After the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church retained this principle: the chants of the Proper are an integral part of the Mass, hence should be sung in Latin (as Gregorian chant or a polyphonic setting), or at least recited by the celebrant. But by this time, as a consequence of historical processes, the system of institutions that formerly maintained and supported the continuity of chanting, had collapsed. In some churches there remained choirs (capellae) executing the pale and “boring” Gregorian Propers as a ritual obligation between the performance of two splendid movements of a polyphonic Ordinary. Some monasteries were also able to maintain the regular singing of the Proper chants. In the majority of Masses, however, it was left to the celebrant to read the texts in silence whilst the congregation nurtured its own religious feelings and passed the time by singing the pious hymns created as a result of Protestant influence. The mere reading of the Proper chants shriveled the texts into brief “logia,” bits of connective tissue between the “important” parts of the service.

No wonder, then, that for many the Proper chants became an obligatory but very subordinate, non-essential part of the liturgy, incapable of offering much spiritual sustenance even to the priest celebrant. Problems of this nature were but of marginal interest to the religious movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, and only the liturgical renewal of the 19th century (Dom Gueranger, Bishop J. M. Sailer) offered any chance for the a reversal of the decline. The best efforts at reform, however, encountered serious obstacles, and the results were rather narrowly circumscribed. But their real significance lay in the “appeal” they voiced: to look for and work toward a better future. The apostles of liturgical renewal urged the establishment of choirs in many churches, with appropriate musical formation to enable them to sing the chant, including the Proper chants (largely to Gregorian tunes) according to the rules of the Church.

What was missing, unfortunately, was the supporting system of institutions, which would guarantee the universal and uninterrupted achievement of this goal -, independently of personal and individual zeal. Along with the other texts, the Proper chants were also transmitted to the faithful in the bilingual missals whose influence was enormous. For many Catholics the missal became their most important spiritual nourishment, more important perhaps than even the Bible, because once drawn into the rhythm of the Church’s life, they received God’s word and the Church’s prayer within the vivid context of the liturgy under the protecting wings of liturgical observation. Such persons also became attached to the Proper chants as to sacred texts… but only as texts. (While singing, a text extends in space and time, and thus touches not only the intellect, but other spheres of the heart and soul as well).

The liturgical renewal greatly enriched and supported both priests and layfolk by publishing explanations of the liturgy. Drawn from good sources, these commentaries transcended the moral sermonizing of Baroque and Enlightenment schoolbooks, and did not fail to include the chants of the Proper, interpreting them in the spirit of the liturgy. It is regrettable that these commentaries did not reach the entire larger community of the faithful, and even more regrettable that they did not permeate the great majority of the clergy either.

Complete success was not achieved because of three failures or deficiencies: 1) The liturgical renewal remained more of an exhortation and a pious desire than a concrete program energetically taken up and vigorously executed by the entire institution of the Church. 2) No mechanism was developed for combining the true preservation of Latin with the linguistic communication of the liturgy to persons unfamiliar with Latin. 3) There was no bold creative action to find ways of presenting music to people of the age, unable to perform universally the Proper chants in their full form. Vatican II was predestined to accept and pass on the noble legacy of the century-old liturgical renewal and to solve the problems that had emerged. Though the principles of the Council’s Liturgical Constitution promised the restoration of liturgical singing, events after the Council in fact led to the disappearance of liturgical singing.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)


Since the time of the Enlightenment, if not already long before, we have been victims of a form of self-illusion of a steadily growing humanity which has freed itself from the shackles of the past and approaches a glorious future where rationality, logic, and tolerance dominate. Not surprisingly, certain objects, such as the chastity belt, or ideas, such as courtly love, serve supremely well as icons of a past world as we imagine it, either in idealistic terms, or highly pejoratively, whereas the present does no longer accept those or has changed them thoroughly out of utter disrespect and ridicule. The danger, of course, rests in our tendency to replace one myth with another, and the more we deride and criticize institutions, people, and ideas from the past, the more we submit to a mythical ideology determined by a teleological presentism (giving absolute priority to the own present world) which enjoys radical priority over pastism (giving priority to a historical thinking about the past as an entire alternity). As Kathleen Biddick defines the former: “Presentism looks into the mirror of the Middle Ages and asks it to reflect back histories of modernist or postmodernist identities”.

