What’s Wrong with the World

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What is Christian culture?


"What is Christian culture? It is essentially the Mass. That is not my or anyone’s opinion or theory or wish but the central fact of 2,000 years of history. Christendom, what secularists call Western Civilization, is the Mass and the paraphernalia which protect and facilitate it. All architecture, art, political and social forms, economics, the way people live and feel and think, music, literature ― all these things when they are right are ways of fostering and protecting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To enact a sacrifice, there must be an altar, an altar has to have a roof over it in case it rains; to reserve the Blessed Sacrament, we build a little House of Gold and over it a Tower of Ivory with a bell and a garden round it with the roses and lilies of purity, emblems of the Virgin Mary ― Rosa Mystica, Turris Davidica, Turris Eburnea, Domus Aurea, who carried His Body and His Blood in her womb, Body of her body, Blood of her blood. And around the church and garden, where we bury the faithful dead, the caretakers live, the priests and religious whose work is prayer, who keep the Mystery of Faith in its tabernacle of music and words in the Office of the Church; and around them, the faithful who gather to worship and divide the other work that must be done in order to make the perpetuation of the Sacrifice possible – to raise the food and make the clothes and build and keep the peace so that generations to come may live for Him, so that the Sacrifice goes on even until the consummation of the world." - John Senior, from "The Restoration of Christian Culture"

Comments (30)

Dear Mr. Culbreath. Kudos. This is a great post which leads me to ask you the question I keep asking myself, and other Christian Catholics.

When will a Pope publicly celebrate the traditional organically-developed Immemorial Mass? Personally, I think that until the Vatican Two generation of The Magisterium receives the Funeral Rite there is a better chance that a woman named, Midori, will be elected Pope.

The Pauline Rite is valid; but it was an artificial committee production created to please Protestants and the Church will not again be vibrant until it is ditched.

All one has to do is to observe the Art, Architecture, Tabernacles, Churches, Tables not Altars, Theology accommodating itself to modernity, Ad Orientam abandoned, Penitential Discipline relaxed to the point of non-existence, Holy Days reduced and drained of significance, etc etc generated by the Pauline Rite to see how destructive has been the reformed Mass.

Of course, you know all of this already even as you know that The Father of Europe is St. Benedict;

But neither me nor thee,
no matter how clever we may be;
Can ever imagine the Bugnini Insipidity,
driving a Culture anywhere but up a tree.

We Christian Catholics will see the beginning of the restoration of Culture when the Pauline Rite receives the Funeral Rite; and it will.

Missa bugniniensis delenda est

If the Vatican Two generation of the Magisterium has almost petered out, its successors seem to be dyed in the same wool of modernity. Whether the Tridentine Mass will ever be restored to its former (supreme) status in Catholic worship is doubtful, I think.

Whether the Tridentine Mass will ever be restored to its former (supreme) status in Catholic worship is doubtful, I think.

Why? Learn to take the long view. Do you really know what will happen in 500 years?

The Chicken

I didn't suggest that I know what will happen in 500 years. I don't even know what will happen in 5 minutes time, but I can still have an opinion based on my understanding of the matter we're talking about.

Even though in the post-Christian Calendar we are in the midst of Martin Luther Kingtide that was no excuse for me not to credit the man who came-up with that great slogan,Missa bugniniensis delenda est


Actually we used to have more than the Mass. We had a liturgical year, a liturgical week, we even had hours of the day. Our ancestors had a pattern of liturgy that prepared them throughout the week for Eucharist. They took the time necessary to prepare themselves.
Now, if we were honest with ourselves, we'd see we've lost so much. The sacraments are still there, but we are plagued with an essentially protestant sort of conversation, where reductionist belief and various impulses toward community have all but replaced the mystery.

Actually we used to have more than the Mass. We had a liturgical year, a liturgical week, we even had hours of the day. Our ancestors had a pattern of liturgy that prepared them throughout the week for Eucharist. They took the time necessary to prepare themselves.
Now, if we were honest with ourselves, we'd see we've lost so much. The sacraments are still there, but we are plagued with an essentially protestant sort of conversation, where reductionist belief and various impulses toward community have all but replaced the mystery.

Sadly, this seems to be partially true, at least in the United States, but there are other factors involved, such as the rise of psychologism, scientism, new organizational models, etc. The point is that even in modern Protestant circles, there has been a degradation in Christian culture. Really, what we've lost is a sense of sin. Everything has been rationalized away. Without a sense of sin, there is no sense of a need for redemption and Christ becomes just a sage among many. Who fears the wrath of God any more these days? Have you been to a funeral, lately? The eulogies are instant canonizations.

