When I first went to the Latin Mass, I was blown away by its beauty and mystery. However, I soon got caught up in the online subculture of hyper-traditionalism.
I’ve always been more conservative. When I was a Protestant, I saw that the excesses of third-wave feminism were clearly not biblical. The post-modern nihilist liberalism of our day is antithetical to Christianity and despite identifying as a libertarian throughout high school, I was (as I am now) pretty right-leaning. Immersing myself into the Catholic online culture, I soon saw a spectrum consisting of three main categories: the leftcaths, the normies and the trads. I was decidedly not a leftcath; there was just enough identity politics and socialism in those circles to put me ill at ease. This left me somewhere between normie and trad, and the more I looked, the more trad I became. I surrounded myself with others, in person and online, whose opinions reflected my own and consumed traditionalist media.
Eventually I began to spiral. Connection to media can be useful when you are meeting friends or to be generally informed; however, the never ending flood of information was too much for me. Constant news of scandals and abuse, widespread hatred of the TLM, another dubious statement from Pope Francis…the fruit of Vatican 2, no?
What is a “radical traditionalist” anyway?
I remember scoffing at the term. How can someone be a “radical” traditionalist? All we want is a liturgy that honors our Saviour, truly present in the Eucharist. All we want is to return to straight forward, unambiguous truth. None of this modernism, and feel-good nonsense that has completely taken over. If truth makes me radical than I proudly wear the label…
The spark that pushed me fully into radical traditionalism was a Hispanic Novus Ordo mass that I attended with my family for Christmas.
I left that mass in tears from the sheer disrespect. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been but it was bad.
This is acceptable during the Holy sacrifice of the mass? This silliness would never occur in the Latin mass. I looked for a scapegoat and it was clear: the Second Vatican Council.
I dove deeper. Radical traditionalists were saying that Vatican II actually contained heresy. That it was only pastoral. That it was the sole reason that the flame of Catholicism is dwindling today. And so I embraced the Recognize and Resist position.
This was war.
You will know them by their Fruits
I was angry. I was sorrowful. I was afraid. I was distrustful. I was bitter.
And how could I not be? My reaction was justified, wasn’t it? It wasn’t “radical traditionalism”, it was just a reaction to all the darkness that has entered the Church. This was what we said to each other. We were victims being blamed for the crimes made against us. We are angry because we are being robbed of our faith!
There is a lot of truth to these sentiments. However, I was living a life of chronic stress. Everyone was a modernist until proven otherwise. Everything after Vatican II was under suspicion. I basically disregarded Vatican II, like a nightmare that I was trying to forget. Post-Vatican II canonizations were suspect. The Divine Mercy devotion was subversive. A mention of Pope Francis was met with disgust. The Novus Ordo was not just problematic but it was harmful.
And then I hit a wall.
Taylor Marshall’s Infiltration ends with several options for making sense of the current crisis in the Church: become a modernist, become an atheist etc. But the one position that I was the most interested in seeing refuted was the Eastern Orthodox position. Needless to say, the two paragraph response to inquirers into Eastern Orthodoxy left me wanting. Having already been introduced to Eastern Orthodox polemics, I was hungry to know why I should remain Catholic at all: given the extent of the crisis surely the gates of hell have prevailed? Perhaps if I had followed through and read The Eternal City I would have had a better response, but at the end of Infiltration and for a while after, I was left with a bitter feeling in my stomach.
It doesn’t help that Eastern Orthodox polemicists capitulate on radical traditionalist arguments. They simply take the arguments to their logical conclusions and consistently apply them further along.
I saw it amongst radical traditionalists themselves. The Novus Ordo was not good, older is better. The 1962 Roman Missal isn’t good enough, we must go to the 1945 Fr. Lasance Missal. We need to go to the Pre-1955 Holy Week. Many traditionalists in my spheres were more sympathetic towards sedevacantists than ordinary Novus Ordo attending Catholics. Eventually many of them followed suit, embracing some way to reduce Pope Francis to “Bergoglio.”
For me, these were all self-refuting conclusions: either Catholicism is true or it isn’t, there is no in between. And if I wanted something older, Eastern Orthodoxy certainly had much to offer especially in terms of liturgy.
The more I looked into Eastern Orthodoxy, the more I saw the parallels of argumentation, except they actually seemed to have a solution and their arguments were a lot more sophisticated and historically based than I was prepared to deal with at the time.
I spent some time looking into Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholic responses. My TLM priest was not prepared to address my concerns and I was close to breaking. Yet ultimately my reservations about rebaptism, my significantly Western perspective and my desire to give Catholicism a fair chance, kept me tethered to Rome, albeit by a thread. My research and cursory reading into the history almost made me lose my faith altogether: Must I be a scholar just to know where the true Church is? It is so complicated, could this really be what Christ would have wanted? At the time there were very few voices responding to Eastern Orthodox claims but finally I came across Reason and Theology on Youtube.
