Monday, December 31, 2012

When the subject of liturgical music comes up, one can't help but think the Greeks are perpetually in the right.

Over at Chant Cafe`, there's some whimsical discussion on the restrictions over the vernacular for music in the old rite. You can read it here.

I have no desire to see English choral or some other variant of liturgical music utilized to a greater degree in the "Tridentine" liturgy. With all due respect to the author's taste, English, or any Anglo or Germanic tongue for that matter, invariably sounds like an assault to the ears when compared to Latin or a well composed piece in a Romance language.

The use of polyphony and choral pieces is another area that will, one day, require serious discussion. It exposes, even among so-called "Tridentine" celebrations of the Roman liturgy the lamentable discrepancy between the monastic liturgical ethos and that of even the most talented cathedral schola. The use of essentially "high church" musical pieces does little more, in my estimation, than reduce the liturgy to entertainment. Even the traditional liturgy can be subject to the same nominalist conception of liturgy that has positively defined the missal codified by Paul VI. The monasteries show us the way. Liturgy demands to be chanted, whether Old Latin, Gregorian, Byzantine or the polyphonic chant of Hildegard von Bingen. Chant, in my estimation, is what makes liturgical music intentional as opposed to aesthetic.

Today's crop of liturgical musicians, whether they utilize Bach or peddle drivel like "On Eagles Wings" will undoubtedly disagree with me. That's fine. I'll let the monasteries, both Latin and Byzantine be my response. Any one can easily search for a recording of Phos Hilaron and see where I'm coming from. Now more than ever, there is a palpable need to find some of that, as John Paul II termed it, light from the east to illumine the Roman liturgy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A new "Tridentine" Roman Missal?

Rumors abound.

Benedict XVI had previously touched upon the subjects of adding new saints into the old Missal, the new body of prefaces in his explanatory letter that accompanied Summorum Pontificum. This was repeated in Universae Ecclesiae and, according to Sandro Magister's Chiesa, a commission was established in 2010 to look into the matter. The rumor mill is running in over drive (among certain circles) that a text of an "updated" Tridentine missal is waiting in the wings for publication. Of course, Benedict XVI revised the old Missal shortly after the publication of Summorum Pontificum; Benedict's freshly composed intercession for the Jews is found in the newly printed editions of the 1962 Missale Romanum.

Further "updates" or changes of the old Missal should be expected. Whether or not they are warranted so soon after Summorum Pontiificum is debatable. Many proponents of the old liturgy are still feeling somewhat raw over a thirty seven year struggle and are unsure of old liturgy's security. One can argue it would be best to leave the old liturgy be for sometime yet. However, it must be noted that the old liturgy was on the precipice of development prior to the Council. The sound scholarship of many luminaries in the original liturgical movement (most clearly demonstrated in their editing of hand missals) had shown the points of entry for a superior celebration of the old missal and areas of the old liturgy that were themselves avenues for development. All of this was subsequently jettisoned when the Missale Romanum of Paul VI was promulgated.Yet, development was near. Some would even say, in light of Pius XII's reform of the Easter vigil, development had been set in motion and it was progressing - with due reverence for the old liturgy. Indeed, if you examine the writings of the original luminaries of the liturgical movement, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who would call for a new form or order of the Roman liturgy. All of them had a most pronounced reverence for the "Tridetine" liturgy saw so much potential in it.

The subject of developing or updating the "Tridetine" missal is being discussed by members of a curial commission. It is in the authority of the curia to discuss such matters. However, it is wise to remember that the giants of liturgical scholarship and theology from the last century were not an academic or curial think tank. They produced their work based upon concrete observations on the ground, without rampant experimentation. The Tridentine liturgy needs to develop. The climate of our current context still produces a reaction to freeze the traditional Missale Romanum in place at the edition published in 1962. Such an attitude would render the traditional Roman liturgy as little more than an antique curiosity. However,  the old liturgy must develop on its own terms. I have long since excepted that we will likely not recapture the lightning in the bottle that electrified the original liturgical movement. That moment in history has passed and ecclesiastical authority squander the opportunities it presented. Rather than be cultivated, the fruits of the early 20th century liturgical movement were allowed to rot in the field and, barring the successful invention of time travel, that moment will not be experienced again. If the "Tridentine" Missale Romanum, that is, the essentially Gregorian Missale Romanum, undergoes any sort of updating, I hope it is with substantial input from persons or groups who celebrate this liturgy frequently.

By my reading of things, it has been a given that the new prefaces and saints would be introduced to the Gregorian liturgy, if not in fact some alignment with the Calendar and Lectionary. As I wrote in a previous entry, "two forms, one rite" is not a sustainable solution. Any updating of the "Tridentine" Missal will likely prove to be a move to bring the normal celebration of the Catholic liturgy back into the continuum of liturgical tradition. It would be the first step in a gradual process by which the Missal and liturgy of Paul VI is rendered obsolete without having to make a public about-face and formally abolish the work commissioned by another pontiff. While I do contend that the Pauline liturgy can be executed in such a way so as to keep it in the ancient liturgical tradition, the Pauline Missal is so impoverished of liturgical and ritual expression that a pedestrian liturgy is almost inevitable if a church or chapel does not possess a well trained group focused on reconnecting the modern Roman liturgy with the ancient manner and ethos of celebration. Typically, one has to look in monasteries for this. Nevertheless, it can and should be done.

For the moment, all discussion remains speculation. There is a commission established to study the issue and it has been in existence since 2010, verified by way of entry in the Acta Apostola Sedes. We do not know anything more than that.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In the Center of the Fire : a Memoir of the Occult (Book Review)

The 1960s esoteric/occult revival, particularly as it took place in New York city, is gradually becoming an area of scholarly interest. The movement is an intense confluence of many different currents and questions of interest to both the sociologist and religion scholar. In the 1960s, religious or esoteric ideas that had declined in popularity during the previous 20 or 30 years (if not longer) suddenly reemerge, an occurrence all the more interesting due to the absence of any credibly organized religious body perpetuating the texts and mythologies. The occult revival occurs during an era of open rebellion towards government, established culture, sexual mores, the birth and boom of the American drug culture and, as people would find out twenty years or so later, the earliest years of HIV/AIDS. All of these make an appearance in James Wasserman's autobiographical account. Wasserman was born into a Jewish family, became involved with various social justice and marxist movements when in college, developed a taste for the 60s drug culture and the circulation of alternative religious ideas during the period and then, eventually, settled into Aleister Crowley's (or the Crowley inspired, depending on one's point of view) Ordo Templi Orientis, O.T.O.

Wasserman is candid about his battle with both alcoholism and drug addiction. He prefeces these accounts by stating that he does not wish to glorify them, an aim which he achieves with mixed results. He demonstrates a certain euphoria with earlier drug episodes, although pains of regret, remorse and desperation become fully demonstrable by the later episodes. The author doesn't hide from the truth that drugs, and HIV transmitted through shared needles, eventually hit horribly close to home and had a hand in waking him up. As much as Wasserman attests to his belief in the O.T.O. and often provides detailed accounts of his participation in its practices, his witness to the transformative power of Alcoholics Anonymous is perhaps more passionate and therefore more convincing. Despite openly disagreeing with Crowley's advocacy for open marriage (Wasserman states practicing such never did anything but cause trouble), Wasserman tells a tale replete with accounts of casually and gradually cultivating romantic relationships with "other women", usually becoming "magically infatuated" with a woman's spiritual energy while involved with the previous partner. Wasserman's life was at the time, truly, a product of his age of American culture. In this case, a casual attitude towards relationship taboos influenced by spirituality - all in search for someone with whom he could reach what we could call some sense of the transcendent. It seems, if I've read the book correctly, Wasserman eventually settled down in the 90s, though it seems he tries to make some narrative sense of his past relationships, including his own casual attitude towards engaging in romantic relationships while with someone else, in the larger account of his life and how he came to be where he is presently.

The chronological development is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the book, from the scholar's perspective. As mentioned above, the author engaged ins social justice and quasi-marxist movements before delving into large spiritual stew of the 1960s. The author plainly states his involvement in the 60s estoeric and occult circles developed from a conviction that the social justice solution was too materialist in the manner in which addressed the human condition - it only addressed, it seems, half of the problem. The author then presents us with a larger inquiry to make of 60s occult revival: was there a direct correlation between disengagement of established religion and culture, engagement with social justice movements and eventual engagement with occultism/alternative spiritualities? Wasserman does note, often times passively, the various expressions of gender and racial equality that ran through many of the religious/spiritual groups he became involved with during this time. It is, then, tempting to interpret the 1960s occult revival as a rejection of both post-enlightenment materialism and perceived social inequalities as much as it was part of the general rejection of the political and moral values of another generation.

The book provides an first hand account of the transition from the euphoria of the 60s, to the increasing doldrums of the 70s, to the sober awakening in the 80s in the life cycle of one esoteric group. Day jobs and stable careers come into the narrative as does the poignant account of recognizing that the permissive attitude towards sex and drugs of the 60s and 70s had begun causing problems in 80s. Aside from providing an account of his own battle with addiction, Wasserman also provides a record of his group's gradual pressure upon members to get clean. Also of interest is Wasserman's account of the trials surrounding the O.T.O.'s legal status. There were many esoteric and occult groups in the 60s. A few made it out of the decade. Fewer still are operating today. The ruling given in a court of law that the O.T.O. was the rightful possessor of Crowley's organization provided the group with a form of institutional coherence required for transition, the organization became more solid and acquired operational procedures that could perpetuate the group's ideas after this generation passes.

