The Anti-Modernist Academia #5: A Shiny Chariot With Dull Theories

The Anti-Modernist Academia #5: A Shiny Chariot With Dull Theories

In the last Anti-Modernist Academia post, discussing the place of tradition in Little Witch Academia as akin to that of Tradition in Roman Catholic theology, one of my commenters remarked that for religion, its notion of tradition constantly changes, and therefore can never stay static. While I see the point they are trying to make, some distinctions need to be made:

  • It is true that the Church has occasionally adapted her practices to suit the needs of the faithful. Provided that there is a legitimate basis for these, there is no impetus to abiding by these changes as valid. Some examples below:
    • In the 13th century, through the help of St. Dominic the Rosary was approved as a devotion that can be used to meditate on the life of Christ. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, first popularized by Sts. John Eudes and Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century, was extended for public use in the 18th century.
    • Throughout the centuries, as more saints were canonized, the liturgical calendar was added and revised to include their commemoration. And it has been the case that the Church has updated which prayers or acts can suffice to gain an indulgence, most recently in 1957 and 1968; or the Roman Breviary, being updated in 1588 and 1911.
    • Occasionally the Church will adapt its practices to suit legitimate human conditions. Pope St. Pius X lowered the age for receiving Communion at the age of 7 (as opposed to 12 as previously) in 1910. Pope Pius XII reduced the pre-Communion fast (that is, how long you need to abstain from food before receiving Communion at Mass) from 3 hours to 1 in 1955, given the grueling working conditions of the day. In Catholic missions of early North America and Asia (often run by Jesuits), priests were given permission to have the Mass said in the vernacular for convenience of the faithful.
  • When it comes to the field of dogmatics, nothing can go against what has been declared as a matter of Faith. As Pope Benedict XV writes in his 1914 encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum: “Those who are infected by (Modernism) develop a keen dislike for all that savours of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.” In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: ‘Old things, but in a new way.’

Note the italicized part – it is not that change should be opposed, but rather such revisions should be guided according to the guidelines of Scripture or what has been handed down. Whatever doctrine calls the above into question, must be rejected: as Fr. Sylvester Berry, a theologian, wrote his 1927 apologetic treatise The Church Of Christ: “(The Church) cannot teach contradictory doctrines in different places or at different times; she cannot even teach a part of her doctrines in one place or in one age, and another part in another place or another age. She must teach all truths at all times and in all places.” Hence why I am a Traditionalist Catholic, as one who wishes to believe and pray as the Church has always in the pre-Vatican II days.

Anyhow: Little Witch Academia is a show that demonstrates how dangerous this love of novelty is when recklessly applied. Such is exemplified in the person of Chariot Du Nord, a witch passionate towards renewing the public view of magic through entertainment. Unfortunately, her attempts were overshadowed by her failure to curb her self-confidence and relay her craft upon a solid methodology, which would prove detrimental as the series later explains, and leads her to become the mild-mannered and academically-inclined Professor Ursula Callistis. Likewise does the acquisition of right-ordered principles in theology, driven by an attitude of humility, serve to counter the extremes posed by Modernist thinking regarding dogma.

Remedy For Modernism #2: Firm, Humble Theological Mindset

In Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Pope St. Pius X, having excoriated the beliefs of the Modernists, and deigning to root out what caused them to embrace this, identifies, apart from the obvious spirit of innovation, pride and lack of theological foundation as their source:

To penetrate still deeper into Modernism and to find a suitable remedy for such a deep sore, it behooves Us, Venerable Brethren, to investigate the causes which have engendered it and which foster its growth. That the proximate and immediate cause consists in a perversion of the mind cannot be open to doubt. The remote causes seem to us to be reduced to two: curiosity and pride. Curiosity by itself, if not prudently regulated, suffices to explain all errors. Such is the opinion of Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, who wrote: A lamentable spectacle is that presented by the aberrations of human reason when it yields to the spirit of novelty, when against the warning of the Apostle it seeks to know beyond what it is meant to know, and when relying too much on itself it thinks it can find the fruit outside the Church wherein truth is found without the slightest shadow of error (cf. Singulari nos).

But it is pride which exercises an incomparably greater sway over the soul to blind it and plunge it into error, and pride sits in Modernism as in its own house, finding sustenance everywhere in its doctrines and an occasion to flaunt itself in all its aspects… which fills Modernists with that confidence in themselves and leads them to hold themselves up as the rule for all, pride which puffs them up with that vainglory which allows them to regard themselves as the sole possessors of knowledge, and makes them say, inflated with presumption, “We are not as the rest of men”, and which, to make them really not as other men, leads them to embrace all kinds of the most absurd novelties;… which rouses in them the spirit of disobedience and causes them to demand a compromise between authority and liberty; …that makes of them the reformers of others, while they forget to reform themselves, and which begets their absolute want of respect for authority, not excepting the supreme authority.

