Thursday, August 26, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
From a sharp-eyed lady living in Kentucky, who takes Anthony to school (we’ve inserted page numbers for her references):
We love the blog. We used to attend St. Gertrude church in Sharonville and had to listen to all Father Cekada’s pretentious little side remarks in his rambling sermons. We knew there was no substance behind his smirk, but no one dared expose him because they didn’t want to be kicked out of the cult. My family couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Believe me, the SSPX church we found was an oasis.
My pet peeve about writers today is redundancy. It shows how shallow they are. WHH is brimming with redundancies. Did you Readers catch “didactic Bible History lesson,” [p. 331], “Jewish Seder” [p. 289], “defy any logic or linear reasoning” [p. 172], “Jewish Qehal…of the Old Testament” [p. 34], “high-voltage third rail,” [p. 2], and “both elaborate and complex” [p. 175]?
There are loads more in the book. Father writes like a backward high schooler.
The Reader replies: Observations such as the above underscore our principal contention: In the world of academic writing, Anthony Cekada is a stranger in a strange land. Redundancies are failures of prose and thought – sure signs of an inferior education as well as tokens of a lazy mind. Hence they amount to an automatic disqualification to participate at any level in the forum of ideas. In Thomistic psychology, we would say that Fr. Cekada never acquired the habit of knowing; in other words, he was never delivered from the bad condition of being involved in error contrary to the truth.*
A formal education furnishes us with certain habitual preferences – virtuous biases, if you will — for privileged discourse. If we’ve had demanding, well-trained teachers working in legitimate educational institutions, there are forms of expression we can never bring ourselves to use in serious writing, notwithstanding the opinions of learned revisionists. It’s very similar to our ingrained disposition for the traditional Latin rite: no matter what the modernist liturgical experts may have argued, we cannot forsake our allegiance to the Tridentine Mass.
For those of us who were educated during the ’50s and ’60s (the same years during which Fr. Cekada came of age but without acquiring the old culture), we find it impossible to ignore the strictures of uncompromising nuns and priests who loathed redundancies, clichés, non-standard diction, unstructured paragraphing, misuse of correlatives, etc. When we entered college, a stable curriculum reinforced all the partialities of our mentors and sanctioned those wayward undergraduates who embraced the emerging verbal laxness of a new and barbarous age. For that reason, today I still am unable to write (although I occasionally say) “the reason why.” I know the peerless Fowler merely condemned the expression as a hazy “tautological overlap”; linguistically I understand Bryan Garner’s defense of the usage as idiomatic though mildly redundant; and I can almost see Theodore Bernstein’s point that the “why is necessary more often than it is dispensable.” Nevertheless, I cannot shake the memory of my professor, a learned domestic prelate with a doctorate in American literature, who commanded in red pencil on the paper of a brilliant friend (who thought Tennyson had given her license): Omit why—redundant! **
Anthony Cekada, not even a minor talent, has no store of cautionary memories to prevent him from writing in the language that really informs his mind: Madison-Avenue slogans, commercial jingles, sitcom punch lines, and the undisciplined journalese of the mass media. There is no quiet voice within counseling him to think twice about what he just wrote, not to be content with the ready phrase his innate sloth proposes, and to search for a fresh expression. How can there be such a voice without formal education or the common sense to remedy an obvious deficit by the assiduous study of what words really mean? His contentment with his ignorance means that, in addition to enduring laughable redundancies, we must suffer insipid mixed metaphors like “the prayers…had shrouded holy things in an obscurity which only the wisdom of Augé and company were now able to dispel” (p. 222).***
It’s clear that Fr. Cekada prefers senseless fluency to reflective, labored prose composition. The thoughtlessness of his “semiconscious writing” (to borrow Garner’s phrase) is as undeniable a symptom of a necrotic intellect as putrefaction is of wet gangrene. We repeat what we have avowed all along: the sheer incompetence of Anthony Cekada’s style, his flaccid argumentation, and his ghastly errors of language and fact are an affront to the discerning reader. As Fowler notes, if an “author writes loosely he probably thinks loosely also, and is therefore not worth attention.” ****
* De anima, Lectio 11, §§359 & 363.
