Saturday, February 27, 2010

Notes on The Devastated Vineyard by Dietrich Von Hildebrand [1]

Pope John Paul II called Dietrich von Hildebrand "one of the great ethicists of the twentieth century." Pope Benedict XVI said this about von Hildebrand, "When the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time." Von Hildebrand's philosophy of personalism influenced the thought of both these popes. His writings on marital love impressed John Paul II when he was a young priest and may have had a role in the development of his own defense of marriage and of the Church's ban on contraception in his writings on the theology of the body.

In 1973, Dietrich Von Hildebrand wrote The Devastated Vineyard. He wrote these chilling words in the Preface, "the active work of destruction [of the holy Church] is in high gear." While many in the Church after Vatican II "were deceived by such slogans as 'renewal,' 'aggiornamento,' and 'come out of the ghetto'," Von Hildebrand was encouraged by seeing that many who were initially deceived were returning to orthodoxy. "Various movements have been formed which are taking the offensive against the destruction of the holy Church and the falsification of the Christian spirit..." But by 1973, the errors had gained much ground, and some errors that were being disputed when he starting writing books about them in 1969 (including the book The Trojan Horse in the City of God) had been widely accepted as beyond dispute in 1973.

He wrote, "The purpose of this book is, first of all, to give a short clear presentation of the principal errors which are being presented today .... Secondly, we shall especially try to unmask those hidden, subtle errors which are usually introduced under beautiful, apparently noble titles, and whose danger is often overlooked even by believing Catholics."

Sad to say, from what I've seen and heard, it seems that the battle for mindshare has largely been lost, and the errors that Von Hildebrand wrote of in his books are pretty much accepted by most Catholics, by the clergy (bishops and priests and religious sisters and brothers), and by the laity (university professors, RCIA directors, practically everyone down to the least educated person in the smallest parish in the least cosmopolitan town in the world). It took me years after I returned to the Catholic Church to find anyone who did not believe the errors Von Hildebrand wrote about, even if they had internalized them and would not be able to call the errors by name.

The past two popes have tried to counter most of the errors, but they are not being respected by the mass of Catholics who have been taught to believe (and believe because it suits them) that those old guys in Rome are out of touch and have no right to be telling them what to do.

I first heard about this book over coffee after Sunday Lauds, which are sung weekly by a few St. Ann choir members at Prof. William Mahrt's condominium at Stanford. Sitting with the others around the table in the little dining room drinking coffee out of one of Bill's sets of fine china cups, I remarked that I kept wondering how the Church could have changed so drastically after Vatican II. Just for one example, I told them that when I left the practice of my faith in 1963, sisters (nuns as we incorrectly called them) were leading lives of self-donation. Dressed in black or white habits with veils, sometimes elaborate headdresses and starched white wimples, with a big plain rosaries hanging from a cord at their waists and crucifixes on their breasts, they lived in simple surroundings. They taught children, took care of the sick, and did everything as humble brides of Christ who were not seeking their own way.

When I came back to the Church in the mid 70s, sisters were either dressing for success, clicking down school corridors in their high heels and good suits, wearing polyester pant suits from thrift stores, or they were shlumping around in sweatshirts and jeans and athletic shoes.

For example below are photos from the Sisters of Providence website: Their founder is in the old habit and the present-day sisters are in their mufti. Other contrasts: eyes no longer modestly cast down, big grins on faces

And one of my first indicators of how drastically things had changed from the days when a religious sister taught only approved Church doctrine was when I happened to glimpse the cover of America magazine on the desk of a priest at a Newman Center. It featured a cover story by a Sister so and so, and the title was something like, "Should Divorce Be a Sacrament?" Another indication was the "dress for success" type sister at my daughter's high school who said, "I don't believe in abortion, but I believe we should provide a safe abortion for women who have made that hard decision." I sputtered at her something about how we don't provide similar amenities for women who might make the "hard decision" to kill their babies after birth, so they don't have to do something as difficult as taking the baby out in the back yard and dropping a rock on its head. And I walked off.

When I was done repeating my tales of woe, Professor Mahrt then mentioned that philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand had written this book. I asked if I could borrow his copy, and Bill said yes, but then he told me during a later Lauds coffee time that he had looked through his piles of books and couldn't find it.

I finally found it about a month ago in the catalog of Santa Clara University library.

I'll list some of the principal errors mentioned by Von Hildebrand here. As I have time, I will create other blogs with notes from my reading of this book, where I think Von Hildebrand made some good points.

