Saturday, June 27, 2015

Desperation

The best word to describe this post.

Certain groups of Christians are in a state bordering on despair at the recent US Supreme Court decision. While there is much that needs reflection and introspection, one is delusional if one believes Gregorian chant (and other trappings of traditional Western liturgy) will win a "culture war."

I've written this elsewhere and I will repeat it again: you cannot win a culture war if you do not offer a vision of a counter culture for people to adhere to. Putting a different shine on the veneer of the status quo does not suffice. You are still left with the same rotten culture as you had before, just more palatable for conservatives.

Whatever the future brings for Christianity in the West, neither compromise nor despair will prove the catalyst for a powerful response that leads to another awakening. Christianity will either benefit from events out of the control of any human agency, or it will come terms with the last vestiges of the Constantinian order being wiped away and look to its past for the means of engaging the present.

Christianity can no loner expect to have a relatively comfy relationship with Western culture. In turn, it must offer an alternative to the West. This will come, in part, from establishing more intentional Christian communities, developing alternative micro-economies, and, hopefully, the establishment of new monastic centers. More importantly, it will come from communion with the supernatural in the context of whatever liturgical tradition runs as the undercurrent of these activities.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Distinctions between Orthodoxy and Catholicism

You will always get into trouble if you try to fit Orthodoxy and Catholicism into the same box. They are two very different derivations of an original source which has, ultimately, been obscured with the passage of time. The sooner one accepts this, the sooner one can see one's former church with the benefit of sober insight, and the sooner one can take off any romantic rose tinted glasses coloring the view of one's new church.

Orthodoxy is not Catholicism. Catholicism is not Orthodoxy. It is a tad bit presumptuous to expect one to offer the trappings or treats of the other. One should not expect space for Western devotionalism or a preoccupation with certain forms of the Western liturgy. One should also not expect the adoption of Byzantine chant over and above the Western tradition. There are numerous other examples one can propose that illustrate the same point. So far as corporate praxis is concerned, one must come to grips with the that of whichever church to which one belongs.

The private praxis of prayer is another matter. It is entirely possible to observe a Western prayer life in the Orthodox Church, and vice versa, so long as it is a matter of private praxis. Whether or not volleying between two distinct forms of prayer creates a sort of noetic schizophrenia is unknown. There are those that would maintain a healthy psyche requires one totally adopt all of the forms of prayer of one or the other. Others would say the two balance out the other's respective deficiencies. It seems, given the climate we are in, a good start would be to establish some regular practice.

The mixing of traditions seems inevitable, and it would not be the first time. John Cassian laid the foundational work for Western monasticism by importing what he had learned from "Greek" Christianity. Extrapolating this to our own day, it is not impossible to appropriate aspects of one into the other if one's goal is to create a new system with its own internal coherence. Although this method depends upon the suitability of the one doing the synthesis. That such a synthesis would be attempted should be expected. The exchange of ideas and information is rampant and instantaneous and Christianity's situation is becoming ever more fluid due to external pressures. We should expect attempts at synthesis. We should also expect these attempts to come along with a good number of charlatans and megalomaniacs, and maybe a handful of people with a good idea and reasonable intention.

For now, Orthodoxy and Catholicism are two very distinct traditions. Both suffer from a range of superstitions and "true-church" ecclesiology rooted in ethnic/cultural provincialism, overlaid with theological afterthought. Both hold ecclesiological positions that are increasingly fragile and, if there is any sense about the matter, compel each other to move closer in the hope of saving face in the long run.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Schuyler Quentel NASB Red Leather - Hands On

Recently I had the chance to handle/read through Schuyler's Quentel NASB, the first entry in the publisher's acclaimed Quentel series. This was my first time holding a Schuyler and paging through it. After having done so, there is little doubt that Schuyler's reputation in Bible published is well deserved and accurate. Schuyler has raised the bar in Bible publishing and created a Bible of astounding aesthetic quality and precise functionality. Simply put, Bible publishing has waited for something like this.

