Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rene Guenon, Pope Benedict, and the End of Metaphysics.

Rene Guenon is a name is still relatively obscure in many theological circles. A French author and father of the Perennialist school, Guenon pend many works concerned with religion, esotericism and modernity. His place in the continuum of theological thought has yet to be clearly defined and perhaps for good reason. Guenon's theory of a primordial revelation from which all religious traditions of suitable antiquity ultimately derive and his instance that the only variance is in exoteric expression, the esoteric substance being fairly harmonious, has won him few fans. For conservatives, he is to inclusive; for liberals, he is too pre-modern with his instance on traditional forms.

Guenon's exact stance on the person of Christ is debatable and the issues surrounding this stance would not be done justice here. What can be said with a fair amount of certainty is that, so far as concerns Catholicism, Guenon respected it, although he often felt Catholics, cleric or lay, scarcely understood the repository of metaphysics they had inherited. Guenon believed the fundamental crisis of the modern world was metaphysical in nature. Catholicism was, in his estimation, the appropriate vehicle for launching a metaphysical revival in the West. He was, in my reading of the man, disappointed, if not shocked, that Catholicism scarcely wanted anything to do with its inheritance - and this was in the 1920s and 1930s!

In the early decades of the twentieth century, Catholicism, in Guenon's estimation, was firmly disinterested in the metaphysics of its tradition. We can argue how well Guenon understood Western Metaphysics and the appropriation of the subject in Catholicism's history. Though, it seems to me that Guenon's contention that there has been a flattening of reality in the West, including in Catholicism, is somewhat accurate. It adds yet another dimension to the abrupt end of Benedict's papacy. When re-reading Joseph Ratzinger's masterwork, Introduction to Christianity, one is struck by his early critique of aggiornamento and the temptation to produce a Christianity devoid of a metaphysical component. Modernity had denied metaphysics and it was precisely the inclusion of metaphysics that made Christianity both audacious and credible to the modern mind. There is something, Ratzinger writes early in the book, implicitly suspect about a faith that feels the need to modernize its content; it signals to the modern world a subtle dishonesty. Something that is explicitly ancient tries to deny its antiquity, its anti-modernity, and present itself as the "eternal now;" as a religious or spiritual mode that is spontaneous in its appearance and unencumbered by previous epochs, always in the process of re-inventing itself.

Flash forward to the present day. There is a certain way in which this current papacy represents a militant resurgence and consolidation of power by those parties and interests that see Christianity as having begun anew fifty years ago via some sort of definitive regeneration or new revelation. Previous centuries are only useful insofar as they can be de-contextualized to fit the contemporary context; contrary data or thought has no place and is not to be considered. I say that this is in a certain way because it is not clear if that is truly what this pontiff in mind - although his very muddled redefinition of Pelagianism certainly bolsters such an interpretation.

In retrospect, Benedict's papacy may not only the beginning of the end of the European dominated papacy - an observation made by Fr. Chadwick on his excellent blog - it may well prove to be the last opportunity for a metaphysical revival in the West for the foreseeable future.

I am not going to pretend that Benedict's papacy was not without its problems. Plainly, it had its problems, the main problem being the former pontiff's inability to address the myriad of crises festering under the surface of the Roman Church. This inability was, in large part, what facilitated the election of his successor - although, I think the lifting of Cardinal Mahoney's suspension from ministry following the election of Pope Francis may well prove to be an indicator that, despite a cosmetic lift, the new face of the Vatican belies the same status quo. In any event, Joseph Ratzinger attempted to put metaphysics at the forefront; almost nothing the previous pontiff wrote or did can be understood without a solid grounding in Western metaphysics. Oddly, this was one of the fault lines in his papacy. Pope Benedict's thought is subtle and comprehensive; more so than Gregory the Great, he may well have been the most accomplished theologian to head the Roman Church. Like most subtle and comprehensive intellects, Ratzinger's thought was more often than not bastardized by those persons who often professed to study or support him. Not maliciously, mind you, but inevitably; most of Benedict's supports did not grasp the totality of his vision.

His liturgical theology is one obvious example. Here was a vision of liturgy dependent upon a view of humanity and the cosmos that was produced as a result of some three thousand years of philosophical and theological thought. More often than not, it was presented as mere aesthetics by both his detractors and supporters.

I do not know if Guenon was right to believe that Catholicism had irrevocably turned its back on metaphysics. I feel certain, however, that in the light of Pope Benedict's resignation and his troubled papacy, it is clear that a revival of metaphysics in the West is on hold for the foreseeable future. I feel equally certain that history, ultimately, will be kind to the previous pontiff; Pope Benedict will be known as a pontiff whose thought was misunderstood, regardless of whether or not it inspired admiration or admonition.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dumbarton Oaks and the Latin Tradition of Scripture.

Recently, it seems a combination of Latinists, Medievalists and Roman Catholics have picked up on an observation I made some time ago regarding the Vulgate Bible published by Dumbarton Oaks, via Harvard University Press. There is notable criticism on the decision of the series editors to pursue a Latin text that is essentially reverse translated from the English.

For the person with a very basic interest in the Latin, this editorital decision makes almost no difference. For those groups mentioned above, this decision spawned sharp criticism.

Perspectives can and do change; it is no surprise that over the better part of a year my own appreciation for the Vulgate Bible published by Dumbarton Oaks has shifted. The editorial decision to essentially fabricate the Latin text thought to be behind the English text of the Douay-Rheims translation had two rationales. First, the editors of the text rightly presumed that there were regional variants of the Latin Bible, largely based upon Jerome's Vulgate and with varying amounts of Vetus Latina readings transmitted in the text. They presume that one such recension circulated around the Douay region and this presumption appears supportable based upon the both deviance of the English of the Douay text from the Latin of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate and its correspondence to other recensions of the Latin Bible that circulated in the Benelux region. Second, the editors are very clear in their introduction as to how the Latin text of the Dumbarton Oaks edition was established. The editors did not engage in the work of creating a new Latin translation (based off of an English version, no less). The Dumbarton Oaks edition follows the Weber-Gryson edition of the Vulgate for the majority of its text. When the Weber-Gryson edition does not correspond to English of the Douay-Rheims translation, the Sixto-Clementine edition is followed. When the Sixto-Clementine edition fails, the editors follow the variant readings given in Weber-Gryson's critical apparatus. When these readings fail, the editors opted to reconstruct the likely Latin text. For these reconstructions, the editors followed the Vetus Latina edition.

I still stand by my original criticism. The editors should have opted to provide an English translation one of the regional variants of the Latin Bible that was dominant at the time. The Louvain Bible cited in the introductory matter would have sufficed and would have been of scholarly importance. The editors have, as I've said, reconstruct a hypothetical Latin text; strictly speaking, there is no known manuscript tradition of the Latin Bible that corresponds to the edition published by Dumbarton Oaks.

To some extent, every modern critical edition of the Bible is a reconstruction. There is no "pure" original text of any textual tradition, including the Hebrew. All of our contemporary critical editions of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts are, ultimately, reconstructions of what scholars believe is the original text. In most cases, there is a dominant manuscript or a group of dominant textual families upon which the given books are based. Scholars may then make adjustments and adopt another reading from a different textual family if that reading is earlier or the dominant reading. In almost no instance is a single manuscript published. Certainly not in the proposed critical texts of the Hebrew, Greek or Latin Bibles. Incidentally, the plethora of early manuscripts made the Latin antiphons and readings of the "Tridentine" Missale Romanum a source of scholarly interest; the old Missale Romanum, for reasons that are still unclear, preserved the Vetus Latina as opposed to the Vulgate edition of the Latin Bible. The Old Latin Missal preserved a stable block of Vetus Latina texts, a text predating the mighty efforts of Jerome and the codification of the Roman Church and Western Christianity as we know it under Pope Damasus I.

Our scholarly critical editions of the Bible, by comparison, are, in one way or another, reconstructions of what we presume the earliest text to look like. Admittedly, the methodology of working back from the English has rightly sparked some skepticism among the scholarly community. Translating from one language back to another is largely discouraged in the scholarly community; at the very least, such work must be considerably qualified.

The Latin text produced by Dumbarton Oaks comes in a line of "new Latin texts" in the past sixty or so years that have met with resistance from various quarters. Pope Pius XII commissioned a new translation of the Roman psalter based upon the Masoretic text. While technically proficient, the Pian Psalter proved to be such a departure from the traditional Vulgate psalter that the Liber Psalmorum of the Pontifical Biblical Commission was compelled to translate the psalter again with an eye towards greater continuity with the traditional Vulgate psalter. This occurred during the massive effort to produce a new Latin typical edition of the Bible after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Although there were reasons for a new translation of the psalter (Jerome himself felt the need for a full translation from the Hebrew text, and there are times when the Old Latin base is nearly unintelligible), the Vulgate psalter had become enshrined in the tradition.

