Skip to comments.The Prince of Poshlost
Posted on 05/18/2004 2:35:04 PM PDT by AskStPhilomena
The great G. K. Chesterton, ever the soul of childlike wonder, once said that of all the things he wondered at, he wondered most at those who wonder not at all. We can only guess what he would have made of the whole wonder-free Vatican II experiment, with its arriviste contempt toward not only traditional Catholicism but also great sacred music, glorious liturgy, majestic sculpture and architecture, and graceful translations of holy writ. Indeed, to find anything to match Vatican IIs sheer Philistine hostility to the beauty of the Lords house and the place where His glory dwelleth, Chesterton would have had to go back 15 centuries to the days of the Vandals, when Teutonic brutes in horned helmets were smashing altars and sacking cities at the behest of conquerors with names like Gaiseric and Belisarius.
Today the Vandals have names like Weakland, Egan, and Mahony, but theyre just as much to be feared as their savage forerunnersand not only for the noble splendors they want to tear down, but for the modern horrors they want to put up. And sad to say, GKC could have found no better site in which to ponder the mysteries of ecclesiastical nonwonder than New York, the city where wonders never ceaseexcept, it seems, in the archdiocesan preserve of Edward Cardinal Egan, which evidently takes its cue from his ghastly glass-box headquarters building: 1011 First Avenue. In an urban landscape being transformed with kaleidoscopic speed, fresh imagination, and contagious energy, and with Mexican and Central American Catholics flocking in by the tens of thousands every year, the Cardinal talks blandly of closing any number of old and beautiful churches in Manhattan and building new (and ugly) ones in the outer suburbs. Yes, thats right, the suburbsyou know, those hotbeds of fired-up Catholics banging their tambourines and beseeching heaven for more and more barnlike worship spaces to accommodate their shrinking numbers. But apparently Cardinal Egan has seen the futureand the view is strictly split-level.
Yet what else should we expect? This man with the curious suburban focus is, after all, a typical heir and transmitter of the whole Vatican II package, with its fuzzy belief in dialogue, tolerance, and pan-salvation and its back-of-the-hand response to any dissenters in the pews. Those dissenters arent as docile as they used to be, however, and among other things, the Cardinal has been taking no end of editorial jabs and public-protest haymakers over his recent cavalier shutdowns of such breathtakingly beautiful Manhattan houses of God as St. Thomas and St. Anns. In any event, his Vatican II-style dialogue has so far consisted largely of the use of the term parish realignment, an Orwellian euphemism for wholesale church closings. (That is, theyll be closed if they dont fulfill that great theological sine qua non: staying out of the red.)
The amazing thing is that this used-car, sell-em-off Eganist mentality, this hireling attitude to both the Deposit of Faith and the vast cultural heritage of historical Catholicism, has been with us now for a full forty yearseven as the Johnny Rocco gang in Rome insists its renewal, its the future, its Aristotelian catharsis, its millennial fulfillment. And its with us, of course, mainly because Vatican II, with help from Masonic infiltrators and hyperliberal Rahner-style theologians, punched the hole in the dyke that let in not so much the cruel sea as the pale broth of spiritual lukewarmness. As with all right-minded liberal enterprises based on belief in the goodness of man and an attendant relaxation of discipline, the Council was full of new ideas, most of them bad. Vatican IIs UN-style optimism and its policy of substituting benign neglect for strict supervision (where, oh where is Pius Xs Anti-Modernist Oath?) have brought us not only clown masses and neurasthenia in the pews but such earthquakes and outrages as priestly pedophile scandals, pink palace seminaries, sex ed for the underaged, massive indifferentism and de facto lay apostasy. At the same time it has assaulted us with hideous new architecture, music that makes Lawrence Welk sound like Haydn, tone-deaf Scripture translations, a ransacked Mass, and the kind of overall cultural degradation that destroys not only standards but faith itself. No one who looks out of his right eye at Chartres Cathedral and out of his left at Cardinal Mahonys supermodern Los Angeles Disneyland anticathedral can have any doubt that taste has not only changed, it has mutated into something smug, defiant, and relentlessly mediocre.
Indeed, mediocre is not a strong or suggestive enough word to get across the peculiar texture of the Vatican II sensibility. For that, we need the Russian language and a word beloved of the late great Russian novelist, Vladimir Nabokov: poshlost. The term has no exact English equivalent, but vulgarity is the overriding idea. It takes in the banal, the sham, the trashy, and the spuriously important, and most especially the idea of a mediocrity that is not merely arrogant, but self-satisfied. Picture some petty official presiding over some nasty little backwater village and insisting that whatever its failings, he likes it and so should everyone else, and dont try to do anything about it unless you want trouble. That is poshlostthe poshlost of Rome, the poshlost of Egans New York, the poshlost of our new and poshlostian Catholicism. And we have endured this tepid and joyless horror for almost two generations now--in fact, ever since Pope John XXIII opened wide the windows and let in what turned out to be not fresh air but reckless democracy-first thinkingwith bad taste following as the night the day.
Still, the case is by no means hopeless. Fit though few, there are always moral heroes ready to raise a fuss and any number of followers possessing, if nothing else, that great and indispensable arbiter of what is right, good, and properthe sensus Catholicus. Perhaps the most striking counteroffensive against the poshlost takeover has been the uncompromising resistance offered by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefevbres Society of St. Pius X, a preservation effort that worked so well in holding to the immemorial Latin Mass and drawing serious Catholics out of the poshlost morass that Rome was forced to relax its strictures and permit Latin masses on a far broader basis than anyone thought possible. Usually, however, the successes have been on a far smaller scale. Converts to serious, demanding, traditional Catholicism are made painfully and one at a time, but they are being made and those who sign up are joining the fight, even to mounting the stairs at St. Patricks and pestering the uninformed with anti-Egan leaflets. Some of them even think the day is not far off when they can turn the clock back to a more enlightened time-- specifically, the Pre-Poshlost Era.
