Thursday, October 12, 2017

Calendar Quandaries

Introducing a New Feast Day the Right Way

Pius XI at the throne during a Papal Chapel in St. Peter's
With all the talk lately about "integrating" the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form of Mass, in particular with regard to adding feast days of recently canonized Saints, it might be useful to look to the not-so-distant past: the most recent period when the traditional calendar was left mostly undisturbed--a key provision!--even though new feasts were added.

Under Pius XI (of happy memory), some changes to the calendar were not entirely felicitous, in my opinion. The feast of Christ the King is certainly a beautiful and noble devotion, but its liturgical observance does--we have to admit--act as a "perpetual translation" of the last Sunday of October. (Further, there is, in the associated Office, the unwelcome innovation of using at Matins fragments of a psalm, Psalm 88: that is, one psalm divided into two sections, something otherwise unheard of in the Office of Matins. But that is a quibble for another time.)

Some have argued, not without reason, that Christ the King essentially duplicates, in order to bring into relief, the mystery celebrated on Ascension Day. And although there is a kind of precedent in the duplication of the Transfiguration on August 6th from the Second Sunday of Lent, it is not a completely apt precedent in that there is no holy event in the life of the Church associated with the "Sunday nearest All Saints" as there is for August 6th (the relief of Belgrade thanks to St. John Capistrano and his battle cry of the Holy Name).

The extension by Pius XI of the feast of the Sacred Heart with an Octave is obviously modeled on the Octave of Corpus Christi. With the advantage of hindsight, though, it does seem perhaps to attempt too much with too little. I mean, the texts (not the reality of the mystery!) simply do not possess the splendor of St. Thomas's Office and Mass. Perhaps it's impossible that they could, since devotion to the Sacred Heart, properly so called, is essentially modern (post-Tridentine). In the medieval and ancient Church, devotion to the Sacred Heart seemed to be more intertwined with devotion to the Passion and consequently enjoyed greater literary riches to draw on. I must add, though, that I am myself attached to the Sacred Heart devotion and do not consider its post-Tridentine provenance to make it any less necessary or accessible. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that the Octave was sufficiently warranted, especially at the expense of Simplex feasts that went without their Office if they fell during the Octave.

Be all that as it may, the feast of the Divine Maternity on October 11th seems to be almost perfectly in line with traditional additions to the calendar. It is Pius XI's "liturgical monument" or memorial of the 1,500th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus with its emphatic confirmation of the title Theotokos, Dei Genetrix. With the exception of the specially composed or selected hymns for Matins and Lauds (which are, thankfully, more of the ecclesiastical Latin variety than the ersatz-Horatian style, as found in some Enlightenment forays into hymnography), lessons for the nocturnes, and the antiphons (and none of this is without precedent), everything else comes from the Common, as is the usual Roman custom. (After all, why have Commons if they are never used?) Although someone might argue that there was no "crying need" for a special feast of the Divine Maternity (that mystery is included in January 1st, after all), still he would have to agree that the choice of the date was apt; no violence was done to an existing feast; and nothing jarring or out of place with the Roman Church's liturgical customs was introduced.

Saints Days: Can't Live without Them, Can't Live with Them?

With all that as background, let us consider the unobjectionable proposal much bruited in recent years to "enrich" the Extraordinary Form with new Saints' days. One candidate, we are informed, would be Padre Pio, the great Stigmatist and Capuchin Confessor (in both senses of the word). While I doubt there is anyone who would question the outstanding holiness of St. Pio or his relevance to the contemporary Church amid all her afflictions, there is still the problem of his feast day, Sept. 23rd. Traditionally, this is the feast of St. Linus, with a commemoration of the much-revered Virgin, St. Thecla. Personally, I am skeptical, in the prevailing climate, whether much thought, if any at all, would be given to St. Linus or St. Thecla, because "who even knows who they are?" St. Pio is seen as more immediately important to the faithful. There was already a spate of this kind of reckoning in recent centuries, when ancient Martyrs' feast days were made to give way in the universal calendar to more recent celebrations: Pope St. Stephen I (St. Alphonsus), St. Lawrence's Octave Day (St. Hyacinth), Sts. Felix and Adauctus (St. Rose of Lima), and so forth.

St. Pio of Pietralcina (as celebrant at Easter High Mass):
Is there room in the traditional calendar for the holy Stigmatist?