However, I still am looking for the book or books that will explain from a spiritual point of view how almost everyone in the Catholic Church moved from the at least superficial orthodoxy I witnessed in my childhood to acting out a set of beliefs that contradicted traditional doctrines. Von Hildebrand's book lists the errors, but it doesn't explain the values shift that occurred that made it possible for well-meaning Catholics to embrace philosophies that directly contradict what they previously believed, and how they did it without losing their faith in the Church.

I repeat again what I've written elsewhere: I don't understand how someone who believed in the teachings of the pre-Vatican II church could believe that the Church had been wrong for 1960 odd years until some theologians and bible scholars (I use the words theologians and scholars for these debunkers of the faith with a sneer, I am sorry to say) came along and figured out how wrong the Church had been. With that point of view, what's left to believe in? Why do they stay Catholics at all?

According to Von Hildebrand's book and to others I've read, such as Ungodly Rage, many unbelievers stay Catholic either as a fifth column that is consciously trying to destroy the Church from within, or as zealots who think they have the truth and work to "transform the Church into something which completely contradicts her meaning and essence." p. xii.

Von Hildebrand quotes Henri de Lubac, S.J. "in the name of a 'new' Church, a 'post-concilar' Church, some people are atempting to found another Church than that of Jesus Christ: an anthropocentric society, which can be drawn into a movement of general surrender under the cloak of rejuvenation, ecumenism, or adaptation.'" p. xiii.

Some of the Principle Errors

"[T]he theories of the arch-heresiarch, Teillard de Chardin"
"[T]he legend or myth of 'modern' man, and historical relativism"
"[T]he apostasy from the true Faith, which is not conceded to be apostasy by those who proclaim it but is interpreted instead as aggiornamento .... "[This apostasy is evidenced by T]he pluralism of [Karl] Rahner ... Schillebeecks's denial of he imorality of the soul ..."
"[T]he false idea of a middle way between extremes"
"[T]he illusion that our time represents progress in comparisonwith earlier times"
"[T]hat Divine Revelation should be changed to adapt it to the spirit of the age

To be continued.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trying to understand the last 50 years

I finally located a copy of Dietrich Von Hildebrandt's The Devastated Vineyard. I started to try to find the book about three years ago after Prof. Mahrt mentioned it it one Sunday morning over coffee after Lauds at his home. I had posed to Prof. Mahrt this question that nagged me. What could account for the radical changes that happened between when I left the Church in 1964 and when I returned in 1976 or so?

Bill told me that Von Hildebrandt had written on that topic. When I asked if I could borrow the book from him, Bill said he would be willing to lend it to me. But then when I asked him about it after another Lauds, he told me he was not able to find the book. That was plausible, Bill Mahrt has hundreds of books that at that time stood in hip-high piles around his condomonium on the Stanford campus. (He since then has cleared out his guest bedroom, had the floor reinforced and filled it with book shelves.) But my search for the Von Hildrebrandt book led to a dead end when I found that the only copy I could locate at Amazon was priced close to $100.

When I was at Santa Clara University library a few weeks ago for Paul Mariani's talk on Gerard Manley Hopkins, I found The Devastated Vineyard in the catalog. After all this wait, I'm plowing through it now, but I'm not greatly impressed.

But luckily a new prospect of understanding what happened the Chruch after Vatican II presents itself to me in the writings of Ralph McInerny, who died the day before I went to the Mariani talk. In reading articles lauding McInerny that I chanced upon that day, I first heard of McInerny's autobiography, and so I was able to locate it at the same library catalog that night. The title itself speaks volumes to me: I Alone Have Escaped to Tell Thee.

I have often thought to write a novel about a religious sister who was full of the faith I had been raised on and describe what her life was like after all the changes happened after Vatican I. McInerny, as it turns out, got to the topic first. His first two novels were about two priests facing the fallout from the council. The first The Priest, was about a young priest. "What was the novel about? It was set in 1968 and the central character was a young priest, Frank Ascue, just returned from Rome to begin teaching moral theology at the Fort Elbow, Ohio, seminary. The question I had put myself was: what is it like to be a young priest today when the Church seems to be reeling in post-conciliar factionalism?"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Traditional Mass Jottings: Positive Article by Valley Catholic Editor About the Traditional Mass Where We Sing

I was flabbergasted and thrilled to see this article in the Valley Catholic, San Jose diocesan paper! It presents the San Jose Latin Mass community and our love of the Latin Mass from the community's own perspective, and the journalist gets out of the way and lets the priests' words speak eloquently about the reasons for the appeal of the traditional Mass.
Left: Father Jean-Marie Moreau and Abbe Eric Majewski (seminarian) at the altar at Five Wounds Church

Father Morgan, pastor of Five Wounds Church in San Jose, who welcomed the Latin Mass that is said at his church at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday, was quoted as saying that he is intrigued by the numbers of young people he sees at the Tridentine* [sic] Mass. “Perhaps they find the formality of this liturgy appealing because they are so used to informality, especially in California.