In the Center of Fire provides the scholar and theologian (the two types I assume will read this blog and be interested in this book) with additional perspective on what was, undoubtedly, an important era in the history of religion in the United States. Indeed, it is impossible for the scholar or the theologian to make any adequate diagnosis of the religious, theological, and spiritual mood of western culture without understanding the many currents that flowed in the flower power decade. We are still living in the wake of the baby boomers' spiritual  and cultural experimentation. For the scholar, it is important to know why these ideas exploded and how groups inspired by these ideas either perpetuated themselves or declined. For the Theologian, it is important to know how these ideas have transformed since their original inception and what influence they have exerted on official or popular theology.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Where does the old Latin liturgy go from here?

A reader recently inquired as to my thoughts on the current state of the old liturgy. I meant to comment on the fifth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum this past July. However, taking a much needed summer break was more of a priority. Since then, I've intended to touch upon the topic. Now is as good a time as any.

Summorum Pontificum was, for some, the answer to long prayed petitions. Since the summer of Benedict's first year on the papal throne, rumors had circulated that restrictions on the old Mass were about to be lifted. While I had gradually lost interest in the Tridentine cause by the time SP was promulgated, I did pay attention to developments regarding the liturgy's subsequent use.

Certain parties are adept at promoting any fresh celebration of the Tridentine liturgy, any well attended or particularly ornate celebration, anything that establishes vitality for the old liturgy. You cannot necessarily blame them. Lord knows I promoted the hell out of the old liturgy any chance I had back in the day. Frankly, it just makes sense from a marketing perspective. If you genuinely believe the old liturgy has a purpose and this purpose is more than an antique curiosity, you will make every effort to present it as a vibrant reality, some thing living and imbued with divine dynamism. Although, the more fantastic hopes for the old liturgy have come to naught. More tempered voices have taken a "brick by brick" view of the Catholic landscape post-SP. This approach is honest to the degree it admits that the impact of the Tridentine liturgy is limited.

The two approaches outlined above often ignore the very sad flipside to the efforts at establishing a Summorum Pontificum inspired resurgence of the old liturgy. A reader has made me aware of the subsequent collapse of nascent Tridentine movements and/or parishes in his area. In one such example, after some two or three years of offering the liturgy according to the Missale Romanum of 1962, the priest announced that the parish would soon cease celebrating the old liturgy. Why? Because the numbers weren't adding up. Despite some recent local press and a devoted community, the small turnout could not justify the expenditures for celebrating the old liturgy. Typically, there is a touch of paranoia among Tridentine enthusiasts when bishops intimate a lack of interest for the old rite in their diocese. I don't doubt that more priests are interested in the old liturgy. Nor do I doubt that younger Catholics are interested as well. Tridentine supporters need to reckon with the cold math that just doesn't add up; the interest in the old liturgy as a regular liturgical celebration is limited in mainline Catholic circles.

Summorum Pontificum ought to have occasioned many profound questions on within the so-called Traditionalist camp, a party with which I once identified. Traditionalist had once challenged the extend of papal authority. It seemed the liturgy was the one area that the papacy could not utilize a sweeping authoritative act and make any such modification to it. Unfortunately, the Tridentine crowd is in an uncomfortable spot. Beginning with the promulgation of the Missal of Pius V, the papacy made claims to centralized authority over the liturgy of the whole Latin Church, making exemptions for rites that could demonstrate two hundred continual use and, after the promulgation of the Missal, expending great effort through the network of cardinals to have most local usages abdicate their rite in favor of the Missale Romanum. It was an exercise of this same authority claimed for the papacy with the promulgation of Pius V's Missale Romanum that was used four hundred years later to suppress the Roman liturgy as it existed, in essence, since the medieval period - noting the suppressions of Pius V and subsequent slow development of the liturgy thereafter. Traditionalists, most notable Michael Davies, challenged whether papal authority had such power to alter the liturgy to the extent presented in the Missale Romanum of Paul VI. In 2007, it was the same exercise of this same sense of papal authority that lifted previous papal restrictions on the old liturgy. Summorum Pontificum has, for the time being, solidified a conception of papal authority that grants the pontiff power to alter the liturgy in the most comprehensive manner imaginable, barring, of course, the insertion of liturgical expression that would run contrary to established dogma. The liturgy has been reduced to the product of papal whim, intuition or ideology; it is no longer something sacrosanct but the tool of any given theological, philosophical or ideological school that assumes enough power in the Vatican bureaucracy.

Pope Benedict's decree of "two forms, one rite" hardly seems like a long term solution. Defining the Roman Rite as comprised of an ordinary (novus ordo) and extraordinary (Tridentine) form defies liturgical history. One is hard pressed to find a historical precedent establishing the legitimacy of such an approach. Liturgical rites have one form, though differing degrees of elaboration based upon the context, for instance, the difference in degrees between a pontifical Mass and a chanted Mass in the old Missal. The concept of ordinary and extraordinary forms is not only an innovation, it is still ill defined. What makes the Tridentine liturgy the extraordinary form of the rite? Certainly, we have seen no indication of the Tridentine liturgy being utilized for the most solemn liturgical feasts, which would be a definition of extraordinary based upon liturgical praxis. Rather, the Tridentine form appears to be extraordinary in much the same manner as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist: the definition of "two forms, one rite" has the effect of legitimizing the pastoral exigency of the old liturgy and removing it from the control of the local bishop. It does not restore, it seems to me, the Tridentine rite to equal footing with the novus ordo. Additionally, even if "two forms, one rite" were to place the old liturgy on equal footing, it would then create another set of problems. We have a divergence in Calendar, Ordo, and Lectionarium. It does not seem plausible to continue with discrepancy between the two missals indefinately. At some point, at least with regard to the Calendar and Lectionary, there must be a confluence between to two liturgies.

Above all, however, the taudgry state of the Roman liturgy persists. Those persons who invest their hopes in a "brick-by-brick" approach are hard pressed to find any proof indicating a gradual "gravitational pull" one the celebration of the ordinary form of the Roman rite. Those who make every effort to celebrate the Roman liturgy in a manner cognisant with the liturgical patrimony of both the east and west are the same who would do so anyway, regardless of which missal is in use. Liturgical celebration that stirs the soul is not dependent upon the missal in use. The dominant mode of celebration pre-Vatican II was a sloppy low Mass. In our own day, one needs only to observe a monastic liturgy with the Missal of Paul VI to realize the liturgical reform is not inherently deficient. Rather, there is a typical "Roman" or "Western" approach to the liturgy that persists and operates regardless of which set of liturgical books is present at the altar. The old liturgy, contrary to all of my hopes, expectations and aspirations of yore, is not the solution to the problem of the liturgy in the West. This is not to say that we need not revisit the Tridentine liturgy. It is worth our while to revisit the old liturgy at the zenith of the liturgical movement. It is worth trying to rediscover their trail and find all of the openings and avenues for powerful spiritual experience they marked out in the old liturgy. It is not so much a matter of simply restoring the Missale Romanum of 1962 into force, rather, it is a matter returning to the point of discovery and exploration of the old missal and reorient ourselves to direction in which the Roman liturgy was heading before a total recast of the Roman rite was imposed. Part of this would involve, in my estimation, a genuine study of the hand missals produced by the luminaries of the liturgical movement. I believe their intentions show through in the pages of their product.

Of course, this would pose its own hard questions. Top among them being the place of the Missale Romanum of 1964/65 - that oddest of volumes confined to university libraries, whether due to a small print run or little interest. Was that odd volume the fulfillment of the liturgical movement's intentions for the old liturgy or was it the first misstep along a rocky road?

There are many variables, all of which make this a complicated task and serve to demonstrate the facile liturgiology prevalent today. The old Latin liturgy is genuinely no better off than it was prior to the publication of Summorum Pontificum. As long as their is no honest attempt to return to the original liturgical movement's ambitions for the old liturgy, as long as it is prevented from developing on its own terms, a process it was engaged in during the first half of the last century, and treated as a liturgical museum piece, then it will lumber towards obsolescence.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Revisiting the new English translation of the Roman Missal and lessons learned from Romney's failed Presidential bid.

Fr. Anthony Ruff has  an interesting article commemorating a year since the implementation of the third edition of the Roman Missal in the English speaking world.

Coming from the NCR, there is, as to be expected, some ideological slant to Ruff's estimation, although he is correct in principle. It is well worth being a little suspicious of persons, bishops included, who tout the success of the new translation. It is equally worth being a little suspicious of those who purport, like Ruff, mass confusion or disappointment with the new translations. Rather, when Ruff rhetorically asks if we have seen any increase in theological knowledge as a result of the translations (via the more directly cited biblical or patristic allusions), I think he closer to hitting upon the heart of the matter.

