by Peter W. Miller
In assessing the recent history of the Catholic Church, more than one commentator has applied the term "revolutionary" to what he has seen. Although there are some who intend this term's use in its empty corporate advertising sense (i.e., "very good"), most are attempting to draw into focus events and ideas pertaining to what can rightfully be considered a revolution. Indeed, there are fascinating insights to be drawn from the parallels between the progressive efforts to reform the modern-day Church, and prior revolutionary upheavals in various societies. In more ways than one, the tactics, tendencies and rhetoric employed by Protestant, Masonic, and Communist revolutionaries, have direct correlations with the Modernists and Progressives who have wielded a substantial amount of influence in the recent history of the Catholic Church.
While to some it may seem lacking in perspective and/or sensitivity to demonstrate parallels linking Communist butchers who systematically eliminated tens of millions of people, to liberal theologians and liturgists whose biggest accomplishments may be ambiguous USCCB documents or a children's liturgy, it is important to keep a supernatural (Catholic) perspective. From this perspective, an ineffective Church in the process of "auto-demolition" and the corresponding potential for loss of souls is infinitely more costly than even the most significant loss of life. Although certainly less violent, the results are of no less importance.
Revising the Past
Although political, social and cultural revolutions are nothing new, their image over the past several centuries has undergone a serious improvement. Rather than considered chaotic and grisly affairs, revolutions of the recent past (and the prospect of particular types of revolutions in general) are seen as routine, or even welcomed as fortunate and desirable events. Old adages such as "the winners write the history books" and "he who controls the terms, wins the argument" have never been more applicable than when treating the results of recent revolutions. Even the root of the term "revolutionary" suggests the cyclical or expected nature of such events, minimizing the ethical dimensions of what are often horrible periods of wanton destruction, abetted by what are later seen to be questionable motivations.
The success in promoting a pro-revolutionary view of history can be seen in virtually any American college student. By and large, oversimplified constructs of European history feature tyrannous monarchs pitted against courageous revolutionary freedom-fighters. The medieval Catholic King motivated by service to God and love of his people, is considered a juvenile fairy tale, while the very real inhumanity of revolutionary terrorists is met with either puzzled surprise or dispassionate indifference. While most products of American Universities will dutifully show an extreme repulsion toward Hitler and Nazi Germany, similar regard toward the much more brutal Communist regimes (including one that survives to this very day in China) are nonexistent or inappropriately lacking in perspective. There is little outrage or even notice that a sixteen-foot, 8.5-ton statue of Vladimir Lenin stands on public ground in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, when a comparable homage to Adolf Hitler would be unthinkable. While partially attributable to an ideological sympathy that considers class-based (but not race-based) mass-murder somehow acceptable, communists also managed to fit the template of the Enlightenment-era revolution - "the people" rising up against a supposedly maniacal tyrant. According to this skewed mindset, the villains of the French Revolution were not the brutal Jacobins, whose blood lust quickly turned the people they claimed to champion against them, but the aloof monarchy epitomized by Marie Antoinette. Even among most Catholics, the anti-Catholic nature and resulting clerical bloodshed central to the revolutions in France, Spain and Mexico, is little known or discussed.
Through the lens of history, it can be seen that the success of several revolutionary (and at least a few anti-revolutionary) efforts is owed less to sharing a common cause than identifying a common enemy. In most cases, these have typically been the current government and societal structures - at least one of which has invariably implicated the Church. In order for the revolutionaries to win adherents, they must be successful in the vilification of the immediate past or the status quo. If the relevant population is convinced of the absolute and intolerable evil of that against which the revolutionaries are fighting to destroy, more leverage will be allotted toward their efforts. Again, the history books paint the French Revolution as an immediate net gain for the country and the world as a whole, and college students are fed the lie that not only was France better off in the immediate aftermath of Revolution, but that Napoleon's brutal armies of delinquent thugs were welcomed as liberators shepherding the gift of a Masonic brand of "freedom" throughout Europe (a theme that would not go unrepeated in later centuries).
