LARPing in the Last Days of Franco

One accusation against Catholic traditionalism is that it’s a bunch of LARPing — Live Action Role-Playing. Live Action Role-Playing means that self-identifying traditional Catholics adopt a number of signifiers of another time and place that they identify as more authentically Catholic than their own culture. They use these signifiers to escape into a fantasy world where they imagine themselves as Crusader knights, or latter-day Chestertons and Bellocs, etc.

What sorts of signifiers? For traditionalist priests, this is easy — maniples, Roman-style (aka “fiddleback”) chasubles, birettas, saturnos, etc. The sorts of things Pope Francis calls seminarians “women” for wanting to wear.* For lay people, you’ll get guys growing out their beards, wearing fedoras, sometimes capes, smoking pipes, speaking Latin (immo, conantes Latine loqui), and generally sticking out like sore thumbs. Women wearing mantillas that would make a Castilian Infanta blush. With groups like the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, Property (TFP), we see bagpipers, capes, flags, and assorted mediaevalia. Across the spectrum, you get a lot of identification with selected historical eras in Catholicism, typically European Catholicism. You’ll get your French Legitimists, your Habsburg restorationists, your Jacobites, your Papal Zouaves, your Carlists, and even your Neo-Confederates.** Basically, anything Charles Coulombe promotes falls under the accusation of LARPing.

My concern is not to assess the merits of the accusation, or to ascertain to what extent self-identifying traditional Catholics actually display any of the signifiers above. Rather, if you’re interested in either the accusation or the alleged phenomenon of traditional Catholic LARPing, I invite you to consider a noteworthy early instance that Dr. Robert Hickson recently documented over at the website of Saint Benedict Center. I refer you to his article “The Slow Fruitfulness of His Mercy: L. Brent Bozell, Jr.” (http://catholicism.org/slow-fruitfulness-heart-mercy-l-brent-bozell-jr.html).

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We Weren’t Born Yesterday, and Neither Were Our Vices

Over at the Rad Trad*, I read the following quotation from a Fr. Butler (presumably deceased — RIP). He was complaining about modern customs that leave many people too psychologically damaged for the monastic life:

“Opposed to the supernatural values of poverty, virginity and obedience in religious life, are the modern tendencies towards material acquisitions, sexual promiscuity, and the revolt against authority. This is the Age of Selfishness. Artificiality of custom and pettiness of concern cramp the natural generosity of youth.”

I get so sick and tired of reading things like this. When in history has anyone ever written, “People nowadays are all so normal, well-adjusted, chaste, happy in poverty, and obedient to superiors. What an age to be alive!” When? Seems like everyone observes the sins known from the Fall onward and opines that it must not have been that way before. The medieval aristocracy strikes me as a class naturally prone to “material acquisitions, sexual promiscuity, and the revolt against authority.” Oh, and dueling over slights to honor, and blood-feuds, and dynastic wars fought over hereditary claims to rule countries they might never have visited before. And yet some will tell you that that was the heyday of monasticism.

*http://theradtrad.blogspot.com/2017/02/bits-of-butler.html

Twilight of the Idols, Part I: A Riddle

“For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect.” Mat. 24:24

The purpose of this piece is to expose the prejudice that some Catholics exhibit when considering the life and the work of a specific Protestant author. Here, the prejudice is in the Protestant author’s favor. I intend to point out why this prejudice is incorrect. Let’s start:

Catholic missionaries evangelized the region around Nagasaki, Japan, in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Then the Japanese government turned against the Catholics, martyred the priests, and forced the Church underground. After Japan began to open up to the Western world in the 1800s, a Catholic priest arrived. A group of wary local women approached him and asked three questions (I paraphrase):

1.) Do you venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary?
2.) Do you obey the Pope of Rome?
3.) Do you have a wife?

The priest answered Yes to first two questions and No to the last one. The women then went away. Sometime later, the men of their village returned to the priest, revealing that they were “Kakure Kirishitan,” the secret Christians of Japan.* Continue reading

Pickler of the Stars of Night

The Communion hymn at Mass last Sunday (the Fourth Sunday in Advent) was “Creator of the Stars of Night,” which is the English translation of “Conditor Alme Siderum.” Priests, monks, and nuns recite this hymn at Vespers during Advent. Reggie (Fr. Reginald Foster, O.C.D.) told us about “Conditor Alme Siderum” during our summer class in Rome back in 2007. As originally composed back in the early Middle Ages, the first word of the hymn was “conditor,” which should mean “creator, establisher,” from the verb “condo, condere” (“found, establish”). But because of the meter of the hymn, the stress falls on the second syllable (-di-), which would mean the word comes from the verb “condio, condire” (“pickle, preserve”). With that long-i, “conditor” would mean something like “condiment-maker.” Suffice it to say, don’t go to the early Middle Ages looking for stellar Latin (pun intended).
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Ethnocentrism in the Middle Ages; Or, the World Outside the Summa

There’s a strong tendency among traditionally-minded Catholics to characterize the Middle Ages as a golden age (a golden calf, I almost wrote) when everyone was a great Catholic and the sorts of horrible, outrageous things we see today never, ever happened.

It’s a bunch of rubbish, but it colors a lot of “our” thinking. I recently read an article in which the author cited Aquinas as an example of a natural law thinker who focused on humans qua humans, not qua this or that nationality or ethnicity. The author’s goal was to score a hit against tribalism.

