christian virtue and holiness, which is none other than the faithful response to one’s primary vocation (the baptismal call to sanctity), lived according to the mode of his “secondary vocation” (i.e., priesthood, religious life, marriage, the single state in the world).

There is much that is dark and evil in life, but if we choose to allow ourselves to be consumed by it, then shame on us. Saint Paul notes that what we lost in Adam is far exceeded by what we gained in Christ (cf. Rom. 5:15ff). One need not have Faith to see wickedness and despair; they are too evident to the senses. The real marvel is the amount of good that actually exists, and that does take Faith to see: water regenerating sinners as God’s children and heirs to Heaven, God Himself coming down on our altars in the appearances of bread and wine, the Gospel being preached to the poor.

And that Gospel itself, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is the “Good News”: good because it comes from the good God, and news, because it needs to be told.

We have a treasure in the Church’s traditional liturgy. We also have great commentaries on it, none better than Dom Gueranger’s Liturgical Year. We also have Holy Scripture, the writings of the Fathers and Doctors, and great intellectual and artistic monuments of Catholic culture that were born of Christian societies. All that we have, plus God Himself, the angels, the saints, and a promise of future glory if we persevere! And let us not forget that we have Our Lady, the Cause of All our Joy.

If, with all that, we need to go in search of an identity, or define it in purely negative terms against some other class of people, then we really have no clue what tradition is.

  • Tom Esteban

    Brother Andre, this is simply fantastic. Thank you for this! I do enjoy a lot of what you’ve written; but this in particular really lifted the spirits. It’s not often that writing makes you think; less often that it makes you look up to the Lord and thank Him for His infinite goodness. This article did both!

    Traditional Catholics everywhere need to read this.

  • Acard944

    Brother Andre, thank you for such a lucid, profound and yet, easy to follow explanation of what it means to be a Traditional Catholic, particularly in this day and age. It gives me much to ponder. I also find myself being drawn more and more to the TLM, although I don’t know where it’s offered here it Tampa, FL.  Anyone have suggestions? Thank you!

  • Jo Anne

    Thank you Brother Andre!   This is going to be printed and shared with others.

  • Jo Anne

    Brother Andre I excitedly indicated I would share this essay.  Let me assure you it will be properly attributed as to author and source.  Thank you again.

  • Tom Esteban

    Here is a complete listing of all Latin Masses available in Florida. I am not sure which are close to you or not. There is one in Tampa though, but it is Independent. Don’t go there. And also don’t go to a CMRI or SSPV chapel.
    If there are no Ecclesia Dei communities (FSSP, ICKSP etc) then stick to diocesan, and if you are desperate SSPX (but of course, don’t buy into a lot of their rhetoric). It looks like there are no Ecclesia Dei Masses in Florida, but a few diocesan, so hopefully there is one close to you!

    Edited to add:

    Here is another one, scroll down to Florida and see if there are any near you – these should all be approved Masses!

  • Pedullad

    Lacking in your “bullet” affirmations is any affirmation of the goodness of the Ordinary Form. 

  • David Homoney

    Absolutely beautiful. This is exactly why am a traditional Catholic by the grace of God. Deo Gratias!

  • Mark

    “Traditionalism is not a negation”. I hear what you are saying brother, that traditionalism defines a positive content, an essence, which you articulated in a catalogue of affirmations. It seems to me however, that the factor of differientiation between traditional Catholic and Catholic is purely and simply the regular attendance by a stable number of the faithful  of the  Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. If am I right, then a qualification of traditional should not be made, since such a qualification seems to imply that anyone who is not apart of the good community of Catholics who regularly attend the Extraordinary Form is not to qualified as traditional. Whereas a more suitable qualifier would be something that actually describes the essence of the distinguishing identity. For example, Franciscans are Catholic, but such a name describes the essence of their identity, in their case of a charismatic origin. The same goes with Dominicans, Benedictines, Opus Dei, Legion of Mary,etc. My point then, is that perhaps a better qualification is in order, or even none at all. In fact, the group of Catholic you mentioned who reject the tradition and magisterium of the Church, are normally the ones to receive a label: like nominal, lapsed, non-practicing, disconnected. And any Catholic who has their own ideas before Christ is not liberal or progressive, but guilty of dissent.

