“Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere” – G.K. Chesterton.
You have to hand it to art critics. They can stand before a two-year-old’s finger painting, depicting it as some kind of fascinating masterpiece, of inimitable innocence and simplicity, depicting in sublime abstract surrealism the existential motion of the cosmos in two dimensions, or something. If someone vomits on the carpet at a party, it’s art, as long as someone declares it so. To me, though, it’s still just vomit.
With the turn of the twentieth century came the flourishing of absurd philosophies and the rejection of objectivity, which is reflected in the changing definition of art over time. Ideas such as relativism, subjectivism and existentialism have become popular and are now widely used as underlying principles in finding solutions to life’s problems. A good knowledge, yet healthy distrust of historical precedent has given way to outright rejection of historical fact as a guide to the present and future. The resulting disconnection of social continuity from the present and past has rendered modern civilization dangerously adrift in the sea of ideas. Fundamental historical lessons are now forgotten, such as those regarding the respect for human life, especially when it is rendered defenseless. In other areas, such as education, there has been the dramatic degradation of teaching standards and the almost total obliteration of any consistent methodology for teaching. Everything in education has become experimental and teachers and education departments are now left to reinvent the wheel. They are doing it very badly, as can be demonstrated, for example, by the continuous and dramatic decline in literacy, despite constant ‘improvements’ in education over the past sixty years.
In religion, there is no better example of how far modern theology has drifted to the point of being a waste of time than to see how it has been reflected in art. If one makes a visit to the Cologne Cathedral, once the tallest building in Europe, taking over six hundred years to build, it is difficult not to be awestruck by the majesty of the place and the skill with which it was constructed. It is a living testament to the faith and skill of medieval artisans. Stained glass windows of saints and biblical scenes abound, exquisitely made altarpieces are found in every corner, the outside is covered in cleverly carved gargoyles, even at the very highest parts of its spires.
Then, in 2007, a new window appeared in the south transept. The window is made up of random squares of random color. It looks like… nothing, really. At best, it represents the concept of random and chance, or challenges the observer to think, whether the computer’s random number generator was truly random (insofar as there is such a thing), or whether it was one of those cheap software random number generators, that the so-called artist used. It might be a challenge for someone out there to figure that out. But perhaps, like the cubist Picasso, the maker of the window was taking the piss out of his benefactors, showing up for their stupidity. I think that’s not unlikely. Perhaps the next development at the Cathedral might be the use of computer-generated white noise as the religious music, followed by randomly arranged words for a sermon, and a random selection of items from random supermarkets as the things to place on the altar table. In some churches, such an approach would constitute a vast improvement over what is currently being offered.
On being asked as to what the window means, the manufacturer was quoted as saying:
ZKcqE0XT 8V CYGdtt q ccP pBBpq7 ZAxH812 Ia3Tqew!
Just kidding, of course.
The point is that, since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has been drifting slowly away from its well defined point of origin, and losing definition like a dot of light losing its focus, to the point where it is nothing more than a blur.
When a Pope on one hand renounces the excommunication of traditional Catholics (the Society of Saint Pius X), yet on the other he receives a Koran and prays at a Mosque (Washington 2008), attends a Synagogue (New York 2008) and gives out Communion to Protestants, then by his actions he tells us that he is no different from the Random Window at the Cologne Cathedral. Perhaps he believes… nothing, really. Or at least he believes more than one thing at the same time. Indeed, by his actions he shows what a bag of contradictions he must be.
When speaking to traditional Catholics, the Pope sounds traditional. When speaking to modernists, he is a modernist. When speaking to Muslims, he worships Allah, and so on. Everybody is happy. That is, of course, until they hear what the Pope says to people other than themselves. In the end, who is the Pope being other than just another yes man, another politician?
Like the Random Window, which means whatever you want it to mean for you, modern Catholicism has embraced subjective relativism under the guise of ecumenism and charity. Pope Benedict XVI comes across as conservative, but should not be mistaken for being traditional, or even orthodox in the true sense of the word. Liturgy has gone all airy-fairy; the gaze of the faithful has fallen from heaven and is focused on Man, and their feet have left the ground, such that they no longer have a common foundation. The mass as conducted in one place is now frequently unrecognizable when compared with that in another.
Indeed, what you might find when walking into a Church nowadays is all rather random. You might walk into a beautiful baroque masterpiece, with a high altar, altar rails, central tabernacle – something out of the pre-Vatican II era, or you might walk into a fan shaped building with a couple of chairs and a coffee table in somewhere around the middle, with microphones and overhead projector and no crucifix whatsoever. Or you might walk into something resembling a child care center, with streamers, gaudy colors, loud music and green plastic chairs. You might walk in hearing anything from Palestrina as sung by a skilled choir to tinny recordings of the Beatles (or even Bette Midler!), or see dancing hula girls, or have your ears blasted by death metal music (which can come eerily close to the sound of white noise). You might see hundreds of people in their Sunday Best, kneeling in silent adoration before a monstrance, or people in casual dress, laughing and chatting as they drink instant coffee and dry biscuits (in the sanctuary), or see a bunch of head-banging youths, in black shirts and pentagrams, jumping up and down on the pews, or you might just see a couple of frail old people, or no people at all. All of it is happening.
Some call that universal, but I call it random.
The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. … And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.