Well and good — to my knowledge, Aquinas doesn’t attempt any taxonomy of nationalities. But then the works of St. Thomas Aquinas aren’t really a mirror of the world in which he lived. Here are some things about the Middle Ages you won’t learn if the only thing you know about the Middle Ages is Aquinas. These facts reveal a world in which tribal/ethnic/national/dynastic identity was very strong and often helped determine the course of history: Continue reading

The Demographic Canard

A canard, so a Google search informs me, is “an unfounded rumor or story.” Today, I’d like to address an old canard that says, “Conservatives/traditional Catholics will outbreed liberals, so liberalism will go extinct and conservatism/traditional Catholicism will triumph.” The idea is that the allegedly higher birth rates among cultural conservatives will lead to eventual demographic victory.

This reminds me of the 2007 French presidential election. The Socialist candidate was a woman named Ségolène Royal. I remember reading that she was one of eight children of a very staunch Catholic military officer . . . who raised a future Socialist presidential candidate.

My point: the demographic canard ignores how many liberals come from conservative families. How many families have a very stalwart patriarch and matriarch, but by the time you reach the third generation, they are just as worldly as any other family? Or the children mostly still go to Mass, but one or two kids are actually liberals? It happens all the time. If anything, it is the fecundity of conservatives that will keep liberalism alive by breeding the children who will turn into liberals. Conservatism is the cradle of liberalism.

The September 11th-Is-a-Date-Important-to-Moslems Hoax

Moslems have their own lunar calendar. They don’t follow the Gregorian calendar. The Battle of Vienna was fought on September 12, *not* 11. No one who recycles these articles about the significance of September 11 ever cites a Moslem source saying the date is significant. See the comment by commenter “49metal” in response to this silly article: http://www.onepeterfive.com/the-top-4-reasons-september-11th-is-significant-to-islam/

The idea that Moslems actually remember the dates of battles like Vienna and Malta is far-fetched. Modern scholars point out that Moslems didn’t much remember the Crusades until leftist/secular/alienated Westerners reminded them of it.

If you’ve bought into this hoax, please cease and desist.

St. Sebastian: Bastion of Catholic Identity

This post is inspired by a homily that the parish priest at my home parish in Illinois* preached about a month ago. The Rio Olympics were in full swing, and the priest commented on American gymnast Simone Biles. He related that Biles, a Catholic, had a devotion to St. Sebastian and lit candles to him. I subsequently found out that St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes and of Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympics were held. The full name of Rio de Janeiro is São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, which in Portuguese means St. Sebastian of the River January (the Portuguese first landed there in January). This got me thinking about St. Sebastian’s role as an icon and bastion of Catholic identity.

Here are the basics of St. Sebastian’s story. He was a Roman soldier who was martyred during one of the persecutions inflicted on the Church by the Roman Emperors. He was sentenced to be tied to a tree and shot through with arrows. He miraculously survived the arrows, so he was clubbed to death. The Christians buried him in catacombs outside the city of Rome that have been called St. Sebastian’s Catacombs ever since. Now a basilica in St. Sebastian’s honor stands over the catacombs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Sebastiano_fuori_le_mura). Here’s a photo I took of St. Sebastian’s martyrdom as depicted on the ceiling (!) of the nave of the Basilica of St. Sebastian’s Outside the Walls:

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St. Sebastian became very popular in the Middle Ages for a number of reasons**. Here, I’ll focus on just one: the all-out awesomeness of his martyrdom. I think in many Catholics’ mind, the martyrdom of St. Sebastian is the template for their own perseverance in the face of persecution and temptation. If you think of it, his martyrdom is very reminiscent of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. He was bound to a tree, with his face to his persecutors, as they pierced his flesh. He is the patron saint of grit-your-teeth-and-take-it.

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American Catholic Parochialism: Some Preliminary Remarks

Tribalism has been a major point of discussion during this election season in the United States, so I thought I might make some remarks on the topic of American Catholic parochialism. I define this as the tendency of some self-identifying Catholics in the United States to interpret American history in light of the specific experience of American Catholics.

I’ll very briefly give two examples: 1.) the entire complex of historical interpretations propagated by E. Michael Jones et al. in “Culture Wars,” Fidelity Press, etc., and 2.) the “Catholic Confederate” meme. That’s the apparently persistent tendency of self-identifying Catholics (often chest-thumping trads) on the Internet who pledge their allegiance to the heritage of the Southern Confederacy on the grounds that the Confederacy was somehow more congenial to Catholic principles.*

Having given those examples, let me ask a question that has been around since America’s Founding, possibly since the foundation of Jamestown: can a Catholic be a good American? By “good American,” I mean an American citizen fulfilling his proper duties under natural, divine, and human law to the commonwealth of the state where he lives and to the federal republic as a whole. I give two answers:

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The Theology of the Rational Soul

This is a (partly) cranky post, about the theological and philosophical sediment of Pope St. John Paul II’s Papacy. It’s inspired by a post at Just Thomism about a contemporary Catholic theologian’s (?) attempt at theodicy. The author of the post points out that not all divine actions are best explained in terms of love. Some are better explained in terms of intellection.

I attribute the sentimental exaggeration of “love” to Pope St. John Paul II’s so-called “Theology of the Body” (TOB). This “theology” (this usage seems wrong; shouldn’t it be “theological school” or something like that?) seems to place the image and likeness of God primarily in the body. Traditionally, the Church has said this image and likeness resides primarily in the rational soul. Continue reading