The grave indictment of the new translation is in its failure to do, well, anything. There has been no tangible result from or reaction to the new translation of the Roman Missal. In fact, the whole project has been greeted with a cold indifference that should surprise both those who support and oppose the new English translation. It is the indifference to the new translation that should cause the hierarchy  or other interested parties some concern. If there had been widespread rejection of the new English translation, then the hierarchy could take some solace in the fact that many persons identifying with the Roman Catholic Church are actively engaged in ecclesiastical and liturgical matters. This was not the case, nor was there much rabid acceptance of the new translations.

The reception of the new English translation with apathy projects a possibility of future demographic shifts in English speaking Roman Catholicism. If I were a member of the hierarchy, I would be concerned that the reception of the Roman Missal is an indicator of a future numbers collapse, if not in actual membership than in future revenue. The reception implies a growing disinterest in the religion which may translate into decreased membership, either through persons leaving or through lower initiation rates, or a decline in donations for Church services.

Now, in response to Ruff's article, a young blogger posted story of apparent survey results indicating that the new translation is overwhelmingly accepted by Catholics. You can find this survey here. The Obama campaign's solid number crunching proved to be a wicked reality check for Mitt Romney and his supporters has taught us to be diligent when interpreting survey data. Were there any geographic, demographic or any other concentration behind the survey participants? This is a major point to consider. Were the survey respondents asked if they were intending to respond truthfully to the questions? It may seem outrageous to ask, but survey participants are known to provide false results. When questioning the survey participants as to whether or not the new texts enhanced their spiritual life/religious practice, where the participants asked to provide some example or given a choice of examples to illustrate this point? The survey, from the data published, used far too narrow of a sample and lacked rigor.

Once again, as the Romney campaign should have taught us, surveys are useless if the data collection is slanted in even the slightest manner to give us the results we want or fails to look for every possible datum that would flesh out the picture and provide us with the most detailed of analysis. This survey is too facile to take any comfort in. In this respect, Fr. Ruff is correct: the bar measuring success has been set fairly low.

In my estimation, it is too early to deem the new translations a success or failure - much like the Missale Romanum of Paul VI in general. The Catholic Church in the United States is at a place where the translation of the Missal is, at the moment, irrelevant in the face other issues that have yet to fully settle and whose consequences are still unknown.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thoughts on Josef Jungmann

It's been some time since I've given any time to the work of Josef Jungmann. Jungmann, as any person interested in the liturgy should know, was a titan of the later era of the liturgical movement. Jungmann's reputation preceeded him in his lifetime. His legacy, by contrast, is a bit more complicated. Among liturgical historians, Jungmann's The Mass of the Roman Rite is well revered, although it seems the number of historians who utilize the work, be it for research of course instruction, are becoming increasingly small. Among contemporary liturgical scholars concerned with the scientific understanding of the liturgy, Jungmann's work is utilized less frequently. Still less so among those who are concerned with practical liturgics. Lastly, the wave of reactionary liturgiology largely considers Jungmann irrelevant.

Yesterday I read Jungmann's The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer for the first time in many years. The experience brought Jungmann's legacy into focus. Jungmann typifies the scientific investigation of the liturgy, the direction in which the liturgical movement largely moved in the mid twentieth century. Jungmann avoids any speculation on the metaphysics of the liturgy, the communion of the human being and God in liturgical prayer and action, the journey of the soul to God in the liturgy or any number of "arcane" topics that have surrounded the liturgy, at one point or another, in both the East and West. Jungmann, in this book, is largely textual, focusing upon various manuscripts of a selection of liturgical traditions. For its time, it was a revolutionary approach. When Jungmann discusses Christ role as the subject in the petition contained in the Preface of the Apostles in the "Tridentine" Roman Missal (circa 1926), he highlights how this preface breaks from the normal Roman custom of addressing the Father. This may seem hardly the item of significant note, however, if we consider that at the time of publication this preface had been said numerous times and, so far as we know, was hardly noticed as a peculiarity, then we can begin to appreciate Jungmann's work. In The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer Jungmann does not so much develop liturgical thought or theory, but rather he focuses one's intellectual attention upon elements in the text that are plainly visible but hardly noticed.

Contemporary liturgics in the Roman Catholic church has moved in an interesting direction since Jungmann's passing. The scientific study of the liturgy continues, though, one must note, it is approaching ever increasing irrelevance. Scholarly monographs are published on various academic presses and betwixt the pages of academic journals. The scientific study of the liturgy is of crucial importance to editing liturgical manuscripts. This endeavor has lost some of its past luster as the great liturgical manuscripts have been edited. Scholarly efforts are having to focus upon more "local" traditions, manuscripts produced by local monastic communities and are substantially based upon the main manuscript families. Meanwhile, practical liturgics, devoted to fostering a deeper understanding of contemporary liturgies, and reactionary liturgics, that seeks retrieve liturgical forms or prayers lost during the twentieth century and occasionally the medieval period, have arisen in the last decade to become the two dominant pillars in contemporary liturgics. Both disciplines seek to address areas of inquiry that were neglected by the liturgical movement during the shift to scientific study of the liturgy. The scientific study of the liturgy overlooked the experiential component of liturgical prayer; it treated the liturgy as something mechanical and often proposed reforms based predominately on intellectual inquiry and less upon process of religious experience in a liturgical context, let alone appeal to the great monastic traditions surrounding liturgical observance. In some respects, one can argue that the scientific approach to the liturgy, while retrieving much valuable data and elucidating the conscious or unconscious principles that were behind the development of the Roman liturgy, failed to account for what exactly makes human beings religious. This delicate quality was taken as a given, without much realization that religious belief and the quality that leads to religious experience are fragile things. The scientific study of the liturgy could tell us much about the liturgical text as such, but it could not get hold of the experience produced by the liturgy in the combination of text, consciousness and ritual execution.

The place of Jungmann in history, much like the later portion of the liturgical movement, is, in my estimation, in doubt. The thrust of liturgical interest is moving away from the scientific and more towards the experiential, even among restorationist minded groups. What reference will be made to Jungmann, or any writer in the liturgical movement, in another generation is uncertain.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Finding that moment of liturgical rupture...

A discussion has sprung up among persons delighting in all things Missale Romanum related. You can check out the original entry at The Chant Cafe`. The article centers on the criticisms of Monsignor Léon Gromier concerning the Pian liturgical forms of the 1950s. The conversation offers some room for weary eyed optimism. The author isn't content with merely revisiting the merits of the reforms of Pius XII, rather, he seems to consider reviewing the Missale Romanum of 1570. Again, this is a conversation that provides any one with a genuine liturgical interest some point of cautious optimism. The Missale Romanum of 1570, with or without justification at the time, set the decay of the Roman liturgy in motion. The liturgy codified in the Missale Romanum of 1570 was largely centered on the sacredotal action, other liturgical roles being reduced and corporate participation left unmentioned. This has become the archetypal figure of the Latin liturgy since. Many liturgical pieces from the 8th century Gelasian Sacramentary to the wide variety of Medieval uses were lost amid the liturgical pruning, the wide variety of local uses in England and Italy being displaced for the liturgical landscape.

The article, however, lacks substantial historical perspective. When discussing liturgical reform, it is always helpful to look at the products of the pre-Vatican II liturgical movement. There were numerous theoretical writings, however, the most tangible result were the numerous hand missals produced during the period, an effort that sought, ultimately, an opening of the Roman liturgy as it stood then to the laity. The hand missals balanced Latin-to-English, provided instruction into the meaning of various parts of the liturgy and/or Mass sets and heavily promoted the dialogue Mass. While the Missale Romanum of 1570 certainly impoverished the Roman liturgy, the Tridentine liturgy was posed to become a genuine liturgical use in so far as it would become a corporate expression that reflected the local ecclesia. I have always thought that (as opposed to the Missale Romanum of 1965 and then 1970) utilizing the approach of one of the more comprehensive hand missals would have provided better ground for a liturgical reform or, more accurately, transforming the Tridentine liturgy into an authentic liturgical expression capable of directing the spirituality and prayer of the individual and the community.

Of course, this wasn't done. While discussions of what should have happened or restoring a particular edition of the missal are fun activities, one cannot escape that the Missale Romanum of 1970 is normative. The task now is to make the Missale Romanum of 1970 an authentic liturgical expression, a task that has thus far failed due to the lackluster quality of the effort. There is potential in the new liturgy that needs to be explored, although I suspect such an endeavor requires a breed of liturgist more reflective of those principles held by the early 20th century liturgical movement, as opposed to the idealization imagined by those who have tried to claim for themselves the appellation of the liturgical movement's new successor.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Archdiocese of Boston, version 3.0

Cardinal O'Malley recently announced a plan to reorganize the archdiocese of Boston. 288 parishes will be grouped into 135 "collaboratives," each headed by one priest and one pastoral council and one finance council. The press release of the plan, titled  Disciples in Mission, contains the official details from the diocese. Reports and reactions to the plan can be found here and here and at the infamously famous Boston Catholic Insider.

The approved restructuring of the archdiocese comes at the end of decade long contraction (some would say implosion) in wake of pedophilia scandal, the uproar over parish closings about six or so years ago, steep decline in Mass attendance (estimates say between 15% and 17% actually attend Mass) and an tidal wave of financial decline that has swept many parishes (conservatively 40%, perhaps as high as 60%) into the red.

