Often in the course of events or situations involving the human element, you have a circumstance where there are perceived problems which need remedying. This is particularly the case when people with good intentions propose a philosophy which embodies an intrinsically problematical plan of action. The reason this happens is not infrequently because the average person tends in those situations to recommend as a "solution" those things which would personally make them happy. (Or which they subconsciously feel will benefit themselves first and foremost.) This is particularly the case when dealing with people who proclaim either expressly or tacitly that they are "more Catholic than thou" or what this writer occasionally refers to as "The True Believers"™:

It is inevitable that in the disputes over how Catholic Tradition is to be understood that you will find those who claim to be "the true believers" in essence. In today's climate, they often masquerade under the deceptive title of "traditionalists" and use this as a cloak to mask attitudes and approaches which are contrary to what the Catholic Church teaches. [1]
It could perhaps be presumed that by these kinds of statements a defacto referral to anyone who claims to be a "traditionalist" is being made. And though the issue of attaching appellations to various Catholics is a subject that will be addressed later on in this essay, it is necessary at the outset to define some terms that will be utilized in the multipart essay you are reading. The reason this must be done is to ensure that there is no confusion on the part of the reader as to what this essay is saying. For experience has taught the author of this essay that failing to do such things is problematical later on -something that perhaps a real life example can outline better than any abstract theoretical one that can be devised. Therefore, the author will do this with an example of his own and request the indulgence of the reader.

In this writer's case, his development of a systematic examination of several key underpinnings to the theory behind what is commonly called "traditionalism" resulted in some people (who were not the intended targets of that work) taking issue with the references to "traditionalist" in various forms within the aforementioned work. Though people who read the work were usually able to discern who was being addressed and who was not, those who did not merely presumed that a work titled A Prescription Against 'Traditionalism' was necessarily addressing any and all who referred to themselves by this moniker. Though other projects were being worked on after that project was released in June of 2000 --including four other essays which were written congruently with it and were released in the following two months-- it became quite clear to this writer that he had fallen into the trap that he had criticized in others: the trap of not setting forth in advance a working definition for this term and its usage throughout the work. (Notice this writer refers to a "working definition" and not a "precise definition". This is a distinction with a difference as this essay will note later on.) And an encounter later on that year with three self-styled "traditionalists" who sought to refute the sections of the treatise on the mass -and who failed miserably to do so- added to the increasing clarity that a disclaimer was needed for the treatise to outline how these terms were being used. The original disclaimer contained a section very similar to the following one:

In this work you will see the use of terms such as ‘traditionalist’ and 'traditionalism' used oftentimes. As these terms and others like them have been so badly abused by many groups, I wish to quantify my use of them and their derivatives throughout this essay. I am in using the terms ‘traditionalist’ or 'traditionalism' going to usually preface them with qualifiers such as 'self-styled' or 'so-called' to indicate that I am referring to those who fraudulently apply these terms to themselves. In other situations I will simply refer to 'traditionalists' or some derivative in that manner and when I do that the same principle applies. Any and all attempts to refer to people or organizations who appropriate that term for themselves but who can do so honestly will be referred to either as 'Traditionalists' (note the capitalization) or as 'Tridentine Catholics'. [2]
The original plan was to use that abridged version as a "stopgap" until certain parts of that version could be fleshed out in some detail. However, that plan was scrapped in June of 2001 for many reasons not about to be dealt with here. The result of this was that late 2001 (with regards to the essays put out by this writer) was spent completing some earlier drafts of other planned essays as well as composing some new essays from scratch. Some of these built on the treatise material or covered subjects relating to it.[3] Nonetheless, the expanding of the abridged treatise version remained in limbo. It was only with the dawning of 2003 that it became possible to complete that earlier work.

