Friday, April 27, 2012

Eliade, Otto, and the scorn of the academic.

Numerous deadlines have forced a sudden suspension of activity on these pages. Thankfully, the final product will also be featured herein. Although, I cannot help but offer a quick reflection on the material I've been working with lately.

One "scholar", in an article that passed through my hands for research purposes, remarked that academics have been trying to unshackle religious studies from the legacy of Eliade. The reason? Eliade, by his own admission, was not interested in offering a scientific analysis of the material he studied. Whether Eliade investigated Chinese alchemical texts or the traditions of native American shamanism, Eliade, by his own admission, sought something other, if not more, than scientific data. He sought to identify the theology one could construct from the material. He sought to create a philosophical synthesis from the material. More importantly, he sought to see how the material actually facilitated communication with the transcendent.

Eliade and Otto both sought to understand how the supernatural worked in our natural world. Their scholarship, which earned both men prestige in their life times, was, in some respects, their spiritual quest, as opposed to being a subject for their intellectual play and detached reflection. There was, on the part of both men, a conviction in another reality that could be, and perhaps wanted to be, discovered by the human person.

Today, both men are the source of both frustration and scantly veiled jealousy among many supposed scholars of religion and/or university theologians. One "scholar" noted with a tinge of condescension that Eliade's thoughts have too successfully diffused to the none-scholar. The majority outside of the university has adopted him as an expert in matters pertaining to religion and spirituality. Thus, by the force of the non-academic majority, Eliade's ideas keep returning and re-solidifying his legacy. This scholar, for his part, wants to find a way to transform Eliade into an obscure footnote in academic circles. His frustration is palpable. Eliade's ideas, in his life time no less, swept the university by storm and became part of the cultural imagination. I found a similar critique of Otto. Otto's insistence that knowledge of the sacred is predominately experiential and that scholars themselves are ill prepared to write about the sacred unless they possess some degree of experiential knowledge of it has been met with scorn by contemporary scholars, often with an accompanying admission that they have not had any such experience of the sacred to speak of.

Academic theologians/religious scholars devote their lives to the study of minutiae. They write and write, sometimes elaborate monographs composed of the most delicate research. These monographs are rarely if ever read in their entirety; normally, the reader goes through the index, skims a few pages until he or she finds the desired data and then copies the bibliographic information. Occasionally, a few more pages are necessary, but rarely is there a need to read the whole work. They research and write, consumed with mastering the thought of another human being or human beings. Their reward: tenure, maybe an honorary chair given by other obscurest, and grants. For the most part, when they die, their reward goes with them. Today's scholar lives and works with perpetual sting that he or she is thoroughly integrated into an intellectual production line that does not reward product resembling the work of the giants of eras past. There is no reward for devising a grand synthesis and attempting to pursue it.  There is no chance to write the work that will have everyone in the academy and outside of the academy investigating the contours of your thought decades hence. There is no reward to become type of figure you devote your life to studying, to becoming the intellectual obsession of a future generation. The sting is quite acute when you're dealing with figures from recent history.

Academia is a world of fragile egos. If one wishes to survive it, let only thrive in it, one must master the protocols and rituals that consistently affirm the work of others and demonstrate your subservience to them. It is a constant show of submission to senior colleagues and/or professors that determines how well one will be ingratiated into the system. Yet, for all of the mandated subservience the academic receives, he or she will likely never become more than a footnote, he or she, based upon the dominate paradigm in place, will never become the object of study, admiration, and inspiration, never joining the canon of intellectuals who perpetually influence the thought of subsequent generations.

I don't detest the university. I've learned much worth keeping and was supplied with the opportunity to study topics I once thought impenetrable. I do reject, however, contemporary academic culture and its reduction of the intellect and near annihilation of the spirit. Why? Because I hope, by the end of my life, to compose works that leave their mark upon humanity's intellectual tradition, as opposed to a footnote somewhere between pages 43 and 65. Whether the object of admiration or rejection, I want my writing read by everyone. If I can do one fourth of what Eliade did, I will have accomplished something.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rearranging the Landscape of the Sacred, II

Roman Catholicism, much like Eastern Orthodoxy, places emphasis on tradition. When one examines how Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy operates, tradition is a concept that is inclusive of more than doctrine or ecclesiastical custom. There is always an undercurrent, ever so subtle, of tradition by blood. When one participates in the religion, one participates with in continuum with one's blood, past and present.

