Friday, 10 July 2009


I have been thinking about labels, and the way in which they can tend to pigeonhole people. For example, this blog's title tells you quite a lot about where I stand on various issues, so in that sense 'liberal' is a useful label. However, it's not the only one I tend to apply to myself. I also describe myself as Catholic, and in many ways I am a traditionalist too. People see these labels as in some way incompatible, but I disagree - at least in terms of what I understand them to mean.

At its simplest, Catholic means 'universal'. That's what it means in the Creeds. In terms of church labels, to me, it means that I stand within the Western, Latin, Rome-centered tradition of the Church that stretches back many centuries. It's a shorthand way of saying that my faith and practice is sacramental: that I believe in the historic three-fold ministry; that I have a particular understanding of the relationship between deacons, presbyters, bishops and laity; that my pattern of worship is centered upon the Eucharist.

As to traditional - that's easier. I don't believe in innovation for the sake of it. In particular I am liturgically traditionalist - I don't like 'modern' language because it sounds dated as soon as it is off the press, and I have always believed that any attempt to be hip with the kids is bound to end in disaster... What I don't mean by traditional is that I think it's right if the Pope says it is, or that no change is possible or desirable within the body of the Church.

So what about Liberal? How can you be both a Liberal and a Traditionalist? It's an understandable question, but I think it is based on a misunderstanding of the words. The opposite of 'traditional' is 'progressive' or 'modern'. The opposite of 'liberal' is 'restrained' or 'narrow', or perhaps 'particular'. To be Liberal is to be tolerant or open-minded - to admit that one's own position on any issue might not be the only tenable one, or even that somebody else's position might actually be right.

The trouble is, that people get so used to particular labels that they forget what they might actually mean. At best they are convenient shorthand, but at worst they can be seriously misleading. So, this Liberal Catholic Traditionalist is hoping that as the campaign process for next year's Synod elections starts to kick off, voters will look carefully at those election addresses, and not just pick the candidates with what seems to be the right label.

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