Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hats Off to Arturo Vasquez

He pens what I call "[t]he best analysis I have thus far read of the American Catholic dilemma" — The Small-T Traditions — and is hailed by Rod Dreher's observation "that the kind of lurid Christianity -- weeping icons, gaudy statues, bloody plaster Christs drooping from crucifixes, candles inside cheap, colored glass sheaths bought at the supermercado -- is closer to the Real Thing than the abstractions of the theologians" — Catholicism must paganize or die -- Vasquez.

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Anonymous m.z. said...

If Rod reads Arturo enough, he will see himself pretty much condemned. Rod is going through another phase change though, so who knows where he'll end up? I don't think his loathing of blacks and Mexicans will allow him to embrace folk religion too much.

10:28 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I, too, was surprised by Dreher's embrace of Vasquez, but not because of the former's "loathing of blacks and Mexicans" but because of his loathing of Catholicism.

10:34 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Come to think of it, Dreher misses the whole point with his "abstractions of the theologians" quip. It's not an either/or thing, and Dreher is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the deracinated, consumerist approach to religion.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous M.Z. said...

Dreher is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the deracinated, consumerist approach to religion.


10:48 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...


That said, Mr. Vasquez's idea that "[a]ny tradition that you read in a book is not a tradition" is problematic in that Confucius preached at a time of societal degeneration with an appeal to ancient texts. We can, and must, do the same in our time.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Extollager said...

If you folks need to recharge your spiritual batteries this way, well, maybe you gotta do what you gotta do.

But could you put up something to tweak this Lutheran? It's when I read, say, Sigrid Undset that I feel a little nibble on my Lutheran identity and a little longing for Rome.

But this stuff -- eh!

Hope nobody minds me too much.

An orthodox captcha:


12:29 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

And the gaudy stuff is closer to the work of the real theologians who have formed the Catholic approach to intellectual life, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. I am reading through the last work Thomas ever wrote, his Catechetical Instructions, and it is remarkable how much his basic approach to the faith (and Mary in particular) lines up almost precisely with the approach of my Filipina mother in law. Not necessarily in some of the incidentals, but in the basic way the faith is approached.

1:12 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

As a Catholic raised in High Church Lutheranism, and ever appreciative of what it gave me, many thanks for introducing me to Sigrid Undset. Thanks for tweaking me.

"But this stuff -- eh!"

Is it that Vasquez says that "the modern concept of 'Christianity' ... has to become 'pagan', full stop"?

German Catholic traditionalist Martin Mosebach noted that the Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila adhered to "the Catholic Church, which he did not regard as simply one of several Christian confessions, but as the great collecting tank of all religions, as the heiress of all paganism, as the still living original religion."

1:31 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Mark, I have been reading through Saint Thomas Aquinas' Shorter Summa. Is it the same work? Its last phrase, written before his untimely death, asserts "that attainment of the kingdom is possible..."

1:41 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Extollager, this post's for you -- Dieterich Buxtehude's Alles, Was Ihr Tut Mit Worten Oder Mit Werken, Performed by Collegium Cartusianum, Kölner Kammerchor, Peter Neuman.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

No, it is different. He didn't quite finish it (he died on the way to the Council of Lyons before he could finish) so it ends abruptly after discussing the Ave Maria. The Shorter Summa, as I understand it, was an abridgment that Thomas wrote for the use of very young novices who were just beginning their study. As opposed to the Summa itself, which was meant for the more mature novices. Which says alot about the intellectual collapse of Western civilization since Thomas' day.

3:43 AM  
Anonymous love the girls said...

Arturo Vasquez is rather late to the table. The American Church has been serving American style paganism since Vatican II.

The fare may not be to his taste, but the appeal is to the same lower appetites according to American traditions.

3:55 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


Joshua, I think I know what Arturo might have meant when he wrote "[a]ny tradition that you read in a book is not a tradition." On the other hand, every time I've publicly sided with Arturo on anything, he has e-mailed me to tell me I'm actually a little off with my, uh, apologetics (LOL!), so take the following with a grain of salt . . . =P

A priest friend of mine once told me that Tradition is not a Thing so much as it is an Activity of the Church. Like the electron in physics, it is always in motion and its exact location can never be pinpointed because the very act of observation affects it. Yet books are all about pinpointing something's exact location. So I could paraphrase Arturo by saying, "any activity you read about in a book is not an activity."

(I now await Arturo's e-mail . . .)

6:05 AM  
Anonymous love the girls said...

Enbrethiliel writes : "it is always in motion and its exact location can never be pinpointed because the very act of observation affects it."

It's a tradition to name children after Saints.

Now I can see how not observing that tradition would effect the tradition, because it's the lack of observing which has caused Catholics to recently not practice the tradition. But I'm at a loss to how observing a tradition changes it?

We as family, and society likewise observe the practice of celebrating birthdays with cake and lighted candles, does my writing of that practice have a sweeping effect on society so as to change that practice?

While I don't think much of Mr. Vasquez's comment because it goes against the entire concept of formation, nevertheless, I think he should be taken more seriously than advocating some bizarre form pagan witchcraft.

6:52 AM  
Anonymous ben said...

I think something important here that is missed is the realtionship between authority and the handing on of tradition.

To recive tradition one must submit to it. Now this can be done in the context of a personal relationship, or it can be done through reading, although it is more difficult in that second case. But it is the act of submission, and the attitude of meekness before tradition that makes it fundamentally different from a sort of consumer choice.