Accompanying this skewed view of the environment into which the revolutionaries emerged, is a tall tale with regards to the revolutionaries themselves. Quickly forgotten are the underhanded deceptions and schemes utilized in their rise to power. Any mention of the nastiness that ensued is downplayed and dismissed as necessary unpleasantries that are part of the revolutionary process. Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it in his defense of the French Revolution:
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." 1
Pushed to the forefront through means of ink and paint are images of divinely inspired revolutionaries rising up in a pseudo-messianic quest to free "the people." For the revolutionary is never seen as animated by anything more than a righteous obligation to defend the freedom of an ever-elusive entity known as "the people," whose will is always of paramount concern - or so we are told. In this respect, modern liturgists took a page from the book of the Jacobins in their invented claims of a groundswelling of popular support for their cause. Fortunately, neither ruse was built to stand the test of time.
The Catholic equivalents of revolutionaries working to demonize the past are not difficult to find. Negative characterizations of the "pre-Vatican II Church" are standard fare in diocesan publications, bishops' statements, various commentaries, and anywhere liturgical and interreligious matters are discussed today. Whether it's the "bad old days" when Catholics supposedly hated the Jews, or the imaginary clericalist tyranny which relegated the laity to second-class citizenship in the Church, or the dreaded "incomprehensible Latin Mass" which featured a priest "mumbling to himself with his back toward the people," the implication is perpetuated that anything is preferable to the way things were.
Responding to the ever-growing disenchantment many Catholics are starting to realize regarding what we are still being told is a "New Springtime" for the Church, a number of "Why Vatican II was Necessary," "How the Council Saved the Church," "Vatican II - We Love You," type of articles have been appearing with a greater frequency in a number of publications. With an underwhelming amount of direct evidence for positive results from Vatican II, the line of argumentation quickly turns to perhaps the last vestige of a revolutionary apologist - undocumented and largely anecdotal attacks on aspects of the pre-Conciliar Church.
While there is little doubt that the decades leading up to Vatican II were no historically glorious age for the Catholic Church, any comparison between that time and our own would need to border on outright deception to come out in support of the latter. While it is not possible to simply turn back the clock as a remedy to recent damage, it is important that the wide range of reforms the Church has undertaken since the 1960's be honestly evaluated based on their results ("fruits") without the continued propagation of the revolutionaries' misconceptions of the past.
Perpetuating the Revolution
Nowhere is this revolutionary dedication to "any direction but that from whence we came" more evident than among the American bishops. As most of our bishops today function more as politicians in ecclesial dress than shepherds charged with the responsibility of thousands of souls, they are very careful about what they actually and apparently support. Fortunately, no one in a position of power can hide his sympathies for too long, as the actions of bishops aptly demonstrate.
While any and all radical programs and experiments on the diocesan and parish level are given anywhere from reserved to enthusiastic support, the Latin Mass is generally regarded as a cancerous threat to be quarantined, if allowed at all. While priests who regularly and openly dissent from Church teaching receive promotions and commendations, priests attempting to defend those same teachings in the ways most needed are singled out as "divisive" and "not pastorally suitable."
When it comes to the actions of bishops, more can be learned from what they react against and oppose, than what they openly support. Bishops who take years to discipline a scandalous pastor, offering the excuse that the situation is "being addressed" will act in a matter of hours or days to when it comes to something they clearly consider a problem. Regardless of what one thinks of the prudence of Fr. Stephen Zigrang's decision to offer the Latin Mass in his diocesan parish last year, the fact that he was brought before the bishop and relieved of his assignment within 48 hours is absolutely amazing when one considers the prolonged delays and numerous excuses offered for lack of action in other areas (including ones involving the most unspeakable of actions). In talking with an acquaintance, it was at first amusing, but quickly became quite depressing, as we tried to imagine what other action Fr. Zigrang could have done that Sunday morning to receive a similar result - or conversely, how many disturbing and offensive things could he have done and still have been the parish's pastor 48 hours later. A frightening list of actions would have probably resulted in the bishop taking either no interest, or an attitude that he would wait and see how the situation progressed.
