In the trenches of Truth
The importance of truth is irreplaceable, it must never be denied, and it must never be bypassed. It is especially important that “The Exile of Melchizedek” be read by all people bestowed with authority and power in the Church; that they read this book in the awareness of the natural duty to “seek the truth” and “accept and preserve” the truth that is found.
Although many years have passed since the day Czeslaw Milosz recognized Pawel Lisicki as “the most outstanding post-World War II Polish metaphysical essayist,” the author of Punkt Oparcia “Fulcrum” confidently confirms his outstanding position with subsequent books. Certainly – for it is an apparent paradox – cultivated writing with an Epicurean melancholy, escaping into an inner garden from the hustle and bustle of the world, could be met with greater acclaim. It would stir up less controversy than engaged essays. However, Lisicki recognizes that the Desert is a more appropriate place for spiritual meditation than the Garden. So from there, protecting the sovereignty of his judgment, he challenges prevailing opinions and acts as a spokesman for the people stunned by them. Such a difficult choice only reinforces the seriousness and importance of his writing. One would be wrong who would consider Pawel Lisicki’s subsequent books primarily erudite pamphlets. In the most polemical ones, as in Dżihad i samozagłada Zachodu (“Jihad and the Self-Destruction of the West”) such pearls of religious literature as the parallel descriptions of Christ’s path to the Passion and Muhammad’s death constantly appear in the fire of argument. Thus – contemplating and defending what he contemplates – he always writes.
“The Exile of Melchizedek,” a new book by Pawel Lisicki, continues the theme of the contemporary doctrinal crisis of the Church, taken up in his previous book, Dogma i tiara (“Dogma and the Tiara”). In a sense, the two works form a whole. Regardless of the polemical layer, they are an apologia for the triple primacy of God professed in true religion. The God who allows the Church to explain (and protect from error) the revelation given to mankind in a certain way, through dogma, the certainties of faith. God, who established the universal Church, building it on Peter, his vicar, wearing (primarily spiritually, though once also physically) the triple crown: rule over souls, the Church, and the Catholic nations. And finally – because this is the subject of the book just published – God, towards whom all liturgy, the worship of the Church, is directed. The sacred liturgy, which is the presence of Emmanuel, the God-Man who is with us, His “Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension.”
THE WORST CRISIS IN NINETEEN CENTURIES
The departure from this threefold primacy of God – in worship, in teaching, in society – is a measure of the contemporary crisis of Catholicism. Some prominent Churchmen – Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop Schneider, Cardinal Müller – often compare the modern crisis to the Arian one. At that time, the heresy denying the Deity of Christ won favor with political power and was able to spread, since even the Pope and most of the bishops rather tried to bypass the essence of the problem, seeking a purely verbal indirect doctrinal path that would both allow the faithful of orthodoxy to profess belief in the Deity of the Savior, and those who doubt it would exempt them from affirming a dogma that was doubtful to them. Fortunately, we owe it to the fortitude of St. Athanasius and the hermits that we can confess with faith the Creed handed down to us, which we sing or recite in our churches every Sunday.
Pawel Lisicki’s diagnosis seems to go further. Of course, the Arian crisis contains many striking parallels to the modern one, but primarily sociological ones. For today we are dealing with more than the negation of one key truth of the faith, it is a matter of error (which, however, does not violate the paradigm of truth, it is simply mistaken in its definition) simply, of Truth. Rather, what is affected is the very core, the Revelation and the Church’s mission of transmitting it, carried out for two thousand years. Beginning with the most important truths – the order of creation, which “was very good” (Genesis 1:31), through the singularity of Salvation accomplished in and through Christ, to the supernatural and eternal purpose of man (not as a “destiny” that is fulfilled involuntarily, but as the real direction of our life already here on earth).
Thus, the modern crisis is rather reminiscent of the Gnostic crisis, forgotten because it was overcome early on, which in the second century threatened not so much the content of faith, but faith as such. Modern Gnosis wants to shift the Church’s interest from the pursuit of Salvation to the discovery of a new humanism that guarantees temporal harmony and saves humanity from the chaos of history. It treats the truths of faith as expressions of deeper ineffable content, taking analogous (and often enriching) forms in other religions. Finally, the liturgy itself, in this form, becomes a place for the realization of a community meditating together about life, rather than an act of worship in the strict sense of the word, making present the Sacrifice that the Savior alone offers to the Father for our salvation.
Gnosis is more of a dialectic than a system. It unites opposites, abrogating – necessary for the affirmation of truth – the requirement to reject error. For it itself “reinterprets” more than it negates. By negating the value of the visible world, it spreads a fog in which truth is simply lost.
The great 19th century renewer of monastic life, Dom Prosper Guéranger, registered a progressive phenomenon of disregard for the liturgy, which he did not hesitate to call the anti-liturgical heresy. The fundamental premise of this error was pastoral pragmatism, wanting to remove – to the highest extent possible – that which hinders “contact with the people,” treating religion, like Lord Acton, one of the doctors of liberal Catholicism, as a corset restraining the gusto of morality.
