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Liberals, Conservatives, and the New Orthodoxy Print E-mail
By David G. Bonagura, Jr.   
Thursday, 07 March 2013

NOTE: Be sure to read Robert Royal’s Daily Conclave Report, from Rome. Bob’s second installment is up today. You may access it from the ad to the right, or from our new Conclave section on the left (just under the list of Recent Columns), or by clicking here.
 

The retirement of Benedict XVI and speculation about his potential successors have brought back the old categories for Catholic clergy and laity – liberal, progressive, and conservative – in the secular media. But the media have missed a critical point: while there are certainly various viewpoints within the Church (which has always been the case, and is a good and healthy condition so long as these viewpoints are faithful), these labels, as they have been used for decades, no longer fit the current state of the Church.

“Liberal” or “progressive” were terms applied in the years after the Second Vatican Council to describe Catholics who wanted the Barque of Peter to sail with the winds of secular modernity. Liberals essentially wanted two things: power – a weakened papacy and a more democratic, lay-directed Church – and sex: birth control and women priests, as well as the abolition of clerical celibacy. “Conservatives,” by contrast, were those who defended the traditional teachings of the Church in the face of vociferous demands for change.

After thirty-five years of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the liberal project has exhausted itself in failure. Not one of its political goals has been realized. There are certainly still liberals, and their influence is still palpable in chanceries, choirs, schools, and religious education programs throughout the country. But our Lord taught that we can know a tree by its fruit, and the fruit of liberal Catholicism is scant indeed: empty seminaries, empty pews, and closed schools. Moreover, the shrill bitterness that flames from some liberal periodicals is not the recipe for inspiring holiness and humility.

Most ecclesial liberals are now advanced in years, and there are precious few young people stepping forward to assume their mantle. Liberal standard-bearer Hans Küng, now 84 years old, is still forcing the same tired demands. In his mania, he has failed to notice that the Church has passed him by.

In the reigns of John Paul and Benedict, “conservative” Catholics, both lay and cleric, have emerged into a more prominent role within the Church, but not according to the old definition nor to the old stereotypes of power struggles. To use the old political label one last time, distinctions exist within what was once referred to by the umbrella label of conservative Catholicism.

In the current ecclesial landscape, there are Catholics who loyally and fiercely support the Church against the immoral demands of the secular West: they are outspoken opponents of abortion, same-sex marriage, and government encroachments on religious freedom. They adhere to the true teachings of Vatican II as expressed by the Council fathers, not the liberal “spirit” as falsely advanced by what Benedict recently called the Council of the media. Their theological standard is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and they are employing it to foster the New Evangelization.

Let us call this perspective the “new orthodoxy,” the position of not a few Catholics in their late forties and fifties, and of a growing number of American bishops, as well as many cardinal electors in the coming conclave. To be orthodox is to hold as true the teachings of the faith, and this group does so with conviction.

Yet the “new orthodox” typically lack something. “Orthodoxy” means “right worship,” but right worship according to Vatican II – a solemn liturgy in which the priest and faithful glorify God together – is not a major concern of the Catholics in this group. Instead, they prefer the people-centered orientation that is the principal feature of the Novus Ordo. At the same time, they remain uninterested in or even hostile to both liturgical beauty as modeled by Benedict and the traditional Latin Mass.

The second group inside the conservative camp, generally of a slightly younger age, shares the same goals as the “new orthodox,” but for them reverently celebrated liturgy is the ultimate standard of orthodoxy. They believe wholeheartedly in the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi – how and what we pray directly influences how and what we believe. For these Catholics, the liturgically minded pontificate of Benedict XVI has brought a great deal of hope and energy to the Church. Let us call this second group the “Benedictines.”

It is reasonable to hope that new orthodox and Benedictines will work together for the good of the Church. But as is often the case with the People of God – who, after all, are still a community of sinners trying to become saints – the two sides can be at odds over intra-ecclesial matters, especially the liturgy. And it is precisely this tension that may be the central point of contention in the conclave to elect Benedict’s successor. Those who assume the many cardinals created by Benedict share his mind on the liturgy have not been paying attention.