** Anthony Cekada’s alienation from the academic culture of the mid-20th century extends far beyond redundancies and threadbare phraseology to choice diction. For instance, on page 183 he wrote, “…the early Christians were not as [read so] enthusiastic about bare walls as the modernists might like to have us believe.” No one taught him back then that, in negative statements, the so…as construction is superior to as…as.
*** Dispel means to rid by driving away or scattering (Latin, dispellere); a thoughtful writer would have written something like unveil, unwrap, or uncover (if he hadn't been tempted to use the battered and tired "shrouded"). Perhaps Father had in mind the overused "mist" metaphor.
**** Under the article “tautology” (2nd sedition)
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
From southwestern Ohio:
We are your average lay people, but my husband and I took the Pistrina Challenge. What a difference between WHH and Father Carusi’s article! It’s like comparing a rural middle school marching band with the New York Philharmonic.
The Reader replies: Somehow Anthony Cekada picked up the notion that dismissive comments are tantamount to insight. That’s understandable since he’s never seen the inside of a university classroom. Anyone who compares Fr. Cekada’s musings with Fr. Carusi’s analysis will immediately discover the bald amateurism of WHH. To test our own position, we, too, took the “Pistrina Challenge,” as our correspondent calls it. We started with the five senseless, juvenile remarks we cited on August 1 and easily found perceptive, adult analogues in Fr. Carusi. Our findings speak for themselves.
WHH, p. 73: “The fox was back in the chicken coop.”
Fr. Cekada makes this trite observation in reference to Bugnini’s appointment to the secretariat of Consilium in 1964. Compare that remark with Fr. Carusi’s summative statement about the ongoing labors of the liturgical Commission and the publication of the SRC decree in 1955:
But by now the machine of liturgical reform had been set in motion and to halt it in its course would have proven impossible and moreover inadmissible, as the events to follow would demonstrate.
It’s the difference between “cracking wise” and wisdom.
WHH, p. 85: “With pastoral liturgy, consumer is king.”
For all his faults, Fr. Cekada does have perfect pitch for hackneyed, pop-culture phraseology that falls flat. On the other hand, here’s how Fr. Carusi artfully—and devastatingly—assesses the reformers’ invocation of pastoral concerns to justify their revision of the rites:
It is clear, though, that the “pastoral” reform par excellence was not “pastoral,” because it was born of experts who had no real contact with a parish nor with the devotions and piety of the people—which they often enough disdained.
WHH, p. 97: “—whatever that means.”
That valley-girl bon mot is Anthony Cekada’s comment about some fuzzy modernist language regarding liturgical translations. When Fr. Carusi confronts an unfathomable liturgical novelty, he chooses analytic clarity over impertinence.
We admit that the liturgical significance of this innovation completely escapes us; the change seems to be a liturgical "pastiche" born of the haste of the authors rather than something related to mystical symbolism.
WHH, p. 105: “You don’t get any more ecumenical than that.”
Compare that argumentative weak tea about the intrusion of ecumenist theology with the bright brew of Fr. Carusi’s enlightened critique of the reformers’ introduction of a prayer for the Church’s social unity:
This unity is not a characteristic that is yet to be found through ecumenical dialogue; it is already metaphysically present. In effect, the words of Christ, "Ut unum sint" ["That they may be one"], is [sic]* an efficacious prayer of Our Lord, and as such is already realized. Those who are outside the Church must return to her, must return to the unity that already exists; they do not need to unite themselves to Catholics in order to bring about a unity that already exists.
WHH, p. 105: “…the theological principles on which he bases his argument…are pure poison.”
Apparently a commonplace metaphorical assertion (“are pure poison”) is enough of an argument for Fr. Cekada. That may count for theological criticism in WHH, but it doesn’t pass muster with us, at least not while we can find in Fr. Carusi elegant, almost lapidary, judgments like the following:
Though desiring a "conscious participation in the procession, with relevance to concrete, daily Christian life," they relied on arguments that were neither theological nor liturgical;
It is sad to note that these shifting maneuvers were employed with the liturgy in order to bring in theological novelties.
