Traditionalists or Gnostics?


Fariba, a fantastic Catholic writer who has written on topics that I have adjusted to my own life, makes an excellent point in a comment on my last post:

“The story of Pentecost tells me that God’s Word can and does transcend linguistic barriers. If translation cannot communicate the divine then nor can religious art or music. The fear of translation is based on a belief that the divine is always at odds with the created world. Ironically, the most extreme traditionalists have embraced a kind of Gnosticism.”


I wonder if these Traditional Antiquarians have even considered the possibility that in holding on to the Latin language, since it is the de jure language of the Catholic Church, as the de facto language of God, they risk the possibility of rejecting the Incarnation of the Divine. By acknowledging Fariba’s point what does the Word tell us?

What Fariba acknowledges with the story Pentecost is that the Spirit transcends corporal language, language becomes Incarnational as the Word becomes flesh. The second reading of last week’s mass explains and develops a better understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

1 COR 12:4-11

Brothers and sisters:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;there are different forms of service but the same Lord; here are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another, the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another, faith by the same Spirit; to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another, mighty deeds; to another, prophecy; to another, discernment of spirits; to another, varieties of tongues; to another, interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

Why defend the Vernacular so vehemently? What is at stake? A tool for understanding God.

During the middle period of the Council of Trent and after the short pontificate of Pope Marcellus II. The new Pope, Paul IV, was elected, he sought to conform the church to a strict orthodoxy. Pope Paul IV’s version for the Church led by this extreme orthodoxy and his political prejudices led to jail dissenting Cardinals in the Castel Sant’ Angelo. One of his victims would have been English Cardinal Reginald Pole had Pole not passed away before he was called back to Rome.[1]

In 1559, Pope Paul IV created the first Papal Index of Prohibited Books. The index, although the Council of Trent did not come to a decision on the authenticity of vernacular Bibles, Paul IV banned them from being published, reading, or possessing them.[2]

If anyone has ever seriously studied history as a whole, the one common element is to beware of those who seek to stifle knowledge away from people. As those like Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Russian academics exemplify the importance of knowledge. Why prevent those from understanding in their own language the Word who became flesh? I would suspect that those who promote such Antiquarian longing for the past, simply, aren’t aware of what borders on Gnosticism and are afraid to ask these questions and be critical of their beliefs. Perhaps their faith is too fragile, which in that case, my criticisms are not to cause doubt in their faith, but rather to protect the strength of my faith that they seek to take away from me out of their fear or worse ignorance.

In regards to the Tridentine Mass, why was the liturgy created? Many clergy prior to Trent learned as apprentices from other priests who were equally ignorant. Priests during the period would omit main prayers from the Mass like “Our Father” or create prayers that would be superstitious in nature. There were also significant differences between liturgical books.[3] The Tridentine Mass and the formation of seminaries was merely the effect of these causes. O’Malley writes, “Despite what is often said, there is no “Tridentine Liturgy” in the sense that the council did something more than, first, assume the Roman Rite was to continue to be standard unless another ancient rite prevailed in a given region (Ambrosian) or religious order, and, second, in its final Session commend to the papacy a reform of the missal and breviary of the Roman Rite to eliminate the abuses that had crept into them and thus provide a standardized text.”[4]

The Council of Trent addressed the notion of radical spiritualization against Protestant writings. However, in many ways, as Fariba takes note, this fully addresses the idea of the spiritual within the corporal.

“Since human nature is such that it cannot easily raise itself up to the mediation of divine realities without external aids, holy mother church has for that reason duly established certain rites, such as some parts of the Mass should be said in quieter tones and other in louder.” [5] This addresses the incarnation of language with its tones, why not a stress on language? Simply because the council was consistent with its negative position on the vernacular language, “If anyone says…that the Mass should be celebrated only in the vernacular…let him be anathema.”[6]

Of course, it’s hard to admit but for some Antiquarians (lefebvrians) but this was never contradicted by Council of Vatican II examining chapter 36.[7]

Please, discuss, below.

[1] John W. O’Malley, Trent: What Happened at the Council ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), 160.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 192.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Norman Tanner, ed. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils 2 vols. (Washington: Georgetown University Press.) 2:734.

[6] Tanner, 2:736.

[7] Pope Paul VI, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36: 1-4



  1. Reblogged this on Lessons Learned and commented:
    What language did God speak when he spoke the Word? I think Augustine talks about the failure of human speech in talking about God. Nevertheless, it is good to speak of God, though any human language is inadequate, because God is worthy of speech, not that the language is good in expressing Him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Augustine does speak of those failures, but yes, you are correct, God is worthy of speech.

      One of the points I stress, in regards to those who are very adamant on Latin, what was the language of the Incarnate Christ? It wasn’t Latin and he didn’t institute the Eucharist in Latin. Looking at the events with the factor of historicism, the Bishops, Curia, and the Pope were all concerned with keeping power. However, even then, the Holy Spirit only allowed them a negative position on the vernacular that the Latin must be retained, which it is.


  2. I wrote a little inspiration about six months ago about God’s Divine language being revealed at Pentecost. It’s in my blog. In that the Gospels are written in Greek, why don’t we use the Greek? (rhetorical question). I don’t that in heaven, all will be given a 3-year course in Ecclesiastical Latin for beginners…I think that their must be a divine, spiritual language which we must know with the help of God. But, from a practical perspective, if the Vatican chooses Latin as the official language of the State, I do not have a problem with that…to choose a single language for all ecclesiastics to use makes sense. But, it does not make sense to require the world to learn it when the Holy Spirit has already decided that the vernacular is, for the most part, more helpful in obtaining more active participation in liturgy / prayer to God.


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