Somehow, I find myself the headmaster of a Chesterton Academy school in Sacramento. In one week, I went from wondering what had happened to my application to be a teacher at this new school, to getting hired, not as a teacher, but as the headmaster. My head is still spinning. Recap:
Months ago, my wife and I heard about an informational meeting being held near Sacramento by a group who wanted to found a Chesterton Academy – a Catholic Classics high school. We happened to be visiting our daughter and her husband nearby, and so we took a drive over to check it out.
I drove to wrong place, having gotten mixed up about where this particular meeting was. We figured it out, and came late to the correct location.
The caliber and size of the founding group was impressive, and they put on a very nice presentation. I signed the sign-in sheet, thus getting on their mailing list. In March, they started advertising for a headmaster, and I thought: no way, I’m going to be way WAY too busy moving and getting our dream hobby farm/homestead set up to do that. So I didn’t apply.
Teaching at a classical high school sounded like fun, especially after how much I enjoyed teaching history and literature to high school aged kids the last two years. So, a month later, when they advertised for teachers, I hesitated – super-busy packing up the house to sell – but, in the end, on the last day (April 30), I applied.
A month goes by, and I hear nothing. I send a follow-up email. Nothing. Then the truly odd stuff starts happening. Divine intervention, one might even imagine:
My son-in-law, who also applied to teach there – totally on his own, no concerted effort here – gets word that he needs to resubmit his application because his first was lost due to some technical issues. But I don’t hear anything, and am starting to get a little miffed. Now, my son in law’s Venn diagram of social circles overlaps mightily with the founders of this Chesterton Academy. Local Catholic boy, discerned out of the priesthood, family has lived here for many years. He knows many if not most of the people involved. I could have dropped in from Mars, comparatively, as far as these folks know me.
I determine with my son in law’s encouragement, to ask one of the founders I met at the info session out to lunch, to get to the bottom of this. This founder happens to have been his landlord for a while.
Son in law had evidently been talking me up, so much so that he sends me an email wherein a board member he was interviewing with suggested that I send in an application for the headmaster position. All this is happening at the same time, I’m not very clear in retrospect who caused what to happen and whose idea each action was. Son in law was a major driver here.
So I send in an application for a job for which I don’t even have a job description, mostly because I was intrigued, and because the situation had changed: we had not been able to sell the house, the market here for what we want is too hot for my blood. Sitting it out for a while was becoming more and more a decision that was not really mine to make. Maybe I should just rent for 6 months or a year and get a job?
I apply for headmaster with a rambling cover letter that is not addressing the actual listed job requirements, because the job description had vanished from the web. Seemed crazy. I have lovely lunch with the board member friend of my son in law, at which I learn that they’d had major, since resolved, issues with their website, during which my original application was lost – since I’d just dropped in from Mars, they had no way to know that they’d lost something.
I was not completely unmiffed by this explanation, nor, after the conversation, was I completely on board with the school. Long-time readers here know how much I dislike, to put it mildly, the classroom model. I needed to be convinced that in this case is was actually a good idea.
I heard back on the headmaster application the same day we went to lunch. A series of in-person and Zoom interviews followed. 3 days later, last Friday, I was offered and accepted the position of headmaster at the Chesterton Academy of Sacramento.
May God have mercy on our souls! Turns out my wacky, dabble in everything, fascinated by almost every shiny object that passes by personality comes off as Renaissance Man, under the proper lighting. As I said several times during the interviews, I’m not anybody’s ideal candidate, but if what it takes to get this project off the ground, to get this school opened in August, is for me to be headmaster, I will accept the adventure Aslan sends us.
The founders group is large and full of impressive people, who understand that in no way are they stepping back and handing this project off to me. They will remain very involved, and continue to do the same critical tasks they have been doing for a year. As in any start up, school or otherwise, the job to do will require more than what any one person can bring.
The funniest part about all this is that I’m more invigorated than terrified, given that I’ve never done anything very much like this job before. The personal and spiritual support of the board and the families is very comforting and inspiring, not to mention indispensable. Please pray for us all, if you’re the praying kind.
What is to become of this blog? I’m now in the position of, I think, Charles de Gaulle, who once said something like: that seems a reasonable course, but Charles de Gaulle would not take it. I have to reshape my writing and public behavior always with this attitude in mind: would the Headmaster of a Chesterton Academy do or say such a thing? And err on the side of caution.
With this in mind, I’m afraid the days of the Wild West of this blog are past. There are simply things the headmaster should not write about, or should not say. I have long contemplated starting another blog under a pen name for my writings, when I finally get them together for publishing. That’s definitely on the backburner for now. Here, I’ll check in when possible, but the days of 20+ posts a month, unofficially gone for some time now, are now officially past.
I suppose it goes without saying that if you pack up from a place you lived in for 27 years, you are going find things you’ve forgotten or didn’t even know you had. We’ve had a number of those moments so far, but this one, well, here you go:
When our son died, we received condolences from many people, so much so that I only got back to maybe half of them before I just couldn’t do it any more. Further, people who didn’t know us, but heard about his death from his school – Thomas Aquinas College – sent their condolences to the school, who then forwarded them on to us. So we have a sheaf of lovely and kind letters via the school.
Pretty sure I read them when they first arrived, but they had since fled my memory. My wife found them. Bishops, abbots, priests, members of religious orders sent their condolences and prayers. The Papal Nuncio to the United States sent us condolences, and said he would pray for the repose of our son’s soul.
Back in 2012, that Papal Nuncio was Archbishop Vigano.
Being a little flippant on this, the day of the Great Silence, but that’s the truth. I’ve got 6 days to finish packing up and moving out of this house, and so hope to keep a prayer on my lips as I work like a dog to get it done. My beloved and our beloved son, as well as our daughters and son in law and one very dear friend have also put in some serious work, but we’ve run hard into the 80-20 (or is it 90-10?) Rule: packing up the last 20% is 80% of the work. This post will be brief, rushed, or both.
First up, Dante: in Canto IV of the Inferno, as they leave the Limbo of souls who earned no punishment but gained not Heaven, he asks Virgil one of the enduring questions of Christianity. Is there no hope for souls separated from Christ through no fault of their own? Unbaptized infants, virtuous pagans (like Virgil himself) and those to whom the Word has never been preached? Specifically, has no one from Limbo ever been saved?
Here there was no sound to be heard, except the sighing, that made the eternal air tremble, and it came from the sorrow of the vast and varied crowds of children, of women, and of men, free of torment. The good Master said to me: ‘You do not demand to know who these spirits are that you see. I want you to learn, before you go further, that they had no sin, yet, though they have worth, it is not sufficient, because they were not baptised, and baptism is the gateway to the faith that you believe in. Since they lived before Christianity, they did not worship God correctly, and I myself am one of them. For this defect, and for no other fault, we are lost, and we are only tormented, in that without hope we live in desire.’
