It's Only Natural
Traditionalist, Liberal, Conservative: What Happened to "Catholic"?

Solange Strong Hertz

What Hath Vatican II Wrought?

In the course of trying to discover what modern Judaism believes, I gathered from the authorities consulted that beyond a common denial of Christ and deference to the Talmud it possesses no doctrinal unity at all. By and large its congregations fall into three groups: Orthodox, Reform and Conservative.

1. The first are strict traditionalists who uphold what they believe are the tenets and practices of ancient Israel, based on revelation. They confidently await the arrival of the Messiah and long for the restoration of the Temple and its rites.

2. The second are the liberals who believe that Judaism is not bound to any eternal authority but evolves along with everything else in time and space. They do not believe in a personal Messiah and do not follow the practices of the old law.

3. The third group is that of the moderates who take the middle road between the first two. They accept new ways, but are reluctant to jettison the old. Although clinging to Hebrew, they believe religion should keep pace with modern culture.

Does this sound familiar? It should, because in one form or another these three divisions are found everywhere, in politics, in the arts and sciences and most large dinner parties.  People naturally fall into these categories.  And that is precisely the point: to divide up this way is natural.  There is presumably no place for it where religion is concerned, which by definition relates to the supernatural. Its appearance in religious bodies is therefore not a good sign.

That Judaism exhibits the same divisions as other human conglomerates is in fact evidence of its fall from grace, for segmentation occurs wherever there is a descent from the spiritual into the material, or from the supernatural into the merely natural. All the more violent is the descent when it is the consequence, as it was in their case, of the rejection of the world’s divine Redeemer.

Indictment of Jews is not intended here. What is intended is directed to Catholics, for whose edification God has preserved the Jews till now. The great St. Bernard, hoping to temper the zealous excesses of the monk Radulphus, wrote to the people of France, “The Jews must not be persecuted; they must not be slaughtered or hunted like wild animals. See what the Scriptures say about them.  .  .   ‘The Lord,’ says the Church, ‘has revealed to me His will about my enemies: Do not kill them, lest my people be forgetful.’  They are assuredly the living signs that recall to our minds the Passion of the Savior.  .  . witnesses to our Redemption.”

The Jews are a living, breathing cautionary tale for Catholics that will not go away. In their sufferings and peregrinations they demonstrate visibly and irrefutably what happens when the true religion slips its supernatural moorings. This being the case, Catholics should take fright, for ever since the Second Vatican Council they have increasingly manifested the same ominous symptoms as those exhibited by the erstwhile chosen people.  Every day Catholics fall more and more into three categories which are essentially the same as those of Jewry, although they are more commonly labeled traditionalist, liberal and conservative.

Given the disarray following on the Council, it will be argued that this is only natural.  And so it is, proof positive of a descent from the supernatural. Where faith is concerned, such divisions are meaningless. They apply only to the world and never to the Church.  Finding them in the Church can only mean that the world has invaded her. These Catholic groups are easily recognized:

1. The traditionalists are militantly orthodox, the watchdogs of doctrine. Like Cromwell’s roundheads, the men have opted for the short haircut as a badge of orthodoxy,  holding long hair somehow contrary to faith and  morals. By the same token, their priests generally spurn the flowing vestments of Vatican II, preferring the truncated liturgical vestments which became fashionable at the time of the Reformation.  Their intransigent revivals of the immemorial Mass may often bear more resemblance to the American Mass of 1930 rather than to the Mass of the Apostles, but they mean well. If the U. S. Constitution occasionally figures in their discourses as part of the deposit of faith, only their unswerving patriotism is to blame.   Heaven, alas, is the reward of the few.

2. The liberals occupy the other end of the spectrum.  There is no end to their liturgical fun and games. Believing the Holy Sacrifice to be an act of  ”the faith community,”  they tend to climax their devotion with exuberant handshakes of peace and like effusions, “as in the early Church.”  Spontaneous, innovative, with a marked aversion for kneeling, they know that change is always  for the better. The vestments in this group get plainer and plainer, and in many cases disappear altogether along with the statuary and some articles of the faith.  The majority are too involved to read Vatican II decrees but rigorously adhere to its “Spirit” by agitating for married

clergy, women priests, loving relationships, the spotted owl, birth control, homosexual marriages and abortion if necessary. Long hair is acceptable but not mandatory.  Heaven is for everybody.

3. The conservatives, who carefully eschew the excesses of the first two groups,  are by far the most dangerous to themselves, to the Church and to society. Traditionalists and liberals pose relatively little threat to the ordinary Catholic, for they are quickly recognized, if not from their outward trappings, then from ten minutes’ conversation. Not so the Conservatives, whose talent for accommodation to any environment renders them nearly invisible until it’s too late. No matter what happens, they are not so much in the Church as “in,” and for them the Church is the establishment.

Their unquestioning obedience to authority, blinder than any Mason’s, relieves them of untold struggles of conscience. Although they may express a preference for the ancient Mass, they have no problems with the new one as long as the music is good, the atmosphere reverent and the majority attend it. Under cover of that old Manichaean practice now referred to as “natural birth regulation,” they practice birth control as a Christian duty. Their catechisms rarely teach outright heresy, but jarring truths are prudently disregarded lest charity be wounded.

In no way should these sketches be construed as disparaging to Catholics, for the groups described are not Catholic.  There are many differences of opinion among the faithful in areas still undefined by the Magisterium; there are even more differences on the natural level; but what divides them into the aforementioned strata can never be the Faith. Catholics by definition are one Mystical Body animated by one soul, which is the very Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, in whom there is no shadow of contradiction. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that the first Christians “had but one heart and one soul,” even to the common sharing of  possessions (4:32). How could these be traditionalist, liberal or conservative who furthermore share “One Lord, one faith, one baptism?” (Eph. 4:5).

If the Catholic must take some position in the eyes of the world,  it can only be  that of a radical.  Not as a radish is the Catholic radical, but as one whose mission it is to lay his axe to the radix , the taproot of himself and of society (Matt. 3:10; Luke 3:9). He is not here to adjust to his environment, but to deliver it to Christ the Universal King, under whose divine rule all creation must be capitulated. To this end he was left with the injunction to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).

The world does not take kindly to radicals of this stripe.  His Lord promised them, “You shall be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matt.10:22) Yea, by traditionalists, liberals and conservatives alike. To the degree that the Catholic can be identified with any of these factions, to that degree is he diminished. He is none of them because he is all of them. With the traditionalist he finds God unchanging; with the liberal he finds Him all-loving; and with the conservative he constantly adjusts to His will. Only when the world no longer perceives him as a radical threatening its diktats at their very source, is he no longer a Catholic at all.  He has obliterated himself.