In all these cases (and others could be cited), the feast particular to the Roman Church is subordinated to the celebration of a Saint pertaining to the Roman Church in the broad sense (St. Alphonsus being somewhat of an exception, of course) but in fact more universal and immediate in appeal, at least at the time of the canonization. Of course, the weight of tradition made it impossible in those days to suppress the earlier feasts entirely. Does anyone doubt that any such hesitation would come to bear nowadays, especially given the minimalist leanings of the 1962 revision?

Of course, no one is suggesting suppressing the feasts of St. Rose, St. Hyacinth, or any other great and established celebration. Rather, the question is: to what extent, if any, do the post-Vatican II Saints merit a universal observance at the expense of more ancient feast days? John Rotondi at his excellent blog Current Tridentine Ordo has suggested how the traditional calendar could be revised to give due weight once again to the particularly ancient and Roman elements of the liturgical year. Among other principles, he suggests reducing in rank or relegating to local calendars those Saints whose devotional appeal, or importance as founders of particular congregations, is no longer what it once was (for instance, St. Francis Carracciolo). His work has laid a foundation and set a precedent for approaching the suggestion grudgingly discussed nowadays of incorporating the new, post-Vatican II feasts into the traditional calendar.

Possible Principles for the Universal Roman Calendar

First: the Roman calendar, though of universal importance, is at the same time the calendar of the local Church in Rome. As such, it should retain its distinctive feasts and observances.

Second: any new feast incorporated into the universal Roman calendar must be of an importance, both for the Church in Rome and the Church Universal, that is unmistakable. Among the precedents from past ages of the Church might be: St. Cyprian, St. Thomas of Canterbury, Sts. Francis and Dominic, St. Teresa of Ávila. All of these Saints, of course, had a connection with the Roman Church even in its aspect as a local Church. They also had a great importance for the Church Universal, including the local Church at Rome, and this importance is unmistakable.

Is there room even for Paul VI?
Third: relegation to a local or particular calendar is not a sign of disrespect or disdain. Even Rome qua local Church has its particular calendar (St. Urban II, Bl. Innocent XI, et al.). Leaving aside the dubious mechanisms of the "new canonization process," we would willingly allow St. John Paul II to be celebrated in Poland and some other places. But to argue that his importance for the Church Universal is as undeniable as St. Cyprian's or St. Thomas Aquinas's is to be caught up in the enthusiasms of the present day. (Does anyone, for instance, read or cite Laborem exercens even one-tenth as much as De Ente et Essentia? Or would anyone put on a par with St. Cyprian's letters a Post-Synodal Exhortation--Pastores dabo vobis--that encourages seminarians to cultivate their "feminine side"?)

Finally: if we haven't realized by now that anything that deviates from the well-trodden path of Tradition ("Worker Priests," lay investiture, nouvelle théologie, etc. ad nauseam) is bound to end in frustration, error, or defeat, then we probably have no business meddling with something so delicate and fraught with consequence as the calendar of the venerable and sacrosanct Church of Rome.

Having said all this, I would be interested to hear which, if any, of the post-conciliar Saints our readers would consider nominating for the universal calendar of the traditional Mass and Office. Are any of sufficient weight to justify supplanting existing feasts or commemorations?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Abyssus Abyssum Invocat: A Vocation for Literature?

"I don't believe in hell, not for things like that," said Lady Julia to her dim brother Bridey and the Marchmain matriarch in Brideshead Revisited. Oh, to long for the day when people debated what was a sin, if only to assuage their own guilt and justify their actions while their consciences actively accused them! Counter culture, where is thy victory? Counter culture, where is thy sting?

It has stung and gone, leaving a wounded people behind. In our post-Reformation, individualistic society we can no longer rely on mere social convention to condemn our sins. Indeed, Dostoevsky's Christian novels confirm that sometimes society lags and fails to condemn the sinner as quickly as his own conscience does. Despite living in the Pyrrhic "Holy Russia", Dostoevsky was a prophet for our time in imagining how the individual remains cognizant of his sin, despite every plausible justification by sound logic and every external act of evasion. Raskolnikov's land lady may well have been a userer and a wretch, and he may have intended to use her funds for the good, but had he proven himself any better before the noble prostitute Sofya convinced him to repent?

