|Walking the Old Path:|
|A Tribute to Walter L. Matt|
|REMNANT COLUMNIST, London|
No one possessed this instinct more fully than Walter Matt, and I count it as one of the great privileges of my life to have known him and to have been able to call him my friend. I had the honour of sharing the platform with him in every Remnant Forum in which he participated and of staying as a guest in his home. I remember him best relaxing in the evening with his pipe, his family, and his friends, always good-humoured, always ready with a smile and a joke.
I know that his declining health in recent years, particularly the past year, had been a severe trial both to him and to his wife Marilyn, who cared for him until the very end, and to whom the words “for better or for worse” meant precisely that. I learned from several members of his family of the beautiful and truly Catholic way in which he passed from this valley of tears to “a place of solace, of peaceful rest and of glorious light.” His granddaughter Melanie remarked in a letter to me: “What a man, a man I am privileged to call my grandfather. And on Monday night at Grandma's house, as we put together posters and pictures of Grandpa and thought of all the things he had done, I was becoming a little sad, but when I looked into the next room, the room that had been his, and I saw the wheelchair and the lift and all those painful parts of his life, I realized how happy I should be for him.”
Melanie certainly possesses the sensus catholicus. Our initial reaction to the loss of anyone we love must be sadness, but this must turn to joy if we truly accept that death is not the end, but the beginning, the beginning of the eternal life for which our transitory years on earth have been no more than a preparation, and I can think of no one who had prepared for eternal life in a more Catholic way than Walter Matt, and I can think of no one with more right to utter those inspiring words from the Second Epistle to Timothy: “I have fought a good fight: I have finished my course: I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day, and not only to me but to them also that love His coming.”
We should indeed, as Melanie tells us, be happy for him, and as for those that mourn him: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more.”
Every traditional Catholic owes a debt of gratitude to Walter Matt, not least for the fact that it is due to him more than any other individual, with the possible exception of Hamish Fraser, that we have a traditionalist movement in the English-speaking world. Walter was, to all intents and purposes, editor of The Wanderer for thirty years, and just as his father had done before him, used it to propagate the traditional doctrine which was accepted totally and joyfully by almost every member of the thriving and expanding Church in the United States. Then came Vatican II.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Second Vatican Council has been followed by the worst crisis in the history of the Church since the Arian heresy, which denied Our Lord's divinity during the fourth century, when the heroic Athanasius led the Catholic resistance. The heresy became so widespread that about the year 358 St. Jerome gave vent to his famous cri-de-coeur: "The whole world groaned and was amazed to find itself Arian."
His dismay was hardly surprising when it is considered that Athanasius was in exile, a compromised Pope occupied the Chair of Peter, and hardly a bishop throughout the Empire possessed the courage to stand up for the true faith, which was, as Newman explained, upheld by laymen, inspired by Athanasius, who held fast to what their bishops had taught them, even though those same bishops had by then either abandoned it or lacked the courage to profess it.
The reaction of almost every bishop throughout the English-speaking world was that Vatican II had been called to initiate a renewal and therefore it had initiated a renewal. If that was what the bishops said, then the quasi-totality of the clergy had no hesitation in endorsing the judgment of the prelates upon whom their career prospects and pensions depended. Prelates and priests assured us that day by day in every way things were getting better and better, and nowhere more so than in the United States.
There were constant changes, and, of course, these were invariably presented as changes for the better, and the phenomenon of constant change was presented as indisputable proof that we were in the midst of a constant renewal, basking in the warmth and light of a second Pentecost. The story of the Council is told in great detail in my book Pope John's Council, which is now in its sixth edition, and I will not attempt to repeat it here. It was a source of great satisfaction to me that Walter agreed so wholeheartedly with what I had written that he serialized the book in The Remnant.
One American bishop did break ranks, Bishop Adrian of Nashville, Tennessee. He explained that although most American bishops came to the Council as inveterate conservatives, many returned home as rabid liberals. He wrote:
Bishop Adrian appeared to be a man crying in the wilderness, but Walter Matt, who knew him well, agreed wholeheartedly that beneath the mantle of euphoria enveloping the Church in the USA, just as the mantle of smog envelops the City of Angels, all divine faith and morality, and all constituted authority were being destroyed, and to this litany of destruction he added the Roman liturgy.