When I heard this, great sadness gripped my heart, because I knew of people of great value, who must be suspended in that Limbo. Wishing to be certain in that faith that overcomes every error, I began: ‘Tell me my Master, tell me, sir, did anyone ever go from here, through his own merit or because of others’ merit, who afterwards was blessed?’
Virgil answers straight out of medieval mystery plays:
And he, understanding my veiled question, replied: ‘I was new to this state, when I saw a great one come here crowned with the sign of victory. He took from us the shade of Adam, our first parent, of his son Abel, and that of Noah, of Moses the lawgiver, and Abraham, the obedient Patriarch, King David, Jacob with his father Isaac, and his children, and Rachel, for whom he laboured so long, and many others, and made them blessed, and I wish you to know that no human souls were saved before these.
Elsewhere in the Inferno, features of Hell are described as ruins: bridges over ditches, walls, the Gates of Hell itself has been blown off its hinges. This seems odd, given the inscription over the Gates:
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE INFERNAL CITY:
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO ETERNAL SADNESS:
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE LOST PEOPLE.
JUSTICE MOVED MY SUPREME MAKER:
I WAS SHAPED BY DIVINE POWER,
BY HIGHEST WISDOM, AND BY PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME, NOTHING WAS CREATED,
THAT IS NOT ETERNAL: AND ETERNAL I ENDURE.
FORSAKE ALL HOPE, ALL YOU THAT ENTER HERE.
“…and eternal I endure.” One might expect, after Plato, that eternal things are unchanging and unchangeable, pretty much by definition. But no – in an Incarnational universe, even the Eternal is shown to change – out of love. Virgil explains that a great earthquake shook Hell on the day One came to save some souls out of Limbo, and damaged even Hell. Even in the wreckage of Hell, or perhaps especially in the wreckage of Hell, the God Who so Loved the world is revealed. He has entered time for our sake.
Today is often referred to as the Great Silence, for here on earth we recall the lull in Incarnational activity: The world slept in darkness until Christ came, then was riled, enraged, and murderous until Christ had been entombed, then fell silent while Christ descended into Hell. Now, all the noise and insanity of the world is caused by the Prince of this world again fighting vainly against the New Heaven and the New Earth. The battle rages even though the outcome is known. We are the lowliest foot soldiers in this battle of Principalities and Powers, but we all have our parts to play. About as weak and small a person imaginable, a peasant Jewish teenage mother, in her holy humility has crushed the serpent’s head, after all. We also must do our parts.
Listen to this Mass here. Utterly beautiful music that plumbs the emotional depths of the Requiem Mass, this masterpiece deserves to become as much a part of the repertoire as Faure’s Requiem.
Background: The Benedict XVI Institute is part of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s efforts to return a sense of the sacred to the Church and the world. We have reached a point where, of the holy triumvirate of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, only the Beautiful can get a hearing, so to speak, in the modern world. The Beautiful can get around the defenses set up under the dictatorship of relativism to keep the Good and the True at bay, can catch people off guard, and surprise them.
So the Archbishop created an Institute to provide resources to parishes to help in the beautiful celebration of the Mass, and to promote sacred art. The Benedict XVI Choir, a sixteen member professional choir under the the direction of Richard Sparks, is among the very best choirs I’ve ever heard. Sparks has one of those impressive musical resumes, having directed choirs and orchestras and founded ensembles and taught and written for decades now.
Frank la Rocca is the Composer in Residence. I am reminded of reading about how, under one of his patrons, 16th century composer Orlando de Lasso had a top notch choir (plus copyists and assistant directors) at his disposal. He would roll out of bed, compose all morning, ring for a servant to take the draft to the copyists with orders that it be rehearsed by the choir that afternoon, and he’d be down to give it a listen later that day. Composer heaven, in other words.
While I don’t imagine la Rocca has it quite that good, he’s got the best part: a fine choir and orchestra to perform his works in appropriate and often beautiful settings with appreciative audiences.
On November 6, in St. Mary’s of the Assumption Cathedral in San Francisco, la Rocca’s Requiem Mass for the Homeless was premiered as part of a requiem mass celebrated by Archbishop Cordileone for the repose of the souls of the homeless who died over the last year. My family attended.
The mass was very beautiful. First and foremost, I was there to pray, so my attention to the music was not what it would have been at a concert. I wasn’t taking any notes. I have yet to give the recently posted YouTube videos the listen they deserve. So, mostly, I’m merely recording general impressions here.
That said, the music was wonderful, beautiful, sublime. I was hearing echoes of Faure, Barber, and a little Britten in there, on top of his obvious roots in chant and the polyphonic giants of the 16th, and, especially, the early 17th centuries – more of the expressive emotionalism of Victoria and Byrd, less the jewel-like but comparatively cool perfection of Palestrina.
Faure and la Rocca do things with dissonance I need to study more. Their voice leading results in what might be expected to sound like harsh passages (and definitely would have gotten them in trouble with the sacred musicians in the 16th century!) but is instead supremely beautiful and expressive. The Barber comparison comes from some of the sonorities la Rocca loves (and I love, too!), closely-spaced, luminous, and moving. Every once in a while, a hint of the sort of repetition and sequences Britten uses so well seemed to be peaking through as well.
Yet the overall texture of the melodies remain very chantlike for the most part – there are exceptions. And he shies not away from the grand chorale cadences of the 16th century masters, even if he’s getting there via the 20th century masters.
None of this detracts at all from the originality and vigor of the music. La Rocca can remind one of many things without ever sounding like anything other than himself. That’s the beauty of real creativity: you find yourself by forgetting yourself in trying to do the most beautiful job you can.
The only other la Rocca work I’m at all familiar with is his Mass for the Americas, which is also very beautiful and profound. This is a very preliminary judgement, but having just listened to that earlier mass and comparing it to the Requiem heard Saturday, the Requiem is the more profound work. There’s a depth to it, a plumbing of human sadness and redemption, that takes this newer work to a higher level – and that’s saying something, because the Mass of the Americas is a very wonderful piece. I hope a recording of this Requiem finds its way onto a CD, so that I can listen to it with more focus.
Of the various Mass commons and propers, the ones which stand out in my memory are the Sanctus, the Agnus, and the Meditation after communion. Typically, one thinks of the angels surrounding the heavenly throne singing in glory at the Sanctus. La Rocca makes even that glorious cry into a journey through pain to redemption. The Lamb of God being sung about in the Agnus is a sacrificial lamb, the supreme Sacrificial Lamb dying to take away the sins of the world. This setting managed to capture something of that, a recurring theme throughout this Mass setting. Finally, the Mediation on Lamentation 1:12 summed up, if possible, the emotional content of the mass. We were praying for the souls of the least of the least of our brethren, those who had nowhere to lay their heads, who it is difficult to even acknowledge or tolerate – yet, they are given to us to love.
I must mention the excellent performance of the Benedict XVI Choir under Richard Sparks. They gave this work the inspired, beautiful realization it deserved.