The process after a few false starts was finally undertaken in December of 2002 and it was finished in January of 2003. The aforementioned citation is part of the disclaimer as it reads after it was lightly retouched in December of 2002. Unlike last time when the disclaimer was the last thing tended to, this time it was first on the agenda. And because there were still some who did not bother ascertaining how this writer utilized the term "traditionalist", the following clarification was added to the disclaimer of the third edition of the work:

[A]uthentic Traditionalism does not depend on what rite of Mass you attend, what devotional prayers you use, what theological positions you espouse, or what disciplines you follow. Authentic 'Traditionalism' is much more integral then that and it applies to a frame of mind and a certain attitude. It is not and cannot be found in externals - even those which may have the hallowed sanction of time. [4]

The reader may think that a lot of minor details have been covered thus far; however, all of this is necessary to note up front as it will soon become evident. For you see, when one is dealing with a theory, they are dealing with both abstract notions as well as coordinating dynamic principles of action. One of the author's intellectual mentors once defined a theory as "a set of non contradictory abstract ideas (or as philosophers like to call them 'principles') which purports to be either a correct description of reality or a guideline for successful action."  This definition was very similar to one once propounded by Ayn Rand but it also matches up quite well with the various definitions of the word in Merriam Webster's Third International Dictionary; therefore it is the one that due to its lack of complication will be utilized in this work you are about to read.

Having established a working meaning of the term theory, it is worth noting also that the word thesis according to the Merriam Webster Thesaurus is related to the word theory. (Both of them having a foundation in the term assumption.) A good way of looking at this in the current context is to view a thesis as "an abstract principle or proposition advanced and maintained by argument" and a theory as incorporating a thesis -or a series of theses -with a guideline for successful action. The reason for this is because a theory by its nature must involve either (i) a correct description of reality or (ii) a guideline for successful action. For this reason, any viable theory must involves several principles if you will which work together. Or another way of looking at it would be to consider that a theory is being conceived of a series of non contradictory coordinative theses or points of presupposition. When viewed in this light, a theory clearly is only as strong as the theses which support it.

This writer in his treatise originally advanced seven theses that work either separately or together to confute the core theory of "traditionalism." They were structured so that they could as a rule be taken individually or as a group -and while not all seven apply to every person claiming to be a "traditionalist", at the same time there are two or three that apply directly to every false "traditionalist" out there. Six of the seven theses stand on their own individual merits and all of them either undermine or confute the theory of "traditionalism" -particularly when taken in conjunction with the others. Similarly, every essay ever written by this writer -whether it is a "traditionalist" related essay or not- has a thesis it aims at sustaining.

With regard to the "traditionalist" pieces, they all dovetail with this writer's overarching theory that so-called "traditionalism" is among the greatest deceptions ever formulated by the Evil One. The reason for this is that it is based in part on zealously defending many of the practices which most ancient schismatics and heretics sought to at one time overthrow. (Coupled with the idea that such practices require defense if the faith itself is not to be compromised.) There is of course nothing wrong with this outlook in principle -indeed it is very laudable in and of itself. The problem comes from seeking to accomplish the laudable end through a core means which is functionally no different than that of the ancient heretics and schismatics. Further still, the philosophy of "traditionalism" is grounded in a poor knowledge of (to name some key areas) history, theology, dogmatics, church law, and traditional understandings of spiritual instruction. (In the case of the latter it is particularly in the areas of zeal, charity, equitable judgment, and obedience -though not all people in this outlook are affected in each of these areas to the same degree.) This brings us to the beginning of the essay we are going to consider.

In his essay A Question of Novelty -Why Tradition Rejects It, David Palm (DP) has sought to shore up the sagging foundations of the "traditionalist" weltanschauung. This essay you are reading will examine whether or not he has been successful in achieving his intended aim. However, in order to anticipate and avert the "straw man" accusation which may be thrown around later on, the introduction of David's essay will be allowed to establish the theory he seeks to propound and its corroborative theses. Because of the amount of material covered in this essay, the first part of DP's essay will not be dealt with in the manner that subsequent sections of it will be. (Excluding comments necessary to highlight the aforementioned theses and encapsulate the probable theory being advanced.) David's words will be in nine point bolded "Times New Roman" font with his sources italicized. This will even be done when his words are quoted again in the sections written by the present writer. So without further ado, we will now get to examining this work.