With the promulgation of the new liturgical books, the Liber Psalmorum became the normative text for the Psalter in the Roman Church. This was done through a translation method that switched from the Masoretic text to the LXX as was deemed necessary for the psalter. This leads us to most notable and disputed revised Latin translation, the Nova Vulgata. The criticisms of the Nova Vulgata have grown steadily in the decades since it acquired official status in the Roman Church. The initial criticisms seem to have come from those parties who were interested in utilizing the critical edition of the Vetus Vulgata (the work commonly associated with Jerome). It seemed absurd to develop a new Latin Bible if the "Jerome's Vulgate" was being returned to its earliest state and the memory of the Pian Psalter was still fresh. The Nova Vulgata prefers to improve the Latinity of the Latin Bible much like the Pian Psalter. It respects traditional readings that have become enshrined in Christian usage, although it avers from the at times awkward Latin of Christian antiquity. The introductory matter of the Nova Vulgata outlines the basic technique applied by the PBC. The Masoretic text was the basis for the Latin translation. When liturgical tradition required it, translations were made to follow the old Vulgate. When the Hebrew was unclear, the LXX and other ancient versions were consulted. This has led to Latin Bible that is internally incosistent, something neither at home in the Latin tradition or with the demands of modern textual scholarship. The criticisms of the Nova Vulgata were only intensified with the promulgation of Liturgiam Autheticum, the document responsible for the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Liturgian Authenticum gave the Nova Vulgata a place of authority in matters related to Biblical translation. In short, the Nova Vulgata is the normative version of Scripture in the Roman Church and all vernacular translations are to be brought into alignment with it, especially when the translation is contested on either scholarly or pastoral grounds. This brought notable backlash from the scholarly community. Richard Clifford aptly demonstrated that the Nova Vulgata violates Liturgiam Authenticum's call for a literal translation of the original languages. Peter Jeffeys, in a multi-part series for Worship, demonstrated that the Nova Vulagata repeatedly discards readings that have been enshrined in the Latin tradition through liturgical observance in favor of greater Latinity.

All of this is to say that the fact that the editors of the Dumbarton Oaks edition are taking on the chin for their attempts at producing a hypothetical Latin text of no known pedigree is in continuity with any efforts to produce a "new" Latin recension. Even Jerome's work was not quick to be accepted - a point underlined by the persistence of the Vetus Latina in the old Missal. There is a distinct Latin tradition of Scripture, and, in virtue of its cultural influence, it merits being appreciated in its own light. Which, in all honestly, I think the editors attempted to do; again, there was no attempt, to the best of my knowledge, to translate the Latin text afresh from the English. Where a new reading appears, it is because the Vetus Latina is used as opposed to the Vulgate - and this occurs only in rare cases. Somehow, however, the Dumbarton Oaks addition has not received the high marks anticipated for it when launched, which is a shame; it will be some time before another major publishing effort is dedicated to publishing the Latin Bible.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Preface for Saint Benedict (from Angelus Press's 1962 Daily Missal)

One of the joys of studying liturgical books is the ability to track the development of a given saint's cultus. Before roughly 1960, there were no actual propers for Saint Benedict in the Roman Missal. One would have to consult the monastic editions or, if available, the Benedictine churches. Of course, by 1962, the Saint Benedict's feast seems to have undergone a popular revival of sorts. We have numerous examples of Saint Benedict's feast in the sacramentaries of the early medieval period, in a wide variety of formulas, including prefaces.

For the non-specialist, accessing contemporary critical editions of these texts is highly unlikely due to both availability and affordability. Angelus Press's very fine 1962 Daily Missal contains a proper preface for Saint Benedict. You can purchase that extremely well made volume here.

Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus. Qui beatissimum confessorem tuum Benedictum, ducem et magisterum coelitus edoctum, innumerabili multitudini filiorum statuisti. Quem et omnium justorum spiritu repletum, et extra se raptum, luminis tui splendore collustrasti. Ut in ipsa luce visionis intimae mentis laxato sinu, quam angusta essent omnia inferiora deprehenderet. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Quapropter profusis gaudiis totus in orbe terrarum monachorum coetus exsultat. Sed et supernae virtutes atque angelicae potestates hymnum gloriae tuae concinunt sine dicentes. 

It's things like the above preface that should have made it into the reform of the Roman Missal.

It would be nice to see more use made of this preface. Hopefully it hasn't fallen into obscurity - maybe some monastery somewhere applied it to good use.

The Ratzinger Party, Summorum Pontificum, Vatican II, and the "Tridentine" Liturgy.

From an article by Chris Smith over at The Chant Cafe`:

"After Summorum pontificum of 2007 effectively ended the exile of traditionalists within the Church, as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was introduced to more people, especially the younger with no historical memory of the affaire Lefebvre, a new Ratzingerian strand of traditionalism seems to be emerging...It is it possible that there is now a new Ratzingerkreis emerging in the traditionalist world?  The école française in many ways risks disintegration as the Society of St Pius X experiences its own internal divisions and spin offs, such as sedevacantism and strict observances.  The classical scuola romana approximates many of the traditionalist communities who have followed the path from Ecône back to Rome.  But now there are many people, who are perhaps a bit more open to certain insights outside of the pre-conciliar manualist theological tradition, such as those of Ratzinger, who now find themselves engaging the same critiques of the traditionalists, but from within the desire of a hermeneutic of continuity."

For a time (that is, Benedict's papacy) Summorum Pontificum dulled the thrust of Traditionalism in Roman Catholicism. Traditionalism, which ultimately bore a philosophical critique of the modern world and a subtle argument for the limits of papal authority, was turned into one option among many on the Roman Catholic menu. For those who did not want to weather the long storm and effectively deal with the very probable result of forming a "Church within a Church," all the while ostracized from Roman authority, Ratzinger's papacy marked the dawn of a new day. I think the author is bit rose tinted in his estimation that Papst Jozef is responsible for a new party of Traditionalism engaging its critique with a desire for a hermeneutic of continuity. With the election of Papa Francesco, the situation is the same as it was a decade ago. You have a few well placed critics with a Traditionalist bent in the hierarchy. Okay, let's see you go far with that. I wish you well, really. One is hard pressed to find serious data indicating that Summorum Pontificum has lead to a growing interest in the "Tridentine" liturgy.

What we have seen is a minor increase in the percentage of priests offering "their first Tridentine Mass" or other occasional sacramental services. We have seen attempts at establishing a regular Mass, a good number of which fail not due to the inability to offer the Tridentine liturgy, but due to the inability of establishing a stable and effective community organized around the old liturgy.

There is, apparently, a difference between those attempting to engage the old liturgy in a hermeneutic of continuity and those like the SSPX.. It should be noted that, yes, the SSPX has its internal struggles. Although if you want to focus on one fringe bishop on the outskirts and occasional sedevacantism as internal struggles in the SSPX, one ought to mention a  world wide pedophilia scandal, an entrenched gay lobby in the Vatican, and numerous accounts of corruption in the mainline Roman Church. Whatever its internal struggles or growing pains, the Society of Saint Pius X has momentum and there is no indication this momentum is going to slow.

The SSPX has solidly demonstrated itself as both the Traditionalist block with consistent growth and expansion and as a legitimate alternative to the Vatican. I think the return of combative rhetoric coming from the hierarchy since the election of Papa Francesco aptly demonstrates my point. Both the pontiff and the new head of CDF have made very public and very dismissive comments directly, primarily, towards the Society of Saint Pius X. Rome has long made not of the group's growth. It has not known how to handle said growth. Ratzinger's papacy took seriously the challenge of SSPX. Papa Francesco returns to the methodology of John Paul II, if not Paul VI, and attempts to control broader Catholic consciousness by manipulating the perception of the group through ostracizing it.

Francis's papacy has already seen an early critique of Summorum Pontificum and any reintegration of the "Tridentine" liturgy into the mainline Roman Church. If there is a Ratzinger party, oder ein Ratzingerkreis, then it ought to keep a wary eye on Summorum Pontificum. There was some very notable opposition to it, and much of that opposition appears to be positioning itself well in the new pontificate. In the coming months, that opposition will gauge what if any opportunity exists to nullify the prior pontifical legislation.

I write all of this as one with no connection to the SSPX to speak of and as one who does not uncritically accept the Traditionalist perspective. Rather, I write as someone who is aware of two critical facts. First, the Roman Church will not abandon Vatican II and the post-Vatican II model of the Church. Indeed, the announced canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II are perhaps the most blatant indicator that this current pontificate and its accompanying magisterium intends on solidifying Vatican II as normative In particular, it seeks to return to a pre-Benedictine assessment of the Council. Along with this push to get things back to the pre-Ratzinger status quo is a highly critical view of Summorum Pontificum, one which I would not expect to remain quelled. Criticism of the Council and the magisterium that has emerged after the Council is nearly impossible. Rejection is out of the question.

Second, Rome cannot so facilely dismiss the Society of Saint Pius X. The current papacy seems to have a few players who believe the SSPX and the questions swirling around the "Tridentine" liturgy and the Second Vatican Council can be summarily brushed aside. This reflects the "ecclesial bubble mentality" the Roman hierarchy is often known for; living in its own sphere and isolated from criticism. Furthermore, whatever the assessment of successes and failures are for Benedict's pontificate, a valid criticism from his earlier career remains: there is something suspect about a religious body that suddenly turns its back on what was once it highest expression of faith. The SSPX remain a constant reminder of this and as it continues its growth and expansion, it will continually draw Rome's attention, if only for the fear that it will effectively construct a viable model of Catholicism independent of the Vatican. The group cannot be ignored and it has proven its relevance. Furthermore, for proponents of Summorum Pontificum, the SSPX must be credited with being the impetus for the legislation.

To propose the existence of a Ratzinger party that is transforming Traditionalism supposes that the former pontiff's influence is not and will not be negligble and ignores the historical context that pressed upon the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum. The influence of the SSPX upon the legislation is a considerable factor, if only because it demonstrates the the "Tridentine" liturgy does not come in isolation, but carries an accompanying critique of modernity, liturgy, the Second Vatican Council, and indeed the Roman Church itself. Not all of these are intrinsic to the old rite, although I would argue its conception of reality is irreconcilable with modernity and the critique of Roman Catholicism (in terms of papal authority) has yet to be fully considered. In our historical context, the "Tridentine" liturgy doesn't come alone, it is not a matter or aesthetics. Only a complete de-contextualization and divorce from reality can reconcile the old rite with a "hermeneutic of continuity."

Saturday, July 13, 2013

New versus Old Lectionary - same old tired argument.