As bishops are careful to say the right things, and avoid being caught actively supporting items contrary to the wishes of their superiors, their actions (or lack thereof) speak volumes. While the bishops will laud the Holy Father for his strength and commitment to the Church, how many of them seek to ensure that Catholic education in their respective dioceses bears some resemblance to Catholicism? While bishops will go on their ad limina visits to pledge their obedience to and support of the Pope, how many are actively heeding his repeated call to eliminate liturgical abuses from the Masses under their watch? And as most bishops wring their hands about how best to deal with the "issue" of politicians calling themselves "Catholics" while vigorously promoting and enabling mass infanticide, the same bishops' treatment of any priest or laymen they deem too "pre-Vatican II" is typically harsh and immediate.
The current situation is not unlike that witnessed by St. Basil in the fourth century, as the Arian Heresy was suffocating the Bride of Christ. He would record that:
"Only one offense is now vigorously punished - an accurate observance of our father's traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries and transported into deserts. The people are in lamentation, in continual tears at home and abroad. There is a cry in the city, a cry in the country, in the roads, in the deserts. Joy and spiritual cheerfulness are no more; our feasts are turned into mourning; our houses of prayer are shut up, our altars are deprived of the spiritual worship." 2
Securing the Future
For obvious reasons, education is key to the success and longevity of any revolutionary enterprise. Among the first overt tactics of revolutionaries has been the publishing of their philosophies and propaganda for public consumption; and one of the first priorities after a successful revolution has been the deliberate revision of the educational curriculum for children.
While overtly teaching both a warped perspective of the past and an exaggerated view of the principles of the new ideology is key to revolutionary efforts, it is invariably accompanied by an attempted replacement of the current culture and rituals in use among the relevant population. Victorious revolutionaries worked diligently to institute new heroes, erect new statues, establish new holidays, croon new anthems, promote new communal activities and embellish new legendary events to replace the elements of the culture they sought to replace. The principle behind Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi certainly has implications outside the realm of religious rituals, as evidenced by such efforts to manufacture new or re-purpose existing cultural behaviors to meet revolutionary goals.
With the ancient roots of the Church perpetually at odds with those purporting to stand for "progress" (i.e., opposition to anything established in a matter not to their liking), the sweeping away of the "old culture" and the efforts to destroy Catholicism were often one in the same. In France, the traditional Feast Days of patron saints were by and large replaced with the promotion of new nationalistic holidays and personal celebrations commemorating individual birthdays. Paris saw the its Notre Dame Cathedral converted into the "Temple of Reason" for a time. In Russia, prominent churches were replaced with government buildings and statues of Communist leaders. In Spain, ultimately unsuccessful Communist Revolutionaries utilized large public statues of Our Lord for firearm target practice (practice for a very real six-month slaughter that claimed nearly seven thousand priests and religious in the year 1936).
The combination of a new religious education program and liturgy in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council would serve much the same purpose - and would see "successful" results. Whether by design or implementation (or both), a majority of Catholics attending Mass and educated during this time period would come to hold some very different beliefs about Catholicism than their parents and grandparents. Although many of these Catholics would cease to be Catholic in any meaningful sense of the word (although would identify themselves as such to pollsters for years to come), enough of those who remained with the Church would come to realize this disparity. This growing realization marks the start of the revolutionaries' undoing.
From Revolutionary to Obligatory
The methods employed by the revolutionaries present a fatal flaw that invariably comes into play as the events of history unfold - that by preaching contempt for a previous culture and those who represent it, revolutionaries plant the seeds for their own demise. Or, stated another way, it is self-contradictory to inspire loyalty to that which was born of rebellion.
This was a lesson quickly learned by Martin Luther (a individual not noted for his gift of foresight), when he witnessed the result of his rejection of the Church's authority. In maintaining that Scripture alone holds authority and every man is to interpret the Bible for himself without the aid of the Church, he created an impossible position for himself. As Luther formulated his own beliefs based on his own interpretations (and revisions) of Holy Scripture, he was faced with the prospect of some of his followers rejecting his interpretations, just as he had rejected those of the Church. His own arguments were quite predictably turned against him - a situation he would bemoan in his later years as he would spend much less time arguing with Catholics than other Protestants.