If Dostoevsky's anarchistic guilt was meant for the lonely Christian, Donna Tartt's guilt is meant for the lonely modern brat. Tartt, a convert to Catholicism with a brilliant command of technical writing (although her latest book could have been half as long), writes impossibly modern characters, people who live like dogs, meandering between one set of sensory experiences to another, often supplemented by cocaine, a bottle of scotch, and a one-night stand. From Richard Papen in The Secret History to Theo Decker in her Pulitzer Prize winning Goldfinch, her main characters (they're unworthy of joining Frodo Baggins in the dignified realm of "protagonists") lead transitory existences, unaware of the moral consequences of their actions.

Like many novels, the interesting characters are the secondary ones, and in Tartt it is these who are the writer's guinea pigs in her experiments with sin. In The Secret History a group of characters accidentally kill a farmer during a reenactment of a Bacchanalia; to cover their tracks, the tight-knit coterie have to murder one of their loose-lipped friends. Most of the characters cannot sleep with the guilt of having killed to cover up killing; the funerary process is especially taxing, as the deceased's family reminds them of their iniquity, keeping their sin always before them. One character, whose conceived both the Bacchanalia and the cover-up killing, is unmoved to the point of attempting to murder his lover's guilt-ridden brother. The stoic pagan's own events corner him and he can do little other than eat a bullet from a Beretta. The largely irreligious work concludes with the survivors hearing Mass on Ash Wednesday.

Her third novel, Goldfinch, has an unhappy character as disjointed as Richard from The Secret History. His occasional companion, Boris, is quite different. Boris is not a good man; he shares many of the same vices as the lead figure, however, he does not seem to enjoy it. Amid a turgid, long novel with little direction, we hear of Boris' sympathy for Dostoevsky's characters, the sinners who are closer to God than the rest if only because they are aware of the sins that carry with them as they ambulate through life. The dull Theo dismisses this idle Christmas day talk, but Boris insists that, like the agonizing Russian sinners of novels past, he will put right what he has done to our narrator by doing the right thing—not by amending his perspective like Ebeneezer Scrooge, his choices are his problem, not his perspective.

The modern novelist may not be able to write a story with as vivid as Christian metaphysic for guilt and penitence as Dostoevsky nor pen as nostalgic a narrative of grace as Waugh. The last tool at the writer's disposal in an impersonal, atomistic society may well be the bare bones formula of sin, awareness of sin, guilt, and repentance. Natural law for those intentionally ignorant of Divine law. The Church may not accuse them, but the conscience will if they listen.
"Therefore was I at war with myself, and destroyed by myself. And this destruction overtook me against my will, and yet showed not the presence of another mind, but the punishment of my own." St. Augustine, The Confessions (VIII.10)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Picking Sides

“Wizards are always troubled about the future. I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me.”
The busybodies of online Christendom are forever insistent on side-picking. In the eternal struggle between Them & Apollyon, there is little patience for those engaged in unhasty thought and deliberation, those who watch and pray, those who are not swift to judge and are willing to work within the established rules. Cdl. Burke has been viciously insulted by those who lack the capacity for longsuffering, and others who will not sign the correction for various reasons are despised for their tardiness. These gadflies do have a point that consideration must eventually lead into action, but not all action is wise even if it is well-intended, and not all delay is cowardly or lethargic.

Hasty action ends, more times than not, in regrettable situations. It ends in pro-choice conservative candidates. It ends with a charismatic young actor in the papacy. It ends in the trusted white wizard devastating your forest to fuel his war machines. It ends with hands covered in blood or a belly full of hemlock.

The whole Western world has turned activist. Long gone are the days when common folk could keep to themselves and fight only when fought against, or when forced to fight by their rulers. The half-educated are propagandists who exploit the wrath of the quarter-educated with crafty slogans and long-buried resentments. We are rending the Church apart over a footnote inserted by a devil, but have more than a few dozen across the globe even bothered to read Amoris Laetitia in its entirety? Who would even care to do so, when the next papacy or the one after that will overturn it? Our days would be better spent reading The City of God or even Tolkien's Silmarillion than the doorstops printed by the Vatican press.

Is the age of activism better than the previous age of passive clericalism? Perhaps in some aspects, but it is scarcely a lasting solution. The earlier sense of lay people that they were comfortably sheltered from the occasional madness of their betters by the mere fact of their lower station has been eroded by the artificial elevation of the laity. There is no escape from the news cycle, nor from the demand of busybodies that they must decide on Important Issues without delay and without sufficient education. Suspension of judgment is considered unacceptable when all people are required to choose between polar positions that did not even exist mere weeks before.

