A View From Rocco's: George Weigel and "The Happening"
(The Remnant, February 15, 2009)
("You have sat too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!")
Today, while sipping my espresso, I pictured what I would see if the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, incarnated in a single Grande Dame, were slumped over at the table in front of me, with George Weigel as her companion and chief confidant. There she would sit, her mind and spirit in the most miserable state of befuddlement she had ever experienced in her long and often very troubled life. And there at her elbow would be Mr. Weigel: slapping her on the back, congratulating her on the solidity of her wretched condition, counseling her against temptations to reconnect with an earlier, healthier, existence, and demanding of old friends entering Rocco's an unambiguous affirmation of the magnificence of her present state of progressive mental, spiritual, and physical collapse.
Now almost everyone dealing with the contemporary Church emphasizes a myriad of problems worldwide, but not Mr. Weigel. The main point of the astonishing article, "Rome's Reconciliation: Did the Pope Heal or Deepen the Lefebvrist Schism?" (Newsweek, January 26, 2009), inspiring my gloomy vision, is that things are generally peachy-keen with H.M. the Church. With old leftist enemies fading into "insignificance", the sole real contemporary danger seems to arise from an unfortunate coddling of the Traditionalist Movement. Even so, Mr. Weigel informs us that all will be well so long as "Lefebvrists" undertake to "publicly and unambiguously affirm Vatican II's teaching on the nature of the Church, on religious freedom, and on the sin of anti-Semitism". Well said, o creature of a day! But what your summons really means is the need for all Catholics to "publicly and unambiguously affirm George Weigel".
If I should ever write a book called Begging the Question, Mr. Weigel's insistence on "unambiguously affirming Vatican II" would provide me all the material I would need to complete the task. For those two little words, "Vatican II" have never referred solely to a particular, self-contained Ecumenical Council in the way that the words "Ephesus" or "Lateran IV" or "Trent" do. "Vatican II" has always meant a great deal more than this from the very first moment that media-savvy theologians hijacked the original conciliar working documents to promote their own vision of progressive Christianity.
Perhaps the best way to summarize the "meat" of the augmented meaning of "Vatican II" is to think of it in terms of the concept of "The Happening". The Happening was invented by men like Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the late eighteenth century. Post-1789 France put it into practice in the form of what was called the revolutionary journee. The Happening/journee was a public, preferably open-air ceremony, in which the liberated, "natural" man could celebrate the joy of abandoning past authoritative chains, and worship the individual, the communal will, the present, and the future all at once.
Neither Faith nor Reason moved these events, since both such "chains" were tossed into the bonfire in order to make the Happening possible in the first place. What propelled them were the dictates of willful, choreographer-ideologues, with the less thorough and less driven Lords of the Dance progressively giving way to their more methodical and single-minded brethren. And with the victory of these latter forces, Happenings began to invade every sphere of life, thus threatening to reduce all of the individual's communal experiences to a mass of passionate, mindless hootenannies benefiting nothing but the vision and attendant ambitions of said choreographers. What these manipulators had to avoid at all costs was the reconnection of participants in a Happening with the past wisdom that would enable them to analyze the ridiculous jitterbug monopolizing their time and exhausting their energies.
The words "Vatican II" really refer to a forty-year long Happening dominating every aspect of Catholic communal life: liturgical, academic, social, you name it. "Vatican II" as Happening therefore came to mean the liberation of the individual and his communities from the chains of the past, including their emancipation from petty little conciliar documents interpreted by Faith and Reason. Vatican II was not to be understood, but to be "lived": passionately, thoughtlessly, but most importantly, submissively.
Submissively, because, behind the curtain, as with all Happenings, stood the choreographers. These have included many diverse people, modernist "experts" responsible for the "time bombs" placed in many of the Council documents to ensure their ambiguous character, as well as members of curial commissions and individual bishops, priests, nuns, laymen, and laywomen dedicated to "implementing" the Council's rulings. All such choreographers have summoned the support of an Hegelian Holy Ghost, whose evolving will enables them to insist that the "spirit of Vatican II" changes with every waft of new "fresh air" pleasing to their eyes and ears. With His backing, they have magically transformed pastoral decrees into the only dogmatic statements in Church History, and the most solemn Catholic creedal statements into time-bound expressions of unenlightened whimsies.
