Dogmatic Orthodoxy Is the Acme & Basis of Traditionalism

To be a traditionalist is to wager that millions of lives already elapsed have tested most notions better than any one of them might, and have found that certain notions work better than others, and are therefore likely to be true.

To be a traditionalist then is rather like being an adherent of passive investing, which adjudges the project of beating millions of other intelligent, informed and educated investors and traders – or, in respect to any given security, at least several hundred such – to be a fool’s errand.

NN Taleb puts it bluntly in a recent tweet:

Let me rephrase for the slow at getting it. If you do not treat Tradition as (high dimensional) “experience,” you stand against science and statistical significance – the spine of experimental science.

What has worked 1010 times >>> some psych paper with 60% replication error.

Have you stumbled upon some heterodox insight about this or that topic in theology – which is to say, of the science of the Ultimate?

It is almost certainly wrong, and you should abandon it, and seek instruction about it, not from your own lights, bright though they may seem, but from the Magisterium. Until you have studied and understood what the Magisterium has said about your notion, it is almost certain that you have not yet understood it yourself. Bank on it: someone else has thought of it already, hundreds of years ago at least; several hundred brilliant minds have kicked it around, and concluded to some settlement about it. There are in consequence really only two alternatives: either your notion is already encoded in dogma, at least implicitly, or else it is wrong.

The Magisterium, after all, is smarter than you are. She is better informed, she sees deeper, and further. She is an amalgam and integration and distillation of millennia of earnest coordinate work of thousands of man’s best minds – only a hundred or so of whom are even known to us – all massively educated in theology, philosophy, and metaphysics (most of them far better educated in these topics than any modern since 1500 or so), and most of them professional contemplative mystics to boot. You simply cannot do better than they have done – unless, that is, you are in your innovations entirely congruent to their findings, so that your terrific discovery adds a jot here or a tittle there to their profound store of long tested discoveries about Reality, without at all vitiating any of it.

Then patiently learn from her. If your idea is any good, you will discover it in her, in texts at least 500 years old.

Trust me: that’s a great feeling.

If on the other hand you consider yourself a Traditionalist, but find yourself somehow here or there at odds with the Magisterium, why then you are probably a modernist of some sort. At least a bit.

Cleanse yourself of that. It, too, is a great feeling.

Here’s the greatest thing of all, for a questing mind: to stumble upon some awesome, cool discovery, to study and then find it implicit in the Magisterium, and then to see, not just how it agrees with her, but kicks her whole project up a notch (not in herself, of course, but rather in our eyes); so that she is revealed to be even more correct about all her discoveries than you, or anyone you have read, has yet seen. It is at such moments that supernatural dread begins, and the hairs on the forearms and at the back of the neck rise up in awe and terror and joy; that the people of the street begin to look like their angels, and the pavements thereof like jewels.

35 thoughts on “Dogmatic Orthodoxy Is the Acme & Basis of Traditionalism

  1. My personal flirtation with heterodoxy revolves around facts of human reproductive biology unknown to the Schoolmen, and little- or mis-understood until the early 19th century: to wit, that sperm and ovum are equal contributors to the creation of new human life.

    The particular dogma (or dogmas) onto which this throws a light unseen by Tradition, is the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the creation of Jesus of Nazareth, and the nature of the birth of Jesus.

    I have been pondering these questions for a while now.

    • That doesn’t look to me like a challenge to orthodoxy. Jesus could not have been fully man without Mary’s contribution. I mean, sure, God could have raised up Jesus from a stone, had he wished. But he didn’t.

      But perhaps you have more to say on the topic, since you have been thinking about it.

      • This, from the Catholic Encyclopedia, 191, is the particular dogma I have trouble with.

        that the supernatural influence of the Holy Ghost extended to the birth of Jesus Christ, not merely preserving Mary’s integrity, but also causing Christ’s birth or external generation to reflect his eternal birth from the Father in this, that “the Light from Light” proceeded from his mother’s womb as a light shed on the world; that the “power of the Most High” passed through the barriers of nature without injuring them; that “the body of the Word” formed by the Holy Ghost penetrated another body after the manner of spirits.

      • Sorry, but try as I might, I don’t see the problem. God influences *every* creaturely event without deleting or ruining or even shortchanging its nature. Indeed, his influence is for every creaturely occasion the first source of its nature. As the being of their being, God is the aboriginal nature of all creaturely natures.

        Then the “barriers of nature” are those established by God, to procure and to secure that nature. By definition, then, they cannot limit him, for he is their limit, and not vice versa; and what is more he cannot but pass through them all, by them all, so as to shine forth in the world, whether or not we see his Glory; for, he *just is* them. This is so, even for the evil among them; the very demons tell the Glory of God; such is their torment. Were it not for his shining, we would not have a world in the first place; for, the world is an actual coordination of different but compossible natures. In him only might they find sufficient coordination, so as not to fly apart in their petty inward looking parochial disagreements; certainly none of them are capable of that comprehensive cosmic coordination on their own.

