Regalist Breakfasts, the Sounds of Silence and Speaking to the Future
"There are times when possessing an exalted soul is a veritable infirmity. No one understands it; it may even be treated as a kind of parochialism of the spirit."
A few weeks ago, my clothes all a-clammy from a New York rainstorm, and terrified by the vision of the discomfort that could be caused by a similar monsoon during the upcoming Chartres Pilgrimage, I perceived the slow beginnings of slippage into a state of Catholic traditionalist depression. Mere slippage soon turned into free fall, however, once I picked up the newspaper and realized that the annual National Catholic Breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C. was once again upon us.
Now here was serious matter for depression indeed, something putting all Pilgrimage woes into their proper perspective. For the despair conjured up by the hike from Paris to Chartres inevitably turns out to be nothing more than a petty bodily reaction to temporary physical pains, and these eventually accompanied by a great deal of Catholic joy. The despondency produced by the Breakfast, on the other hand, is an intellectual and spiritual malaise centered round a sense of total helplessness regarding the possibility of rescuing the Church in the United States from her ever-expanding role as grateful bootlicker of soul-killing "friends". That truth was driven home for me once again this year by the April 22nd National Catholic Register's interview with Joseph Cella, founder of the annual act of homage and fealty. For in this piece one could read, among other things, the following justification of Catholic moral indifference to continuing Americanist warmongering in the Middle East, eminently useful to the false friends in question:
Our event is about prayer and fellowship. We had a wounded Iraq war veteran deliver the Pledge of Allegiance---a double amputee who's Catholic. That was a very powerful moment. But as a public policy issue, the war issue doesn't come up for our purposes at the breakfast.Mr. Cella's comments are a perfect example of Breakfast Club skillfulness in that defense of Church subservience to a Sacred State which historians refer to as Regalism. Regalism is built around rendering an obedience to Caesar and his "regalian rights" which really belongs only to God. Such obedience the Regalist justifies by pointing to a public "Catholic" commitment of a given "Caesar" so intense and glorious as to define him as God's obvious agent. The Regalist then deduces from this act of public commitment that the accomplishment of Caesar's will is the most magnificent spiritual and Catholic service that anyone could possibly dream of offering. Conversely, he views the refusal to bend the knee unquestioningly before God's clear agent as a sign of irrational obstinacy bordering on apostasy and madness. As the bad expressions of Caesar's will eat more and more away at his and his subject's remaining good habits, the practical significance of the Catholic Faith as a guide to daily moral, political, and social life is rendered meaningless and impotent. Catholic Action is gradually reduced to the level of a conscience-soothing parlor sport. Caesar does what he wishes; the faithful, led by his Regalist apologists, can always be counted upon to bless and approve his actions, both vile and good alike.
The fact that the Pope opined on the war recently, and that it's a different position from Bush's---that doesn't really have an impact on us. President Bush, at his core, defends and celebrates core Catholic social policy. The war question is different from issues like abortion and euthanasia. Those are core issues, while issues like war and the death penalty are matters of prudential judgment.
Pope Benedict expressed the view of most people of good will who don't like war and particularly the tragic results for the innocent who are caught in the crossfire. That's something we all agree on.
Until the Nineteenth Century--- with the very notable exception of the Italian City Republics---Regalism was closely associated with the policies of monarchical governments. Liberal opponents of monarchy after the French Revolution tried even harder to make the problem seem to be purely a matter involving kings. After all, did not "regalism" mean precisely something "royal"? Are not the two words basically spelled the same? American Conservatives at the Washington chow-down have done truly yeoman service in giving the lie to this literalist claim, demonstrating that the abuse which Regalism represents can be practiced more effectively, and infinitely more hypocritically, for the benefit of political parties in a constitutional system which regularly weeps tears of joy over the blessings of its separation of Church and State.
