Whence “Neo-Catholic”?

The Neo-Pope

This is in response to a discussion on Mark Shea’s blog, regarding the term “Neo-Catholic”, apparently meaning  by the definition of the poster DM,  “A Catholic whose enthusiasms and opinions are mostly defined by John Paul II’s papacy.”

This is what I have seen the term used to mean in actual conversations with my Traditionalist friends, it is kind of  a cartoonishly simplistic take on the opinions of those who are orthodox yet not full-blown Traditionalists in their devotional life.  As a Traditionalist-leaning former Protestant (product of Benedict XVI’s papacy rather than JPII, still Chrismy fresh!), I find myself hemming and hawing over these points, “yes, well, sort of…”.  I’ll take them one at a time, for clarity’s sake:

“1) The Second Vatican Council was a positively good thing.  Its documents are “marching orders for the new millennium”. The pastoral strategy given by Gaudium et Spes is authoritative and, more importantly, correct.  The problems in the Church following the council are not the fault of the conciliar documents themselves, but can be blamed on misinterpretation, misimplementation, or ignorance of them. “

Well, yes.  Many problems that have followed from the Council actually contradict the conciliar teachings directly.  This is well documented.  Though I will say that the Council’s teachings, even when not wrong, did lend themselves to misinterpretation and misapplication.  This is true of all the Ecumenical Councils, actually.  They all caused as many problems as they solved, if not more.  I have come to the conclusion that if there hadn’t been a VII, the past 50 years very well could have been bumpier.  I trust the movement of the Holy Spirit that way.

“`2) The Bugninine liturgical reform was a positively good thing. The problems following the promulgation of the new Mas are not the fault of the content, form or circumstrances of origin of the new Mass itself, but can be blamed on liturgical abuse at the diocesan and parochial level.  When celebrated reverently, there is “nothing illegitemate or doctrinally inexact” about the reformed liturgy.”

Well,  I have problems with some of the directions taken with Paul VI Mass, but it is not *illegitimate* as it is a valid Mass promulgated by the Church.  I’d cut the three Euphoras aside from the traditional Roman Canon, among other niggling liturgical tidbits.  I think the transition was ill-advised and poorly handled.  But again, many of the problematic practices of the reform era were indeed not part of the new standards, but people going beyond the rubrics and staying there.  Partly, this is due to the aforementioned poor handling of the changes, but part of it is that there were some serious problems with formation within the Church in the generation leading up to the Council.

“3) The ecclesiastical tradition of the Church has no permanment objective content. All “little T” traditions can and should be modified according to perceived pastoral or evangelical expediency.”

This is an overstatement and misinterpretation of Congar’s “Meaning of Tradition” and the position taken by the Magesterium with regards to “little t” traditions.  The distinction is a true one, though I would say that the past 50 years show that messing with the “little t” can be very dangerous and ill-advised.  But there is a truth that the Church is objectively not the same with regards to these “little t” practices in 1st century Rome, 7th century Lebonon, 19th century France and 21st century Kenya.  It just isn’t.  The issue that was taken up by Congar and VII was that some of the “traditional” practices were only 100 years old, and were in danger of being confused with the Deposit of Faith.  Their mistake was in assuming that they could change the traditions of the Faithful by Episcopal fiat, an action that is obviously folly in retrospect.  In addition, it is dangerous to presume to know where the line between “little t” and “Big T” lies.  This is a complex issue, that doesn’t lend itself to a simplification with “Traditionalists” on one side and “Neo-Catholics” on the other.

4) The pope can and should positivistically innovate in matters of liturgy and devotion.

Well, I don’t much care for Papal fiat in these matters, but this goes back to St. Gregory the Great, St. Gregory VII, St. Pius V, etc.  The Tridentine Mass itself represents a number of liturgical and devotional innovations coming from the Pope and an Ecumenical Council, perhaps moreso than that of Paul VI following Vatican II.

5) Ecumenism is a positively good thing and a “solemn and binding duty” on all believers.

Well, it was said by a Council of the Church, so who am I to disagree?  St. Peter does tell us to be always ready with an answer.

6) Modern philosophical (e.g. phenomenology), artistic, and cultural (e.g. World Youth Day) forms can and should be used as vehicles for the Gospel, and there is nothing intrinsically and qualitatively superior about the forms used by the Church in the past (e.g. Thomism, Gothic architecture).

Are you saying that modern forms cannot or should not be used to advance the Gospel?  I think that traditional artistic forms are vastly superior, for a number of reasons I won’t go into here, but is it a zero-sum game where modern culture is of no potential value?

7) The 1992 Catechism is a “sure guide” to the faith, and can be considered a final authority on any matter it addresses.

I don’t know anyone who would claim the Catechism (or any other Catechism, really) as a “final authority”.  It’s pretty through and useful, however.

8) Disagreement with the above statements puts a Catholic in danger of “private judgment”, “being more Catholic than the pope” or “Protestant mentality”.

Well, when one disagrees with the Pope because he isn’t hewing to tradition, it is an understandable charge, isn’t it?  I don’t think it is a fair charge, but it follows naturally from the positions taken.  I think there is much room to disagree with what’s been going on for the past 50 years, and with Popes and their actions, without being “Protestant”.  The line is crossed by people such as the SSPX, when they declare the Church apostate.  And there lies the charge of “Rad-Trad”.

“I don’t think that any part of that is inaccurate of unfair, and apologize if it is.”

I think you could use some nuance in your statements, and a few (namely number 3) cross the line into parody, but a fair enough list.

And, as usual, I ask that anyone who objects to the term “neo-Catholic” suggest a different name for the set of opinions and enthusiasms I have just described.  (Refusing to call it anything other  than “Catholic” winds up just being an integrist game of its own, as that suggests that “Catholisicm” is coterminous with that set of opinions and enthusiasms.)

One problem with the term “Neo-Catholic”, is that people I know who would fit in that category as understood here, use the term to refer to right-wing dissenters who see the Church as a vehicle for free market/militaristic/nationalist political aims, which makes the term ambiguous, and hence less-than-useful.  Also, the self-understanding of “Neo-Catholics” is not one of being innovative, but of bringing Tradition to bear in the modern world.  The “Hermeneutic of Continuity” as Pope Benedict states it.  Most even consider themselves as Traditionalists, who prefer the OF in Latin with very traditional rubrics.  I don’t know what a better term would be, but “Neo-Catholics” is disrespectful and unhelpful.


~ by Sam Urfer on January 6, 2010.

4 Responses to “Whence “Neo-Catholic”?”

  1. Sam, your link on the first paragraph is broken. Good post, though.

  2. Sam, I recommend this course of reading:

    1) Open Letter to Confused Catholics

    2) The Rhine Flows into the Tiber

    3) Pope Paul’s New Mass

    4) Iota Unum

    And see:


    Try not to let your emotions overcome you when evaluating either this message or any of these materials.

  3. Oh, I also meant to direct you to this devastating critique of the new Catechism:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: