Rorate Caeli

“Progressive Manias”: Powerful article by Archbishop Aguer

What is progressivism? I am referring to ecclesiastical progressivism, which, like secular progressivism, looks to the future as if the world and the Church were on the move, always evolving towards the best.

We could consider evolutionism as a sort of eponym of religious progressivism. This constitutes a system of “advanced” ideas and attitudes, which proudly detaches itself from any adherence to Tradition. The so-called modernism of the early twentieth century was described and condemned by St. Pius X in the Encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis and the Decree Lamentabili sane exitu. It brought together a Kantian (rationalist) philosophy, which repudiated Aristotelian-Thomistic thought; the “positive” studies of Sacred Scripture of a Protestant-liberal origin; and the desire to equate Christian culture with that which reigned in a Europe shaped by the revolutions of the 19th century, which had their roots in the French Revolution of 1789 and its Enlightenment. Modernists suffered from a kind of discomfort, as if they were alien or had been left out of what the Modern Age was proposing. Moreover, confusion reigned in modernism between the doctrine, its contents, and the modes of expression. In this regard, post-conciliar progressivism surpasses it by far.

St. Vincent, a Gallic-Roman monk of the Monastery of Lérins, in the middle of the 5th century, had distinguished in his Commonitorium between the expression of Christian Truth, which logically repositioned itself in the various epochs and cultures by expressing itself in a new way (nove), and the modification or addition of new things (nova).

Catholic progressivism developed under the influence of the so-called “spirit of the Council.” Vatican II (1962–1965) approved 16 documents almost unanimously; they presented Catholicism “brought up to date,” in virtue of a clear intention of aggiornamento. The discussions and confrontations already apparent in the conciliar debates were later aggravated in painful divisions that confused many priests and faithful. There are oft-remembered expressions of Paul VI that invite us to be circumspect in our evaluation of the Council, and allow us to recognize the seriousness of the years that followed with the imposition of progressive arbitrariness: “We were expecting a blooming springtime and a harsh winter came”; “through some crack the smoke of Satan has entered the House of God.” Nowadays, it would seem that the Second Vatican Council, in its original tenor, expressed in its texts, has become part of the rubbish no longer in use. But some extravagances and a capricious preoccupation with certain themes or things have remained as a spurious, bastardized inheritance. Many times, it includes a certain grudge or ill-will against Tradition and against those who rely on it.

The first academic meaning of “mania” characterizes it in a much more negative way; it presents it as a kind of madness or general delirium, with agitation and tendency to fury. The term originates in Greek antiquity; in Herodotus and Sophocles, mania is equivalent to madness, insanity, and is applied to the passion of love, as well as to prophetic delirium. In the Platonic dialogue Phaedrus it designates the transport caused by inspiration, which somehow alienates a man from himself. It is interesting to note the tone of somber mood, of darkness or blackness.

I wish now, because I consider it useful, to refer to some of the typical manias of progressivism. To a large extent, one can assume some of the traits that I have opportunely attributed to “the Church of propaganda.” I begin by pointing out a mania that invites a smile, since it prolongs or rather recovers a discussion of the 1970s: the ideological tantrum against the cassock, which is unloaded against the few priests who sometimes wear it. I do not take into account that the current Church discipline requires priests to wear some sign of their state: it could be an elegant clergyman or, at least, a shirt—light blue, for example, as is popular—with the characteristic little white tab. The progressive mania sees with naturalness or sympathy the priest who dresses “in civilian clothes,” even in bad taste and sometimes dingy. Worse is the case of religious who avoid wearing the habit proper to the Order or Congregation to which they belong; and that is usually another element of their non-observance of the vow of poverty. By the way, an old friend of mine used to say: “They make the vow, and we, the secular clergy, fulfill it.” I said before that this particular mania makes me smile, because of the immoderate stance it implies; with their denial they are precisely pointing out the value of the priestly and religious habit.

Another mania is the contempt, the hatred of Latin. The progressive cannot bear a priest celebrating the Holy Mass—not even that of St. Pius V, but that of Paul VI—in the noble language of Latium. In fact, more often than not, this negative sentiment is expressed by those who have no idea about it; they have not gone beyond rosa, rosae. They detest what they do not know, out of pure ideology. Because of this attitude, for example, some hymns that used to be sung without difficulty in parishes by elderly ladies have disappeared from circulation: the Pange lingua, and the Tantum ergo; formulas for the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. When I was a child, in my neighborhood parish, Santa Maria Goretti, in Mataderos, Buenos Aires, the celebration of the great feasts was enhanced by the singing of the Missa De Angelis. By the way, let’s point out that we pray not only when we sing, but also when we are listening.

Everything indicates that this mania is going to persist in an aggravated form, since in the seminaries Latin has disappeared, or its study is barely preserved as a symbolic vestige. The progressives will be able to boast that finally the only means of expression in the liturgy of the Roman Rite will be the vulgar language—indeed, more vulgar each time. Roman Rite? Neither Roman nor Rite.

Let us go on to record some other manias, if you will, heavier and darker. These do not solicit a smile, but rather indignation, complaint, and weeping. Perhaps in many cases ignorance serves as an excuse. Surely the progressives are unaware of the numerous encyclicals that Leo XIII, the Pope of Rerum novarum, published on the Holy Rosary; and the singular fact that all Pontiffs have exalted this exercise, despised by maniacs as an “occupation of devout old women.” They also ignore or despise the Magisterium on the subject and the personal experience of Pope John Paul II. Not to mention the prodigious facts and formal miracles attributed to this Marian chaplet. The typically Catholic character of the Rosary, and its prominence in the cases of Lourdes and Fatima, is not part of the patrimony of Revelation, and it is not believed by virtue of theological faith, but it is accepted by an extension of that faith that makes these realities simple and practically undeniable for the Catholic conscience, for those among the Christian people who have not been alienated by the progressive mania.

