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).