Why Here, and Why Now?
In the face of unprecedented attacks on Catholic doctrine, morality, and liturgy, there's never been a better time to say "What happened?" and "Where do we go from here?"
Surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia!
A hearty Easter welcome to my readers. I’m glad you’re here.
Like the start of Advent and the first day of the calendar year, Easter, too, is a time of newness—a God-given moment to consider what needs to be renewed or newly ventured, as year by year we think of how we might serve the Lord more fully with what He has given us.
The fundamental principle behind this Substack is that which Benedict XVI enunciated on 7/7/07: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place” (Con Grande Fiducia).
I call this the “sacred and great” principle.
To my mind it covers far more than liturgy—even if liturgy is the still point, the axis around which Catholicism revolves, both here on earth and in the world to come where the Lamb once slain, bearing His glorified wounds, receives the homage of all creation and offers its worship, gathered into His Heart, to the Father Almighty. No, the principle goes well beyond this, permeating the whole of reality.
All of the riches that have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, indeed all of the riches that have developed beneath her protecting mantle and under the shadow of her wing—the fine arts, the great music, architecture, painting, sculpture, and poetry, the luxuriant garden of patristics, the towering fortresses of scholastic philosophy and theology, the schools of spirituality, devotions of every sort, the “other modern” that consists of fruitful engagements with tradition, the nearly infinite ramifications of the multitudinous epiphenomena of Catholicism—yes, it behooves us to preserve all of this, to ponder what is good, noble, true, right, beautiful, and holy, and to give it a proper place in our hearts, in our churches, in our world.
Roots, branches, and flowers
This is not a form of (the recently much-maligned) “backwardism” but, on the contrary, a commitment to fruitfulness, since no fruit can be expected from a tree cut off from its roots or its branches. Our commitment to the great inheritance of faith and reason that is Catholicism is a matter of fidelity to the gifts and calling of God, which are irrevocable. What was sacred, remains sacred and great; what was true remains true; and so with all the treasures we have received.
Receiving and handing on is the natural way in which man lives as a rational, social, linguistic animal, engendering a society and simulaneously a culture at the heart of it; and since grace builds upon nature, the same is true of the Christian life: we live as members of the Mystical Body by receiving gifts and handing them on. That, in fact, is the Marian way of life.
This process of receiving and handing on has been violently assaulted in modernity. I will be writing plenty about this in the future, but let it suffice for the moment to say that what was self-evident to all civilizations and all societies—the rightness of receiving and handing on—has been called into question and decisively rejected not only in the secular world emerging out of the Reformation and the age of Revolutions, but also, appallingly, in the Catholic Church on earth, where tradition plays a constitutive role in our beliefs, our life, our ideals and aspirations, our mission and purpose, our self-understanding and basic identity. MacIntyre rightly spoke of “tradition-constituted rationality,” and it is no less correct to speak of “tradition-constituted religion,” for religion is that which binds us to each other and to God in continuity with His revelation and His providential guidance.
A new direction and environment
I have been writing in explanation and defense of Catholic Tradition for decades now, although the rate has picked up considerably over the last ten years—I started writing regularly for New Liturgical Movement in 2013 and for OnePeterFive in 2014, and that same year published my first book in defense of the traditional Latin Mass—and even moreso in the past five years, since 2018, when I left my academic post at Wyoming Catholic College to become a full-time writer and speaker (and continuing my work as a composer of sacred choral music).
The more rabidly secular and ecclesiastical figures attack all that is sacred and great, the more intense is my desire to explain, defend, and promote it across multiple media: books, articles, lectures, interviews, social media, and music—and certainly I am not alone in this deeply necessary and thrilling work, as we joyfully witness the wonderful renaissance of Catholic thought and culture taking place all around us, in the most unlikely places (unlikely, that is, from a modernist’s point of view).
While I will continue to contribute to New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, Catholic Family News, Latin Mass Magazine, and other websites and periodicals, I came to the realization that there are topics, and angles of topics, that I’d like to be free to explore in ways more interdisciplinary, more inquisitive and open-ended, more personal—at times more daring—than might be suited for a collective endeavor.
What you can expect to find here
There will be, as you would have guessed, much about liturgy—and this means, for example, showing why the traditional (that is, Tridentine or pre-55) Roman Rite is essentially perfect in what it does and how it does it, commenting on the Propers of the Mass and on Gregorian chants, comparing aspects of old and new rites and of Eastern and Western rites.