I had seen the channel on Youtube before but I had been intimidated by the length and intellectual depth of the videos. Yet if I wanted meaningful answers to difficult questions, I had to be willing to listen. It was a breath of fresh air to see that there were Catholic responses to the Orthodox claims. I also started to see that the radical traditionalist framework was too reductionist in light of the history of the Church and if I wanted to give Catholicism a fair chance, I had to do a lot more reading. I started to watch Michael Lofton’s videos on Vatican II and realized that there is a position between liberalism and completely ignoring the council. The errors of radical traditionalism finally clicked when I went to have my son baptized in the old rite and the priest frankly encouraged us to seek out sedevacantist materials.
When I publicly aired my inclination to the East, I was told that schism was a serious offense and that communion with Rome was imperative. Yet the radical traditionalist position, perpetually dancing on the edges of sedevacantism, soon revealed itself to be merely a Band-Aid solution. Michael Lofton gave me a solution to Vatican II and the Eastern Orthodox question: it lay squarely in a proper understanding of the Magisterium.
The Catholic understanding of Magisterium was a lot more nuanced than pop apologetics had me believe. Still, in retrospect it was all just Catholic basics: how do we define an ecumenical council? What exactly is the faithful morally bound to? Are there degrees of authoritative teaching? I came to the conclusion that this perspective, that of Nuanced tradition was the most consistent and the only sustainable solution. It was not a resignation into lukewarm liberalism but it was a firm rejection of the rigid legalism and material schism I had once embraced.
Rot, in a qualified sense
Radical Traditionalism, in essence, made every man his own Magisterium. To substantiate a claim, many simply appealed to a haphazardly isolated pre-Vatican II statement or saint quote. For many this is sufficient to be morally binding. The liturgy becomes an end unto itself. To question the narrative puts you at odds with the hive…and you certainly don’t want to do that. Questioning the rational uncovers the ghastly underbelly that many radical traditionalists choose to overlook. Under the aesthetics, saint quotes and calls to pursue holiness, there is stench of unapologetic darkness.
Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness. – Matthew 23:7
Those who question are often bombarded with mockery, insults, and debasement. Your personal life is brought to the forefront of the discussion, your dirty laundry is aired publicly, your physical appearance is attacked, your family life and faith is put under question. Even within the radical traditionalist fold, you are perpetually trying to defend yourself against the accusations of modernism and feminism from a crowd that is never satisfied, you are never traditional enough.
The accusation of material schism is met with laughter and pointing out legitimate misogyny and racism is often ignored by some, or embraced wholeheartedly by others.
Radical traditionalism appeals to those who, like myself, are tired of the abuses. It appeals to those who feel betrayed by the Church. It appears to be a safe haven for those longing for the security of a reconstructed version of the pre-Vatican II world. In this framework, the racist and misogynist are at best ignored as evils to be overlooked in the grand scheme of pushing back against the modern world. However the extremes in the movement are rapidly moving from the fringes and creeping into the limelight of traditional media.
The scrupulous are easy prey. In a world where immodesty, hedonism and debauchery rein supreme, those seeking holiness often get tangled in the web of those who speak authoritatively and definitively, often on matters that the Church herself leaves to individual discernment. The beauty of tradition and the wisdom of ancients often gets skewed into a Puritan caricature. Though Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, they force others to carry crosses that are not their own, often in the zeal of a convert and without the help of a spiritual director.
Fear and Trembling
The Catholic trying to make sense of the world we live in needs to do a number of things.
First of all, it is imperative to have a prayer rule, to read the scriptures and the Catechism and to partake regularly of the sacraments. Firmly grounding oneself in the faith is essential before tackling the rest.
Second of all, disconnecting from the noise and reevaluating what you are consuming is a good practice. What fruits are in my life? How am I using my time?
And finally assess your state in life: do you want to get your hands dirty and really know the faith? There’s a lot to read! Are you content to have a simple faith and immerse yourself into Catholic spirituality? There is an abundance of saints that are willing to help you!
The Catholic Church is our Mother. She is bruised and hurting, attacked on every side. It is contrary to justice to ignore evil, even more so to justify it. However, the problem in our Church demands Truth, not loud, impulsive backlash. It demands sober analysis grounded in theology and history, not anxious doomsday screaming. If our reaction to evil is also evil we are just adding more confusion to the mix.
It was the people of Reason & Theology and my dear friend, Allan Ruhl, who helped bring me back down to earth. I certainly don’t have all the answers but dusting off radical traditionalism has freed me from the constant tension that the world is ending at every second and it has allowed me to enter more deeply into a peaceful devotional life.
May the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Article by: Cathy Quartarone