Labels are merely tools that help us understand the world through broad categories and associations. A new moment has gained ascendency within the Church while an old one is dying away. It is time to update our terminology to reflect this reality. For it is from the ranks of the new orthodox and the Benedictines the next pope will be chosen.

 
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor of theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, New York.
 
 
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Comments (28)Add Comment
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written by Bill M, March 06, 2013
An engaging article, and I particularly appreciate the distinction between the new (neo-?) Orthodox and the Benedictines. But isn't it best just to reject labels like "conservative" and "liberal" altogether? Many at Vatican II who fit under the above rubric "conservative" were nonetheless strongly divided on issues of ecclesiology and religious liberty. (Even today, there are "conservative" Italian and "conservative" American cardinals who see to strongly disagree about the state of the Church and the Curia.) Furthermore, doesn't the Church, and especially the American Catholic Church, need to recognize that "conservative" is not always good? Or, at least, that a certain caricatured vision of conservatism whereby nothing changes is not always good? If we are to be faithful to the Tradition, then we must be open to its unfolding through and with the Holy Spirit.
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written by Manfred, March 07, 2013
One of the salient practices in the Roman Catholic Church were the "missions" which were given by guest priests (Jesuits, Dominicans,etc.) to the parish. They would focus on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven or Hell. It was a time of spiritual renewal for those who attended. Since Pope John XXIII chose to have his Council rather than to announce the "message of doom" (his term for the Third Secret of Fatima), the practice of having missions has disappeared. What's to worry about? After the last fifty years I have no interest in who is elected Pope. Every Catholic is responsible for his/her salvation. The only ones who can assist us are Christ and His Mother.
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written by william manley, March 07, 2013
In all due respect I think your dismissal of the liberal movement in the Church is incorrect. The liberals never did get what they wanted. Had more power been given to the laity perhaps the sex scandals would never have been covered up, and had a female and married priesthood been instituted, perhaps the seminaries would have been brimming with candidates. The Catholic Church is a sleeping giant. The female and married priesthood would wake it up with a new and vigorous life! Let's hope we get a new pope who will recognize that the new evangelization will go nowhere without those two elements.
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written by Chris In Maryland, March 07, 2013
Bill M:

Conservative people do believe that the Church is alive, and must grow, like an ancient vine, the new growth flows organically from/has the same DNA/identity as, the ancient wood that it springs from. So there is no contradiction.

As a conservative person, I recognize that the "spirit of V2" is a heresy...it is a plan separated from the vine. It is an alien specie.
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written by Achilles, March 07, 2013
Thank you for that "message of Doom" Mandfred. You must be clairvoyant. So let me get this straight, you have such a high opinion of your vision that you are don’t care who is steering the barque of Peter? You already know that you know better than the new pope and you don’t even have to know who it is? And you are certain you know just what JohnXXIII meant when he said message of doom? Are you saying you have no need of the Church? Or that you are the Church? Or that each man is an island? Manfred, have you really thought this out? Didn’t Luther say similar things?
Have faith brother, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.”
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written by David Bonagura, March 07, 2013
As I wrote in the last paragraph, labels are merely tools that help us qualify people, things, and events in order to aid our comprehension. They also are limited, as they are necessarily applied with broad strokes; therefore, they do not fit every single person necessarily, viz., not every Californian is a liberal, not every southern is conservative. The same goes for labels applied to members of the Church: not every 57 year old, including Chris in Maryland, is liberal. At the same time, the generalities that the labels "new orthodox" and "Benedictine" describe do accurately reflect the opinions of many clergy and laity who play an active role in the Church today. My observations are not based on a particular survey; however, if one were to look at the latest Pew surveys regarding the Catholic Church, the results coordinate with the labels I have designated. For further confirmation of these labels, one need only survey the cardinal electors, especially the Americans, in the coming conclave.