Regalist apologists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could always point to a thousand expressions of Catholic Faith uttered by Most Christian Monarchs whose behavior might nevertheless sometimes justifiably disturb devout believers. Cardinal Richelieu often resorted to this sort of propaganda, utilizing it in an effort to disarm the activist followers of St. Vincent de Paul, whose influence over the court of Louis XIII he finally overturned on the famous and well-named Day of Dupes. Similarly, the proskynesis of the Washington Breakfasteers is repeatedly accompanied by the supposedly unanswerable argument that the Republican Party and its glorious leader are "pro-life" and therefore worthy of all trust.
I do not wish now to go into this highly questionable point, already discussed in the pages of this newspaper many times before. My concern here is simply to argue that even if such a claim were absolutely true, it would not justify the total worship that the Breakfast Club offers to its contemporary idols, anymore that appreciation of Louis XIII's indisputable personal piety and chastity demanded support for his ministers' warmongering Machtpolitik against the Catholic Hapsburgs. Catholic duty to support pro-life politicians involves no corresponding obligation to swallow any of their lies and errors. We are not called upon as faithful Catholics to prove P. T. Barnum correct in his assertion that "a sucker is born every minute".
Protection of innocent life is, of course, an issue of paramount importance. But outrage over other injustices, and opposition to their perpetrators, does not somehow denigrate from the importance of abortion and euthanasia. It is one thing putting innocent and guilty life on the same level, as many opponents of capital punishment have done through the years. It is quite another, however, to dismiss concern for real injustices done to the innocent as being somehow either dangerous or the understandable concern of "nice" but basically naive people, which practical He Men nevertheless know they must manage to "get over".
If our voices are not raised against the horrors experienced by the helpless victims of fraudulent conflict, unjust imprisonment and torture, can we really expect to appear logical in our long-term fight for the defense of the helpless unborn? Have years of circulating photographs of aborted babies hardened us to the photographs of dead or hooded, naked, and leashed inmates in American military cells? Has listening to the ugly shouts from the mobs of pro-aborts outside of clinics where pro-lifers protest or counsel deafened us to the screams of Arab children? Will the hungry, thirsty, and naked who are imprisoned in George Bush's gulag, or the homeless, sick, and dead in American-occupied Iraq have no advocates whatsoever at the Last Judgment? Is foreign life in no sense sacred? Are the innocent who are already born worthy of no pity all?
A favorite argument of the "War? Who cares?" Breakfasteers is that most moral concerns are somehow intrinsically more fuzzy in character than "core issues like abortion and euthanasia". Papal statements involving the justice of this war are, as Mr. Cella puts it, merely an "opining", equal or less in moral value to that of George Bush. Many of the Breakfasteers would insist that in the absence of ex cathedra definition regarding such highly specific matters---something which just does not happen---Catholics are actually morally obliged to follow the "prudential" judgments of their Caesars concerning war.
Forget that this requirement of direct papal intervention would, in practice, have required past Catholic silence in an endless number of situations that most people today nevertheless insist demanded Church decisiveness. Forget that it would have obliged German Catholics to support Hitler in the Second World War, something I am absolutely certain the Breakfast Club would not permit. In point of fact, it is generally the case that the basis for almost all practical Catholic action, social or individual, is not the extraordinary intervention of a papal pronouncement with the Cheerio's each morning.
Catholics have the ordinary means provided by our Faith and Reason to guide their personal moral judgments. If, for example, our Faith and Reason tell us that something we are tempted to say is a contemptible lie, then, even though the majority of our Catholic neighbors think otherwise, and urge us to fire away with any whopper that we might care to invent, we still need no infallible pronouncement to save us from such a terrible sin. We simply must not lie. If our Faith and Reason, faced with the evidence of years of twisted public statements and actions on the part of the Bush Administration show us that we are ruled by men who believe that the world must be made safe for an unlimited American-style "freedom" in which the strongest prevail and might makes right, we cannot shut our eyes and mouths to the horrors thereby unleashed. We are obliged to oppose them, and without any fear of imposing our "just war opining" on other people, all of whose moral "choices" regarding the conflict must be treated as equally acceptable, and even binding if in a position of authority. Proponents of a war for a "freedom" which ushers into yet another region of the world that globalism behind whose banners libertinism and abortion themselves triumphantly process must be thwarted. Accept the arguments of the "just war" relativism favored by the Breakfasteers and you end by creating precisely the sort of atmosphere in which the "freedom" and "choice" of the baby killers thrive as well. Indeed, you end by validating all the wars of all Caesars without exception, providing those future Catholic apologists who will be obliged to tackle the issue of defending this relativist Breakfast Chatter a monumental migrane.