The title “Mixed Greetings for Returned Lefebvrite Bishop” could be the understatement of the century by Zenit News in its report on Bishop Williamson’s recent return to England. Following his apology regarding his recent controversial statements made on the Holocaust, it was no surprise that, outside the Church, no forgiveness was forthcoming. To take advantage, to be unforgiving, to condemn, blame, reject, and isolate enemies, to make those below you grovel, is the natural human state, after all. These are the very things that are wrong with human beings and the very things that are put right by Christianity.
Yet the Vatican’s “Sorry-Isn’t-Good-Enough-We-Want-Blood” response is so Pharisaic that it appears that the leaders of God’s religion, after two thousand years, have come full circle. Christ’s death on the Cross occurred because people chose to ignore the fact that He showed no malice, no anger or hatred. They cornered, set up and hung an innocent man, something the people of the time openly admitted. Today, the Vatican appears as though it would have done just the same if it had the chance.
Zenit quotes Peter Vere, a canon lawyer:
“Bishop Williamson is not a Catholic bishop in that his episcopal consecration was carried out without papal mandate. […] However, the episcopal consecration was valid — that is, effective. So he is in fact a bishop with episcopal powers, meaning he can validly — but unlawfully — ordain, confirm, celebrate Mass, and validly — but unlawfully — perform any other episcopal function.”
How true it is that to a hammer every problem is a nail. And when you miss, you hit your finger. Bishop Williamson, like all the other bishops, priests, religious and laity of the Society of Saint Pius X, are Catholics as much as anyone else, insofar as they are baptized, have the sacraments and have beliefs are in keeping with Sacred Tradition. Everything else is politics.
Bishop Williamson is a Catholic Bishop. He has never been accused of heresy and was never validly excommunicated. In Christianity, the law is null if it is exercised without charity.
Those within the Catholic Church, whose job it is to love their enemies, forgive those who persecute them, and so forth, are showing how little of this they understand or follow.
Perhaps during this period of Lent, these people might take a moment to think about the Christian meaning of the Season and what happened at the Passover Festival. But they probably won’t, because no hypocrite likes to look in the mirror. Instead, it looks like we will be seeing an Easter play of sorts as plans are made to arrest and ultimately imprison a man who has already repented and shown his innocence, even to such an unjust law as is being used against him.
Modernism reigns supreme outside the Papal Chapel, throughout the Vatican and all the way down to the Religious Education teacher at St. Mary’s Primary School down the road. But does it reign supreme in the Pope’s heart?
A critical article appeared in the Times Online describing Pope Benedict XVI as being:
… like a monarch cut off from the world outside his palace windows, helped only by loyal but inept advisers.
It’s true that he is perhaps the most intelligent yet introspective Pope we have had for half a century. The fact that he spends time daily reading theological works is a promising sign to traditional Catholics. The previous few popes had but a feeble grasp of the subject, such that discussions on the problems of Vatican II left many with brick-wall imprints on the foreheads of those who care about unity and correctness of belief.
On the other hand, John Paul II was a charismatic man who loved to be adored by the masses. His comparatively liberal approach was hailed by the media. Yet in his senility, his advisors pretty much took over affairs and did things in his name. It could be argued that some particularly grave “mistakes” were made because of this laxity, such as the excommunication of the Society of Saint Pius X bishops, various financial scandals and the total failure of John Paul II and his cardinals to act decisively against the sexual abuse that has been running rife within the Church, particularly in the United States. John Paul II’s era coincides with one of the worst periods in the Catholic Church’s history in terms of apostasy and disintegration.
Back to Benedict:
“The Pope believes he doesn’t need to take account of public opinion. He studies the files that are brought to him and decides very much on his own. The atmosphere around him is that he mustn’t be disturbed by criticism or visitors.”
If the Pope truly believes this, then he is right on the money. Public opinion doesn’t count an iota, as could not have been exemplified more clearly by Christianity’s Founder. What is right is what counts. It sounds as though the Pope is taking his job seriously and not allowing worm-tongues to skew his thinking. That deserves a clap.
The reader comments at the end of the article generally defend Benedict. Most people, it seems, do respect that the leader of a two-thousand-year-old religion of over 1 billion people should probably make fewer, but better decisions. Knee-jerk reactions have rarely proven to be correct.
Yet the real problems with Benedict lie not in his style, nor his intelligence, but in doubts about the orthodoxy of his beliefs. He is still a staunch defender of Vatican II, in the name of which several serious dogmatic errors have become prevalent. He is blamed for the “unexcommunication” of the Society of Saint Pius X bishops, but this was a cynical move initiated by Cardinal Hoyos who has shown that, all this time, nobody really believed in the excommunications in the first place. He and the Pope know that removing the excommunication makes no real difference, except to bring attention to and make life even more difficult for the Society, which some say is now on a path of self destruction in the name of damage control. It is an apparent victory for the modernists.
Through all of this it is important to remember that very little of what a Pope does is infallible. An excommunication is not infallible, can be rescinded at any time by a subsequent Pope. It is first and foremost a managerial act with political and spiritual ramifications. The Pope, like any other leader, only has authority when it is exercised correctly and complies with the basic tenets of the religion. In Heaven, the defense of “following orders” to justify an act or omission over a grave matter is not likely to be accepted. Thus, Archbishop Lefebvre was right in ordaining his bishops, despite the immediate consequences which he faced. With this in mind, one would hope that the Society of Saint Pius X takes its time in negotiations with the Vatican and remembers that being right is more important than being friendly.