Lay siege to Isengard and imprison the mischievous wizard within, if that is necessary for the world's safety. Make sure that Wormtongue is captured as well. Enjoy the peace of good Shire tobacco while the enemy screams and withers away.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

After the Reformation VI: the Baroque

Is the Baroque Simply Late (Very Late) Gothic?

St. Paul's, Antwerp, during High Mass

One of the more debated points in the reemergence of the traditional Latin Liturgy is whether the Baroque is the ideal artistic vehicle for the expression of the traditional Mass. I use "ideal" advisedly, because, while some may tolerate or even have a certain affection for the Gothic or the Classical Revival or even the arte moderne of the twentieth century, the exemplar sans pareil remains, for some, the Baroque. Contrariwise--I need hardly add on a blog that boasts a tongue-in-cheek Liturgical Boutique--some will tolerate the Baroque but prefer the Gothic, in all its manifestations, and lament that it has been so unjustly dethroned by the Baroque.

But, what if the whole controversy is really a lites vocum, a mere dispute about terms? What if the Baroque was simply the exotic flower that budded forth from the no less exotic rod of the Gothic? Granted, here we take "Gothic" to mean the Late Gothic, sometimes referred to as "Flamboyant" (or in England, the Perpendicular).

In other words--in the illustration above of St. Paul's, Antwerp, from the good ol' days--does the Baroque altar piece, with the elements it obviously borrowed from the so-called Renaissance, represent an awkward break with the soaring Gothic vaulting and arches surrounding it? Or rather, does it, like the Gothic before it, simply incorporate and transform elements of the classical tradition, so that the broken pediments and doubled columns are made to soar upward like those glorious Gothic arches?

The Argument from Architecture

If we turn briefly to architecture, we must keep in mind that no one is arguing that the Baroque and the Gothic (even the Late Gothic) are essentially the same style. They are, of course, decidedly distinct. What is being proposed--at least for your amused consideration--is the possibility that there was a seamless transition from the one to the other.

First, let's dispense with a somewhat shopworn idea about the Baroque, namely that the Gesù in Rome is the First Baroque Church.
Interior of the Gesù
There is no doubt that elements that would later be considered typically Baroque made their first appearance at the Gesù, but too much insistence on this aspect ignores the plain fact--so plain that it's literally the focus of the eye in the above perspective--that the basic style is Renaissance. The pediment, for example, that forms the altar piece is not especially Baroque-looking; it's more in the Palladian style, like many other Italian Renaissance buildings. In short, it would be a mistake to take this first essay into the Baroque as the standard of comparison when we try to make a case for the Baroque developing out of the Late Gothic.

But on to the matter at hand! Let us consider a very late example of the Gothic: St. Anne's in Vilnius, Lithuania (from 1500):

Abstracting from its, shall we say, Northern influences, one can say, without being too fanciful, that arches are being assimilated to pediments (over the three main doors and mid-way up the two flanking towers), while the pilasters and other architectural features of the towers more or less serve to frame the central, eye-catching façade of the nave.

A similar use of lines and focus is very typical of the Baroque as well:
San Telmo Palace, Seville
Perhaps the affinity of the one style for the other becomes even more obvious once we enter inside. The altar piece of the cathedral of Toledo is necessarily labeled "Gothic" because of the time period and the style of its constituent parts:
It nevertheless shares a certain esprit d'exubérance with another altar piece, one with a clearly Baroque pedigree:

One might argue that the characteristically Spanish idea of the grand retablo is here simply rendered in two different styles: the Late Gothic and the Baroque. We can concede the point, provided that we recognize that doing so confirms our argument that both styles are capable of similar expression; both are of the same lineage, as it were. One can hardly imagine a similarly monumental retable in the Classical Revival style.

The Argument from the Pictorial Arts

It's a commonplace of art history that Gothic sculpture and painting gradually relaxed--some would say developed--the rigid canons of the Romanesque into a more expressive and lifelike idiom. Even by the High Middle Ages, sculptors were portraying the Saints with human expressions, as though to elicit the viewer's affection and confidence.