Ten years ago, I had not heard of Morten Lauridsen, Avro Part, or Frank la Rocca. These are by any measure among the greatest composers of our age. But they write religious music. Film scores get you noticed; religious music ignored. If by any chance you get the opportunity to hear this piece performed, do it. I will post here if I find any recordings.
Keeping with the pattern of switching back and forth between the Current Insanity and Anything Else, let’s discuss two books I just happen to have read at the same time.
The above definitions are somewhat useful. What one wants to be able to say is when something is not an allegory – the essence of a definition. With the broadest stroke of the definitions above, one can possibly say that the work under consideration is not symbolic, and, therefore, not an allegory.
(Sorry for the digression here. I thought I knew what allegory is, but then made the mistake of thinking about it, looking it up, and now have to sort through it. The interwebs are indeed fields of rabbit holes.)
Made the mistake – woe is me! – of visiting the Oracle Wikipedia, and thus fell into a cesspool of woke:
As a literary device or artistic form, an allegory is a narrative or visual representation in which a character, place, or event can be interpreted to represent a hidden meaning with moral or political significance. Authors have used allegory throughout history in all forms of art to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.
One little phrase removes all usefulness from this thing: “…can be interpreted to represent…” Thus, any possibility of saying what is or is not allegory is banished, in favor of everything being an allegory if it merely can be interpreted to represent something else, a feat any college sophomore can perform with ease on absolutely anything. Cafeteria food in an allegory for control exerted on the masses by structural oppression. I’m oppressed by the paucity of avocado on my toast …. And so on. (1)
Then, since logical consistency is a social construct of an oppressive white patriarchy and thus must be violated, we shift the grounds back to the intentions of the author, by which we mean ‘artist’ – there I go with that consistency thing again! – thus contradicting the original ‘definition’, which is based on the interpretation of the consumer of art: “Authors have used allegory throughout history in all forms of art to illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.”
Now we possibly need a college junior to explain how this contradiction is suspended but not resolved in a synthesis, but I haven’t had breakfast yet, so we’ll stop. Suffice it to say: if allegory is something the reader or viewer reads into something, then there’s no definition possible – no one can say what is and is not allegory, or rather, everything is allegory.
Back in the real world, we’re not completely freed from this muddiness even if we look to the author’s intent. Often, authors don’t express their intent; often they will say that there’s more to their works than what they, themselves consciously put there – maybe the work is allegorical even if that’s not what they were thinking at the time. But at least in some cases, we can say: Pilgrim’s Progress and Animal Farm are allegories. Those two stories were intended by their authors as allegories, and are really not open to any other, contradictory, interpretation. The character of Christian IS any Christian pilgrim; the pigs ARE the Russian Communist leadership. There’s practically no story if they’re not.
Unfortunately, at least from a tidiness point of view, few books fall this neatly into or out of this category. Is Dante’s Inferno allegorical? Of course! Is is completely allegorical, like Pilgrims Progress or Animal Farm? No. There are real characters throughout who are meant primarily as themselves, and only secondarily as stand-ins for the sinners as a class. Paolo and Frencesca are two real people, not just illustrations or symbols. Christian and the pigs have little if any personality apart from their symbolism.
Then there is the concept of a natural symbol, where its symbolic content fundamentally rests in the nature of the thing. Sometimes, symbol versus sign is used, with symbol having a connection by nature to the thing symbolized, while signs are merely conventional. Unfortunately, English does not really support that distinction, in that people have long used both those terms for both those concepts without distinction. Too bad.
The classic example: red, the color of fire and blood, symbolizes those things and things related to them by nature; a stop sign is conventional – there’s nothing about red hexagon that means ‘stop’ by nature (we had to write ‘STOP’ on it to get the message across initially), but red is the right color (or among the right colors) for a sign that needs to grab people’s attention in order to function. A lovely sky-blue stop sign would seem wrong, and not just by convention.
Allegory will be stronger the more it employs natural symbols rather than signs whose meaning is not connected to the thing it is a sign of by anything other than convention. Paolo and Francesca are blown about against their wills, which wills they had surrendered to their passions. Leaves in the wind is a good natural symbol for that situation….
Sigh. All this wandering around just to talk about two short books.
I found myself reading Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s 1678 Christian allegory, because it was mentioned on John C. Wright’s blog and I realized I’d never read it. Wright stated that it is probably the only allegory out there that can be read on its artistic merits. We’re not talking about the use of real, flesh-and-blood characters (or, at least, characters written so that we might imagine them real) to represent, more or less consciously on the part of the author, ideas or social problems or what have you. Rather, Pilgrim’s Progress characters have names that ARE their characters: Christian, Faithful, Hopeful, Little-faith, Ignorance, Worldly Wiseman, and so on. There’s very little to even the main characters beyond what you might guess from their names.
Bunyan was a Puritan preacher who spent a good chunk of his adult life in jail for refusing to stop preaching Puritanism. 17th century England oscillated between the established church tolerating ‘heretics’ and throwing them in jail or worse. Bunyan’s life straddled a couple of these peaks and troughs. He is assumed to have began writing Pilgrim’s Progress during one his extended stays in prison. It became an instant classic, translated into over 200 languages and hardly being out of print since.
Buyan’s skill is in how he uses his various allegorical figures and places to illustrate his Puritan theology. He sees this story in a series of dreams: A Christian, a husband and father, is visited by Evangelist, who warns him to leave his home town, City of Destruction, and pilgrimage to the Celestial City carrying a heavy burden on his back. His family thinks him crazy, so he leaves them.
The rest of the story concerns Christian’s journey to the Celestial City, the places he visits or avoids, how he is tempted and aided, who he meets along the way, the fates of those whom he meets (spoiler: his companion Faithful is martyred – this is good, in context, the greatest good in fact; Hopeful completes the journey with Christian, while Little-faith, a character in a story within a story within a dream, eventually makes it. Ignorance fairs less well.)
Conclusion: it is a good story to read, both for a Christian and for anyone who wants insight into how Puritans think. In some ways, the person treated most harshly in the book is Ignorance. He comes off worse than many of the active sinners and tempters, with more pages spent having Hopeful and Christian harangue him than are spent on any other single topic. We look back to Bunyan to understand this: he is a Puritan preacher, hell fire and brimstone style. His enemy is Ignorance, meaning people who do not understand or who reject the central themes of Calvinism. The damned are the damned – you give converting them a shot, then move on. But the Ignorant, those who travel the same path you are travelling but are doing it WRONG – they are the real challenge.
In Bunyan’s dream, Ignorance shows up at the Pearly Gates all alone. He knocks, and – it is not opened unto him. Rather, the agents of the King ask to see his papers – scroll, certificate – proving he is among the elect. When he fails to produce them, he is bound by two angels and cast into Hell. So a guy who left everything, followed the path, rejected or escaped from temptation, and saw his journey to Heaven through, is damned because he DID IT WRONG!
Despite all its protestations to the contrary, Calvinist Puritanism remains as legalistic an expression of Christianity and anyone could hope to find.