There is some truth to this. The United States supplies us with a perfect case study. The Church of Rome played a unique and perhaps unrepeatable role during the immigration boom of late 19th and early 20th century. The Roman church provided cultural cohesion, ethnic strength, and ancestral connection to numerous groups immersed in the process of diaspora. If one takes the time to seek out second hand liturgical items, one finds evidence of the Roman church fulfilling this role. One can, for instance, find a Missale Romanum from the 1920s with numerous supplemental insertions reflecting the devotional culture of French Canadians. One may also examine the contents of various vernacular hand missals published in the from the 1940s to 1960s and note the influence of Italian Catholicism upon cultic observance in the United States via the various optional saints feasts that received full textual treatment. For instance, the inclusion of Saint Rita's feast propers, alternative mass sets for St. Anthony and, on rare occasions, the inclusion of such figures as St. Rocco or Leonard of Port Maurice.

Liturgical texts, whether they are in heavily supplemented ritual texts or popular vernacular texts, often reflect the experience of the sacred for a people. They are, even if only in parts, witnesses to an culture, an ethnicity, and, in fact, an ancestry. They are pieces to the most profound depths of an identity. Southern Italian Catholicism is not known for its frequency of Mass attendance. Nevertheless, the waves of Southern Italians who arrived upon these shores brought with them the unique manner of ritual observance they shared in the old country. In the mass sets for certain feast days, I can peer into my own ancestral past, observing the cultic observance my ancestors brought with them from Calabria and Sicily, knowing that on the relatively rare occasions when they would have (especially the men) attended a Mass, it was likely in conjunction with these observances. When I turn to the pages of the post-conciliar liturgy, I can see much, if not all, of my family's spiritual inheritance has disappeared.

If there is one truly lamentable loss from the reforms of the Roman liturgy, it is the streamlined reform of the sanctoral calendar. The sanctoral reflected the local cultus of many parts of "Catholic" Europe and as such it provided an important component in the identity of an immigrant generation. And be it with regard to "Catholic Europe" or the numerous immigrant waves, I do not believe there has ever been a considerable study documenting how drastically the purging of the sanctoral has adversly effected the conception of ethno-religious identity.

The revision of the sanctoral was carried out based upon the conclusions of scholarship at that time and with ecumenical interests abounding. Yet, there was more at stake than liturgical revision; the experience of cultural and/or ethnic identity was by the that time intimately bound with the sanctoral. The liturgical reform opted to wager the results of liturgical scholarship against the experience of the cultural or ethnic self. The reform, I believe, lost said wager and is still paying back its debt. What has been lost is the experience of local cultus as it impacts a given community's sense of collective identity and history. The sanctoral was once a vessel for connecting oneself to something transendent of one's own immediate reality, yet also comparitively tangible. One was connected to an experience, often had by one's own blood, that predated one's own existence and would likely survive the closing of one's own mortal life. The sense of a transcendent reality is the beginning of the sacred.

If we accept theories of ritual liminality as being, at least in part, true, then we must acknowledge the precarious situation in which the church of Rome finds itself. The Roman church finds itself in a state of corporate liminal dissonance. Markers of liminal transition, be it liturgical text or former church grounds, are often accorded significance in virtue of their ability to establish a coherent religious identity. This is often at the neglect of the means by which "sacred" space and liturgical texts formulate self, ethnic, and cultural identity. These are perhaps more visceral senses of identity than religious identification. It is to Catholicism's credit that it can claim to have had superseded religious identity and extended to cultural and ethnic identity. It provided the means and context for the transition and growth of self. However, much of Catholicism's cultural and ethnic force is lost in the contemporary liturgical context through the purgation of the sanctoral calendar. Yet, one can readily argue that purgation of the sanctoral calendar and the loss of ethnic and cultural identity was inevitable, not on account of scholarly data or even principles of liturgical revision, but rather due to the massive cultural shift in which the Roman church finds itself. It is not just a transition from the north eastern United States to the southern United States. Globally, Catholicism finds itself as an increasingly "non-western" religion, that is, the bulk of its numbers and density of its practice are found in cultures traditionally considered outside of the Euro-American culture. Roman Catholicism faces the challenge of transcending the west, yet, it must do so without severing its connection to western culture. Indeed, if one were to raise a red flag against the "Catholic identity" motif, it would be that the concept of "Catholic Identity" risks being acultural in so far as it conceives of Catholicism as having existed in either a cultural vacuum or have been the dominant influence on (western) culture without being influenced in return.