The commentary that has surfaced after the formal announcement of the restructuring plan often serves to highlight the less than fecund state in which the Boston archdiocese finds itself currently as well as the widely anticipated institutional decline if current trends continue. Over the next decade the diocese will noticeably experience the effects of Catholicism's priest shortage as the 420 active priests in the diocese are reduced to about 200.

Depending on your point of view, the restructuring plan is either an attempt to dull the blow that will likely be felt when the number of available priests hits the wall or it is an indirect way of admitting the Church in Boston needs more lay activity and control. I would like to add another interpretive perspective to the mix. The planned restructuring admits in an albeit circuitous manner, that the Boston archdiocese has finally succumbed to the weight of the Church's institutional largess. The above mentioned press release emphasizes that parishes must find their own identity and devote a greater amount of its activity to reach out efforts, as opposed to ministering to the choir, so to speak. There is an awareness that the local parish must be the ecclesia prima, it must be a genuine experience of the Church as opposed to one among many referents that push one's religious experience up the ladder until you get to a bishop in Rome. The process has a way of deadening the life of the local parish. This having been said, I do not detect a sense of urgency about the matter. For the local parish to establish its identity and mission to work in the Catholic Church, you need to undue well established institutional habits. Not impossible, but unlikely.

At the heart of the institutional rot afflicting the Roman Church (and so aptly demonstrated in the Archdiocese of Boston) is an ecclesiology that constantly references the bishop of Rome and the machinations of the Vatican as the principle manifestation of the ecclesia. The Roman pontiff and the curia are the only sure examples of ecclesiastical existence and everything else is either measured by how well it confirms to the curial narrative or is considered as ultimately inconsequential to the Church compared to its well vested clerics. Plainly, the experience of the local parish vacillates between being inconsequential or utterly unreal. In such a system, it is difficult to raise a local ecclesiastical body that feels any sense of invested interest in the religion.

On a more practical level, having one priest performing sacramental ministry among, say, four parishes poses some serious challenges. Indeed, it is hard to see how anyone can think that such a scenario will likely reinvigorate the Archdiocese of Boston. Commentators have noted the problem of burnout among priests for the past decade or so. Now, the Boston archdiocese is guaranteeing that priests will spend a considerable portion of time driving between parishes and carrying the weight of a more demanding Mass schedule, particularly on the weekends. While in graduate school, I was an acquaintance of a Franciscan friar who saw this coming. He fully expects the end result will be that priests will become "mini-bishops" as they essentially fill episcopal functions among several parishes in a particular geographic region. If this new organizational program is the best the Roman Church can think of under its institutional weight, he may well be proven correct. Time will tell.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roy Bourgeois Dismissed from Maryknoll.

The title says it all. After a rather elongated process, the Vatican has canonically dismissed Roy Bourgeois from the order on account of his support for the ordination of women and participation in the ordination of a woman. A statement released by Maryknoll reads that Bourgeois has been excommunicated, dismissed and laicized - the action is a total removal of Bourgeois from the clerical state and the religious order. Maryknoll will offer Bourgeois transitional assistance, however, it is clear that he will, after a certain point, no longer receive any financial support from the order. You can read more of the statement and reaction to this announcement here and here.

I had the opportunity to hear Bourgeois speak at the beginning of October. He betrayed no indication of having suffered any penalty other than excommunication - a point that is all the more important to note given that the Vatican reached this decision on October 4th, 2012. The general reaction seems to be one of surprise on the part of Bourgeois and various parties working with him in his dialogue with his superiors and the Vatican - apparently no one imagined that Bourgeois would be dismissed from the order and subject to laicization.

The issue of women's ordination is one that Vatican deems dead and buried - the weight of tradition excludes the possibility - and yet it is alive and well for many parties in the Church. As an undergraduate, I often noted that certain professors were prone to promoting the issue for discussion, some going so far as to assign essays which were to argue, in part, why women's ordination is possible. As much as Rome may say the case is closed, others are determined to air their arguments.

For my part, I have no intention on arguing either which way here. I will, however, speak on the case Bourgeois has made for women's ordination while on the speaking circuit. Bourgeois has constructed his entire position largely on the ideal of gender equality and the experience of emotional response. Bourgeois experience of prejudice in American society and the participation of Roman Catholics with such prejudices has influenced him to see the issue of women's ordination as a matter of gender equality, in other words, the prohibition against women's ordination in the Church is identical to the position of women in secular society. As such, Bourgeois does not engage in any theological argument; he does not see the ecclesiastical matter as being properly distinct from matters of civil society or civil government.

There are then, two substantial weaknesses to Bourgeois argument for women's ordination. 1) The argument is not theological. Bourgeois does not do any theology to support his position. More often than not, he appeals to emotional response as an indicator of theological truth. Yet, history is filled with examples of what we would now call an improper or incorrect emotional response functioning as the proof test from some very questionable theology or religious inspiration. 2) The argument conflates secular society with the Church. Bourgeois basis his position on an extremely lipid ecclesiology; the Church is not seen as its own entity, established apart from civil society, but rather as a product of civil society and thus properly subject to civil society's norms. If this is the case, shouldn't John Paul II have led the Church in a universal endorsement of the Iraq war, rather than opposing it? As someone who is opposed to war, Bourgeois would argue no. To which one would have to retort, on what basis? After all, opposition to warfare is hardly a norm in civil society. This, however, is the rationale Bourgeois essentially follows. Fair enough - it a common method of epistemology in our society. However, one has to necessarily follow this method down every rabbit trail it leads, even if it exposes the principles behind one's thought as fundamentally incoherent.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Translation of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The US Bishops have voted in favor of a long overdue revised edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. You can read the full report here. The vote makes way for the Committee on Divine Worship to begin working on the revision to the modern Roman Breviary. A full draft will eventually be presented to the USCCB for vote and, if approved, be sent to the Vatican for the recognitio. As expected, the revised translation of the Roman Missal played a significant part in motivating the revision to the Liturgy of the Hours. The collects of the Roman Missal will be utilized for the new translation of the LOTH. While incorporation of the revised Grail Psalms was expected, the announcement that the body of hymns utilized in the current edition of the Liturgy of the Hours will be jettisoned in favor of a fresh translation of the Latin hymns of the Liturgia Horarum is an unexpected surprise. The rather hum-drum world of English hymns seriously denuded the offices of the hours of much of their flavor - this can only be a good thing long term.

The Decline of the Religious Right and the Role of Faith in the Public Square.

The 2012 election will be dissected every which way. Every circumstance this year said the incumbent should have been voted out, yet Obama won a second term to address a fragile economy, face increased inquiry over the September 11th embassy attacks among a myriad of problems carrying over from his first term. The GOP, meanwhile, faces the daunting task of addressing whether or not Romney's loss was based upon misinterpreting the data or if the party is approaching obsolescence.

It immediately comes to mind that the role of religion in the American political process may be forever altered. Some commentators, most notably at CNN, have asked if the election results indicate the Religious Right's influence is in decline. Poll numbers in Virginia indicated that the evangelical turnout was down this year. The decline in the number of participating evangelicals seems to indicate several things. 1) Evangelicals outside of the white-southern-protestant-male bracket are increasingly voicing the desire for Christianity to be represented by someone other than right-wing activists. Whereas the typical evangelical has an expected set of political interests, African American evangelicals focus on another set of political interests as being pressing for the Christian conscious. 2) The GOP may have to face that the religious right is not necessarily a good political partner. Among more religiously conservative evangelicals, Romney's Mormonism was an issue and the late redaction done by leading conservative religious interests to remove Mormonism from "cult" status only highlights this point. 3) Ballot initiatives for Gay marriage, medical or legal marijuana and the number of self identified Christians who voted for Obama seems to indicate the moral mood of the country and the dominant interpretation of Christianity has changed. The exact nature of this change and its contents remains to be seen. The self proclaimed Christian Left is just as religious and prone to bouts of irrationality and anti-intellectual impulses as the religious right. This does not necessarily mean a more progressive or intellectual Christianity is in the making so much as it may mean a more ideologically leftist Christianity is in the works.

In the final analysis of the 2012 campaign, it may well be written that the end of the Religious Right has begun. It would, I believe, foolish to then trumpet the end of religion's influence on American politics. One only need to examine the religious symbolism utilized in President Obama's two campaigns. In 2008, the President's campaign utilized Messianic undertones in its promise for hope and change and the anticipation of the dawn of a new day. In the President's 2012 convention speech, religious imagery was similarly utilized for the campaign's slogan "Forward." Obama crafted a narrative in his speech that subtly alluded to the journey toward the promise land, a journey that the nation (under his leadership) embarked upon in 2008. He charged the nation to keep the faith and remain upon the journey as the land was in sight. If you don't think the Democrats have found and now exploit religious rhetoric as much as the Republicans, you may well want to take a few classes in critical thinking and literary composition.

The influence of religion in American politics is not dead. It's transforming. The Democrats have found their new religious voice and the Republicans will eventually follow suite. How this will effect any given religious group is unknown; the shift in religiosity results from efforts of persons outside religious leadership.