    And yes, there are Catholics who cling faithfully to the Tradition of the Church, her teaching authority, faith and morals, who would equally describe themselves as traditional but who worship according to the ordinary form of the Roman rite.  I would think “Catholic”, in all the richness of its meaning, already contains the fullness with which to express one who is traditional, whether inclined to the Extraordinary or Ordinary Form or both.

    Peace and Good!

  • Justin

    I very much enjoyed this Brother Andre Marie. Part of the reason I keep coming back to this site is that it is one of the least negative traditionalist sites in the Net. You folks at the SBC don’t deny that there is a major crisis in the Church and the world today but you combat all of it by bearing witness to the joy of being a traditional Catholic and allowing yourself to be formed by an all encompassing Catholic worldview rather then to continually harp on all the problems. I think this is why the good Lord has provided for you and your little community and protected you from so much of the chaos. You folks bear witness by your lives to the beauty and the joy of Traditional Roman Catholicism and all that it stands for.

  • Brother Andre, I have posted a couple of times on Rorate Caeli that I personally am looking for a traditional Church but with the love, kindness, and charity of the Franciscans. I say this over there to make a point because both the diocesan TLM’s we have attended seem to be filled with obnoxious traditonalists. We quit going to one Church run by a fraternity even though we love the TLM because many, not all, but many of the traditionalists there are simply pharisees in my judgement. I shouldn’t be judging I know, thanks for this article.

  • Cali012

    The New Mass is a veritable sacrilege; it is anti-Catholic.   This “thing” has been around for over 40 years; time to get with the program and do some honest research.

  • Dear John,

    I have a theory that traditionalists tend to act like abused children because that’s exactly what we are. We’ve been abused by our (spiritual) fathers for many years, and, as such, we are symptomatic. Don’t forget, the Pharisees (“separated ones”) became self-righteous over time because there was a general infidelity to the law of Moses in Israel, and they were the faithful ones. This occasioned their self-righteousness. Further, the priestly class, mostly Sadducee, was corrupt and heretical. (Sound familiar?) Over time, the “separated ones,” descended from those noble men that fought with the Maccabees, became the obnoxious, sanctimonious twits that Our Lord censured so vigorously in the Gospels.

    I would suggest going to the TLM and putting up with the Pharisees as a penance for your sins. (If you don’t have those any more, perhaps you can do it for my sins!) When a fellow trad gets particularly obnoxious, remind yourself — in the spirit of the Church’s traditional liturgy — that you deserve this. (Introit for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: “All that thou hast done to us, O. Lord, thou hast done in true judgment: because we have sinned against thee, and have not obeyed thy commandments: but give glory to thy name, and deal with us according to the multitude of thy mercy. (Dan. III. 28) Blessed are the undefiled in the way: who walk in the law of the Lord. (Ps. CXVIII).”

  • Raguel

    I think the problem with your comment can be seen in your use of the terms “Extraordinary” and “Ordinary” form. It was an attempt to re-frame the role of the old liturgical rite and the new. I think it also shows an implicit negation of the notion of hierarchy in the Church. Objectively the New Mass is a reduction of the old rite. The New Mass is a ritual designed by negating many elements of the old. In other words, the “ordinary form” lacks much of the richness found in the “extraordinary.”

    How can you read about the fathers of the new liturgy, people like Annibale Bugnini, and still think that these two rituals stand on equal ground? It doesn’t contain the same richness, it’s a negation. The Church doesn’t condemn error any more at this time, but that doesn’t mean error doesn’t exist. Not all movements in the Church are equal. It’s unfortunately necessary to use identifiers like traditional.

    But it’s not our place to judge or condemn (that’s the Church hierarchy’s responsibility), it’s our place to follow the words of Jesus and allow the wheat to grow with the cockle. The time of harvest will come when the right people will be raised to the right positions in the Church and they will “Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.”