The purgation of the sanctoral calendar represents, however accidental, the expulsion of local culture (largely European) from the Roman rite. The contemporary liturgy must restore the cultural base. The next installment in this series will examine the recent attempts to reengage the Roman liturgy with culture.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Transmission of the Transcendent

Theology, in the sense of attempting to comprehend and, potentially, communicate the transcendent   has been seen as an exercise of another era, proper to a time and place in which the conception of reality was substantially different from our own. Critical studies, be it in the Bible or early Christian history, has largely prohibited such a theological enterprise. There is, then, a necessity for theology to come to terms with the results of critical scholarship. Persons seeking to do theological work, in any area, cannot legitimately ignore critical scholarship.

Recently I was involved in a discussion over the quality of Latin utilized in the Roman liturgy on a blog that shall remain nameless. The author was adamant in defending the proposition is necessarily hieratic based upon an analysis of Latin liturgical text that has hardly acquired mainstream consensus among Latin scholars. Indeed, the position is largely the purview of ecclesiastics of a particular ideological bent. After discussing the problems inherit in the position based upon examples drawn from the Latin language itself, the author promptly replied that, nevertheless, the argument can be made and has been made and then closed all comments for his post.

I am, to a degree, somewhat sympathetic towards the author in question. He desperately desires to find the source of the transcendent in one's life and believes the liturgy is the arena in which such contact takes place. Nevertheless, when critical scholarship seriously disputed his claims, the response was to immediately disengage from the discussion and close himself off to further inquiry.

This example, I believe, demonstrates a tendency I have seen among many persons interested in rediscovering a theology capable of dialogue with the transcendent and the eternal, a reality beyond our own. Critical scholarship is greeted with suspicion and rather than learning the complexities of critical scholarship, the decision is made to disengage and retreat into a posture of intellectual isolation.

I advocate post-critical theology on account of my own experience. While most critical scholarship can be disputed, it is not necessarily refutable. Critical scholarship largely impinges upon certain accretions to the Christian narrative, it does not, nor is ever able, to dismiss the transcendent. It is possible to engage the transcendent while fully integrating the consequences of critical scholarship. The debate, after getting over a certain amount of narrative shock, centers upon to what degree post-critical theology follows the trail of critical scholarship.

A few weeks back I reviewed a journal article in which, towards the conclusion, the author had, ultimately, obscured the Christian kergyma to the extent that one could not identify a deposit of faith transmittable to subsequent generations. This analysis would undoubtedly trouble said author given that her desire was to propose a deposit of faith that was "relevant" to our current sociological situation. Theologians of the university, especially biblical scholars, are often shocked at how irrelevant their models are outside of the university. They are forced to reckon with a criteria for which the university rarely trains its academic theologians to fulfill - namely, relevance to the praxis of daily life. Theology is only worth the effort if, in the end, it has something to transmit to another about the nature of God and our relationship to the Deity and, more importantly, how we can access said Deity. In both my undergraduate and graduate education I met numerous "theologians", more of whom were tenure tracked, who could not understand the appeal of John Paul II or Benedict XVI to a recent wave of theologians my age and younger. Granted, I'm not often persuaded by most papal arguments and I find Ratzinger's finest theology to be years behind him, however, I am well aware of the allure the last two pontiffs have had for young theologians. Both men offer a theology capable of transmitting a divine communication relevant to the praxis of daily life. One may disagree with the content of that communication, however, one cannot dispute its effectiveness.

The relevance of theology, what makes a theology work, is its ability to provide a man or a woman with a narrative capable of providing structure, meaning, and transcendence to his or her lives. The challenge for theologians in the aftermath of critical scholarship is to utilize said scholarship in a matter that provides the same structure, meaning, and transcendence.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A quick note on Otto's notion of the Sacred

In response to a reader email, there are a few things to note about Rudolph Otto's The Idea of the Holy.