For the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States, this election was sobering affair. The bishops manufactured a battle over religious liberty and many bishops maneuvered openly to the GOP. Philadelphia's Chaput openly stated that social justice issues (including how the government raises revenue to care for the poor) are not of the same weight as abortion and contraception. More recently, Bishop Daniel Jenky ordered all priests in his diocese to read a letter which in part stated that any Catholic who voted Democrat was guilty of participating in mortal sin. Such moves has led such groups as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to argue the IRS must investigate the US Bishops for campaigning for Romney. It's been a storied election year for the US Bishops and the end result is that they now have to face that at least half of voting Roman Catholics openly believe the Bishops are wrong on a host of socio-political issues.

Frankly, it should not have taken an election for the bishops to know all their dire warnings about participating with grave evil were going to fall flat. The abysmal response to their "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign should have been a prime indicator for things to come.  Obama  (narrowly) carried the Catholic vote once again. For the bishops, this is not merely an issue of Americanized white males and females dissenting from Catholic teaching. Obama also carried the Latino (and heavily Catholic) vote. The fastest growing segment of the Roman Church does not seem convinced that the Bishops offer the most persuasive voting advice.

As much as the Latino vote will have increasing impact upon the US electorate (an impact that is already felt), the impact upon the Catholic Church in the United States is gradually becoming more comprehensive - a fact both liberals and conservatives, cleric and lay, need to come to grips with. The old line models of predominately Irish and French Canadian Catholicism are decaying, so too are the old bastions of ecclesiastical influence. Although the Latino vote swings Democrat, Catholics should have no illusion of it being a portend for any ideological cause. You have an "ethnic ecclesiastical block" that can be left leaning on particular political and economic issues, but largely right leaning on social, theological and ecclesiastical issues. We are still in the process of watching how this dynamic is synthesized at a variety of levels. It might be reasonable to suspect that much of today's debate points among old line reserve Catholics will be obsolete within another generation.

Liberal or left leaning Catholics who think this election has provided them with some ecclesiastical leverage need to step back and objectively view their situation - a task that seldom comes easy to the left or the right. Much like global Catholicism in general, Catholicism in the United States is in a period of metamorphosis. New non-first world, non Euro-American power blocks are emerging and their perception of things is seldom seen in its totality by Western observers, Liberals and Conservatives cherry-picking the points that fit with their ideology. Obama narrowly won the Catholic vote and I suspect if the Republicans jettison the immigration issue, the Catholic vote will swing GOP - an event that would supply fastidious  Catholic Conservatives and Liberals with ideological indigestion.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Religion and Politics (in which I rant).

An interesting thing happened at the vice presidential debate last night. The final question focused on the shared Roman Catholic faith of both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Both men effectively expressed the "left" and "right" renditions of Catholicism in the United States. Biden evoked the social doctrine of the Church as the aspect which most informs his public service, Ryan meanwhile cited the Church's teaching on the beginning of human life and its teaching on abortion. Both men found a way to wiggle out of a rigid adherence to ecclesiastical moral norms; Biden took the position that he does not believe he has the authority to force his faith on non-Catholics and Ryan giving exemption to abortion in the cases or rape, incest or where the life of the mother is in danger. Judging by CNN's undecided voters meter (that annoying stream of squiggly lines at the bottom of the screen, Biden's position is favored in the country.

This political season, the US Bishops have tried playing the political chess board. This comes after almost a decade of keeping their heads low in the wake of child sex abuse scandals. Many bishops in the USCCB have all but endorsed Romney-Ryan by name - these men are not the most subtle of thinkers and have hardly tried to disguise their bias. One would hope if sound theology and praxis genuinely mattered to the US Bishops, they would be as distressed at Ryan's position on abortion as they are Biden's. Ryan isn't about to stump for abortion laws that reflect Catholic social doctrine - it is reasonable to presume that a Romney administration has no intention of overturning Roe  v. Wade. Yet, somehow, a good portion of US Bishops and neo-conservative Catholics are okay with this? Since when has complacency with moral evil been permissible if conducted under willful ignorance? Since when does willful self delusion excise our culpability when cooperating with sin? And who among the hierarchy is asking these questions?

After a decade of laying low, the US Bishops have made their move. They have proven themselves totally inept. Now we wait to see how clumsy leadership is filtered down into the larger religious body.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Coptic papyrus, a scholar's reputation on the line and Jesus' wife

Dr. Karen King from Harvard University is taking it on the chin, so to speak. A week after the brief media sensation over the alleged fourth century Coptic papyrus Karen King dubbed "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife," Dr. King and her papyrus are facing strong scholarly rejection of her findings published and publicized in numerous quarters (the Vatican, not surprisingly, included).

Once again, I must note that Karen King did not claim the papyrus had any relevance related to the historical Jesus - her claim was strictly related to the wide cache of beliefs circulating among early Christian communities. The debate circles around whether or not the papyrus itself is an obvious forgery that an experiences scholar or established university should have recognized. Francis Watson is one such scholar who has raised substantial claims against the material authenticity of the document - a complete index of his articles composed since the document was publicized can be found here.

The news cycle of "Jesus' Wife" has transformed at an alarming pace. As I mentioned above, Karen King is certainly taking it on the chin with this one. The story has gone from the "breaking news" a newly discovered historical document to questioning the integrity of an academic institution, salvaging a scholar's reputation and legitimate concern about the academic process itself.

Some scholars immediately questioned how Harvard University could have so readily given legitimacy to a document of unknown origin - one of at least three major red flags that should have come to mind when reviewing the document. Now there are conflicting reports that Harvard Theological Review has reneged on publishing Karen King's article on the fragment, largely based upon the scholarly rejection of the fragment's authenticity. No less an expert than Helmut Koester, King's colleague at HDS and a professor emeritus, has stated his opinion that the document is a forgery. Which would, in my mind, raise another question. Harvard University has numerous scholars in Early Christianity more than qualified to analyze the fragment. Given the university's own role in publicizing the fragment, it would have been a sensible decision to consult some of its other in house experts regarding the authenticity of the fragment. Granted, in academia this would violate long held notions of proprietary scholarship, however, in the real world this is a matter of quality control, the absence of which normally spells financial downfall for any given firm.

Karen King, though fully tenured at Harvard, has potentially entered a fight to salvage her scholarly reputation. King has had a long history of publishing solid articles and monographs on gnostic Christianity, although her recent book on the Apochyrphon of John entertained some interpretations that were less certain than earlier efforts. Nevertheless, she has long held a reputation as a reliable scholar, avoiding the existential/spiritual meltdown that ensnared Elaine Pagels (see, Pagels, Elaine. Beyond Belief.), her better known colleague in the field with a significant popular audience. King, unlike Pagels, seemed to shy away from a subjective interaction with the material, maintaining a proper distance so as not to skew her writings. How, then, could Karen King have allowed herself to be ensnared in such a mess? Academia, to be sure, can be unforgiving when the scent of blood is whiffed. The dogs are out and they, in a scholarly manner, readily tearing King's reputation to shreds. Early reports indicated that the presentation of the papyrus was timed with the premiere of a television special on the topic. Did the potential media crossover effect Karen King's scholarly process? At the very least, this incident as well as the previous media hoopla and resulting backlash over the Gospel of Judas have raised ethical questions as to the appropriateness of private media sponsors  backing or otherwise influencing the scholarly community. Academic propriety is one thing, corporate propriety, however, is of a far greater magnitude with a legal process to match. It is to be noted that details of what arrangement, if any, existed with the television company allegedly premiering a program on the same theme, Dr. King, or Harvard University have not, to the best of my knowledge, been published.

Media cross-over aside, the story raises substantial concerns over the academic process itself. That Karen King or any scholar of religion/theology would want to be associated with the "discovery" and publication of a previously unknown ancient work is not surprising. Most academics, especially in religion, will live and die in relative obscurity. Tenure is not, in of itself, a sure sign of reputation. Scholars must either steadily produce a body of scholarship that defines their field during their lifetime or pursue the avenues of popular publication or "discovery." In effect, both acquiring fame through popular publication, making it on to bestsellers lists like Ehrman or Pagels, and being associated with the discovery of some previously unknown text are the equivalent to sheer luck. No one knows what the publishing trends will be nor where the next previously unknown manuscript will come from. Although when the opportunity presents itself, one has to take it. There is a common opinion, spurred by such conspiracy books as the Sion Revelation and the Templar Revelation, that scholars are too stubborn to entertain or publish "evidence" that Jesus was married, had children, liked bowling, etc. In reality, any scholar would jump at the chance to publish material that either credibly suggested that Jesus was married or that at least demonstrated early Christians believed him to have been so. The news of the past week aptly demonstrates my contention to be true. Karen King, in effort that, plainly, reads as an attempt to save face, has said the backlash against her presentation is the scholarly process in action. True, to an extent.

In my opinion, and this is just an opinion, the quest for reputation, an intrinsic part of the academic process, may well have wielded undue influence over Karen King's methodology. This was an opportunity to be at the forefront of releasing a previously unpublished and unknown ancient text (with some possible media crossover). There were numerous indications that should have given King pause and appeal to her colleagues at Harvard - of course, the moment she did so she would no longer have sole discovery credits or initial publication. The tradition of academic propriety prevented necessary quality control from being applied. There are at least three red flags that should have popped up when reviewing the document. I would also add the old saying, "if something is to good to be true, it probably is." Of the cache of Coptic documents we have, nothing explicitly refers to Jesus' wife. Every supposed "proof" that Jesus had a wife is typically read into the text by a modern audience. The text of the recently published fragment seems to readily give the reader what he or she wants - there is something about it that reads a little too obvious, especially when compared to other Coptic texts. Even if the text didn't reveal anything about the historical Jesus, it would have an immediate audience because it so directly gets to subject matter that has captivated popular culture in the West for some time now. In my opinion, that is.

