Thursday, June 30, 2022

Catholic and Guénonian Traditionalism, and the Angelico Press

As well as the Guénonian Traditionalism that this blog follows, there is also “Catholic Traditionalism,” the broad stream of Roman Catholic thought that is hostile to the ascendent liberalism that it identifies with the Second Vatican Council. In general, Guénonian and Catholic Traditionalism are quite separate phenomena, but Alistair McFadden (a pseudonym) has drawn my attention to an overlap between the two at US-based Angelico Press, one of the leading “traditional” Catholic publishers.

Angelico Press is important for Catholic Traditionalism. In McFadden’s words, “Traditional Catholics will likely have at least one Angelico title on their bookshelves.” Others agree about the press’s importance. 

McFadden, himself a traditional Catholic, finds the presence of Traditionalist and other esoteric voices at Angelico problematic, as he argues in a long blog post, “Observations on the Influence of the Occult in Traditional Catholic Discourse.” It is not the scope of this blog to address such judgments. But publishing Traditionalist works was one reason why Angelico was established in the first place, as explained in an interview (here) by its founder and current president, John Riess:

I wanted to run a Catholic press, yet reach beyond what most Catholic presses were publishing: to explore the catholicity past and present of the tradition; to give a mouthpiece to contemporary Catholic voices such as Stratford Caldecott, Jean Borella, and Jean Hani.

Caldecott (1953-2014) was and English convert to Catholicism who seems to have been what I term a “soft” (Guénonian) Traditionalist, while Borella (b. 1930) and Hani (1917-2012) were leading French Catholic (Guénonian) Traditionalists. Riess’s partner in starting Angelico was James Wetmore, the director of the leading US (Guénonian) Traditionalist publisher Sophia Perennis. Angelico, then, was as much a (Guénonian) Traditionalist publisher that became popular among traditional Catholics as it was a traditional Catholic publisher that published (Guénonian) Traditionalists.

Angelico’s success among traditional Catholics owes something to the fact that it republishes traditional Catholic classics. The model of republishing classics was pioneered by the US publisher Dover, starting in the 1940s, and Riess worked for 15 years at Dover before starting Angelico. Its current list includes not only Catholic and Traditionalist authors, but also Rainer Maria Rilke and Max Weber.

In 2020, Angelico’s imprints included a joint Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis imprint with sixteen books, and a purely Sophia Perennis imprint with three books. These imprints have now vanished from Angelico's website, perhaps partly as a reaction to McFadden’s criticisms, but the books involved remain. At time of writing, Angelico has, as intended, published Caldecott, Borella, and Hani (four books each). It has also published contemporary Catholic (Guénonian) Traditionalists—notably Wolfgang Smith (born 1930) and Bernard Kelly (see earlier post here—and non-Catholic (Guénonian) Traditionalists—notably Charles Upton and Brian Keeble (born 1941). And it has also republished classic (Guénonian) Traditionalists, including Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) and Lord Northbourne (1896-1982), and the “soft” Traditionalist (and typeface designer) Eric Gill (1882-1940).

Angelico, then, is known as a major “traditional” Catholic publisher, and is also a significant (Guénonian) Traditionalist publisher. As such, it represents an overlap or even a mixing of two formerly distinct streams within contemporary religious thought, an interesting development. My thanks to McFadden for bringing it to my attention.

Note

  • Jean Borella (b. 1930) and Jean Hani (1917-2012) were leading French Catholic Traditionalists. Borella was a professor of philosophy, and for many years the leading Catholic Traditionalist in France. For some years in the 1990s he was the joint editor of the journal Connaissance des religions (1985-2005), which was in effect the Schuonian successor to the original Études traditionnelles of René Guénon. Jean Hani was also a French scholar (of classical antiquity), a Traditionalist, a Catholic, and a regular contributor to Connaissance des religions.
  • Stratford Caldecott (1953-2014) was an English scholar and convert to Catholicism who accepted the Traditionalist understanding of the transcendent unity of religions but does not seem to have been a paid-up Traditionalist, though he is said to have often cited Borella. He acknowledged the influence of Guénon’s one-time sponsor, the great French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973).

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I’d like to offer a few thoughts about two of the figures discussed in this post, Stratford Caldecott and Jean Borella, in an effort to place them more accurately on the Traditionalist spectrum. Rather than a “soft Guenonian Traditionalist,” Caldecott may best be identified as a “John-Paul II Catholic,” which means that he embraced Vatican II while seeing in it (as did John-Paul II) a greater opening to traditional thought than do most liberal Catholics, who tend to ignore the many traditionalist elements in the key Council documents. Alternatively, one might describe Caldecott as an ardent Balthasarian and Bonaventurian Traditionalist, as those two theologians were among his primary inspirations. As for Jean Borella, while both he and Caldecott recognized Guenon’s pioneering work in esoteric studies, both lamented Guenon’s persistent failure to understand the Catholic sacraments. Borella, in his magisterial work "Guenonian Esoterism & Christian Mystery," provides an invaluable Catholic analysis of controversial aspects of Guenon’s great project, while Caldecott’s books and essays vigorously investigate, inter alia, the reluctance of both Guenon and Schuon to recognize the ultimate and essential principial nature of the Trinity in Catholic metaphysics (both doctrine and dogma).

Gauthier Pierozak said...

It is worth mentioning that Angelico Press has also published Charbonneau-Lassay’s “Vulnerary of Christ”in 2020. Charbonneau-Lassay, a French Catholic, was also a very good friend of René Guénon, just like Coomaraswamy.