Fr. Anthony Ruff has posted an entry in response to comments on the ground that, all told, the old Missale Romanum has actually more Scripture than the Lectionarium promulgated in 1970.

Factually speaking, the data is so overwhelmingly in favor of the new Lectionarium as to make the discussion absurd - akin to debating if the sun is a star or a spaceship built by ancient Mayans.

The real debate concerns the quality of the application of Scripture in both missals. I'm not going to seriously enter the debate here, but it is worth noting that the cycle of readings and antiphons was largely based off of the interpretations of then contemporary scholarship of patristic exegesis. It is a very linear use of Scripture, designed to tell a fairly obvious narrative. The old missal, in my estimation, has awareness of the very patristic notion of the four senses of scripture and the very non-linear reading that results from such an interpretative principle.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Western Rite Orthodoxy

Fr. Anthony Chadwick has a most interesting post regarding Western Rite Orthodoxy - a great read if you've never heard of this "curious" branch of the "Orthodox Communion" that falls under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Also, for those who like learn a little more of an author's context, Fr. Chadwick provides insight into his own inquiry into Western Rite Orthodoxy. The entry reminds me of why I find his blog so relevant: a critical examination of Western Christianity (read: Catholicism) makes it all too clear how off of the tracks it has gone. In fact, Fr. Chadwick aptly describes my orientation towards the tradition of my own (Roman Catholicism):  I am truly among those western Christians who for one reason or another can no longer relate to their Churches of origin."

I cannot begin to explain how one becomes alienated from the church of one's origin. I suppose, given enough substantial study of theology, it is a risk. Plainly, my perspective is that the Roman Church went off of the rails with schism and through accidents of history (largely political) took Western Christianity with it. This is a curt summary, but I suppose it gets to the point. There is a Western Orthodox parish nearby. I've looked into it a few times. In my estimation, ever fallible, there is potential to the movement, but there is much it will need to work out if it would survive. The parish is, for my tastes, too enclosed - natural for its stage of development. However, Western Orthodoxy must grow, and in so doing it will experience its fair share of growing pains. There is, however, much potential there. I would be interested in studying The American Altar Missal published by Lancelot Andrewes Press. I don't know if this will be the "definitive" liturgical expression of Western Rite Orthodoxy, but it would give some sense as to its vision for the "Latin" (read: Western) liturgy, regardless of language.

To say I am sympathetic towards any efforts to retain and or retrieve what is left of  pre-Reformation or even pre-Schism Catholicism is, as the cliche` goes, an understatement. There are precious pieces of the early Tradition left, most of which are entirely irrelevant in Western denominations. We have, for instance, four textual critical publications of the  pre-schism Latin Bible: the multi-volume effort from the Benedictine's at St. Jerome's Abbey in Rome, the Weber-Gryson edition, the reconstruction of an eighth century old Latin leaning recension by Dumbarton Oakes, and the  multi-volume Vetus Latina. We have the partially complete Veronese Sacramentary, the Old Gelasian Sacrametary, the Gregorian Sacramentary, and the eighth century Gelasian Sacramentary, in addition to the numerous pre-schism  (and often monastic) sacramentaries published by the Henry Bradshaw Society. Of course, we have numerous old "Roman" orders which provide a glimpse into how the pontifical liturgy was celebrated in earlier centuries.

Yet, we are also painfully limited. The most practical tools are critical reconstructions of early recensions of Latin Bible, however, the percentage of persons interested in Latin, let alone knowledgeable of Latin, is abysmally low. These are tools which largely benefit the specialist, sadly. Fr. Chadwick documents the efforts of Dr. Ray Winch to reconstruct the Mass of Ordo Romanus Primus and the Gregorian Sacramentary for use in Western Rite Orthodoxy. It's an interesting endeavor, however, my own reading of the available evidence (which, I admit, is highly influenced by Bradshaw's general skepticism towards "evidence") leaves me with the impression that while its possible to inform one's liturgy with Ordo Romanus Primus and the supplemented addition of the Hadrianum, it would be difficult to reconstruct that liturgy. This being said, I have only briefly glimpsed the paper published by Dr. Winch which Fr. Chadwick hosts on his website. Thankfully, I now have something to read during the week and hope to provide some reflection on it in the future. Click here to look at it yourself.

It is worth noting that Ordo Romanus Primus seems to have exerted some influence on the early stages of the reform of the Roman liturgy, particularly in the Missal of 1964. That direction, as we know, was quickly abandoned in favor of a more...eclectic approach.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Beginner's Steps to an Orthodox Liturgical Library

Here's a great webpage with some helpful hints for those interested in establishing an Orthodox liturgical library, a logical next step for any liturgist after he or she has found sure footing and familiarity with Western ground.

Liturgy, Anagogy, and Transcendence.

Liturgy, it seems to me, is in parody with monastic thought through the centuries, in so far as liturgy should have contemplative and practical dimensions. I use these terms in the monastic sense, as seen in the writings of Cassian and Evagrius, although I do not apply the same steps in the progression of the soul to the liturgy. In Cassian's system, one masters the practical to open the eye of the soul to see the nature of spiritual things and obtain contemplative knowledge. Liturgy, in some sense, is the praxis of contemplation, the concrete action that manifests where the spirit has been amid a transcendent encounter with the Deity. It ought to, then, transcend the mundane, the prosaic, the mediocre, and the quotidian life. Liturgy ought to, much like Pseudo-Dionysius's progression from affirmation to negation, lead one to an ascension beyond mind and soul, into the fathomless "abyss" of the spirit, to the depths of the divine beyond the human sphere.

Outside of certain monastic settings, the above is precisely what Western liturgics fails to do. It has very little to do with the Missal in use. Whatever the scholarly criticisms one may have with the Missale Romanum of Paul VI, there are enough predominately monastic environments that aptly demonstrate its suitability for anagogy. There, conversely, enough celebrations of "Tridentine" Missal weighted down by corpulence of the Baroque. Plainly, though, the Western liturgics typically fail to elevate the mind to something transcendent of reality; our normal liturgical experience painfully reflects our reality, often times being at parody with our suburban formation, the curse of the quotidian life, to echo Henri Lefebvre.

The recent fanfare among certain parties regarding a survey of the recent English translation of the Missale Romanum exemplifies the problem. In the Roman Church, the liturgy has become something governed by committees, polls, PC interests, and (in the United States) the vapidity of suburbia (with a few food drives and fundraisers for the less fortunate thrown in). It's a harsh criticism, but one verifiable upon review. In the West, our liturgy reflects our shallow culture and our mediocre daily life. At best, it is most often reduced to a political forum, left or right. A Benedictine monk I occasionally write to made the observation, and I fully agree, that the liturgy of the Roman Church has been reduced to sign of ideological victory for which interest happens to acquire the proper levels of influence. By presenting new translation in such discontinuity with the previous one, the last vestige of the liturgy's semblance of timelessness has been stripped away (in English speaking countries, at least) and it has been reduced to a political tool that can be revised to reflect ruling tastes. The previous translation failed on many if not most accounts. The process and product of the new translation, however, has firmed the notion that liturgy is produced by committee and its aims are predominately "quotidian."

The above, however, could not have come about were there not a deeper crisis in the Latin Church. Liturgy is most often an afterthought. Even among some of the more ornate celebrations of the Roman liturgy, the focus is not so much that anagogical journey the liturgy both reflect upon and facilitate, but rather concretely reflecting the aesthetic, social, or political convictions of the local liturgy committee. This state could not have come into being had not the liturgy been relegated to perfunctory status in previous centuries. The original liturgical movement was nearly hostile towards traditional Catholic devotions. This was not on account of modernist whims for deconstruction. Rather, Catholic devotionals had long blunted the liturgy and cultivated a suspect theology, a situation back in full force today. The tyranny of devotionals coincided with the increasing perception (perhaps brought about by general illiteracy rather than a lack of knowledge of Latin) that the liturgy was the clergy's business only. To this, I would add one further detrimental affliction upon the liturgy in the Latin Church, the imprisonment of monastic spirituality in the monastery, in contradiction with the greater integration of monasticism among the Orthodox. In every discussion of liturgy, this is the greater context in which it takes place.

The liturgy in the West has devolved, largely because we approach it as a thing to be constantly re-crafted. It has become wholly a product of the terrestrial sphere, amid which God is truly made in man's own image and likeness. All talk of translation, reform, and further revision of rites turns the liturgy into the most ordinary of activities. Canonical prayer, for our benefit, must be approached as anything but ordinary. One has to wonder if the Roman Church can rediscover liturgical anagogy if henceforth discussion on revisions, reforms, and other such matters were suspended and the liturgy were prayed as it is.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New Survey on the Roman Missal.

A few months ago there was a published survey on the new translation of the Missale Romanum. The survey had positive results and made certain sectors who have promoted the new translation as an improvement very happy. The folks at The Chant Cafe` especially. Now, another survey on the new translation has recently been published. This time, the results are somewhat scathing of the new translation and drawing criticism from more conservative quarters.

Debates about methodology abound - as they did with the previous survey. Two points to raise. First, the new translation is a superior translation to the former - which wasn't a hard feat to accomplish by any means. This being said, as someone who knows Latin and uses it quite regularly, the new translation still leaves much to be desired. There are elements to the Latin original the English language simply doesn't capture, at least via the translation techniques used thus far. Second, the majority of priests I've spoken with are somewhat apathetic to the new texts, neither lauding it from the pulpit or performing histrionics on their difficulties pronouncing the text. THAT is a bad sign. It would be better to have translation that is universally detested with much vitriol than to have a translation that, overall, inspires a tepid reaction. Quarters pro and con the new translation will highlight any reaction that enforces their perspective. That's natural, really. Although if the general reaction to the new translation were one of apathy, then it would assure the immediate future of the liturgy in the Roman Church is one of neglect, a mere perfunctory action fulfilled to keep apace.