Tridentine* (which the author used often in the article) is not quite the correct term. The form of the Latin Mass that was allowed to be celebrated more freely by Pope Benedict XVI in his Summorum Pontificum is called the "Extraordinary Form" (EF). The EF is contrasted with "Ordinary Form," which is the New Mass, or Novus Ordo" (NO).
This blog explains more about the terminology.

“People have a great desire to connect with the mysterious which they don’t find in the ‘new’ Mass,” he said, “where there is a focus on community."
Since I sing in the choir, I especially like this quote from Fr. Morgan: “We have a great choir here and they are excellent with Gregorian chant, one of the Church’s and civilization’s great treasures.”

Left: Choir loft; look at all the young people!

Fr. Morgan is a diocesan priest, recently installed pastor of Five Wounds Portuguese National Church where our choir sings every Sunday at 9:15 a.m. High Mass and at other Masses and services. Fr. Morgan has been eagerly learning how to say the Latin Low Mass and to lead Sunday Vespers. As a result of his being a quick study, Fr. Morgan has just begun to offer a low Mass every Wednesday evening at the church at 6 p.m. And he leads the sung Latin Vespers at 3:30 p.m. on the Last Sunday of every month.

And I like this other quote from Canon Jean-Marie Moreau, who is from the Institue of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the Episcopal Delegate for the Extraordinary Form at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland, and the rector of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Oratory in Santa Clara, and who says the High Mass at Five Wounds at 9:15 a.m. in Sundays.
“The liturgy speaks to your senses. The Gregorian chant is beautiful and the high Mass at Five Wounds has a wonderful choir.”

There is one thing I would want the diocese of San Jose to understand from the glimpse in this article of the vibrant set of volunteers who keep the Latin Masses going in the diocese. It is that lay involvement does not mean everyone should be a minister and take the role of the priest--which is one of the often stated goals of the diocese's Institute for Leadership in Ministry, that laity should be trained to assume the role of the priest as pastor. Lay involvement is what we all do! And we do it out of love. We don't need no ILM to know how to serve!

The current Pope is quoted often as having called for a new liturgical movement to counteract the over-the-top liturgical innovation that followed Vatican II. Here is a link to my blog post about the subject, aptly called: Traditional Mass Jottings: Pope Benedict XVI Called for a New Liturgical Movement. I believe we are part of that movement.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Comments on a CNS Comparison of the New Mass with the Traditional Mass

A few comments in response to this article from the Valley Catholic, quoted from Catholic News Service, which seems a bit biased against the Tridentine Mass:

Full participation

Many people who attend the Tridentine Mass feel they are more-fully participating in the Mass in the Extraordinary Form by following the prayers of the Mass in the Missal in a reverent way. Full participation does not require everyone to be a minister, but that everyone prays the Mass along with the priest with hearts lifted up to God.


The Vatican II document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, did not get rid of Latin. On the contrary it stated that the vernacular should be "allowed" for readings (Epistle and Gospel) with the expectation that Latin would continue to be used for the rest of the Mass. Before the wholesale change to the vernacular, which was not a requirement of Vatican II, everyone followed the Mass with the Missals that were provided in the pews. And anywhere you went in the world, you could always participate fully in the Mass, which was offered in the universal language of the Church. Every religion has a sacred language that is set apart. Why should Catholics abandon their sacred language?

Penitential Prayers

About the implication that the congregation does not participate in the penitential prayers because they do not recite them out loud, I want to point out that the congregation reads the penitential prayers from the Missal. And the "Kyrie Eleison" is/should be said by the congregation.

Ad Orientem Vs. Ad Populum

About the priest praying with his "back to the congregation" [ad orientem], the current Pope and many others cite this ancient practice as praiseworthy, since the priest and the people are facing the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle, the East, and ultimately God, and not each other. With the priest facing the congregation, there is a well-known tendency to turn the Mass into a performance by the individual priest instead, and the people rather than God become the focus of worship in the round.

Give Us Our Propers

Another change between the old and the new form is the removal from the Mass of many ancient prayers that were intrinsic to the Mass, and that are sung in Gregorian chant in an EF High Mass: the Introit, the Gradual, the Alleluia and verse, the Communion, and the Offertory, and much is taken away when they are omitted.

Gregorian Chant

Sacrosanctum Concilium referred to Gregorian chant as one of the inestimable treasures of the Church.