Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Following on the mention of "Fiftiesism" in last month's letter, a reader reasonably asked what it is, and if there is anywhere he can read up on it. Since Fiftiesism is a serious threat to "Traditional" Catholics, and since little has to my knowledge been written about it as such, let us examine it here.
"Fiftiesism" is a name for the kind of Catholicism that was generally practised in the 1950's, between World War II and Vatican II. To many Catholics who can look back that far, the 1950's seem like a golden age for the Church, because all kinds of Catholic systems were still up and running that crashed a few years later. On the other hand, precisely because so many Catholic systems crashed in the 1960's and 1970's, not all can have been well with the Church in those 1950's. There must have been "something rotten in the State of Denmark".
For instance the magnificent building now housing the Seminary in Winona was put up by the Dominicans, sparing no expense, in the early 1950's, only to be abandoned by them in 1970, and sold for a song. And this Novitiate for their central United States Province was merely one Catholic institute amongst thousands all over the world that followed this path from riches to rags. Can the 1950's really have been such a golden age as they seem?
Fiftiesism is then the name for what was wrong alongside - or inside - all that was right in the practice of Catholicism in the 1950's. Church structures stood tall but termites were burrowing away within, so that with one strong push from Vatican II, the structures were all ready to fall over. Traditional Catholics today must take thought to avoid re-building a Church of the 1950's all ready to fall over again!
To illustrate what was good as well as bad in the Catholicism of the 1950's, let us think of English Catholicism in the 1520's, just before the Reformation in England of the 1530's and 1540's.
On the good side, England looked in the 1520's like a completely Catholic nation. It had been Catholic for nearly 1,000 years, with the result that for an Englishman then to be Catholic was the most normal and simple thing in the world. Young King Henry VIII was so Catholic that he was awarded by Rome the title of "Defender of the Faith" for his refutation of Luther's errors! As for the English people, a scholarly book was written a few years ago to prove how Catholic they still were, as though the Reformation was none of their fault.
Alas, on the bad side, what were the fruits of this 1520's Catholicism? By the end of the 1550's Catholics were being persecuted, and Queen Elizabeth I was skillfully and ruthlessly maneuvering England into national apostasy, wherein to remain Catholic was a glorious but highly dangerous avocation. Catholic priests were hunted down by her secret police, hanged, drawn and quartered as traitors, so that while an English priest in the 1560's had to have the same Catholic Faith and priesthood as a priest in the 1520's, nevertheless in the transformed circumstances he was called upon to be a quite new kind of priest. Hence the Jesuit Order, "old and new".
What had happened? The Catholicism of English Catholics in the 1520's had been tried by the Lord God and found wanting. As events of the 1530's and 1540's proved, their Catholicism, which we might call "Twentiesism", had been too much of a shell-game. The clergy had "lacked grace" (Thomas More). As for the people, they had resisted, for instance in the Pilgrimage of Grace, but not enough. So God punished English Twentiesism by letting it turn into the permanent shell-game of Anglicanism (known in the U.S.A. as Episcopalianism), founded on Elizabeth's Anglican Establishment.
Now imagine a Jesuit priest in England of the 1560's saying to the small congregations of his faithful remnant, "My dear people, all is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born. No more Twentiesism!", and you can see why a Traditional priest would say to Traditionalists in the 1990's, "No more Fiftiesism!"
In fairness to English Catholics of the 1520's, the problem of their shell-game had been building up over many generations before them, and it did not mean that every English Catholic was losing or would lose the Faith, because of course there was a glorious first harvest of martyrs under Henry VIII, and a second under Elizabeth I.
In fairness likewise to the Fiftiesism of our own time, the pre-Vatican II shell-game was the end-product of 150 years of Liberal Catholicism blending Church and world, attempting to combine the values of the Faith with those of the Revolution, and not every Catholic of the 1950's proved to be deep-down in love with the world, because, as in Reformation England, a by the grace of God faithful remnant pulled through Vatican II to constitute the bedraggled but glorious remains of the Tridentine Church known to us as "Tradition", or the Traditionalists"!
At the heart then of Fiftiesism in our own time is that while outwardly the Faith in the 1950's seemed to be lived, practised and defended, and the Mass was the Mass of all time, nevertheless inwardly too many Catholics' hearts were going with the world. Thence it was simply a matter of time before all those strict priests celebrating the ancient liturgy with every detail in place, would throw away their birettas and loosen up with eucharistic picnics improvised from one moment to the next. Americans old enough remember how suddenly this change could take place, almost overnight. The inside was rotten. Many Catholics pretended to love God, but really they loved the world. God spat them out at Vatican II.
But why in the 1950's were so many Catholics inwardly loving the world? Because the modern world, industrialized and suburbanized, is too much with us, all-glamorous, all-powerful, all-seductive. For even if a man and his family are intent upon remaining Catholic, still man remains a three-layered creature, not only individual and familial but also social, and all three layers are connected. Hence society exerts an enormous anti-Catholic pressure upon Catholics when it has been, like ours, largely in the grip of Masonic Revolutions for the last 200 years.
To illustrate Fiftiesism here in the U.S.A. (since most readers of this letter are Americans, but of course Fiftiesism was worldwide, as was Vatican II), let us quote three anti-Catholic principles firmly believed in by many American Catholics of the 1950's (and 1990's?), one social, one familial, one individual, amongst many others.
False social principle: separation of Church and State. This deadly error means that Jesus Christ is no longer King over society, He is only King of the sacristy. Society can supposedly do as it likes, and Our Lord has nothing to say! On the contrary read in the Bible the history of the People of God from Abraham and Moses through David, Solomon and Ezra to see if God's religion tells peoples what as peoples they must do!
False familial principle: co-education. Boys are designed by God quite differently from girls because He has quite different parts for them to play in life. So the Catholic Church has always known and taught that from as early an age as possible, let us say no later than seven or eight, they should be taught differently and separately. Yet how many "Catholics" in the U.S.A. were accustomed to coeducation in the 1950's and still see no problem with it in the 1990's? Not even in the most primitive tribes will you find coeducation! They have too much sense!
False individual principle: the split between "religion" and real life. To how many "Catholics" in the 1950's was "religion" what one did on Sunday morning while in real life the world was being saved, for instance from Communism, by the American Constitution, free enterprise, etc. etc.? No doubt the Faith was believed in, every article of it, but how many "Catholics" let that Faith form their character and define their view of the world? How many "Traditionalists" to this day really put their trust in Our Lord Jesus Christ to solve problems of home, family, politics, education, economics, the arts, etc., etc.? How many on the contrary seek to "enjoy" the world as much as they can, to have all possible "fun", while keeping just short of mortal sin? That is pure Fiftiesism, and it will have the same disastrous results.
What is the solution to Fiftiesism, then and now? It is not complicated. The problem lies in pretending to put God first but not really doing so. The solution lies in obeying the First Commandment first, in loving the Lord God - Jesus Christ - with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind, and in putting no other gods or solutions before Him. Nor is it impossible to do so. The world, the flesh and the Devil may dominate our environment as never before in all history, but God remains God and we remain children of His Mother.
A powerful and practical means she obtained from her Son to help us put the First Commandment back in place is the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. These were given only twice at the Seminary this year, but they brought forth a bouquet of testimonials from which we shall quote next month to encourage you to make use of one of the Society's three retreat houses in the U.S.A.. Go to the retreats where you hear they really knock down, drag out the retreatants! Those are where the action is!
And may Our Lord pull all of us back from the world, the flesh and the Devil, lest His Chastisement catch us still in Fiftiesism, ready for Hell!
Sincerely yours in His Sacred Heart,
+ Richard Williamson