Musings on McElhinney's "Prescription Against Traditionalism"

Musings on Shawn McElhinney's "Prescription Against Traditionalism" by A.L.

For the fifth anniversary of its publication, June 2005.

The treatise can be found here: Prescription Against Traditionalism by Shawn McElhinney

Catholics who are faithful to the Church know how important tradition is. The Church herself is based on tradition, written and unwritten, passed on to us from the disciples of Jesus Christ, that Jesus of Nazareth was raised by God three days after his death on the cross. The Church has kept this tradition, passed it on, and meditated on it. She herself was a witness to all these things since she was there when Christ was crucified and when he appeared to her after his resurrection. She was conceived at Calvary, after the sinful man pierced Jesus' side. The Crucified One is always in her heart; her heart is the true napkin of Veronica. She is faithful to her Head, Jesus Christ, and she will not let something like time ruin her faithfulness. Just because time changes, it does not mean she must change her doctrines. She is not a slave to time like some of us are. Rather, she is a "slave" to Christ, obedient to him and her eyes fixed on him.

Many of us want to be faithful to this tradition. We have a certain zeal which lead us to defend the doctrines the Church teaches because we know that what the Church teaches does not come from her, but from Christ. There are some, however, who are willing to save tradition to the point where they will disobey or even disrespect the Church. There are those who, because they disagree with what the Church teaches or how the Church has approached the current era, dissent from her teachings and try to separate the Church of today and the Church of yesterday. They believe that they have the obligation to save the Church of yesterday and that the Church of today has forgotten the very tradition she once had; they are called "traditionalists."

However, this is contrary to the Catholic faith. Too many times we have a tendency to protect and save the Church when in fact the Church only has one savior, Jesus Christ. "Traditionalists" themselves are enslaved to time. They will only obey (arbitrarily) certain teachings and disciplines before a certain time, mainly before Vatican II. Because of this, they make the Church into simply an idea rather than a concrete subject. To somehow think that you can separate the Church of today and the Church of yesterday is to destroy the very essence of the Church since the Church is universal, a Church for all places and all ages. It is to disobey her Groom, Jesus Christ, for he founded his church upon Peter the rock, a foundation so strong that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. To think that somehow that the Church has been hijacked by the Evil One in such a way that she can teach error through her apostolic authority is to turn oneself away from the promises of Christ. Either the Church cannot be stopped by the Evil One no matter what age it is or she is not a Church of Christ at all.

One cannot disobey the Church when she speaks in the name of Jesus through her apostolic authority and still think one is obeying Christ. Either the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ who, though her members may be sinners, will not lead her sons astray or she is a false Church. The Church who teaches in the name of Jesus is either the true Church or a liar or a lunatic. If she ever led her faithful astray, she is a "church" that Christ never knew. The Church is always faithful to her bride. She will not lead her faithful astray because she is Jesus' Church, His Bride. He who belongs to the Church belongs to Christ for the Church is the very mystical body of Christ. To belong to the Church, however, means to obey her teachings and disciplines. To be obedient to the Church is to be obedient to Christ who was obedient to the Father even unto death.

Shawn McElhinney's Prescription is the medicine against the sickness of "traditionalism." There are many people today, especially those of my age, who are attracted to this kind of false zeal to the Church. "Traditionalism", like any sickness, is contagious. It is also like sin because though attractive at first, it can kill you. This is because "traditionalism" tries to deceive one in the name of "tradition" to turn away from the Church. To turn away from the Church, however, is spiritual suicide for it is only through the Church that one can be saved.

I know from experience that there are many who have a zeal to keep the traditions of the Church. This zeal can, however, turn into a false zeal because a zeal that goes as far as trying to save the Church from tradition is to put oneself higher than the Church. The more we think we are saviors the less we are close to Christ for Christ only lifts the lowly. One must never think that one is higher than the Church. One must always submit to her for she alone guides us to Christ.

Shawn's Prescription leads us back to submit to Jesus' Church. I know of no single work which refutes "traditionalist" arguments and defend the Church from this disease better than this treatise. I do not say this because Shawn is my friend. I have many friends I disagree with and consider unfaithful to the Church. I do not say this because Shawn's ideas are very similar to mine. My arrogance would probably stop me from recommending his writing and instead recommend my own. The reason why I recommend this is because from all the prayers I prayed, papal encyclicals I read, and doctrinal and theological works I absorbed, the message was always the same: to love Jesus Christ is to be in one mind with the Church and the Church is where St. Peter is. Heresies always start with dissent from the Church. This treatise tries to prevent us from the awful mistake of dissent.

I regard Shawn's Prescription as a gift from God. God has always blessed the Church with men who are willing to defend His Church at all costs even if it means they will have to go through trials and maybe even a crucifixion. Even though all roads lead to Rome, it takes many trials and sufferings to stay there. The saying that all roads lead to Rome means that one can go to Rome from different roads as well as leaving Rome from different roads, which includes the road to "traditionalism." It is easy to obey Rome when it is comfortable obeying her. It is heroic, however, when we feel a discomfort, for whatever reason, and still obey.

Obedience is a cross everyone must carry. But in that cross there is a great reward. That reward is a recognition of what we should all be, what being human is about. That reward is the recognition of the splendor of truth which we might not have first recognized. That reward is the recognition of our frailties and how obedience, even obedience unto death, will lead us to the weakness of Christ, the weakness we all need to be united with in order to be lifted up by the Father. Finally, that reward is the encounter with Jesus Christ who alone can make us good and happy. Shawn's Prescription, and this is not an exaggeration, gives us the strength to carry that cross, the cross of obedience, towards His Cross so that we can receive our rewards, for the Prescription is filled with truth and truth is the strength of saints.

The treatise can be found here: Prescription Against Traditionalism by Shawn McElhinney


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