From this perspective, the liturgy is merely a customary way of gathering the Christian people for prayer, necessary in its sacramental and eternal character, but which is primarily an occasion for teaching, including on very immediate topics. This temptation, by the way, is somehow understandable, because it is linked to a necessary function of the Christian life. It is also explained by the circumstances. The De-Christianized world (for that is what it is supposed to be hidden under the notorious concept of the “separation of Church and State”) is crowding out Christian culture, so this culture protects itself in temples, clashing with what is sacred in the full sense of the word. How many times did we see this, for example, in the 1980s, during martial law.
This mentality also manifests itself in the conviction – so often found in arguments directed against the defense of traditional liturgy – that the liturgy is something unimportant, not worth paying attention to, not worth getting attached to, and not particularly worth defending. It is an external, indeed insignificant, covering of worship, simply an opportunity to receive in community the sacrament of the Eucharist.
If, however, the liturgy becomes mainly an occasion for personal spiritual life and self-reflection, the very content of faith and contemplation recede into the background, the conviction that the most important thing has already been accomplished while it lasts, that we live in the context of the salvific events that give our lives real meaning.
Liturgical arbitrariness is not a theoretical problem, and it is not just about individual mishandling. Moreover, it is not just about a one-time change made during the pontificate of Paul VI, but a process set in motion at that time that is ongoing.
A glaring illustration of it can be found in the Fifth Eucharistic Prayer, very popular in churches today, in any case much more so than the most classic prayer I, the slightly altered Roman Canon. This Swiss Canon, unlike the “original” post-conciliar Eucharistic prayers, has no archaeological sources, does not aspire to “return to the sources,” does not attempt to reconstruct lost forms of the early Church. It was written in 1974, for the use of the national Swiss Synod, to express “the faith of modern man.” As such, it was accepted by Rome and began to spread throughout the Church.
The canon no longer includes (still present in the Second, Third, and Fourth Eucharistic Prayers of the Missal of Paul VI) the “fiant” request that the offered matter become the Body and Blood of the Lord. The Swiss Canon of this pre-consecration, defining intention of the Sacrifice, does not contain this formula. And this omission is a clear violation of what the Church has handed down.
Instead, it speaks of meditation, of Christ “explaining the Scriptures to us,” and includes a request that the Savior “be made present among us in his Body and Blood.” But there is a difference between the sacrificed matter becoming the Body and Blood of the Lord, that we continue to adore them after Mass, and the presence “among us.” For after the distribution, once we part, will the Savior still be, already without us, present in the temple in His Body and Blood? The Catholic Mass or the Lutheran Supper? And why has this peculiar canon become so popular, although there are others in Paul VI’s Missal as well? A priest explained to me with disarming candor that he didn’t need to think about it, since this canon in the Missal is there, and besides, he is very fond of the memory contained in it of the meeting of the risen Lord with the disciples at Emmaus. Confidence, however, should be conscious, like faith precisely, and a sympathetic touch is not enough (let’s call a spade a spade) or too light, when in that lightness arguments or objections that oblige religious reflection are fiercely ignored.
For the author of “The Exile of Melchizedek,” the registration of the crisis of liturgy is only a starting point for describing how the routines corroding Catholic life can be used to negate faith itself. Changes in form lead to changes in content. It is no coincidence that this simple principle (“the medium is the message”) was formulated in the 20th century by a Catholic thinker. Marshall McLuhan was the father of modern mediology, but his best-known formula is a natural confirmation of an old principle concerning supernatural life: lex credendi – lex orandi.1
The central theme of “The Exile of Melchizedek” is one of the four elements of the Mass. For the Catholic Mass is a Sacrifice – of praise, thanksgiving, petition, and propitiation. This last aspect of the Mass came under attack as early as Luther’s time, and it has intensified today. For Luther, the propitiatory nature of the Mass diminished the singularity of Christ’s Sacrifice. For modern culture, infected by gnosis, it has become a scandal altogether. The suffering man has no reason to feel guilty; rather, it is he who has reason to claim the nature of his condition.
Faith says we live in a good world, which sin has been spoiling since the fall of our first parents. Gnosis says we live in a bad world, which man fixes through Prometheus’ rebellion and all subsequent revolutions.
Faith tells us to preserve the moral order, which the pagans already did, and to perfect it in the spirit of the Gospel. Gnosis says that any form of visible justice, with Christian civilization at the forefront, is only a profanation of what is spiritual, and what must remain separate from the visible world.
Faith, first and foremost, is Grace, which God freely gives to people. Modern faith, deformed by gnosis, is a favor that man does to God. It is possibly an addition to life, needed by less “spiritual” people who cannot do without it.
Faith says that we must ask God to forgive our own sins and those that have conditioned our lives. Gnosis says that it is man’s “right” to hold a grudge against his Creator.