The other thing about labels is that they inevitably stir up passions and emotions: we all use labels for others, but no one likes to be labeled himself. This is evident in the responses so far. William, in no way can one assume that the presence of females or married clergy—that is, the success of the liberal campaign—would have somehow stopped the abuse crisis. The crisis, the cover-up, and the empty seminaries stem from a lack of faith; and stronger faith, sadly, was not generally at the top of the liberal agenda. And, with due respect to Rusty, what happened with liberals in the Episcopal Church is not what happened in the Catholic Church.

DS, in no way did I suggest that Benedict aimed for the replacement of the Novus Ordo with the traditional Latin Mass. I have written about Benedict’s views on the liturgy a few times on this page, and in detail for Antiphon, in which I articulate Benedict’s liturgical vision in a manner that matches what you have posted.
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written by Achilles, March 07, 2013
William Manly, your statements are heretical and show very clearly that you have not taken the time to understand Christological Anthropology. You try to wag the dog with the tail. Women priests and celibacy have nothing to do what the homosexual abuse scandal. Power to the laity has nothing to do with the vibrancy of Mother Church, in fact quite the opposite. Perhaps you are speaking of Liberation Theology. This is not the Protestant church we are talking about, but the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The liberal movements begin to die with their first utterance and require constant fueling by enthusiasm undergirded by pride. Holy Mother Church is preserved by the humility of the Saints.
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written by Chris In Maryland, March 07, 2013
DS:

While I agree with your 3 points about B16's views on the liturgy, I cannot agree that those views are "progressive," because "progressive" denotes discontinuity with tradition. Indeed, most the of Catholic Bishops and institutions it seems are comfortable with the label "progressive."

Yet the behavior of "progressives" showed them to be indifferent or even hostile to tradition.

First, JP2 asked the Bishops and the world to be "generous" (that is the precise word he used) in supporting our Catholic faithful who had devotion to the traditional Roman Rite, and these Bishops, etc largely refused. Generosity was the exception, not the rule.

So after 25 years or more of persistance in "ungenerosity," B16 saw the sad need for the Pope to over-rule these ungenerous Church leaders, and affirm the rightftul access of priests and laity to the traditional Roman Rite.

So B16, is not "progressive" (as is the ideology of Concilium, which he left and opted against when joining Communio). B16 is, rather, a man of Christian liberality, in showing love and respect for traditional Roman liturgy. Such love and respect was conspicously absent in the Church before, and after, Summorum Pontificum. And ugliness of liturgy, seemingly tailored to the extrovert personality, remains the norm. But there are wild gardens of beauty...B16 showed us how.
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written by Layman Tom, March 07, 2013
Welcome Rusty! Welcome Home. I'll pray for you this Sunday. We Cradle Catholics can often smolder in our faith and it's good to interact with those like yourself who burn white-hot in their new faith.

Peace.
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written by Tony Esolen, March 07, 2013
Mr. Manley: Do you suppose for a moment that admission of women into Holy Orders (even if it did not violate Scripture and cause an immediate and terrible schism in the Church, destroying any hope for reunion with the Orthodox), would not cause men to check out? The net result would be exactly what it has been in the denominations that have embraced it: fewer ministers and rapidly dwindling congregations, along with the transformation of Christianity into a soft social egalitarian club for middle aged ladies with a taste for spirituality. That is what it has become -- that's what you get, if you are in the PCUSA or the Episcopal Church or the UCC or the UMC, for abrogating Scripture. It is a suicide pill.

I think I'm in both camps as described above, and I think that Pope Benedict was, too. The chief problem with church music post V2 was not that the congregation sang hymns, but that they sang bad hymns. We didn't get Benedict's beloved Bach; we got Haugen, Haas, and Schutte. We didn't get Jesu, Meine Freude. We didn't get the great (and for a Catholic wholly unobjectionable) hymns by the Wesleys. We didn't get Isaac Watts' Englishing of the psalms; we didn't get Catherine Winkworth's translations of the German chorale-poems; we didn't get good translations of the great medieval hymns; we didn't get the Scottish Psalter, we didn't get American revival songs; we got smarmy self-absorbed or politically-angled twaddle.

