Reactionaries often blame capitalism for eviscerating tradition and reducing everything to the lowest common denominator. But capitalism – i.e., free exchange – is not a recent phenomenon. It was not invented by the Franciscans, forsooth, but rather discovered by them as a subject amenable to moral, theological and philosophical analysis, and so to discourse, development and elaboration. Capitalism has been around since the beginning of human society. It is no more than a fancy word for exchange that develops surplus, after all; for mere trade, and commerce. For almost all of human history, capitalism supported and indeed mediated local tradition – or, at least, did not vitiate it.
We can’t work our way into Heaven, for finity is incapable of infinity. Indeed, we cannot achieve anything greater than ourselves, whatever; but only, rather, what is lesser than we. So, Heaven is given to us gratuitously. Our work consists only in accepting its invitation; in wu wei.
So then, there is a difference between interior holiness spirals and exterior holiness spirals. The former are done in secret, and in service of true spiritual ends, so as to accept the invitation of the Logos; whereas the latter are done publicly, and for purposes of social advantage. As essentially worldly, exterior holiness spirals partake the Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom. They are motivated by the urge to be accepted and approved by the mob. So do they accept the conditions of the mob, and instantiate it.
The Pharisee is an agent of the mob.
Authoritative sacerdotal hierarchy controls for competitive holiness spirals which, unconstrained, are vicious positive feedback cycles that cannot but end in schism and war – in cultural disaster.
Holiness spirals are not first a search for social status, but rather for ontological safety. Nevertheless, once they have got going, they do result in an arms race to see who is holiest, thus of the highest moral and political rank, and thus least suitable as a scapegoat.
They are driven not by the nisus toward excellence, but by fear. Nor – apart from the minds of the spiritually ingenious – is the fear that drives them fundamentally supernatural – which is to say, in sane minds, sane and proper – but rather mundane, social, profane, and as such – not being ordered to the Truth himself, but to a Fallen social milieu – fundamentally disordered.
Holiness spirals are, first, a search for the proper constraints of true sanctity and righteousness upon conduct. When there is no established sacerdotal hierarchy that can authoritatively define the unquestionable constraints of holiness and righteousness, and then offer people a way to get back within those constraints when they have strayed beyond their pale – that can give them a way to know that they have reached safe harbor – people are going to push and push toward holiness however they can discern it according to their own best lights, without let or correction, and without possibility of any satisfactory completion of the search (because a forecondition of success for any search is a definition of success – such as can be authoritatively furnished to the searcher only by an incontrovertible authority). Anyone who disagrees with the notions of those who find that as a result of their quest for holiness they themselves are of the holiest sort then becomes a legitimate scapegoat in their eyes, and so a social enemy. There is then mutual repudiation and scapegoating of adversarial sectarians; mutual excommunication; schism; and, with the ensuing conflict of irreconcilable cults, civil war either hot or cold.
The Catholic, Christian and Traditionalist community were shocked and appalled to learn last week that their pillar, blogger Zippy Catholic, had been killed in a bicycle accident last Tuesday evening while riding on a country road.
We are still struggling to reconcile ourselves to this new world, in which Zippy no longer roams about skewering sloppy thought, and so enlightening all of us his readers, interlocutors and students.
It was a severe and devastating blow, completely unanticipated. Zippy was neither old, nor – so far as we knew – ill. So his death came out of left field. No one was prepared for it. He had, we all thought, several decades more of good, fruitful work in him, that all of us would have enjoyed, and that would have profited us all, and man, and the whole human project. We looked forward to that prospect, blithely, happily, as if we possessed it already. Now, it is ripped away from us. We find ourselves bereft, lost, bewildered.
And: we miss him. We want him here with us, still. God damn the evil circumstance that took him from us. And – and – God bless that taking, as proper (as it must have been, necessarily) under the purveyance of Omniscience.
Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Amen. Lord, bless and keep thy faithful servant Zippy Catholic, and make him soon fit to enter into the coruscating Light of thy Holy Presence. Help and heal all his wounds, correct all his defects, and complete him. All this I pray, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen, amen. Hallelujah, hallelujah, thanks be to God. Amen, amen.
My quarrel with the thinking man
In his essay What we think about, G. K. Chesterton relates his perplexity at finding someone write “Mr. Chesterton does not mean to enlighten us, for all we know he is modernist enough in his own thoughts.”
What the man really meant was this: “Even poor old Chesterton must think; he can’t have actually left off thinking altogether; there must be some form of cerebral function going forward to fill the empty hours of his misdirected and wasted life; and it is obvious that if a man begins to think, he can only think more or less in the direction of Modernism.” The Modernists do really think that. That is the point. That is the joke.
Now what we have really got to hammer into the heads of all these people, somehow, is that a thinking man can think himself deeper and deeper into Catholicism, but not deeper and deeper into difficulties about Catholicism. We have got to make them see that conversion is the beginning of an active, fruitful, progressive, and even adventurous life of the intellect. For that is the thing that they cannot at present bring themselves to believe. They honestly say to themselves: “What can he be thinking about, if he is not thinking about the Mistakes of Moses, as discovered by Mr. Miggles of Pudsey, or boldly defying all the terrors of the Inquisition which existed two hundred years ago in Spain?” We have got to explain somehow that the great mysteries like the Blessed Trinity or the Blessed Sacrament are the starting points for trains of thought far more stimulating, subtle, and even individual, compared with which all that skeptical scratching is as thin, shallow, and dusty as a nasty piece of scandalmongering in a New England village. Thus, to accept the Logos as a truth is to be in the atmosphere of the absolute, not only with St. John the Evangelist, but with Plato and all the great mystics of the world….To set out to belittle and minimize the Mass, by talking ephemeral back-chat about what it had in common with Mithras or the Mysteries, is to be in altogether a more petty and pedantic mood; not only lower than Catholicism but lower even than Mithraism.