Ignorance is an annoying character, so sure that if his heart doesn’t trouble him, he has not erred. He is confident that, since he left everything, went on the pilgrimage, and did the required good works along the way, that he is going to be admitted to Heaven. Hopeful and Christian go after him hammer and tongs, because he is not embracing his utter depravity and relying entirely on the completely unearned and undeserved Grace of God as expressed in Jesus. Ignorance repeatedly says he does not understand what they mean by that idea. He loves Jesus, and follows His commandments – isn’t that enough?
A Catholic Pilgrim’s Progress would be Dante’s Divine Comedy. But say a lesser Catholic poet tried his hand at doing the allegory Bunyan-style: first, Sacraments and Saints would be essential characters, accompanying the pilgrims on their way. Major time would be given to those church officials who have failed in their callings – you know, all the bad popes and clerics that populate Dante’s Hell – and the damage they do and their unpleasant eternal fates, how to identify and avoid them, how to honor the offices without succumbing to the evil of the office holders. There would be Good Pastor and Bad Pastor, Patron Saint and False Saint. The Cloud of Witnesses would include all those people by whom God, as secondary causes and in order to have His glory reflected by creatures made in His image, passed the Faith all the way down to Christian.
But mostly, there would be Purgatory. Ignorance would knock, and the doors would be opened, and he would finally SEE. In that moment of searing clarity, all the errors of his ignorance, all his pride and foolishness, would be clear to him – and he, himself, of his own will, would seek to hide from the Face of God. Yet God, in his infinite mercy and love, would not cast out one who had tried, who made the effort however badly, and who has endured the journey. Thus, to the singing of choirs of angels rejoicing that another soul had been saved, Ignorance would be carried to the foot of the mountain of Purgatory, to be purified of his pride.
This review will be abstract, as spoilers would be a terrible thing. You just need to read this book. It begins as a tale of unrequited, and unrequitable, love: the girl our hero loves is engaged to marry his best friend, and his sense of honor makes doing anything to frustrate those plans unthinkable. Yet, the two of them keep bumping into each other alone, without her fiancé, even so far as meeting up at the manor house on the Isle of Sark, which said fiancé has recently inherited. Through a hundred little nudges and coincidences, they end up at the door of a particular room within the manor house, and…
Stuff happens. Increasingly insane stuff, stuff that starts out uncanny and moves on from there, until – really crazy stuff happens. A story that starts out as a tragic romance, a love triangle between two best friends and the woman they both love, ends up involving a number of saints and mythical creature.
And I’m afraid I must leave it at that. The setting for the story – the very real Isle of Sark – is, in real life, about as romantic and epic a place as exists on the planet. A little island off the coast of France, the last feudal fief in Europe, pirates, caves, foot paths with 300′ drops on either side, Nazi conquest and resistance, ancient farms, ancient families, the world’s only Dark Sky island – awesome.
As for the allegory bit that I started writing about – well, it spoils it pretty intensely. So, I recommend reading the book before reading this little bit, because the plot twists, if you can call them that, are epic, and this will ruin it.
You’ve been warned.
In the final chapters, it is revealed that the Rose or Red Room is only the first enchanted layer of memory, that there are several nested rooms. When deep enough in, enough memory is restored, that Hal Landfall, the main protagonist, is revealed to be Henwas Lanval, a Knight of the Round Table who had been seduced by the sea fairy Tryamour; Laurel du Lac is the fairy Lorelei, who aimed to seduce and destroy Hal, Manfred is a monk and magician named Mandragora. Depending on whether each character is in or out of a chamber of memory, and on which chamber of memory each is in, they “know” who they are very differently.
So the question naturally arises: What is real? What is really going on? The soul of Manfred, in the innermost chamber of all, speaks of dreams, of how everything we see in this life is shadows and confusion, we have forgotten who we are. Only the saved soul sees the long line of triumph back through to Adam, of souls that have done well and who still do well. Henry really is a great knight fighting a great battle. He just thinks, in his forgetfulness, that he is a student working on a Master’s thesis. He is part of a great army protecting what is really important.
Is something in there an allegory? Is the whole story? I tend to think it doesn’t matter. What is different: Wright’s characters are people first, warts and wings and all; Bunyan’s are allegories first, and only accidentally people, if they are people at all.
Oops – not an allegory – it’s the literal truth that the paucity of avocado on my toast IS the me being oppressed by the avocado -hoarding patriarchy. If I understand the approach correctly.
Painter, a vehement proponent of Protestantism and Whore of Babylon style anti-Catholic, has translated 2 of Luther’s letters on education, to make better known the great Reformer’s seminal contributions to compulsory state-funded graded classroom schooling. All that stuff which we associate with modern schooling is proposed and defended by Luther, starting in 1520.
This work is really 2 short books, the first of which is Painter’s take on the Reformation, the second his translations of two of Luther’s letters. Therefore, I’ll do this in two parts. The first is Painter’s “historical introduction”:
The fact that no great character can be fully understood without an acquaintance with the age in which he lived and the movements with which he was identified, led to the preparation of the first four chapters as a historical introduction.
These first four chapters make up about 60% of the work, and are not exactly what anyone not as on fire with Protestant zeal as Painter would call ‘balanced’. No one, Catholic or Protestant, would dispute the general claim of profound hellish corruption of the Church’s hierarchy in the 16th century. But no one who understands the effects of investiture can honestly point to the Church herself as the primary cause. When every bishop and abbot is a partisan, and often a relative, of the local prince or king, appointed at their pleasure based on loyalty or politics, and the Pope appointed by Emperors with no regard to the candidate’s spiritual suitability, then perhaps the secular government might seem a more likely locus to place blame. The issue is not simply that the Church was deeply involved in politics, but that the leaders of the Church had gotten their positions because of politics.
Yet, to Painter, Gregory VII’s attempt to pry control of the Church out of secular hands is seen as yet another foul Popish plot. That Gregory frustrated the attempts of the German Emperor Henry IV to appoint a pope to his liking is not the occasion for any introspection on the role of German emperors in corrupting the Church, but seen as overwhelming evidence of Papal perfidy.
Painter’s opening chapters contain a little history, true, but like the writings of Luther himself, quickly segue to polemic no matter what the topic putatively under discussion. The Catholic Church is irredeemably evil, the chosen tool of Satan, and an enemy of Protestant America. The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Painter goes so far as to defend the Albigensians, whose insane and destructive Gnosticism is pretty far from even Painter’s idea of Christianity, because the Church crushed them. He didn’t get around to defending the Aztecs, but one imagines he would, given his premises and zeal.
