The Anti-Modernist Academia #4: To Serve And Protect Tradition

The Anti-Modernist Academia #4: To Serve And Protect Tradition

The last three Anti-Modernist Academia articles explored the components of Little Witch Academia from the perspective of characters who previously displayed beliefs consistent with Modernist tendencies, as expounded in the 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis of Pope St. Pius X. In the first, Professor Croix Meridies and her latent scientism were symptoms of rationalism, which fosters a skeptical attitude of her craft. Next, Atsuko Kagari, the main protagonist, has a motto akin to vital immanence, which says that religion is rooted in “a believing heart”, so to speak, and heavily influences her initial thoughts on magic. Lastly, the societal disavowing of magic, and anything supernatural, is beget as a result of agnosticism, from which all Modernist thought roots itself; thus separating a link between faith and reason. At the end of each article, I also demonstrated how the series dismantled each of these precepts; either the flaws in the characters’ thinking is exposed as failing to provide their desired outcome, supplanting it with a more effective method, or by circumstances in the underlying lesson.

As with all heresies, fortunately, the defects of Modernism has a cure, and it’s also outlined in the text of the same encyclical. However, it is addressed somewhat differently than others before it – since it, by nature, deals with multiple heresies rooted into one giant germ, earning it the title “synthesis of all heresies”, instead of refutations, recommendations are given as to how one can recognize, and resist it. It follows also that Little Witch Academia has characters who pose as the antithesis of the above characters in their methods. One such character is Diana Cavendish, the star pupil of Luna Nova Academy, whose brilliance is enhanced by her respect for, and esteem of magic’s history and tradition – the same attitude that Pascendi takes towards its battle against Modernism.

Remedy For Modernism #1: Fostering Truly Catholic Studies

Diana and her mother, Bernadette, discussing magic’s place in the future

Traditionalist Catholic theology is rooted in both Scripture and Tradition: the latter being the collective of teachings which have been handed down orally, unchanged in idea, from the earliest time to the Apostles and the first Christian communities, and their application amongst them. These can be found in the writings of the Church Fathers, who expounded with firm eloquence the central dogmas of the Faith from exegeting the Gospels and alike. St. Athanasius and St. Ambrose of Milan defended the dual nature of Christ, Sts. Cyril and Clement of Alexandria the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and being the Mother of God. The decrees of ecumenical councils, relying on the above to further expound dogmas, liturgical practices, and later works by theologians after them also fit under this category.

The Church has always revered it as a core way to convey what Christ taught, is to be believed, and form a path to be able to follow His example more perfectly, from testimony. Its philosophy, following that of St. Thomas Aquinas, proves Catholic teachings in a syllogistic manner that offers clarity and with permanence. So essential and esteemed was this, that Pope Leo XIII, in his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris, exhorted seminarians and faculty to take them to heart, and use it to combat the modern errors of his day:

Many are the reasons why We are so desirous of this. In the first place, then, since in the tempest that is on us the Christian faith is being constantly assailed by the machinations and craft of a certain false wisdom, all youths, but especially those who are the growing hope of the Church, should be nourished on the strong and robust food of doctrine, that so, mighty in strength and armed at all points, they may become habituated to advance the cause of religion with force and judgment, “being ready always, according to the apostolic counsel, to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15) and that “they may be able to exhort in sound doctrine and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:9) Many of those who, with minds alienated from the faith, hate Catholic institutions, claim reason as their sole mistress and guide. Now, We think that, apart from the supernatural help of God, nothing is better calculated to heal those minds and to bring them into favor with the Catholic faith than the solid doctrine of the Fathers and the Scholastics, who so clearly and forcibly demonstrate the firm foundations of the faith, its divine origin, its certain truth, the arguments that sustain it, the benefits it has conferred on the human race, and its perfect accord with reason, in a manner to satisfy completely minds open to persuasion, however unwilling and repugnant.

Pope Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris, paragraph #27

Pope St. Pius X continued this commendation, in unison with his predecessor and many others before him. Near the very end of Pascendi does he make the first remedy against Modernism a solid foundation in, and the cultivation of this embrace of this theological curriculum, and the sole, optimal route by which the Catholic Faith can thrive. Thereby we see him calling for the fostering of appreciation for tradition; a word which also finds itself recurring in Little Witch Academia through Diana Cavendish’s personality.

