Rorate Caeli

Poverty and Simplicity at the Heart of Catholic Tradition

Poverty and simplicity - Low Mass at side altar, Fontgombault Abbey
The Italian Traditional Catholic blog, Cordialiter, could never be accused of not supporting or understanding the Catholic Tradition and what it means for us today.  Its “banner” is a quote from Saint Pius X, from his Apostolic Letter “Nôtre Charge Apostolique”:  “The true friends of the people are not the revolutionaries nor the innovators, but the traditionalists.”  A recent post apparently caused quite a reaction from the readers of the blog, so much so that the author felt the need to issue a clarification.  I think important issues are raised in the post and the clarification. My translation of the post and the clarification from Italian is as follows.  My comments are below.

Catholic Tradition is on the side of the Poor. 
Cordialiter, September 7, 2014

One of the errors that needs to be absolutely avoided is that of leaving “the social question” in the hands of the Modernists and their Communist friends.  The true Traditionalist is interested in social issues and is firmly on the side of the poor and of those who suffer.  Unfortunately we hear bandied about the view that Traditionalists are a bunch of people who support laissez-faire free market approaches to the economy, who are usually upper-middleclass or even from the nobility, and who are not interested in the suffering of the poor.  In this view Traditionalists are interested in only having a comfortable life,  having witty conversations about the cappa magna, silver buckles, brocade Roman chasubles,  altar cards decorated with gold, damask fabrics, etc.  Even if some traditionalists fit this picture (I hope none do), it is not right to sully the whole traditional movement in this way.

It is absolutely necessary to avoid any snobbish attitudes that may be used as evidence of this unfair characterization.  The Traditionalists are “the true friends of the poor” (as Saint Pius X said), given that they cannot be followers of either an atheistic and bankrupt Communism nor of an economic liberalism that is unbridled and exploitive. I repeat:  we must absolutely not allow the great social questions of our day to be left to the modernists and Communists.


I fear that my last post was not well understood by all.  It was not my intention to disrespect the secondary aspects of the Liturgy. That would not be a good thing at all!  I as well like the beautiful “works of art” (Roman chasubles that are well decorated, chalices in gold, artistic altar cards, etc.), and I want these things to be preserved in the Liturgy.  These things, however, should remain “secondary”.  They cannot become the principal aspect of the Christian life, as if they could be substitutes for asceticism and charity (which is the love that is born from God).

This is a matter that has already been covered several times in Rorate (for instance, here: "Social Concerns are Traditional Catholic Concerns" and also regarding a recent event). I think that the author of the original Cordialiter post and the clarification makes a valid point and should serve as a monitum to all traditionally-minded Catholics, that is, those who love the Tradition because it is true and is an antidote to militant secularism.  Despite the blogger’s hope that it is not true, that picture of traditionalists as effete and concerned only with themselves and their preoccupations about the Liturgy does have some validity in how they are seen in the wider world. To be interested in the “secondary” elements of the Liturgy and to talk about these things is not wrong. The  mere use of a cappa magna can be a positive manifestation of Tradition.  But to talk about these things constantly and not engage in the great social debates of our time is indeed wrong. 

Let me offer an example of what can happen when a traditional movement becomes obsessed with liturgical details and forgets about the engagement with the world that is at the heart of bringing the Gospel to all peoples.  The Anglo-Catholic movement in the Anglican Church was once a powerful force in that Protestant body that succeeded in important ways in reminding Anglicanism of its Catholic roots.  But at the beginning of the movement in the late nineteenth century, those Anglican priests, who were called “ritualists” in a derogatory sense by the Church of England establishment, saw that their mission was to the poor in the worst sections of London at that time.  They understood that the beauty of Catholic ritual in the Mass was a real means of reaching these people who were so marginalized not only by society but also by the established Church.  The great Anglo-Catholic churches that were built in the late nineteenth century were mainly found in the less than desirable areas of not only London but also the several industrials cities in England.  Amidst a great love for the Mass,  amidst a great love for the beauty of vestments, of incense, of shrines and candles,  there was a deep understanding that what these "ritualistic" priests were ultimately doing was bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to their people.

That was a long time ago.  Today the Anglo-Catholic force in Anglicanism is spent, it is a lovely shadow.  Their demise began when the Anglo-Catholics became one of the established “parties” in the Church of England:  they became High Church, as opposed to Low Church Evangelicals and Broad Establishment types.  Once they settled down to be a part of a three-party system, they forgot their mission as pastors to the poor and the dispossessed.  They became associated with liturgical fixation and snobbery, with an effeteness that closed in on itself.  And the ranks of their clergy were more and more filled with homosexual men who were not chaste.  Their demise was accelerated by the liturgical changes in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council.  This in many ways exposed the sand-like quality of the Anglo-Catholic position, at once illogical and untenable. 

This should be a cautionary tale for some in the Traditional movement in the Catholic Church today.  The secular press already has the Catholic Church divided into two parties: Traditional and Liberal.  The defense of and the living out of Tradition can never become sectarian, can never become a party platform.  It must never close it on itself for that act of closing in on itself is the antithesis of what it means to be Catholic.  The Traditional movement must always be on guard against liturgical fixation and effeteness and in particular must reject with utmost vehemence any association, even if unintended, with anyone even remotely related to a "gay subculture". The Traditional movement must be actively engaged in the great social questions of the day and must do so not merely by referring to the documents and teaching of the Tradition but also by engaging forcefully in an intellectual way with those forces both outside and within the Church that are in opposition to Tradition.  

But we must above all remember that the purpose of Tradition is to hand down the Truth, the whole Truth, to real men and women.  It is not to just pass on ideas.  It is to pass on the Good News of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ and this not in a disinterested way but rather in a hands-on way, in a truly pastoral way that takes the sinner where he is and speaks to him of his need to repent in the context of the mercy of God shown in the Cross of Jesus Christ and to bring him to a complete and radical conversion of mind and heart, and thence to the peace and joy that is found in the Catholic Church.