The Lord of the Rings is a great work infused with Catholic themes. One of the dramatic moments takes place when the heroes traverse the inside of a mountain where an ancient evil resides. A demon named Balrog dwells there and he is stirred as the adventures pass. With desire for destruction it attacks Gandalf and, after an epic struggle, Gandalf’s white magic defeats the Balrog but the danger is not gone… For even as the beast is falling to its death it mounts a final attack. Flicking its deadly tail it grabs the wizard pulling him back down into the darkness with him….
A senior cleric recently suggested, to a friend of mine, that this scene is a perfect illustration of what is happening in the Church. Where Modernism, a heresy which rose up in the wake of Vatican II, threatened Catholic orthodoxy in the second half of the last Century. In many ways it was and is like a spiritual Balrog which has, in truth, been defeated though its danger is still present and felt.
The defeat is clear because liberal modernists, those who crafted their own version of Vatican II that encouraged rupture not continuity, have not produced fruit that will last. (I am not speaking of a difference in style here, many very faithful Catholics like simplicity, but of those who have a dissident mindset)
Mass attendance is down where their ideas played out, their concrete churches, stripped bare by their passions, look tired and ugly today and will not, I predict, be deemed worthy of renovation by future generations. The nominalism they encourage has only emptied seminaries and religious orders. Put bluntly they have not convinced the next generation of their ideals. It is therefore only a matter of time before they vanish. For those who follow watered down religion lose faith altogether. Hence the young raised on a modernist diet have largely given up on God and the church and simply vanished into the secular culture around them.
So Modernism is dying as we enter the 21st Century. Seminaries are now housing men more orthodox than their tutors and it is the religious orders that value tradition that are growing. And the few young people who have not abandoned church now hunger for orthodoxy where it has been introduced to them. Witness the fruitfulness of St. Patrick’s Soho under Fr. Sherbrook or Holy Ghost, Balham when under the steer of Fr. Langridge. And even in the little places, such as our parish in Pembury, a drop in the average age of worshipper coincides with reforms that follow more closely the rubrics of the Missal and the teaching of the faith with passion.
So Modernism is dying but -remember the scene with the Balrog- its danger has not gone. For its disciples are now in their sixties and seventies and therefore sat on thrones of power and influence. And like wasps at the end of summer they are angry because they can see their vision for the church floundering. They can smell defeat around the corner. Thus they redouble their efforts at present. Witness how the last Synod on the Family was manipulated by political games from modernist sources. The last great push is on…the tail is flicking!
For the modernists are like a people who sincerely believe that cars can run on orange juice instead of petrol. Who, when the cars then stop working, do not conclude that orange juice harms engines but that not enough juice can have been used! The modernists are so wedded to their vision for the Church, centred on loosening moral teaching to fit the conclusions of the sexual revolution, that they refuse to look at the evidence before them. They crush the traditional and orthodox voices and do all in their power to force on the church their own conclusions.
So the tail is whipping like mad even as it becomes obvious that the fruit of the last fifty years was scant. The tail whips even the effect Modernism had on seminaries, mass attendance, religious communities becomes obvious. The tail is whipping even as it becomes so clear that where orthodoxy is allowed to grow there will be found growth, spiritual health, youth and vitality.
We who wish to be faithful to the teaching of the Church in all ages must be patient. We must hold the line and resist un-Catholic innovations. For the future is bright and the light will re-emerge from this period of darkness. Gandalf returns in the end…