Evangelizing a certain contempt for authority and tradition is an ill-fated endeavor. The following generation is passed along a conflicting expectation - to be faithful to a recent revolution that built itself on rejection of the prior generation. But obedience to rebellion is very tentative proposition.
Modern revolutionaries have to some extent succeeded in passing on their doctrine through an appeal to man's weaknesses (e.g., pride, lust, a false sense of liberty, security), but more significant to note are the growing number of failures. The current regime of pro-abortion radicals are disturbed to find a growing trend among the youth opposed to the killing of children and in support of "traditional values," such as chaste courtships and abstinence. Despite their best attempts to indoctrinate these youths by spending millions of dollars to put "choice education" programs in schools, and pushing their bizarre "fornication & baby killing = liberation & freedom" philosophy, the message is more and more being rejected by the same secularists and pagans one would most expect to embrace such ongoing propaganda.
Ultimately, in order to ensure their work has a future, revolutionaries must either convincingly demonstrate the virtues of their program, or retain the revolutionary structure by force. The Communist regimes still around today owe their longevity more to the latter, as that socioeconomic ideology has long since shown its flaws. When it was just a theory and an idea, it contained a certain amount of appeal (although rejected by the Church from its inception) and was able to convince many of the value of a "classless society" ("the workers' paradise"). Now that we have seen what this "paradise" turned out to be - an inhumane system producing atheistic tyrants and a century worth of gruesome destruction and inhumanity on a scale unprecedented in human history - there is no excuse for retaining the na´ve optimism of the early idealists. Yet there are still some holdouts - those who insist that Communism is every bit as wonderful an idea as it was a century ago, but it just hasn't been correctly implemented. The "right" way to implement a Communist system has not actually been tried and still holds the promise of a glorious future. It is only via a severely biased (if not outright deceptive) depiction of the past that one can make such a case. Although the Communists may be able to hold onto power through sheer force, the ideology is failing to inspire people who have long since realized its inherent emptiness.
Similarly, the post-Conciliar revolutionaries in the Church are having an increasingly hard time demonstrating the success of what they worked so hard to create. Faced with discouraging numbers and a universal impression of chaos to those within and without, they stubbornly stick to their guns. More and more people are starting to recognize the folly of this program, but when speaking out, are faced with the problem of authority since, by and large, those holding positions of authority in the Church are still those who wholeheartedly support the current revolution in which we find ourselves.
Catholic prelates are increasingly finding themselves in the position of Martin Luther, wondering why the revolution they helped facilitate is failing to draw new adherents, or why they are needing to fight a growing counter-effort seeking to undo what they have established. This is perhaps best personified by Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who spent most of his career assisting in the modifications to the Catholic liturgy (among other things), only to find himself in a defensive position railing against "resorationists" whom he saw as threats to the revolution - or what he still terms "the renewal." In another case in which disproportionate priorities reveal one's revolutionary ideologies, the level at which Archbishop Weakland would publicly malign those around the world who were not enamored with his liturgical engineering, far outweighed any efforts against those committing grievous offenses against Faith, Sacraments and Morality, in his very own archdiocese.
This strange mindset can also be seen in Cardinal Roger Mahony, when he reserves his more vocal criticisms for the recent efforts to correct certain mistranslations in the vernacular Mass, and does so using language much more applicable to the liturgical zeitgeist he's championed for years than changing the first word of the vernacular creed from "We" to "I":
"...the last thing our people need is to now disrupt the liturgy, which has been a source of nourishment and strength during this difficult journey." 3
Considering what the average Catholic in the pew has had to endure in recent decades, that the correction of mistranslations can be construed as a "disruption" is a claim seriously lacking in credibility. The prospect is even more laughable when one considers that the annual liturgical circus known as the Religious Education Conference is held each year in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and features Cardinal Mahony as a key participant.
The Beginning of the End
Just as Masons promoted the Gnostic mythology of an ancient society, free from the corruption of the Church and monarchs, Modernist revolutionaries would appeal for justification to an "Early Church" onto which was projected their contemporary notions. In both instances, the highly selective approbation of history belied their true intentions. In the Modernists case, few objective reasons exist for their delineation between that which was considered "pure" and directly applicable to our time (early liturgies, lay participation, the presumed "collegiality", etc.), and that which was simply "outdated" and unthinkable (severe penances, regard toward non-Catholics and heretics, outlook upon martyrdom, etc.). What were billed as noble efforts to recapture what had been lost, were often little more than attempts to utilize history (actual or revised) to justify a given agenda.