Coverage of Schuyler's Bibles is fairly well represented across the Internet. In fact, you can find two very fine reviews of this particular edition here and here. For a more thorough photo set of the Quentel NASB, see Schuyler's facebook page. Yet, for as great as they are, none of these photos do the actual volume justice. One can read all of the publishing specs behind the Quentel NASB, but again, the specs hardly do this volume justice. Not until one has held this edition in one's hand does one fully come to appreciate just what Schuyler has done. I hesitate to call the physical book a work of sacred art, but that is the phrase that keeps coming do mind when reflecting upon it. This Bible is like holy art. Perhaps more accurately, the Quentel NASB is the art of the book applied to Sacred Scripture and executed without flaw.

Anyone coming from a liturgical tradition will immediately appreciate the red leather and the aesthetic of the book. This is a Bible that simply demands one use it for prayer and worship/liturgy. In fact, my immediate reaction when holding it was that it would be more than appropriate to use this volume for the psalms of the office. This is a Bible you want to use for worship - it actually demands it! This is not something you would simply keep on your shelf - you will want to use it.

Thankfully, Schuyler hasn't skimped on the production quality. The gentleman who lent it to me has used this volume daily for approximately a year - his copy demonstrates that these volumes are designed for daily use and one needed worry about wear. More importantly, however, Schuyler has adopted a format that invites daily, if not long reading. Four ribbon markers to hold place - a welcome feature if one moves between Old Testament narratives, the Prophets, the Psalms, and New Testament. The Milo font is perfectly readable, crisp and easy on the eyes.

Conclusion

An accurate description of how well made the Quentel NASB is and what it is like to use it proves allusive. Simply put, one doesn't often encounter books this well made. Schuyler's Quentel NASB excels in the physical construction of the book and, perhaps more importantly, evokes that ambiance of religious books from decades ago, books that were designed not simply for reading, but indeed for use in prayer and worship. In sum, Schuyler has created a book with the Creator in mind. 

For purchasing information, go here.

The Schuyler line covers the NASB, NKJV, KJV, and ESV. There is a single column NLT due out by year's end.

As mentioned above, the specs and photos of this book are available readily. Yet, they hardly convey the quality of this Bible. In age where so many once reputable publishers have taken numerous shortcuts in book production, Schuyler has insisted upon steadfast quality without falling into the trap of making the volume so aesthetically pleasing so as to diminish its functionality. You will be hard pressed to find much better than this. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Another Perspective on Laudato Si

Is Pope Francis bringing the Roman Church back into open conflict with modernity? Maybe.

The author's analysis correctly observers the anti-modern sentiment that emerges at various points in the document. I'll be the first to admit, Francis' pointed criticism at the emerging technocratic order and its re-engineering of humanity scored points with me. 

Is this a call to arms against modernity, or what modernity has become? Maybe - the jury is out. Will this document have any real effect? The author hits on the document's major weakness: at 200 hundred pages, the audience that will give the document an attentive first read, let alone a detailed reading, is limited. 

If Francis manages to reframe the discussion, God bless 'em.

Laudato Si - initial impressions

At the behest of a colleague, I did an initial skimming of Laudato Si. I am not a Roman Catholic and the bishop of Rome does not supreme juridical and doctrinal authority in my eyes. As such, I will keep things as brief as I can. It is only fair - members of the Roman Church should be the ones to engage in a deep reading of this document.

Briefly then, it is not certain that the impending doctrinal apocalypse predicted by RC Traditionalists came to pass with this encyclical. Much of the document is common sense and has enough shades born from the various contours of the Christian tradition to merit consideration.

The document is not revolutionary in its charges of land/resource abuse on the part of the wealthy at the cost of victimization of the poor. Ambrose of Milan strikes the same chord in De Nabothae. Indeed, he is fair more invective towards the wealthy. The only degree of difference is whether the land and resource exploitation of the modern era is having an ecological impact.

In many respects, the document pivots back to John Paul II's papacy. Like John Paul II, Francis attempts to build circle around Roman Catholicism, comprised of the Orthodox, other Christians, and then other religions, and extending to people with no particular religious persuasion.

