I’m glad Jody drew attention to Caleb Stegall’s intervention. Stegall is surely right that love is the “existential engine” of localism . Indeed, by my reckoning, love is the existential engine of any thick and substantial cultural identity. Yes, of course love is jealous. The Old Testament is clear about that. But the essential dynamic is affirmative, not negative. It’s about loyalty, not about fighting. On this point I think Carl Schmitt was wrong. First and foremost we need things worthy of our love and loyalty, not enemies.

Stegall also raises the question of self-consciousness and identity, a point related to Jody’s observation that a tradition chosen is not the same as a tradition inherited. Here I am not convinced. The human will possesses a mysterious power to bind us (and blind us) over time. Aristotle (and Aquinas) recognized that if we submit ourselves to habituation, then over time what first seems alien and exterior to the self becomes intimate and interior.

Yes, as Stegall points out, a certain kind of stylized, overwrought, prettified traditionalism is a sign of decay. A person truly inside a tradition lives it. He doesn’t memorialize it. But I don’t see conscious intentions and refection as necessarily corruptive. The whole premise of Christianity is that the believer can chose the church as his homeland. OK, maybe that’s too Pelagian. But at minimum, the believer enters into a new, supernatural inheritance in Christ, not a natural birthright. When it comes to abstraction, the great theologians clearly show that a high degree of self-consciousness and intellectual abstraction is consistent with inhabiting tradition.

As I understand him, Jody doesn’t deny the way in which this or that person can choose Catholicism—me, for example. What he is worried about, I think, is the density of the Catholicism, whether inherited or chosen. There is something organic about any living community, including the Church. It doesn’t admit of engineering—or re-engineering, as the post-Vatican II radicals imagined. That’s my way of saying that “rebellion against rebellion doesn’t escape rebellion.”

Living communities lay down sediment over time. The constant pressure of repetition solidifies the layers. Intellectual reflection can display the beauty and integrity of a living tradition (or the ugliness and inconsistencies), but it contributes little to the density, and only indirectly to the durability. That’s why prayer and worship are so much more central to the life of the Church than academic theology.

Finally, I want to head off an objection. The loyalty of faith should not be directly equated with localism. Love of homeland, love of clan, love of local tradition—all these are natural loves. A love for and submission to the Church is a supernatural love. What is of men and what is of God may conflict. They did for Abraham. But they need not. Moreover, in our loveless age of endless suspicion and critique, the natural love of localism can prepare the heart for the supernatural love of faith. It is easier in our day and age to correct misguided loyalties than to combat the faux universalism and all too real cynicism of postmodern culture.

Articles by R. R. Reno

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