As can be seen in a number of areas, the cracks in the fašade have begun to show. More young Catholics are rediscovering that of which they have been deprived, and seeing the tactics of the revolutionaries for what they are. The banal liturgies, weak catecheses and spineless bishops they have grown up around, bear little resemblance to the Church that inspired holy missionaries and martyrs in generations past. More young priests are showing an interest in those same liturgical practices and rituals that the revolutionaries have tried their best to convince us were worthless relics of an age that has forever passed.
Although the Church, its Doctrine and Sacraments will forever remain, certain experiments, errors and fads will come and go. As the efforts of the revolutionaries continue to be crushed under the reality of their failure, the Church will emerge even stronger as it recovers from the damage wrought by the Modernists who are every day losing support for their various causes. In due time, as the wheat is separated from the chaff, their revolution will pass into history, and their failed efforts to permanently alter the Church to suit their ideology, will serve as a valuable lesson and warning for future generations of Catholics.
Meanwhile, we would do well to recall the inspiring words that Pope Pius VI sent to French Catholics in April of 1791, as revolutionary fever was sweeping that nation:
"At length We beseech you all, beloved Catholic children, ... as you recall the religion and faith of your fathers, We urge you lovingly not to abandon it. For it is the one true religion which both confers eternal life and makes safe and thriving civil societies. Carefully beware of lending your ears to the treacherous speech of the philosophy of this age which leads to death. Keep away from all intruders, whether called archbishops, bishops, or parish priests; do not hold communion with them especially in divine worship. Listen carefully to the message of your lawful pastors who are still living, and who will be put in charge of you later, according to the canons. Finally, in one word, stay close to Us. For no one can be in the Church of Christ without being in unity with its visible head and founded on the See of Peter." 4
Postscript: "Red Priests"
Communist and Modernist revolutionaries have more than are a cursory connection, as demonstrated by the efforts of those priests who supported the Bolsheviks in Russia. Considered traitors by most of their Orthodox brethren, a sympathetic author, Dr. Edward Roslof, has dubbed them the "Red Priests" in a recent book.5 In what the author argues was a shrewd gambit for survival, their tactics and ideology suggest little more than revolutionary opportunism. Mirroring the Bolsheviks' promise to do away with the "old culture," these priests would work to create a new conception of Russian Orthodoxy - called "The Living Church" as opposed to one old and dying.
The efforts of the "Red Priests" are hauntingly similar to the Protestant revolutionaries prior, and Modernist revolutionaries to follow. Dr. Roslof recounted in a recent interview how in the early 1920's:
"Some of [the "Red Priests"] simply wanted liturgical reforms, such as the using the vernacular Russian in the Divine Liturgy as opposed to the Old Church Slavonic. Some even tried to change the way the churches were laid out. They thought there was too much emphasis on mystery by having the altar behind the iconostasis, so they wanted to move the altar out among the people. ... Others wanted to change the service to make it shorter and more comprehensible to the ordinary layperson." 6
In this case, they were quickly opposed by men willing to confront such efforts. Men that would have been nice to have in greater supply in the Catholic Church forty years ago:
"This didn't last very long because the people would have none of it. It was too opposed to tradition." 7
The efforts of these priests were not limited to liturgical matters, as they'd give voice to other themes, recognizable to today's Catholics:
"Some of the Red Priests just wanted the Church to be more democratic in general. That is, they wanted laypeople to have a greater say in the running of the Church and not to be quite so clerically oriented." 8
1 C.C. O'Brien, "The Long Affair" (1996)
2 St. Basil, 376 AD
3 Catholic News Service, "L.A. cardinal says Order of the Mass draft needs major work" (5/12/2004)
4 Pope Pius VI, "Charitas (On The Civil Oath In France)" 4/13/1791
5 Roslof, E., "Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Revolution, 1905-1946"
6 Sheahan, L. "Red Priests" Beliefnet