Late Gothic (ca. 1471): even figuratively, the Gothic opens to a vista of perspective and classical elements that would soon move to the fore in the new Baroque style.
Although the characteristically Late Gothic S-curve is only subtly implied in the figure of Our Lady, the very human affection of the Child and His Mother--as well as the quiet devotion of the attending Angels--is beautifully represented. We might also note the use of flowing draperies to heighten the impressiveness and majesty of the figures, a technique the Baroque would use to full advantage. Simultaneously, with other subjects at any rate, the portrayal of emotion and humanity became quite prominent in the Late Gothic:

It seems reasonable to suggest that in the Baroque descendants of these types of artwork, there is a difference in degree but not in substance, albeit some stylistic details have certainly changed. Here is Our Lady of Victories, of seventeenth-century vintage, with impressive draperies and the S-curve very much in evidence; the tender affection of Mother and Child, though, is now replaced with the regal gravitas of the Queen and her Son, in warning, perhaps, to the new threat of the Protestant heresy:

In the most representative examples, everything in the Baroque is directed toward the intense emotion to be associated with the dogma depicted, as in this world-famous stucco sculpture in Bavaria of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin:

Form, movement, gesture, and expression:
all direct the spectator to rejoice in awe at the resurrection of the Most Blessed Virgin
It probably should be noted that one thing the two Baroque sculptures have in common with each other and many other Baroque artworks is the sense of triumph, something rarely encountered in the Gothic, even in imposing scenes of the Last Judgment over many a cathedral's west door. Whether this emphasis on the Church's defeat of error and darkness is an adaptation of the Gothic genius or a new departure altogether is but another facet of the question we began with.

The Argument from Music

Terminology is more problematic when it comes to music. Bach is considered "classical" music, but his output is more accurately categorized as Baroque. Handel seems, somehow, to be more commonly placed in the Classical category, and yet he was a contemporary of Bach's. At the other end of things, one rarely hears the term "Gothic" applied to the polyphony of the early sixteenth century, but the Gothic in other realms of art certainly extended into those years.

I would offer only a few thoughts for your consideration rather than, by trying to summarize too much, risk oversimplifying something as sui generis as music.
Josquin: Gothic, Renaissance, or sui generis?
The great bond of continuity between these epochs--whatever we call them--is the plain-chant. "Renaissance" polyphony (simultaneous with Late Gothic painting and architecture) often made use of the "parody": the independent voices (or melodic lines) that combine to form the polyphony derive from some familiar tune. Often enough (though not always--hence the reform at Trent) that tune was from the chant, as for example in the Mass "Pange, lingua" by Josquin des Prez ( 1521).

Similarly, the great J. S. Bach wrote several works on the chorale melody "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland," usually translated "O Saviour of the Nations, Come," which itself is derived from the plain-chant hymn "Veni, Redemptor gentium," still in use after Trent in some Latin rites. Bach's preludes and other works derived from "Nun komm" added a great deal of flourish and extravagance (in the original sense) to the old-style parodies of the Late Gothic (or Renaissance, if one prefer). As with architecture and the pictorial arts, the Baroque influence retained something of the original inspiration while greatly amplifying the more imposing aspects.

Even the great Handel (admired by Mozart and Beethoven alike), whose predilection for striking homophonic passages is well-known--e.g., "Wonderful, Counselor," etc.,  from Messiah--concluded that great oratorio with a sweeping melismatic fugue on "Amen."

Even the quintessentially Classical Mozart in his later (more mature) years, turned to the heritage handed on by Bach and others, and he thereby gave us his most memorable and deeply impressive work, the Requiem. He makes use of chant melodies and psalm tones in that great composition, but apparently only by way of other German composers in the Baroque tradition (as some have argued).


This little survey is obviously very summary, and the examples have been narrowly chosen. If a certain probability has been established for the continuity of the Late Gothic and the Baroque, nevertheless certain questions remain unanswered. For instance, which elements of the Late Gothic were left behind by the Baroque, joined as it was to the efforts of the so-called Counter-Reformation? Did, perhaps, the humanity and tenderness of Late Gothic devotion fall into obscurity because of the new emphasis on the triumph of the Faith? Did the renewed interest in purely classical forms sacrifice too much of the Gothic's unmistakably Catholic and otherworldly idiom? After all, when the Baroque is most independent of its Late Gothic roots--say, at a Mass in Vienna's Karlskirche, Mozart's "Sparrow" Mass chirping away in the choir loft--that is when it most seems a rupture rather than a development.

