The great issue that separates progressive from more traditionalist Catholics is whether the Church will return to type.To answer that question “yes” is to say that the Church has an essential nature—a basic structure, set of beliefs, and way of functioning—that is sometimes obscured by corruptions or distortions but can be counted on to reassert itself in a purer and more vigorous form. In effect, it is to view the Church as a living being that retains her identity as she develops, and is subject to occasional infirmities but thereafter returns to health.
People attached to modern ideas of progress don’t expect and don’t want that to happen. Present-day thought doesn’t like types, and it likes the idea of returning to type even less. It rejects organic comparisons for institutions, and prefers to view them as constructions for consciously chosen goals rather than products of essential forms that exist and endure whether we like them or not. We are Church, such people often say, and how we do Church determines what Church is.
Such claims have strong moral overtones. Belief in enduring forms is identified with stereotypical thinking of a kind that rejects change and difference in favor of an imaginary world of eternal essences. That kind of thinking, it is thought, lends itself to a reactionary and oppressive approach to politics and religion that denies human freedom and tries to force an abstract ideal based on an imaginary and idealized past on obdurate reality. Scratch a traditionalist, many people say, and you find a fascist.Mark Shea, call your office. The dislike of forms comes part and parcel with liberalism. If institutions like the Catholic Church have an objective essence, then that places constraints upon the choices of the free and equal superman. I wasn't around during Vatican II, but from what I've heard from people who remember it, it sounded like a mass (no pun intended) hysteria overtook the entire Church. Progressive bishops and their periti got it in their heads that everything non-dogmatic was mere window dressing that they could reform, deform, and toss out at will. Presuming their good intentions, it seems to have not occurred to them that changing the liturgy, the calendar, the prayers, the disciplines, the architecture, the music, and all the rest might give people the impression that the underlying dogmas and doctrines had changed as well.
In any case, the progressive conception means that faith in the one holy Catholic and apostolic Church, and with it the meaning of the word “Catholic,” lose clear definition. The life of religion loses the element of rational public and corporate conviction, and of looking to the past and holding to what has been found good and worthy of love and loyalty. Instead, it becomes a matter of launching into the unknown based on some personal insight or inner assurance, or more likely of following the guidance of prophets claiming special knowledge who say they will help us sing a new Church into being.The tragedy of Vatican II is that the supposed problems it was intended to solve have become much worse. Lay people were urged to fully, consciously, and actively participate in the liturgy. Some do, but two thirds of them in the US don't bother coming to Mass at all anymore. We were urged to study Scripture, but the Scripture scholars told us that Jesus didn't really multiply the loaves and fishes, but rather inspired people to share their picnic lunches.
Our situation today does of course have features that distinguish it from previous times. One is that the technocratic understandings that dominate social life today promote the view that the world is simply what we make of it. That view undermines organic conceptions and the idea that institutions have essential forms to which they tend to return. Another is that mass higher education, and the resulting spread of modish ways of thought, make the conceptual dissolution of the Church into a loosely associated succession of situations seem normal to many churchgoers.
One result of such tendencies is that the dream of going beyond the authority of the institutional Church has become mainstream and bureaucratic. Instead of twelfth century abbots in rags, barefoot Franciscan spirituals, or Münster-style enthusiasts engaging in total violent revolution, we have conferences of academics and other mild-mannered bureaucratic functionaries with formal certifications and retirement plans.We take it for granted now that there's the progressive parish, the conservative parish, the Trad parish, the reform-of-the-reform parish, etc. American Catholics have social, political, and economic views that mostly mirror those of the heathen population. The people who advocate the antinomian vision of the Church are by and large comfortable left-of-center folks with good portfolios and live in nice neighborhoods. It's not a coincidence that the Church's theology went off the rails at about the same time asceticism was dumped.
To be sure, we must distinguish between substance and accident. But there are some accidents which cannot be removed without radically changing the thing itself. The Eucharist is the true body and blood of Christ. But if we do not have unleavened wheat bread to consecrate, then there is no Eucharist. The Church is hierarchical and authoritarian by its nature. The progressive often forgets that traditions exist for a reason.
The claim that belief in essential forms and natures is oppressive is odd. If such things don’t exist, the world becomes the shifting outcome of conflicting forces and there is nothing in it that is distinct enough to be oppressed. It is not possible to oppress a momentary configuration of eddies in a stream. Or if such things do exist, but they continually transform themselves, then politics becomes something for experts or visionaries who have a special gift for reading the signs of the times. It loses the connection to settled ways of thought needed for rational cooperative self-government. In either case politics becomes something that properly belongs to the few with little possibility for legitimate criticism by outsiders, and is likely to become oppressive in the usual manner of successful radical political movements.The media-industrial complex was christened "the Cathedral" by Mencius Moldbug, but that can obviously create some confusion when we're talking about the Church. I prefer referring to our ruling class as the [Borg] Cube. It better captures their relentless desire to destroy our distinctiveness.