        God “passed through” Mary and her genes, not just without injuring them, but indeed by means of them. Likewise he passes through bread, and his own body in Jesus, without turning them into something contrary to their original nature. He doesn’t turn the bread into cheese, nor does he turn Jesus into a Martian or a mollusk. Nor then does he turn Mary into a goddess simpliciter, nor by the same token into a cipher.

        On the contrary: in passing through her, he maximizes her, qua herself. That’s what he offers us, too, every time he passes through us in the Eucharist.

        I just don’t see the difficulty. Sorry if I’m being obtuse.

  2. Thanks Kristor. A good essay on the principle inherent in this well-known verse from scripture: “Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us.”

    What you have outlined herein, is what I love about the Orthosphere and the work of its contributors: the rediscovery/learning anew of the wisdom of the past.

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  4. This sounds promising. It does mean that Boehme, and the Romantics indebted to him (Blake and Coleridge, for example, and then Owen Barfield), are bound to be wrong, since they evidently promoted new ideas and/or ideas rejected by what you characterize as the Magisterium. This is not to say they are wrong through and through.

    I found more help in E. B. Pusey than in these, though I have benefited from them all.

    But who else liked by one or other of us is outside the pale …?

    • Freelancers – especially mystics – are always disconcerting to a Traditional Order. Yet such Orders must take account of them (and of all other Orders). E.g., Francis of Assisi and Jeanne d’Arc were both radically, profoundly disconcerting to the Church. She had to figure out what she thought of them, and decide whether they were legit or not.

      The same thing is now underway with Boehme, and implicitly with his students. Wolfgang Smith and Malachi Martin – ardent, staunch, and profoundly learned Traditionalist Catholic thinkers – have concluded to his orthodoxy. It is not clear to me that Boehme or his followers then are totally wrong; indeed, even if they are heretics, they must be right in most things or no one would ever have taken them seriously.

      • Yes — Boehme said his works were to be interpreted in the light of the Lutheran Confessions, as I recall.

  5. You say:

    It is almost certainly wrong, and you should abandon it, and seek instruction about it, not from your own lights, bright though they may seem, but from the Magisterium. Until you have studied and understood what the Magisterium has said about your notion, it is almost certain that you have not yet understood it yourself.

    I take you to mean by Magisterium the whole corpus of Catholic teaching, in the form of Catechism, Dogma, Doctrine, Canon Law, etc, to the extent that those things are distinct from each other.

    Canon Law is interesting to me, as inspired by the likes of Ed Peters (he’s got some honorifics due him which I don’t know, apologies to him). If I bought a book of Canon Law, in order to seek instruction and study it, in my pride I would be in danger of thinking I understand Canon Law and am qualified to speak on it. I’ve seen a number of lay-twits on twitter getting into arguments and citing Canon law (correctly or not, I dont know!). The danger is to take something I’ve learned (specific canon’s related to such and such topic) and cite it incorrectly. In these cases, there is lots of value in Ed Peters, as a Canon Law expert, instead of looking things up myself. Getting a native guide can help bring context and expertise that would be missing otherwise.

    –Now, as I was discussing this article, Hambone suggested maybe I’ve got Magisterium wrong (more “infallible teaching of the church” than “corpus of catholic thought”), but I think my point still holds, though Canon Law illustrates it quite well:

    There are some things we can learn on our own, but to go beyond it we need a native guide. I could not have approached Metaphysics without your help. I could not understand Canon Law without Ed Peters. I couldn’t have become Catholic without RCIA and the instruction of a Priest, and couldn’t have stayed Catholic without the gentle correction of my peers. So in probably 80% of the cases, solitary study can do a body good. But in the rest, consulting with those educated men charged with care of the Magisterium (by whichever definition) can help prevent accidental heresy and pride.

    • Yes, I was using “Magisterium” in the broadest sense, to include not only such formal dogmatic pronouncements as you have listed, but also the works of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and indeed of the many theologians, saints, and bishops – aye, and their students, and what is more the laymen, deacons, indeed even the heretics and pagans (as, e.g., Tertullian or Aristotle, respectively) – who have somehow contributed to the development of doctrine. To take the most famous extreme example, Origen is heterodox on a few topics, but nevertheless he is still revered as one of the most important and authoritative Fathers, and almost all his stuff is quite orthodox; so I would take his work to be Magisterial, as having strongly influenced the work of Magisterial authors right down to the present.

      The Magisterium in the broadest sense then must comprehend the whole discourse of the Church. The discourse of the Church upon Arianism, for example, must include the proposals and arguments of the Arians if it is to be understood.

      There have always been, and I suppose always shall be, novel developments of ancient changeless doctrine, novel implications and connections noticed, novel consequences discovered. How not, since as Boundless the Lógos is fathomless? So from time to time a theological novelty is proposed to, and so, *within,* the discourse of the Church; and she then sets about discussing it, until she reaches a conclusion, that rules this or that bits of it within the pale, and some other bits of it without. The conclusion is intelligible only in light of the precedent discussion.

      In a sense, the life of each holy Christian as a proposal for Beatification is a novel contribution to the Magisterial discourse. Ditto for each private revelation, each new miracle, and so forth.

      Some topics now under discussion: Boehme, de Chardin, Eckhart, Medjugorje, the Shroud of Turin, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, and indeed – still – Origen. Not to mention Pope Francis.

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    • It helps somewhat to include some of the context from the article you quote:

      If I must, I shall differ from Fathers or Doctors of the Church with the utmost hesitation and diffidence, and in bringing to light new aspects of the Christian faith, I make a point of linking my insights to their Patristic and scholastic roots. My own view on a given question, my “original contribution,” is introduced with humility and with deference to ecclesiastical authority.

      The practice of theology within – that is, loyal to – the Church, will therefore always show the following traits: 1. the constant Magisterium is always followed and defended, even when individual bishops or popes deviate from it; 2. the witness of all of Catholic tradition relevant to the matter at hand is consulted and incorporated to the extent possible; 3. in particular, the teaching of Doctors and Fathers, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, is taken as a baseline and a safe norm; 4. any position that may cause scandal or harm to the faithful, especially as regards popular piety and age-old traditions, should be avoided; 5. theological opinions are to be willingly submitted to the final judgment of the Magisterium.

      Any original development of doctrine is by definition going to differ with the Magisterium, if in no other way, then as being simply new. And I take it as obvious that any given theologian, bishop or pope is almost certain to harbor some idiosyncratic notions about this or that topic – perhaps without even knowing that his notions are idiosyncratic, and honestly believing them to be completely orthodox. Some such idiosyncratic notions are bound to err somehow; for, men are fallible; whereas, the Church is not, at least with respect to matters of doctrine or morals.

      Origen again is a palmary example. He was absolutely convinced of his complete orthodoxy, and that he was a loyal son of the Church. The Magisterium has so far disagreed with several of his ideas. But here’s the thing: the Magisterium is still wrestling with his heterodox originations, even though they deviate from what the Magisterium has yet nailed down as orthodox. Nevertheless the Church does understand Origen as he understood himself: namely, as a loyal son of the Church, and indeed as one of the most important Fathers.

      The key phrase in Kwasniewski’s essay is this:

      The practice of theology within – that is, loyal to – the Church …

      There is a radical difference between an innovative theologian who construes his work as contrary to the Magisterium – who thinks that the Church is simply *wrong* about this or that important doctrine, and so sets himself in opposition to her – and an innovative theologian who construes his work as congruent to the Magisterium, and adding to its majesty. Either one might be wrong, and both are subject to correction. But the notions of the latter will by the discourse of the Magisterium end up strengthening her; whereas the notions of the former, insofar as they lead to schism, cannot but sap her, at least for a while.

      • Sure. That’s why the humility Kwasniewski emphasizes is so important for an innovative theologian. Whether that theologian is correct in his construction of his work as congruent with the Magisterium, the Magisterium will decide.

      • Unless Magisterium is tautological with Pope, that statement is itself tautological, as theologians are considered part of the Magisterium…

      • Some are, some are not. But no theologian is simply identical with the Magisterium, nor is any Pope; as you say, they are all (together with all the faithful) on the contrary mere *parts* – i.e., participants – of the Magisterium; so that my statement is nowise tautological.

      • “The Pope also denies very basic Catholic dogma. Do you think he is Catholic?”

        Catholic dogma is whatever the pope says it is according to a whole bunch of papal bulls they’ve accepted for centuries.

        The Sedevacantists get around this by going through an elaborate logical contortion whereby somehow there is some higher set of Catholic principles and the minute the Pope goes against them he is a heretic and thus the Pope is somehow not really the Pope and the Magisterium that supports him is not really the Magisterium but then they run into the problem of “The Gates of Hell Prevailing Against the Church” they get around this when pressed by saying the Sedes are the righteous remnant but where does there authority to decide all this come from and what is the hidden hierarchy. So no matter they end up de facto Protestants with their own Priesthood of all Sedevacantist believers…

      • Papal infallibility seems at first glance to render the Magisterial deposit of dogma quite vulnerable to corruption by heretical innovation on the part of errant popes. But actually it works the other way: because popes are infallible in their ex cathedra pronouncements on matters of faith or morals, *no pope can coherently contradict such statements by previous popes.*

        Whether or not a new pronouncement does in fact contradict dogma is of course a matter of interpretation, and can be decided only by means of Magisterial discourse – not just among bishops and theologians, but also among the laity, priests and deacons; all of whom together embody and carry forth the sensus fidei.