Nevertheless, it's still worth considering that the Baroque, perhaps a little indiscriminately at times, embodies essentially the same exuberance and sheer joy in the beauty of our Faith as the Late Gothic that preceded it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

St. Francis: Where Reform Begins

The courtyard of the Lateran Cathedral is unassuming, little more than an expanse of grass and brick stretching fifty yards in each direction. To the west is the baroque facade to the Cathedral, to the north is the apse of the Great Hall of the original Lateran Palace, built before the age of Constantine and which held five general councils during the Middle Ages. Like all medieval piazzas and squares, the courtyard became a general market by day and a public forum by night; from the middle of the first millennium until about 1000, the citizens of Rome would attend the funeral of the recently deceased pope and immediately elect his succession by popular acclamation. It was here in 1210 that a Roman ambulating through the day's vegetable, fish, and meat offerings might happen upon a barefooted man dressed in sackcloth preaching a sermon to pigs.

The early life of Saint Francis of Assisi took place during an unimpressive spiritual point in Church history. Three crusades had been waged; the archbishop of Constantinople formally rebuked his Communion with Rome; Saladin had retaken Jerusalem; and aside from Innocent III, the Roman Pontiffs generally spent their time helplessly trying to convince the kings of Europe to undertake another expedition to the Holy Land while the cardinals inelegantly juggled the concerns of the foreign masters. And a young ex-soldier named Giovanni Pietro "Francesco" di Bernardone seemed happily unmoved by any of it.

Francis was moved by the detachment of living in poverty, stripped of the elegant clothing his father's business, silk trading, afforded him. Contrariwise to Brother Sun, Sister Moon Francis did not convert his living standard to Christ in an instant, but after the experience of begging for food while a pilgrim. He cultivated a life in the world and apart from its passions with friends he knew for years. In 1205 he received a vision commissioning him to "rebuild the Church." As a man who understood the parochial nature of the Church, he and his beggar-brethren he gathered to himself restored the downtrodden church of San Damiano. It was only after going to Rome five years later that this vision was understood more broadly.

Francis attracted a substantial following to his vagrant, mendicant manner of living and praying. Poorly dressed and probably smelling quite rancid, he made his way to Rome to ask Innocent III to bless his nascent order. He walked through the markets and trading posts in the Lateran square, through the Constantinian basilica, to the apse where a short man from Segni, ornamented in cope and crown, held court. The pope beholding Francis's deportment and hearing him speak incongruously told the visitor from Assisi to "save [his] sermons for the pigs." After finishing court Pope Innocent walked through the courtyard to enter the then-larger Lateran Palace only to see the man he ejected in fact preaching to the pigs as he had asked. Innocent arranged for Francis to pay another visit the following day, which was preceded by the now renown dream in which the Pontiff saw Francis bolstering the collapsing Lateran.

The Minorites proliferated as men sought to be like Francis, although the desire to be like Francis rather than follow his way, as was normally the case among founders of orders, proved to be a lasting defect of his following. Francis was ordained to the diaconate so he could lawfully read the Gospel and preach to the faithful in churches. He even returned to battle, so to speak, in preaching to Malik al-Kamil, the sultan, in hopes that he would convert and end the Crusades.

At the end of his life Francis became the first stigmatist, something not lost on the people of the age, whose devotion to the sufferings of Christ (cf. Five Wounds devotion) contrasted with the distance at which prelates lived from people. Bishops may well have been selected among learned monks, but they were just as often selected among second born gentry. In suffering with Christ Francis credibly touched the faithful and encouraged reform where most clergy, even the good, failed. And in begging with his friends and rebuilding a local parish he aided in rebuilding the broader Church. And today he is honored in Rome, not at the tomb of Saint Peter, now the symbolic center of the Church, but in the head local Church in Rome, the Lateran Cathedral, where in the north side stands a chapel to the Saint. It is baroque, but quite plain; its pediment and porticos merely meant to frame images of Francis dying and of the Five Wounds of Christ which Francis shared.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Eastern Church Five Years On, Part II: Meeting the Fathers

My Jesuit school with the new Pedro Arrupe annex. I do not recommend.
Until 2012 my religious education consisted of eight years at an excellent parochial school, four years at a Jesuit high school, and four reactionary years attempting to deprogram what that last experience. A Jesuit philosophy teacher taught us Christ’s social doctrine attracted our attention more powerfully than the Resurrection; similarly, a textbook utilized during our senior year, Justice and Peace, intimated that William Jefferson Clinton’s welfare state policies reflected a perfect implementation of post-Vatican II Christian outreach.