If we pass from the moral to the intellectual causes of Modernism, the first which presents itself, and the chief one, is ignorance. Yes, these very Modernists who pose as Doctors of the Church, who puff out their cheeks when they speak of modern philosophy, and show such contempt for scholasticism, have embraced the one with all its false glamour because their ignorance of the other has left them without the means of being able to recognize confusion of thought, and to refute sophistry. Their whole system, with all its errors, has been born of the alliance between faith and false philosophy.

Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907), pgph #40

In the writings of the Modernists, one finds an astounding display of exegeting based on rationality and not with the mind of the Church, condemning as void of spiritual value interpretations that, to them, would not correspond to the needs of the times. Moot then are the words of Jesus Christ, who said to his 72 messengers: “He that heareth you, heareth me” (St. Luke 10:16) as they deliberately cast them aside. Upon themselves they yoke a heavy burden to renew Christianity with a new theology that uses vague notions of spontaneity, further motivated by the desire to be publicly esteemed, an attitude Christ admonished: “How can you believe, who receive glory one from another: and the glory which is from God alone, you do not seek?” (St. John 5:44)

Instead of giving their efforts “all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), they imagine themselves to be greater than what they really are: puffed-up scholars with a hollow grasp or appreciation for the truths of Faith, enabling them to switch dogmas year after year, and will go for anything save for objectivity. Far they are from imitating learned men such as Sts. Alphonsus Liguori or Josaphat Kuntsevych, or the meager-minded like Sts. Francis of Assisi or Bernadette Soubirous, who were ready to accept whatever God has revealed through His Divine Revelation, and not tamper with, or cut from it. In the case of Chariot do we see this same misaligned sense of confidence and undisciplined magical development which detriments her mission, and leads her down a path to despair.

Character Analysis: Chariot Du Nord

Professor Ursula dealing with Akko at the end of episode 7

Chariot Du Nord’s dream has always been “to become a witch that could make everyone smile… to give people a fun and exciting time through magic”. As a student of Luna Nova, she became the original recipient of the Shiny Rod, and, to the chagrin of her friend Croix, the task of reviving magic’s spirit. Like Akko after her, she went on a quest to discover the Seven Words of Arcturus, which was eventually abandoned because of her dedication to her magic shows, taking the stage name Shiny Chariot. She struggled to keep up with her shows, owing to the stress that the audiences put on her for bigger and flashier spectacles, and a falling out with Croix takes a mental toll on her. Her final show ends in disaster, as the fury of her audience leads her to snap and fire a large shot of magic at the moon, permanently engraving it. Unworthy of such a power, and owing to her immaturity, the Shiny Rod disintegrates in her hands to her horror.

Following this incident, Chariot goes into hiding before re-emerging under a new identity: Ursula Callistis, professor of astronomy at Luna Nova. Though she retains the same skill for magic and the same klutzy persona, she is haunted by feelings of regret from performing days. Her passion for magic is renewed, however, in the person of Akko – a girl who entered the academy out of her love for Shiny Chariot, and desiring to follow the same goals as her. Not wanting her to repeat the same mistakes she did, she voluntarily takes her under her wing and teaches her to use magic under Luna Nova’s methodology and the Seven Words Of Arcturus.

In episode 15, her former teacher and current colleague, Professor Anne Finnelan, describes Chariot’s character: “I will admit that Chariot had a natural sense for magic. However, in addition to neglecting her studies, she even committed the sin of using our sacred magic for her frivolous entertainment shows.” Although her passion for magic was strong, she lacked the intellectual strength and essentials necessary to help her craft thrive. This shows when the then-student Croix and Diana criticize her tangled use of magic and ignorance of continuity: in episode 23 the former declaring her a heretic amongst witches (ironically) and the latter quipping “…Although she did enjoy a period of popularity in the past, those gaudy yet insubstantial spectacles of hers had no lasting power.”

“And when I turned myself to all the works which my hands had wrought, and to the labours wherein I had laboured in vain, I saw in all things vanity, and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

As Shiny Chariot, she insisted that she could still reach her goal of making others happy despite this handicap, and overestimated her value as a witch – the latter which eventually causes her to falter near the end of her sojourn. As Ursula Callistis, she recants that and, desiring to atone for the harm she caused by her hubris, aligns her mindset with those of her magical predecessors, and uses that to help free Akko from clinging to the subjectivist “A believing heart is your magic” motto of her old self, and gain a disciplined understanding of it.

In What True Doctrine Consists

certain it is that the passion for novelty is always united in them with hatred of scholasticism, and there is no surer sign that a man is on the way to Modernism than when he begins to show his dislike for this system. Modernists and their admirers should remember the proposition condemned by Pius IX: “The method and principles which have served the doctors of scholasticism when treating of theology no longer correspond with the exigencies of our time or the progress of science (cf. Syllabus Of Errors #13)“. They exercise all their ingenuity in diminishing the force and falsifying the character of tradition, so as to rob it of all its weight. But for Catholics the second Council of Nicaea will always have the force of law, where it condemns those “who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind… or endeavour by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church“; …also, the profession of the fourth Council of Constantinople: “We therefore profess to conserve and guard the rules bequeathed to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by the Holy and most illustrious Apostles, by the orthodox Councils, both general and local, and by every one of those divine interpreters the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.”

Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, pgph #42

The fruits of Professor Ursula’s tutelage come to light, as Akko’s magical abilities stabilize and later flourish, whilst giving her more peace of mind and preventing her from falling down the same path of chaos as Shiny Chariot did. Ultimately, in episode 24, she comes to thank Professor Ursula for her tutelage, and realizes how naïve her old adulation of Shiny Chariot was: “I wanted to be like Chariot, gracefully soaring through the sky and using beautiful transformation magic. But Chariot is Chariot, and I’m me… So please keep on teaching me how to use magic, just like you always have!… I wouldn’t want anybody else.” Though at first she detested learning by the books, so to speak, no doubt that without this well-rounded formation, she would have remained the same, incompetent protagonist from the beginning.

Just as both characters learned to base their magical ideas upon solid frameworks, so ought there, in Catholic dogmatics, be a model that renders it sustainable across the ages for theologians to follow, while preventing major modifications to its essence. Unlike the Modernist who shuns order for a chaotic theological standpoint, this solution is found in St. John Henry Newman, the great English Oratorian Cardinal and convert from Anglicanism, who, in his 1845 Essay On The Development Of Doctrine, advocated seven firm points to discern a true doctrine from a false one:

  • Preservation Of Type: The doctrine essentially acts as a subset of a specific Catholic teaching
  • Continuity Of Principles: It is firmly grounded upon what has been previously taught
  • Power Of Assimilation: The idea is accepted, and capable of being put to practical use by the faithful
  • Logical Sequence: There exists a logical procession from earlier teaching to that doctrine
  • Conservative Action Upon Its Past: What it consists of does not contradict a belief of the Church
  • Anticipation Of Its Future: It has been taught, or tolerated, by a previous theologian or Church Father of great importance
  • Chronic Vigour: The belief remains, and does not disseminate in value, over a long period of time
St. John Henry Newman saw that true doctrinal developments must, among other things, have a link to the past and remain substantially the same as previous conceptions of it.

These points can be applied to successfully validate (as he expounded in his essay) the Trinity, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, the existence of Purgatory, the need for penance, and Scriptural interpretation methods; but moreover a sure ground for other contested ideas like Papal supremacy, the divinity of Christ, the institution of the Sacraments, and whatnot can also be ascertained through these ways. Modernism, on the other hand, bearing no resemblance to the thinking of their predecessors in the Faith, does not conserve previous doctrine on many points, and being so illogically propositioned, is rightfully, a corruption. That its proponents would eventually lose the Faith unfortunately further vindicate his sentiments.

The failure Chariot’s magical doctrines, in a way, kind of synchronize with Newman’s theories above. Granted, her magic did not, like Professor Croix’s, abandon its mystical origins for a more scientific one. However, for all its flashy theatrics, it failed to leave an impression on audiences, who perceived her shows as a joke rather than something very awe-inspiring. It didn’t help that, as Professor Finnelan described, her idea of “making magic fun again” had little precedent compared to Diana’s medical ancestors or Lotte’s use of faeries. Nothing tied her beliefs together other than “A believing heart is your magic”, which as demonstrated previously, is subjectivist and therefore, untenable. Her only logical way forward was to set aside the ways of antiquity, and compromise with Croix’s Dream Fuel Spirit which was powered by her techno-logics. Refusing even this for moral grounds, her fate was sealed; and from then on, her performances were shunned by the populace and long forgotten as a mere fad, hastening the decline in magic until Akko reversed that in episode 25.

Concluding Words

I failed to mention this in my review of Little Witch Academia, but the show did not cover how Chariot was able to unlock the last two words of Arcturus: and considering how paramount those have been to cementing its anti-Modernist stance, I find this fitting to represent her personality. While Chariot’s failure came about from a lack of good magical principles set in stone, as Professor Ursula, her understanding of magic deepened, and filled it with a soul-enriching vitality that both respects her tradition and is practical, and ultimately, proves beneficial in the end. Similar to this is how the methods of St. John Henry Newman, in ensuring that Catholic theology remains forever linked to its precursors, and builds off them, preserves its candour, while the Modernists render it in flux and deprive it of substance, use or meaningfulness. I find it ironic that the latter attempted to claim him as one of their own when, given what he wrote, I’m certain he would have absolutely rejected that appellation, let alone their ideas.

As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contradict and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt; for a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate, and begins to disturb, the acquisitions gained in its previous history… A true development, then, may be described as one which is conservative of the course of antecedent developments being really those antecedents and something besides them: it is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with a corruption.

St. John Henry Newman, Essay On The Development Of Doctrine, Part 2.1.6

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