Sunday, December 11, 2011

Two Days, One Not Infamous

There's a limit to how much an Anglican should spend on the new Roman mass translation that English-speaking Catholics switched to on Lent 1 of this year. It's not as bad as the old, pedestrian version, with its occasional egregious misrepresentation of scripture, but it isn't good either: nobody noticed that one needs to use English syntax as well as English vocabulary (and never mind "consubstantial"), and the problems with the Latin text are faithfully reproduced. It perhaps represents a break from the ecclesioclasm of a generation back, but to suggest that it is going to break Catholics of rushing through mass as quickly as possible so they can get to their Sunday shopping, or that they are going to start having kids in sufficiency to supply the altar with priests and the schools with nuns: I don't see that happening. An Anglican converting, I suspect, is going to be stuck with most of the same RC theological and practical issues.

My traddie acquaintances are all for it, of course, topped with some degree of longing for Tridentine Latin. Not that they are SSPX/V sedevacantists; they aren't that rebellious. But it is striking the degree to which an anti-establishment contrarianism colors them, and I have to suspect that the fact of them having all been betrayed by the Episcopal Church enters into this. Of course our grip on the establishment was broken back in the sixties, much as we continue to delude ourselves otherwise; we are really incapable of putting pressure on the political establishment anymore, and we have become increasing divided in our subservience to social liberal interests on the one side and neocons on the other. But the liberal capture of church polity continues to make the faithful life difficult, and it is understandable that people give up and go elsewhere.

Once elsewhere, though, the craziness bursts forth. One of the things that I find striking is how often this sort of conversion is accompanied by an attachment to political revisionism as well, and aside from the occasional Marxist, there seems to be a strong attraction to American right wingery: paleoconservatism, or its cousin libertarianism. And that leads to a striking susceptibility to crank theories. So every December 7th rolls around, and one of these guys puts up his inevitable post advocating the old theory that FDR deliberately provoked the Pearl Harbor attack in order to pull the USA into the war. The centerpiece of this conspiracy theory is Robert Stinnett's Day of Deceit, which any genuine historian finds faulty to the core. It's easy to find fault with Stennitt's claims: the McCollum memo does not support his interpretation, and his claims about allied code reading simply are not true. A set of fringe theorists making questionable claims is not good enough reason to abandon the orthodox theory: that while we did put pressure on the Japanese, their military considered us a threat anyway and might just as well have attacked without the pressuring; that the surprise at Pearl Harbor was paradoxically made possible by the fact that the chain of command did not ensure readiness because the expectation of attack was so high, they presumed that obvious preparation would be made; that FDR did want to go to war against Germany, but was surprised that Germany would make this possible by (for once) honoring treaties and declaring war on the US on Japan's behalf.

Not surprisingly, these people don't like JFK and are willing believe in assassination conspiracies about him. The fact, unfortunately, is that JFK was the model of a modern American Catholic, and these traddies are not. Maybe they're conservative, maybe they aren't, but they take the more classically Catholic position that the pope is a point of loyalty, not someone to be obeyed. One also imagines that the average American Catholic is of a more pragmatic view on politics, and is not wedded to the hyper-Enlightenment rationality of libertarianism, which really doesn't take sin seriously enough. It is entirely germane that that the doctrines of American conservatism are more powerful than the teaching of the church, so that when the Vatican insists on the obligations of societies, through their governments, fulfill their obligation to take care of the poor, the traddies go through contortions to push this away from the teaching authority which they would otherwise ascribe to the church.

I've not been able to turn off my Protestantism anyway. But it seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with a viewpoint which is controlled by a doctrine of fringiness.


Jon in the Nati said...

Long time reader, first time commenter.

You're not wrong about the pull of conservatism among American Catholics, and the lengths to which some will go to make the Vatican's doctrines jive with the doctrines of American right wing politics. Its not that there is not significant overlap (there is), but that certain things the Vatican views as not negotiable cause problems for those who hold to doctrinaire conservative political views.

You're also not wrong about the 'new' missal; although it is not perfect, this translation is also far superior to, and more theologically rich than, the old one.

I sympathize with your feelings that you must leave the Episcopal Church; I did the same thing two years ago. I was a committed Anglo-Catholic, but I left not because of the women or gays issue, but because of many of the same things you cite (theological and liturgical fidelity, etc). I went to the Catholic Church (though a significant slide down the candle was necessary); I doubt you will do the same. In any case, I will pray for you. Good luck.

C. Wingate said...

I have a certain suspicion that the excessively Latinate construction of the new translation represents a triumph of doctrinalism over other considerations. The other significance (noted by Bishop Chartres) is the implicit rejection of ecumenical consultation in these translations.

Thank you for your comments.

Jon in the Nati said...

I think you're right about both of those things, though I think we would likely disagree on whether those are positive or negative things on the whole. For better or for worse, the era of loosey-goosey doctrine and cuddly, feel-good ecumenism that characterized the 60s-70s is gone, and is not coming back.

And with regard to ecumenism (or lack thereof) in the new translation, I think the realization now is that Rome must look out for Rome's self first: this is what Rome felt Rome needed, and what sundry Protestant denominations thought was ultimately of secondary (or tertiary) importance. I generally view this as a healthy attitude for the church, but reasonable minds can and do disagree.