When one recognizes the attempts at recapitulating John Paul II's papacy, one begins to recognize how much Benedict's papacy was seen as a break from the pattern of the papacy in the late 20th century. This is perhaps most pronounced in the encyclical's condemnation of global technocracy and capital. Put another way, this is a more refined descriptive of globalization. The anti-globalization wing in the Roman Church reached its peak in the late 90s. Benedict XVI's papacy coincided with decline of the same movement. Whether this was intentional or not may be debated, but certainly Caritas in Veritate was somewhat lukewarm in its criticism of globalization. Benedict's papacy was, to be sure, a stark disappointment to those groups who saw globalization as a moral issue (if not spiritual) during the pontificate of John Paul II. Although JP II did not come down critically on globalization, the anti-globalization wing certainly had room to breath. Francis seems to be tapping back into that strain of contemporary Catholicism. Francis proposes that the negative impact of global technocratic capitalism on the Earth's climate correlates directly with a new paradigm for humanity that is inherently self destructive. If there is any theological and spiritual muscle left in the Roman Church, this section of the encyclical must become the focal point for subsequent discussion and action.

A final consideration is that Francis is trying to extract concern over climate change from its more extreme positions. Climate change activists typically include abortion and other depopulation methods as solutions. Francis argues these positions are incompatible with a genuine concern for preserving the environment and addressing the issue of climate change. To this extent, the bishop of Rome should be applauded. The emerging climate change orthodoxy is increasingly anti-human and if Francis is a shrewd politician and can maneuver his particular understanding of the issue into the political mainstream he will have considerable impact. This being noted, Vatican II tried to re-frame modernity and failed to do so. We'll see how well this maneuvering pays off.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

New Jerusalem Bible Red Leather Pocket Edition (Review)

I have always been biased towards the New Jerusalem Bible. This was the edition that got me interested in the original languages and learning more about the manuscript tradition. After learning Hebrew, the NJB's use of the divine names in the Hebrew text became another mark in its favor.

Regrettably, there have been few editions of the New Jerusalem Bible available Stateside. During the 1990s, the NJB was fairly well represented in American bookstores. For a variety of reasons, the American publisher hasn't seen fit to continue published the myriad of editions available circa 1985.

Darton, Longman, & Todd (UK) have kept the variety of editions of the NJB print and graciously sent the red leather pocket edition for my review. After spending a few days with it, it seems timely to publish my thoughts.

First, the text of the NJB is the text. This is not an update to the 1985 edition. Second, the textual and historical notes are largely removed. This creates a slightly different experience with NJB, as there is little to no opportunity for interaction with the biblical text and the critical notes. The translation is therefore left to stand on its own and does a fine job. This said, the textual and historical notes are an intrinsic part of the New Jerusalem Bible, in my estimation, and I suspect if the volume were a bit thicker the notes could have been included. Ultimately though, this is a personal preference.

The edition, like so many leather bibles published today, is printed (and bound) in China. Take it how you will. The hardcover edition published by Doubleday that I reviewed in April is published in the US. It would be interesting to know if DLT publishes its hard cover edition in the UK. The leather is a thick bonded leather and rather stiff. The copy sent to me promptly produced creases and then cracks in the end paper.

The paper is the now standard "bible paper" used in the industry. Nothing special to write home about, and subject to a good bit of bleed through. It won't distract your reading, but it is there.

The gilt pages are standard as well. Not the best available, but it will like take some years of regular wear and tare.

Reading the NJB in a smaller format underscores the age of typesetting. The pocket edition of the New Jerusalem Bible could use a clearer and more crisp font. Although this brings us to the sticking point with the NJB - there were updates made to the French text in 1998, and the Italian edition got a work over recently. It seems reasonable that the NJB should receive something of an update.

Overall, seeing another published edition of the NJB is a plus. It is one of the better vernacular editions and the scholarship behind it is quite exceptional. As noted above, the variety of editions of the NJB appeared to have been reduced to 3 in the US during the 90s. You won't find this edition in US stores, so look to UK booksellers to fulfill this order.


Religion and Relevance

The greatest challenge for organized religion in 21st century Western society is the deprecation of the priest class. The West has no want for any group of professional religious, at least one it would ascribe any prestige to. Appropriately, Western religious traditions are impacted by this. Catholics and Protestants have both seen a decline in their professional religious class.

That the secular West has little desire to produce such a class and Western religious traditions have seen difficulty repopulating this class attests to the dependency of religion upon culture. If not dependency, at least the difficulty religion has in separating itself from culture.

The situation in which religion finds itself is one, so far as we know, for which it has yet to produce an adequate model. Religion finds itself in a world of, to a greater extent, mass literacy and an overarching presupposition of self determinism. Previous encounters with such trends were often limited to the elite class of a given society. By the late 20th century, these trends had become more or less the norm, at least in cultural sphere of Western religion.