For instance, freedom, tolerance, and democracy are commonly claimed as the highest ideals of the modern Western world, in radical contrast to the Middle Ages which were determined, without chronological or any other order, by the Inquisition, the phenomenon of the witch-craze, pogroms against Jews, and the Crusades, that is by highly irrational, intolerant, dogmatic, and authoritarian methods and principles. This binary opposition is as wrong as could be, since neither side squarely fits into these black-and-white categories, but mythical thinking prefers such contrasts since they facilitate the explanation of human history, whether correctly or not. This history, or the cultural development, has always been much more complex and diversified than is commonly assumed. We can easily identify outstanding representatives of medieval tolerance, and, by the same token, representative of modern tyranny, and vice versa. The crimes of the present ought not to be weighed differently than the crimes of the past. Correspondingly, outstanding intellectual, literary, or artistic accomplishments by medieval people ought not to be treated as irrelevant or outdated in comparison with works produced in the modern time. Undoubtedly, we live in a much improved, perhaps more civilized, world characterized by enormous advances on the political, technological, scientific level. But this does not justify the perpetuation of wrong ideas and subjective value judgments concerning the past with regard to its standards of ethics, morality, philosophy, aesthetics, and even technology and sciences.

Albrecht Classen, The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process (2007)

The mounting opposition to the death penalty in Europe since the Enlightenment has gone hand in hand with a decline of faith in eternal life. In the nineteenth century the most consistent supporters of capital punishment were the Christian churches, and its most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches. When death came to be understood as the ultimate evil rather than as a stage on the way to eternal life, utilitarian philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham found it easy to dismiss capital punishment as “useless annihilation.”

Many governments in Europe and elsewhere have eliminated the death penalty in the twentieth century, often against the protests of religious believers. While this change may be viewed as moral progress, it is probably due, in part, to the evaporation of the sense of sin, guilt, and retributive justice, all of which are essential to biblical religion and Catholic faith. The abolition of the death penalty in formerly Christian countries may owe more to secular humanism than to deeper penetration into the gospel.

Arguments from the progress of ethical consciousness have been used to promote a number of alleged human rights that the Catholic Church consistently rejects in the name of Scripture and tradition. The magisterium appeals to these authorities as grounds for repudiating divorce, abortion, homosexual relations, and the ordination of women to the priesthood. If the Church feels herself bound by Scripture and tradition in these other areas, it seems inconsistent for Catholics to proclaim a “moral revolution” on the issue of capital punishment.

Avery Cardinal Dulles, “Catholicism & Capital Punishment” (2001)

“My friend,” wrote Diderot in 1765, “if we love truth more than the fine arts, let us pray God for some iconoclasts.”‘ In this oracular statement from one of the tutelary deities of the Enlightenment there is the germ of a major dilemma for the men of the French Revolution. First, they realized that France was a treasure house of Western art, and that any French government wishing to justify itself in the eyes of contemporaries or of posterity would have to respect the French artistic inheritance. Second, the men of the Revolution knew that painting, sculpture, and architecture, in the years before 1789, had been used as instruments of social control, as textbooks in morals and politics. Both the philosophes and the royal art ministers had agreed that the chief function of the arts was didactic: “The governors of men have always made use of painting and sculpture in order to inspire in their subjects the religious or political sentiments they desire them to hold.” Most of the art criticism of the late eighteenth century confirms this view, and variations upon this refrain were constantly repeated during the Revolution itself.

Here, then, is the painful dilemma of the revolutionaries: They had to demonstrate that the fine arts would not suffer under a revolutionary regime, but many of the social, political, and religious values expressed in the art of the pre-1789 era were, in revolutionary terms, “untrue,” and had to be destroyed. The revolutionaries were cultivated men; they were proud of their artistic heritage; they were confident that the visual arts were a school for both the illiterate and the literate, but they were also positive that the values of the ancien regime were false and had to be eradicated. If Diderot had been alive, they might well have replied to him, “We love the truth and the fine arts. What shall we do?”

Stanley J. Idzerda, “Iconoclasm during the French Revolution” (1954)

Whatever the conceptions of Enlightenment toward God might have been, whether they pictured Him as nonexistent, or as a pale being without personality, sunk in sleep, or at least disinterested toward the fate of the individual, that period took a negative attitude toward the next world. Enlightenment was antimetaphysical and geocentrical. In the framework of such a philosophy, devoid of otherworldliness, the human beings and their existence assumed automatically a different significance. The meaning of life, human happiness, and all the other basic values were projected into this world and that change brought an enormous thirst for “justice,” earthly justice, of course, which in turn was nothing else but an initially veiled and finally open demand for absolute equality. This pagan geocentrism has changed the very content of our culture. The “happy end” of the cheap, popular novels and the films is nothing but the outcome of the supposition that the human drama finds its ultimate conclusion here on earth. The Calvinists in their materialism took a similar attitude. The more subtle Atheist, of greater experience, has contempt for the “happy end” and substitutes for it a stubborn heroical pessimism which comes pretty near to integral despair. The modern Catholic French writers like Mauriac and Bernanos avoid the happy end in relation to this life. Paul Claudel, in L’Ôtage, expresses his disbelief in earthly justice by punishing the people of good will and rewarding the villains in the last scene of this play. For the Christian the earth is essentially a “vale of tears.”