Novelty and Tradition: The Theses of David Palm's Theory Set Forth:

I have the good fortune to know XXXX XXXXXXXXX personally, having met him through mutual friends with whom he was staying here in rural Wisconsin. XXXX is a good-hearted individual and a devout Catholic.  Indeed, he represents the very epitome of the pious and zealous neo-Catholic described in the pages of The Great Facade (TGF).  I entirely sympathize with the instinct, embodied in XXXX's multi-part essay in The Wanderer, that jumps to the defense of an ecumenical council, the Holy Father, and all those who have been entrusted with the oversight of the Catholic Church.  As the authors of TGF point out, it is a healthy and laudable instinct and in better times would be entirely praiseworthy.  Alas, these are not better times for the Church. Rather, they’re downright awful and thus  XXXX XXXXXXXXX has a real problem; he finds himself on the wrong side of a critical debate on Catholic Tradition.  But fortunately, as I know from personal experience, by God’s grace and reasonable argumentation his unfortunate plight is entirely curable.

Again, the purpose of this essay is to highlight just how "reasonable" the theses that David advances to substantiate his theory really are. The X's are to remove the name of the person being referred to in order to best keep this focused on ideas and not personalities.

I am well acquainted with the events that led up to XXXX’s essay being published in The Wanderer.  In fact, it was at the monthly colloquium which is currently held at my home that he first encountered a vigorous traditionalist argument, as we discussed Msgr. Klaus Gamber’s book, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy. Although he argued gamely in defense of the liturgical changes incorporated into the Novus Ordo Missae, my impression of the evening was that the traditionalists fared very well indeed. 

Generally speaking, the average self-styled "traditionalist" is better suited for these kinds of discussions than the average faithful Catholic. The reason of course is because the former tend to make overly generalized statements which to detect, uncover, and confute takes a reasonably amount of time and study to achieve. This is not something that can be done in a casual discussion such as DP notes above. Furthermore, it is not something that most people are inclined to want to do by nature -as people by nature are not leaders and they therefore generally accept what they read or hear if (i) it substantiates what they already believe or want to believe and/or (ii) the source it is taken from appears authoritative.

Of course, I’m probably biased. 

This is a credit to DP in admitting of his own bias. For the record, this writer is also not free from all bias.

Still, I have to hand it to XXXX that he returned to several more colloquia, whereas none of the other neo-Catholics in attendance that night returned. 

Well, as a general rule it is because of the average Catholic not being readily accustomed to the kind of argumentation that these discussions entail which probably explains why no one else in DP's group except XXXX returned from the night David refers to. (There is no reason to doubt David's veracity in stating this so this writer will take him at his word that no one except XXXX returned from the original night of colloquia among those whom David calls "neo-Catholics.")

It was in a follow-up to some of our discussions that one of the traditionalist attendees gave XXXX (henceforth Mr.  XXXXXXXXX, so as not to be too informal in a serious discussion) a copy of TGF with the challenge that, “Catholics have nothing to fear from ideas.”  And thus was set in motion this entire exchange in the pages of The Wanderer and The Remnant.

Hopefully DP will take his own challenge to heart and read this essay -and perhaps the author's treatise written a few years ago. Nothing that this writer has seen with regards to the book that DP refers to even remotely interacts with the theses promulgated by this writer in the aforementioned work. And considering the quality of the scholarship of the authors of TGF -which will be examined in part in this essay later on- hopefully again DP will reflect on his own challenge to XXXX.

In this essay I will critique one aspect of Mr. XXXXXXXXX's argument against TGF, namely, his treatment of novelty. 

So we can determine at this point that David's essay will be an apologetic for TGF -at least in part.

Although he notes that the concept of novelty lies at the very heart of TGF’s argument, he finds the authors’ use of the term decidedly lacking:

The authors and traditionalists in general never define what they mean by the term “novelty.”  They toss the word about without ever making any effort of distinction between what is simply new, new-and-true, or new-and-false.  The subtitle to the authors’ work reads, “Vatican II and the regime of novelty in the Roman Catholic Church.”  This whole debate boils down, in the minds of the authors, to “one word: novelty.”  Is it not then remarkable that they make hardly any effort to attempt to understand this term?  Is it not inexcusable that what understanding they do have is so wrong?