Barring a total societal collapse, if the arc of capitalism finally collapses under its own weight as Morris Berman has theorized, religion will have to live and breathe in a world in which it is considered little more than a personal choice and in which it is held to measure of intellectual standards, in so far as it has to contend with the majority of people it will encounter being literate and possessing the faculties to engage materials once reserved for the professional religious class.

Attempts at making religion relevant have by now proven themselves rather futile. If a religion presents itself as little more than codified pop psychology (see Cooke's Sacraments and Sacramentality for example) or an NGO with pomp and circumstance, said religion will quickly find itself grasping frantically to hold on to the ever changing demarcations of the cultural barometer. More importantly, it will fail to distinguish itself from culturally conditioned entities and trends by failing to address the components of the human experience that can only find a worthwhile narrative in the language of the supernatural or the transcendent.

Ultimately, the non-tangibles of human existence are the reasons why most people investigate religion or spirituality. Trying to keep abreast with social, economic, and political swings gets a certain "activist" segment to nod in approval. One often finds, upon examination, that such a segment places such and such activism at the heart of the their existence, religion lies somewhere on the fringe and is only seen in the colors of the aforementioned activism. Trying to keep religion relevant, moving away from the language of the transcendent to the language of NGOs, only serves to make the entire proposition irrelevant; a religion that does as much finds itself unable to speak to the concerns that more often than not lead contemporary Western audiences to examine a given religion or spirituality.

This is not to say that religion doesn't have any practical consequences. Indeed, religion requires a praxis of life. It is to say, however, if practical consequences are not spoken in the true language of religion, religion benefits no one by addressing them.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Living in the Age of Liturgical Artificiality

Most sincere thanks to Fr. Chadwick for directing the way to this post summarizing the "editorial discussions" around the idea of reforming the Rite of Braga to be more in line with the Missal of Paul VI.

As we get further removed from the immediate aftermath of Vatican II and the final reform of the Roman liturgy in the 20th century, I suspect more memoirs or primary source documentation will come to light which detail the process of reforming the Roman liturgy (by committee) and the corresponding impact it had on the other extant Latin liturgies, concluding with the Carthusian liturgy (the last of the rites to be reformed, if memory serves).

The documentation portrays a cold and somewhat sterile process of analyzing the Rite of Braga and taking vote on various proposals. Akin to Buignini's  mammoth volume, the report on the reform of the Rite of Braga confronts the reader with an at times unexplainable desire to deconstruct an ancient liturgy. It is hard not to feel a combination of confusion and dejection that there was so little regard for a venerable liturgy. Much as there is little room debated that the Roman Rite going forward will work off of a Pauline template, it is also impossible not to acknowledge that so much of Latin Christianity was tossed away as though it were some unfashionable household piece.

The above being noted, the "organic development" types will unfortunately use this as grist for their mill. Yes, the process strikes one as cold. This said, of the survive documentation we have concerning previous changes in the liturgy, whether Roman or local use, I would argue the debates by the committee follow a pattern keeping with liturgical reform of most any century. The available evidence suggests that in almost every century someone (bishop, abbot or monarch) almost always arbitrarily calls the shots on liturgical reform within his sphere of influence. He may have his reasons why, but it hardly conveys the notion that a given insertion or change stemmed from internal laws of the liturgy. For instance, we are hard pressed to find any substantial rationale behind Gregory the Greats significant reform of the Roman rite other than personal preference. Certainly, he did not bring the Roman liturgy to a more pure type and, by all contemporary accounts, seemed guided by the desire to shorten it. An exception to this may well be the psalter set down by Saint Benedict. It seems reasonably clear that Benedict was working within a well established pattern in Western Monasticism. The points at which he pivots away from it seem determined by his particular vision of the monastic life. As such, there is, I would argue, a rhyme and reason behind Benedict's psalter schema.

The fate of the rite of Braga seems to be that of gradual obliteration. The rite is dying and there is little interest among the church responsible for it to see it function outside of very limited occasions. Liturgical aficionados name-drop the rite and probably have a genuine interest in its history. Only a few years ago, a priest from the region and knowledgeable of the rite celebrated it publicly in the United States at Holy Name in Providence, Rhode Island. There was genuine interest among the people attached to the "Tridentine" liturgy. It would seem logical that those orders who have preserved the Missal of 1962 could find space for the rite of Braga. If they could, would it be appropriate, or would it be a case study in liturgical artificiality?

