Memory and Forgetting: From Liberal to Traditional

BellatorDei - traditional Catholic graphic

With gratitude to BellatorDei for traditional Catholic graphic

The journey from Liberal to Conservative …

This is a subject on which I ponder a great deal, having made a long trek in my lifetime across a number of stations, from New Age to liberal Protestant to liberal Catholic to finally a Catholic who feels he must do all he can to defend the Tradition.

Although this is the subject of years of reflexion, it nonetheless becomes stimulated by certain events, including feedback I receive about this site. There is the public feedback from Edwin at the last entry and there is private feedback.

It is with a synthesis of all of this in mind that I intend to speak – rather than solely in reference to any one particular individual.

Friends, known and unknown, particularly friends of a more liberal persuasion than myself, I am poignantly aware, and have been long before any feedback, for the possibility of this site to be construed as simplistically one-sided, polarising, black and white.

I am poignantly aware of it, because my earlier, more liberal versions of myself might have accused my present self of the very same thing. And I do not forget the views once held by my more liberal self …

For example, Edwin in his comments to his last entry has enjoined me to remember certain things. And to remember implies that one has forgotten …

But what if it is the case that more traditional Catholics have not so much unconsciously forgotten certain things – but have consciously renounced them?

Or what if it is the case that more traditional Catholics do not so much forget things, but remember OTHER different things, which their more liberal brothers and sisters forget – their liberal brothers and sisters who at first blush, may seem so much more tolerant, open and charitable, less black and white, less reactionary?

This is to suggest that in our supposedly tolerant, liberal modern paradigm, it is often assumed that conservative dissenters are nothing but simplistic, kneejerk fundamentalists.

This is a complex subject I hope to explore more fully in time.

For the moment, in my own journey from liberal to conservative, I draw a certain inspiration from two very great Catholics, who it seems to me made a journey with a certain degree of analogy to my own. A certain limited degree of analogy I think I should stress, for my own journey is far more bumbling and inept by comparison to their profound journeys!

The first is the journey of the Holy Father – one of the “pioneering” liberals of the Vatican II revolution. Did Joseph Ratzinger forget his more “liberal, open and tolerant” views of the 1960s or did he remember something he deemed of greater importance?

To one extent or another, I have been pondering the journey of Joseph Ratzinger for a number of years now. People have really failed to understand the journey of the Holy Father, I believe.

Somewhere in his books on the subject, John L Allen invokes an image from Star Wars. To the best of my memory, it goes something like this: Dumbfounded liberals scratching their heads and asking: “Why, O why, did Ratzinger the promising young Jedi knight, once beloved of liberals such as Hans Küng, go over to the “Dark Side of the Force” …?” (Hans Küng was responsible for Ratzinger getting his post at Tübingen!)

Having studied Ratzinger’s journey, I have come to believe it has been one of ever deepening contemplation and love. I believe that the Holy Father became more conscious of treasures of Christianity that were being compromised by a supposed charitable and open attitude. I also believe that the Holy Father became far more aware as he grew older of the power of darkness working in the world …

Liberal Catholics are often uncomfortable speaking about Evil. As are New Agers. I think in both cases, they are wary of stigmatising people. Such aspiration to tolerance can be noble in origin, but we will not become tolerant by forgetting that Evil exists. I fear rather the reverse: those who forget the Power of Evil and who deny it for the sake of an upbeat, freely accepting attitude may end up becoming far more judgmental and intolerant when they see human nature inevitably succumbing to Original Sin …

Yes I think the Holy Father became far more conservative and less apparently ecumenical, as he realised to an ever deeper degree, the dark powers of the will for corrupting, twisting and obscuring the Catholic Mystery.

And I believe he did so very conscientously. I think he once consciously and publicly acknowledged one of his major initiatives to be an “ecumenical train wreck”. But I do not think he did so with regret.

Though if he did not speak with regret, I am confident he will have experienced profound sadness. For I am sure the Holy Father takes no pleasure at all in disappointing sincere people. But he does what he does, after many years of intensive contemplation and consideration.

Did the Holy Father become less charitable in his journey from “open, tolerant liberal” to Defender of Tradition? To my mind, the answer is clear: his journey has been one of greater charity and greater wisdom and consciousness. It is a journey of love.

If I may return to Edwin’s comments once more:

“Exposure to other faiths may reveal things about Christianity that were buried or forgotten.”

This perhaps expresses a very common idea in many circles. At least, when I was a New Ager it was a “no-brainer” that Christianity was lacking its forgotten, buried treasures.

(I do not know if this is what you meant Edwin and in any event beg you and all to remember that this blog entry is not only in response to your public comments, but to other private ones I have received).

In any event, this idea is very, very common – so common as to become axiomatic in certain circles: we are in need of wisdom from other traditions, because somehow Christianity has forgotten much of its true, original nature.