Mr.  XXXXXXXXX believes that in his own essay he has righted this alleged wrong and provided an accurate definition of novelty, albeit one that clashes with the central thesis of TGF.  In a nutshell, he claims that “novelty”, as condemned in various ecclesiastical documents, applies only to doctrines, whereas Ferrara and Woods claim that the term applies also to innovations in matters of ecclesiastical practice and discipline.  XXXXXXXXX comes to his conclusion through a private survey of the evidence:

I have taken it upon myself to search the use of the word “novelty” throughout the history of the Church. My results cannot be at all exhaustive.  My search was in English, and thus I am at the mercy of translators who may have translated the Latin and Greek words for “novelty” inconsistently.  Nevertheless, I believe it has been a useful search.  The word “novelty” is used most often as the Nicaean fathers use it and as I have come to understand it.  Novelty is to be rejected when it jeopardizes Tradition, when it threatens to do away with or contradict a doctrine of the Catholic Church, when its very newness is bound up with error.

Further down he summarizes the fundamental principle that makes something new a “novelty” in the condemnable sense:

The specific theological meaning of the word “novelty” refers to those teachings that are precisely false in their newness, where the error and the newness cannot be separated.  These errors are not false because everything new is wrong.  They are false because their newness suggests that the Tradition is wrong.

Notice that to this point XXXXXXXXX's definition of novelty does not exclude the possibility that some change in perennial practice or custom would “jeopardize Tradition” or “threaten to do away with or contradict a doctrine of the Catholic Church” and hence qualify as a condemnable novelty.  In fact, that would be the very understanding of novelty presented in the pages of TGF.  But ultimately XXXXXXXXX eliminates that sort of novelty from his definition.  After presenting a number of citations gleaned from his search he summarizes: “It should be absolutely clear that the Popes and the councils have used the term ‘novelty’ in the context of doctrine over and above anything else.  What is new and doctrinally erroneous is to be rejected.”

It would seem that David will in the rest of his essay interact with this thesis proposed by XXXX XXXXXXXXX with regards to the term "novelty" and its usage throughout Church history. For now, we will simply note his assertion that  the very understanding of novelty presented in the pages of TGF consists of a definition of the term which does not exclude the possibility that some change in perennial practice or custom would “jeopardize Tradition” or “threaten to do away with or contradict a doctrine of the Catholic Church” and hence qualify as a condemnable novelty. The intrinsically Protestant methodology to this kind of approach was already dealt with by this writer years ago in his treatise with regards to a few of its propounded theses. It will also be dealt with in this essay however only in an indirect manner. The reader is advised to review carefully the aforementioned treatise for a more detailed exposition on the aforementioned assertion after reading this current essay.

Based on his analysis of the term, Mr. XXXXXXXXX concludes that Ferrara and Woods wrongly claim that changes in policies, observances, customs, and practices represent a “regime of novelty” in the Roman Catholic Church.  Indeed, according to him they are not only wrong, they are intellectually lazy and downright dishonest.

After years of observing what they have written, this writer has begin to wonder if the people Mr. XXXXXXXXX refers to are not either intellectually lazy or profoundly disingenuous. So in this respect, there is an agreement with Mr. XXXXXXXXX. However, the next part will underscore where this writer diverges from Mr. XXXXXXXXX's view as enunciated by DP.

How should one respond to this charge?  For starters, my own survey of the evidence indicates that Mr. XXXXXXXXXX is correct that the words “novelty” and “innovation” in the writings of the Fathers and later cclesiastical sources “most often” occur in the context of quarrels over doctrines.  But “most often” simply isn’t enough on which to hang charges of intellectual laziness and malfeasance.

This writer agrees with David on this matter. There would have to be a track record of incontrovertible errors to hang the charges of  intellectual laziness and malfeasance onto people.

Rather, he would have to demonstrate that “novelty” as condemned by Fathers, Councils, and Popes always refers to doctrines and never to harmful practices or observances. 