Liturgy requires a suitable context. This context is made up of a myriad of features. Dogmatic, literary, regional, etc. The context is disrupted when features are added to it that were previously non-existant. No matter how noble or how far back in the past, such moments effectively reset the context at the moment of their induction. Their ability to be successfully absorbed into the liturgy determines the degree to which they were complementary with the original context. The Rite of Braga has its own context, comprised of many parts, including cultural, ethnic and regional. If a Traditionalist order or group adopted the rite of Braga with the other factors comprising its context? By way of example, it would be akin to secular cleric or other religious order utilizing the Dominican Rite. It could be done, but it would raise a number of flags. What business would a secular cleric or other religious order have publicly celebrating the rite that belongs properly to the Dominicans? Shouldn't such a group enter the Dominican order if they are going to use said order's rite? The Dominican liturgy has a particular context. Anything outside of that context is liturgical artificiality, or liturgical tourism at best. Similarly, the rite of Braga has its context, outside of which it doesn't necessarily belong or appear naturally suited for. It is debatable if today's crop of Traditionalists, be they in communion with Rome or not, could successfully, legitimately, and authentically abate the gradual disappearance of the rite of Braga.

True, the Roman liturgy eventually spread outside of its territory and its context came to include the majority of the West. Although the Roman liturgy itself provides an example of how changing the component parts of the context initiates a disruption that requires a long process to resolve. The reform of the Roman liturgy introduced three new "Eucharistic prayers" that had no documented place in the history of the Roman liturgy. The same reform has also facilitated other changes that, arguably, are foreign to the context of the Roman liturgy as it was by the mid-late 20th century. Time will tell how well or how poorly these changes are absorbed into the Roman liturgy. Certainly, there are communities that found a balance and seemed to have assimilated the Roman reform. There are others which continue to experience contextual disruption. In this respect the Roman liturgy is symptom of the greater phenomenon on our times, the general liturgical artificiality.

The notion that we live in a period of liturgical artificiality easily offends. The formulation, however, is simply another way of stating that we live in a period where the traditional demarcations and definitions of a liturgy are being blurred with great frequency. The "natural" context of both the Latin and Greek liturgical traditions is no longer static. Rome's liturgical reform is perhaps the most blatant example of this. The Roman liturgy as it was essentially assumed was thoroughly recast, incorporating a mix of theological redaction, euchological restoration (from some occasional arcane sources) and even an influx of non-Roman material. Across the liturgical spectrum, we see a general phenomenon. Western Rite Orthodoxy has used a combination of restoration of hypathetical early Roman practice and infused Greek liturgiology to produce some of its sanctioned liturgies. There is also some attempt to revive the Sarum use as well as other medieval liturgies, although this is to a lesser extent. This is to say nothing of the general trend towards inculturation of the modern Roman rite. On the Greek end of spectrum, we see similar processes at work. In the United States, the Orthodox liturgy increasingly finds itself sustained by a non-ethnic matrix as people from ethnic backgrounds that are not traditionally Orthodox come to comprise more of the base in local churches, particularly outside of urban centers. This is to say nothing of the very un-ethnic makeup of Greek Orthodoxy in many parts of Latin America. In some instances, the Orthodox liturgy is being transplanted entirely outside of Orthodoxy. The Ukrainian Baptist Church uses a very Greek liturgy while fully adhering to most aspects of Protestant theology.

Some of the examples may seem major, some minor, others just purely eccentric. All of them speak of this particular moment in the history of Christianity where the exchange of ideas and practices is global in scope. In this respect, there are a perhaps loose parallels to the earliest centuries of Christianity, when set forms had not been solidified and when there were still ready avenues for cross culture pollination. For all of its lacunae, the first four centuries increasingly prove themselves to be the source of inspiration for much of contemporary liturgics because the evidence that exists paints a picture of a dynamic (and occasionally arcane) liturgical landscape. In this picture, the Christian liturgy has yet to be streamlined into Latin and Greek types, let only reduced to essentially to the uses of Rome and Constantinople. In these early centuries, we see a liturgical nexus that at times defies established liturgical convention, yet, we are tantalized by the missing pieces of the picture and the inability to fully reconstruct the sources for evidence we do in fact possess.