The final response to the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" has likely yet to be written. Barring incontrovertible evidence pointing to authenticity (in the form of chemical analysis of the ink), Karen King will provide some diplomatically worded additions to her already 52 page article on the fragment in a bid to save face. I suspect, however, she will let the fragment slip into obscurity after the January 2013 publication of her article. There is probably a story behind the story waiting to be told, if not for the production of the fragment itself, then one outlining the decision process behind Karen King's decision to pursue the research leading to the media expose of September 18th, 2012.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Real or Imagined Cultural Inheritance.

The place of Latin in the Roman Catholic Church has been subject to unending debate since the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium at the Second Vatican Council. The arguments have been made in the form of papal pronouncements, journal or magazine articles, popular blog literature, and the occasional erudite piece of publishing. The latest entry can be found here, courtesy of the National Catholic Reporter.

Of late, I've made it policy to avoid popularly available material on the subject of Latin in the Roman Church - the quality of the research and the disposition of the writer leaving much to be desired. However, the priest interviewed for this article seems well educated and even tempered, thus making him a good, albeit mediated,  dialogue partner. Fr. Gallagher makes two observations that are common place these days: the universal property of the Latin language and the cultural if nor ancestral heritage of the language.

The argument of the universal property of Latin is in some respects true. Among Romance countries or countries that eventually came under the control of the Roman Empire, Latin is a linguistic equalizer. It has been noted elsewhere, I believe by Hull in The Banished Heart, that among the Italians Latin is a neutral language. Having been the basis of the linguistic spectrum of Italy, whether Venetian, Sicilian, Calabrian, Neapolitan, or Tuscan (among others), Latin cannot be claimed by anyone one region of Italy. Where standard Italian is based off of Tuscan with some Sicilian influence (via the dominance of the Sicilian school of poetry and its influence on Dante) and, depending upon your perspective, displaced or heavily transformed many of the languages/dialects of the Italian south, Latin has no such historical baggage nor carry the cultural connotations common among the regions of Italy. Conversely, Latin IS a western European language; it has a cultural connotation all of its own and to adopt the language as one's own (liturgically speaking) makes the statement that one belongs to this linguistic culture. For persons of a cultural history outside of the influence of the Roman Empire, the adoption of Latin represents a rupture with their own cultural identity.

This leads directly into the second argument, that of cultural or even ancestral heritage. The idea that one could learn the language one's ancestors spoke has the potential to be a powerful motivator in learning a language. For my own part, that is why I learned Italian. Mr great-grandfather knew standard Italian after having been enrolled in the Italian army. The rest of my Calabrian relatives new a language that was, in my estimation, heavily influenced by the Italian koine and my Sicilian relatives knew the language that would provide the literary substrata to Standard Italian. It becomes somewhat more difficult to make the same argument for Latin. Once again, I will appeal to the Italian peninsula, but the argument applies well to most all of the Romance countries.

There are substantial debates as to when Latin was no longer understood outside of clerical or administrative circles. By about 900, a language distinct from Latin is attested to in writing in Italy.  Retrospectively, we might term it an "Italian Koine", a basic model of Italo-Romance that is at that time breaking off into the many regional variants found in Italy. Some scholars have (notably, Clackson and Horrocks) have postulated the existence of a simplified Latin used in normal speech in addition to the distinctive regional vernaculars of Europe. This hypothesis is based upon hagiographical accounts which seem to imply some largely common tongue among Western European countries around the period of 900-1000, the period during which the first written evidence of Romance languages emerges in the historical narrative. This would, if true, extend into the turn of the second millennium the use of Latin as a spoken language outside of clerical or royal classes. Clackson and Horrocks are not the only scholars to have posed the existence of some form of lingua-franca around the year 1000. If you recall my review of Before the Normans, the accounts of interactions between Arabs and "Latins" in Naples and Greeks in Calabria and Sicily or the interactions between "Latins" and Greeks suggest to some historians the existence of a now lost pan-Mediterranean language. However, the existence of some simplified form of Latin used throughout Europe or a pan-Mediterranean dialect remains hypothetical. Additionally, we know from property registers of the late ninth and early tenth century that Sicily has demonstrable indications of Sicilian, Greek and Arabic all being used on the island, presumably for a substantial period of time prior to the compiling of the registry material. Latin, it seems, did not see use in Sicily from the loss of the island to Byzantium until the Norman period, although Sicilian, being derived from Latin, may have had a substantial presence on the island as a spoken language for some time, hence it's ready application in the form of glosses in the early Norman property registers.

The rise of the Italian languages/dialects in Italy is comparable to that of other Romance languages. In all cases, the historical evidence suggests that Latin had become largely unintelligible as a spoken language. Liturgically, it is unknown how much praying was done in Latin outside of the clergy, both on account of the linguistic divide and the degree to which the liturgy in the Latin west became an increasingly private affair of the priest. It is possible people memorized a Pater Noster, the content of which is easily translatable to most Romance languages. However, the majority of the liturgy, sung hymns included, remained obscured by the distinction between Latin and Romance. Although, it must be noted that Latin texts contain variable proximity to the Romance languages. The Old Latin text of the Bible, being written in Late Latin and typically reflecting patterns of Latin speech (though by no means a written record of vulgar Latin) provides a linguistic link to the Romance languages as they reflect many of the errors of proper Latin that would become standard in Romance.

It is true, however, that there is a degree of connotative content in the Latin text that is not readily translated, especially into non-Romance languages. Connotative qualities aside, there is also a matter of theological quality to much of the traditional Latin texts. At a fairly early stage, the Latin west becomes divorced from Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic. Even Jerome's work is subject to substantial debate among linguists, his knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek coming into question. It seems Jerome may not have been as able in those languages when he produced his Latin translation of the Bible as he was later in life commenting on some of the Biblical texts. The Vulgate became foundational to subsequent Latin prayer and theology. It is worth noting that said prayer, including liturgical prayer, was often based off of poor theology stemming from improper translation in both Jerome's text and/or the Old Latin recension. Quick example: it's the difference between penance in the traditional Latin translation and repentance in most modern translation. The two are very different concepts, but only one accurately translates the Greek of the New Testament.

This does not mean, however, that I would advocate a whole sale abandonment of Latin. There are reasons to retain it. As mentioned above, the Old Latin text offers us a rare window into Latin's eventual development into the Romance languages. Medieval Latin supplied much of the aesthetic foundation for Medieval European culture, reflected in both literature and art. As a language of artistic medium, Latin is more relevant today than it has been in perhaps the last two centuries, although Latin's contemporary artistic expression largely comes from some non-conventional and perhaps even non-Catholic sources. The popularity of Hildegard von Bingen's works among new agers and goths, traces of Latin chant in such groups as Dead Can Dance or indeed the full usage of the language for lyrical content by bands such as This Ascension, Medieval Babes and My Dying Bride demonstrates that the Latin language has had a renewed surge among contemporary and largely non-Catholic artists and audiences. There has been something of a resurgence among younger priests and religious, this is true. Although, the liturgy and prayer are more than the priests and religious. Indeed, it is such an emphasis on the clergy that led to the impoverishment of the Roman liturgy in the middle ages.

It is tempting to say that Latin has scarcely any practical relevance. To some degree it's true; Latin is largely relevant to specialists of language, history, theology, or (nowadays) music. I would argue, however, that Latin is relevant when freely chosen. As a person with a back ground in Biblical Studies, if I use Latin it is with full knowledge of many of the textual errors and resulting theological problems from said text. I freely choose to suspend that critical knowledge in order to enter into the world of the language itself. The challenge I would put before Latin advocates is to let Latin be similarly freely chosen in the liturgical context with full the community being fully informed and fully consenting. Of course this would require Roman Catholic parishes adopting the model of intentional religious communities. As history tends to show, the Roman Catholic church often follows the principle of conserving energy or, in more blunt terms, if the opportunity to be lazy presents itself, Roman Catholics will more often than not choose it. This is not me Catholic bashing, rather, I am making a disheartening but sobering commentary on my own religion - mediocrity is more often than not the norm.

Putting aside nostalgia, aesthetics, or papal pronouncements, Latin, I believe, does have a place. One can find no better proof than when comparing the euchological corpus of the Missale Romanum to some of the contemporary intellectually scattered and emotionally overladen drivel produced in vernacular worship today. While Latin liturgical prayer is paltry when compared to its Greek and oriental counterparts, the reserved cool and theological density of the Latin text serves to correct some of the more, if I may say, noxious trends in contemporary Christian worship.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jesus' Wife - Mr. and Mrs. Jesus Christ and the drama of Biblical studies.