The Chicken

Thanks for posting this Jeff. It happens that I have re-read this book just last week. Three years ago, when the first traditional mass in decades was celebrated at the cathedral in Denver, these very words were quoted in the homily.

Dr. Senior's life continues to bear fruit for the church. Both my pastor and our auxiliary bishop in Denver were in Dr. Senior's Pearson program, as was the new Archbishop of Oklahoma City. The establishment of the new monastery at Cleer Creek, Oklahoma, which also involved Pearson students, seems secure and should bear fruit for hundreds of years.

The restoration is underway, our hope is well founded.

Whether the Tridentine Mass will ever be restored to its former (supreme) status in Catholic worship is doubtful, I think.

It may not be the Tridentine Mass exactly, in the final analysis, but no matter - the Mass will be restored, and is being restored worldwide as we "speak". But it will be in God's time and for the honor of Christ, so that no political faction can take any credit for it.

Ben in Denver: I have no doubt! What an amazing and surprising source of inspiration for the Church: an obscure academic from Kansas almost no one has heard of outside of our little trad world.

When will a Pope publicly celebrate the traditional organically-developed Immemorial Mass?

I don't know, VC. Perhaps not in our lifetimes. We trads are a bit like Moses looking at the Promised Land from afar, with longing, but unworthy to enter due to our sins (and much less worthy than the real Moses).

Now, if we were honest with ourselves, we'd see we've lost so much. The sacraments are still there, but we are plagued with an essentially protestant sort of conversation, where reductionist belief and various impulses toward community have all but replaced the mystery.

Indeed. We're all but starting over. That's sad but it's also pretty exciting. I look around and see that many are making a good start, even some who languish in Novus Ordo communities. Progress will be slow until some tradition and restoration-minded bishops appear. What was destroyed virtually overnight might take generations to rebuild, but it will happen.

A couple of days ago (in Essex, England) seven Anglican priests and about 300 members of various congregations joined the Catholic Church. They entered the Ordinariate established by the Pope to receive Anglicans who wish to "convert to Rome" while preserving their religious heritage from the Church of England.

I don't want to go into their reasons here, but I guess these pioneers have no wish to abandon the very beautiful liturgy of Anglo-Catholicism in exchange for the banalities of the Novus Ordo.

The restoration is underway, our hope is well founded.

The restoration is not underway, and your hope is a delusion.

[Remainder of comment deleted. You will henceforth refer to the Holy Father as Pope Benedict XVI in my comment threads, or some respectful variant thereof. Thank you. - JC]

Sorry about that, Jeff. I'm not a big fan of the person in question. I sometimes get carried away.

We trads are a bit like Moses...

Dear Mr. Culbreath. I think it more the case that The Catholic Fish rotted from the head down and such an internal Hierarchical revolution can only be set right by an internal Hierarchical restoration by a future Pope and Ecumenical Council; or, perhaps, a new Syllabus as called for By Aux. Bishop Athanasius Schneider, of Kazakhstan, will do it, but that seems unlikely.

Said otherwise, we were in the Promised Land and those occupying the offices of Divinely-Constituted authority cast us out of the Temple and then disfigured and destroyed the Temple.

I do have mixed thoughts about Pope Benedict as one does not know which man he is hearing or reading when it comes to the Mass and Vatican Two.

On the one hand, there is The Cardinal Ratzinger who criticises the Pauline Rite as a banal manufactured product while on the other hand there is the Cardinal Ratzinger who praises the New Missal and the new Eucharistic prayers etc and calls it a renewed form of the Missal used by Pope St. Pius X.

In "The Ratzinger Report," he is reported as having told Mr. Messori that the initial "Indult" was not about a restoration but about "legitimate pluralism" which has been so stressed by Vatican II and its interpreters (page 124).

And then there are the continuing Youth Days and Assisi confabs which can easily be seen as establishing a new Ecclesiastical tradition; a tradition of pluralism and seeking an accommodation with modernity.

I mean, imagine all the Hell that will break loose when a future Pope does not host an Assisi meeting, or when a future Pope cans World Youth Days or when a future Pope declines to visit a Synagogue, or, far worse in the eyes of the world, a future Pope does visit a Synagogue and Preaches Christ and Conversion?

