Friday, October 18, 2013

Amateur Hour Traditionalism

It appears the traditionalist movement has a new rockstar in the blogosphere. Louie Verrecchio has a ministry called "Harvesting the Fruit" in which his stated aim is "seperating the fruits from the nuts by the light of tradition." He's carved himself quite a little niche as well over the years, getting endorsements from major figures such as Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Sample.

A lot of this has changed with the election of Pope Francis. Verrecchio himself admits of "a shift in the focus of my writing" which is more or less that the documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially Dignitatis Humanae, cannot be reconcilled with previous Church teaching. This is rather old hat in traditionalism, nothing new. Archbishop Lefebrve, argued essentially this position, while other traditionalists have said that while it can be reconilled with past tradition, it is far too ambigious for comfort. (That position in and of itself has varying forms, ranging from Fr. Brian Harrison, Dr. John Rao, Chris Ferrara, etc.)  Michael Davies didn't see how it could be reconciled,  but held out the possibility it could.  (See comment box for update, h/t dcs)

What differentiates Verrecchio from these more or less intellectual voices is his "toughness." He will call a spade and spade, and won't hold back. If social media makes society more coarser, Verrechio is exhibit A of that thesis. In it, Verrecchio, a Catholic with mainstream Church endorsements, calls for:

-Theorizing how God will intervene to prevent Pope Francis from canonizing John Paul II

-Pope Francis has essentially declared war on the Catholic Faith. It isn't just what he preaches is ambigious (standard traditionalist fare and more or less correct depending on the speech), but that he openly preaches a Jesus that is "not the Jesus of Catholic Doctrine."

-Since the Pope is a "generalissimo of the revolution" explicitly preaching a false Gospel, it's time to ask God for intervention, to remove him by "whatever means the merciful Lord may choose." Some have taken this to mean Mr. Verrecchio is calling for the Pope's death. People have strongly objected to the words, and he so far hasn't denied it, though he did have enough time to remove some of the sources he and his defenders were promoting once it was pointed out they were sedevacantists.

Like I said, this isn't a theological or intellectual traditionalism. This is gutter catholicism, one in which the main selling point isn't doctrinal precision or beatuy, but to see who can come up with the most outrageous outrage and clever insult. The only problem is that his main competition is those like Ann Barnhardt. Ms. Barnhardt also ponders about the state of the Church should we see "The Holy Spirit striking Francis dead tomorrow", since he is "not terribly bright" and a fascist.

This isn't Catholicism. Even calling it some silly label with Catholic in the sentence doesn't do it justice. It's porn in text form. They sit in their intellectual ivory tower echo chambers online and see who can come up with the most outlandish statement. The goal is simply to jack the outrage meter up to 11 constantly. In order to court this demographic, Mr. Verrecchio simply saying that things are ambigious won't do. He has to go far out there. Mission Accomplished?

When you get all jacked up on outrage, you are bound to be sloppy and say things that don't really make much sense. One of the unfortunate side effects of the gutter blogosphere is they fudge history. When Mr. Verrecchio wrote to Karl Keating, he stated the following:
As you know, during the Arian crisis, Pope Liberius and the majority of bishops fell into this error, with the pope even going so far as to condemn St. Athanasius for upholding the truth! (Notice which one is a saint.)
Note well what it said: During the Arian Crisis, The Roman Pontiff "fell into this error", that is, Arianism, and that he condemned St. Athanasius for his Orthodoxy. There's only one problem with this statement. It's all a lie, including and and the. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917) has an insightful article on Liberius which gives an excellent summation of the entire controversey. We can use that to pick apart his statement:

1.) Liberius was not an Arian. He rather heroically resisted the Roman Emperor when, like all political leaders do, they tried to manipulate the faith into an arm of the State.

2.) As a result of this stand, he was exiled and an Anti-Pope was put in his place, whom the citizens of Rome reviled.