Diana Cavendish: Character Analysis

Diana schooling Akko, Sucy and Lotte on the connection between magic and its traditions

At first, Diana Cavendish, a member of a prestigious magical family, appears to be your average “queen bee” character: snobbish, unsympathetic and exceedingly proud of her accomplishments. As the top student at Luna Nova, she possesses an affinity for casting spells, even those beyond her level; but more so, a strong commitment to learning magic via the lens of tradition. This causes conflict with Akko, who rebuffs her rejection of Shiny Chariot’s message that magic comes from a “believing heart”, and triggers mutual scorn. But, as explained before, there is a layer of truth to her words – human experience alone can barely provide for an stable nor universal means of belief and practice. And Diana’s journey sheds light on this matter of fact. In her childhood, she, like Akko, was a fan of Shiny Chariot, and took her mantra to heart; as she was the heir to the Cavendish family estate, she was expected to succeed her mother, Bernadette, and become a witch like her.

Needless to say, for a time after seeing one of her shows (the same one which Akko was at), she loses the ability to use magic. It would only be through study of magic from the traditional sources that ends her powerless streak, and make her into the prodigy she is today. From that day forward, she chose to stay on the magical path through her embrace of tradition and rises through the ranks of Luna Nova, becoming praised by students and faculty alike for her calm and excellent handle of the craft; among the latter, she is regarded as the last potential hope for bringing back the glory days of magic. Indeed, in her diary, she writes that her greatest aspiration is to seek the power of the Grand Triskelion, the ultimate magic source, to this end; the same goal that her ailing mother passed down to her.

In episodes 19-20 the topic of tradition returns again, mainly when Akko receives, and tries to apply the fifth word of Arcturus, Sybilladura Lelladybura: “When traditional and modern powers mingle, the gate to an unseen world will open”. Diana returns home to settle family affairs in becoming the new head of the Cavendish family upon her mother’s death. Despite risking her educational future, she explains to the reason why she moved ahead with that plan to Akko by showing her a secret medical ward and a library filled with thousands of books on healing magic. She expresses a fervent desire to maintain the legacy of the good that her ancestors performed, the discoveries they made, and honour them – and her mother, who worked hard in defense of this continuity – by her own achievements. Finally understanding why Diana did and believed what she did, Akko comes to admire and see her as a friend, which allows her to unlock the fifth word’s powers, eventually setting her sights on forging her own path and not being a carbon copy of her idol.

Tradition: To Be Exalted Above Novelty

Without Diana’s intervention, Akkos quest for magic would have remained a fleeting, uninspired fad

In the first place, with regard to studies, We will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of the sacred sciences… remember that (professors) cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment…. We will add that We deem worthy of praise those who with full respect for tradition, the Holy Fathers, and the ecclesiastical magisterium, undertake, with well-balanced judgment and guided by Catholic principles (which is not always the case), seek to illustrate positive theology by throwing the light of true history upon it. Certainly more attention must be paid to positive theology than in the past, but this must be done without detriment to scholastic theology, and those are to be disapproved as of Modernist tendencies who exalt positive theology in such a way as to seem to despise the scholastic.

Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, pgph #45

Diana’s ideas on magic, which lean heavily traditionalist, stands opposed to Akko’s in several places:

  • Her discomfort at Professor Croix’s synthetic method, which eschews what she holds dear
    • Akko raves about Professor Croix’s science-magic combo (“Modern magic is the best! Witches have to get with the times, right?”) as the “easy way out”
    • Diana is seen sulking, visibly opposed to its introduction. For her, Professor Croix’s method betrays not just magic’s special essence, but stains the legacy her descendants sought to protect
  • She finds tradition relevant for the present and beyond
    • Akko finds dullness in the scholastic studies of Luna Nova (“Hey! You call this magic? It’s literally just books and stuff, they’re boring! When can we get to the flashy part?”)
    • Diana opposes any notion that reduces its value to a meaningless purpose, or a mere relic (“For someone who talks about being Chariot, I find your disregard for magic’s tradition and history quite appaling. You have no right to study in this school!”)
  • The acts of man only play a minor, secondary role in her principles
    • Although Diana does eventually admit to Akko of her admiration of Shiny Chariot (“From the moment I saw her magic show, I was happy… she kept me focused on my goal. However, the more I learned of magic, the more I realized I had to move on from her.”), it is only insofar as she is a role model
    • Akko wants to be Shiny Chariot and sees her as the only reason that magic’s foundation rests upon (Shiny Chariot has always been my hero. That’s why I wanted to become a witch, and I’m gonna prove her right.)
  • An unsullied confidence with all things related to her practice
    • Diana doesn’t waver in the face of challenges, nor show any doubt about what her philosophy teaches; she shows finesse at countering Akko’s objections with ease
    • Akko’s dependence on Shiny Chariot takes her through an unneeded struggle, and nearly destroys her belief in magic when the truth about her idol is exposed

Both her and Pope St. Pius X recognized the benefits of preserving their respective traditions, and the danger wrought by the wholesale abandonment of it. The performances of Shiny Chariot, which eschewed thousands of years’ worth of development for a single moment of awe, destroyed magic’s reputation among the public and precipitated its decline. Diana must cancel her admiration of such and denounce it as demeaning to the purpose of magic, its sacred value, and acknowledge it as a failure. Through studying her ancestors’ works does she obtain a solid magic foundation, becomes closer to fulilling her goals, and by her actions throughout the series, aims to showcase its beauty and practical usefulness so others can be encouraged to cultivate this love themselves. Without her influence, I’d argue Akko would never have gotten to the bombastic finale in episode 25.