I maintain the Bonds of Unity in Worship, Doctrine, and Authority despite the turmoil and tumult I am surrounded by but a restoration can only be accomplished by the Hierarchy because Jesus Himself established a Divinely-Constituted Hierarchical and Authoritative Church.

Fr. Z. speaks about brick-by-brick but these bricks are not all, probably not even a significant minority of them, being produced in a Traditional Factory.

As a professional sinner and an amateur Christian Catholic I am only calling it like I see it; and as a former apostate, I can tell you that when I went back to Mass for the first time after about 15 years of being away from Mass and The Sacraments (I chose sin over Christ), I thought the Church has been sold to protestants and I was highly in doubt that what I saw was an actual Mass.

I went to speak to the Priest afterwards and he laughed at me.

IOW, I am part of the problem, obviously, but I had no authority to change one thing in the Mass and as bad of a sinner as I was - and I succeeded spectacularly in sinning - I NEVER would have dared change the Mass one bit.

Pope Benedict seems to be a pluralist in matters liturgical and he seems to continue to try and maintain the pace of progressivism along the path of accommodation to modernity wrongly set out upon by the Vatican Two generation of Popes, Prelates, Periti, and Priests.

Jeff C.,

I have to admit I have never heard of Senior and more shamefully, never been to a Tridentine Mass, even though there are plenty of churches here in Chicago that perform the Mass regularly, including this beautiful church: http://www.cantius.org/.

I resolve to try the Extraordinary Form at least a couple of times this year.

However, I have been following with interest the news concerning the new translation of the Roman Missal and I think the translation will be a big improvement and help folks appreciate the Sacred Liturgy.

Dear Mr. Culbreath. My copy of The Ratzinger Report is all marked-up because I found it quite radical in spots but I will simply note this comment vis a vis an imagined restoration already underway.

Pages 38,39 record Card. Ratzinger responding to a question about a restoration by saying there was no return to the past but that restoration really means reform and then he cites Charles Borremeo and his suppression of a religious order and then, decades down the road, there is a photo of Pope Benedict standing beside Kiki and Carmen in her Adidas Sweats as The Vatican goes out of its way to protect The Neo-Catechumenical Way


and it is clear to me that there is not a reform that includes the idea of radical (return to the roots)reform that would be sympatico with our idea of restoration but, I guess, we are all supposed to praise all these new flowers of spring.

BTW, if you have the text, look-up pages 78-81 and tell me what you think of his ideas about Original Sin?

It only confused the hell out of me.

VC, I too have been puzzled by some of the seemingly contrary steps Pope Benedict XVI has taken. I too find it appalling that any Pope, but especially a Pope who says he harbors love for the Trad Pius V Mass, can bring himself within hearing distance of the Assisi "confabs".

Nevertheless, I think it is possible to explain the phenomenon without attributing to him an intentional 2-facedness, or (worse) an actual deformity of doctrine and ideas about the rightness of the better Ordo. In my opinion, JPII for sure, and to only a slightly lesser extent Benedict, held a view of the authority and power of the chair of Peter that downplays very, very much any kind of exercise of that authority or power in a - well, autocratic manner. They seem to have imbibed deeply (so deeply as to have nearly drowned in it) the idea of collegiality, of consensus leadership, that their first, second, and even third ideas of what next step is acceptable always considers what all the other bishops and priests will "go along with".

The single stand-out exception, as far as I am concerned, to this ingrained habit was Benedict's Motu Proprio. But even there, he managed to put out enough pre-feelers and signals about the document that any bishop could prepare for the event before hand - my bishop took advantage of it by (finally, after more than a decade of requests by his own priests) simultaneously allowing the "indult" and also instituting girl altar boys (against the desires of 80 % of the priests). (Offsetting "conservative" feelings with "liberal" feelings, you see.)

The kind of leadership a chief executive wields is always a personality question, at least in part. But that's not all there is to it. There is also a pure, out and out FAILURE of JPII (at least) to get his hands around the problem of appointing solid bishops, and that isn't a matter of personality. After a 26 year reign, virtually every ordinary in the world was raised to that office by JPII, and if he had really known what he was doing, most of our hierarchical issues would be solved by now. (He appointed Mahoney, for example). Benedict is, perhaps, doing a somewhat better job of it, but not so fantastically so that it jumps off the page. Certainly the appointment of the important bishopric of DC was a disappointment.

