Intellectual Sympathies

I’m a fairly conservative Roman Catholic. As such, it would appear that I would have a lot intellectually in common with other Roman Catholics, a bit less so with, for example, Orthodox Christians or Protestants, less but still some with religiously minded Jews, less with Muslims, less with members of the Eastern faiths, and very little at all with deists, agnostics and atheists. However, this does not appear to be the case.

I don’t mean that I think atheists are closer to the truth than Protestants in the sense that what they believe is more true than what the Protestants believe. What I mean is that I can more easily see how atheists believe what they believe than see why Protestants believe what they believe. To put it a different way, I disagree with the axioms that atheism accepts, but I think they tend to draw the right conclusions from their premises. And I simply can’t see how Protestants can reasonably believe what they do believe (in the inerrancy of Scripture, for example) without also believing in other things (such as succession of Peter).

Here’s another example. I’ve recently been having a few debates with a traditionalist Roman Catholic. (Traditionalist in this case means he believes that mainstream Catholicism is heretical and that the Pope is teaching heresy, but he is still the Pope, and all that the ‘faithful remnant’ can do is try to re-evangelize the Church. He compared the situation today to that of Athanasius when fighting against Arianism.) They’ve covered various topics, but centered on the Novus Ordo Mass, specifically the fact that the vernacular (as opposed to Latin only) is now allowed to be used. He claimed that since the Council of Trent expressly stated that only Latin was allowed at Mass, and that the vernacular was not allowed, and since declarations of ecumenical councils are considered infallible, that rule is still in effect, and the current Novus Ordo mass is invalid (or sacrilegious, or heretical, or something – I couldn’t figure out what exactly the degree of wrongness was in his opinion).

My argument against this is pretty simple, I think, though I didn’t manage to explain it in full during the real-life conversation… First of all, it is true that solemn declarations of ecumenical councils on matters of faith and morals are infallible, but I would say that this is not a matter of faith and morals. This should be clear from the fact that it has to do with how the Mass is practiced, not with, well, faith and morals.

But if it isn’t… Well, if the declaration was infallible, then what it said (that the Mass must always be in Latin) would have to have always been true, and the Church would have simply been clarifying a timeless truth. This is clearly not the case, though – the very first Mass, the Last Supper, was in Aramaic, so it simply cannot be a timeless truth that masses must be in Latin.

As such, while it is perfectly fine for the Church to say (as it did at the Council of Trent) that every mass from this point on must be in Latin, that’s not an infallible statement, it’s just a decision the Church has made that the faithful must adhere to. As its simply a decision, the Church can go back on it at a later time, as it clearly has.

So it seems pretty clear to me that the Novus Ordo, whatever one thinks of it (I don’t particularly like certain aspects of it, to be sure), is not heretical or sacrilegious or contrary to Church doctrine. And I can’t understand how one could believe it is.

It can be quite frustrating arguing with Traditionalists, mainly because of how similar our positions are. I often find myself thinking that they have pretty much everything right, except certain nuances of logic are lost on them, so they go from true premises to false conclusions. That situation is completely different from that between me and, for example, atheists. With them, I can try to change the assumptions they make, but in general I can’t point to flaws in their logic.

And, importantly, it would be rather easy for me to become an atheist by simply changing my axioms (not that this is likely to happen, but in theory it could), but it would be impossible for me to become a Traditionalist unless I decided that the logical steps I’ve followed from my axioms to my Catholicism are invalid. Which won’t happen. That’s what I mean when I say that my intellectual sympathies tend to lie more with atheism than with other forms of Christianity – even though other forms of Christianity have more of the truth than atheism does.


3 Responses to Intellectual Sympathies

  1. Julia says:

    For the purposes of apologetics, not all Protestants believe or support the inerrancy of scripture, frankly because it’s a really hard thing to defend and often churns up a variety of contradictions. Protestantism encompasses a wide variety of takes on different issues, the inerrancy of the scriptures included, though what you are describing is largely the fuzzy grey area between fundamentalism and not (or the far end of the spectrum, liberalism, which as far as I’m concerned, isn’t really the issue here).

  2. starbreaker says:

    I don’t believe that Traditionalist Catholics view the Novus Ordo mass as invalid soley because it is not said in Latin, because indeed the mass of Paul VI can and is celebrated in Latin in various places. What bothers Traditionalists about this new mass, is the fact that the liturgy has been changed to accomodate indifferentist, modernist, and liberal trends within the Church, amounting to what, in their opinion is a Protestant “Lord’s Supper” service. Some Traditionalists, will go so far as to say that the Novus Ordo mass is in fact more closely resembles a Masonic assembly than a true Roman Catholic mass. The Traditionalists view the mass of Paul VI as a lax and irreverent parody of Catholicism, where the assembly itself is the object of worship, rather than the Blessed Sacrament. They are bothered that the sense of the sacred, the sense of the holy, has been all but removed from the liturgy, and that “man” , rather than Christ has become the center of focus, which according to Traditionalists is blasphemy.

  3. A good point. I don’t disagree that the Novus Ordo is in many ways inferior to what is preceded, but I don’t like the suggestion that it is not a valid mass just because the liturgy is not ideal. I think some Traditionalists want to say that the old Mass is the only possible valid Mass – not only that the new Mass is bad, but that the Church was not allowed to change the Mass at all. I think the Church is definitely allowed to modify the liturgy over time – after all, the Tridentine rite wasn’t the original form of the mass – and I think the Novus Ordo is a valid modification along those lines.

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