Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Origins of "Church Militant"

Recently while reading the discourses of P. Gregory the Great with Peter the Deacon concerning the immortality of the soul, I came across this interesting passage recounting how the death of multiple monks in Gregory's old monastery was foretold by an angelic visitor:
That those also, which lie a dying, do oftentimes by divine revelation foretell what shall happen afterward, we may learn by such things as have fallen out amongst us in divers Abbeys. For ten years since, there was a monk in my Monastery, called Gerontius, who, lying sore sick, saw by vision in the night time, certain white men beautifully apparelled to descend from above into the Monastery, and standing by his bed-side, one of them said: "The cause of our coming hither is to choose out certain of Gregory's monks, to send them abroad unto the wars": and forthwith he commanded another to write in a bill the names of Marcellus, Valentinian, Agnellus, and divers others, whose names I have now forgotten: that being done, he said further: "Put down also the name of him that now beholdeth us." By which vision he being assured of that which would come to pass, the next morning he told the monks, who they were that should shortly die out of the Monastery, adding also that himself was to follow them. The next day the foresaid monks fell more dangerously sick, and so died all in that very order which they were named in the bill. Last of all, himself also departed this life, who had foretold the departure of the other monks before him. (IV.xxvi)
What interested me especially was the phrase used by the angel of death, that these monks were being recruited to be "sent abroad unto the wars." This imagery of the saints in Heaven engaged in warfare is not, to my knowledge, found elsewhere. It makes sense that the souls of holy men war against the Devil just as the holy angels do, but still the appellation Ecclesia Militans is applied to us here on earth, and Ecclesia Triumphans describes those safe in the harbor of Heaven.

The imagery in the Militant-Triumphant metaphor is clear: the soul of a man on Earth is in constant warfare against sin, the world, the flesh, and the Devil; while the soul of a man in Heaven has triumphed over all these enemies and is established forever in grace. St. Thomas Aquinas used the Militant-Triumphant dichotomy in his Summa (II-I.102.4), but I cannot otherwise trace the origins of this terminology.

I have to wonder why the Gregorian imagery of the holy dead being sent off to war did not gain purchase in popular piety. Was it because of a increasing consciousness of the middle state, the Ecclesia Dolens? Did Purgatory conquer so much of the imagination that theologians desired to emphasize the rest and triumph of the state of blessedness? The ecclesial phrases suggest a transition from activity to passivity, but if the holy angels truly rest in the Beatific Vision and yet are perpetually active on our behalf, why should not the great "cloud of witnesses" do the same? We might we not go from one sort of militancy to another?

Mind you, I am not being critical or especially skeptical of the popular terminology of Militant-Suffering-Triumphant. I am merely curious about its origins. If any of our good readers have knowledge of this aspect of Catholic piety, I would love to hear it.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Joseph's Dream of God


Today being the external solemnity of the Feast of St. Joseph, I suppose I am required to say a few words. Thankfully, P. Francis has saved me from my writer's block with a new radio address (link courtesy of the ever-irascible Frank "Barnhardt Was Right" Walker):
Today I want to ask, grant to all of us the ability to dream, that when we dream great things, beautiful things, we might draw near to the dream of God, the things God dreams about us. [I ask] that he might give to young people – because he was young – the capacity to dream, to risk, to undertake the difficult tasks they have seen in dreams. And [I ask] him to give to all of us the faithfulness that tends to grow when we have a just attitude – Joseph was just – [the faithfulness that] grows in silence, with few words; that grows in tenderness that guards our own weaknesses and those of others.
Actually, I do like to imagine Joseph dreaming prophetically, when he was young, of his future bride and her Divine Son. Perhaps he, too, dreamed of the sun and moon bowing down before him, a figure of his eventual role as the head of the Holy Family.

Or perhaps Francis should re-read the ancient words of Sirach before encouraging the young to follow their dreams: "For dreams have deceived many, and they have failed that put their trust in them." Food for thought.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Audi Filia, et Vide, et Inclina Aurem Tuam


Above is a Stanford recreation of the acoustics of the Hagia Sophia and how chant would have sounded there in the Christian age. The Cappella Romana performed several Greek pieces, like the Cherubic hymn, which were then processed using an auditory blueprint of the cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum.

After listening to Greek chant in this setting the droning makes more sense than it does in modern Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches. Far from dominating the tone or drowning out inflections as it does today, the drone acts as background music to give body to the sound in the same way strings do to woodwinds in an orchestra or a bass does to a rock band. When the chant resonates the particular traits of words can be lost, but the drone, in the same key as the words sung when the drone was made, keeps the note clear as long as the noise persists. The melismatic nature of Gregorian chant in Latin Christendom and the chanting of reading doubtlessly accomplished the same end by slowing down the singing.

To have heard the Trisagion and to hear Chrysostom rebuke Eudoxia....