But I also intend to share my passion for classical music (“from Perotin to Pärt”), for great works of art (by both past masters and living artists), and favorite poetry, from Beowulf to T.S. Eliot; I will delve into philosophical problems and Thomistic disputes (my doctorate is in philosophy and my “first love” has always been Aquinas: the first books I ever published, as editor and as commentator, were on the Angelic Doctor, and more recently Emmaus Academic brought out my work on The Ecstasy of Love in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas); I will open up cultural inquiries, comparing (for example) Roger Scruton and Alain de Botton on how styles of architecture communicate different worldviews. I will talk about my experiences as a Catholic in the modern world and in the traditionalist world. You can expect frank and forthright commentary on the liturgy and on what is happening in the Church; essays on timeless truths and perennial principles; forays into the fine arts, especially music, poetry, and architecture.
It looks like I’ve just given myself license to write about nearly anything and everything! Whatever I write on, I will be engaging it with all the resources at my disposal, from a traditional Catholic(’s) perspective. I hope to make it truly worth your time to receive my weekly email.
The state of affairs
The attack on both sanity and tradition has accelerated in recent years, in both the political sphere—one need only think, for instance, of the sheer insanity of the transgender movement, with children mutilated day by day in service of who knows what dark gods—and, especially, in the ecclesiastical sphere, where it is quite enough to mention the Orwellian phrase Traditionis Custodes to illustrate the point.
It is no hyperbole to say that the battle over the soul of the West and the soul of the Church—these are always intertwined—has reached fever pitch. There is more need than ever to deepen, refine, and invigorate our understanding of the traditional Catholic Faith, so that we may love it more and live it better; more need than ever for an intraecclesial apologetics that defends the roots and branches from the modernist machinery that would lop them off and pulp them to bits.
(I spoke about this recently at Crisis Magazine: “Conundrums About Interpretation: What Is a Catholic to Do?”)
Is this site a sheedy deal?
As for the name of this Substack. I had toyed with all sorts of possibilities, including the cute (“Roman Cannonade”), the cringey (“Trad to the Bone”), the poetic (“Root, Branch, and Flower”), the inside-ball (“Received and Approved,” “Return to Form”), the biblical (“Ancient Paths,” “Songs in a Strange Land,” “By the Rivers of Babylon,” “Trumpet in Sion”), and so forth (needless to say, “Where Peter Is” was already taken).
But my mind kept going back to the solid simplicity and forthrightness of Tradition and Sanity. Readers may recognize the playful homage it pays to Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity. In his day, the rapidly vanishing sanity of the Western world at large demanded the potent medicine of straight-up Thomism. In our day, things are worse, for it is the Catholic Church that seems to be rapidly losing its sanity. There is only one way for it to recover and retain soundness of mind and heart: a resolute recovery—or better, restoration—of tradition. Tradition in its fullness, everywhere, and for everyone.
(Some may also recognize the title of a book of mine from 2018, consisting of real interviews and fictional dialogues.)
When I floated this title with some friends, one of them, Mark, wrote the following:
“It is true, and it is fitting. It describes the feature (tradition) and the benefit (sanity) that follow when one reads your work and interacts with you.”
Thank you for saying that, and I hope it will prove to be your experience here. We can all use a lot more sanity in our lives, and my claim is that we are going to find it—together with opportunities for sanctity—in our Roman Catholic tradition. (If you're a Greek Catholic you will find it in the Byzantine tradition; and so on for anyone who belongs to an ancient, living tradition.)
I will aim to keep my posts fairly short, more or less like regular online articles. My goal is to publish a new post each week on Thursday, the day we honor Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament—the Heart of the heart of the Church’s life, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
(I may, down the road, increase the posts to twice a week, but it’s more realistic to begin with a guaranteed weekly post.)
While I’m building a solid base of readership and as I gauge interest, all my posts here will be available to everyone for free. Please consider becoming a patron of this site—the help, truth be told, is needed, and will be much appreciated. After some time, and without decreasing the open content, I may begin to introduce additional special items for subscribers only—exclusive articles, previews of forthcoming books, access to the transcripts of lectures, and so forth. Again, I am committed to keeping my Thursday posts free to everyone.
I’m eager to hear from readers with your reactions and ideas. I will make a point of writing back to you.
Once again, welcome—and please tell your family and friends about Tradition and Sanity. God bless you and yours throughout this Eastertide and beyond.
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro qui pro nobis pependit in ligno. Alleluia.
The Lord who hung for us on the wood has risen from the tomb. Alleluia.