While Otto's conception of the sacred and our interaction with it intrigues me, there are, as I've mentioned, reasons to be wary of  adopting Otto's theory in toto. I've alluded to the possible problems with Otto's idealization of total/partial obscurity being the hallmark of language in which the sacred is expressed. Others have noted Otto's conception of the sacred is grounded in specifically Western and particularly Christian thought. There's a good deal of substance to this criticism. Otto effuses over the quality of Christianity's expression of the sacred over and against all previous and subsequent religious formulations. Otto never distinguishes which Christianity he means: Jesus' original movement, the conception of Jesus held by his earliest followers, the sub-apostolic period, the early or late patristic period, the medievals, etc. Others have critiqued Otto for holding the a priori position that the sacred is, ultimately its own category, removed from cultural context. I'm less convinced by this argument, but it's important to know that it is out there.

The challenge, I suppose, when reading Otto is to identify his basic conceptualization, see if there is anything of use there or anything that particularly resonates with you, and disentangle it from his argumentation. This is similar, though not identical, to what Victor Turner did with liminality from the work of Van Gennep.

Book Review : Paranormal America.

As anyone who happened upon Jeffery J. Kripal's Authors of the Impossible knows, there has been an increase in books detailing the interaction with what is otherwise broadly known as the paranormal and mainline religious beliefs. This area is of interest to me as it relates to a book I'm currently working on. In general, these books are typically designed for a popular audience and with a sociological analysis in mind. Paranormal America by Christopher Bader, F. Carson Mencker and Joseph Baker follows the general trend. Those desiring a theological or anthropological treatment of the topic will, by and large, be disappointed. This is not to say the book is without its merits. As more of a sociological enterprise, Paranormal America works with recent polling data in an attempt to create a profile of the average American likely to believe in some variety of paranormal phenomenon and the manner the degree to which belief in this phenomenon effects religious observance. If taken at face value, the authors' research demonstrates that many popular assumptions regarding belief in the paranormal are not necessarily true. Belief in the paranormal extends across all socio-economic backgrounds. The economically impoverished are likely to believe in paranormal phenomenon on account of being financially alienated from the cultural status quo. Meanwhile, the wealthy are likely to believe in paranormal phenomenon both from a desire to be on the "cutting edge" of belief and to exercise their economic influence in the formation of a new belief. The authors' also highlight that religious practice does not negate belief in the paranormal. If the data presented in the book is to be believed, rigid religious adherence excludes most forms of paranormal belief, sans the belief in demonic or angelic activity. The book presents several cases (past and present) in which the belief in certain alleged paranormal phenomena (typically UFOs) has been influenced by the broader Christian belief in the country, perhaps as an indicator that religion is in the process of being reinvented to better match the expectations of a post-industrial age.

Those interested in the "headier" anthropological and theological questions/perspectives on the subject will likely be disappointed by the book. There's plenty of sociological data but I for one am more interested in the religious, cultural, and theological themes that surround the alleged experience of and apparent interest in the "paranormal." On that front, Kripal's aforementioned Authors of the Impossible does a better job, though it is not at all comprehensive and it suffers the limitations of being written directly for a popular audience. The strength of the book is its survey data. If trusted, the data indicate that no religious denomination in the United States is not without a notably percentage of adherents who believe in paranormal phenomenon that, likely, are outside of or contradict the doctrine of the denomination. If the category of mainline religious observance rises (as opposed to rigid religious observance, then were are likely to see an increase in the percentage of religious adherents who's conception of reality and maybe even the divine is in part shaped by belief in phenomenon outside the purview of their denomination.

In the end, Paranormal America is another baby step in analyzing the post-twentieth century, post-industrial age, spirituality stew in which we find ourselves simmering.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Boston Church Closings : Rearranging the Landscape of Faith.