It is almost too painful to bring up a second ground for criticizing the grande bouffe of Mr. Cella and his comrades--- its mind-boggling tastelessness. The Breakfast Club, we are told, is a prayerful group, and as such, uninterested in war policy. Such disinterest did not stop it, however, from creating a "powerful moment" by calling upon a man who lost both his legs in Iraq to deliver the Pledge of Allegiance to the Divine State. This is a cheap trick indeed. No one can help but feel sympathy for such a man and such a sacrifice. But given the warmth of the welcome offered to the President, this sympathy could not help but in some way be used to bless those very policies not directly on the agenda, but identified in everyone's mind as the central theme of his Administration. Like so many similar symbolic actions in the years since 1914, this offensive move was intended to use the ambiguous emotions it inspired to encourage "keeping faith with the wounded and the dead" and thereby offer still more cannon fodder for the cause of the Catholic Caesar.
Neither of my two criticisms concerning Regalism and tastelessness will ever be answered seriously by the Breakfasteers. They can only answer what they are capable of answering, and that can never mean a substantive attack on the American Way. This they have been trained to adore as the direct product of the hand of God and correspondingly flawless. Such blindness is not a particularly new phenomenon. Christians have encountered it from our earliest history. Little, separates the Breakfasteers from that imperial magistrate of the early Third Century who stopped up his ears and said: "I cannot bring myself so much as to listen to people who speak ill of the Roman way of religion" (Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, p. 17). Eighteen hundred years apart, they both take for granted a Divine Regalist State whose shoes the Church is supposed to shine, and whose lessons she is supposed to learn rather than to correct. What makes the Breakfast Club's approach more appalling than similar past ones is its ability to have things two ways. On the one hand, it dances attendance on George Bush and the Republican Party with an enthusiasm that would arouse the shock of a Bourbon absolutist. On the other, it "responds" to complaints about its subservience (as one of its supporters last year responded to me) with the mind-boggling assertion that those of us who worry about such lack of distance from the American System are nostalgic worshippers of the union of Throne and Altar!
Allow me now to end this article by returning to its beginning. While picking at my clammy, rain-soaked clothing, pounding the wall in rage over the Breakfast chatter, and indulging a free fall into traditionalist despair, my guardian angel eventually got the better of me. He suggested that I adopt one of my regular emergency Catholic anti-depression procedures: a telephone call to Professor David Allan White. He reminded me that the good doctor knows infallibly what to do under these circumstances.
Doc White's treatment is certainly not for sissies. It involves an initial inoculation against the more evil long-term effects of a sense of helpless rage by means of a preliminary, short-term confirmation of one's total justification for feeling it. This entails recounting illustrations of disaster and Catholic powerlessness far more disturbing than the gloomiest traditionalist manic-depressive could ever have invented on his own. But such shock therapy is dispensed with highly amusing gallows-humor. More importantly still, it always ends with some solid advice concerning how to regain one's bearings and get back into the trenches, rearmed and reinvigorated.
Professor White, as Remnant readers know, is a literary man with a firm faith; a man of words committed to the Word Made Flesh. Communications is his game; the salvation of his students his chief aim. Our therapeutic depression chat last month ultimately centered round this, his special area of expertise: media, message and their negative and positive intersection. My dear friend's comments regarding what to do about responding to such events as the Breakfast Club were quite stark. "I am beginning to think", he said, "that Romano Amerio, the author of Iota Unum, was perhaps right, and that the time has come for us to imitate Our Lord and simply keep our mouths shut when confronted by the arguments of our opponents". Why? Because our problem is more than a simple "failure to communicate", correctable through some new media gimmick. It amounts to a total inability to transmit our beliefs to the outside world, the conservative Catholic world at the top of the list.