TRENDS OF MODERNITY
Pawel Lisicki’s latest book includes a sizable paragraph devoted to a conversation Fr. Jacques Servais SJ had with Benedict XVI already after his abdication. The author of “The Exile of Melchizedek” has a grudge against the Pope Emeritus, specifically when describing the current state of the faith, he spoke of cultural trends that affect evangelization. He pointed out the danger contained in the very concept of “tendencies.” He wrote about the tendency of post-Hegelian German philosophy to “present the transformations of consciousness” as if they were self-actualized phenomena of nature, operating independently of human will. Such a naturalization of “spirit” can easily justify (and today we can see how appallingly it justifies) cultural determinism, destroying and paralyzing human responsibility. The Church must be aware of this, because “pure religiosity” requires preservation “from the influences of the world” (cf. James 1:27). However, in order to defend against these influences – it is necessary to know them. Catholicism has always practiced apologia.
Cardinal Ratzinger (and later Benedict XVI) never justified these “influences.” On the contrary, it was the tendencies of modern Western culture that he pointed to as the fundamental source of the Church’s crisis after Vatican II. Biographers in general regard the shock of the 1968 revolution, a close look at the destructive power of Modern Man, as a turning point in Joseph Ratzinger’s life.
In an interview with Fr. Servais, the Pope Emeritus spoke of Gnosticizing modern theologies, first and foremost Karl Rahner, who “reduces Christianity to a purely conscious representation of what the human being is in itself,” which in practice “ignores the drama of transformation and renewal central to Christianity.” He also referred to “even less acceptable solutions proposed by pluralist theories of religion.” To both of these approaches, the Pope Emeritus clearly contrasted “the criticism of various religions – the kind practiced in the Old Testament, New Testament and early Church.” Pope Emeritus registered the tendency of modern culture, structurally (because in both the intellectual and moral planes) denying the need for conversion, but to reject this tendency.
Yes, for Joseph Ratzinger the key problem has always been, at least since he was a young professor, the presence of Christianity in a non-Christian world. That’s why (and it’s evident in this interview) he was inclined even to attribute to positions he rejected the rank of “unacceptable solutions.” Indeed, this is not classical language. And certainly, classical political theology was also a victim of the Pope’s pessimism. Though certainly thanks to his contribution, references to it were found in the Catechism of St. John Paul II or in “Veritatis splendor.” The Pope wanted the documents of Catholic political theology to be read, but he recalled this theology very rarely. Sometimes, however, he did, such as when he highlighted God’s sovereign power in a speech to the diplomatic corps.
Pawel Lisicki focuses on the doctrinal side, and therein lies the value of his book. Truth has an obliging nature. But truth, however, is not only theoretical, merely descriptive. It is also contained and transmitted in practical Catholic life. The Church preserves its faith in crisis through conscious resistance to deformation and error, but also through daily life, guided by the “sense of faith” (this concept, although analogous, nevertheless refers to the real charism, transmitted at baptism). When reading “The Exile of Melchizedek,” it is worth keeping this in mind.
Pawel Lisicki writes with great appreciation about the work of Professor Klaus Gamber, one of the greatest contemporary liturgists. He identifies with both his historical findings and his critical analysis of contemporary liturgical changes. However, he cannot fathom how a scholar and priest with such clarity of vision could simultaneously write with understanding about “courageous and pious priests” who “adopted the new liturgical texts only as an act of obedience to the Holy Father.” Only that Prelate Gamber does not make the approval of the changes an act of “courage and piety,” but writes that many “courageous and pious” priests adopted them in trust for the Church. It’s a fact, they did. This is, for example, the case of Blessed Fr. Jerzy [Popiełuszko], who, when celebrating Mass, had a (lying, not standing) crucifix before his eyes, and completed the Sacrifice of the Mass with the sacrifice of his own life.
I cite this example because Fr. Jerzy did not quote the anti-communist teaching of Divini Redemptoris at every sermon (I don’t know if he could have read this encyclical at all), and yet he was able to inspire so many people to spiritual and social resistance to communism. The struggling Church sometimes lives as a Church of silence, and sometimes – even in darkness – it is the sensus fidei that leads it. Which does not change the fact that the sense of faith is animated precisely by faith, consciously accepted truth. When it loses its substance, its sense also ceases to function.
The importance of truth is therefore irreplaceable, it must never be denied, and it must never be bypassed. It is especially important that “The Exile of Melchizedek” be read by all people endowed with authority and power in the Church; that they read this book in the consciousness of the natural (and, after all, emphasized by the last Universal Council) duty to “seek the truth” and to “accept and preserve” the truth found. It is not a matter of agreeing with all the author’s theses, but of considering them, and accepting the recognized ones with intellect and will.
Pawel Lisicki’s crusade continues.
“The Exile of Melchizedek. How the Catholic Church can recover the lost sacrum”
(Wygnanie Melchizedeka. W jaki sposób Kościół katolicki może odzyskać zgubione sacrum)
1 “the law of what is prayed is the law of what is believed” – the principle that prayer and belief are integral to each other and that liturgy is not distinct from theology