        The Magisterium is the thought and memory of a living organism. Organisms coinhere, and so subsist – and so, live – in virtue of their massive, dense intracommunication. By that continuous discourse is the Magisterium carried forward from each generation to the next. The Magisterium, then, is a conversation. The sedevacantists are participants therein.

        The key thing to bear in mind is that true *participation* of the Magisterial conversation requires mutual loyalty among interlocutors, especially to those who have come before [Exodus 20:12]. He cannot participate the Magisterium who construes himself as having rejected it, and left it.

      • Well, you could characterize it that way, if you were in a dismal misanthropic mood. Or, if you were in a sunny mood, such as is utterly insuperable under a firm apprehension that God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world – under, that is to say, an apprehension of metaphysically necessary Truth – you could characterize it as society. Because that’s all society is.

        And when the topic is the Most High, pilpul is altogether meet and right, after all. Because he is the most important thing of all, by definition, so our notions about him are the most important of all our thoughts; and so is it more important that we get those thoughts about him right, than it is of any other sorts of our thoughts.

        As to the endlessness of pilpul: how could it be otherwise, given the ratio of our finity to the infinity of the Most High? How, indeed, could it be otherwise – to say the same thing in a different way – given Gödel’s Incompleteness Demonstration? The endlessness of pilpul is but one foretaste among many of our sempiternal enjoyment of the endless Heavens, in which we may without exhaustion – of any sort – forever explore the Boundless One. Confer the infinite depth – the fathomless beauties – of the Mandelbrot Set.

        The Church is different from other human societies in that it is the society that constitutes the Body of the Logos; that is, i.e., the particular corporeal medium of the Logos in respect to humanity. So, pilpul is her peculiar concern, and indeed her duty.

        E.g.: what does the Credo mean? It is a boundless topic; its discussion can never be completed. What does it mean in its first sentence, that God is the Father Almighty, who creates everything in Heaven and on Earth, both visible and invisible? It means, quite literally, *everything.* It means *everything about everything.* How does one get to the end of that story?

  7. St. Bonaventure:
    “Believe me, a time will come when the ‘gold and silver vessels’ (Ex. 3: 22; 12:36) i.e. rational arguments, will no longer be of value. There will no longer be any justification of faith by reason, but only by auctoritas. As an indication of this, in His temptations the Redeemer defended Himself not with rational arguments but with arguments from authority, even though He certainly must have known the arguments of reason well. In this way He predicted what would take place in His Mystical Body in the coming trial.”

    • Spoken like a supremely rational philosopher, such as Bonaventure was and is.

      Reason proceeds by means prior to itself. Ironically, the priority of these means of reason is, precisely, logical. Viz.: when we reason our way validly to a conclusion from premises we know to be true, our apprehensions of the truth of the premises, of the validity of the form in which the argument is cast, and of the truth of the conclusion are, not demonstrations of truth and validity, but on the contrary their *recognitions.* We apprehend truth and validity, not by means of reason, but by communion. The sway over our reason of truth and validity is not itself rational. On the contrary: it is, precisely, authoritative. That authority of truth and validity, which sways our intellects, is – again precisely – the aweful authority of the Lógos. That is why it is *logical*!

      That is also why, once we have apprehended truth or validity, we find that there is no longer any slightest possibility of doubting them. Our faith in them – yes, *again* precisely, our *faith* – is unshakeable.

      As another supremely rational philosopher and contemporary of Saint Bonaventure has written:

      Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen, who thy glory hidest, ‘neath these shadows mean; lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed, tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.

      Taste and touch and vision to discern thee fail; faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil. I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told; what the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.

      Saint Thomas Aquinas: Adoro te devote

  8. “To be a traditionalist then is rather like being an adherent of passive investing, which adjudges the project of beating millions of other intelligent, informed and educated investors and traders – or, in respect to any given security, at least several hundred such – to be a fool’s errand.”
    I love this analogy. The saints are like the Warren Buffets, rare and simply following reality calmly and consistently. Heresy and Gnosticism is like LTCM, sure it might make gains in the short run, but long term it always implodes.

    “The Magisterium, after all, is smarter than you are. She is better informed, she sees deeper, and further.”
    Coming out of the dark night of a Jesuit college, this light drew me away from the correlated skepticism and persistently novel dogmaticism. Fear of God is the first stage of wisdom and is first corollary “Credo ut intelligam.”

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