Mottramism: Another Wavian Neologism?

The religious website Where Peter Is has posted an article defending Pope Francis against charges of “Mottramism” by his critics. The posting is by Nathan Turowsky and opens with this:

Critics of Pope Francis on social media use many terms to describe his defenders, including “papolator,” “ultramontanist,” “pope-worshipper,” and “bergoglian.” A more clever but less-frequently used name is “Mottramist.” Mottramism is a reference to Rex Mottram, an extremely unsympathetic character from Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Brideshead Revisited. It’s an intriguing allusion; however, the way the term is used betrays a serious misunderstanding of the point of the character and of Waugh’s novel as a whole.

After describing the portrayal of the character in Waugh’s novel, Turowsky focuses on Rex’s  response to the question posed by Father Mowbray, the priest in the novel who is instructing him, about whether Christ had more than one nature. From this, Turowsky proceeds to identify the basis for the term being applied to Pope Francis by his critics:

I count three different types of mangling of Catholic belief. The first is [Rex’s] willingness to blindly accept anything asserted by a Church authority, regardless of whether it’s true. The second is his inability or unwillingness to understand what it is he is accepting; he does not say, for example, that Jesus must have two natures because it is what the Church teaches, but that Jesus must have however many natures the priest thinks He has. The third is his willingness to deny not only theological truths (many of which are revealed and thus by definition non-obvious) but manifest empirical reality in the interest of believing whatever he thinks he is being told to believe. “Mottramism” in the sense that Pope Francis’s critics use the word is for the most part limited to the first of these problems.

Turowsky attached an addendum to his post offering some links illustrating examples of how the term Mottramism has been used:

…the term goes back much further than I thought and didn’t always have factional or ideological connotations. It appears to date from late in the papacy of St. John Paul II; however, I personally never saw it before about 2015. Here is a Twitter personality using the word as a hashtag to describe people who believe Pope Francis’s account of his actions on the abuse crisis over Archbishop Viganò’s. Here, a blogger describes Mottramism as a “Fake Catholicism” along with Ancient Faith Radio (which doesn’t even claim to be Catholic; it’s an Eastern Orthodox media outlet). Here, somebody going by the username Dante Alighieri compares Rex’s “spiritual rain” to readers of Laudato Si’ accepting Pope Francis’s acceptance of scientific consensus on the existence of anthropogenic climate change. On the other hand, here is Rod Dreher using the term to describe a tweet by Father Antonio Spadaro that, in all honesty, raised red flags for me too. Dreher has also used the term to describe uncritical confidence in US President Donald Trump.

He concludes his own defense of the Pope as follows:

In the end, the problem with Mottram is his lack of intellectual curiosity and refusal to consider any possible truths beyond shopworn conventional wisdom, received decrees from authority figures, and thought-terminating clichés. To describe defenders of Pope Francis as adherents of Mottramism is to badly misunderstand both the loathsome qualities of Rex and the nuanced positions of serious Catholics who support and defend the Holy Father.

This is not the place to debate these religious points. The website linked above offers an opportunity for comments. But it is interesting to note the source in Waugh’s writings for what may have become a name for a new theological concept.

UPDATE (30 September 2019): The above posting was amended to incorporate some additional information attached to original article.

UPDATE (12 October 2019): A similar discussion was posted on 29 August by a Nashville blogger on the website sameandother.com.

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2 Responses to Mottramism: Another Wavian Neologism?

  1. Nathan Turowsky says:

    Hello,

    I’ve perused the Evelyn Waugh Society’s website every now and then since I first started reading Waugh’s work about four years ago and I’m surprised and honored that the Society noticed my piece. You’re entirely right that my failure to provide specific examples is a flaw in the piece and I’ve since added to it to include some links to real uses of the term.

    Yours sincerely,
    Nathan Turowsky

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