What makes the Bodlein so conducive to
Thomistic reading?
During the summer before the final year of high school I thought it worthwhile to peruse the greater religious works of Western culture and so I acquired a set of St. Augustine’s major writings, namely Confessions and City of God, which I read in succession. Like any sensible school boy, the working of things attracted me more than socialist philosophy, and I read the Doctor’s work only to remember that he articulated General Relativity in writing fifteen centuries before Einstein articulated the same truth formulaically. In college I borrowed a set of the Summa from the Theology library at Oxford to read scattered articles in my occasional boredom betwixt terms with no particular direction in reading. I was Edward Waverly, a dilettante in theology who knew just enough bits and bobs to cause trouble for myself.

In the basement of the Melkite parish the priest maintained a lending library of beaten up copies of books. Some covered the history of the patriarchate of Antioch; others were written by contemporary Orthodox academics, among them Hopko, Schmemann, Meyendorff, and Florovsky. And then there were thin volumes ascribed to names I had scantly heard before: Gregory of Nyssa, Polycarp, Vincent, Cyprian, Isaac the Syrian, and the odd work by Chrysostom. I took On the Soul and the Resurrection by St. Gregory of Nyssa, the smallest of the small books and the quickest read, I hoped. I half expected On the Soul to read like either a modern polemical work, a kinder version of Ann Coulter’s vague screed, or something of a philosophy book where Jesus replaces ideology. Neither On the Soul nor any other work I read fell under these narrow taxonomies.

One year of reading concluded with two impressions: that the Fathers spoke wrote with focus about truths of Christ and that they took much for granted that I took as development. No Father saw himself as the propagator of a “school” of theology or ideological take on matters of Christology. These men, mostly bishops, spoke and wrote with the authority of men who purported to know about God and who possessed the authority in their voices to make others hew to their doctrines.

Each had a perspective—be it Greek philosophical language, the Latin legal language, or Alexandrian popular philosophy—that modern scholars expurgate into a systemic thought absent in the minds of the original writers. These men used the tools and perspectives at their disposal to defend Christ in their times and pass on these plain truths for posterity. St. John of Damascus spoke in legal distinctions familiar to him as a minister of state for the Umayyad caliphate, breaking types of devotion to icons into categories based both on intention and the extent of the devotion. Moreover, without delving into Platonism, he connected the “image” of the icon with its prototype so intricately that he supposed to refuse the veneration of holy images was a refusal of the Incarnation itself. St. John connected representations of Jesus, of His miracles, and of the Saints with the very coming of God to earth to effect our redemption from sin. The Damascene saint’s work came to fruition when the holy images returned to Hagia Sophia on the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”; the Church met in a general council to bless the veneration of icons and condemn those who, in principle, refuse to do so.

For all their words the Church Fathers preached doctrine in a sparse, dogmatic way that modern ears might find unappealing, but which reified confusing concepts in an uncertain time. They were dogmatic in the truest sense of the word, dogma itself being a Greek word for a “little truth”. It was this “dogmatic” kind of teaching that permeated the best Councils in the Church’s history: Nicaea I and IV, Lateran IV, and Trent. Some of the worst councils—Constance, Vatican II—have little dogmatic value and are simply loquacious for their own sake. In the preaching of these “little truths” the Church has been strong in pronouncing narrow points, leaving the actual explication of these doctrines to the bishops themselves. The origin of the word “definition” may well be de finis, meaning “concerning limits”; ends were placed on what could be said, but limits were not placed on how much could be said of these “little truths”. Most late Patristic and medieval theology did little more than elaborate at length on what the Fathers and Councils bound all true Christians to believe.