Just keep kicking that dead horse...

Here's a quote:

"So it is in our time. Benedict XVI and his papacy were epic for liturgy and music and for those who care so intensely."

No, not really. Although the Western standard of liturgy has fallen to such a low watermark it is easy to think so. Benedict tried to re-institute the sterile celebration of liturgy that has typified the Latin tradition. If you want  "epic" liturgy, there's got a fine Trappist abbey I can point you towards and a host of Orthodox cathedrals offering the Divine Liturgy. Benedict's papacy was evidence that Latin liturgical theory and praxis may well be exhausted, languishing under the weight centuries of reticence compared to the Orthodox liturgical tradition.

The prime problem, it seems to me, is that episcopal celebration is the model upon which the Latin liturgy, in all its varieties, has rested. The solution, it seems to me, is to re-orient the liturgy to the monastic tradition. Plainly, monastic celebration must become the exemplar, if not the norm, in the Latin West.

The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction (Book Review)

The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction
By Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

Eostericism abounds. What was once the religious purview of societal elites from the ancient world to the modern has been thoroughly capitalized and publicized. It has become, in some form of derivation, the popular praxis of the the "everyman," that overarching cultural mode known as secular humanism. Every time I address topics of an esoteric or otherwise occult or new age bent, I often receive emails wondering why I would devote space to such topics. My answer is simple and consistent: the concept of God is changing and a broadly defined esotericism is the primary influence upon this transformation. Or, as I put it to a Lutheran pastor once, "if you don't think the people in your congregation are reading, you're living in la-la land." Crude, but to the point. Theologians, whether ecclesiastical or academic, are living in a bubble, largely talking with other persons in the same bubble and largely unaware of their greater irrelevance to a culture whose form of "God-Talk" is nearly a foreign language.

This being said, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction is, as its title implies, a very accurate primer of the development of esotericism from its earliest (and fairly ancient) manifestations to its recent popularization. More importantly, this volume is an academic effort. The author, an academic himself, spends time in the introduction highlighting esotericism's entrance into the university as a proper field of study - early in its development, but growing.

The volume collects a wealth of historical information, elucidating for the scholar and perhaps disillusioning for fanatics, both religious conservatives who see the devil at play in all variant things and adherents to various esoteric currents who will likely watch their mythology dissolve before their eyes. All of which is to say that the book is accurate in its presentation of information and supplies demonstrable proof of esotericism's intellectual legitimacy when its contemporary mythos is stripped away. Goodrick-Clarke begins by identifying the ancient texts that eventually became the inspiration for esotericism (broadly speaking) in the   late medieval/early Renaissance period. Famous figures such as Albertus Magnus (Aquinas's master) and Marsilio Ficino played crucial roles in the development of a truly Western esoteric stream. Ficino succeeded in renewing Western interest in the first century Corpus Hermetica. The Corpus Hermetica' popularity was so vast it not only became the topic of regular commentary, Hermes was honored with a Mosaic in the Duomo of Siena. For a religious or theological audience, Albertus Magnus may well be the most important name in the documented development of Western esotericism. The famous teacher of Thomas Aquinas (the lynch pin of Roman Catholic theology) developed a mature system of natural magic or occult astrology in his Speculum Astronomiae. Therein, Albert posits the influence of celestial powers upon physical events and the prospect of ultimately manipulating the course of human events through a successfull reading or divination of the stars. This work of Albertus Magnus, Goodrick-Clarke argues, was itself a maturation of the system of natural magic developed by the Benedictine Monk, Johann Trithemius, whose output seems to have acceded that of Albertus Magnus on these matters.

The development of Western esotericism continues well into the Reformation period and the Enlightenment. Indeed, it may be said the "second wave of esotericism" comes to the fore at the instigation of the Reformation. The Reformation's insistence on individualism, personal piety over a solid corporate identity and rejection of ecclesiastical authority proved to be fertile ground for the flourishing of Western esotericism. The work of the Anglican clergyman Dr. John Dee, most famous for his accounts of invoking heavenly powers and receiving communication is somewhat briefly handled, although the author accurately establishes is place as perhaps the most reputable scholar in Northern Europe at the time. Conversely, Jacob Boehme is given adequate length and it seemed as though his works were treated in greater detail. This is understandable to some extent; Boehme was perhaps the most poignant reaction to the solidification of Lutheran orthodoxy and identity after the death of the movement's movements founder. As the author follows the development of Rosicrucian mysticism, Freemasonry and Illuminism, he demonstrates how such movements fall within the full spectrum of Protestantism's development. The material on Illuminism is most timely. Conservative Christians have revived the notion of an Illuminati conspiracy in recent years and in so doing have often provided an incomplete chronology of the movement with aim of presenting some sort of satanic super structure of world politics. Simply, it's rubbish. Illuminism, rather, was a complex interaction of Enlightenment era methodology and principles with a rejection of the growing materialist view of the cosmos and man's place within it.

As should be expected, the book provides an account of spiritualism, Theosophy and the rise of modern esotericism. In so doing, the author aptly implies that the antagonism towards Christianity or Judeo-Christian mythos is rather accidental, likely born from more contemporary esotericists failing to be well versed in the greater context of esotericism and merely functioning as reactionaries to contemporary cultural trends. After reading this volume, one will find it impossible to ignore the influence of Western Christianity on Western esotericism. Plainly, it may be stated that Western esotericism is an offshoot or development of Western Christianity. As the author observers in the opening sentence of the introduction, "Western esoteric traditions have their roots in a religious way of thinking." Western esotericism in its origins did not so much seek as to deny religion so much as it sought to fulfill religion, often by denying the limitations of certain conventions of language, thought, or imagination. In its Renaissance appearance, esotericism was the fulfillment or conclusion of the Catholic imagination, pursuing many elements in Roman Catholicism that have traditionally been left undeveloped in favor of a more comprehensible system designed for mass adoption. The same holds true for Protestantism; in an attempt to compensate for the elements of the religious imagination lost by the Reformation, esotericism in Protestant cultures created complex hierarchies of interior illumination, under the influence of the Reformation's focus on individual religiosity and opposition to any ecclesiastical authority - a point of development that accounts for much of contemporary esotericism's antagonism to its source of origin.

As to be expected, there is much more to the content of this book than one can adequately convey in a review of any manageable length. The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction is highly recommended for those looking for a concise contextualization of modern esotericism.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One Point Where the Orthodox Would Likely Hold Rome's Feet to the Fire.

Robert Taft addresses it himself, actually. Courtesy of Dan Nichols.

The Roman Church's current sacramental discipline regarding first communion (and chrismation), denying children communion until the age of seven,  is the product the breakdown in Latin theology as it became isolated from its Greek predecessor.

The scholarly argument against the practice of the Roman Church is substantial. Nevertheless, though this practice was born from a decline in theology, it is the source of many sentimental religious occasions in the Roman Church and it seems unlikely there would be much desire to change it.

Again, for the record, I side with the Orthodox on this issue.

Fr. Robert Taft and Where East and West Diverge

Robert Taft is, among liturgical scholars, a jewel in the Roman Church right now. Bi-ritual and highly knowledgeable of the Orthodox Church and its liturgy, Taft has always had much to teach both students of the liturgy and persons interested in Orthodox Christianity. Dan Nichols has recently linked to an interview Fr. Taft gave to First Things.

Taft's estimation of the Orthodox situation and the ability of "peer pressure" to get certain anti-Roman elements in line and the prospects for reunion are, I think, somewhat naive.

No one, I don't think, doubts the theoretical possibility of reunion, however, one denies the complexity of the issue if one doesn't reckon with three major theological critiques the Orthodox have with the West. Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception are well known, however, the Orthodox have a more encompassing critique of the West's theology, both its severance from the Patristic theological method and its tendency to regularly reinvent theology without much regard for greater context.

For the most part, I side with the Orthodox - there is something to be said for having a coherent theological tradition. It is foolish to think, however, that the Orthodox would be willing to live and let live. Communion is a serious matter for the Orthodox; the Orthodox Church will not entertain reunion until the West undertakes a substantial critique of its own theological development. Again, I essentially side with the Orthodox. The Roman Church has often invented theology with no concern for continuity with the greater tradition, largely because for a long period of the time the scant knowledge of Greek and Hebrew divorced Catholicism from the greater tradition and create a tradition unto itself.

There have always been differences between Latin and Greek Christianity, however, at a certain point one must be willing to distinguish between differences born from cultural diversity and those born from intellectual isolation. It so happens that Latin Christianity developed many of its treasured traditions while in isolation from the large cache of thought that preceded it. This is not meant to be overly harsh, rather, it is meant to offer some perspective.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Perspective on the Breviarium Romanum.

Much time is spent analyzing the reform of the Roman Mass. This is understandable given that the liturgy of the Mass is the most common Christian liturgy and subject to the most exposure. By comparison, scant time and attention have been given to the reform of the Breviarium Romanum to the Liturgia Horarum. What has been written is either an overview of the changes, an introduction to the new liturgy of the hours or a polemical piece decrying the old use and overly lauding new divine office.

The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle.