But the Church is still the Church, and she has step-by-step prepared her providential escape from the mindlessness of the Happening. What this flight means is recommitment to the work done by previous Popes to separate what was merely "modern" (and potentially good) from the disease of "modernity" (which is always awful). Applied to our situation, such labor entails: 1) separating the body of Vatican II---its literal documents and decrees---from the unacceptable envelope that has glued these concrete sources tightly shut inside; and, 2) draining the "time-bombs", dogmatized pastoral strategies, and willful plans of the choreographers of a faithless, irrational Happening through the colander of Faith and Reason, serving up to the faithful only the solid and nutritious pasta that remains behind. If anyone wants to know just what a difficult task this truly is, I would urge that he read Fr. Hubert Jedin's magnificent History of the Council of Trent. Here, he will see how the Church weighs the precise value of every distinct heading and line---even those of undeniably dogmatic decrees---with the utmost care and nuance before she is certain what she can really teach as Catholic Truth.
And this is precisely what has been done since the worst days of the Happening, during the reign of John Paul II: through decree after decree of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; by means of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; and, most dramatically, through the latest actions of Pope Benedict XVI in rendering justice to the Traditional Mass and lifting the excommunications of the bishops of the SSPX. What we are witnessing is the first truly justifiable "demythologizing" venture in modern times: the demythologizing of the Happening passed off as "Vatican II". And when this good work is finished we will finally be able to judge the precise worth of the flesh-and-blood Vatican II in the only way possible for a Catholic to do so: in organic union with the Faith presented us by all previous Councils.
Recovery of this sort will involve pain, even for Traditionalists. This is because many of us may find it difficult to accept the fact that we have picked up baggage during our time in the wilderness that might have been useful in the midst of the crisis, but which is not, in the long run, an integral part of the Mystical Body of Christ's traditional luggage. Nevertheless, even as we, too, receive some blows, we will always be able to take the greatest pride in the knowledge that we were Rome's true friends at the height of the storm; and that we unflinchingly pointed the way back to Faith, Reason, and Recovery.
The same cannot be said for usurpers like George Weigel who had the greatest success in hijacking the Magisterium to demand public and unambiguous affirmation of their own peculiar positions as though they were the legitimate teachings of the Holy Roman Church. They will be utterly devastated. But what does publicly and unambiguously affirming the hootenanny promoted by Weigel & Company mean in practice? And how does doing so prevent us from publicly and unambiguously affirming the "Tradition with a capital T" which they understandably mock? That Newsweek article, which should really be called The Happening Encyclical, gives us the answer.
In this, Weigel reveals to us the "fatal flaw" of the SSPX: its equation of "modernity" with the secularism, anticlericalism, and "true" anti-Catholicism of its parochial French revolutionary experience. But what the Frogs and their Lefebvrist disciples do not realize is that Vatican II requires acceptance of "modernity" only as defined by the Anglo-American Enlightenment! French Enlightenment modernity? Baaad. Anglo-American Enlightenment Modernity? Veeeeery goood! Embrace of the first ensures Hell on Earth. Embrace of the latter brings with it The Catholic Moment and the fulfillment of Church History.
This, of course, is the same nonsense propounded by the late Fr. John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, Dr. James Hitchcock, and many other leftists disguised as "conservatives". It is a philosophical and historical whopper of the first order. Both the French and the Anglo-American Enlightenments are founded upon the same basic naturalist principles. Their chief difference is purely one of methodology, the first being temporarily swallowed up by its radical wing, while the second always remained in the hands of the "moderates". Radicals deny the existence of God and destroy the Church directly. Moderates so drown mankind in "practical" natural concerns that they make both God and Church completely subservient to secular material considerations and totally irrelevant. Radicals abolish Sunday; moderates make it the prime shopping day of the week. Radicals treat zealous believers as dangerous obscurantists and chop off their heads; moderates laugh them offstage as unsocialized goofballs, "people concerned with Tradition with a capital 'T'", losers whose doctrinal obsessions are likely to trouble ecumenical exploitation of stock portfolios and imperial expansion.