In our day, we are familiar with the “thinking Catholic”. “Thinking” means that he accepts the modernist consensus without question, and “Catholic” means he insists the Church adjust herself to accommodate his lack of imagination. Similarly, we all know the “thinking conservative”, the type who only ever thinks about what new concessions we must make to liberalism. I have pointed out before this asymmetry between the Left and Right, that the intellectual leadership of the Left is expected to be more radical than most Leftist voters, whereas the intellectual leadership of the Right is expected to be more moderate than most Rightist voters. This is one of our major disadvantages.
A guest post by Orthosphere commenter PBW:
Faithful Catholics are expected to accept that, although the Pope is elected by the Conclave of (eligible) Cardinals, the One who really selects the Pope is the Holy Ghost Himself: the cardinals are His catspaws, so to speak. It is a grave offence to leak the proceedings of the Conclave (which is why such leaking is so rare), but if the preceding is to be accepted, the machinations in the Conclave are irrelevant. Therefore, I can appreciate both the smile and the squirm of orthodox Catholics who, in these very pages, see the so-ordained Pope described as … ahem … Pope Fruit Loops I.
Why it may be good for the Church to be brittle
Bruce Charlton comments on the “brittleness” of the Catholic Church.
I feel that with the RCC it is all or nothing – to be viable it needs to be authoritarian, heavy-handed, and anti-individual; and any attempt to reform the undesirable aspects will just smash it.
I agree, although I used the word “fragility” instead.
I do think we should be careful in deciding what is and is not “desirable”. Vulnerability is per se bad, of course. Then again, falsifiability is a virtue in a belief system; we don’t want our theories to be “flexible”. That the Catholic Church can hypothetically lose or sabotage its credibility is a testament to its current clarity.
A Catholic apologist could say that Christ wants the Church to have one particular teaching and to operate in one particular way and that He arranged things so that the Church will fall apart if either is modified. An institution with more social capital, more sociological attractiveness, could presumably turn that capital to other purposes and still function. I’ve said before that it is a credit to Christianity that it dies so quickly when it is liberalized. That the universities have–at least on the surface–prospered so well under political correctness says something uncomplimentary about academia’s real driving force, or that of we its denizens.
Lastly, we could entertain the possibility that the truth is not what we humans would prefer it to be, that popular belief systems have been “optimized” to human wishes to such a point that the truth, whose attractiveness is constrained in ways falsehoods’ are not, is quite unpalatable to modern men given the alternatives, and can only be imposed as dogma during our impressionable years. Not that an authoritarian religion is particularly likely to be true, but rather that only an authoritarian religion might be true. After all, Catholicism is predestination without assurance of salvation, moral rigor without the compensating pleasures of self-righteousness, being “deep in history” but always on the losing side, and who wants that?
Holiness spirals are not first a search for status, although once they have got going, they do result in an arms race to see who is holiest among the Pharisees, thus of the highest moral and political rank, and thus least suitable as a scapegoat.
They are, first, a search for the proper constraints of true holiness upon conduct. Men are Fallen, and live in a Fallen, corrupt world; and they know it. They want to get holy; they want desperately to get ritually pure. Until they can honestly feel that they have done so, they will feel terrific anxiety, and thrash about in their predicaments like a bear in a trap.
Trapped bears are very dangerous.
When there is no established sacerdotal hierarchy that can authoritatively define the unquestionable constraints of holiness, and then offer men a way to get back within those constraints when they have strayed beyond their pale – that can give them a way to know that they have reached safe harbor – then men are going to push and push toward holiness however they can discern it according to their own best lights, without let or correction, and without possibility of any satisfactory completion of the search (because a forecondition of success for any search is a clear definition of success – such as can be authoritatively furnished to the searcher only by an incontrovertible authority). Anyone who disagrees with the notions of those who find that as a result of their personal quest for holiness they themselves are of the holiest sort then becomes a legitimate scapegoat in their eyes, and so a social enemy. There is then mutual repudiation and scapegoating of adversarial sectarians; mutual excommunication; schism; and, with the ensuing conflict of irreconcilable cults, civil war either hot or cold.
By training and habit, we moderns think of marriage as a mere and adventitious arrangement of pre-existent and utterly independent entities. We think of it therefore as merely conventional, and so as subsistent completely in the continued agreement of its constituent members, the husband and wife, and so by either of them ever and completely severable, thus eliminable, without appreciable rupture or wound to the goodness inherent in the causal order. We think of it as a deal, and nothing more – as if deals were nothing. We think of marriage, that is to say, as not truly real. We think of it as a social and legal fiction.
In this, we err. It is not so. For, deals are real. And they really impose themselves upon us, so shaping our acts. They *oblige* us. Who has not felt this?
The valuable EH Looney – an orthospherean through and through, let it be noted, and so our ally and friend (witly or not), whose site I visit daily – has in a recent short post subtly erred, in three different and interesting ways. An Orthodox Christian who admires Rome with fervent intelligence, he nevertheless writes with eyes open:
The problem with Rome isn’t papal supremacy, or even the filioque, it’s that the Roman church is the cradle of nominalism. That sickness should have been condemned immediately rather than being allowed to fester long enough to create Luther and the Protestant deformation.
Also Anselm’s theory of the atonement almost totally obscures the existential nature of the paschal mystery into a legalism of the worst possible sort.
Now, there is some truth to each of these statements. Some truth; not all.