I have no objection to singing the propers at Mass, and certainly no objection to singing prayers in Latin (which we do at our church all through Lent and Advent, and Christmastide and Eastertide). But I'd hate to toss away the great treasury of Christian hymns, too. I'm greedy that way. I want both.
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 07, 2013
Mr. Manley:

Evidence proves that there is no hope of retaining Christian morality in a Church with women priests. Such a formula has already proved itself, as manifest in Protestant churches that have female clergy, which churches promote abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and wholesale abandonment of Chritian chastity.
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written by Will Williams, March 07, 2013
The situation is, I'm afraid, quite a bit more complicated from a global Catholic perspective. Exhibit A: the papabillii: among them, Tagle, energetic, young, hailing from the school of Bologna and its hermeneutic of rupture; Schonborn, he of the clown masses, cathedral blessings of homosexual unions, and erstwhile advocate of an open "discussion" of the discipline of the celibate priesthood; and, also, Ravasi, heavyweight intellect, powerful rhetoric, an Amy Winehouse tweeting, Peter Greenaway-courting cardinal, as open to modernity as any resolutely Catholic figure of his generation.

But a sampling....
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written by Standard Catholic, March 07, 2013
I beg to differ that liberals didn't get what they wanted. They got much more of what they wanted than was good for the Church: leftist rants from the pulpit whose shrillness and even brutality practically guarantees lower turnout; "social justice" and Marxism taught as God's word; and "leaders" like the former Archbishop of Omaha, who covered up child abuse then threatened (on the Cathedral steps, no less) the woman woman who reported it and the Archbishop of Boston, who gives communion to ardently pro-abortion politicians, saying it's his duty because they haven't been excommunicated, as though it is beyond his authority.

As for the Mass: both the Tridentine and Novus Ordo crowds behave as though God whispers in their ear. The Tridentine service needed reform, and eliminating Latin made the service less than universal. But the Novus Ordo turned into (in some places literally) a do-it-yourself circus. The potential for abuse laughed about at the time of Vatican II far surpassed even the imaginings of a gifted satirist ("Everybody say his own/Kyrie Eleison," Tom Lehrer, "The Vatican Rag").

In short, Vatican II and the Western world were both hijacked at the same time by leftists hell(literally)-bent on ruining the old, and establishing a Novus Ordo with their own enlightened selves in charge. The current divisions and conflicts are the poisonous fruit of that tree, of an era when God seemingly allowed the Devil free reign on Earth.
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written by Manfred, March 07, 2013
@DS: It is good to have you back! Perhaps you fellows can help me. To whom should I look in order to save my soul? To the Church which told me for forty years that the Traditional Mass had been abrogated? Remember that I was attending TLM with the FSSP for years before Summorum Pontificum. How about a Church whose leadership we now know is a homosexual cabal which moved predator priests from parish to parish and dismissed the victims and their children? How about the Church which provided TWO CARDINALS at the funeral of Ted Kennedy? How about a Church which "teaches" Its hierarchy and laity, and both continue to behave as though nothing had been taught? How about a Church which any bright person would realize has nothing to say?
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written by Standard Catholic, March 07, 2013
To Tony Esolen and Chris in Maryland:

You've hit on it. Women priests would kill Catholicism. In many parishes, the priest is the only man anywhere near the altar, and the pews are largely empty.

The problem: for men to compete against women, especially aggressive (often New-Agey) women on a mission, is a no-win situation for men. Defeat a woman, you're a brute (and they'll make sure to trumpet that opinion); don't stand up to her, you're a wimp. Best not to play at all. In short, where women take over, men retire from the field. Don't believe me? Look at some secular examples, the disproportionate female numbers in various professions: human resources, clerical, computer programming, medicine; even engineering and the military are being increasingly "feminized" for "diversity."

What's more, where women become dominant in a field or place, they tend to focus on helping other women, and actively push out men.

