Thursday, August 2, 2012

Catholic Tertium Quid is a Dead End


A radio advertisement piqued my interest about a Renewing Christendom Conference. Quickly glancing over their itinerary, I did not recognize any of the speakers but got the impression that their religiosity was on the right end of the spectrum. I discerned that the gathering was a policy platform to advance the agenda for IHS Press, a small Catholic publisher in Virginia.

Tertium Quids is Latin for a “Third Way”. The wonk in me is familiar with the expression “Tertium Quids” from a weekly radio show by a Virginia advocacy organization the eschews traditional right/left dialectics to expand free market opportunity for individuals while reducing the size of government.

While this Renewing Christendom conference could be construed as a third way from the “Nuns on a Bus” social teaching and what is generally considered conservative Catholicism rooted within the spirit of Vatican II. However, the Catholic social teachings that will be highlighted at the Renewing Christendom conference could be likened to paleo-conservative politics (e.g. Pat Buchanan has gone so far right that he seems aligned with the left on trade issues).

The Renewing Christendom Conference seeks to recover the buried treasure of Catholic social doctrine from the early Twentieth Century. IHS Press publications are rooted in Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (“On the New Things”) which deals with labor. This bull rejected communism and unrestricted capitalism while affirming the right to private property and workers forming labor unions. The spiritually inspired political philosophies of Distributism, Sodalism, and Paleo-Corporatism by such luminaries as G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Heinrich Pesch, S.J. et ali. Since many of these economic and Catholic Social Doctrine books are out of print, the Renewing Christendom Conference seems like an event to popularize the fin de si├Ęcle European Catholic intellectuals to contemporary audiences current social and political conversations.

 Briefly, this Catholic Tertium Quid is a reaction to modernism and the stark choices between communism and capitalism. In its stead, these theories harken back to small communities knit together by faith, “three acres and a cow” and guilds determining fair wages. While the concept of subsidiarity can be instructive on the ordering of society, unless there is an EMP which takes the world back into a pre-Industrial age driven by agriculture, it is hard to envisage how guilds of craftsmen does not “evolve” into the overgrown unionism which antagonizes against the top echelon. The Sodalism or distributism seems like an aspirational alternative which has some intellectual appeal, yet the cooperation between groups setting prices for goods seems more inspired by the irrational exuberance of the European Enlightenment from the 1789 paradigm instead of the cautious approach to ceding the people’s sovereign power enshrined in the Miracle in Philadelphia that drafted the United States Constitution in 1787.

 Alas, the anachronistic elements do not seem limited to just the Catholic social doctrine. The keynote speaker is both associated with anti-Semitic views and the still schismatic Society of (Pope) St. Pius X. While I agree with the observation of his successor, Pope Pius XI, that morality can not be disassociated from the affairs of practical life, I am not sanguine about secular governments operating under the Social Kingship of Christ. Another speaker is the editor of the Catholic Family News, which is a traditionalist Catholic publication which is sympathetic to the SSPX  but is not sedevacantist and recognizes the Novus Ordo liturgy  from Vatican II hence it is not heretical.

It is important to remember that the word Catholic means “universal” so it can include diversity of perspectives, even within the Latin rite that can include Dorothy Day Catholic Worker types, the secularized Social Justic oriented “Nuns on the Bus”, conservative Catholics and even traditionalist Catholics who respect papal authority. Yet we are all united in Christ through the Eucharist and the sacraments, but only the Lord fully understands the Divine Plan.

 Although some of these approaches are personally repugnant, such as the anti-Semitism which Pope Blessed John Paul II was instrumental in routing out from the faith, or demanding distributionism, by opening the cover on the Renewing Christendom Conference that  I better clarified and strengthened my personal pilgrimage of faith. As I approach forks in the faith, may I follow the orthodox (right way) path.

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