3.) For this or maybe another reason, the Emperor finally relented and recalled Liberius from exile. This is where the known facts stop, and the debate begins.

4.) The formal "condemnation" of Athanasius that Protestant scholars long advocated turned out to be a clear forgery by the Semi-Arians known as Studens Paci which has been acknowledged as a forgery in scholarly circles for the past several hundred years.

5.) There is a belief that Liberius, under clear duress and hence invalidly, signed the Semi-Arian Creed of Sirmium. If such existed, we have no access to it. Some contemporary sources of the time deny its existence, but Athanasius at least appears to have been aware of the rumors. The early church historian Sozomen (5th century, so less than 100 years after the event) calls the entire thing a lie. St. Jerome did believe it, but as with the deuterocanonicals, Church history was never his forte, and he was opposed by Rufinus (4th century historian) and later voices such as Theodoret. In the Eastern Orthodox Church he has always been St. Liberius, so combined with the favorable contemporary verdict, there is ample reason to doubt the accounting Mr. Verrecchio provides.
In truth, nobody knows with certainty what happened in regards to the 5th point. Historians have debated it for centuriers, and debated it even within the generation of its occurence. Even under the worst case scenario, we have a heroic pope who under duress was forced to adopt something he was admant in that he didn't believe it.

After this was pointed out, Mr. Verrecchio acknowledged this history (something tells me he learned a lot he never knew before) yet stated "It doesn't matter why he did it, only that he did it and was still Pope" and that this justified Mr. Verrechio's words. Except it isn't clear what Liberius actually did. And even if it was, there's no contemporary evidence that people are reacting in the way which Mr. Verrecchio are reacting, asking God to end this papacy "whatever means the merciful Lord may choose."

Mr. Verrecchio is free to say that sometimes Popes make mistakes, and people are justified in raising their concerns about them. He's also free to say there have been absolutely rotten popes in the 2,000 year history of the Church. Nobody is forced to defend Benedict IX or Alexander VI, or any of the popes leading up to the Protestant Reformation/Catholic Counter-Reformation. While doctrinally orthodox, their morals and practices caused great harm on the Church. If you want to argue this, you need to actually prove it though. It isn't good form to just state it. If there's a chance something the Bishop of Rome has said can be interpreted in an orthodox manner, this isn't rocket science: you go with the orthodox interpretation.

In regards to the Francis interviews, myself and many others have, without much difficulty, shown how the words are Orthodox. When confronted with these, Mr. Verrecchio does one of two things. First might as well be "well sure, you can prove that, but it's clear Francis doesn't believe that, it's make believe because..... MODERNIST!" When another person pointed out how Francis words could be justified within tradition, Mr. Verrecchio objected that..... Francis isn't speaking with enough clarity to as to satisfy Mr. Verrecchio, who wants to *winkwinknudgenudge* have God "end" Francis pontificate, but there's nothing bad about those words! He doesn't actually go through Francis words or Aquinas' to show how the Pope is wrong. It's just clear he didn't mean it because...... because...... FRANCIS IS A HUMANIST GENERALISSIMO! He's not even trying to have an intellectual discussion over what words mean.

So I've written a lot more than I normally care to write. People will see those endorsements from otherwise Orthodox Catholics and think what Mr. Verrecchio states is okay. People will see Mr. Verrecchio as a traditionalist, and think this is what healthy traditionalism is all about. There's nothing traditionalist about this. It is simply amateur hour where someone is not trying to meaningfully work through something, but just shout and scream and display outrageous outrage. In this challenging environment, faithful traditionalists are going to be marginalized. It would help if we didn't give the enemies of the cross inside and outside the Church any extra ammo.


  1. I don't think that is quite accurate about Michael Davies. What he wrote was that he did not see how e.g. Dignitatis Humanae could be reconciled with prior teaching. He did not write that it could not be, only that he himself could not see how. Frankly until I read the work of Dr. Thomas Pink on the subject, I could not see how either.

  2. Honest mistake on my part. Corrected.


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