Result for the church: altar servers are virtually 100% girls in too many parishes (I've seen it in a dozen cities where I've lived in the last 20 years). So, where are we going to get priests? ORDAIN WOMEN! scream the feminists.


If Christ had wanted women priests, he would have anointed some. In most pagan religions, priestesses were the norm; only Judaism did not have them. Those who want female clergy can become Anglicans or join one of the Catholic splinter groups (who also believe in abortion and gay marriage) who have anointed themselves the "true" Church, then promptly split so many more times that they disappear.

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written by DS, March 07, 2013
To Mr. Bonagura, thanks for your clarification. I look forward to familiarizing myself with Antiphon.

To Chris in MD, don't fear a word because it is misused by others. "Progress" is not in opposition to tradition. Most definitions of progress include a sense of gradualism or advancement, not rupture. This is wholly consistent with a Catholic view of creation and time: we don't live in a static cosmic void, but in real time in which God's relationship with his creation continues to unfold. Jesus' incarnation, death and resurrection were progress. The Tridentine Mass was progress. Vatican II was progress. Benedict's papacy was progress.
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written by Standard Catholic, March 07, 2013
To Tony Esolen and Chris in Maryland:

You've hit on it. Women priests would kill Catholicism. In many parishes, the priest is the only man anywhere near the altar. In those parishes, the pews are half-empty and there are few, if any, young men. (Speaking from experience living in 10 cities in two decades.) Unless, of course, the True Church is defined as older people, women, and a smattering of children.

If Christ had wanted women priests, he would have anointed some. In most pagan religions, priestesses were the norm; only Judaism did not have them.

In worldly terms, men can't compete against women, especially aggressive New-Agey feminists on a mission. For men, it's a no-win situation: take on such a woman on her terms, and she'll trumpet that you're a hateful, abusive brute; fail to stand up to her (as to anyone), you automatically lose. Best not to play at all. In short, where women take over, men retire from the field.

Those for whom female clergy so overwhelmingly important should become Protestants, or join a Catholic splinter group--if they can find one. Such sects split from Rome, redefine Catholicism (women priests/bishops, abortion, gay marriage -- the constants), then wither from lack of interest and infighting.

Since the 1960s, decent people fighting what Leo XIII called the heresy of "modernism" have been overwhelmed by a small, very loud group of angry zealots, who keep winning. Are these God's true servants? I refuse to believe it. I hope the Almighty will step in at some point and put an end to their juggernaut.
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written by petebrown, March 07, 2013
This is an interesting take on the state of things in the Vatican. My reaction is that like many attempts to categorize things it exaggerates the importance of differences of opinion and disputes that are really indigenous to the West. In other words, it bespeaks a kind of Western naval-gazing.

My sense is that the emergent Church (the Church in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Latino part of the US Church) does not particularly care about the post-Vatican II liturgy wars that were mostly a phenomenon of Europe and the Anglo US--two segments of the Church that are declining fast. In Africa, Asia, and South and Latin America there is no great nostalgia for the Tridentine rites (very few Catholics in these places have any memory of them anyway) nor much hand-wringing about how to improve (what usually traditionalists call) the Novus Ordo.

That Benedict himself was very much part of the discussion after Vatican II about these things is largely a function of the fact that 1) he is old enough to remember the Tridentine Rites and 2) is somewhat sympathetic to those who have complained about the Novus Ordo particularly as it was implemented or 3) at least would like to end the Lefevrist controversy. But within a decade or, I expect that this issue will be wholly forgotten outside of a few conservative pockets in the US and Europe. Demographics alone will see to that!