The traditional Mass of the Roman Rite, the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, as Father Faber described it, had become almost unrecognizable by 1967, two years before the imposition of the Mass of Pope Paul VI in 1969. Walter Matt saw clearly that if he was to remain faithful to the principles of journalistic integrity that he had learned from his father, Joseph Matt, KSG, he must make a public stand against the destruction masquerading as renewal. He must speak out as did St. Basil, who wrote in about the year 372:
Only one offence is now vigorously punished—an accurate observance of our fathers’ traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries and transported into deserts. The people are in lamentation, in continual tears at home and abroad. There is a cry in the city, a cry in the country, in the roads, in the deserts. Joy and spiritual cheerfulness are no more; our feasts are turned into mourning: our houses of prayer are shut up, our altars deprived of the spiritual worship. Ep. 243.
For reasons of ownership, which I need not go into here, Walter Matt could not speak out in the way he wished while Editor of The Wanderer, and he founded The Remnant so that he could campaign for the continued “observance of our father's traditions.” In doing so, he placed himself in what, to put it mildly, was a minority position, a minority so small that from a numerical standpoint it could not even be described as insignificant.
The life of St. Athanasius provides us with a valuable antidote when we are tempted to succumb to the most pervasive of contemporary heresies, i.e., that truth must necessarily lie with the opinion espoused by the greatest number. St. Athanasius is not alone among great saints who have seemed to be in a minority of one.
St. John Fisher, alone among the English hierarchy, had the
courage to repudiate the claim of Henry VIII that the Bishop of Rome
had no jurisdiction in the realm of England, and St. Thomas More was
the only layman prepared to die for the unity of the Church. The
parallel between this great saint and Walter Matt was plain to me at
the time of the very first Remnant Forum, where I presented him with
a statue of the great English saint.
Walter Matt’s arguments were indeed put aside without a word and even ridiculed, but time has proved him right. Great liturgical scholars have now endorsed the negative judgement which he passed on the liturgical reform, better termed a revolution, from its very inception. Mgr. Klaus Gamber was described by Cardinal Ratzinger as "the one scholar who, among the army of pseudo-liturgists, truly represents the liturgical thinking of the centre of the Church." Like Walter Matt, Msgr. Gamber insisted that what we have experienced is not a renewal but a débâcle that worsens with each passing year:
Search through the back numbers of The Remnant and you will find that Walter Matt used no stronger language than this is denouncing the liturgical débâcle hailed even by the post-concilar popes as a movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church, for which we should all give thanks. In his Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus of 4 December 1988, commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Liturgy Constitution, Pope John Paul II accepted that “the application of the liturgical reform has met with difficulties”—surely the understatement of the second millennium. Despite this admission, he insisted that:
The Holy Father is here expressing his opinion on a matter of
fact, and if the facts do not correspond with his personal opinion,
we are not obliged to accept it. The fact is that, far from
accepting the reform with joyful fervour, the vast majority of
Catholics throughout the western world no longer assist at Mass. In
most European countries, Mass attendance has declined to a single
percentage figure. A few weeks ago I asked an English Monsignor how
the Pope could make such a statement, when, in his personal diocese
of Rome, Mass attendance has declined to 8%. He laughed and replied:
”Michael, where have you been living? An optimistic assessment at
present would be 3%.” The liturgical reform is indeed “the most
visible fruit of the whole work of the council,” but it is a
manifestly bad fruit.
During his editorship of The Remnant, Walter Matt did precisely this. He worked, with all due respect for the pope, for the elimination of those aspects of contemporary Catholicism which are undermining the Church to which he was totally devoted. No less an authority that Cardinal Ratzinger now accepts that we are in the midst of a crisis and not a renewal, and that the liturgical reform is to a large extent responsible for this crisis:
Would those who accused Walter Matt of disloyalty make the same
charge against the Cardinal responsible for the defense of orthodoxy
within the Church? Time has proved Walter Matt correct in every
aspect of his denunciation of the errors which ultimately destroy
all divine faith and morality and all constituted authority. Who
would have believed when he founded The Remnant in 1967 that in 2002
all the American cardinals would be summoned to Rome to be
admonished by the Pope for the gross immorality rampant among the
clergy in the United States. Nor would it have been believed that
the Pope would content himself with stating to prelates who had
allowed priests to abuse children that priests should not abuse
children, and allowing them to return home in full possession of
their sees—another prudential decision with which we are entitled to
Walter Matt preserved inviolate the truth that he received and delivered it inviolate to us. May we preserve it with equal care and hand it down just as he did. May he rest in the peace that he so richly deserves, and receive the crown of justice that his entire life has earned for him.