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's Lent, So Pray for the Dead


Lent is upon us, so please take the time to pray for the dead, either in the firmer structures of the Office of the Dead or in your own way (psalm 129 is great).

As usual we have prepared the page above where you can list your intentions and also download our formatted version of the un-reformed Officium Defunctorum for votive and Requiem uses. If you can, please join the writers of this blog in praying for our intentions.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

All Lined Up


I present you with a speculative question: when and how did the unitary movement of the three senior ministers at solemn Mass come about in the Latin Church? It is so fundamentally a part of the physical vocabulary of the Latin Church's liturgy that by the time of Trent it was done in seemingly every Western rite descended from the Church of Rome, hence excluding the Milanese and Toledoan rites.

My own guess is that it came in two stages: first with the principle of a singular celebrant for each Mass and second with the increase of reverences paid to the altar.

Sacramentaries and and psalters and the odd fragment of a lectionary come down to us from the pre-medieval days, but very few descriptions of the physical movements of the ministers. Even the increased output of book production from monasteries yielded very little in this regard; when the Oxford Oratorian Sean Finnegan put on Sarum Masses in 1996 and 1997 he derived the ceremonial from illustrations in old Missals and texts rather than concrete rubrics (although some of this may have to do with the modest number of Missals that survived the Reformation). The best hint as to the structure of the ministers in the early days of the Roman liturgy is the pre-Paul VI Papal Mass, the most direct link to the primitive Roman liturgy. In this order of Mass the Pope celebrated at the top step of the altar surrounded by an archpriest and the Cardinal-Bishops vested in copes. A step down from him were the deacons and at the bottom the subdeacon and the Greek deacon and subdeacon. Cardinal-Priests vested in the chasuble and Cardinal-Deacons in the dalmatic; they sat in choir according to the dignity of their Cardinal order, not their ordained order, as most Cardinals were forcibly ordained bishops by this time. As with the additional ministers in the ponitifical form of the Lyonese Mass these vestures and orders of stature are relics from an age when more ministers took an active part in the Mass. At some point the number of sacred ministers and their functions began to consolidate. For example, if the subdeacon is given the right to hold and purify vessels at ordination then why must he hold the paten under the hummeral veil? Simply because he is fulfilling the role previously occupied by the acolytes (cf. Ordo Romanus I) in the first millennium in Rome and in the northern rites under Trent (cf. Sarum); the acolyte in the Roman liturgy held the various patens on the ground level while the breads consecrated at the altar rested on the linens until the fracturing of the sacred species, as the subdeacon does today.

Why did the number of ministers and celebrants become reduced? Requiem Masses, private votive Masses, and additional Masses for the day had much to do with it. Outside of a few major feasts (Christmas, potentially Pascha, Nativity of St. John the Forerunner etc) it was very uncommon for a priest to celebrate more than once a day. The rise of unique Requiem Masses for deceased monks and votive Masses in honor of Saints gave monastic celebrants the option between a private Mass for a specific intentional and the communal Mass, which would be celebrated regardless. As the number of celebrants declined to one so the number of deacons, subdeacons, and acolytes declined to one each. As late as the age of Innocent III the Cardinal-Priests still concelebrated with the Pope on special feasts (then again the primitive Office was still used in St. Peter's and the Lateran, and the primitive Mass on the feast of St. Peter's Chair; the Pope may be referencing these usages and not the curial books popularized by the Minorites). While archaeological evidence remained at Papal Mass, Lyon, and Salisbury of additional ministers in the form of honorary attendees, the older number of active ministers clearly declined by the end of the High Middle Ages. There was one of each minister assigned, as they were in ancient times, to a step from the altar according to each minister's dignity.

This brings us to the second phase in the development of the concurrent movements of the ministers: the increased reverenced paid to the altar. With the single ministers aligned step by step they began to move in unison with the celebrant, who would reverence the altar before greeting the people with Dominus vobiscum. This happened with greater or lesser frequency depending on place. Sarum made a few reverences to the altar and the Dominus vobiscum before the orations happened from the corner where the Missal rested. In Rome the celebrant would move to the center of the altar, kiss it, and return to the Missal for the Collects and post-Communions, so the ministers moved with him.

If done without fuss the movements of the ministers rightly reflects the sacred order of the heavenly hosts, the choirs of angels and the saints in their place before the even high Lord of All. If overdone, these movements can appear comical, which was the impression a friend's mother (JP2 type) received after her first "old" Mass. "I like it when they nod their heads together."

I welcome any further insights on the development of these very Roman movements.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Foolishness of the Egyptians

"Israel they recognized for God's children only when the first-born died."
After the Canticle of Canticles, one moves into the books St. Jerome preferred be left out of the biblical canon. The Book of Wisdom is the first of these, and though it is written in the person of King Solomon, most commentators agree that it was written by another hand, and probably much later. Indeed, the sapiential style here more closely resembles that of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) than Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, being far more broad-ranging than Solomon's narrower considerations of court politics and personal responsibility.

