For anyone seeking to know the truth both dialogue and debate are important, but I would suggest that dialogue is the more important of the two. We all know how quickly a debate can become ill-tempered, an exchange of insults rather than of arguments. Frequently, those entering a debate do so with the intention of winning, of scoring points, and emerging victorious from the fray. We are less interested in establishing or exploring truth than conquering the other, and those with the best debating skills are often capable of arguing for either ‘side’ with equal effectiveness. Dialogue starts with the recognition that both have something to learn from the other. It is a quest for truth, for mutual enrichment. It is humbler and more receptive, though equally hard work. Those who engage in dialogue may change their opinions as the conversation continues; those engaged in debate rarely do so. There are many calls today for ‘less toxic politics’, a ‘listening Church’. Perhaps we need to think more about dialogue than debate, let go of the desire to triumph and be content to learn instead.
I am refusing to be drawn on the subject of Traditionis Custodes for reasons I’ve given in the past about needing to read, pray and reflect before responding to documents that stir the emotions (e.g. see this post about how to read an encyclical, though the document published yesterday is not an encyclical). I’ve also switched off comments for the links I’ve posted in Facebook and on this particular blog post — not because I am opposed to people expressing their views, far from it, but because among the instant reactions there is always a lot of tit-for-tat I don’t want to get involved in. Note that phrase: I don’t want to get involved in. It is my choice, my decision. If it sounds arrogant, so be it. I am the arbiter of all things, in this blog anyway.
The Carmelites of Compiégne
The Carmelites of Compiègne whose martyrdom we celebrate today, and the English Benedictine nuns of Cambrai imprisoned alongside them (see, for example, this post) probably did not want to get involved in the French Revolution, either. But they did, and they acquitted themselves more than honourably, though at the time I daresay comparatively few knew very much about them. I have often wondered what they themselves felt and thought. What were their ideas of beauty, for example? How did they like to see the liturgy performed? I am speculating here, but did the Benedictines and the Carmelites have rather different experiences of Mass and the choral office? Their origins, their backgrounds, their spiritualities as we would call them today, even their financial circumstances, were different; and as an erstwhile historian myself, I would expect that to be reflected in their approach to monastic/contemplative life.
The Debate about Traditionis Custodes
I think we will find that much of the debate that follows on the publication of yesterday’s Traditionis Custodes will reflect some, at least, of the following:
• a personal, probably highly subjective, view of what is beautiful. That is often a ‘killer’ factor. Once we assume that our own preferences are universal, it can be difficult to see another’s point of view.
• a partial, possibly not always well-informed, awareness of history and the complexity of liturgical development. That can be difficult to handle. It is not only a question of fact (sometimes extremely difficult, even impossible, to establish) but, more importantly, of interpretation.
• a ‘feeling’ about Vatican II and what it intended. Older readers will probably understand better than younger ones what I mean by this.
• a personal opinion of Pope Francis.
The Place of the Personal in this Debate
The first, the argument about beauty, is one I have engaged in many times. My years in the Stanbrook Abbey Press taught me that its austere and restrained ideals did not appeal to everyone. Where I sought simplicity and paring back, others preferred elaboration and detail. Never the twain shall meet, it seems. As for a personal opinion of Pope Francis, the less said the better because so much of it seems to be polarised.
I am sure you will understand why I urge prayer and reflection at this point. Fortunately, as Bro Dyfrig BFdeB will assure you, no one listens to me anyway, so the suggestions I make above are principally for myself to heed. -;) (It is International Emoji Day, so using one is in the spirit of the times, no?) Whatever our own opinion, let us pray for the unity of the Church, and especially for those who are baffled and hurt or using publication of Traditionis Custodes for an agenda of their own.
Links (opening in new tabs)
There is an official English language translation of Traditionis Custodes here: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/20210716-motu-proprio-traditionis-custodes.html
and of the accompanying letter to the bishops here:
The mobile phone I use has its ringtone changed according to the liturgical season. At the moment, I am summoned to answer by a plainsong setting of the Regina Caeli. I find this makes answering the phone less of a chore and it reminds me that everything I do ought to be done in the context of prayer. (It is quite difficult to snarl when you have been mentally singing along, Regina Caeli, laetare, alleluia, you try it!) I think we should add a page of ‘holy ringtones’ to our web site; so if you come across any podsafe music, i.e. that may legally and freely be converted into a ringtone, please let me know and I’ll see what we can do.
In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot about how we should conduct ourselves online and commend this article to you by Matthew Warner. He has sensible things to say about how we should comment online. I’m all for debate but do sometimes feel uncomfortable when the argument turns ad hominem. Happily, that has never (yet) happened here. It is up to us to ensure that the blogosphere is a good place to be, isn’t it? I wonder if we could incorporate something like a ‘holy ringtone’ to sound BEFORE we push the submit button?!