I was in high school, I was still a child. So I thought like
a child. By force of circumstance, I was perhaps farther along
the road to adulthood than most of my peers, but in no sense better
equipped for the journey. More than experience is necessary
for maturation. The brain's structure has to be reconfigured
according to its genetic timetable, and it takes time for the hard-wiring
of childhood thought to be upgraded to conceptualization.
This neurophysiological developmental progression from concrete
thinking to abstraction takes a decade or so. Some people
don’t complete the process until they're in their 30s.
Some never arrive. Some never begin. So it's
not surprising that in adolescence, I often thought like a child
trapped in (kidnapped to) a man's body. But when I became
an adult, I put away childish things. I put away the paradigms
of childhood. I began to think like an adult. To think
about all sorts of things, even the faith of my childhood.
I was still in high school, in religion class, I viewed a diagram
that made a lasting impression. That was, after all, its purpose.
It was a pictorial representation of the history of the "Christian"Churches.
("Christian" here was understood to mean those Churches
which claimed to be Christian but had no right to, since the Roman
Catholic Church alone was the "one, true Church".
All the others had "broken away".) A tall, columnar
tree, mostly winter-bare of foliage, stood starkly center page.
Printed vertically along its trunk was the legend, "The Catholic
Church: the one, true Church". Along either side
of the trunk, severed limbs hovered in the air. This pictographic
device intended to show that the limbs had once been part of the
living tree, but were now "cut off", waiting like so much
kindling to be thrown upon the fire (presumably of Hell).
From top to bottom, each of the limbs was labeled with the name
of a "non-Catholic" denomination. The one nearest
the ground was labeled "Eastern Orthodox". It had
a number of branches: Greek, Russian, Ukrainian. The
other limbs with their occasional branches were arranged in ascending
chronological order of their "breaking away": Lutheran
on the bottom, Anglican above Lutheran, and so on. Each had
a date inscribed in the space between the trunk and the severed
limb, vaguely reminiscent of the date of death inscribed on a tombstone.
The topmost of the severed limbs, suspended just beneath the tree's
crown, was labeled "1870. The Old Catholics".
At the tree's crown, there was a vigorous eruption of living foliage.
Oddly perched on one of the branches was a white dove (an allusion
to the Holy Spirit in residence?).
I was in high school, in religion class, I was still a child.
Simplistic explanations made sense to me. When I became an
adult and put away childish things, I put away childish thinking
as well. I realized the wonder and challenge of complexity,
and of relativity. I understood, for instance, that the popular
history of any conflict was always written by the winner and never
by the loser; hence, "we"were always the winners (and
the good guys). So it stood to reason that, from the viewpoint
of the losers, the winners' great heroes were arch villains.
Such realizations frequently lead to a more objective (and honest)
appraisal of circumstances. Graduate education certainly facilitated-even
required-this openness to multiple perspectives and points of view.
I began to recognize bias in history, prejudice in polity, and spin-doctoring
in politics. I-m talking about the Church.
truncated tree model of Church history is sadly representative of
curial Catholic-Ultramontane-simplistic thinking. (-Ultramontane-is
derived from Latin and means "beyond the mountains"-in
this case, the Alps, where Rome lies.) It embodies a monistic-even
monolithic-rather than pluralistic approach to defining Catholic
identity. The use of the term "pluralistic"here
does not imply that there are different definitions of Catholicity.
It does imply that there is more than one aspect to Catholicity.
It suggests a vibrant identity, a richness of diversity, a variety
of gifts. It implies an inherent tension, an evolving dynamic
as different perspectives and points of view diverge and intertwine.
the tree model is salvageable if one recognizes and corrects its
biases, prejudices, and distortions. One would then represent
it as a full-bodied, many-branched, fruitful, living tree
rather than a tall, ugly, scarred post with a few sprigs and a bird
on top. (The whole image now evokes a Jeff Foxworthy-like
association: "If your family tree does not fork, you
could be a curial Catholic.") That said, every
branch that failed to bear fruit should have been pruned
from the tree. However, some of these branches were quite
vibrant and productive back when they were metaphorically hacked
off. In the new diagram, that fact needs to be acknowledged.
Despite the floral butchery evident in the old diagram, in the new
one, other branches are still quite firmly attached to the trunk.
Many people would take issue with the vertical legend along the
trunk, with its suggestion of unbroken continuity, pointing out
that practices and opinions the Church has embraced at one point
in its history it has eschewed at another. I would also like
to suggest that the tree started branching a long time ago, possibly
even sending up multiple shoots from its rootstock.
entertaining (to me at least) as making these diagrammatic revisions
might be, even a corrected diagram would still be a somewhat simplistic
representation (though certainly an improvement). It would
fail to demonstrate the rich diversity of Catholic Tradition (note
the capital "T") and the dynamic development and interactivity
of different traditions within the Church. One of those traditions
(small "t") is the Ultramontane-the papal-curial tradition
that, for a millennium or so, has aspired to exclusivity.