Now Anglo-American "modernity" has always involved promotion of a doctrine of religious liberty based upon a conviction that state authority should concern itself solely for the maintenance of "public order". John Locke, one of its founders, saw that public order was disturbed by the attempts of one religion to dominate society. Hence, peace and unity could only be assured if these were thwarted, with all socially acceptable beliefs allowed their freedom instead.
Locke took it for granted that Catholics could never accept this approach, and hence excluded them from enjoying the liberty offered to others. His admirers, James Madison and Voltaire, were ready to let Catholics be included in the gentlemen's club of socially acceptable religious believers. But this was because they realized that Lockean religious liberty would so increase the number of denominations competing with one another for the "votes" of the population as to make it impossible for Catholicism or any other religious force to dominate society and thus disturb the public order.
Mr. Weigel's understanding of Vatican II as an embrace of Anglo-American modernity would make even John Locke change his mind about Catholics. He makes it clear that this embrace requires acceptance of the Lockean approach. The Happening Encyclical teaches us the intensity of his "preferential option for public order" through its equation of any act of social authority regarding religion with the act of "coercion". In saying this, Mr. Weigel removes himself from the classical and Catholic Tradition, which define all acts of social authority as attempts to achieve the "common good" based upon a previous work of rational judgment---an effort which the Faith and the Church have done more to encourage than anything else in history. Our Tradition, both philosophical and theological, sees an act of authority as something sound and healthy. It understands coercion and force as being the tools of illegitimate, powerful willfulness.
Alas, coercion and force are what dominate in Anglo-American modernity! Of course that fact is well masqueraded by Mr. Weigel and his forbears because of their skillful portrayal of themselves as "freedom fighters" fending off big bad proponents of wicked authority. For once all authority is said to "coerce", it leaves its opponent the possibility of claiming that he can have no other role than that of "liberating".
You can run but you can't hide! Abandonment of the hunt for the common good has inevitably tied Mr. Weigel and Anglo-American modernity as a whole with the willful, Nominalist vision of political life, so dangerously powerful in the western world from the time of William of Ockham and Marsilius of Padua onwards. This "tradition" refuses to admit that State authority, in its effort to maintain the public order, can do anything other than impose a "will" which, hopefully, it can convince the population to accept. Having prevented the Church and the Faith from encouraging a State allied with Reason to achieve the common good, it thus leaves the field open to strong, passionate men to foist their willful "public order" upon the population at large. Thomas Hobbes describes this as a brutal game of jungle animals. John Locke tries to make it seem more civilized. He turns it into a contractual agreement among gentlemen concerned for the acquisition and enjoyment of private property, one that resorts to "coercion" only to maintain the "public order" that will protect the club members benefitting from it.
The "Catholic unity" which The Happening Encyclical claims will emerge from acceptance of its understanding of "religious liberty" is thus a unity totally separated from the notion of common good and allied with a vision of society regulated purely by coercive force. That coercive force lies in the hands of the private individuals, masquerading as freedom fighters, who manipulate the State for their own personal benefit with reference to Lockean principles. And that coercive force turns with its willful fury against anyone who would disturb the public order it creates: with Traditionalists---who dare to use the public forum to talk about the continued need for Church, State, Faith and Reason, to try to protect the True, Good, and Beautiful from sophism, wickedness, ugliness, and the oppressors of the weak---at the top of the list. Public order, the sacred cause of freedom, and, as George Weigel sees it, Vatican II as well, all demand that such troublemakers keep their traps shut; that they participate in the mindless Happening that serves its choreographers oh so well...or suffer the consequences.