Our beliefs involve the building of a Way and a Life founded on a Truth learned through Faith and Reason together. Barring a miracle, the ordinary transmission of these beliefs requires the creation of an environment which pushes people to be basically open to such an holistic project. Naturalist modernity, with America as its most successful by-product and the Breakfast Club as a major Catholic manifestation of its influence, precisely prevents the creation of such an environment. It has its roots in a Nominalist vision of life as a depraved jungle in which an earthly order training men for eternal happiness with God has no place; in which broad, exalted concepts with rational, logical, political and social consequences can play no role to aiming their minds, hears and behavior upward. It sees no coherent Way and Life to be led and no intrinsic connections between doctrines and all of their moral consequences, not just ones that we might wish to emphasize. It makes all arguments with respect to these themes completely incomprehensible if not downright insane.
Life for the modern naturalist is intrinsically rule-less, and arguments mere weapons for human animals at war with one another, their value judged solely by their effectiveness in bewildering and humiliating one's enemies. What makes this vision especially dangerous is the fact that it retained from the Catholic environment in which it was first born a crusading, evangelical spirit, as well as a rhetoric of reason, hope and joy which so camouflages its underlying might-makes-right beliefs as to confuse and fool most of its own supporters. It can still say wonderfully inspiring things, but it makes the people whom it shapes into beings who cannot imagine a cohesive---and tasteful---Way and Life formed by the Truth. Hence, the difficulty of the full Catholic message in making progress in our naturalist age, encapsulated in a quotation whose source I have sadly somehow misplaced: "There are times when possessing an exalted soul is a veritable infirmity. No one understands it; it may even be treated as a kind of parochialism of the spirit."
Dr. White's chief point was that, rather than continuing to be "surprised by the obvious"--- i.e., rather than being repeatedly shocked and then disheartened by the desire of the world outside either to ignore what we traditionalists have to say or, if compelled to do so, to deform our message so as to turn into obscurantist, parochial nonsense--- perhaps we ought to chuck the attempt to dialogue altogether. Under these circumstances the best advice for those dedicated to spreading the traditionalist vision would be to cultivate "the sounds of silence".
Such commitment to "the sounds of silence" would not mean surrender to some gloomy fatalism or lethargic quietism. It would merely entail "retreating to attack from another direction". It would enjoin a certain quiet calm in the contemporary anti-rational public forum so as to avoid repeated disheartening surprises by the obvious indifference of most modern men to a holistic existence. This would allow a great deal more time for us to learn to use our vocal chords seriously, employing them only to "speak to the future".
By "speaking to the future", I mean using our voices primarily to drive home the basic, substantive, unalterable, non-negotiable need to build a future Christendom which really hosts a cohesive Way and Life shaped completely by the Truth. Those who still have eyes to see and ears to hear will be impressed by this enterprise and will respond to the substance of what we have to offer, and from all walks of life, even among the rich and powerful. Speaking to the needs of that future Christendom requires us to deepen our knowledge of the Faith on the one hand and the teachings and problems of that Christendom of the past which once, however fallibly, sought to embody it. When and if such a future Christendom could be rebuilt, the Faith and Reason guiding it would press its inhabitants to look for connections of doctrines and their moral consequences in all spheres of life, not simply those which their Sacred States and Caesars might consider to be acceptable. Moreover, the Way and Life that it would ensure would predispose those fortunate enough to live within its borders to open their minds and spirits to its exalted underlying Truths, understanding their implications and their need for better and more thorough implementation as much by feel as by thought. And this would certainly cause them to reject invitations to Breakfast Club gatherings of the kind just held in Washington, D.C. as the subservient and tasteless events that they are.
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