In a story familiar across the old-line strongholds of the Roman Church in the United States, the Archdiocese of Boston is moving ahead to sell the land of a closed parish to the township. Meanwhile, the parishioners continue their seven year vigil and take the case to the Vatican's highest court for such matters. You can read the full story from the Boston Herald here:

As mentioned, the story is familiar across the original bastions of Roman Catholicism in the United States. The original announcement of wide-spread closing throughout the archdiocese (styled as parish re-configuration) has had an acute sting in the Archdiocese of Boston. Coming as it did in the immediate wake of the child molestation crisis in the Catholic Church, the closings were seen as yet further evidence that the hierarchy has greater concern for the institution than the people who comprise the institution. The parishioners who "occupied" these churches on the chopping block were spurred on by the sense of protecting the structures that many of their ancestors may have helped build (constructed on the back of immigrant labor) and the local community that had hosted their ecclesiastical life. It is the local experience of the ecclesia that

For the person whose experience of the divine is connected to the life of a local parish, the decision to close the parish is of no small consequence. For the average Roman Catholic, these buildings are the ground upon which the walked while crossing the fields of liminality; in their sacramental rituals, the buildings have been the locus of passage and transformation, the engagement of a process of becoming, un-becoming and becoming again, a cycle that repeats itself in the experience of one's own offspring undergoing the same liminal process. It is not just a building that is closing, the parishioner whose primary experience of the sacred has been in the context of ritual liminality loses a holy ground, a point of encounter with the divine and the resulting transformation. There is, then, no longer a physical reference point to their experience of having crossed the fields of liminality and the parishioner must then undergo a new, and unexpected, liminal process- that of finding a new ground in which to locate the divine. This, as mentioned, predicated upon the individual finding his or her contact with the divine in parish life. For others, the divine is not so ritualized.

Closing a parish effectively wipes a persons' sacred landscape clean. One can never return to that place of reference. Even if the visit is infrequent, if one has invested some significance in the ritual process, one finds a point of spiritual orientation in the concrete structure. If one has a family attached to a church, one finds an emotional treasury in which is stored memories of one's most intimate relationships - for better or worse.

Yet, the sacred landscape is indeed changing, so far as Roman Catholicism and other forms of more sacramental Christianity are concerned. The Northeast in particular is no longer the bulwark of the Roman Church it once was and, unlike other areas of the country, immigration is not significantly changing the numbers. As such, Catholicism is gradually constricting in this area of the country. This constriction requires the constriction of the Roman landscape, typically in the form of church and school closings. Meanwhile, many immigrants in the Northeast look towards ethnically flavored Pentecostal churches as opposed to the Roman Catholicism which they've likely been a part of since birth. Catholicism's powerhouse continues to shift to the Southern United States, where immigration and conversions are boosting the numbers, the finances, and in turn expanding the spaces wherein the divine is encounter through sacramental observance. The sacred landscape is changing. The Northeast continues to lose its old holy grounds; as old line New England Protestantism gave way to Roman Catholicism, there is a similar decline in the sacred space of the once dominant religion. In other areas, however, the sacred landscape is expanding, engulfing more of the locality as the Roman Church redefines itself in the United States.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Language and the Sacred.

