HE ANCIENTS LIKED TO SAY: “Nothing in excess.” Make sure you find a balanced perspective. Give a little, take a little. Don’t go overboard. Life is full of compromises. Whatever you do, avoid the extremes. When it comes to our opinions and modes of behavior, thoughtful people prefer to see themselves as exponents and practitioners of the via media, the middle way.
The problem is, this often becomes a substitute for real thinking, for the hard work of clinging to the truth even when it is so unpopular or unrecognized that it looks extreme. There are times when the middle way is the wrong way. There are times when the middle way is the broad path that leads to destruction.
Let me offer some examples of how easily the via media logic can be abused. “Believers are too credulous, atheists are too assertive in the opposite direction, so the via media is agnosticism.” “Sedevacantists go to one extreme in their rejection of the reigning pope, while most traditional Catholics are too flaccid in their acceptance of him; the via media is the SSPX.” One could play this game for a long time, and always come out sitting pretty.
To show that this is a real intellectual problem, consider the via media that Blessed John Henry Newman actually believed and defended for many years: “Roman Catholicism is at the excess of superstition and corruption, Protestantism is at the extreme of cutting away tradition, Anglicanism is the happy mean in the middle.”
THEN NEWMAN DISCOVERED, when studying the council of Chalcedon, that historically there were three parties—two extremes and a middle; but, in fact, the one extreme was where the Pope and the orthodox faith stood, the other extreme was pure Arianism, and the middle was a clever attempt at a compromise. The Holy Spirit did not choose the via media in this case; He led the Church to choose what looked like the extreme to everyone at the time.
And, perhaps I should add, the Church “on the ground” was a terrible mess on all sides for a long time. You couldn’t simply look to what your bishop was saying, because many of the bishops had fallen into heresy. (One might think that with authoritative catechisms from papal giants St. Pius V, St. Pius X, and St. John Paul II, bishops and cardinals today would know, teach, and defend the faith handed down to us, but sadly, this no longer seems to be part of the job qualification.)
I once saw the claim, in a bulletin from England, that there is a via media between progressivism/liberalism and traditionalism. Interesting. What kind of a mean is it, I wonder? No doubt we can have too much of the wrong kind of progress, or too heavy a dose of that liberalism condemned by Leo XIII and other pontiffs, but can we have too much tradition? Can we receive, embrace, live, love, and pass on the Sacred Tradition of the Church too much?
The same bulletin went on to claim there is a mean between “liturgical silliness or corruption” and “liturgical snobbery.” We know, perhaps, what they mean by the latter, but the way it’s phrased just supports my point: it’s so easy to caricature your opponents so that you end up comfortably as the via media. Maybe we should concentrate less on who the extremes are (for we might be tempted to judgmentalism), and concentrate more on the truths we should adhere to with all our mind, the goods we should aspire to with all our heart, the beauty we should long for with all our soul, the holiness we should pursue with all our strength. In this way, we will be the right kind of extremists.
Please visit THIS PAGE to learn more about Dr. Kwasniewski’s Sacred Choral Works and the audio CDs that contain recordings of the pieces.