All good things that have happened in the West, and, indeed, the world, since 1517 are the result of Protestantism. America is a Protestant enterprise (no argument there from me) in which is no place for Catholics. American Catholics are (to the surprise of actual Catholics) awaiting orders from the Pope to whom all spiritual and temporal allegiance is sworn. Protestant Americans want to educate everyone; the Church wants to keep people stupid. One quotation will have to suffice:
Yet the Papacy is not favorable to the education of the masses. It seeks above all things absolute obedience on the part of its adherents. Intelligence among the laity is recognized as a dangerous possession; for it ministers to their independence in thinking, and makes them more critical of the teaching imposed upon them by priestly authority. Any activity displayed by the Papacy in popular education is forced by the existence of Protestant schools. The establishment of parish schools giving an education worth the name, is a measure of self-defense. The Jesuits, with all their lauded activity in education, never had the intellectual elevation of the masses at heart. With them education was a means of combating Protestantism, and of begetting a bigoted attachment to the Roman Church. Wherever the Papacy has had full control of education, the masses have been brought up in ignorance. It is a Jesuit maxim that ” A few should be well educated ; the people should be led. Reading and writing are enough for them.” When Victor Emmanuel took possession of the Papal States in 1870, only five per cent, of the population could read and write. In thrift and intelligence Catholic countries do not compare favorably with Protestant countries. Macaulay’s judgment on this point is as just as it is positive. ” During the last three centuries, to stunt the growth of the human mind has been the chief object of the Church of Rome. Throughout Christendom, whatever advance has been made in knowledge, in freedom, in wealth, and in the arts of life, has been made in spite of her, and has everywhere been in inverse proportion to her power. The loveliest and most fertile provinces of Europe have, under her rule, been sunk in poverty, in political servitude, and in intellectual torpor, while Protestant countries, once proverbial for sterility and barbarism, have been turned by skill and industry into gardens, and can boast of a long list of heroes and statesmen, philosophers and poets.”
Yet, somehow, scholars are not lacking among the canonized saints of the Church, which Church invented the university, and so on. Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître, among many thousands of other Catholic scientists and inventors, might find Painter’s analysis amusing.
Painter believes compulsory state education is an unmitigagted good, and that Catholic opposition to it is proof of the nefarious goals of the Papacy:
From the preceding discussion we may easily deduce the line of action that is necessary to protect our institutions, particularly our public school system, against papal aggression.
1. We should carefully observe the insidious movements of the Papacy.
2. Recognizing the separation of Church and State wisely made by the Constitution, we should nowhere tolerate sectarian legislation.
3. Maintaining the right of the State to educate its citizens, we should forbid the appropriation of any public funds to sectarian schools.
4. All public school offices should be filled with recognized friends of popular education.
5. The rights of conscience should be maintained and defended by the State.
In order to present the appearance of a united Protestant front against Catholics, Painter is here resorting to something like what Lewis called ‘mere Christianity,’ this fantasy under which some undefined subset of Protestants are really all basically primitive evangelical Christians despite disputes over dogma that had fractured them into dozens of flavors even by Painter’s time. Are Mormons Christians? How about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh Day Adventists? Unitarians? Why not? When reading the contemporary writings of the early 19th century, it’s not unusual to come across a Presbyterian, say, who is sure his Methodist neighbor is going straight to Hell. The earlier Protestants were hardly afraid of dogma, and believed it a life or death matter. Painter certainly does, although what exactly those dogmas are and who, exactly, he considers his co-religionists, is unclear. What is clear from history: the one thing that united 19th century Protestants was hatred of the Catholic Church.
Painter’s freedom of conscience is, when fully played out, what we have today: it is unpardonable bigotry to say anyone isn’t whatever they say they are, or to condemn anything they want to do. Painter himself is a huge fan of the vigorously judgmental Luther – just read anything Luther wrote about anything for examples. The judgement of Catholics that the Church holds the full truth of Christianity is a claim any proper Lutheran or Calvinist or Methodist would have once sternly made for their own beliefs as well. And – this is critical – if you believe that your church holds the fullness of the Faith, it would be incumbent upon you to convert as many people as possible to this Truth, AND to do whatever you could to have this truth embodied in society, in culture, and in law – for everybody’s objective good. When we say that America is a Protestant nation, is this not what we mean? That the laws, culture, and society are the expression of the Protestant beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the culture that produced them? And that, finally, the dissolution of America that we are experiencing right now is also an expression of that culture, which never was as homogenous as myth would have it? The New England Calvinists despised the Virginia Episcopalians, and visa versa, for one example among many. These inherited animosities and the manifest drive toward fragmentation are as much a part of the Protestant roots of America as the reverence for individual conscience and faith in the perfectibility of man.
Wow, I fell into exactly what Painter did: using a format – him, an introduction; me, a book review – to expound our personal beliefs. Oops. To yank this back on topic: for my purposes, Painter’s introductory chapters merely reiterate that the beliefs that drove the Know-Nothings back in the first half of the 19th century were still going strong in the second half. Separating out, as much as we can, the mere anti-Catholic bigotry, we can ask: Did the Know Nothings have a legitimate grievance? Largely, yes – Catholic immigrants were being used by Tammany Hall and other thuggish governments as a way to get and hold power. Fresh off the boat, Catholic immigrants got housing, food, a job funded by graft and corruption, and a meeting with a judge on the take who granted them citizenship in defiance of the law. These newly-minted Americans were then told how to vote, and woe to any who dared question it! Thus, Democratic party machines got and held power in major American cities, power they continue to hold, for the most part. It was an immigration problem foreshadowing the one we have now. The Know Nothings had a legitimate case for wanting tighter immigration and naturalization laws.
But, alas! Those corrupt political machines were never really cleaned up. Rather, their practices became normalized and invisible. Thus, instead of having a Fred Roti run Chicago, you merely have an understanding that no one who actively opposes the machine is every getting anywhere. So, you shut up and go along, or move out. The Roti family may not be around to off troublemakers like in the good old days, but that’s only because challenges to the system are simply cut off much more elegantly now.
And many Catholic are complicit in this. One can hardly blame them for accepting with gratitude the help of Tammany Hall or the job as a policeman in Chicago, back in the day, but at some point, the lightbulb will go on – unless one actively works to keep it off.
So, at the same time, the last few decades of the 19th century, we have Painter saying that the efforts of Catholics to keep their kids out of pubic schools amounts to treason; Catholic bishops saying that it is the duty of every parish to build a Catholic school, so that every Catholic child in America can be educated outside the virulently anti-Catholic public schools; and Archbishop Ireland telling the NEA that, eventually, all Catholic children will attend public schools.
It’s messy and confusing. Painter ends up ‘winning’ this battle, in that Catholic schools now produce graduates who have no allegiance to anything the Church teaches, in the unlikely event they even learn what those teachings are. But his victory is Pyrrhic: the pure and noble Protestantism he loved is, if anything, even deader.
I’m constructively working through my anxiety by reading. So far, got 3-4 books off John C Wright’s Essential SciFi Library list read or reading, and a good start on my collection of Thomas Shields and Edward Pace writings. Reviewed Shields’ First Book here. Am halfway through his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard, an autobiography of sorts, framed as a Platonic dialogue. Think Symposium, but with early 20th century Progressives instead of Alcibiades and Socrates. In other words, much less fun.
Shields, Pace, and Burns are the big dogs when it comes to Catholic education in America. Until they came along, parochial schooling and Catholic colleges were a bit of a free-for-all. For better and worse, they put some order onto Catholic schooling.
