Traditionalism East and West
The trad-Caths at Rorate Caeli are beside themselves with joy over Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfayev)’s recent remarks concerning his hope that the College of Cardinals elects a traditionalist Pope. This is nothing new for the R.C. crowd. It wasn’t that long ago that they were swooning over the Russian State’s crackdown on Pussy Riot, and that blog has, in the past, sung the praises of the Russian Church while blithely ignoring the less-than-stellar history of Russian Orthodox/Catholic relations in Eastern Slavic lands. That’s typical because, really, when you deal with R.C., you’re not dealing with individuals who exhibit much in the way of historical, theological, or liturgical sophistication. When something comes along that they assume works with their worldview they fawn over it, and maybe, if there’s time, they’ll think about it later.
While I do not doubt that Hilarion’s sentiments are honest, it’s worth pointing out that he’s more likely than not uninterested in an authentically traditionalist Pope, that is, one in the mold of, say, Pius IX who, as many Orthodox know, wasn’t shy about asserting the necessity for Orthodox reunion with Rome rather than, say, fulfilling the Orthodox’s dream of a substantially reduced, if not altogether gutted, papal office. When Hilarion thinks “tradition” with respect to the Papacy, he’s likely thinking one of two things (or perhaps both combined). That is to say, he either wants another Pontiff who, like Benedict XVI, shares the Russian Church’s socio-cultural outlook on issues such as abortion, marriage, and so forth or, perhaps, a Pope that embraces the Orthodox Church’s contentious view of what a “traditional papacy” looks like — namely, something roughly akin in size, structure, and power to the practically extant Orthodox Patriarchates. Both ideas of a traditional Pope are a far cry from what most (though not necessarily all) traditionalist Catholics think of when they get misty eyed about a traditional Pope.
Really, at the end of the day, the Russian Church wants a Pope they can play ball with, and “playing ball” — in the mind of the contemporary Russian Church — has nothing to do with reunification, let alone submitting to the authority of the Roman Pontiff. They want a Pope that won’t press for the rights of Catholics in Ukraine and Russia and they certainly want a Pope who will withhold the green light on further missionary activity in those regions. Is that what the traditionalists at R.C. want? It never ceases to strike me as pathetic and sad when (Western) traditionalists are so quick to abandon the concrete problems facing their own Catholic brethren in the East just for the hope of getting some bearded smiles from the Orthodox. Perhaps the R.C. crowd should consider converting to the Orthodox Church. They have so much in common. Both of them, after all, blame the Pope for everything bad in the world. They’d fit right in.
Now, to be fair, the Russian Church has expressed what seems to be a genuine interest in how the Catholic Church handles its liturgy. The late Patriarch Alexii II, for instance, expressed his admiration for Summorum Pontificum in 2007. According to Bishop Bernard Fellay, the Russian Church has taken some interest as well in the relations between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X, though I have a hard time believing that interest, too, isn’t bound up with liturgical matters. The assumption among some traditionalists that the Novus Ordo Mass is a barrier to unity between Catholics and Orthodox is a convenient fable. Relations between the two parties were plenty sour for many of the nine centuries that the Tridentine Mass reigned supreme following the Great Schism. There’s a far stronger case to be made that the First (not the Second!) Vatican Council has caused the most consternation among the Orthodox insofar as the definition of Papal Infallibility flies directly in the fact of what most Orthodox believe Church governance ought to look like. And, more importantly, the resistance to East/West reunification is rooted in many unsavory prejudices held by both sides. The Orthodox might not like the Novus Ordo Mass (that’s just a guess), but there are 99 other matters on their List of 100 Gripes with Catholicism that they’d rather see addressed first.