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (1943)

For us in the twentieth century it is most difficult to appreciate the intellectual ferment and the flourishing culture that so characterized the brilliant thirteenth century. It was the age of the scintillating universities of Paris, Toulouse, Montpelier, Oxford, Cambridge, Salerno, Bologna, Salamanca; of scholastic philosophy and Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Roger Bacon; of epics and romances: the Nibelungenlied, the Cid, Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, the Romance of the Rose, the trouveres and the troubadours in Provence, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. It witnessed the flowering of a luminous spiritual growth: St. Francis of Assisi, O.F.M. (1181-1226) and St. Clare of the Second Order Franciscans (1193-1253); the theological giants but first saints: St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P. (1225-1274), St. Albert the Great, O.P. (1206-1280), St. Bonaventure, O.F.M. (1221-1274); St. Louis IX, King of France (1214-1297) and St. Margaret, a peasant of Cortona, Italy (1247-1297); St. Dominic, O.P. (1170-1221) and St. Nicholas of Tolentine, O.S.A. (1245-1305); St. Clare of Montefalco, O.S.A. (1268-1308); St. Antony of Padua of Portugal (1195-1231) and St. Raymond of Pennafort, O.P. from Spain (1175-1275). The heavy Romanesque architecture had seen itself surpassed by the soaring Gothic Cathedrals of Chartres, St. Denis, Notre Dame, and Bourges whose stained glass windows have never been equaled. Bishops and kings, knights and peasants forever render homage to the heavenly court in the glorious rosettes and multi-colored windows of Sainte Chapelle and Chartres. The sonorous Gregorian Chant resounded from a thousand-choir stalls with the solemn Dies Irae and the triumphant Te Deum.

The world has rolled on to the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Age of Realism and the Commercial Revolution, down to our own day of high technology and nuclear power, instant communication and all pervasive administration – and sensitiveness to human rights.

It is only with a sustained effort that one can re-create the Weltanschauung of the Middle Ages at its height. Particularly is it demanding to realize that a previous culture quite as lustrous as our own viewed religion as an integral part of their civilization; that the thirteenth century represented only a milestone in the continuing evolution of institutions and law, neither retrogressing on the one hand, nor anticipating on the other the improvements achieved by later centuries. 

Albert Shannon, The Medieval Inquisition (1991)

Having hoped his Supreme Being would instigate a new national cult controlled by human reason, the unfortunate Robespierre inexplicably found himself ensnared in the workings of totally irrational forces. These forces revealed that human beings are, in one form or another, not only inevitably religious, but also generally prone to shedding the blood of the individual to assure the well-being of the whole.

Against such forces neither Robespierre nor anyone else could do anything. The irony of fate had determined that the crude and primitive rite of human sacrifice surreptitiously creep back into French daily life with the government’s blessing. The refined, stylized, and mystical bloodless sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the now-forbidden Christian Eucharist, even though offered daily for 13 centuries in France’s thousands of churches, had now been spectacularly replaced by a more direct and less stylized sacrifice.

The guillotine’s red-splattered wood and steel supplanted the immaculate white linen of the Christian altar; the stench of the place of sacrifice, the sweetness of the smoking censer. The paltry, totally irrational Christian offering to God of small tokens of bread and wine, which “fanatics” of the Crucified actually claimed became his flesh and blood and the immortal food of human souls, had finally been eclipsed.

The new order, on the other hand, offered tangible proof of the progress being made by the Enlightenment, thanks to a more philosophically enlightened daily rite wherein even the mechanism for sacrifice had been devised to achieve human equality.

William Bush, To Quell the Terror: The True Story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne (1999)

The subconscious death wish that Burnham and Muggeridge examine manifests itself far more subtly. Those afflicted with it are on the moderate Left (which in America arrogates the name “liberal”). Perhaps out of a feeling of inferiority, these half-hearted representatives of the Marxist ideology that dominates the East behave as if they expect and desire their own annihilation. While the Soviets can openly embrace a coherent system of political thought, these Western liberals must pay their respects, publicly at least, to a hodge-podge faith that gets its values from everywhere – the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, diluted Christianity, humanism, behaviorism, and social welfarism. They stand for everything and nothing.

Erik von Kuehnelt Leddihn, “Death Wish” (National Review, Sep 30, 1983)

For all its preaching on the virtues of tolerance England forgot its altruistic principles in suppressing the Catholic Church in Ireland. The cruelty of Henry VIII and Elizabeth was a matter of record. Spain was never guilty of such ruthlessness. In fact ridiculous in the extreme was the ambiguous position of Anglicans who claimed to be both Catholic and Protestant. But then Maistre was accustomed to such self-contradictory statements, examples of which were abundant amount English leaders of the Enlightenment.

Charles M. Lombard, Introduction to Letters on the Spanish Inquisition, by Count Joseph de Maistre