All three appear to me to be American Catholic Millennialists, believing that by application of scientific psychology to Catholic education, America can lead the Church to a perfect, or at least a better without limit, world. They are the foremost representatives of Americanism after the manner of Hecker and Brownson. It is fascinating that Pace and Shields were responsible for the article in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia discussing the heresy of Americanism, where the pope’s and many Americans’ concerns that the American Church was being lead into Modernism by its some of its leadership were dismissed as a mere baseless misunderstanding.
The optimism and faith in progress of these men is all but unbelievable. They are just sure that, by applying modern scientific thinking to education, they can create perfect little American Catholics, who are of course without question the model for Catholics world-wide. Their late 19th century psychology and ideas about science are not an advance on phrenology. Seriously. We’ll get to that in a moment.
A couple notes:
The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916
– A large portion of this volume is devoted to an attack on the Carnegie Foundation’s views of education, as expressed in a recent report the Foundation had issued. The gloves are totally off. I have no real understanding of what the issues are, but I can guess. I’ll write this up when I’m done reading it.
– This raises the endless issue: now, I’ll need to find and read that Carnegie report, right? Sheesh. Everything I read points to multiple other sources that seem essential.
Making and Unmaking of a Dullard
– This dialogue seems to be little more than a gripe session about the interlocutors’ childhoods, in order to provide Shields with the opportunity of expostulating on his frankly silly psychological theories.
– Shields lists 7 ways a dullard, or idiot, or atypical child can be created, but focuses on one, the one to which he attributes his own difficulties in school: Alternating Phases of Development. Here’s how Shields puts it, in answer to the Judge’s request for an explanation:
“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents….
“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.
“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.
“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”
“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.
“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.
CH V, Alternating Phases of Development
So, quick children need to be slowed down by the expert educationist, so as not to overdo their nerve energy or their cortical tension and thus damage their minds and become invalids. You can see the beginnings of No Child Left Behind here: the solution is to dumb down the bright kids – for their own good – and make sure the slower kids get to catch up. All very scientifiliciously described.
That a kid might grow and learn well if encouraged to follow his own interests is not to be considered. Instead, the bright child is to be frustrated in his desire for learning, on the basis of a half-backed theory that is buzzword-compliant, circa 1910, but has little else to recommend it. As Lewis (I think) put it: say you are going to experiment on children, and everybody is up in arms. But say you’re putting them in an experimental school, and all is good.
– Again, Shields has his interlocutors refer to or quote from contemporary sources that I’ll have to at least look up.
Got a lot more reading to do. Further bulletins are events warrant.
Fr. Thomas Edward Shields (1862-1921) was a professor at Catholic University, who, along with Fr. Edward Pace, founded the psychology department there. He was one of the most influential Catholic educators of the early 20th century.
Here, we begin a review of his First Book, a little tome intended for 6 year olds. In many ways, it is a charming book: Shields organizes each of the 10 chapters in 4 parts: a scene from nature, a scene from family life, a scene from the life of Christ, and a simple song. Sections are illustrated with nice art. The kids are supposed to learn reading from this book, as well as get a bit of nature and art. Teachers are advised to read how to teach singing in Shield’s Teacher’s Manual of Primary Methods. But the main point of the book is to teach religion, specifically, Catholicism. The overall approach is integrated: nature, art, the family, music, the Gospels, are all used to inculcate a little Jesus into the tender young minds.
But – you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ – Shields remains a Progressive and a 19th century psychologist. He can’t stop with a charming, unobjectionable little book. Nope, he needs to introduce a bunch of theory. He has to believe that the little tykes could become so much better if properly lead by properly educated teachers according to scientific psychology. The tacit judgement: all those kids who have not been guided by fully trained teachers according to scientific principles are somehow flawed, and fail to live up to what they could have been.
Yikes. Like Pestalozzi, Shields believes in the constant monitoring of every student by a trained teacher, who then directs the student according to sound scientific principles. In other words, leaving the kids to figure anything out on their own is mere disaster. Also, subtly and almost certainly unintentionally, the family is being held to an impossible ideal. To illustrate this, let’s take his nature examples first. In the very first one, Shields describes a mother robin caring for her hatchlings. All very sweet and beautiful. The charming story is used introduce the child to the idea of family and ultimately divine love and care.
But what happens when the poor kid learns that bird very often kill their own chicks? That, in many species, the mother shoves the less perfect hatchlings out of the nest to their deaths, in order to concentrate her energies on their bigger, healthier siblings? Nature isn’t nice.
Similarly, the book describes family life in charming terms, where Mother selflessly cares for her children, and Father selflessly protects and provides for them all. Well? Sure is a good image and a proper ideal, but very few families are going to live up to it always and everywhere. What happens when an individual kid’s experiences don’t line up with this ideal? Since it is tied very tightly to Shield’s exposition of the faith, where Jesus’s love for us is presented as a more perfect version of our parents’ love for us, and, indeed, of robins’ love for their chicks, a failure anywhere along that line invites the kid to disbelief.
Not saying Shields’s approach is wrong, exactly – I want kids to believe in the goodness of nature and family – but it is laying what could be dangerous landmines for particular kids. On the plus side, maybe a kid will be enabled to see that his family isn’t living up to the ideal, and judge his family, and not the ideal, as the problem. It’s different, fundamentally, than reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women, which are examples of particular families and include lots of problems and even tragedies. Here, in Shields’s book, the ideal family is presented as a realized ideal – kids are invited to see their families as such. Seems dangerous to me, or at least, an open invitation to a certain kind of problem that could be avoided by a different approach – say, reading the kids the books just mentioned.
More generally, the problems here are twofold: first, the idea that a late 19th century psychologist had ‘scientifically’ determined the best way to educate every kid is absurd. Merely setting up ‘laboratories’ to measure psychical phenomena doesn’t mean you are doing or discovering anything real. You might be able, for an example from the 19th century, to determine how long, exactly, people need to see a picture flashed before their eyes before it registers at all on their minds. And? Does that lead to any coherent theory of education? Indeed, what happens instead is that theories far beyond what any observation could support are crowbarred into a lab coat and called ‘science’. John Tylor Gatto observed that there isn’t anything like science behind any of the popular theories of education – it’s just biases, prejudices, and handwavium all the way down. Shields does nothing to disabuse me from Gatto’s view.
Second, and this is a general issue observable in Hecker, Brownson, Pace, Shields, Burns and all the 19th century ‘educationists’ from Fichte and Mann on – Progressivism, if it means anything, means a belief in the perfectibility of man in the here and now. If that belief happens not to be true, then you’ve set up an educational system that is bound to leave teacher, students, and theorist disappointed, to say the least. One could then change one’s opinion to match reality (ha! I slay me.), despair, or double down. Of the last 2 options, despair is the better by far. We’ve already seen how well doubling down works.