But it is not the sole tradition, even in the Western "branch"of
the Church Catholic. Another tradition can lay claim to the
same characteristics of legitimacy which Ultramontanism asserts
to be singularly its own: historicity, continuity, authenticity.
This alternate tradition is "Ultrajectinism". Old
Catholicism springs from Ultrajectinism in the way that curial Catholicism
does from Ultramontanism. The "break"of 1870 (occasioned
by Vatican I's declaration of the "dogma" of papal infallibility)
was not a sudden, traumatic separation. It was the culmination
of a long-developing divergence of traditions that differently experienced
and understood (and therefore defined) various aspects of Catholicity.
These two major Catholic traditions, separated by geography and
culture, and influenced by different exigencies of history grew
from the same rootstock and were nurtured from the same Wellspring.
Both can rightly claim the name "Catholic". But
they certainly differ in their interpretation of what the term "Catholic"
means, and what it means to be
purpose of this brief essay is to introduce Ultramontane Catholics
to Ultrajectine Catholicism, to acknowledge that we are certainly
similar to each other in many ways (we are, after all, related),
but that we are different as well. For this to occur at all,
one obstacle must first be eliminated: the ingrained tendency
of Ultramontanists to interpret everything from an idiosyncratic
perspective. While it is expedient to occasionally employ
comparisons in order to aid comprehension, it is essential for you
Ultramontane readers to understand that our points of difference
are genuine differences. These differences are not
merely points of disagreement with Ultramontane polity, some type
of deviation from the Ultramontane norm. We are not objecting or reacting to some Ultramontane
premise. Ultrajectine Catholics are not just like
Ultramontane Catholics except for some things that we don't
like and therefore don't do. Our identity is
not abreactive. We do not define ourselves in relation
to you in your Ultramontane Catholicity. We
define ourselves in terms of our own history, our own perceptions,
our own distinct Catholic tradition -- our own unique identity.
We understand that this is a difficult
thing for you to accept. Nonetheless, we must insist.
Please read the italicized statement over several times and give
it ample reflection before proceeding, or simply stop reading now.
To continue would be a waste of time. You would not understand.
the time being, during this little metaphoric visit, I would like
to begin to introduce Ultramontane Catholics to just a couple of
cherished Ultrajectine Catholic principles. After all, we
differ from one another primarily in principle.
Principles have a strong attitudinal component. One might
legitimately hypothesize that one hallmark characteristic of Ultrajectine
Catholics is that we have quite a bit of "attitude".
This is correct. We do. We also believe that attitude
you see things has a lot to do with what you see; just as
what you see determines what you do. I would
suggest that those things which Ultramontane Catholics notice and
point to as "differences" are only obvious, superficial
differences (the things we "do" differently): married
clergy; rejection of papal infallibility as an absolute; an assumed
proclivity toward "Modernist" tendencies, to name just
a few. What people need to understand is that these differences
in practice are merely the superficial evidence (product or by-product)
of a more essential, fundamental difference-a different attitude,
a different set of principles and operating premises. The
major difference between Ultramontane and Ultrajectine Catholics
is that, for a millennium or more, we have felt and thought differently
about things. About such things as Christian doctrine, about
ourselves, and about each other.
of the things we have felt differently about could be labeled the
"proliferation of dogma" brought about by the Ultramontane
tendency to "dogmatize doctrine". A "dogma"
is something which one must believe in order to be a "real"
Catholic. A "doctrine", on the other hand, is simply
a teaching, an explanation, an explication. One of the purposes
of a doctrine is to make a dogma comprehensible, more readily understood.
Though a Catholic must
believe a dogma, he may believe any given doctrine
to be a good teaching tool, a clear way of relating to dogma.
Then again, he may not. His rejection of a given doctrine
does not abrogate his Catholicity, so long as he remains dogmatically
the risk of offending Ultramontanists, I shall live dangerously.
If one has to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, one has to break
a few doctrines to clarify the nature of the dogmatic. The
credal affirmation that Jesus Christ is the "only begotten
Son of the Father", coupled with the evangelical affirmation
of the mystery of the "virgin birth", constitute dogmatic
belief. To some, this dogma implied the "Immaculate Conception"
of Mary. At least it implied as much to Duns Scotus.
However, Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux each rejected the
doctrine. Ultimately, Ultramontanists declared the Immaculate
Conception a dogma. This is only one example of the Ultramontane
proclivity for dogmatizing doctrine. There are others.
The council of Trent was awash with them. But this one example
At this point, someone may attempt a
"gotcha" maneuver, pointing out that some
Old Catholics (alleged Ultrajectines) celebrate the feast of the
Immaculate Conception, constituting an obvious inconsistency!
One more time, now. Pay attention. Our ways are
not your ways. We
don't think like you do, so get over yourselves.