And you know, that wasnt so long ago. In fact, it was in the forty years immediately preceding Vatican II that New York Catholicism underwent the kind of renewal the conciliarists are always talking about but are yet to deliver. And it occurred under a cleric who not only didnt despise the past, but kept it alive by adding brick to brick, Gothic arch to Gothic arch, until his inspired building spree had sent vast numbers of finials, pinnacles, and crosses soaring heavenward and made the greater New York area a sweeter and holier place. He was Bishop Thomas Edmund Molloy of Brooklyn, and in the generation and a half between 1921 and 1956, his old-fashioned form of parish realignment produced the astounding total of 75 new parishes and 175 new schools, their reach extending even into distant Long Island counties. That was a flowering if ever there was one, and the likelihood is that it would have continued well beyond under his successor had not Vatican II arrived on the scenefor the plans had been made, the cost counted and everything set for more of the same.
Can we ever get back there, to that more innocent world and that better time, and pick up where Bishop Molloy left off? Most would say not. But as long as the few care enough, as long as theres a Gideons army that thinks less in terms of numbers than in terms of zeal, there will always be the possibility that such princes of poshlost as Cardinal Egan can be, if not deposed, at least effectively countered. As a very much more enlightened cardinal, John Henry Newman, so memorably put it, All great works are produced by the deep-seated resolution of a few. In a surprising number of ways and in a surprising number of places, the resolute few are already at work. For the rest of the Vatican II world we can only hope, but for the Gideonites in the great and endlessly exciting city of New York, the belief exists that something can and will be done. Yet we would be wise to never forget for a minute that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this worldand not least, against that smug, stubborn, defiant, fraudulent, intractable, and insufferably proud foe, poshlost.
Can't think of anything more poshlost than conflating an ecumenical council with its willful misinterpreters.
Thank you for highlighting perhaps the most damaging aspect of the Vatican 2 era - the need for "interpretation".
How do you suppose pre-conciliar popes made themselves clear - using far fewer words?
All the politically correct "doublespeak" to which we've been subjected in recent decades has given bishops free reign to make their own "interpretations".
"The United States has bishops - let them interpret that" to quote Cardinal Arinze's now famous recent statement.
The late, great Dietrich von Hildebrand quite rightly spoke of Vatican 2 in terms of a "demolition". For more on the "fruits of Vatican 2", you may find the following interview with his wife of some interest:
Of course, I should warn you that for a traditionalist (or anyone else for that matter) to, in any way, question Vatican 2, is certain to put the indult Mass in jeopardy.
Excellent point! I believe I've heard that JPII alone has released more pages of words than all his predecessors, just like he has canonized more saints than all of them, although that might be a bit of hyperbole. If one counted from Vatican II on, I'm certain that it's not hyperbole at all to say that more pages of documents have been released by the Vatican in the past 40 years than in the prior 1,960. Yet with every new document, the confusion only thickens.
Reading pre-conciliar popes is like a splash of cold water after one has to suffer through the interminable jargon of post-conciliar writings. Popes of the past were not afraid to call a spade a spade. Enemies of the Church were denounced in the most frightful terms. Now one can never make heads or tails of any of the "doublespeak" as you say emanating from the Vatican.
Another problem with Vatican 2 is novelty.
A discourse on this subject could fill volumes, but to save time, here's a succinct account:
Once again, I would caution you from sharing this with your bishop - since it will certainly put paid to all hopes of a "wide and generous" application of the Roman Missal of 1962 in your diocese.
Last night I was speaking with a priest who has published several well-received articles on the history of the liturgy. He said that the criteria should include 3 items:
1. What was the intention of the writers of the document?
2. What was the intention of the signers of the document?
4. What was the intention of the implementation of the document?
Discussing the historical circumstances, he agreed that all 3 criteria were internally coherent with respect to the implementation of the new Vatican II liturgy.
1. The revolutionaries who wrote Sacrosanctum Concilium knew that they were planting timebombs and they knew that the document was intended to initiate a revolution in the Church, even if others were still in the dark.
2. Pope Paul VI signed the document and supervised the implementation. He selected the members of the Consilium. He himself was elected pope as the candidate of the liberal (NOT centrist) faction. He was "in the loop" every step of the way. Other bishops who signed the document clearly were less informed, but it was the signature of Pope Paul that was decisive.
3. When we come to implementation, there is total agreement that a revolutionary program was put in place. But that was no surprise to anyone who was involved in the project. The diocese of Atlanta, for example, was already tearing out high altars and turning around to face the people before Sacrosanctum Concilium was even formally approved.
So we see that the implementation was a natural and inevitable development of the creation and the approval of the document. All 3 shared a consistent philosophy. And the New Mass is the result, in fact the minimally revolutionary result of the Vatican II document and the resulting process, as we see from the statements issued by people like Rembert Weakland, a member of the consilium,expressing their disappointment that the process didn't go farther, faster. That was the kind of person who was selected by Pope Paul VI to implement the decrees.
That's a very good analysis.
It also seems to me that the Council was convened specifically to allow those things to happen, and was therefore corrupt from concept forward.
I once inquired about taking a course through CDU, Catholic Distance University. Unfortunately what they offer is essentially a course in Vatican II, as if Vatican II was Roman Catholicism itself.
Luckily, I found Christ the King College here: