Joseph Shaw reviews the latest book by Roger Buck
The Gentle Traditionalist Returns: A Catholic Knight’s Tale from Ireland. By Roger Buck.
Angelico Press, 2019. 242pp.
Reviewed by Joseph Shaw
Readers may remember my reviews of Buck’s previous books, The Gentle Traditionalist (2015) and Cor Jesu Sacratissimum (2016). Roger Buck is a convert to Catholicism from the ‘New Age’: the amorphous movement combining Eastern meditation, reincarnation, and monism, Western occultism and Jungianism, and various other things.
The New Age makes of these dubious elements a surprisingly robust system of belief. It is the reason why a quarter of American adults tell opinion-pollsters that they believe in reincarnation, why ‘mindfulness’ workshops are scheduled by mainstream companies which would never consider marking Christian holidays, and why concerns about the environment increasingly resemble theological, rather than scientific, doctrines.
In his latest book, Buck examines the claims and influence of the New Age in the particular context of Ireland. New Age mysticism, which offers to put you in touch with powerful and transformative forces through spiritual techniques such as meditation, seems most attractive to people whose idea of Christianity is rationalistic and man-centred. In this respect, the New Age is a reaction against the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Ireland, however, as it increasingly follows trends set by Britain and America, could become a prey to it also. It can be a temptation to Catholics and former Catholics, either as a supplement to or a replacement for a Catholicism which seems to have lost its spiritual power.
As Buck explores in this book, the New Age offers the excitement of a spiritual adventure, and the warm feeling that one is rather special in one’s commitment to a spiritual path, without any of the inconveniences of traditional morality. It poses no fundamental threat to secular culture: people can continue their exploitative commercial and personal lives while professing to be ‘spiritual but not religious’, and looking forward to a single world religion.
Roger Buck explains that the ultimate defence against the New Age temptation is to provide what people are truly craving: what Stratford Caldicott called ‘a transforming contact with mystery’. This is exactly what we are offered in the sacraments, and the traditional ceremonies and prayers which accompany them, and the traditional liturgy and spirituality of the Church more generally, makes that particularly clear.
One of the central motivations of the liturgical reform was to make concessions to Rationalism. The reformed Mass is, supposedly, more logically set out; references to miracles (such as St Francis’ Stigmata, which once had its own feast day) have been minimised; silence and the use of archaic languages has been trimmed back or eliminated, the mysterious and archaic melodies of Gregorian chant have given way to simple modern tunes, and so on. This is part of a movement of thought which goes back to the Enlightenment-inspired Synod of Pistoia (1786), and beyond: to survive in a rationalistic age, it was said, the Church must be freed of obscurantism. It is a supreme irony that this project should finally come to fruition just after the 1968 ‘Summer of love’. No sooner had the mysteries of the liturgy been expunged, but many parishes felt the need to adapt themselves to the concerns and aesthetics of anti-rational hippies.
As Louis Bouyer noted in his Memoirs, ‘the main business of the liturgy is not to teach us this or that lesson easily converted into pat formulas; it is to place the faithful, without them quite knowing how, into a certain state of mind which it would be perfectly fruitless to try to recreate by explaining it’. The liturgy works at a level beyond words to change us, to transform us, to soften the hardened heart, to purify the imagination, and to strengthen the will.
In this book Buck has adopted a mixture of forms, with a novel, dialogue, and a long ‘Afterword’ in which he addresses the reader directly. I recommend it to those who want to know where some powerful modern trends are heading: trends embraced, or tolerated, by many of the cultural and even political elite, but with disturbing undertones of a hatred of the Church and of Catholic culture, the embrace of libertinism and abortion, and the shadow of the occult.
The Gentle Traditionalist Returns (and the other books mentioned in this review) is available from the LMS online shop, £15.50 + postage