Then we'll need to come up with new categories once again.
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written by Achilles, March 07, 2013
Why Manfred, I do declare, this is the closest you have come to responding to me since you claimed that out of Christian charity you would refrain. It seems as if you have an issue with cause and effect. It has often struck me that you incorrectly link a person’s poor behavior with the Body of Christ and you choose disobedience over obedience which is always a dangerous choice. Can not a bad priest effectively consecrate the host and wine?
In Luke CHanpter 15 there are 3 parables in a Row, one about the sheep lost and found, one about the silver lost and found and the third about the son who was dead and came back to life. In the first, Christ the shepherd bears you on his shoulders, in the second, the woman is Mother Church seeking you, the lost silver, and in the third the Father receives you. The first is pity, the second, intercession, and the third reconciliation.
Seek all 3 Manfred- I think you are confusing political and sinful facts with Mother Church. May God bless you brother, Achilles
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written by Maggie-Louise, March 07, 2013
Can't you just picture a woman "priest" who has tried repeatedly but failed to lose her 25 or 30 extra pounds, standing at the altar, elevating the thin wafer of the Host saying, "This is my Body"? Half the women in the congregation would be thinking, "Don't you wish" and the other half would be thinking, "Please, God, make it so."

You men make these things too hard.
(Just to lighten up the conversation.)
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written by DS, March 07, 2013
To Manfred, Valid Masses of varying rites existed before the 16th century Tridentine Rite and, in any case, the TLM is back. So maybe the Paul VI and JPII got it wrong by not permitting the TLM, but now it is back. Get over it!

The Church you describe reminds me of the Apostles trying to follow our Lord: afraid, insecure, focused on their own ambition and ego, particularly adept at putting their foot in their mouth, sinful, etc. And yet that is the seed the Jesus chose to plant. It is not what the leadership does or what you do, it is what God does through us. Our call is to be faithful, not perfect.
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written by Chris in Maryland, March 07, 2013
DS - progressivism is an ideology to be opposed...not feared...it hates tradition...it doesn't grow from the vine...it is Hans Kung...not B16.
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written by Standard Catholic, March 07, 2013
Progressivism AKA "modernism," tells the Church to "get with" the "modern world." Nonjudgmentalism becomes the highest virtue and morality an outdated concept. 'Cause everybody's going to Heaven, since God loves as all SOOOOO much. Except conservatives. God is totally all about Social Justice (i.e., socialism), and conservatives aren't, so "down the hatch."

Leo XIII pronounced modernism a heresy, and made Church leaders take vows against it. So modernism keeps popping up under new names as it besmirches old ones. It's been liberation theory and "social justice." Now it's "progressivism." Anything that keeps wearing out monikers is up to no good.
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written by Mark, March 07, 2013
@ William Manley In Canada we have the Protestant United Church which allows their ministers to be women, men, gay, married, gay and married and every other category you can think of and they still can't find enough ministers for their pro-gay marriage, pro-abortion and Christ as divine doubting church.
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written by Manfred, March 07, 2013
@DS: "So maybe Paul VI and JP II got it wrong..." They did not get it wrong! The TLM represented a theology and ecclesiology they wanted to remove. They went down the wrong road and they led the Church into error. Look around you. The problems are so severe that they drove a Pope into retirement. The issue is CREDIBILITY and the Church has lost it. You get over it!
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written by Tony Esolen, March 07, 2013
I do agree that the liturgical wars have been worst in English speaking countries -- because ICEL did by far the worst job in translating the texts, back circa 1971, and that Catholics in places where there is still genuine culture (Africa, Asia) do not trouble themselves with these matters.

And yet -- do not underestimate the power of beauty. I've heard too many stories now of Asian people, in particular, coming to Christ through the Bach Door. I don't want to shut that door. I just spent an hour, wretched piano player that I am, trying to plunk out one of Bach's harmonizations of Christ Ist Erstanden, which is itself a magnificent and intricate variation of Christ Lag in Todesbanden. I've been wondering for weeks how to introduce it to my students -- how to bring them to HEAR the resurrection.

The bad theology went along with ugly music and banal translations. Ugliness and banality are never virtues.
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written by petebrown, March 07, 2013
@Tony

"Through the Bach door." I love it. Can I use that line :)
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written by Mariusz, March 11, 2013
@petebrown,

"Through the Bach door." I love it. Can I use that line :)"

Unfortunately, the pun works only when you mispronounce "Bach". The final "ch" does not sound like "k" but like "ch" in Scottish "loch".

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