I think that Benedict may come around with stronger steps in the direction of the trad Mass, but it is fairly clear that his view of the final resolution of the Mass(es) is a melded product that springs out of the Trad Mass but uses the so-called "developments" of the Novus Ordo, at least the ones that are not wholly disgusting, to reform the trad into something "in-between". While I love the old Mass, I have to say that there are aspects of it that I would not miss - is it really necessary to read the Last Gospel after the Communion every single Mass? It seems like a non-organic accretion aesthetically speaking - it just doesn't really fit all that well. And surely there is nothing wrong with including more of the Bible in the Lectionary.

Dear Tony. In opening the Second Vatican Council, Pope John 23rd identified the path of modernity the Church was setting out on:

At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident, as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She consider that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations. Not, certainly, that there is a lack of fallacious teaching, opinions, and dangerous concepts to be guarded against and dissipated. But these are so
obviously in contrast with the right norm of honesty, and have produced such lethal fruits that by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them, particularly those ways of life which despise God and His law or place excessive confidence in technical progress and a well-being based exclusively on the comforts of life.

That approach is a radical departure from Tradition and to re-read it light of what has happened is to cause one to court despondency. The speech is not only a wildly wrong misreading of the signs of the times it seems naive in the extreme.

And Holy Mother Church has continued on this new path for over a half-century and what fruits have been gathered on the way are as well-known as they are rotten yet she continues on the same path as her Popes repeatedly tell her Sheep that The Church is not turning back from the path she is on.

Whenever I hear the nettlesome, "Pilgrim Church," I think to myself - Well, if we are on a Pilgrimage we are obviously headed in the wrong direction so why'n'hell doesn't The current Vatican Two Pope just admit it?

That admission will take a radical humility and an admission that the Spirit of Vatican Two has filled the sails of The Barque of Peter and sent her off in the wrong direction hurtling towards the shoals of modernity and pluralism and, shockingly, an apparent indifferentism.

I think someone once counted-up the number of apologies Pope John Paul II made for the sins committed by long-dead Christian Catholics and it added-up to around 100.

Well, it is a lot more difficult to publicly apologise for errors and sins committed by living Popes, isn't it? This Christian Catholic is waiting, but not expecting, a public apology on behalf of The Magisterium that they erred in their discharge of their sacred duties beginning with the opening speech of Vatican Two.

When the Holy See entered into Doctrinal Dialogue with the SSPX I was very hopeful because if The Holy See could dialogue here there and everywhere with this that and the other non-Catholic Community/Group/Movement etc, surely it could dialogue with The SSPX which, despite what one may think of their attitude/behavior maintains an unsevered connection with Tradition as it existed prior to the modernists (condemned by Pope St. Pius X)gaining a ruling majority in The Hierarchy - even though they may have been a numerical minority.

And the commentary about that process by the redoubtable Msgr. Brunero Gherardini (several months ago. It prolly can be found at Fr Z's Blog) helps keep my hopes alive

To me it is obvious that sometime in the future it will be necessary for a New Pope to convene Vatican Three and to produce a raft of Traditional Documents that, while not directly repudiating Vatican Two Documents, will incorporate them and correct for their deficiencies in a set of Traditional Documents and to be accompanied by all apt Decrees, Canons, and anathemas.

Until then, I will continue to be a sheep; albeit a bleating and complaining one.

A restoration of the Traditional Mass is necessary if the Catholic Church is to create a City of God populated by masculine men and feminine women and ready to happily engage in war with our Traditional enemies; The World, the Flesh, and The Devil.

The World ain't our friend and trying to mollify or appease it has only brought wreck and ruin.


But these are so obviously in contrast with the right norm of honesty, and have produced such lethal fruits that by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them, particularly those ways of life which despise God and His law

Now THERE's an historically dis-proven statement if ever there was one. Wow. He could hardly have been more wrong if he had been trying.

Well, before this thread devolves irretrievably into a private discussion among feuding Papists, here's a naive question:

Is *Don Giovanni* a part of "Christian culture?" How about Botticelli's *Birth of Venus* - or Marlowe's *Doctor Faustus*? Do such works somehow count as "ways of fostering and protecting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?" Or are they *not* a part of "Christian culture?" - 'cause John Senior seems to be suggesting that it's one or the other.

Surely that can't be right - let alone "the central fact of 2,000 years of history."

Steve, that's a good question. I don't know what John Senior would say. His literary style definitely employs hyperbole. A generous interpretation of what he means by Christian culture might hold that any diversions which enrich and enhance the Christian life, or at least do not degrade it, are ways of "fostering and protecting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass" which relies upon a creative humanity. I think he might also say that Christ - the Mass - illuminates the meaning of pre-Christian or otherwise not-explicitly Christian works of art, which are therefore not categorically excluded.