I recently visited Baronius's website to look up information on their much praised but indefinitely out of print three volume Latin-English Roman Breviary. Baronius, to its credit, included a review from Alcuin Reid. Reid notes, as any careful author should, that one must be careful not too treat the Breviarium Romanum as the pinnacle of canonical prayer, so far as the divine office is concerned. The Breviarium Romanum in force until the promulgation of Paul VI's Liturgia Horarum has its faults. Reid notes,

"Indeed, this reviewer would say that aspects of them were radical, and that to apply the adjective “traditional” to elements of the Pius X Breviary is not possible. They are “authoritative,” certainly, but, for example, to abolish the tradition of praying the Laudate psalms (Pss 148-150) each morning at Lauds—which tradition in all likelihood Our Lord himself observed according to Jewish custom—is no small matter. So too, to retain Pope Urban VIII’s awful revision of the Latin breviary hymns (in both the 1911 and 1961 editions) is hardly “traditional.” The 1963 Breviarium Monasticum, which never suffered these injuries, would be much more deserving of the epithet."
We need, then, to keep some perspective when analyzing the pre-Conciliar Breviarium Romanum. While I would not necessarily agree with Reid's stance regarding the pre-Conciliar Breviary's distance from the tradition, one cannot ignore that it contained elements of departure from antiquity. This being said, Pius X's reforms had, at their heart, the aim of restoring the ancient practice of reciting all 150 psalms in a weekly cursus, something that had been lost in the Roman Office and is the heart of the structure of canonical prayer.

This is to say nothing of the mangled hymns of Urban VIII, a point at which the Liturgia Horarum actually has a leg up on the traditional breviary. A point which quickly becomes moot when one considers the mangled psalter of the the Liturgia Horarium. Dividing the psalter up over four weeks denudes the hours of their contemplative vigor. Removing verses or whole psalms out of consideration for the sensibilities of late 20th century Western culture strips the psalter of its dynamism. Yet, these decisions, as with the decision to restore the ancient texts of the Latin hymns, were in reaction to very real deficiencies in the "Tridentine" books. The secular clergy were bound to a daily office that in toto did not necessarily correspond to the life of a diocesan cleric. The then burgeoning success with vespers, thanks in large part to the liturgical movement, demonstrated that the divine office assuredly had a place outside of the monastery, although some questioned the rationale for making the office obligatory in its full mammoth form.

Be this as it may, when one compares the Breviarium Romanum with its successor, one cannot deny that something has been lost. Rather than simply add options which could abbreviate certain hours, the decision was made to fundamentally alter the essence of the divine office. Reid's observation, however, should pull the astute reader back from the temptation to "divinize" the old office and ascribe if with heraldry it does not entirely merit.

One could argue that beginning with the revised hymns of Urban VIII, the Roman breviary functioned as a sort of forum for all of the more modernizing tendencies in Western Christianity. The old Roman customs ever so gradually disappeared at the behests of the sensibilities of the age, culminating in the full recast of the Roman office after Vatican II.

This is all to say, and I'm not certain Reid would agree with me here (in fact, I assume he would not) that we must be very careful when we lionize the so-called "Tridentine" liturgy as the pinnacle of liturgical development. To be true, my preference is for the old books. This preference is with the qualification that the liturgical movement, at its peak through the 20s and 40s, was correct in its aims at the time. The Roman liturgical books were a treasure that had been corroded through centuries of misuse and neglect. The goal was restoration of the books to an earlier praxis, not a reform of the books to a new sensibility. The hope was that such a restoration would make the liturgy itself, without the cavalcade of pious devotions, an access point for theological breadth and divine encounter. This is all predicated upon the conviction that the Traditional liturgy as it was commonly celebrated was an aberration from the way the Traditional liturgy should have actually been executed and experienced.

Perhaps more so than the Roman Mass, the Roman Office has really taken it on the chin in the process of liturgical reform. Although, when one has the proper perspective, one sees how the Liturgia Horarum cannot be isolated from liturgical tendencies that had already left their mark in the "Tridentine" breviary. Yet, the Breviarium Romanum illustrates what role the Traditonal liturgy should have in our contemporary context. By keeping proper perspective on the Traditional books as they came to us in their "Tridentine" form, we can inform ourselves as to what was lost without going so far so as to enshrine an expression of the Traditional liturgy that itself veered from the oldest documented exemplars of praxis.

Interesting piece on the traditional Lectionary.

The folks at Rorate Caeli (either love'em or hate'em) recently posted an interesting Una Voce position paper on the traditional or "Tridentine" lectionary. You can find the paper here with a link to the author's blog. 

Briefly, this is one of the more well balanced assessments of the traditional lectionary's often unnoticed strengths. There are, of course, some qualifications that should be made. The author correctly points out the parallel between the gospel readings of the old lectionary and the subject matter of Gregory the Great's sermons. In this instance, we have some connection to the sixth century in the cycle of gospel readings, however, we need to exercise some caution in that we do not know if the lections that were transmitted to the "Tridentine" liturgy are the precise ones utilized then. Given the tendency towards creeping brevity in the Roman liturgy, it would not be impossible that the lections of Gregory's time were still somewhat longer. This, however, is relatively minor. 

There remains, among liturgical scholars, an unanswered question of whether or not the reform of the Roman liturgy (apart from the questions of more gravitas) should have occasioned the development of a three year lectionary. Certainly, I don't think anyone would hesitate to admit that the three year cycle is indeed an innovation based off of modern liturgical theory. Whether or not it was legitimate to do such a recasting of the Roman lectionary is another matter. There is, plainly, little if any precedent for the cycle of readings as it was constructed for the Missal of Paul VI - the modern lectionary is an intellectual construction. Yet, there is evidence pointing to dualing customs in Italy of a lectionary comprised of three or two readings. There is some evidence of Italian usage of a three reading lectionary, although, we do not have a complete cycle to work with. The evidence is, thus far, partial if not fragmentary. 

There are numerous lacunae concerning the old Roman usage of the lectionary. We have a fair sense of the Gospel readings during the sixth century due to Gregory's sermons, however, it must be noted that Gregory the Great did a substantial restructuring of the Roman liturgy and it is still some time later before we get a more complete picture of the Roman liturgy. The Roman liturgy, even during Gregory's time, is still murky, more so when we try and peer into earlier centuries. The Hadrianum provides us with a glimpse of the Roman liturgy shortly after the time of Gregory the Great.We can do some reconstruction, but there are still frustrating gaps remaining when trying to create a model of the liturgy at the time of Gregory. The so-called Vernonense Sacramentary provides us with a provocative glimpse into various Mass sets of probable early Roman origin (at the very least, Italian). When studying the content, one is often pained at the losses the Roman liturgy has suffered over the centuries. These pieces of early evidence, however, are concerned only with the euchological corpus. The nature of the lectionary at time, particularly in those elusive pre-Gregorian centuries, remains largely unknown. 

All of this is to say that the author's point about the pedigree of the "Tridentine" lectionary ought to be taken seriously, in so far as it has precedence and a historical case that can be made in its favor given the lack of any traceable evidence from the earlier centuries. Additionally, for the careful reader, the author does aptly suggest that onus rests upon supporters of the new lectionary to justify its implementation. The new lectionary is a construction that came, literally, out of nowhere and reflects the thinking of biblical scholarship and currents in theology of 1960s. The perennial value, of, say, paschal mystery theology is disputable, so too its influence on the reform of the Roman  lectionary. The new lectionary, far from having an established pedigree, is on the verge of theological obsolescence. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Last Beguine

Amid the chaos in the Boston area, I sadly passed over this story. On April 14th, 2013, the world's last Beguine, Marcella Pattyn, passed away at the age of 92. I must echo the sentiments of a colleague of mine: the Beguines survived the tumult of Church persecution, the decline of the medieval period, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and two world wars...but in the end they could not survive the forces of secularization in Western Europe.

This should serve as bitter sign for Western Christianity. The Beguines were crucial to both the flowering of Catholic mysticism in the medieval period, providing the Latin West with something comparable to the theology of the Greek East. They were also among the many Catholic predecessors to the Reformation several hundred years later and were the first real representatives of feminine spirituality - perhaps in the history of the Western world. Perhaps most importantly, they were a dynamic force for the declericalization of Latin Christianity, creating a credible model of lay spirituality that has often been imitated but never equaled. With Marcella Pattyn's death, a noble tradition in the history of Western spirituality has suddenly come to its conclusion, abruptly, and without much noticed, wiped away from living memory and consigned to the pages of the past.

It is impossible not to feel that, on some level, the end of the Beguines is like a mini-apocalypse, in the most un-theological sense of the term. Six hundred years of tradition has come to an end - not due to a revival religion, but rather through an epoch of cultural change. It is a forerunner to the changes that will be seen in other parts of Western Christianity.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Benedict XVI: A Liturgical Liberation Theologian?

Not really. A writer over at The Chant Cafe` has got his spin on, however. He lifts a quote from one of Josef Ratzinger's early works - in this case, a reflection on one of the closing sessions of the Second Vatican Council.

The writer wants to make the point that the apparently "progressive" or "liberation" sounding excerpt came from a pope most persons would describe as "conservative" or "reactionary." Or, more precisely, the image his friend has in mind of Papa Francesco aptly fits Pope Benedict XVI.

Okay. Well, it's a neat trick but we need to recall three little words of caution: context is everything.

It's no wonder the writer's friend thought it came from the new pope (or some one other than Josef Ratzinger). Only the greatest of intellectual acrobatics can allow one to ignore the "shift" that occurred in Josef Ratzinger's thought after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Josef Ratzinger, like most every theological superstar of the time, was firmly in the "progressive camp" in the years leading up to and including the Second Vatican Council. It's only in the late 60s/early 70s that the Josef Ratzinger known to most of his devotees today really emerges (in toto). There is no mistaking to the two periods of his thought - they are at times startlingly different. The Josef Ratzinger writing during the midst of the Second Vatican Council bears all of the marks of a progressive theologian and will easily appeal to those persons who find a bit of reprieve in Papa Francesco.

The fact is, look at Ratzinger's pontificat. Compare it to the quote from Josef Ratzinger the young theologian. Would that young Josef Ratzinger, the man taking a jab at the Roman Church's penchant for Baroque dress, been sympathetic to his older self's attempt at reintroducing baroque era triumphantalism and frilly lace?

