Many Catholics in the twittersphere were quite riled up by a recent article in The Atlantic entitled “How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-opt the Rosary.”
The article, which I had the chance to read once before a firewall got in my way, didn’t seem to be all that critical of the rosary or Catholicism. It, to its credit, did make the distinction between physical and spiritual warfare, and it noted the place of the rosary in the history of spiritual warfare. But the headline bespoke a political stance concerning “gun culture” (that it is “extreme”) and it did its job of bringing attention to a large audience in the no holds barred world of online journalism.
For me, one of the reasons that the article is important for Catholics is because it brings to the fore the link between the rosary, a devotion that was almost dead and buried after the 2nd Vatican Council, and its resurgence among a group of mostly young Catholics known as the “Rad Trads,” or Radical Traditionalists.
The Rad Trads are a bit like the metal mercury - when you try to put your finger on it it moves away from where your finger is. For many, the Rad Trads are those who have a particular political outlook, and, from what I can remember from the article, this is the approach taken in The Atlantic. Rad Trads are politically conservative, and are probably firmly nested in the “basket of deplorables” who see America as the one-time shining city on the hill that needs to become great again, both domestically and internationally.
From a demographic perspective they are probably married with lots of kids or hope to be in that situation sooner rather than later, and their children are either home schooled or are in an independent school that teaches a “classical liberal arts” education much like the one that the parents received at one of the small Catholic colleges that are steeped in that vision of education.
Theologically they long for the good old days of Benedict, John Paul II and possibly any pope prior to Vatican II. Because the two popes just mentioned were friends of the Traditional Latin Mass most Rad Trads are willing to give them a pass on their pro-Vatican II vision, but Francis and his anti-Latin Mass cohort in the episcopate are afforded no such wiggle room. The Rad Trads relish the outward signs of the Catholic faith from chapel veils to novenas, and especially the rosary.
All of this is and more is probably true of many, many who are seen as a part of the Rad Trad movement in the Church, but when I think of Rad Trad I get a different vision. For me, Rad Trad means what Cardinal Henri de Lubac, S.J. meant by his theological focus on the Sources Chrétiennes or Christian Sources. The 20th Century theological world that de Lubac opposed had forgotten that there was a Church that existed between the New Testament and the Middle Ages. For this reason de Lubac and others of his mindset devoted their lives to the radical - meaning “getting to the root” (as all mathematicians know) - Tradition of the Faith and its understanding through the Sources Chrétiennes.
The Church between the close of the New Testament era and the promulgation of the documents of the 2nd Council of Nicea in A.D. 787 was the most important era in Church history, giving us what we proclaim as the Faith when we recite the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed at Mass each Sunday. Theologians like St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and many others were indispensable in the theological battle for orthodoxy against heresy.
Any Rad Trad who has this vision of the Faith - the vision of those who got to the root of what it means to be a follower of Jesus by unearthing the treasure of the Church’s golden age of theological tradition - is a Rad Trad worthy of the name. Anything else seems to be just another example of mistaking pyrite for the real thing.