If we are obedient to traditions then we have not chosen things in our liberality, we have accepted what as ben given to us--and the difference lies in this distinction.

This obedience, while uncommon in our modern neighborhoods, is possible for all of us. And it is what makes the reception of authentic tradition possible as well.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous love the girls said...

Ben writes : "But it is the act of submission, and the attitude of meekness before tradition that makes it fundamentally different from a sort of consumer choice."

While submission is preferable to consumer choice, when that which is submitted to is worthy of submission. I don't see why that submission would be the fundamental difference.

For instance, when tradition is part and parcel with the culture, there is a type of submission insofar as formation is a submission albeit not a chosen act. But it's stretching it a bit to say that the submission is an essential element, let alone its fundamental difference.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous ben said...


I think tradition is connected to the 4th commandment. It knits together in a natural way the supernatural family of the church. That's why I think that obedience is such an importnat element.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous love the girls said...

Ben writes : "tradition is connected to the 4th commandment. It knits together in a natural way the supernatural family of the church."

That's interesting. What are we then to make of entities such as T.F.P., or Regnum Christi, Communion and Liberation, Opus Dei and other cults? Or what of Personal Parishes?

All of which are substitutes for naturally formed society which no longer exists.

From the perspective of tradition and the 4th commandment, what is the obligation to those different entities?

11:03 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


LTG: I think the confusion lies in the word "observation." I meant it in the sense of watching something (empirically, if you will), not in the sense of practicing it. Being self-conscious in that way about traditions does change them a little--and I'm not just talking about quanta!

And speaking of books and formation . . . I know a convert to Russian Orthodoxy whose spiritual director advised him not to read any books for a year, as part of his formation.

I personally would not discount books so thoroughly, but there are also too many who seem to think that books are all one needs. ("I read my way into the Catholic Church!" and all that.)

11:37 PM  
Anonymous love the girls said...

Thank you Enbrethiliel,

I knew what you meant, but it's not the equivocation it at first glance appears to be.

My watching Poles at a polka fest doesn't in any appreciable manner change that fest, nor does those who practice it appreciably change it.

Further, I think it's apparent that Arturo Vasquez was simply saying that one cannot put on a tradition as one puts on an overcoat. And was citing the example of those books which give instructions of various traditions where people take them on as one would read a recipe book to bake a cake.

I think most of what is writes is not only bad advice, but outright harmful, and unfortunately combines that poision with true observations.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


Well, it's clearly problematic to take a rule that applies in the quantum world and try to fit the regular world into it, as I have done! =)

But I do think that watching traditions unfold contributes to some change--not in their essence, but in their direction. (Which is all observation really does to the electron: bumps it a little.) And that's not necessarily a bad thing; traditions have evolved over time before. But I see why our modern "book culture" would seem to have an unnatural impact.

But yes, this is no longer related to Arturo's original point. =)

(Captcha is crachit. I feel almost Dickensian!)

12:56 AM  
Anonymous love the girls said...

Enbrethiliel writes : "But I see why our modern "book culture" would seem to have an unnatural impact."

But is it unnatural? If that is the culture?

Is the joining of T.F.P. an unnatural act? Or is it not unlike homeschooling, or driving to a personal parish where the act is most reasonable given the detestable alternatives?

There's not recent tradition in my family of lighted candles on our christmas tree, but does that of itself make it an unnatural act?

Or is it not looking back and taking on that which is most lovely from the past and making it once again our own? Electric lights are a very poor substitute for candles and so we take on the old to perfect us because light and shadow are most natural to us.

That is not paganism, but a rejection of the common error in preference to that which is more proper to man.

Traditions exist as a means of perfecting, and when a tradition is harmful, it should be rejected, and God gave us reason to seek out that which does perfect us. If the most efficacious means are through books, then let books be that means. because what are book in this instance if not a means to step over the pagan middle in preference to that which is a higher good?

1:29 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


You're right. It's not automatically unnatural, though I personally view it with some suspicion.

I have many more scattered and anecdotal thoughts, but I should stop now, aye? =)

1:41 AM  
Anonymous love the girls said...

Enbrethiliel writes : "I have many more scattered and anecdotal thoughts"

But yet you keep them to yourself for selfish amusements versus sharing with us the spoils of your experiences.

2:08 AM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


Well, I thought it would be better to stop before I became too tiresome . . .

(And behind that thought was a memory from the time I lived in Wellington and watched a parade meant to celebrate the city's ideal of multiculturalism. When the Indian group came by, the city's Indian immigrants were joined by some hipster Kiwi women wearing saris and all henna-ed up, dancing as if they were in a Bollywood movie. I was with my Indian friend, and she leaned over to whisper, "Don't they know how ridiculous they look?" And yes, they did look kind of funny, appropriating something that was not "naturally" or even "traditionally" theirs--but the irony was that it was a perfect representation of Wellington's culture. So I do concede that a similar appropriation of a "foreign" tradition in the Catholic sphere is going to be perfectly in line with the greater culture . . . but it's going to look funny for a while. I remember when Simbang Gabi was reported as the latest big liturgical deal in the United States; I wondered cynically whether American Catholics were just trying to be more PC towards growing Filipino communities. But such thoughts do become irrelevant after a "grafted" tradition becomes a part of the living branch.)

2:34 AM  

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