Context is everything. Josef Ratzinger the young theologian is a man in a different time and place and intellectual space compared to Josef Ratzinger, the man who was doctrinal tsar then pope.

As I wrote earlier, there are many types, usually of a liturgical mindset, who are trying to handle the change in pontiffs and the accompanying shift in liturgy. Above all, they are trying to find some sort of social praxis to complement their liturgical theory - because, ultimately, its the promise of a social praxis that seems to have propelled Papa Francesco's momentum.

The challenge for those who would like to see some form of liturgical restoration is to firmly establish that the old missal is not only not contrary to social justice or political theology, but indeed the "source" from which such theology rightfully springs, it is the supernatural compliment to effecting change in the order of human society. Virgil Michel was able to see the connection as was Dorothy Day. If our generation is unable to comprehend the connection, then the onus is one us, not them. Ours is the generation that has lost something in its comprehension of reality. My prediction (for what it is worth): the future of the old Roman liturgy will be largely determined by how well our generation (and all those who are liturgically inclined) can re-establish the connection between the old missal and substantial social justice theology. If people stay lost in a world of "frilly" non-essentials, then the old liturgy has essentially had it...which would be a great shame.

The Resurrection of Virgil Michel?

The liturgical movement is dead and the attempt to prop up a comparatively shallow imitator as its successor has failed - although it is debatable if it ever had the forward momentum to begin with. Papa Francesco's liturgical ethic has many liturgical types that found some satisfaction in Benedict's pontificate struggling to find a point of orientation. It is in this contemporary context, it was with much satisfaction that a new write up on Virgil Michel has appeared online - and not from the usual suspects.

The article isn't a detailed treatment of Michel's writings - a project that, so far as I know, has not really been done. But it successfully inserts his name into the Latin, restorationist, and traditionalist forums. Traditionalist and otherwise Latin liturgy types must reconcile with a concept of social justice that exceeds pious works of charity. It is impossible to ignore the myriad of social justice theologies that emerged in the last century, be it the mystical political theology of Metz or the tumultuous annals of the Liberation Theology...or indeed the social ethos of the early 20th century liturgical movement.

Virgil Michel, OSB is a good figure to start with. Michel's writings influenced the early Catholic Worker movement. Michel, for his part, did not imagine one had to deconstruct the old Missale Romanum in order to have a liturgy that was "for the poor and marginalized." Yes, he probably would have voted in favor of discarding the effeminate baroque vestments. Nothing wrong with that, really. Michel, however, thought the old Missale Romanum needed to be studied, fully integrated as the dominant figure in one's prayer life and, if I recall correctly, sought to infuse a monastic ethos into the celebration of the Roman liturgy - at least that is the model of Christian thought into which I'd classify his thinking.

Is this a sign of hope? Depends. So-called progressive liturgists are good at mentioning Virgil Michel's name but very rarely deal with his concrete body of work. There is room to make use of his work. Yes, new liturgical movement types, it means possibly locking away the effeminate vestments, but that is a small price to pay for the old missal to suddenly ride a wave of new found credibility.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What things may come...

In the wake of Papa Francesco, many are still figuring out what to make of things. Cardinal Dolan has made the rounds saying there was no conflict with the Curia involved in the election of Papa Francesco - not sure I by that. Traditionalist Catholics see evidence of the Curia at work in his election - all part of a grand conspiracy by the Curia to ordain women, apparently. Really not sure I buy that.

As I've come to expect, some of the most reflective comments come from Fr. Chadwick's blog. Now, you have to pardon me for not directly linking to the particular post I'm thinking of (there's more reading material than I can keep straight at the moment), but at one point he makes the observation that the moment the papacy leaves Europe for Latin America, it's probably not coming back.

I won't say I think that this is absolutely true, however, it underscores the truth of matter behind the election of Pope Francis. Catholicism is leaving the West and, at some point, the Roman Church will undergo a long process of change as it begins to reflect the religion of the majority of its adherents. There are many risks to be sure, many unknowns.

Papa Francesco's election puts the concerns of Western Catholics under sever criticism. Now begins a time in which the those members of the Roman Church from affluent countries will be forced to examine their priorities against a new standard. Fans of Benedict's liturgical ethos and restoration of the baroque aesthetic are now confronted with the possibility that such things do not constitute the heart of the religion and are not the vessels by which the Roman Church can stop its decline. Progressives will similarly face their own eventual intellectual mortality as they discover the majority of the Church not only rejects much of their ideology but indeed refuses to be ruled by it - colonialism 2.0 isn't happening.

Every last one of us faces the challenge of reorienting ourselves to a changing Catholicism that will increasingly abandon the Western standard. This won't happen overnight, but the election of Papa Francesco may well indicate that the process has officially begun - unless he too becomes bogged down in the Curia's mire.

The new papacy probably will not fixate upon liturgical matters - although I wouldn't be shocked if Leo's papal throne is put back into storage. I suspect rather than trying to find a veneer of the status quo it can live with, this papacy may well risk reviving the notion that Catholicism must always seek to find another way.

Although, this is still all speculation. The Roman Church needs rebuilding. Pope Francis may well be the man to lead sweeping a campaign towards such a goal.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papa Francesco!

His tone was different, a tone many people feel hasn't been heard from a pope in recent memory. There was something warm about his Italian. Pope Francis has arrived.

In the weeks leading up to this now concluded conclave, I mentioned that there was something in the air, something that hinted everything was potentially subject to change. The magnitude of this change may well be seismic.

This new pontificate is a rejection of the past eight years. What dynamics went into his election? We can only speculate. It seems, however, that the majority of the cardinals wanted to reign in perceived excess of Benedict's pontificate. However, there is similarly no move towards the flavor of a John Paul II or John XXIII. Cardinal Bergoglio's papal name hearkens to something greater, something almost mythical, the saint that has perhaps been the paradigm of sanctity, reform, simplicity, poverty and, indeed, the living union between God and man.

It seems the cardinal electors realized the state of the Roman Church - it is do or die time and the need for something momentous is now.

Benedict tried the path of restoration, attempting to revive a distinctly European model of Catholicism as a solution to the creeping decline of the Church that occurred in progressively greater waves through the twentieth century. The decision has been made to reach beyond Europe. This will have tremendous ramifications. For Traditionalists, the nightmare has come true. You can read the usual suspects yourselves - I'll spare you any recounting of their reactions. The inevitable has come to pass: the exclusively European concept of Catholicism is being displaced in favor of a conception of the Church almost entirely foreign to the Western mindset. And this is being done because complex mixture of numerous co-factors has brought the Roman Church to the point of near collapse. The need is now for a leader who can revitalized the Roman Church, often by purifying her of her many sins and excesses. This is the hope a two thirds majority of the cardinal electors have invested in this pontiff.

No one can claim with any objectivity that Church did not decline under Benedict's papacy, due to some things that were perhaps of his own doing and some things that were perhaps outside of his control. The moment has arrived for God to make all things new - God's actions often require human hands.

More reflection this weekend.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The only constant...

Once again, Fr. Anthony Chadwick has written a post well worth the read. There are many blogs I read, but very few I like. Fr. Chadwick's blog is one I enjoy reading; his perspective is well reasoned and I wish there more who were so reflective.

Some points worth pondering from this entry:
Something I have already seen in France is that parish life is becoming decreasingly available to people who live outside the big cities.
In the States, urban areas are no refuge for parish life. Catholicism is retreating from the cities into the posh suburbs. As a result, many of the immigrant communities responsible for the Roman Church's numerical boom in the US do not have the same access to the Church as the Irish, French and Italians before them. Additionally, when one considers economic factors, a positively tragic picture is emerging: the poor, whether in urban or rural areas, will have decreased access to Catholicism. In its absence, they will go to those groups who are making it a point to minister unto them. This is to the shame of the Church.
The reality of the future is closed churches and the extinction of popular religion. If the institutional Church wants to hold onto something, the only tangible reality is elitist religion based on intellectual ability or simply money. That is what they are pointing at.
Such a Church is near in the Western world. Where does theology take place? For the Roman Church it is all done in the inner halls of the Vatican or the university. In either case, theology is done by an exclusive rather than inclusive group. One a centralized bureaucracy, the other an assembly of persons often times living in privilege and teaching students from similarly privileged backgrounds. In both cases, theology rarely has contact with the people on the ground or enters those very real life situations where the human person looks towards a reality greater than himself. Although, it must be noted that, practically speaking, the Curia has greater contact with the beliefs of real people as opposed to academia, which tends to nitpick and qualify theology into utterly abstract irrelevance. And, of course, one cannot ignore the force money has in many a diocese and parish. Wealthy parishioners have access to clergy, especially the bishops. The working classes largely have to be content with the occasional handshake and passing small talk.

Fr. Chadwick concludes by making a series of very sensible suggestions, the essence of which seems to be, if I read him correctly, his previously mentioned model of parish-alternative communities-monasteries. The local church must rediscover the greater Tradition and traditional liturgies (more than just the "Tridentine" Missal) could play an important part in facilitating such a development.

I suppose I'm very sympathetic to Fr. Chadwick's view because, ideally, that's how I would like things to pan out. I have no delusion of Catholicism reclaiming its thunder from the early 20th century or secular trends being reversed in the West. Of course, I'm not sure that's how things are going to pan out. I don't know if Western Christianity really knows how to operate from a position of cultural disadvantage.

Since the rise of Islam, Orthodox Christianity has had to learn how to operate from a position of weakness within the culture. Western Christianity, Catholicism in particular, still holds on to threads of cultural influence and the obvious monuments of its institutional growth. I don't know if we really have a practical model of being a church out of cultural power and I'm not really sure we're ready to learn.