But even the humblest of worms can sometimes turn. If he does, Anglo-American modernity is rich with trickery to keep him in his place. Since truth, in our sense of the word, has no intrinsic meaning for the choreographers of this Happening, whatever the "freedom fighters" find "works" to keep their contractual, pseudo-society going---whatever "works" to keep the slaves in place---becomes the truth. And, once again, as The Happening Encyclical joyfully notes, it becomes the teaching of "Vatican II" as well.
One of these tricks, outlined by James Madison, involves stirring up factionalism in order to defeat a potential revolt of the masses. This, in our case, means rousing Catholic against Catholic, inventing and multiplying self-interests in our ranks and playing them off, one against another. Hence the effort to identify progressive and reactionary, young and old, married and divorced, straight and gay Catholics, ad infinitum.
Another trick concerns employing the tool described by Sallust in the last days of the Roman Republic: the arousal of a Great Fear. Catholic minds beginning to question the mindless Happening can be told that the sunlight outside their cave will blind them; that concern for philosophy and theology will divert them from making a crucial killing on the market; that it will hand the country over to the Communists or allow zealous Moslems to construct mosques where the local porn shop caused no harm to public order and simply contributed to neighborhood prosperity and the fight against popular hang-ups.
Still, nothing, true or false, works as effectively today to terrify people into obedient silence than the Great Fear of being tainted by that "sin of anti-Semitism" which is accurately associated with people like the Nazis. This is why the Happening Encyclical uses it as a Hammer of Traditionalists. But "the sin of anti-Semitism" that concerns the Happening Encyclical has nothing to do with concentration camps and racism. That "sin" really is one of failing to publicly and unambiguously affirm George Weigel and the idol of Anglo-American modernity.
Of course the irony here is that Anglo-American modernity is merely the most successful form of that always anti-Catholic Enlightenment that easily nurtures all forms of willful materialism, including a racism requiring ethnic cleansing. The Twentieth Century, the most evil of centuries, did what it did to the Jews because it was the most "enlightened" of centuries, and "benefited" the most from the collapse of the hunt for understanding and implementing the common good. And the willfulness lying at the heart of all branches of the Enlightenment is well reflected in Mr. Weigel's total lack of interest in the sin of racism and ethnic cleansing taking place in the Middle East today. Why should he be interested in this? It does not serve the cause of his real god and its worshippers.
The Catholic worm is turning; the slaves are rattling their chains and seeking exit from the embrace of this Happening and the team of Anglo-American modernist choreographers behind it. Pope Benedict XVI, first as Cardinal Ratzinger and now as pontiff, has made it abundantly clear that the religious liberty and the maintenance of public order spoken of by Vatican II must be understood with reference to the classical teaching on the common good. Concern for the common good restores social authority to its proper pedestal as protector of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, and underlines its positive function in all of life: encouraged by the Faith, but guided, in practice, mostly by Reason and the State. Finally, a return even to the documents of Vatican II on their own will show that Nostra aetate itself does not equate "anti-Semitism" with the critique of a doctrine of religious liberty regulated on the basis of public order....much less, with criticism of the State of Israel or efforts to lead Jews to membership in the Mystical Body of Christ.
All of this bodes ill for George Weigel & Company. Not that I expect that they will give up without a fight. Sophists are adept at moving from workable trick to workable trick to keep their game afloat, no matter how little correspondence with the truth they may have. I have had personal experience of this myself. A friend in Rome once gave a member of the Weigel camp a copy of my Americanism pamphlet to read. I am told that his response was to call me "a romantic admirer of the Old South". I hunted in vain for words to that effect in my work. No matter. Maybe he even convinced himself they really were there if they did the trick with a certain audience.
I don't really like to see anyone suffer, even a sophist like Weigel. Nevertheless, for just one brief moment, I would love to imagine that Grande Dame of a Church seated in my mind's eye in front of me here at Rocco's rising up in righteous indignation over this false friend's efforts to continue the Happening that has allowed him to usurp her teaching authority and demand absolute obedience to it under the cover of her good name. I would like to hear her take the words of Oliver Cromwell dismissing the Long Parliament and now turn them to good Catholic use, ridding herself of George Weigel and his fellow prophets of Anglo-American modernity for once and for all: "You have sat too long for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"
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