Biblical studies is a strange field. On the one hand, there are scholars who spend their lives immersed in the original language of the text, retracing, if possible, the cultural and linguistic influences upon the canon of Scripture. On the other hand, you have the scholars who spend their careers caught up in the archaeological race to discover or have first publishing credits of "something new and thus far unseen." For persons interested in the cultural and linguistic questions, the Anchor Bible commentary series is a fine place to start. It's the trademark of the series; biblical texts set to at times linguistically tortuous commentaries. If you have an academic background in theology or biblical studies, you likely find the series a rewarding read - there is always some obscure element to the text one can walk away with. However, for the general reading market, works purporting explosive archaeological discoveries or manuscript finds dominate the field.

The trend began in the 1945 with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices, a cache of Christian Gnostic documents found in Egypt which supplied scholars with a collection of previously unknown documents from the early stages of Christianity's formation. The trend was solidified in place by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, a large collection of canonical and extra canonical texts and, technically speaking, the earliest manuscript evidence of many of the books in the Hebrew Bible. Both discoveries were anything but humdrum academic affairs. The Nag Hammadi Codices were subject to an interesting chain of custody, starting with the individual alleged to have found the manuscripts and their eventual appearance on the antiquities market. The Dead Sea Scrolls, however, were the subject of legend. Locked away from public access behind agreements with major universities, publishing contracts and academic egos, it took an active campaign by a new generation of scholars in the early 1990s to get all of the material published in facsimile format for universal access. The drawn out process spawned rumors of a secret Vatican cover-up and the discovery of potentially explosive revelations with regard to the origins of Christianity. The end result is that discovering new texts  or being associated with the first publication of new texts is the goal of every scholar. To the degree that it can result in flashy headlines regarding the origins of Christianity or the real Jesus, the better. One's career and future publication deals will be set.

In 2006 the whole process came under scrutiny with the publication of the so-called Gospel of Judas by the National Geographic Society. The manuscript was subject to a somewhat suspicious chain of custody and access to the manuscript was limited to National Geographic's select group of scholars. There was no opportunity for peer review when the Gospel of Judas was published. The community of international Coptic scholars severely critiqued the translation supplied by the Nat Geo. team, some going to far as to say the whole thing was a mistranslation. The story behind the first appearance of Gospel of Judas questioned the long standard manner by which ancient texts come light in biblical studies - normally through private, and illegal, dealings on the antiquities market.

Flash forward to September 19th and 20th 2012. On September 19th, Harvard scholar Dr. Karen King announced the publication of a new Coptic fragment mentioned Jesus' wife. King cautioned that the fragment could not be used to argue whether or not Jesus was married. In fact, composed so late as it was, the text had no value for research into the historical Jesus, it was however an indicator of the wide variety of early Christian beliefs. Twenty-four hours later, the scholarly community has expressed its collective skepticism over King's alleged findings. Put bluntly, something stinks about the "discovery" of this text in the estimation of many scholars. The text has no known provenance, no traceable history to speak of. There is no record in any ancient sources that allude to anything like the text in Egypt. The grammar, according to some Coptic scholars, does not read as it should and the letters themselves do not coincide with the date deduced by King. Finally, there is the suspicion as to the motives for the private owner of the text suddenly appearing. To her credit, Karen King, aside from cautioning anyone from over estimating the value the text has for discovering the Jesus of history, had the text examined by two papyrologists who concluded the the papyrus was authentic. King has also stated she welcomes any criticism from her colleagues to determine the origin of the fragment.

Several things must be noted stemming from the whirlwind of news surrounding this fragment. First, the antiquities market from which so many texts in biblical studies derive is ridden with ethical violations, sketchy characters, and shady motives. The acquisition of these texts often involves violations of law, dubious chains of custody and mysterious private collectors whose motives, origins and relationship to manuscript are unknown. Second, and related to the first, is the motivation behind these manuscripts suddenly appearing. Financial gain is an obvious reason, although it seems to me that many of the figures responsible for bringing certain manuscripts to light spend an inordinate amount of time trying to forge them. It is tempting to think that the unknown provenance, the characters of the collectors involved and the tangled web of international law violations involved in acquiring the manuscript point towards concerted attempts to get certain material out all the while leaving the question of where the material comes from hanging in the air. Third, while I doubt Karen King's scholarly reputation will be seriously damaged by this fiasco, it does necessarily question the integrity of the university and the scholarly process. In biblical studies and theology in general, professors fight for tenure and the professional recognition, all for a salary that is comparatively low when examined along side other fields. One may legitimately ask if the American way of doing tenure has finally begun to get in the way of good scholarship. Fourth, there is a cultural appeal to the notion that Jesus may have experienced the full spectrum of human existence, including sexuality. The notion that the culture is becoming secular and thus disdainful of religion is, to my mind, proven a somewhat fallacious idea. The traditional forms of religion are coming under scrutiny, but the interest surrounding any theory of who Jesus really was or is demonstrates that a peasant Jew from Nazareth remains the figure upon which the Western world pivots.

It is, admittedly, impossible not to run with the speculation that maybe, just maybe, this papyrus reveals something about the real Jesus, even if Dr. Karen King has protested to the contrary. Invariably, a story like this, rather than focusing on the underbelly of biblical scholarship, leads certain religionists to pathologically, if not neurotically, defend their denomination's prescriptions regarding marriage and sexuality - specifically if mandatory celibacy is a feature. The papyrus, if authentic, provides yet another attestation to the variety of early Christian conceptions of Jesus, some of which have been preserved in canonical texts, others expunged, one becoming the dominant model of orthodox Christianity. If authentic, the significance has little to do with the real Jesus, a man who is largely lost to history. Rather its significance resides in the way in which the text represents the varied memories early churches had of Jesus. This does not mean that the dominant model is untrue as far as objective historical fact is concerned. The Jesus of history is largely obscured under an avalanche of orthodox and heterodox confessions. This latest papyrus, if authentic, is yet another example of creedal confession over historical data about Jesus. It is thus impossible, from a historian's perspective, to make a definitive judgment regarding who the historical Jesus is - there is almost nothing left of the historical Jesus preserved in the available early Christian texts. What remains is the Jesus of faith and one can either say the married Jesus is as good as any other, or one can attempt to identify the earliest creedal interpretations of Jesus and compare all subsequent development with the earliest available material. The dominant model as well as rejected models must be compared in the continuum of Christian belief, compared with the earliest articulations of belief - it is there where one can find truth and falsehood.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Morris Berman at Clark University - it is consummated.

There is a manner in which Christ's last words from the cross in John's gospel can be interpreted as  symbolizing not only the completion of the act of atonement, but indeed the closure of one epoch and beginning of another. The ruler of the world is cast out and the Son is glorified. The world, for the author of the Gospel of John, has changed. For Morris Berman, the reign of capital and the rule of modernity have begun to break and the precipitous economic decline of the United States and Europe mark the beginning of an irreversible transition to a new historical epoch.

The notion of the consummation of an age brings with it a certain amount of dread. The old order with which we are familiar, the construct by which we have encoded our lives with meaning and purpose, threatens to collapse. When ashes lay scattered and the soot dissipates from the air, an unknown scape lay in front of us, even if only a reflection of our psyche now bereft of meaning and left with the mammoth task of  re-codifying existence.

The consummation of an age has happened in history; epochal change has brought one world to birth and another to dissolution. Comparatively few are those who live through such times. According to Morris Berman, radical social historian extraordinaire, we are living amid such change. Berman's basic thesis states that capitalism is undergoing its collapse and with it coincides the end of modernity or, as Romano Gaurdini famously titled it in his influential work in 1932, the end of the modern world. Capitalism cannot continue, however, rather than undergoing a self-initiated change, the United States will persist with the capitalist model until the model is exhausted. The crash of 2008 will not be the last and the stagnate economy will not likely return to form as we reach limits of consumption. Many factors will facilitate the collapse: the persistence of financial practices that facilitated the crash of 2008, the inevitability of peak oil, misguided war ventures, and the continued consolidation of wealth to name a few. Capitalism, having been left unchecked and becoming the dominant financial model across the globe, collapses and brings the modern world with it. It is, according to Berman, the break in the arc of capitalism, the death throes of declining age and the birth pangs of another, the total shifting of paradigms. The financial pitfall undergone in the global economy has no tenable exit as the socio-economic system declines steadily towards dissolution prior to redefinition.

Berman's model is indeed, depending upon one's perspective, the most pessimistic or optimistic casting of the future (a process he believes will be complete by 2100, the first year after the modern world). Depending upon one's perspective, he notes, one has either the fortune or misfortune to live through such epochal change, though for many the immediate experience is one of internal anxiety, crushing necessity, and hopelessness as one struggles to retain prescribed life patterns within a society in which they are increasingly obsolete.

Berman's thesis is an example of talking about "great ideas," ideas which are colossal in scope. It is admittedly impossible to fully wrap one's mind around the notion of epochal change, that in forty years capitalism and capitalist society will no longer exist and that be the beginning of the next century society will have as much in common with our own as we do the medievals. Nevertheless, Berman sticks by this and he offers some compelling proofs of his diagnosis.

Is Berman correct? This is another matter entirely. Since at least Gaurdini's work, if not before, observers had commented the the rise of the mass production of financial capital signaled the decline of capitalism if not the modern world as whole due to forces effecting the culture as whole. Berman is not, therefore, alone in his analysis. Even this election cycle has played upon theme to some extent, or, at the very least, the theme of transition. Republicans offer the possibility of restoring a bygone era of the American economy while Democrats pursue the re-engineering of society believing the past to be irretrievable. In some sense, then, I think Berman is correct in his estimation that people have begun to sense that transition is taking place, though it is a transition to something entirely unknown.