Which makes me wonder....long term, does the future of Christianity belong to the Orthodox? I can only speak from an American standpoint, but in the US the Orthodox are steadily expanding - often by buying up shuttered Catholic churches. Along the coasts, more Orthodox parishes are emerging that are populated by Western converts. These churches are increasingly shedding the weight of purely ethnic identity and putting themselves on the spiritual market place - it's not uncommon to hear a Greek Orthodox priest claim you have to be Greek to be a member of the Greek Orthodox Church about as much as you have to be Italian to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Most importantly, the Orthodox do not overreact to secularism, neither compromising nor turning sectarian.

The time for dialogue may be closing.

Speciale makes the credible case that the dialogue with the SSPX is not only going in circles, but could well be coming to its end. There's every chance the next pope will decide to simply walk away. Not that I think the SSPX will really mind. Fellay's tenure as head of the SSPX  has made sure that the group has the necessary resources to become its own branch of Catholicism. I don't doubt he is sincere in wanting union with Rome. However, the man has demonstrable gift for tending to the growth of this group while simultaneously entertaining the possibility of reintegration into the Roman Church. On Rome's part, I think there were many cardinals who were thoroughly befuddled by Benedict's continued attempts and bringing the SSPX back to the fold.

John Allen Addresses Revisionist Traditionalists in the Blogosphere.

You can read it all right here

Faith makes reality, but it can't change the historical record.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Some people are taking Benedict's resignation a bit too hard.

Title says it all. This guy has some serious abandonment issues.

Basilio Magno, 'nuff said.

"La grandezza dell'uomo, la sua gloria e la sua measta consistono ne conoscere cio` che e` vermente grande, nell' attaccarsi ad esso e nel chiedere la gloria dal Signore della gloria."
           --- San Basilio Magno (Terza settimana di Quaresima, Lunedi, Ufficio delle letture, seconda lettura)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Creeping Paranoia.

Fr. Finigan links back to an interesting post by Rorate Caeli (you either love them or hate them), bearing a tone of vituperation and contempt as well as tinges of paranoia. You can read it for yourself. The author confidently states that Ratzinger was never considered a papal contender in 2005, especially by John Allen of the NCR. Thus, one should pay little if any heed to persons prognosticating outcomes for the conclave. His proof is a list of papal contenders allegedly compiled by Allen, sans link. I happened to search the NCR website, and found distinct evidence that the subject of a Ratzinger papacy was discussed and was considered a very real possibility. This was a quick search on my part. I didn't even take the time to look for other coverage Allen provided in which he discusses Ratzinger as a candidate.

I don't begrudge anyone who says we need to just step back from all the talk surrounding papal contenders. This said, it doesn't seem too smart to state something historically inaccurate, perhaps in the hope of allaying fears. This post was typical of the tinge of fear and creeping paranoia I alluded to in an earlier entry. Those who found so much hope in a Ratzinger papacy are worried gains will be lost or direction reversed. Benedict left his supporters with a papacy that did not seem to fulfill all of its promise, giving room for the next pontiff to move the Roman Church in whichever direction he so decides. Some of the papal candidates are positively frightening for a devotee of Benedict's papacy, especially two hailing from Africa.

There are many issues that are being floated about by the media and the cardinals. These are thought to be the issues that will sway the cardinal electors. In the end, the essential issue that the cardinals will face, in my opinion, is whether or not Benedict's papacy left the Roman Church in a better or worse place compared to before he ascended to the papal throne.

The Myth of "Christian (Liturgical) Latin."

If you haven't read Clackson and Horrocks' The Blackwell History of the Latin Language, I strongly recommend picking it up - if you're interested in Latin, it is one of the most technical studies of the language available in (popular) print.

The authors address the issue of "Christian Latin", a topic I've previously written about on these pages. What follows is a reflection upon Clackson and Horrocks' treatment of the topic . As I write this, I am including data that was not included in the book though is common place in Latin scholarship - in other words, this reflection is not solely based on Clackson and Horrocks.

 The idea of a distinctive Christian liturgical Latin is popular among new liturgical movement types and at least one major figure (Lang) has argued in defense of the notion. The search for a  Christian (liturgical) Latin has been conducted largely in relative isolation from the scholarly investigation into the origins and development of the Latin language. Largely because it has to be; "Christian Latin" cannot be substantiated by sound linguistic scholarship. In its contemporary conception, "Christian Latin" is not only subject to a serious deficiency of historical linguistic evidence, it is also a confusion of ideas as to what "Christian Latin" actually means.

Schrijen made the first attempt to present a registrar of "Christian Latin" to the scholarly community. His work rested upon rhetorical devices utilized by Christian authors in Late Antiquity to present themselves as addressing the poor and humble as opposed to the elite audience of Classical Latin authors. Schrijen justified his case for what Clackson and Horrocks refer to as a social dialect covering the expanse of the Latin portion of the Empire by appealing to "peculiarities" (a generous description, to be sure - "corruptions" might also suffice) among a handful of Christian authors. Schrijen's thesis was rejected by linguists. Schrijen's thesis, though certainly pious, ignored the technical Latin of Tertullian and the blatant attempts by such authors as Augustine to present Christian literature in a style of Latin that was comparable to the pillars of Classical Latin literature. Instances where the Latin of Christian authors can be said to be of a more simple construction than that of pagan authors were the result of the diversity of socio-economic circumstance among authors and the influence of Vetus Latina and Vulgate text. Both the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate have degrees of simplification from Classical Latin and, one can argue, are more accessible than the writings of, say, Augustine. One could describe both textual bases as Late Latin, which itself was a decline from the classical standard.  I vigorously disagree with those who would try to classify the Vulgate as Classical Latin - there are too many instances of grammar and syntax that would not be found in Classical texts. There are points at which one can argue Vulgate reflects spoken use of the language; any Late Latin text that makes no attempt to mimic the Classical standard does, to one degree or another, utilize varying amounts of vocabulary and grammar reflective of spoken Latin. Both the Vetus Latina and Vulgate were, it seems, Latin text that would have been readily comprehended by the vulgus, though they could hardly be defined as written presentations of vulgar Latin.

The often cited Christine Morhmann continued the cause of  "Christian liturgical Latin," making many of the same mistakes as her predecessor. Like Schrijen, Morhmann failed to account for the wide variance of "quality" among Latin Christian authors. Morhmann focused largely upon liturgical texts. With no accounting of patristic texts that were written in emulation of the classical standard, Morhmann analyzed the texts from the Roman liturgy in nearly total isolation. Pieces that were more technical (though still not meeting the Classical standard) were obvious candidates to support a thesis that liturgical Latin was not reflective of every day speech and not reflective of the language of the people. This led Morhmann to characterize (and I'm being a little flippant with my description here) other pieces of the Roman liturgy  that were ridden with grammatical peculiarities/corruptions from Classical and even Late Latin as being actually technical and somewhat arcane form of Latin reserved only for liturgical use. Like her predecessor, Morhmann made no account of the influence the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate had upon those Latin Christian authors who had little if any command of the Classical standard. The Latin of the Roman liturgy, whether the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum of the Gregorian of Old Gelesian Scaramentaries, is not of the technical mastery of Cicero nor the valiant attempt to duplicate such mastery as is found in Augustine. It is right in line with the Latin of the Vulgate and, at times, serves up a number of neologisms (particularly in the Missale Romanum) indicating the influence of the Romance languages. At many points, the Latin of the Roman liturgy reflects a greater degree of simplification than the Vulgate, indicating, in my estimation, a closer proximity to the spoken language.

One can see how the argument for a type of "Christian Latin" had become confused. What Schrijen identified as evidence of a language that reflected the speech of the people as opposed to the elite audience of Classical authors, Morhmann interpreted as indicating a manner of using the language that was alien to immediate comprehension. A thorough survey of the evidence refutes the claims of both authors, so much so that Latin scholarship only writes about the topic of  "Christian Latin" to demonstrate how inadequate the research of Schrijen and Mohrmann was.

Which brings us to Uwe Michael Lang and those persons who style themselves as comprising a new liturgical movement. Lang, in my estimation, has done little more than resurrect Morhmann's thesis to an audience ready and willing to believe and more than willing to ignore the larger body of historical-linguistic data that soundly refutes such an argument. If there is one hallmark of persons who identify themselves with a new liturgical movement or a "restorationist" movement, it is the shoddy standards of scholarship, the willingness to simply ignore a substantial amount of data in favor of constructing a version of history that successfully meets ideological expectations. If there is one distinct trait of contemporary "restorationist" scholarship, it is the lack of intellectual validity.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What is man among the council of the Gods? A brief look at Psalm 8 in Jerome's Hebrew Psalter.

Quid est homo quoniam recordaris eius?
Vel filius hominis quoniam visitas eum?
Minues eum paulo minus a Deo
gloria et decore conronabis eum.
--- Psalmus 8:5-6 (Jerome's Hebrew Psalter)

If one prays the Latin Psalter regularly, more than likely one has rarely prayed "minues eum paulo minus a Deo,", unless one has preferred praying from the handful of critical editions of Jerome's "Hebrew Psalter". Completed circa 392-405, Jerome's translation from the Hebrew utilized (we think) a pre-Masoretic text that was fairly close to the standard Hebrew text we have today (assuming reverse translation is reliable). It was completed anywhere from 12 to 18 years after he had worked on translating (to greater and lesser degrees) the Greek New Testament and bits from the Septuagint and some two decades after he had learned Hebrew. Jerome's "Hebrew Psalter" reflects his maturity as a translator and his acquisition of the language, which makes the text a fascinating linguistic study in of itself. You can, if you're up for the task, trace the development of Jerome's Hebrew proficiency by following the progression of his earliest commentaries on the Hebrew text (dating prior to his migration to Bethlehem) to his completed translation of Psalter. There are those who would disagree with me in the following assessment, but I would contend that Jerome's "Hebrew Psalter" is one of his most mature works as a translator, representative of a man who was, as we say, hitting his stride as a linguist.

