Der Ultramontane – alle Wege führen nach Rom
(The Ultramontane – all Roads Lead to Rome)
By Martin Mosebach
Sankt Ulrich Verlag
It’s safe to say that no other work advocating the Traditional liturgy has had the worldwide impact of Martin Mosebach’s Die Häresie der Formlosigkeit of 2002. Now, after ten years, Martin Mosebach has published a second collection of his non-fiction dealing explicitly with matters Catholic. I say “explicitly” because a deep Catholic sensibility underlies all of Martin Mosebach’s work. In Die Häresie the essays all revolved around the question of the liturgy; in Der Ultramontane (“The Ultramontane”) Mosebach deals with a broader spectrum of issues agitating the Church today.
The very title is a confrontation with the Catholic Church of Germany. In no other country is the anti-Roman and anti-papal rage so widespread as in Pope Benedict’s own homeland. In the country where any other expression of patriotic feeling is taboo it is only in relation to the Roman Catholic Church that nationalistic sentiment flourishes. The list of demands by Catholic theologians, clergy and laity aired almost daily in the media will be familiar: recognition of divorce, abolition of clerical celibacy, women priests, homosexual marriage, greater ‘democracy” in the Church etc. The German hierarchy either avoids confronting the attacks or not so subtly cooperates in enabling the protests. Against this attitude Mosebach professes Ultramontanism: the notion that every Catholic by his loyalty to a specific man – the pope – is a member of two jurisdictions or communities. He cannot give absolute loyalty to the German state and its current ideology. Mosebach thus cleverly links the current battles with persecution of the Church by Bismarck’s Prussia in the 19th century – the Kulturkampf – a struggle waged against the despised Ultramontane supporters of the pope. He points out once more that the papacy has prevented the creation of closed, totalitarian states in Europe – an observation made as early as the 18th century regarding the caesaropapism of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.
In several of these essays Mosebach enters the lists in favor of Papacy and Pope Benedict. He defends the Pope on the recognition of the FSSPX, on the absence of “democracy” in the church and the sexual abuse scandals. It is clear, however, that by Ultramontanism Mosebach does not mean a return to the pre-Conciliar regime centered on the Papacy. In He is after all just the Pope, Mosebach speaks of the salutary limits of papal authority – that infallibility is nothing but the submission of the Pope to Tradition. Now that is a concept with which even the Orthodox can get comfortable.
As in Die Häresie, Der Ultramontane shows the versatility of Mosebach’s style. There is straightforward polemic such as By Their (Piddling) Fruits you will know them: Six Theses on the Reform of the Liturgy. In 2004, like a kind of Ultramontane Martin Luther, Mosebach spoke out alone for the Traditional liturgy at the Katholikentag (Catholic congress) – Germanchurch’s progressive love fest. Or the “discussion paper” On the Value of Forbidding dealing with blasphemy – an ever increasing phenomenon in Europe, mostly directed against the Christianity – often by “artists”. Here Mosebach considers that it may well be advisable for the state to legally restrict blasphemy – and that it may not be so bad that outraged Muslims have given blasphemous artists a good scare.
Mosebach also employs a more poetic discourse, such as in the essays on Rome and Lourdes. The reader can here get an idea of Mosebach’s skill as a travel writer. In a short but marvelous evocation of the eternal city, the author focuses on the omnipresent ruins of the past. This is the true Rome – the spolia of past ages surviving into the present: not set apart in museums but aimlessly scattered about or even reused for utilitarian purposes. Mosebach even advances the thesis that the construction of St. Peter’s in the 16th century was, in a certain sense, a sin against the true spirit of Rome – as embodied in the age-old Constantinian basilica it replaced.
The friend of the Traditional Liturgy will also find much that will interest him. In addition to the Six Theses there is The Old Roman Missal between Loss and Rediscovery – a profound reflection on the liturgical history of the last 40+ years. In On Prayer, Mosebach argues powerfully for the significance of repetition in prayer – especially in the rosary! – and of maintaining correct posture.
I particularly liked Mosebach’s essay on the Lourdes Madonna. Mosebach starts from the time when, as a young boy in pre-Conciliar times, he began to encounter the Madonna of Lourdes: first, on a dresser in the house of a friend of his family, later, nearly everywhere. Mosebach then develops an entire theology of the image out of the contemplation of a mass – produced statuette often despised – especially by the artistic pundits of the Church in Western Europe. The author links the Lourdes Madonna with certain icons of the East the originals of which were considered as “not made by human hands.” As an attempt to reproduce a vision, the Lourdes Madonna falls into the same category. It is a true icon of the West.
In sum, Der Ultramontane offers a treasure trove of insights on liturgy, theology, art, Church government and contemporary spiritual issues. All is short and sweet, reflecting the concise style of a true master of prose. Der Ultramontane does not repeat platitudes or reinforce received opinions – it will make you think. Mosebach often returns, as a Leitmotiv of this work , to the “dual loyalty” of the Catholic: to the country/regime in which he lives and to the Church as represented by Rome. What outraged liberals of the Bismarck era or contemporary German Catholics is nevertheless central to our identity as Catholics. And is this not a quintessentially Catholic theme dating back to the time of Augustine?
We of course would wish that Der Ultramontane be translated into English as soon as possible. That should not be that hard – some of the ground work has already been done. One of the essays has already been translated on this website; several others on Roger McCaffrey’s The Traditionalist. Martin Mosebach himself presented, in English, The Old Roman Missal between Loss and Rediscovery first in 2010 in Colombo, then in 2011 in New York – it can be found on the NLM. And one essay, on the election of Pope Benedict, appeared first in English in the New York Times/ International Herald Tribune!