In The Trojan Horse in the City of God, Dietrich von Hildebrand accuses the self-styled postconciliar “progressives” of an incorrect view of virtue and truth. They behave, he says, as if one error could be counterbalanced by another, so that laicism is seen as the cure for clericalism, or contempt for tradition could counterbalance an ignorant attachment to it. It is like believing that what the coward needs is a dose of rashness, or what the prude needs is a visit to the brothel. But virtue is not an arithmetic mean between vices, and truth is not an arithmetic mean between errors. Indeed vices and errors that seem opposed to one another often spring from the same bad soil.
The “progressive,” then, sets his sight on a Christ of the imagination, always fading beyond the horizon ahead, in the land of Would Have: So Jesus, who notably did not choose any women among the twelve, must cede to the Christ Who Would Have, had He been among us now. People of every political stripe can play this game. The Jesus who said, “One cannot serve both God and Mammon,” must cede to the Christ Who Would Have defined our salvation in material terms, whether procured by free enterprise or the socialist leviathan. The Jesus whose clarion call for sexual purity forbids divorce must cede to the Christ Who Would Have smiled upon fornication, which is to set divorce at the very heart of the sexual act. The “progressive” is thus always two steps ahead of the Holy Spirit.
All of which begs the question, again, of truth. For if you are walking down into hell, progress is the last thing you need.
The applications of this are replete and it seems that von Hildenbrand may have had a pretty good handle on the things to come. The non-Roman Catholics who read this can gain every bit as much from it as those who share von Hildebrand's church.
“In the spirit of Vatican II” is a spirit that is defined a priori as suspicious of tradition and “open” to “modern culture...” It would seem that Lutheranism and other Christian traditions have ingested some of the spirit of Vatican II and the result of which is that we have become suspicious of our recent past and our catholic past and more open to modern culture (secular, entertainment oriented, and pleasure seeking).
HT to Anthony Esolen, about whom I know little, other than he teaches at Providence College and is a Senior Editor for Touchstone.
Non-Roman Catholics who read this will not gain as much as those who share von Hiildebrand's church, because, what he said is torn from the context of developments and controversies specific to that church.
We Lutherans may well note his opposition to the redefinition of Jesus in which Jesus emerges supporting what he had previously been held to oppose.
What we may not note, and which many Catholics themselves do not note or simply ignore, is that von Hildebrand is himself part of the school that produced these redefinitions, which school is based in phenomenology.
Von Hildebrand was a doctoral candidate under phenomenology's founder, Edmund Husserl, and was closely associated with Max Scheler, who took phenomenology further and whose own conversion to Catholicism deeply influenced his own.
A young doctoral candidate, a priest named Karol Wojtyla, wrote his dissertation on constructing Christian Ethics on Scheler's phenomenology.
Such efforts were part of a broad movement, not confined to doctrine or to liturgy, to bring both Christian thinking and worship out of the framework of Scholasticism in which it had existed for centuries during the Holy Roman Empire, whose remnants had just passed beneath the waved with WWI.
Phenomenology was key to this effort, to re-express both thought and practice in a modern way, not beholden to the patterns of Scholastic thought whose roots in turn were in ancient Rome and Greece.
His opposition to the "Christ Who Would Have" then is not the opposition of tradition to modern reinvention, but the opposition of a conservative modern reinvention to more liberal ones that take the reinvention farther. While this opposition has similarities to the opposition from tradition, it is not the same and is fundamentally misunderstood when invoked as if it were the same.
DvH for example despised the novus ordo, per se, not just "abuses", and thought the devil himself could not have better messed liturgy up. The "spirit of Vatican II" is not a distinct spirit, but the same spirit carried farther than its conservative proponents want it carried.
It makes no sense for us Lutherans to invoke him as a defence of traditional Christian thought yet include along with its traditional liturgy our own version of the new order, rites, calendar, lectionary and all, that proceeds from exactly the same thought. Like some sort of Lutheran version of the "reform of the reform" in which conservative non-traditional, ie postconciliar, Catholics try to reign in the more liberal ones. "Reform" is not at issue, just its extent, staying short of the entertainment orientation and pleasure seeking for a Jesus Would Have who would have kept the smells and bells of dressing up and playing church.
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