Sunday, February 15, 2009

reactionary catholicism: the sspx and perennialism

The events of the last few weeks have reminded us that the SSPX is haven for reactionary-Catholics of great variety. This gives us a moment to recall and reflect on the intersection of Catholic traditionalism and perennialism. The most famous example of these two movements converging in person is Rama Coomaraswamy. At first associated with the SSPX, it eventually turned out that the SSPX was not traditionalist enough for him and he broke away from that organization to form the SSPV (Society of St. Pius V).

It is pretty clear why Catholic perennialists and Catholic traditionalists are attracted to one another. And in Franco-phone Europe where the SSPX was born, both sides moved in some very similar circles vis-a-vis the Vichy Govt in WW2 France, and French Catholic fascism more generally. One can note some obvious points of convergence between the two sides, especially with regards to their anti-modern and anti-liberal stances which are inevitably translated, in both groups, into a fairly radical sense of nostalgia for more organic, rural, traditionally structured (including a generous dose of misogyny), "spiritual", forms of life.

time arrested by death
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), "Time Arrested by Death" [terracotta]

The big difference between much Catholic-traditionalism and the perennialists, as I understand them, would be the denial of the existence hidden/lost super-religion buried as esoteric wisdom within the exoteric practices of the world religions. The SSPX generally see the other religions as nothing but error and one of their main complaints with the Vatican is what they see as the missionary-failure after Vatican II. Having said that, Rama Coomaraswamy was always open about his perennialism and this was never itself an issue with the SSPX.

In neither the traditionalists nor the perennialists can Nostalgia ever be satisfied. Increasingly isolated as History passes them by, they must invent wild conspiracies and secret religious pasts to explain the chaotic forces of freedom which they are unable to perceive as the shared project of human creation. Indeed the activity of humanity in its own history is interpreted here, as with the gnostics, as a Fall into the devastation, fragmentation and filth that is time. Frightened of time and history they become twisted into something unreal and inhuman.

1 comment:

Adamgv said...

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