Despite suffering the criticism common to most all "modernist" scholarship in our post-modern age, Rudolph Otto's The Idea of the Holy (1917) remains a classic of religious thought and continues to be cited by contemporary authors and scholars. In the course of his investigation of the numinous, the sacred, Otto discusses the means by which the Sacred can be conveyed or expressed. Otto's thought has some potentially practical consequences for liturgical praxis in the west, perhaps even the praxis of prayer itself. Otto upheld the notion that certain languages are sacred languages, versus the language of quotidian and profane use. Otto opines that he immediate feeling or expression of the Sacred was conveyable through language, "It finds its most unqualified expression in the spell exercised by the only half intelligible or wholly unintelligible language of devotion, and in the unquestionably real enhancement of the awe of the worshiper which this produces." (Otto 67)
     Otto makes the above cited statement in the context of  identifying the means by which the numinous could be expressed - although there is, in my reading, an unresolved tension in Otto's thought with regards to causative agent of the expression - the numinous itself or a human agent. Otto, however, implies the power of the language itself, in so far as a specific and somewhat obscure language may communicate something our vernacular or a language in reasonable proximity to our vernacular cannot. Amid the current resurgence of interest in Latin in the Roman rite, Otto's considerations ought to be heavily weighed. Otto is not a traditionalist confining himself and his audience to a limited purview of the evidence nor does he have dreams of restoring an old order. Otto was and remains a religious thinker of the highest caliber, and his appeal to a sacred language (a language by and large removed from one's vernacular) extends across denominational and indeed religious confessions.
     Otto does not define how an obscure language necessarily communicates the Sacred or is a vessel by which the Sacred communicates itself. Otto is more concerned that in observing religious phenomenon that may or may not engender an experience of the numinous versus the rational, language seems to play a role in suspending the desire for reason and awakening a feeling of proximity to the numinous. Otto, mind you, was not alone in this proposition nor its originator. The perennialist school of thought has, to the best of my knowledge, advocated for the necessity of what it identifies as the sacred (and somewhat obscure) languages of the great religious traditions for proper communication with and from the divine. This has been the case since, I believe, Rene Guenon. Of course, one cannot ignore the less refined aesthetic arguments made by contemporary traditionalists (largely in Roman Catholic circles); the arguments, though lacking the sophistication of Otto or the perennialist school, are honest attempts to express the "feeling" received by hearing Latin, be it recited or chanted, in a liturgical context.
     Otto's advocacy for (obscure) sacred language has generally fallen under the broader critique of his work. Much of Otto's argument appears highly context specific. Otto presumes details appropriate to his context as universals. Similarly, the perennialist school is criticized with touting cultural particularities as universal metaphysical principles, including their theory of language. Does Latin genuinely communicate the Sacred outside of certain cultural context? Otto believes it does. Do words of arcane or otherwise obscure languages (ancient varieties of Greek or Hebrew for example) genuinely carry a potency to affect expression of the numinous? Otto argues in the affirmative.
      If there is one thing of value derived from contemporary Biblical Studies, it is the emphasis it places upon the primary languages of the Biblical manuscript tradition. Proficiency in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and, to a certain degree, Coptic or Ge'ez underscores the degree to which the vernacular religious tradition, from the middle ages onwards, has glossed over the complexities of the linguistic heritage of the sacred text. I and other theologians or Biblical scholars would go further and include the Latin tradition as a gloss of the primary linguistic traditions (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). From the perspective of Biblical scholarship, there is little inherently "special" about the Latin language; Latin fails to shed much light on what might be the original Biblical text, the pre-Christian tradition behind the text, and, in fact, is often an agent of textual corruption.
      The argument may be made that, translation errors and textual corruptions admitted, the Latin text tradition spawned a distinct spirituality. I would not dispute this point. However, objectively, one must consider that this spirituality is, at times, a faulty reading or transmission of the sacred text. When placed under the microscope of scholarly analysis, the Latin tradition is, textually speaking, prone to a greater degree of subjectivity; a spirituality is later inserted into the text and becomes part of the text's form. In the light of textual criticism, to make the argument for a sacred language one has to do more than highlight the historical fact that a spirituality did eventually develop from this language and this language has hosted it's own variety of manuscript traditions. The manuscript tradition itself must, one way or another, shed light on the diversity of pre-Christian textual families, thus situating it in the earliest strata of textual families. The Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts (the LXX and the New Testament) are well attested to in this regard. The Vetus Latina and Vulgate (Jerome's, Clementine or Nova) cannot sustain such a claim. Claims for Latin's place as a sacred language must be qualified: the Latin textual tradition is the host of the distinctly Latin or Western spirituality that gradually developed after the collapse of Rome, however, it is also a spirituality and textual tradition that at times diverges from the critical sources of the Biblical text. Additionally, the Latin textual tradition offers no insight into the pre-Christian varieties of the Biblical text - we cannot use Latin as a means of peering into what texts may have shaped the worldview, theology and spirituality of the New Testament authors and perhaps the New Testament figures themselves. If we want to speak of this subject from the perspective of divine-human communication, the Latin text does not permit access to the dialogue that occurred before the codification of doctrine and dogma in a hierarchical church. The Septuagint, for instance, alerts the reader to both the pre-Christian context and serves as the textual and theological base upon which many of the New Testament authors based their thought.
    Although, Latin's history as primarily a host to spiritual tradition that diverged, at times, from the earliest sacred text argues for another view of sacred language. Language is highly personal. It is impossible to speak of a particular language in general metaphysical terms as no one response to language is typically the same. Italians may not think much of their language outside of cultural and ethnic pride. For any descendant of the Italian diaspora, the Italian language can be, all dialects considered, a means of re-connecting with ancestors they'll never know, a land in which they've never lived, and a culture which they've never experienced in its totality. And, of course, Italian expresses a particular religious history and identity to the land. If Latin is the model, then any language, no matter how far removed from the sacred texts, may facilitate the expression of the sacred. Although, this does not do much to bolster the case for restoring Latin or arguing that Latin is a sacred language.
    Yet, can we argue that some languages are in fact sacred, at least in so far as they are the host languages of a sacred text? Privately, I lean towards this position. However, my criteria is primarily scientific, in so far as it is based off of textual criticism. This position, whether rightly or wrongly, argues that before one can access the un-rational, one must engage one's rational faculties and critically examine the language and the textual tradition as the basis for divine-human communication.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Settimana Santa (Holy Week) in the Liturgia Delle Ore (Liturgy of the Hours)