While the Cappadocian Fathers and the Apostolic Father enumerated various teachings on the Divinity of Christ, on the title of the Theotokos, on holy images, they also spoke of many points of Church teaching that contemporary historians would have us believe to be medieval “developments”. In short, the Fathers did not elucidate a long doctrine for Apostolic succession precisely because every Christian—Catholic, monophysite, gnostic—already believed in it. No doctrine disputed by the Reformers is more arrant in ancient writings than the necessity of regenerative Baptism for salvation and its accompanying incorporation of the neophyte into the new creation that is the Church. The fourth and fifth century Fathers are perhaps less helpful in tracing teachings owing to the polemical nature of their work, but in the third century St. Cyprian of Carthage already used the terms “Trinity”, “Catholic Church”, “subdiaconate”, he spoke of Jesus Christ as “God”, and he ruled his flock in union with his council of presbyters. While these are impressive testaments to the antiquity of the Church, St. Irenaeus brought me much further.

Why believe? If viewed in a vacuum, as if the results of a priori inductions, the claims of the Church are certainly absurd. Slightly more helpful is that two-pronged “Scripture and Tradition” approach in vogue in the last half century, as though the Church is a Bible church with something called “Tradition” tacked on. What if we believed in Christ because we believed the people who told us of Christ? This was certainly the case of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, who at a young age knew St. Polycarp, who is turn knew either St. John the Apostle or St. John the Presbyter. What Polycarp recounted of St. John’s teachings enamored Irenaeus and ignited a burning industry in him that persisted until his death in 202AD. In his On the Apostolic Preaching Irenaeus speaks as a witness to Christ who knew something personally about Jesus rather than as one quoting books. He provided proofs that Our Lord was indeed the awaited Messiah by exegeting the stories and prophecies of the Old Testament, treating them as narratives with a point, not one-liners requiring an answer. If he quotes the New Testament, he does not seem to do so intentional, occasionally stumbling on a phrase from the Gospels—both Synoptic and Johannine—and the odd Pauline epistle. He taught not about Christ, he in fact taught Christ. He, in St. Paul’s words, “passed on what he received.”

This epiphany rent apart a veil that had covered my eyes since elementary school, when our religion teacher taught us that “tradition” was a collection of habits, customs, and legends. In fact tradition, properly understood as the passing on of something from one person to another, is the principle manner of the transmission of the faith. And to be a Catholic, one must hold the same faith with the same sense, the same outlook, and same instinct as those before. This need not mean aesthetics, devotions, and such, but it certainly means the underlying foundation of our praxis must be the same as that of those who came before us, both a generation ago and a millennium ago.

What this revelation did not mean was that we should arbitrarily revive customs or language that have been long dormant into a foreign, modern setting, almost always with a hidden mind toward novel ideas. That does not forbid miniature renaissances wherein we learn from the past, much like the Tractarian and Ritual Movements in Oxford reinvigorated Patristic study and sent numerous Anglicans to the Church. What is does mean is that the Tractarian Movement’s continental counterpart, the ressourcement, erred grievously in marrying the nouvelle théologie, telling unarmed people that what they held dear was all wrong, and leaving them to rot in the agnostic agony of the mid-twentieth century.

At the end of my exploratory reading I finally found that line of St. Vincent of Lerins, now repeated to the point of banality, but once quite profound in the eyes of a Patristic neophyte. We must hold nothing more or less than what was held “everywhere, always, and by everyone.” Anything else was not passed on to us.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Ton Despotin! Pontifical Liturgy!

The newly enthroned bishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy Chicago, Venedykt (Benedict) Aleksiychuk, visited our parish to consecrate the new altar and make a pastoral visit that his predecessor, Richard Seminack of blessed memory, had been unable to make during his final years.

The visit began with Pontifical Great Vespers on Saturday night, possibly a first in the history of our tiny parish. The rites for greeting a bishop were observed in full.

A piano stool had to do as a throne, given the parish's modest resources.

After Vespers, with Litya, we had light refreshments and some time with the bishop. Although he asked a priest to translate for him during the sermons at Vespers and the Divine Liturgy, he English was in fact quite good conversationally. He spent some time with The Rad Trad and some friends who had tagged along for the rites.

On Sunday we had a proper hierarchical Divine Liturgy and the consecration of an altar. Liturgy began with the rite of vesting before the altar, as a bishop does in the Roman rite at Pontifical Mass from the Throne. It underscores that the office of serving at the altar and all its accompanying duties truly belong to and descend from the bishop, not the priest.

The washing of the altar with water, wine, and rose water.

And someone will have to clean the wax off the floor later. His grace gives the triple episcopal blessing during the Trisagion.

And the Divine Liturgy concludes with the anointing with oil blessed during Litya at Great Vespers the prior evening.