I've always enjoyed Jerome's "Hebrew Psalter", partially because of familiarity with Hebrew, though largely because it offers a different experience of the Latin tradition. It reflects the "concrete" force of the Hebrew whereas, it seems to me, the so-called Gallican Psalter replicates the more....ethereal qualities of the Septuagint, not too mention the occasional bout of incomprehensible grammar. There's a certain force to the "Hebrew Psalter" that one finds in the Hebrew text as well as contemporary translations but is often, to my sense of things, missing in the "traditional" Latin psalter.

Jerome's "Hebrew Psalter" also provides us with a bit of a puzzle to solve. Jerome was never much of  systematician. He was an exegete. So far as his own theology is concerned, I prefer to think that he let his translations do the talking. His concept of Hebraica veritatis was not simply a matter of identifying the proper text for translation; the Hebraica veritatis conveyed the proper knowledge of God. Thus, how Jerome renders the Hebrew text often reveals more about his personal theology than any of his writings (which were oftentimes produced amid controversy).

This in mind, I have to wonder what, if anything, Jerome was trying to communicate with "minues eum paulo minus a Deo." Jerome's translation prefers a singular as opposed to plural reading of מאלהים, seemingly letting his translation be dictated by the traditional understanding of אלהים in the first chapter of Genesis. At this point, it is truly regrettable that his Tractus septem in psalmos is no longer extant, it might indicate if Jerome entertained a christological interpretation of Psalm 8 after he had progressed in his knowledge of Hebrew. My suspicion is that this translation indicates that Jerome had begun  favoring the literary world of the Hebrew text over conventional Christian interpretation. This still leaves us wondering how he intends  a Deo to translate מאלהים.  The term lends itself to some ambiguity, אלהים being used for beings other than Yahweh in the Hebrew text. Jerome avoids a plural rendering in Latin, however, one may debate whether or not Deo is intended to be read as "God" or "a God." The greater context of Psalm 8 would make "God" grammatically awkward - essentially, "God, you made man less than God." Not impossible, but it would be odd. If the intention is "a god," then Jerome finds a way of maintaining the allusion to the divine council found in the original text and does a better job at literally translating the Hebrew. The divine council in turn leads us back to the ancient Semitic combat myth, in Yahweh holds in place a spectrum of ancient divine beings who would potentially unleash chaos upon creation. I personally opt for this interpretation of the Latin as it retains the allusions of the Hebrew and thus takes us back into the ancient Semitic world of the text, where Yahweh engages in both council and conflict with a myriad of semi-divine and divine beings. We are thus plunged back into the mythic world of ancient Judaism, where Yahweh holds a myriad of beings in their place, sustaining creation from the ancient well springs of chaos. Jerome, for his part, found a concise way to render this content into Latin and thereby to the Christian tradition.

All good things...

Newman Bookstore has changed their going out of business discounts. 35% for March and the possibility of further reductions in April. I suspect either items were not flying out the door at 25% or they caught a little flack from a few publishers due to a potential 75% discount (per the original terms) on some very expensive titles - or both.

The 21st century hasn't been kind to bookstores in the US. The late 90s were a period of contraction and the 2000s has been a period of acute decline. The inventory of most bookstores has become largely standardized. "Specialty" shops have not been immune to the homogenization of inventory. When Barnes and Noble purchased Ingram distributors, the largest distributor for independent book shops, in the mid/late 90s, they began altering Ingram's inventory to reflect that of B&N. Thus, Sci-Fi shops, for one example), had access to a potential inventory that largely reflected the content of big box stores. One very fine Sci-Fi shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts (as the owner told me some years ago) lost much of its distinctive inventory (a lot of British imports that hadn't seen publication in the US as well as very obscure offerings from small US publishing houses) reduced by as much as fifty percent (of product). Ingram, under B&N, didn't deal with the independent or overseas publishers, forcing this shop to go through other channels to stock these titles, typically at greater cost. They kept it up for a few years in the late 90s, but by the 2000s it became unfeasible. A real shame, as this shop was a great spot for hard to find Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror titles.

Shops focused around Theology, Religious Studies, and/or Spirituality have undergone a similar decline, although the reasons are slightly more complex. The changes at Ingram are one reason, but one can't ignore the rapid decline in interest in Religion and Spirituality (and I guess we can lump New Age into this as well) that accompanied the beginning of the millennium. During the 80s and 90s, the production and consumption of religion related titles was of incredible breadth - it wasn't just the normal devotional material, the was broad publishing in a wide array of subject areas. Early Christian studies, historical Jesus, Medieval spirituality, mysticism (Christian and Islamic), to name a few. It was, if you were into that sort of thing (which I was) an exciting time. Most book stores have sharply reduced their inventory in these areas, focusing instead on devotional works (the old standby), largely because the popular interest in Religious Studies and Theology that accompanied the run up to the turn of the millennium went into a free fall - God, apparently, hasn't deemed now the proper time to come back.With that change, the market has shifted largely to standard devotional work, with the exception of the occasional "sexy" best seller by Bart Ehrman or Elaine Pagels or the "desperately-in-need-of-some-basic-logic-classes" musings of new-atheism. If you live Stateside and you're one for Theology or Religious Studies, book stores have become a barren landscape - if you're looking for some serious reading. Even a notable shop near Harvard University that specializes in all things related to language and linguistic studies drastically reduced its inventory religious texts in their original language - they were one of the few places in which you could find the Liturgia Horarum on the shelves.

Newman Bookstore had its administrative faults. Ordering from them was never an entirely smooth process as they did not seem to apply any quality controls to their inventory . I received a fair amount of damaged goods and these guys weren't running a massive shipping operation out of a warehouse - this was either right off the shelves or from the backroom. Nevertheless, on account of its inventory, Newman Bookstore was an oasis among the arid sands and wind swept ruins of the independent American bookstore.

There's not much left for book lovers in the US. Amazon is fine, I suppose, if one is a shut in or agoraphobic. However, if you actually like the experience of browsing in a bookshop ("booking" as it was known to Boston bibliophiles who traveled along the T) - there are precious few options left.

For now, if you're a theological type, head over to Newman Bookstore and see if there's anything that catches your eye (and if they'll deliver to your area).

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Last thoughts on Benedict XVI, Papa emeritus.

One of the things I need to keep in mind about the end of Benedict's papacy is the long hope and anticipation for Joseph Ratzinger's rise to the papal throne. There are the usual suspects, of course. Traditionalist leaning clergy and intellectuals. There were also many twenty and thirty somethings who grew up under John Paul II's papacy and saw in Joseph Ratzinger a degree of clarity and conviction the previous pontiff lacked. I could, I suppose, count myself one of those in number. Throughout John Paul II's papacy, there was the hope that Joseph Ratzinger would become pope. In April of 2005, that hope was realized. And then things changed.

I have the utmost respect for Benedict XVI as a theologian and, I reckon, I always will to one degree or another. Yet, invariably, a combination of intellectual and individual development takes place. This coupled with the gradual decline of the Roman Church during Benedict's papacy gradually made a Ratzinger papacy a less sanguine affair, for me, at least. Others held on. Others still invested much hope in Joseph Ratzinger for one reason or another. They were not entirely unjustified. While Benedict's liturgies haven't altered the liturgical practice of the Latin Church at large, they at least gave those persons and parties who prefer canonical prayer in the Latin language legitimate room in Roman Church, post-Vatican II. Years of wayward theology suffered by many a young theologian were suddenly clamped down upon - it has seemed like forever and a day since I last encountered pop-psychology masquerading as theology and written by someone without any credentials in psychology. Others could doubtlessly raise more reasons for continuing to find promise in Benedict's papacy. The man is, above all things, an educator. His liturgical theology is something to be studied and should have been mandatory reading before the imposition of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. There are people who retained the utmost hope and confidence in his papacy, all the more so during the most recent years full of tumult and scandal. These persons were most shocked when Benedict announced his resignation on February 11th.

Shocked and perhaps terrified. Benedict's papacy promised a certain contingent of the Roman Church everything it longed for under John Paull's marathon run. It is common knowledge that Benedict's maneuver's were often fraught with curial infighting and scarcely concealed dissension among many of his bishops and cardinals. Furthermore, the last two or so years have brought to lights how many internal and external pressures had begun bearing down upon Benedict's papacy. Many of these pressures, plainly, would risk undoing much of what Benedict has done. This is a given with any papacy; what one pope decides, another reverses. However, there is the perception that much of Benedict's papacy could well be jettisoned by the next pontiff.

Benedict's papacy may well prove to be the consummation of many things in the Roman Church. It was a last ditch attempt to save the Second Vatican Council from the road to irrelevance which so-called progressives had unwittingly set it upon. I maintain that, gradually, Vatican II will become ever more distant as there is no one left to evoke their memory of the Council. This papacy was an attempt to sure up priestly identity and the significance of the sacramental ministry as well as restore the traditional aesthetic of the Roman liturgy. It was, as his choice of name suggested, an attempt to re-evangelize and restore the faith in Europe, the historical home of the Roman Church. Benedict's supporters know well that all of these things were works in progress, nowhere near completion. There is the distinct sense that one era of the Roman Church is coming to an end and a new one is upon us.

Benedict himself has alluded to the storms battering the barque of Peter and his inability to successfully guide the Church amid them. Now is a time for decision in the Roman Church. I personally do not think the cardinals can afford to vote for the status quo. I also do not think the cardinals should be such intellectual derelicts to vote for every liberal whim - statistics can tell you how well the Episcopalian and Anglican churches have done by following that line.

Something is coming with the next conclave. God only knows what.