There's only one conclusion. Work of Human Hands cannot be part of any serious discussion about the modernist reform of the Roman rite. Some people have urged that the author’s frequent linguistic and factual blunders might not be enough to condemn the book outright. Surely after this post, they can no longer entertain such charitable illusions.
Work of Human Hands was marked cross from its conception and doomed in its execution. We all owe Providence a profound debt of thanks for the appearance of Fr. Carusi’s article in English translation so close to the release of WHH. We once despaired of finding a competent critic. Now we know that a trained, capable talent is writing about the subject. WHH fails as a legitimate critique; soon (we suspect) it will become useless even as a clumsy thumbnail sketch of the reforms preceding the Mass of Paul VI. Therefore, if one day you stumble upon it at a flea market or in the bargain bin of a bookshop, you may safely pass it up as mere clutter.
* The error (viz., “is” with the plural subject “words” instead of “are”) is an artifact of the translation. Both subject and verb are singular in Fr. Carusi’s Italian original: …la frase di Cristo “ut unum sint”, è una preghiera efficace…
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Prompted by recent correspondence, the Reader presents the following excerpt (originally slated for later publication) from a Cathinfo.com forum discussion:
I have read WHH, and my objections go far beyond the errors of style, fact, and language, which the blog has so well documented. I cringe with embarrassment when I read such amateurish argumentation like “And anyway, why should the priest say he goes ‘to the altar of God,’ if he goes to the chair of the president instead?” and such childish, awkward observations like “‘narrative-reactualization’—a neologism that sounds like it’s connected with restarting a dead car battery.” … WHH is really very superficial in its conclusions and very shallow from the standpoint of theological analysis. It never rises above the level of a beer-fueled college bull session…
The Reader Replies: As we have written, the objective of Pistrina Liturgica is to expose the overmany indisputable blunders of carelessness and ignorance in WHH, which void its claim to scholarship. We think those failings alone disqualify the book from consideration. Nevertheless, some readers have disagreed and counseled us to expand our analysis to cover the speculative content of the book.
The reason for not broadening the scope of our critique is apparent from the above message. Fr. Cekada’s trivial observations and preference for one-liner summations typical of insipid morning-TV programs make thoughtful criticism futile. All of us learned in our youth that disputing with smart alecks ends in frustration. They can’t treat matters seriously in the first place, even if the matters are important to them. Instead, they appeal to wisenheimer reductionism and popular catchphrases to give their unsupported conclusions a veneer of plausibility (which vanishes after a few seconds of thought).
It’s not that these feints resist critical review. To be sure, they expose Anthony Cekada to greater ridicule in the long run. The sleight of hand does, however, make the analytical task more tiresome because you must take the time to reconstruct what he would have said had he been capable of serious, academic discussion. Moreover, when you see so many of these wiseacre barbarities, common sense advises that it’s not worth the effort. They are so obviously out of place that only cultists would mistake them for the result of linear reasoning.
Truth to tell, at one time we actually did contemplate a series of posts about Father’s juvenile, sarcastic, and flippant conclusions/observations. In the end, though, we threw up our hands in disgust at remarks like “The fox was back in the chicken coop” (p. 73);“With pastoral liturgy, consumer is king” (p. 85); “—whatever that means” (p. 97); “You don’t get any more ecumenical than that” (p. 105); and “…the theological principles on which he bases his argument…are pure poison” (p. 172).
In the face of so ill woven an argumentative fabric, it was a fool’s errand to attempt to assess the durability of his overall thesis. After all, his failure as an expository writer is not a refutation of his position. As we suggested in the post of July 30, traditional Catholics of every persuasion should begin afresh with the Rorate Caeli blog and Fr. Carusi’s study. (Begin with the article’s conclusion to get a feel for this remarkable monograph: it pulls no punches but avoids special pleading.) Let sedevacantist and sedeplenist alike hope that Fr. Carusi continues his investigation at least through the 1970s. Our hunch is that each reader will be able to make up his own mind should this gifted churchman continue his analysis of the subsequent reforms (even though many might not embrace his final judgment on the orthodoxy of the Pauline rite).
In the meantime, ignore Fr. Cekada's transparent marketing campaign and shameless attempt to put himself on an equal footing with a scholar and theologian like Fr. Carusi.