On ‘Traditionis Custodes,’ Keeping Calm, and Carrying on

“Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). So goes the eighth Beatitude, which is the only one of the eight followed up by an inspired “footnote” at the end: an addendum employing the second person pronoun (more personal than the third), and expanding upon this Beatitude’s “merit and reward”:

Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you (Matt. 5:11-12).

Might we traditionalists, who are being singled out by Pope Francis, be recipients of this Beatitude? The answer depends upon the interior dispositions of each one of us, of course — the degree of our cooperation with grace — but the remaining conditions seems to favor it. Bishop Athanasius Schneider summarized the situation when he told Diane Montagna that his “initial impression” of the motu proprio was that “of a shepherd who instead of having the smell of his sheep, is angrily beating them with a stick.” As I argued last week, implicit in Traditionis Custodes is “the terrifying notion that the Roman Church’s own liturgical tradition bears within it the seeds of schism.” That would make those who are faithful to that tradition to be virtual schismatics.

If we are having evil spoken about us for Christ’s sake, let us make sure that it is indeed spoken untruly — the critical adverb in verse eleven — lest we simply reap the just payment of our own personal debt of sin.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller is counseling calmness and patience in an essay entitled, “‘Traditionis custodes’ considered in the clear light of the day.” One reason he is urging this calmness is that a law that is not received is not a law. He cites Gratian (“the Father of Canon Law”) to this effect (source):

Laws are instituted when they are promulgated; they are confirmed when they have been approved by the long standing custom of those who observe them. Some laws have have been abrogated by the long standing custom of those who have acted contrary to them, because laws are confirmed by the long standing custom of those who observe them.

Although he does not say it directly, Cardinal Brandmüller appears to be saying this: “Be at peace, my traditionalist brethren. Just ignore the new motu proprio; keep calm and carry on; if it is not received as law, it will not be law, but will fall into desuetude and ultimate de facto abrogation.” Infected as we are with non-Roman ideas of English Common Law and legal positivism, such an assertion is indeed shocking to many moderns, but it does seem to flow logically from Gratian’s text. On the other hand, as steeped as the good Cardinal Brandmüller’s thoughts may well be in the legal tradition of the Church, the fact remains that brutal enforcement of the motu proprio is already a reality in some places, as in Costa Rica and Washington, D.C. Still, I believe that the advice His Eminence gives is helpful. This moment will pass. Damian Thompson has said (in a tweet I cannot find) that Traditionis Custodes will have a shorter life than Summorum Pontificum. I believe he is probably right. Interestingly, the blowback that the harsh papal document has already engendered is intense, not only from laity and the lower clergy, but also from upper echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Consider:

The evil that hangs in the air of the Church is not entirely offset by these good moves on the part of cardinals and bishops, and there remains so much more that makes us grieve. Moreover, the Church’s liturgy, as critically important as it is, constitutes but one area of ecclesial life that is in sad shape. We cannot forget the host of related crises in fundamental doctrine, theology, philosophy, catechetics, Scripture studies, religious life, Catholic education (all levels), Catholic medical institutions, ecclesial governance, clerical formation, the still pandemic problem of sodomy in the clergy, etc. As for conditions in the temporal sphere, they are as bad as should be expected when the salt of the earth is in such an unsavory state: Consider the growing biomedical security state that wants to force upon us an unethically sourced experimental jab for a condition most of us have more than a 99% chance of surviving (see also: Mike Church’s interview with Laurie Calhoun on the ‘Military Medical Industrial Complex’). Meanwhile, many in the hierarchy and in Catholic institutions are offering an incoherent and inconsistent response to this murderous overreach of Big Gov.

Does this moment in Church history make you sad? If so, consider these sobering but illuminating words of Joseph Pieper:

…Thomas Aquinas, who so often is quoted in support of practical optimism, also teaches: The truly penetrating knowledge of created things is associated with an abysmal sadness, an insuperable sadness which cannot be lifted by any natural force of the knowledge or will (according to Thomas it is this sadness the Sermon on the Mount refers to when it is said: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted). [Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, p. 120-121; emphasis mine.]

If you are sad, congratulations! You may well have a “truly penetrating knowledge of created things”! That would distinguish you from a large percentage of our contemporary political, medical, scientific, journalistic, and sadly, clerical luminaries. All irony aside, the sadness of the human heart can be made a pleasing oblation to God, and is, as Dr. Pieper points out, an opportunity to benefit from another Beatitude. In order thus to benefit, we must practice the theological and moral virtues, so that, “doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

Does this moment in Church history make you angry? That, too, is appropriate, though the passion of anger must be properly moderated if we are thereby going to achieve a genuine good by its proper use.

If we feel angry, sad, or even persecuted for justice’ sake, we must be careful. For God’s sake — literally! — we must avoid anything resembling that detestable quest for victim status that the cultural Marxists use to tear down society and foment hatreds. We are not interested in “intersectionality,” but in Catholicity, and we are interested in it for God’s glory and the salvation of souls — even the souls of those who are presently our enemies, for genuine Christian charity demands that we will their ultimate good. Catholics cannot pretend to have no enemies; we are commanded to love them supernaturally.

As for the internecine wars in the Church, we must strive to practice that true “obedience of faith” Saint Paul extols, and not obedience to commands that are unjust and antithetical to the theological and moral virtues. In the months and years to come, this counsel may be more important than ever.

If we actually believe that there is no salvation outside the Church — an infallibly defined dogma of our holy religion — then we are aware that we have some serious evangelizing to do. We should also grow in a knowledge and love of our Faith. Current events are forcing a closer look at the limits of the papal office (yes, it has limits!). Concerning papal limits in strictly liturgical matters, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski has recently made this fine contribution to the question. In doctrinal matters, we have the work of Professor Roberto de Mattei, and two works by the Brazilian scholar, Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira: Can Documents of the Magisterium of the Church Contain Errors?, and Can the Pope Be a Heretic? Prayer, work, and study. These build civilizations.

Amid all this, we are lost if we are without joy, even if it is “battle joy.” The same Saint Thomas Dr. Pieper cited above about sadness also said this:

Now as man could not live in society without truth, so likewise, not without joy, because, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. viii), no one could abide a day with the sad nor with the joyless. (ST II II, Q. 114, A. 2 ad 1)

Ultimately, the attack on Catholic tradition is an attack on Him who bequeathed that tradition to us. He will avenge His own glory. Meanwhile, let us be faithful to that tradition, thankful for it, and joyful in living it — all for God’s glory and no matter what, per ómnia sǽcula sæculórum. Amen. Allelúia!