Maybe I’ll do a part 2, and go into details of this particular book. First, I find it enlightening to find out a little bit about these titans of Catholic education. To their credit, both Shields and Fr. Edward Pace were instrumental in the creation of the wonderful 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. However, reading the excerpt quoted below made me realize I love that old encyclopedia because of the way Catholic issues are written about – I never read anything in it to see how, for relevant example, contemporary psychology was written about. Seems I’ll need to read that sort of thing at some point, to balance out my take.
Educator; b. Mendota, MN, May 9, 1862; d. Washington, DC, Feb. 15, 1921. The son of Irish immigrants, he was somewhat unruly as a child and finished his formal schooling late. He was admitted to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, WI, in 1882, and to St. Thomas Seminary, St. Paul, MN, in 1885. At St. Thomas he published his first book, Index Omnium (1888), which was designed to help professional men correlate data gathered from wide reading. After his ordination on March 4, 1891, he studied for his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. His dissertation, The Effect of Odors Upon the Blood Flow (1895), influenced psychological research, and in 1902 he joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, as an instructor in psychology.
Shields soon transferred his interest to education. In 1905 he set up a correspondence course, supplemented by diocesan summer institutes, for sisters in the expanding Catholic school system. He established the university’s department of education in 1909 and served as its first chairman. The following year he founded the Catholic Educational Review. In 1911 he conducted the first Summer Institute for Catholic Sisters at the university, and he founded the Sisters College, of which he was dean. In 1912 he was instrumental in securing the adoption of the University Affiliation Program. To correlate the curriculum of the Catholic school, Shields wrote a series of four widely used texts in religion. He was also the author of The Education of Our Girls (1907), a dialogue; The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard (1909), a description of his youth; and The Philosophy of Education (1917), the first Catholic book of its kind in English. He was perhaps the leading Catholic educator in the U.S. during the first quarter of the 20th century.
For Edward Pace, we turn to Wikipedia (so sue me – it’s succinct and accurate as far as it goes):
Edward A. Pace (July 3, 1861 – April 26, 1938) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. He was the first native Floridian to be ordained a diocesan priest.
Pace was extensively involved with the early development of The Catholic University of America. He was the first professor of psychology at CUA, and was the founding dean of its School of Philosophy. He held several administrative positions throughout his career, and was involved with many of the University’s academic initiatives. He was one of the general editors of the edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia completed in 1914. In addition, Pace contributed to the founding of Trinity College, Washington, D.C.
In 1892 he became one of the first five psychologists elected to the American Psychological Association by its charter members. He was co-founder of the American Philosophical Association (1893), cofounder of the Catholic Philosophical Association (1926), co-founder and first editor of Catholic Educational Review (1911), cofounder and coeditor of the journal New Scholasticism (1926). Between 1907 and 1912 he was one of the leading editors of the fifteen-volume Catholic Encyclopedia. He was appointed by President Hoover to the National Advisory Committee on Education in 1926.
As applied to a mental process, assimilation derives all its force and meaning from the analogy which many educationists have found to exist between the way in which food is incorporated into the living tissue and the manner in which truth is acquired by the growing mind. That education means the assimilation of truth is almost a commonplace in modern pedagogy. Few, however, have felt the full force of the comparison or realized how completely the psychological in this as in other instances follows on the lines of the physiological. Just as the living cell cannot delegate the task of assimilation, so the mind cannot by any contrivance of educational methods evade the task of performing the assimilative process for itself. All that the teacher can do is to prepare the material and to stimulate the mind of the pupil; the pupil himself must perform the final act of acquiring knowledge, namely the act of incorporating into his mind the truth presented to him. In the second place, the mind cannot take over into its own substance a complex truth as such. The truth must first be broken up into less complex component parts, which are assimilable by the mind in its present condition of development.
There is little profit, for example, in placing before the pupil a finished essay, unless the pupil is taught to analyze the finished literary product into its constituent elements, and to reconstruct those elements into a living whole. This, of course, implies much more than the task of summarizing each paragraph and labelling it more or less happily. When the term assimilation is used with reference to mental development, it is well to remember that, while it originally referred to the building up of anatomical elements, these elements, once constructed, have an immediate psychological bearing. Each particle of matter that is lifted into the living tissue acquires thereby a functional unity, that is, it is brought into functional relation with every other particle of the organism. Similarly, a truth once incorporated into the mind sheds its light on the entire mental content, and is in turn illuminated by every previously assimilated truth. Acting on these principles, the up-to-date educationist insists: first, that each new truth should be not only an addition to the stock of knowledge of the pupil, but also a functional acquisition, something that stimulates the pupil’s mind to increased activity; secondly, that in every educational endeavor the centre of orientation should be shifted from the logical centre of the body of truth to be imparted to the present needs and capacities of the growing mind.
More specifically, reactions to it. For my beloved non-Catholic readers, this is a little inside baseball. The pope just issued a letter – that’s what the Latin above refers to – that reverses the permissions and guidelines of the last 2 popes regarding the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). Pope St. John Paul had permitted the TLM with the permission of the local bishop, which he encouraged them to grant; Pope Benedict had essentially ruled that such permission is presumed granted, and encouraged the TLM as an important spiritual practice. There was great joy among many Catholics, and the TLM, while still a tiny fraction of the masses being celebrated world-wide, enjoyed a resurgence such that you could fairly easily find one in most dioceses in America, at least. Francis latest letter is trying to crush this movement in favor of the ‘Ordinary Form’, or the Mass in the vernacular according to the practices developed after Vatican II.
You’ve been warned!
Bunch of background, trying to keep it simple here.
To us Catholics, the mass is THE prayer, the source and summit of all Christian life. It is the closest thing to Heaven on earth, with the Body of Christ manifested in the gathered faithful, the proclamation of the Scripture, and most especially in the Eucharist. Over the course of 2,000 years, this prayer has taken on many forms. Today, within the Catholic Church, there are dozens of forms of the Mass, from different cultures and times – the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is used in a variety of forms by some Eastern Rite Catholics; there is a Dominican rite from the 13th century Dominican order, a Syriac Rite from the earliest centuries in Syria, and so on.
The Roman part of the Catholic Church, as distinct from the Syriac, Eastern Rite, Coptic Catholics, and so on, is by far the largest. This Latin Church includes Catholics in areas that were once part of the Western Roman Empire, their descendants scattered around the globe, but most especially the peoples proselytized and converted over the centuries by missionaries who trace back to these areas – Latin America, the Philippines, much of Africa. Most people think the Catholic Church only refers to this collection of people, but in reality it includes many smaller groups who are, in the language of the Church, “in communion with Rome” – who accept the teachings of the Church and recognize the primacy of the Pope in matters of faith and morals. These groups each have their own forms of the mass, generally passed down for centuries and often tracing back to the Apostles themselves.
For the Latin Church, the dominant form over the last 1,000 years has been by far (with relatively minor variations) what is called the Latin Mass. For over 400 years, from the Council of Trent until Vatican II, what is called the Pius V Mass was the one canonically required form to be celebrated in all Roman Catholic parishes worldwide. This uniformity was instituted as part of the Church’s efforts to address the laxity and corruption that had greatly contributed to the Reformation and the resulting fragmentation of Christianity.