There are certain cultural indicators that would make one intuitively feel Berman is on to something in his analysis. All economic indicators suggest upward mobility has come to an end in American society, intimating an end to the economic promise of capitalism and in turn the pragmatic cessation of one of modernism's philosophical presuppositions. There is also, as Berman himself noted, the absurdity of the "bottom 90%." Fiscal capital is in a period of being generated among and coalesced into a limited percentage of economic participants and creating striking examples of disproportionate earnings. The consolation of wealth increasingly occurs through practices which violate the common ethical presuppositions of the Western world, democratic-capitalist societies in particular.

The above circumstances, according to Berman, occasion the rise of social protest movements, most recently seen in Occupy Wallstreet. In Berman's analysis, Occupy Wallstreet is a failure and had little hope of succeeding for two reasons. First, the movement lacked the political structure and necessary hierarchy to become a component of the political process, eventually leading to social and economic reform. Second, Occupy Wallstreet's expressed goal looks to do little more than change the window dressing of the system. But as much as we should expect future economic crashes in our lifetime, we should also expect future protest movements; the social conditions are ripe, in Berman's estimation, for continued future unrest.

Berman compares the magnitude of the change he sees encroaching upon us as comparable to the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West and the formation of the Medieval world. Berman looks to the example of the ancient Monastic communities as exemplars for how culture, learning and indeed civilization would survive the transition of epochs. The ancient monasteries were the repository of learning during and after the collapse of Rome and preserved much of classical culture, as well as serve as the focal point of economic activity for the community. IF we are truly heading for the dissolution of modernity as Berman prognosticates, then it is necessary to find communities with such intention and integrity to preserve our culture into the new historical cycle. Berman does not, and I think correctly so, assume that today's Christian monastic communities would once again fulfill that role: many are either uncultured or are themselves too dependent upon modernity themselves. Thus, the challenge is to find communities with the ancient monastic ethos.

The scenario Berman outlined is, of course, a big IF; I know of historical examples of persons who successfully prognosticated epochal change. Although, as mentioned, Berman is not the only person to come to this conclusion and the history of intellectual thought strongly implies that the prognostications of the end of an age are not solely conditioned by today's economic circumstances. As a theologian, one cannot help but try to identify the significance for religion in such a transition. Berman's scenario implies a socio-economic tumult in which everything we know if potentially risked with dissolution. The dissolution of the Roman Empire brought with it the dissolution of the Roman religious world. Christianity, however, survived into the medieval period, a period defined by Christianity. Modernity revolted against the Medieval Christian world, although Christianity nevertheless transitioned into the modern world, although not without change. Protestantism was the Christianity produced by modernity. Roman Catholicism largely resisted modernity, although the last fifty years has seen an attempt to come to grips with modernity's philosophical and sociological outlook. IF Berman is correct, religion will undergo another transformation. New religions, already prevalent in the last one hundred years, will continue to increase as humanity seeks spiritual significance to its new circumstance.

What then of Christianity? Protestantism, though foundationally produced by modernity, has the benefit of no central governing body and the ability to adapt quickly. To the degree that a particular form of Protestantism is wedded to modernity is the degree to which it would, hypothetically, risk extinction. Catholicism finds itself in a more complicated place. The Roman Church resisted modernity for most of the modern epoch but has, in the last fifty years, sought to come to terms with it. This has brought both benefit and loss to the Roman Church. I will cite to examples with which I am quite familiar. Pius XII may well be recognized as the first pontiff to fully integrate modernity into Roman Catholicism. Divino Afflantu set out the program of Biblical Studies for the Roman Church. Pius XII fully embraced the historical critical method and urged the biblical books to be interpreted according to their genre and authorial intent. The Roman Church has, as a result, produced an impressive stream of biblical scholars and commentators. Currently, the some of the finest vernacular editions of the bible stem from Catholic biblical scholars. There is no attempt to read Catholic or even Christian doctrine into the biblical text. The text is often taken on its own terms and context. This has been, in my estimation, an example of the benefit of modernity to the Catholic Church. Conversely, Catholic Social Teaching has been transformed by modernity. Whereas the trajectory of CST from Leo XIII to Pius XI was critical of all prevailing political and economic systems, reaching its peak with Pius XI's advocacy to create an alternative to capitalism and communism, subsequent Catholic Social Teaching has largely sought to for the capitalist system - with no results, actually. For the Roman Church, an epochal transition necessitates a close review of its own tradition to see what, if anything, can be transitioned into whatever new epoch lurks along the horizon.

Of course, all of this is a big IF, regardless of the certainty with which Berman talks about it. Nevertheless, the challenge of a theologian is read how shifts in prevailing paradigms would necessarily change the theological and religious landscape. Berman's scenario, featuring a healthy dose of financial catastrophe and social unrest, has its apocalyptic overtones but, being based on speculation as it is, there is no certainty. There are, however, a variety of social currents in which Christianity finds itself, all vying for some measure of influence. Perhaps, then, Berman is correct and this explains, in part, the numerous indications of intellectual fragmentation in Roman Catholicism - our current world is exhausted and things have begun the process of dissolution. Although, I tend to aver from Berman's scenario. True, everything, including capitalism and modernity in general will come to a conclusion - history seems to dictate that all cycles eventually come to an end. Yet, I myself suspect Elliot may be closer to the truth regarding the eventual end of the modern world, "not with a bang, but with a whimper." Nevertheless, Berman's proposal is compelling, if not unsettling. All things must come to an end, so the saying goes. Of course, it's one thing to say it, another thing entirely to entertain the thought one is living through the end of everything one knows.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Edith Stein

Titling this post so simply seemed appropriate. Stark and somewhat claustrophobic, preventing any easy way out. Her name confronts you with typical Teutonic severity. As severe  and entrapping as her photograph.

Today the Roman liturgy commemorates Edith Stein, Teresa Benedicta a Cruce. Her place in the sanctoral cycle is symbolic of so many currents running through the Roman Church in the last forty or fifty years. She simultaneously symbolizes the desires to move forward, to find repentance and rebirth, to cling to an idealized past. Edith Stein's canonization occurred during John Paul II's pontificate, a pontificate that showed a unique sensitivity to Judaism and the history of often torrid Christian interactions with the Jews. This was, to be sure, on account of the force of the late pontiff's own will. Being born a Jew, there is a sense, even if often rose tinted, that Edith Stein's place in the cult of the saints somehow bridges an imposing two religions. Being a Jew who was sent to die at Auschweitz, Edith Stein's place in the cult of the saints represents the attempt to firmly reject the holocaust and the antisemitism that inspired it through liturgical praxis. She has become the "dangerous memory" in the Roman liturgy that awakens images in the mind of what has been, thus far, the most visceral incarnation of human evil. The liturgical observance of her feast day is designed to invoke the memory and leave one with little chance to completely forget. I would also argue that her liturgical observance is an act of repentence, a solemn cultic acknowledgment that the Roman Church will never be completed cleared of involvement with the merciless hatred that lead to Edith's and six million other Jews' deaths. Yet, at times Catholics cannot resist the temptation to decontextualize Edith Stein. She was killed by the Nazis without much reference as to why she was sent to die. For Roman Church, the most dangerous memory present in Edith Stein's feast is the damning sense that due to centuries of at times encouraging antisemitism, the very Church she converted to was, culturally, responsible for her death and if her's, then many others as well.

Edith Stein was in her own time an intellectual, perhaps one could even argue she was a philosophical power house. It is not only that she was a Jew who converted, she was the liberated Western woman, a woman who succeeded in a man's world, who chose the habit of a Carmelite nun not out of obedience or suppression but indeed as the fulfillment of her own liberation. All of her freedom had brought her to that point of choosing the religious life, the nun's habit. Yet, her writings on the nature of woman after her conversion affirm the principle of female subordination to male. Although, her life, even after her conversion and reception of the habit, attested to the contrary. She is both the proof that Catholicism is not hostile to feminism and a dense philosophical defense for the traditional Roman domus.

For those willing to hear and understand, the collect for the day offers a powerful (and official) portrayal of Edith Stein's significance for the Roman cultus.

Deus patrum nostrorum,
qui beatam Teresiam Benedictam martyrem
ad cognitionem Filii tui crucifixi
eiusque imitationem usque ad mortem perduxisti,
ipsa intercedente, concede,
ut omnes homines Christum Salvatorem agnoscant
et per eum ad perpetuam tui visionem adveniant.

The opening invocation of God recalls the invocation of God found in the Hebrew Scriptures. The intent, I think, is clear. There should be no mistake, the very Deity of the Old Testament is called upon and called upon in his own terms. The circumstances of Edith's death are not ignored. Her death is treated as an act of imitatio Christi. The collect entertains the possible interpretation that every death of the holocaust had a similar quality to it. There is a qualitative aspect to the holocaust that seems to come closest to Jesus' own agony and death. I will let the conclusion to the prayer speak for itself. It is not surprising the prayer concludes as it does.