Monday, November 09, 2009

"Doctrinal Minimalism" and the Critiques of Catholic "Traditionalists"

By Dave Armstrong (11-9-09)

A Catholic "traditionalist" who goes by "Boniface" wrote a piece called Converts and Traditionalism (28 September 2009). He has now clarified one aspect of his argument, in a piece entitled Doctrinal Minimalism (15 November 2009). The following is my reply to his latest post.

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I don't really disagree with what you say here. When I questioned you about it before, I was asking mostly rhetorical, socratic-type questions. You made the claim about a certain class of folks in the Church, and I was challenging you to flesh it out.

Now you have done so, as to what you mean by "minimalism" -- and I have no problem with what you say.

But -- that said -- you still haven't documented how converts and apologists (or whoever you were critiquing) advocate "minimalism". You know what parish I attend and how traditional it is, so I think you know where I personally stand, and I am in those categories of convert and apologist and part of the "EWTN-loving" crowd or what-not.

I'm officially called a "Neo-Catholic" in the article on same in Wikipedia (while the same article ludicrously cites my own reasoning directly against what it says is the "neo-Catholic' position: see footnote 6). So I am and I ain't at the same time over there. I always seem to be divided into two mutually exclusive people . . . LOL

Beyond that, I would just note the distinction between what a Catholic must believe and what is not binding but good and pious and spiritually beneficial for a Catholic to believe.

The latter category is great, if the beliefs are widely held or devotions widely practiced (e.g., the apparitions at Fatima that I personally love). If you say that the latter makes for being a good or better Catholic, I heartily agree with you.

On the other hand, I don't see the point of denigrating Catholics whose piety may not incorporate all or even many of these elements.

We can extoll the counsels of perfection or the evangelical counsels, but at the same time it is obvious that not all are called to that. And to make out almost as if they are, is (sorry) closet Protestantism. Indeed, many laypeople are limited by things like marriage.

I used to, for example, be in Operation Rescue. I got arrested more than once trying to save babies' lives at abortion clinics. Not everyone has to or even can do that. I was married but didn't yet have children. Later, when I met Fr. John Hardon, and became a Catholic and a father (after April 1991), he personally recommended that I should no longer do the rescues, because of the further responsibility of having children. In other words, there are different states of life. This is the wisdom of the celibate priesthood: allowing greater service.

If the Church in her wisdom had thought all these things should be required for all, then she would have declared so. But if they are not, then they aren't required. They are good, but not required.

So certainly you and I or "traditionalists" can't require more than what Holy Mother Church does. We can't look down on those who may be at a more elementary state in their walk with God or who may think certain non-optional aspects of Catholic piety are not for them. People grow and advance.

It seems like that is what you were doing in your original post; going after converts in particular and making out that they were "less Catholic" than they should be, and leading others down the same "bare minimum" path. But you didn't document (if I recall correctly) even a single instance with facts, which is what I objected to and why I fired several socratic questions back.

Why you felt that it was good to even go after converts in the first place is a mystery to me, but in part that is what "traditionalists" do, that I object to: it is the excessive criticism of fellow Catholics.

[note: Boniface has stated in his recent post:
In my original post I stated the belief that perhaps Protestant converts are responsible for this mentality in places - I think now that this is too great a generalization in order to be of any constructive use. Instead, I would challenge all of us to simply go further.]
That never sat well with me. I'm talking generally now; not about you. You responded very humbly and graciously to my critique. I'm just giving some of my own general opinions about what "traditionalists" so often do: the never-ending strong criticisms of fellow Catholics. Many have observed that this strong tendency is a sin against charity.

I think when we examine the issues brought up in "traditionalist" circles with more specificity (which is what I tried to do), then we often see that it isn't as bad as the critic may have thought (exaggerations have been made) or that the criticisms are off the mark and altogether unfair.

But again, if all you are saying now is that there are good practices and beliefs in Catholicism that aren't technically required, and that observing and believing these is praiseworthy and pious, then of course I agree. I even do a few of them myself!

After all, I vigorously defend things like, e.g., Mary Mediatrix, which is not yet a dogma at the highest level, yet very firmly in Catholic Tradition. I even worked on a post this very day that had to do with that. I advocated the wider availability of the TLM long before the recent decree.

I defend various traditional liturgical practices such as, for example, receiving the Holy Eucharist from the priest alone (as I do), as a matter of personal preference, rather than from eucharistic ministers.

So you and I (i.e., the person who critiqued your earlier post) are not of all that different opinions regarding this business of "minimalism".



Dan Marcum said...

One good thing about Wikipedia is that if you see an absurdity, there's a handy "edit" button with which you can fix it.

Check the Wikipedia article now: by the hand of your faithful servant (lol, j/k), you are no longer a Neo-Catholic as defined by Wikipedia! :)

Dave Armstrong said...

Does that mean that you wrote the original entry? :-)

I make a particular point of never ever writing in Wikipedia, since I was accused by some nutcases of creating my own entry out of sheer vanity and self-importance.

Jordanes said...

Anyone can write pretty much anything on Wikipedia. It's simply not a reliable reference source -- always doublecheck anything you find there.

BONIFACE said...


Thanks for the reply. I was not really seeking to address "minimalism" within the context of the original post, which is why there was no statement on how I thought anybody was promoting it. I was simply defining my thoughts on the matter.

And, to clarify, at leats my intention in the original post was not to denigrate converts - it was simply to pose the question of whether or not converts bring a certain mentality to the Church with them; the post was meant to be explorative, not declaratory - and I was drawing on my own experience, then questioning whether my own experience had been replicated in other places. I admit it was rash to name names without backing it up. But, I think it is inaccurate to say that the post was all about bashing converts. It wasn't.

Thanks for the reply. I think we are on the same page here. I certainly don't say that Catholics have to do what the Church doesn't say they have to do or believe, but I do think some Catholics have a restricted or narrowed down view of just what it is they have to do or believe.

Dave Armstrong said...

Fair enough, and thanks for the further clarification.