Rorate Caeli

Op-Ed by Top French Philosopher Michel Onfray: "I'm an Atheist, but the Latin Mass is Our Patrimony: Francis is Destroying It; He is Doing What He Was Elected to Do."

Michel Onfray is, by far, the most popular philosopher in France in our days. Take note: we are not saying he is the best or the most reliable, but he is indeed by far the most popular, the one who sells most books, the most influential, and probably the top intellectual figure in the society that practically invented the notion of the "public intellectual.""

An atheist (and formerly a rabid anticlerical), Onfray has, with age, become visibly more concerned with the collapse of Western Civilization. So, when Francis published his document with the intent to ultimately abolish the Latin Mass, Onfray was scandalized, and moved to write the following article for the greatest French daily, Le Figaro:


Michel Onfray: "The Latin Mass, a Liturgical Patrimony"

Le Figaro
July 19, 2021

OPINION - The writer and philosopher, despite being an atheist, sees in the Catholic Church and her rites the heartbeat of our Civilization. He explains why the decision of pope Francis to restrict the Latin Mass disturbs him.

I am an atheist, as is known, but the life of the Catholic Church interests me because she sets the heartbeat of our Judeo-Christian civilization, in very bad shape. Because, if God is not of my world, my world is one that was made possible by the God of Christians. Whatever may say those who think France started with the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which is as stupid as believing that Russia was born in October 1917, Christianity has shaped a civilization that is my own, and which I believe I can love and defend, without guilt, without apologizing for its errors, without waiting for a redemption after confession, contrition, and kneeling. It is mad how those who despise Christianity acting as if it didn't happen are as impregnated with it as a baba [au rhum] is with rum!


Benedict XVI was a philosopher pope, trained in German hermeneutics and phenomenology. He also read French Catholic authors in the original language. His Jesus of Nazareth (2012) is inserted in the history of German idealism, notably the Hegelianism that we call "of the right", to distinguish it of the "left", that led to a young Marx.


Pope Francis does not have this theological level, far from it. But he is not deprived of the jesuitical cunning that made him, coming from the Society of Jesus, choose as pontifical name the one that is as opposed as possible to the intrigues and vestibules of power where the Jesuits love to be, that is, that of Francis of Assisi. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a chemist by training, comes from Peronism; Joseph Ratzinger, a trained theologian, from anti-Nazism.


In my eyes, the major act of pope Benedict XVI was his Regensburg address, where, on September 12, 2006, in the German university where he had been a professor, he worked as pope by assessing that Christianity and Islam have a completely opposite relationship with texts, notably in the articulation between faith and reason, but equally on the question of violence in general, and of jihad in particular. I say texts, because this was his concern here; he presented in fact his personal interpretation of a dialogue taking place in the early 15th century between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus and a Persian scholar. The invitation to reflect on this question was considered as a global insult made to Islam...


The major act of pope Francis is, always according to myself, having been photographed before a crucifix on which Jesus wears a migrant's orange lifesaving vest. This is the triumphant icon of Vatican II, that dismisses all that is sacred and all that is transcendent in favor of a holier-than-thou self-righteousness spread around in a planetary way as a scout cookie.


It is according to this logic that must be understood the decision of pope Francis to abrogate, to use a profane term, the decision taken by Benedict XVI to allow the Latin Mass, called Tridentine Mass, to those who wish it. In Summorum Pontificum, Benedict XVI had liberalized the Mass said of Pius V. In Traditionis custodes, Francis obliterates this liberality. Benedict XVI wished to overcome a schism with traditionalists, Francis will recreate it, by giving as a pretext, of course -- a Jesuit once, a Jesuit always -- that he intends in this way to reunite what he is separating. Vocations collapse with Vatican II. But the religious who preserve the Latin rite are not familiar with loss of interest, instead they fill up their seminaries. Pope Francis prefers churches that are empty with his ideas than full with those of Benedict XVI.


To separate: is that not the function attributed to...the devil? Etymology demonstrates it. If I had the Catholic faith, I could not but think of the Epistle of John, that says: "Every spirit that divided Jesus is not of God; and this is the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he comes; and he is now already in the world." (I John 4:3)


What is in play in this matter is the sequel of Vatican II, in other words, the abolition of sacredness and transcendence. The laicization of the rite reduced to a liturgy which [the motion picture] Life Is a Long Quiet River showed in all its power with its cool priest that plays the guitar and sings idiotically: "Jesus, Jeeeeesus, come back." One can prefer Gregorian Chant without being at the same time a widow of Vichy...


Now, the genius of Christianity, as the different councils on the possibility or not of picturing the Christ prove, was that of making possible a civilization of allegory, of the symbolic, of the metaphor. The Jewish genius is found in hermeneutics, that of Christianity in the explanation of parables. The Jews invent hermeneutics for the smartest, the rabbis, the readers of the Kabbalah; Christians create popular hermeneutics for the faithful to whom we tell stories that decipher Sacred History. Our civilization of the image, of explanatory reason, of philosophy separated from theology, comes from that world.


The Latin Mass is a patrimony of the genealogical age of our Civilization. It is derived, historically and spiritually, from a long sacred lineage of rituals, of celebrations, of prayers, all crystalized in a Form that offers a total performance -- a Gesamtkunstwerk [Total Work of Art], to use the word that comes from German Romantic aesthetics.


For those who believe in God, the Latin Mass, in comparison with the mass of Life Is a Long Quiet River that pope Francis seems to like, is what a Roman basilica contemporaneous with Saint Augustine is in comparison with a multipurpose hall in a row of apartment buildings in Aubervilliers*, where we would search in vain for the sacred and for transcendence. What spirituality would we find there?


Let us say it in an enigmatic fashion: pope Francis does well that for which he is there where he is... Let us add in a way that is also enigmatic, but not so much: that we ask ourselves why we live in an age with two popes.


* A Paris suburb destroyed by ugly modern government-built apartment buildings.