Lithograph of a session of the Vatican Council of 1869-70, which came in defense of Catholic Tradition

In like manner did the Pope of Pascendi correctly detect the link between the Modernist’s compromise of eternal Catholic truths with novelties galore to the destruction of their spiritual life and a widening of the road to rejecting Christ: “…they, according to their own desires… heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) Rejecting the timeless dogmatic foundations of Christianity is tantamount to questioning its reliability as a bulwark of truth, and the fate of some of the movement’s disciples are proof of this: from Alfred Loisy, whose commitment to detaching the divine from Christianity led him to become an atheist professor of religion at a secular university, to Gregory Baum, whose campaign to call the Church to abandon Her resistance to dogmatic change earned the rebuke of theologian Fr. Joseph Clifford Fenton here; years after working on three of Vatican II’s dubious documents concerning religious liberty, neo-indifferentism and false ecumenism, he left the priesthood, denouncing evangelization efforts towards the Jews, and working as an activist for legalizing sodomy.

Such an attitude is many things, but neither Catholic – nor Christian – is one of them. Pascendi‘s solution of reverencing tradition, on the other hand, avoids this dilemma while also assuring us of the Church’s divine mission and transcendental reliability. And how much more, in his footsteps, ought we to promote what has been handed down by our forefathers for our edification! The Tridentine Mass, offered by various Catholic groups like Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s SSPX or St. Philip Neri’s Oratorians has brought countless Catholics back for its venerable atmosphere of prayer, adoration, contemplation, bringing greater spiritual nourishment to its congregants unlike the hootenanny in the average Novus Ordo service. Science continues to vindicate Christian morals, highlighting the dangerous effects of what the Church has condemned, such as the psychological harm of “safe and effective” abortions, the lives ruined by the de facto acceptance of polygamy, and the poor effects of unregulatedly consuming bad media. Many continue to remain assured from understanding the teachings from traditional catechisms, approved Scriptural commentaries of the Church Fathers, spiritual advice of saints, and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas – debunked is the Modernist’s claim that they’re obsolete or incapable of bearing good fruit!


Diana Cavendish is a fascinating character who remains near the top of my Little Witch Academia favourites. In choosing to cling to the teachings handed down from her descendants, she echoes the Traditionalist Catholic attitude on how the Faith can forge forward: not by abandoning, or shifting its perennial precepts at whim. To do this would be to reject the divine nature of Christianity, impugn the Holy Ghost’s work leading it, and pay a severe dishonour to God, who we know by faith can neither deceive nor be deceived. Ever seeking to conserve its heritage, this was the goal which the Vatican Council of 1869-70 sought to enshrine in its canons, and point us to a starting point for what sources we can depend on to know of God and His redeeming work.

May we, during this Christmas season, recall not only the birth of Jesus Christ, and the commencement of our hope of salvation, but also pray that He continues to work through His servants, and for the grace that we may never to divert from it, or suggest anything that betrays His promise of infallibility, by evolving dogmatically. In doing so, we will follow the advice that St. Paul exhorts: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:5)

If anyone says that human studies are to be treated with such a degree of liberty that their assertions may be maintained as true even when they are opposed to divine revelation, and that they may not be forbidden by the Church: let him be anathema.

If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.

First Vatican Council, Canons On Faith And Reason #2-3

“For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

2 thoughts on “The Anti-Modernist Academia #4: To Serve And Protect Tradition

  1. For me, tradition never stays static. Sooner or later, it will change a bit here and there on some parts. The same goes for religion. But it makes some people cringe since they can’t let go and accept new things in which they have been weaned on the old ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure, some changes can happen from the Catholic perspective. Things like which saints are commemorated on the calendar, theological approaches to certain issues, or approved prayer practices have been subject to occasional modifications – a bit here and there like you said 🙂 But what can’t happen is a full-scale renovation of the fundamental teachings, so that the sense of continuity with what has previously been taught ends up virtually being abandoned; because these are core to the identity of the Faith.

      What Diana Cavendish tried to achieve was a place for magic in society, while preserving its substantial foundation and the link to her heritage. She aims to avoid the extremes that Professor Croix’s science-centric philosophy or Akko’s methodology, who eschewed theory for mere feelings, presented. She does implicitly admit that new developments may arise when showing the library containing her predecessors’ healing magic research, but stresses the importance of keeping the roots of it.

      Liked by 1 person

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