Maintaining that a doctrine is not dogmatic does not "de-doctrinize"
it. It's still a doctrine, though not a dogma. To say
that one need not affirm it as dogma does not
necessarily mean that one may not relate to it, even
liturgically, as doctrine.
principle of dogmatic minimalism and attitude of doctrinal relativism
is not some recently acquired foible. We've felt this way
for a while-indeed, for about fifteen hundred years, give or take
a century. The principle was enunciated by St. Vincent of
Lérins in a concise formula subsequently named the Vincentian
Canon. This affirmation provides three criteria for dogmatic
validity, asserting that Catholic beliefs are held "quod
ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus": "everywhere,
always, by all". Given this standard, new doctrines may
be perennial. The concept of a "new dogma", on the
other hand, is an inherent contradiction. Given that a dogma
is essential to Catholic identity, we are moved to ask how
God might have neglected to tell us about something we absolutely
needed to know for , say, nearly 1900 years. The "dogma"
of papal infallibility, for example, which wasn't declared until
1870. This was one "dogmatic" declaration
that we Ultrajectines found particularly offensive, for a number
of reasons. It violates several of our principles at once.
One of them has to do with maintaining the distinction between doctrinal
and juridical matters.
Erasmus was perhaps the most vocal Ultrajectine in this regard.
In addition to being a classicist, a scripture scholar, an able
satirist, and the poster boy for Christian humanism, Erasmus
was also a priest of the diocese of Utrecht (in Latin, Ultrajectensis.
See the connection?). Erasmus was representative of the characteristic
Ultrajectine attitude. He took issue with attempts to manufacture
some contrived theological rationale for clerical celibacy when
there, in fact, was none. He was appalled when he heard that
in one diocese, a young priest had been condemned, tortured, and
executed for marrying his mistress, whereas if he had maintained
her as a concubine, there would have been no consequence. He criticized
forced marriage, the contrivance of "marital indissolubility",
and refusal of divorce in any circumstance as vehicles for the enslavement
of women. He was scandalized by the militant papacy with its
expansionist policy and will-to-power. He viewed these
tendencies as a distortion of the role that the papacy had historically
occupied. He maintained that the "government"of
the Church was, by nature, collegial and conciliar: the pope
acting in union with the bishops, not the other way around.
Collegiality and conciliarism made room for divergence, disagreement,
and debate (in charity). None of these Erasmian ideas, clearly
elaborated in the fifteeenth century as the platform of the Catholic
Reformation (a.k.a. the "Ultrajectine" position) were
innovations. They were grounded firmly in scripture and tradition.
Erasmus knew his tradition. He was imbued with it. He
cited his sources well.
day Ultrajectine Catholics, applying the same principles as Erasmus
and with the same attitude, are moved to ask, for instance,
how papal decrees about contraception have somehow been elevated
to the level of doctrine, and even betray pretensions to dogmatic
legitimacy! This is because the philosophia Christi,
the Christian humanism of Erasmus, left a lasting impression.
Though the magisterium of the Church may struggle collegially to
come to terms with scientific developments and to interpret them,
it has no divine right to control thought or knowledge, to suppress
them, or to redefine them contrary to evident fact. For example,
the earth does, indeed, rotate about the sun rather than vice
versa. In regard to the contraception issue, consider
that Aristotle, whose thought Augustine melded with his own theology,
was not even a Christian; that Augustine thought that married intercourse
was at best a venial sin; that Scholasticism’s
ideas of human biology were, by today's standards, ludicrous; that
none of these people knew anything about latex or better living
through chemistry; and that there is no such thing as a homunculus
(the tiny, fully formed infant that medievalists believed
"Da" implanted in "Mum's" womb. Since
maleness was the divine pattern, the homunculus was always
male, unless the woman/incubator did something to create a hostile
environment, in which case the child was born defective--i.e., female!).
Given these and other facts, and in keeping with our principles
and tradition, we would suggest that contraception is an open question-curial
pretensions of superior knowledge notwithstanding.
By way of iteration, the purpose of this
essay is to introduce Ultramontane Catholics to Ultrajectine
Catholicity, not to provide a comprehensive apologia.
Much more could be said about Ultrajectine history, philosophy,
theology, and spirituality; and about such abiding principles as
primacy of conscience. (And it will be in subsequent issues
of NP!) For the present, my purpose is simply
to begin to introduce our tradition, to make a first impression
and set the tone for what might follow. So I want to start
by stating unequivocally that we do have "attitude".
We have our standards and we have principles. These include
dogmatic essentialism, doctrinal relativism, uncompromising loyalty
to scripture and tradition, openness to knowledge and human experience,
and absolute Christo-centrism. Several of these principles
have been briefly addressed in this introduction. My primary agenda
herein, however, is to impress upon Ultramontanists the awareness
that we Ultrajectines are not defined by their stereotypes
of us. Nor do we define ourselves in relation to their
frame of reference rather than our own. We define ourselves
according to our own authentic, living Catholic tradition.
We have our own distinctive character, our own attitude about things,
our own way of thinking. We have our own identity, born of
the same origins as the Ultramontane tradition, forged in a history
often marked by adversity but preserved through continuity.
Given our "attitude", we maintain that our Ultrajectine
tradition is the more "authentic" of the two branches
of western Catholicism: Truer to our origin and closer to the ever-renewing
Source, unencumbered by the accretions of Ultramontanist medievalism.