This analysis of DP is correct. If Mr. XXXXXXXXX cannot do this to a reasonable degree, then with at least the subject matter he is discussing the charge of intellectual laziness and malfeasance cannot be legitimately applied. Note the qualification of "reasonable degree." Mr. XXXXXXXXX would not have to read every example from the Fathers to denote a trend in their outlook viz. how the term was applied. However, if he readily admits that the application only applies to matters of doctrine, then he must either (i) manifest this in the form of an absolute statement or (ii) state it as a rule and then qualify what the exceptions to the rule are. Simply dismissing exceptions to a rule as not applicable is not a fruitful way to engage in dialogue.

And this he would be unable to do, for he has not cast his net quite wide enough. A more thorough survey of the Fathers’ view of “novelty” reveals that they condemned, as harmful to the Church, both doctrinal novelties and practical novelties, i.e. radical breaks with longstanding ecclesiastical practice and discipline. 

This would seem to be one of the theses which underscores David's theory: that [the Fathers] condemned, as harmful to the Church, both doctrinal novelties and practical novelties, i.e. radical breaks with longstanding ecclesiastical practice and discipline. The essay you are reading will approach David's writing with the assumption that this is a thesis which forms part of his theory.

How does one discern between a true and harmful novelty and that which, as XXXXXXXXX says, is merely new-and-true? I believe Mr. XXXXXXXXX has hit on the correct distinction already, but has drawn the boundaries too narrowly.  For even in the sphere of Church practice and custom, as also in doctrinal matters, it is precisely those changes which “suggest that the Tradition is wrong” that represent harmful novelties.

This methodology is of course purely subjective. Nonetheless, it seems that we can summarize the theses or principles that David will attempt to sustain in arguing for the theory that "Tradition rejects novelty." Remember, the title of his essay is A Question of Novelty -Why Tradition Rejects It. So it is not at all unreasonable to postulate that his overarching theory is that "Tradition rejects novelty." The reader is reminded that a theory must involve "a set of non contradictory abstract ideas (or as philosophers like to call them 'principles') which purports to be either a correct description of reality or a guideline for successful action."  And said theory must involve one or more "abstract principle[s] or proposition[s] advanced and maintained by argument."  Putting this all together, we could rightfully assert that the abstract ideas David attempts to set forth in his defense of TGF must meet three criteria: they must be (i) non contradictory. Furthermore, they must purport to be either (ii) a correct description of reality and/or (iii) a guideline for successful action.

These dynamics must be intrinsic to what the abstract ideas that David advances hope to achieve. To the extent that they are sustained, the theory advocated by DP is sustained. (And a sustainable theory can legitimately be seen as a viable one to hold and profess.) However, to the extent that the theses fail, the theory they support fails and must therefore be scrapped completely or substantially reworked. And it must also be noted that those who would ignore and continue to propound such a discredited theory would rightly viewed as not being of good faith.

With those key elements in mind, let us now look at how David approaches the subject of novelty as it presents itself in the Fathers, medieval theologians, the pre Vatican II "modern popes", and the factors of novelty in terminology and usage.


[1] I. Shawn McElhinney: "Squelching Fr. Gruner's Squawking Squire" (c. 2003)

[2] I. Shawn McElhinney: "A Prescription Against 'Traditionalism'" Part I (c. 2003, 2000)

[3] Among the essays composed from scratch or completed from earlier drafts in this period (of those written in this period which pertained solely or predominantly to the subject of so-called "traditionalism") are the following pieces: "Distinctions of Outlook: Analyzing Father Ripperger's Essay  on 'Extrinsic Tradition'" (released 8/28/01), "A Case Study In Modern-Day Donatism" (released 9/15/01), and "The 'Counter-Syllabus' Canard" (released 9/25/01).

[4] I. Shawn McElhinney: "A Prescription Against 'Traditionalism'" Part I (c. 2003, 2000)

Other Notes:

The citation from I. Shawn McElhinney's essay "Squelching Fr. Gruner's Squawking Squire" was obtained at the following link:

The citations from I. Shawn McElhinney's treatise "A Prescription Against 'Traditionalism'" were obtained at the following link:

©2004, "The 'Tradition is Opposed to Novelty' Canard", written by I. Shawn McElhinney. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

To all visitors Grace of Christ to you!

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