Leaving aside the devotional question of the Rosary, let us turn to Sacred Scripture, especially the Psalms; a key piece in the composition of the Liturgy of the Hours. Believe it or not, there is no lack of priests and religious (I lack data from the female field) who consider that these ancient poems have nothing to say to them, in this twenty-first century. What about faith in the divine Word, treasure of the old Israel and of the Church, the New People of God? At this point it is appropriate to mention the admirable work of St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos. For the Bishop of Hippo Regius, all the Psalms speak of Christ, and it is Christ Himself who prays in them, assuming the voice of His ancestor David, to whom, generalizing, as an eponym, the Psalter is attributed. The abandonment of the recitation of the Divine Office by priests and religious is a suicidal mania. The theme leads us to praise and to place well-founded hope in the monasteries of the Benedictine tradition, even if many of them count only a handful of monks or nuns.

Liturgy is at the heart of ecclesial life. One can adhere with enthusiastic conviction to the idea expressed by Benedict XVI: the Church stands in its reality on the foundation which is the Sacred Liturgy—or it falls with it. A progressive mania manipulates the liturgy, and turns it into a means to another end, which is no longer the worship of adoration and expiation, but (for example) to meet, gather, and feel good together. The displacement of the source of grace gives way to a purely horizontal, human perspective.

Here a question of faith is at stake, one that affirms the reality of the mystery of Christ and the presence of the Lord in that sacred action. The way some bishops make use of the liturgy is surprising. I refer to a typical case: Masses are prohibited in parishes on a feast day, or an important solemnity, so that all the faithful must go to the cathedral, where the diocesan pastor wants to be the protagonist in an act that is his own idea, an extravagant pretension. (I do not include here the Chrism Mass, which is usually celebrated on the morning of Holy Thursday, or on a nearby date, without collision with the normal life of the various communities.) It is not difficult to recognize that, for various reasons, the majority of the faithful will not attend the episcopal event, and will be without the Eucharist on that Sunday, that feastday or solemnity. The damage caused by this mania will not be perceived immediately; only after some time, especially if the tactic becomes routine, will it reveal itself in the deformation of the mentality of Catholics.

The intention of not distinguishing oneself in the way of speaking, thinking, and acting from the habits characteristic of the surrounding secular culture is very widespread. The mania consists in the fear, which can reach the degree of terror, of appearing different; it is thought that the Christian condition of the believer should not be noticed, and he should disappear in the anonymity of the multitude. Of course, overcoming this mania does not consist in proposing the elaboration and use of an artificially mannered language; but surely one must act and speak with a naturalness of expression that declares what one thinks, believes, and loves. Experience shows that the distinction between Christian and secular that I have mentioned has an apostolic and missionary dimension, which is not shown off but exercised spontaneously, without fuss, in the normal way in which people deal with one other. In this way, a Christian culture, albeit a minority one, can be built up.

The relativist mania attacks the objectivity of Catholic Truth. It is based on an ideology according to which there is no Truth—not only the absolute Truth of the faith, as understood by ecclesial Tradition, but also those natural human truths that support it, which are rooted in a philosophy of common sense. It is often said that common sense is of all things the least common; beyond the exaggeration that this formula entails, what is at stake in this case is the full human condition of persons. Constructivism maintains that there is no other truth than the one we fabricate, the one we forge with our intelligence, which is the creator of reality. Here we can see a slide from relativism to constructivist absolutism. The effect of the subjective embodiment of the idea is found in a kind of desert of knowledge and is intended to be extended ultimately to determining society’s way of thinking, speaking, and acting. This is the origin of ideology. Theological and pastoral progressivism contains a constructivist inclination: it tries to set the stage for the preaching of “new paradigms,” which are presented as what the Church should believe and do today. Tradition would be a mere reality of the past, irrelevant because it is alien to the present, according to which mentality the forms of the sacred no longer refer to God and to the absolute of eternity. The sacred is now man and his achievements—man who finds his heaven on earth. The progressive mania agrees with the enunciated approach because it expresses the present and the future in an illusion that turns its back on the detestable past.

The Church is no longer seen as limited to those who belong to it by Baptism. The progressives read the Constitution Lumen Gentium—which they consider “conservative”—not according to the great ecclesial Tradition and in its light, but through the lens of the theory of “anonymous Christianity,” according to Karl Rahner’s theology. Church and World would be realities that merge into identity and thus constitute the basis of universal fraternity. A fact that acquires consistency in the maniacal orb of progressivism is the undermining of Sacred Scripture, and its permanent value as the Word of God, with ever-present validity. Progressivism on the Catholic side incautiously accepts the biblical exegesis of liberal Protestantism.

Last but not least… God (for them) is not the Triune God of Christian Revelation, but the distant God of Deism, who does nothing to order the secondary causes by his creative and redemptive Providence, which is identical with knowledge and love. It is a God who does not intervene in history, that is to say, who does not disturb the self-divinization of man. Nothing remains of Catholicism, of its faith, and of the culture elaborated for centuries by the living out of that faith, and with the authority of the Holy Fathers and the great theologians.

In the exposition that has been given here, the repertoire of mania could not be exhausted. The readers can take as a guide what has been said, and complete the list by adding to it other manias that they know or that they have had or have to suffer. With respect and affection, I would like to conclude with a humorous remark: manias are treated—and perhaps some of them can be cured—in a good madhouse [manicomio]. The name comes from the Greek: koméo means to take care of.

+ Hector Aguer
Archbishop Emeritus of La Plata
May 17, 2022