It is this Pius V Mass, again with relatively minor updates, that is now referred to as the TLM. If you grew up Catholic in America before 1970, the mass to you and almost all Catholics worldwide meant the Pius V Mass. Note that despite the numerical dominance of the Roman part of the Catholic Church, and despite the recognition of the primacy of the Pope by all Catholics, the Church has always allowed for various forms of the Mass to accommodate the ancient and varied traditions of Catholics with roots outside Western Europe.
One way I like to think about the Mass is by thinking about this:
Once Christianity was legalized by Constantine in 313, Catholics started building big, beautiful churches. In the West, the relative chaos of Late Antiquity slowed things down until Charlemagne kicked things back into gear, having built hundreds of churches, monasteries (each with a church) and palaces (each with a chapel) by the time he died in 814. Another relative low followed, until in 1137, Abbot Suger decided to remodel the great abbey church of St. Denis, kicking off the Gothic building boom.
Why do Catholics build and love their churches so much? Because that is where the Mass is celebrated, where Heaven and earth meet, where we receive the Body of Christ. We all want to do the best we can, so we build the finest buildings, adorn them with the greatest art, and fill them with the most beautiful music.
This has much less to do with wealth than one might imagine, An emperor could get Hagia Sophia built in 5 years; an important city could get a major Gothic church built in 50; a lesser town might take 100 years or more. But no matter what the resources, Catholics have done whatever we can do to have as beautiful a church as possible. Consider:
This is the interior of St. Mary’s Church in Newport, RI, the third parish church built for and largely by the Irish laborers imported to do the work of building Fort Adams . The men of the parish volunteered 1 day’s labor to “dig the trenches”. When they decided to build this church in 1846, the parish had 586 people in it, almost all of them poor Irish immigrants. Or:
My ancestors on my mother’s side were Czech immigrants to East Texas. Like the Irish laborers above, among the first things they wanted to do once they got settled was build suitable churches. The Czech rural tradition was to paint the inside of parish churches, something the locals could do without having to spend money they didn’t have. Thus, the exteriors of the these “painted churches” are built of the stone you can get from neighborhood, the interiors tend to be wood and plaster painted to look like heaven. These parishes had maybe 500 – 700 souls in total, yet they built these beauties.
(While poking around for pictures, found this video on the Painted Churches of East Texas. In the Czech Republic, rural churches are often painted like this. It’s what you do to make your church as beautiful as possible when you can’t afford Carrara marble and carved stone statues.)
And over and over again, all around the world. The engine driving all this building and beautification is the Mass. To Catholics, a church is not just a gathering place, or even just a place of prayer. It is holy ground, made holy by God, who is especially present and with us and in us at Mass.
The TLM was not just a part of the efforts of typical Catholics to have a nice church. For 1,000 years, it was the reason we wanted a nice church.
The greatest work of art in history, the deepest, most moving, human creation, is a high mass celebrated in a great cathedral. Imagine: a long procession of gorgeously attired figures walks solemnly up the columned nave, candles and incense burning, choirs filling the air with the greatest music ever written. For the next hour and a half, a carefully choreographed ritual is performed, culminating in the dramatic proclamation: “this is My Body; this is My Blood” while bells ring a choirs sing. We respond in words inspired by the centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
Even considered only as human art, it is magnificent; considered as God’s ultimate sacrament, His ultimate Presence among us, the mass is ineffable.
The TLM is one with that experience, as the liturgy, buildings, art, and music developed together for more than 1,000 years! Certainly, a typical parish mass over the last 2,000 years has rarely approached this sublime level artistically, but has approached it spiritually more often than one might imagine. Many Catholics have been to an Easter Vigil or Christmas Midnight Mass that was profoundly, spiritually moving, that shared in the nature of a great high mass in a great building even if falling short in material magnificence.
Now, I am not a hater of the New Mass. I have been blessed to attend many that were beautiful and spiritually fulfilling. I attend a TLM maybe 4-5 times a year, tops. But only a dedicated partisan could claim that the Ordinary Form is not extraordinarily prone to abuse. I go way out of my way to avoid particularly egregious parishes. Despite my efforts, I’ve been a part of way too many liturgies that make a mockery of the beauty and joy that is by nature present in the Mass.
Also, I was 12 in 1970, and saw first hand how brutally and arbitrarily the New Mass was imposed. The fantasy world where lovers of the TLM are just grouchy fuddy-duddies is an evil, evil lie. Anyone who dared question the sudden and dictatorial suppression of the old mass and imposition of the new were verbally abused, called names, ignored, humiliated, and mocked FOR DECADES. Sure, some were jerks – in a church with over a billion members, your going to get millions of jerks. But I knew some people, not all little old ladies or cranky old men, many were almost as young as I was, who were devastated. They read all the documents, to see if they could understand what was happening and why. When they discovered that virtually NOTHING in the documents required or even supported what they were told was required, they were abused some more, for not getting the ‘spirit of Vatican II’. All the sudden, some hippy ‘liturgist’ or goofball priest was the local pope. If they said rock band in the sanctuary, jackhammer out the communion rail, throw a cheap table up as an altar, no more kneeling, communion only in the hand, sing stupid, infantile, unsingable songs instead of the classic hymns everybody knows, and on and on – and you objected on the grounds that none of that was required, and much of it was diametrically opposed to the express wishes of the Council – well, YOU are the problem!
And those aren’t even the most appalling examples of things done in the Spirit of Vatican II. The final insult: defend Catholic teaching a bit too far, in the eyes of the hierarchy? Expect a ruthless and prompt smackdown. Deny the Real Presence while doing a little modern dance number during your clown mass (and this is a real thing, don’t be gaslighted about it!)? The hierarchy can’t be bothered by such minor problems. One sort of ‘abuse’ calls for prompt action; other kinds get a shrug, if they even get a reaction at all.
But even allowing for the bitterness of some of the older crowd, the TLM is taking off because *young people* love it! Anyone under 55 simply cannot have had the TLM experience in the regular parish growing up. They missed the worst part of the abuse, in fact, until this letter, they’d possibly only heard about the mistreatment of their older TLM loving friends. Now they know. Since my children and their friends are among the younger lovers of the TLM, I know that what they yearn for is beauty and reverence. They are not naturally trying to divide anyone from anything – they just want to worship worthily.
So, yes, there is a yearning for something beautiful, profound, and worthy – which the TLM provides in spades. Is the TLM perfect in practice? Of course not. Can it be abused? Here’s the funny part – not really. Every word and motion is constrained by the letter of the ritual in a way the Ordinary Form is not. You can only mess up the TLM by willfully or carelessly not doing what you are supposed to do, while the Ordinary Form invites improv.
So the pope thinks the problem is the divisiveness of people who love the TLM, so much so that the TLM needs to be suppressed? That simply does not fly.