For those who pray the Roman breviary, the Liturgy of the Hours, Holy Week begins a cycle of some of the finest readings in the divine office. The Pascal cycle features the some of the best lectio in the Office of Readings, the finest complement of Scripture and theological/spiritual selections. I'll personally use the Italian Liturgia Dell Ore.

The selection from Hebrews (Heb 10:1-18) speaks (or should speak) for itself. The selection from Andrea di Creta (Andrew of Crete) may need a little more explication. The revision of the readings in the Liturgia Horarum and all subsequent vernacular editions has not been without some controversy. The Liturgia Horarum/Liturgia Delle Ore abandons the hagiography used in the old Breviarium Romanum and utilizes a broader Patristic base for many of the second readings. I believe there was a conscious attempt to not only situate as much as possible in the Patristic tradition, but indeed to establish a divine office that was (again, as much as possible) anterior to the division between Christian East and Christian West. Andrew of Crete satisfies both goals: an author of the Patristic tradition and prior to the division between the Latin and Greek churches.

A few highlights from Sant'Andrea di Creta:

"Venite, e saliamo insieme sul monte degli Ulvi..." the opening sentence of this lesson recalls the invitatory of the Liturgia Delle Ore, psalm 94, although the reading supplies us with a firm locus point for the action of thanksgiving at the beginning of the psalm. Adoration of the divine is to be located upon the mount of Olives. The intention is not to be literal, but christological; "sul monte degli Ulvi" euphamistically orientates worship upon the person of Christ.

"E` disceso dal cielo, per farci salire con se lassu 'al di sopra di ogni principato e autorita, di ogni potenza e dominazione e di ogni altro nome che si possa nominare'" (cf. Ephesians 1:21) Andrew of Crete explicates the operative effect of the descent of the logos from heaven first (implicitly) among those who believe in him (Andrew's thought echoes Johnanine theology) and next (citing Ephesians) upon the principalities or lesser powers.

The two readings, taken together, are cosmic in scope. Hebrews orientates us to the celestial temple and the radically celestial sacrificial liturgy that has taken place there in by the sacrifice of Christ; the action of Jesus' death has a corresponding action in the eternal that effects the atonement: "Ora, dove c'e` il perdono di queste cose, non c'e` piu` bisogno di offerta per il peccato." (Note: and who says lex orandi, lex credenti has been turned on its head in recent decades?) Andrew of Crete, meanwhile, reminds us of an ancient and at times utterly obscure world view, a conception of reality in which there is not just earth and heaven (and/or hell) and those the that dwell therein. There are those nebulous principalities and dominions and powers creating a web of daemonic (note the spelling) intermediaries, so familiar in the ancient world, constituted somewhere between the visible and the invisible. I hesitate to go much further given my ignorance of Andrew of Crete's angelology and demonology.

In general, today's office of readings sets the pace for il tempo di Pasqua,. There will be a far number of readings which desire to orientate the participant to a greater and more transcendent reality. In one manner of speaking, the many of the readings from Holy Week on evoke the notion of the Sacred similar to Otto's definition. The readings peer into a transcendent other above ourselves, the encounter of which inspires awe, fear, and a realization of our own finite existence in comparison to its transcendence.

Domenica delle Palme


O Dio onnipotente ed eterno, che hai dato come modello agli uomini il Cristo tuo Figlio, nostro Salvatore, fatto uomo e umiliato fino alla morte di cruce, fa' che abbiamo sempre presente l'insegnamento della sua passione, per partecipare alla gloria della risurrezione. Egli e` Dio, e vive e regna con te, nell'unita dello Spirito Santo, per tutti i secoli dei secoli. Amen.