Nonetheless, Wisdom is notable for its prophecy of Christ's Passion (ch. 2), its promotion of celibacy (ch. 3-4), and a universal condemnation of pagan idolatry through the example of the Egyptians (ch. 12ff.). This discourse on idolatry should be read carefully by everyone tempted to doubt the doctrine of Original Sin. The book ends abruptly after accusing Egypt of worse sins than Sodom, and of being more worthy of destruction (ch. 19), and I have to wonder if originally there was more to the manuscript.

(As an aside, the following passage seems to be one of the source texts for those who claim the sin of Sodom was not primarily one of, well, sodomy, but of inhospitality: "Did not their [the Egyptians'] own wickedness deserve the pains they suffered, a race even more inhospitable than the men of Sodom before them? These did but refuse a welcome when strangers came to their doors; the Egyptians condemned their own guests, their own benefactors, to slavery.")

Platonic philosophy may have influenced the writer, as in the following passages: "So well the Lord loved him, from a corrupt world he would grant him swift release" (ch. 4); "Ever the soul is weighed down by a mortal body, earth-bound cell that clogs the manifold activity of its thought" (ch. 9); "The power that created an ordered world out of dark chaos" (ch. 11); "What excellence must be his, the Author of all Beauty" (ch. 13). The four cardinal virtues, a categorization lifted from the Aristotelian school, are listed as well: "Temperance and prudence she teaches, justice and fortitude, and what in life avails man more?" (ch. 8). All this lends credence to a composition by a Greek-influenced author.

There is also a terrifying passage, applied to the Incarnation of the Son of God by the Church at Christmastide, but which in context refers to the descent of the avenging angel against the Egyptians at the first Passover:
Against those earlier plagues, sorcery had hardened their hearts; Israel they recognized for God's children only when the first-born died. There was a hush of silence all around, and night had but finished half her swift journey, when from thy heavenly throne, Lord, down leaped thy word omnipotent. Never lighted sterner warrior on a doomed land; never was sword so sharp, errand so unmistakable; thy word that could spread death everywhere, that trod earth, yet reached up to heaven. All at once came terror in their dreams; phantoms dismayed, and sudden alarms overtook them; and when they lay a-dying, each fallen where fall he must, they confessed what fault it was they expiated; all was foretold by the dreams that so disquieted them; they were not suffered to perish ignorant of their offence. (ch. 18)
One might read Wisdom also as a theodicy and a justification of God's punishments. No corner or cave does the inspired author give to sinners who seek to flee God's all-seeing eye. "It is the wicked that... court death, and melt away in its embrace" (ch. 1); "Since the devil's envy brought death into the world, they make him their model that take him for their master" (ch. 2); "Thou knewest well that theirs was a worthless breed... an accursed race" (ch. 12); "Sinner and sin, God hates both" (ch. 14); "Over [the Egyptians] this heavy curtain of night was spread, image of the darkness that should be their next abode" (ch. 17); "They were not suffered to perish ignorant of their offence" (ch. 18); and so forth. A worthy meditation for Lent, I suppose.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Gregory the Great


Today marks the traditional feast of P. Gregory I, surnamed Magnus, one of the brightest lights of the Catholic priesthood. A tireless reformer, writer, and lover of monasticism, Gregory is known for his revisions of the Roman Rite of the liturgy, for his Scripture commentaries, and perhaps most popularly for his Dialogues, which serve as an early collection of hagiography and monastic history. The voluminous Moralia in Job was not only a Scripture commentary of the highest order, but a source of allegorical imagery that would influence Western iconography for many centuries. He is said to have been so impressed by the natural virtues of the pagan Emperor Trajan that he beseeched God to raise the man from the dead so that he could receive baptism; the Almighty promptly granted the pope's request, and the pagan emperor soon found himself plucked from the fires of Hell and admitted into the joys of Heaven.

So exalted were his writings that Gregory is often depicted, as above, with the Divine Dove speaking in his ear, as though his writings were inspired like the Holy Writ itself. During his own life he was occasionally painted in art with a square nimbus, an iconographical oddity permitted for the depiction of living, holy men. His feast is celebrated on this day (of his death) even among the heretics and schismatics, with the 1969 neo-kalendar being the sole exception.

From Lauds:
Deus, qui animae famuli tui Gregorii aeternae beatitudinis praemia contulisti: concede propitius; ut qui peccatorum nostrorum pondere premimur, ejus apud te precibus sublevemur.

O God, who hast blessed the soul of thy servant Gregory with an everlasting blessing, mercifully grant that we, who groan under the burden of our sins, may by his prayers be relieved.