Shall we take them one at a time?

A story of the unrepentant sinner dragged off to Hell by the spirit of the man he murdered after he obstinately refuses to repent even after he is presented with the eternal consequences of his sinful life, set to some of the most beautiful and engaging music ever written? Yes, I’d say that supports the mass.

The Birth of Venus is a Christianization of the Pagan myth. Venus, in her nakedness represents Eve in the state of paradise before the fall. She stands on the scallop shell which is representative of our baptism, though which we can stand in a similar innocence.

Faustus is a morality play similar to Don Giovanni; Dr Faustus in his pride makes a deal with the devil and pays the price.

Of course these three are support to the mass, which is the action that underlies them all. They are catecheses which serve to explain different parts of the Christian Mystery.

That they are not perfect and do not always point perfectly to Christ at their center does not make them any less Christian culture, it simply means that these are the works of men.

ben in denver - well, if you adopt sufficiently elastic standards of interpretation, you can get pretty much anything to mean pretty much anything else. That's what's kept professors of English & Comp-Lit busy for the past few decades.

I guess it's fair enough for Christians to try to compete at the same game. But I think it's kind of a silly game.

I have to go with Steve on this one. While Senior's passage is beautiful and stirring, and while charity compels us to read it as hyperbole (rather Chestertonian hyperbole), it also has the capacity to annoy that Chesterton himself sometimes has. One reason for this capacity to annoy is that the hyperbole is _so_ over-the-top when one gets past the beauty of the passage. As for the response by Ben in Denver, I'm with Steve in rejecting "Christian readings," and I would warn my fellow Christians not to fall for the temptation to start doing them. It's bad for the critical faculties, for honesty, and for the integrity of the English profession. I've seen too many people do it and think they shouldn't.

Certainly, the Faustus set-up couldn't have been written in a non-Christian culture. Of course, it is the product of a Christian culture, and a non-Western man would need to be educated in Christian categories (hell, the devil, losing one's soul, etc.) to understand it. OTOH, to say that all works written about the Faust legend "support the Mass" is way over-reaching. Marlowe, in particular, was no good Christian author. C.S. Lewis considered him pernicious.

It is not the same game at all.

The creators of the 3 works at issue were Christian men, and the broader body of their work must be understood in that context. There is evidence to suggest the Marlowe may have been killed for his Catholic sympathies in Elizabethan England. Botticelli, a lifelong Catholic, became a follower of Savonarola, whose distinction it was to be excommunicated by one of the infamous Borgia Popes. While Savonarola may not be the saint some Dominicans think him to be, Botticelli's attachment to at least evidences a serious Catholicism on his part. Setting aside Mozart, whose Catholicism is well known, in spite of his membership in the masons, which was not in violation of church law at the time, there is the deep Catholicism of the laicized priest who was the librettist of Don Giovanni. The story of the opera is not too dissimilar from Lorenzo da Ponte's own life (he was run out of the priesthood by running a brothel with his mistress who was herself married to another man), excepting the end. Da Ponte ended his days reconciled to the Roman Church and teaching Her traditions to students at Columbia. He was buried at St. Patrick’s in New York.

These 3 works belong to the body of Christian Culture in their genesis. They were the creations of Christian men living in Christian times. One of their creators was even a priest (albeit a bad one). How can you say that these works in particular don't flow from and back to the Christian Liturgy?

How can you say that these works in particular don't flow from and back to the Christian Liturgy?

Because, among other things, the biography of the authors (much less the _highly conjectural_ biography attributed to an author in the case of Marlowe and his alleged "Catholic sympathies") is not the sum total of the meaning of a work of literature. It may at points be relevant, but some sort of attempted deductive argument from "This man was or may have been a Catholic and was probably a Christian" to "his work flows from and back to the mass" is extremely shaky.

what Lydia said.

look, ben in denver - it goes without saying, I hope, that Don Giovanni & Doctor Faustus & The Birth of Venus are all products of Christian culture. But the further claim that they all flow "from and back to the mass" - that's either false, or trivially true, because you've adopted a set of criteria so flexible as to be unfalsifiable.

I must say that I found extremely funny the Christian reading of Winnie the Pooh in _The Pooh Perplex_. Eeyore as a Christ figure, etc.

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