Thursday, November 18, 2010

Steer clear of the extremes; virtus stat in medio (virtue stands in the middle) From Thomas Merton's "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander"

One of the great problems that has arisen after the Council is the division between so-called “progressives” and “conservatives”, and this has proven quite ugly in certain cases, though it may also be a fruitful source of sacrifice for those who are determined to seek the will of God and not their own. I do not speak here of bishops, but of ordinary priests, theologians, lay people, and all who voice their opinion one way or another.

I for my own part consider myself neither conservative nor progressive. I would like to think of myself as one who wants to preserve a very clear and marked continuity with the past and not make silly and idealistic compromises with the present—yet to be completely open to the modern world while retaining the clearly defined, traditionally Catholic position.

The extreme progressives seem to me, as far as I can judge with the poverty of my information, to be hasty, irresponsible, in many ways quite frivolous in their exaggerated and confused enthusiasms. The also seem to me at times to be fanatically incoherent, but I do not sense in them the chilling malice and meanness which comes through in some of the utterances of extreme conservatives.

The thing that disquiets me most is the fact that the progressives do not seem to have the dogged and concerted stamina of the conservatives. The extreme conservatives seem to me to be people who feel themselves so menaced that they will go to any length in order to defend their own fanatical concept of the Church. This concept seems to me to be not only static and inert, but in complete continuity with what is most questionable and indeed scandalous in the history of the Church: Inquisition, persecution, intolerance, Papal power, clerical influence, alliance with worldly power, love of wealth and pomp, etc. This is a picture of the Church which has become a scandal and these people are intent on preserving the scandal at the cost of greater scandal.

To begin with, while they are always the ones who make the shrillest noises about authority and obedience, they seem to be shockingly unready to practice the most elementary obedience or to display the most rudimentary faith that the Council is guided by the Holy Spirit as soon as something is decided which they do not approve. They are so convinced that they are the Church that they are most ready to declare the majority of bishops to be virtual apostates, rather than obey the Council and the Pope. At the same time, of course, their hysteria suggests that they are having a little trouble handling the guilt which this inevitably arouses in them.

On the other hand, the refusal of extreme progressives to pay any attention to any traditional teaching which would give them a common basis for rational discussion with conservatives is surely scandalous as well—especially when it is allied with an arrogant triumphalism of its own, and when it simply ridicules all opposition. This is not only foolish, but seems to show a serious lack of that love to which they frequently appeal in justification of their procedures. Though they are continually shouting about “openness” one finds them hermetically closed to their fellow Catholics and to the Church’s own past.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)