What can I say? I once shared such positions axiomatically myself. But now after actually joining in the sheer wonders of the Traditional and Sacramental Church, they no longer seem true.

Rather than forgetting, it seems to me that seen from within, the traditional Church has actually remembered the most important things of all!

I would like to mark these words: seen from within. For I was once a New Ager with no experience of the Tradition and the Sacraments and yet I confidently believed that the real treasures of the Church had been forgotten …

Finally, above I mentioned a second great Catholic whose journey has inspired me. It is that of Valentin Tomberg.

Yes I do not think Tomberg became more and more facile, as he became more conservative, but more and more profound and complex.

And it was with profound, complex love for the world, that he could write the apparently “scandalous” things I have sometimes cited here.

For example:

“The impoverishment of humanity caused by Protestantism: without the Mother the Word is not ensouled, and consequently humanity is deprived of the effect of the Universal Remedy [Author´s emphasis].”

And then there are his words in reference to the controversial figure of

”Metternich, who was villified so much [but] who recognised the true scope of the danger [and the] necessity to save European Christianity from the danger of being swept under a wave of irreverence [My emphasis].”

Friends, known and unknown, the last blog entry was concerned with the Easternization of the West. I frankly confess that I believe we have to do here with a very grave set of matters, sweeping Christianity under.

I have come to believe in and want to do all that I can to support the traditional approach taken by figures such as the Holy Father. I trust that in the depth of the love of his heart he is more conscious than myself to the tragedy of what is being lost …

Finally for anyone concerned with following this further, my review of a book linked to below may be of interest.

Related Entry

Book Review: The Ratzinger Report

From Amazon US:

These books can also be found in our Amazon UK store here. The following titles also have Reviews at these links: (Puritan’s Empire) (Meditations on the Tarot) (When Corporations Rule the World).

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  1. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 19 March 2010 at 02:01 | Permalink

    I actually deeply appreciate the journey of Ratzinger, now the Holy Father. You are right, his journey represents an anamnesis of the Catholic Tradition in face of liberalism. My point about remembering has a lot to do with personal biography which translates as: Where you have been is a stepping-stone to where you are now…what you may thinking now may stand on the shoulders of older, seemingly obsolete realizations. Somehow these have or may fuse into the being we are now. “Remembering” is recollecting the presence of truth that once held us and to some extent still lives in us. This truth may be enfolded by a greater truth such as the Catholic one. The present truth may throw back some Light on the truth you once beheld and feel moving still if silently in one’s being.

    I do not mean to be superficial by suggesting that Christianity is illuiminated by other religions or cultures or is somehow dependent on them but is related to the above. A person who holds truth once beheld from another religion or spiritual culture is twice or more illumined. It is impossible for such an individual not to feel the meeting in his or her being. Even if he or she has chosen or been chosen for the truth of Christianity the Light will shine back and forth even as it bends in the direction of Christ and His Bride, the Church.

    Many wonder what the “there is truth in other religions” of Nostra Aetate means. This is not an abstract question in me but one that lives and sings in the depths.

  2. Billy Bishop
    Posted 20 March 2010 at 03:48 | Permalink


    Your friend,

  3. Posted 22 March 2010 at 11:52 | Permalink

    Billy and Edwin, thank you. I am not sure if you are appreciating beauty in my post or Edwin’s Billy, but in either case I am very glad to have your voice and warm “unknown friendship” here.

    Edwin, I see that you are not making Christianity contingent on other faiths and I respect your non-abstract wrestling with important, urgent matters here.

    I have come to many grave concerns about much in the Vatican II documents but unlike certain traditionalists, I think the Nostra Aetate declaration you cite is important. Still I think very, very great care must be exercised around this.

    In her recent comment Epsilon has made what I think are very, very, very important observations regarding the fate of our children.

    The Catholic Church has come perilously close to a kind of New Age position of the interchangeability of all religious paths. The result I really believe is that all kinds of people, all kinds of children and if nothing is done, generations of children to come are being impoverished, deprived, robbed …

    Out of love, love among other things for the children and children to come, there needs to be very great care for protecting the Salvational Truths from being diluted in a hypothetical sea of equality and interchangeability of all religious paths, This occurs under the heading of a charitable wish to be tolerant, but has the uncharitable effect of depriving people, depriving the children!

    But I see this is not what you are advocating at all, Edwin, and that there is very much subtlety, beauty and delicacy in your thinking, thinking which I am very grateful to have gracing this site, even where my own thinking is different and possibly more along an axis with which Epsilon has also graced the site, an axis which says: save the children from being robbed!

    It is with love for generations of children to come that I believe Joseph Ratzinger has done so much that is deemed scandalous by our “open and tolerant” society, including the 2000 document Dominus Iesus. Yes Dominus Iesus scandalised the liberal world, but I think Joseph Ratzinger undertook not to negate Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate, but to balance it.

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