We know enough to know that the earliest strata of Christianity had an exchange of ideas, and many regions were all too anxious to know what other regions were doing in the area of liturgy. The reasons why remain allusive - it seems reasonable to suggest that there simply was no dominant See at this time to wield decisive influence. Where these ideas came from, why some were chosen and why others vanished is still somewhat obscure.

There is a certain way of looking at the history of Christianity that suggests that the Christian liturgy had its context ruptured early. We have to recall Jesus' manner of death was thoroughly imperial and often times reserved for those who would be considered guilty of insurrection, however loosely defined. He is not crucified for being a miracle worker or any latent theological or christological issues. He is crucified for political reasons. In such a light, the Christian liturgy is, at its most natural level, a latent act of rebellion, insurrection, and resistance. To whom or what? I suppose every generation has made its own call. We can venture a few healthy guesses as pertains to the Apostolic era, however to do so requires a study of second temple Jewish writings (which the New Testament is) and a discussion of the corresponding cosmology - both of which would not be justifiably treated in this space.

Nevertheless, it raises a question, a most profound one at that. What is the genuine context of the Christian liturgy? What is its true source and purpose? How much of that is obscured by subsequent theological development and sociological change? And can you ever really get back to it, or has Christianity gone too far down its particular trajectory? The age of liturgical artificiality may well prove, with a good bit of hindsight, to be another distraction of Christianity's core purpose. In which case, you can add it to an outlandishly long list of distractions.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Praxis of Christianity

The monastics know how to do it. Basil the Great had some of the pointed advice about it. So why do the larger sacramental churches seem to lag with it?

Here's some practical advice, courtesy of Crossway, the publishers of the English Standard Version.

Ultimately, if there is any transformative dynamism in Scripture, it requires context. Sacramental churches often interpret this as being something more liturgical or doctrinal. While we shouldn't dismiss the validity and necessity of those two categories, there is a context of action or praxis.

Praxis determines if the liturgical and dogmatic contexts have substance. It provides a concrete quality to things which can be otherwise tenuous or ethereal. It makes propositions and prayers real. It is the mechanism of incarnating all one allegedly believes. The world of religion becomes suddenly and poignantly real.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Domesticating Jesus

An observation made by Fr. Chadwick:

"People who don’t have social standing, money, status, etc. quickly find themselves estranged from churches. The idea of going to the marginalised is appealing to the priest who seeks a sense to his vocation. Such people have no use for priests and seek elsewhere for an alternative to cold materialism, nihilism and atheism."

This certainly squares away with my own observations. 

Christianity in principle reaches to the people who lack social standing, money status, etc. Yet, it is clearly a playground for the wealthy. No, it may not approve of material excess, but people with social status play the roll of movers and shakers. One would have to have some pretty strong blinders on to ignore that wealthier parishoners are prone to get more of the clergy's attention and have sufficient pull in the local church.

I suppose this is natural. Much as Christianity may have emmerged as an apocalyptic political insurgent movement (crucifixion wasn't reserved for religious men claiming to perform miracles), religion has a different function. Whereas Jesus may have started a movement that was galvanized in a climate of political turmoil, religion, by comparison, functions on the promise of stability. Churches as such are sustained by the most stable of their members. Often times, this stability corresponds with social standing, wealth, status, etc. I wouldn't say Christainity outright seeks such individuals as representatives.

Yet it becomes tiring after awhile. One notices that the same persons keep appearing for important roles (check books in hand). Indeed, in the Orthodox Church this is turned into bragging rights - one can't help but learn who met over 100% of the annual contribution. Eventually, it seems like there is a certain "simulacra and simulation" quality to it all. None of this is real Christianity, it is simulated Christianity.

Whatever the case may be, people who lack such status find themselves oftentimes uncomfortable in their own skin and eventually leave, moving on to other alternatives that appear inclusive of their lack of social status.

Christianity often leaves people in the dust is, I suppose, the unfortunate moral of this story. Religion is meant, in part, to affirm the status quo in a society. People with status and money are necessary to showcase - they demonstrate that the status quo works. Yet the movement founded by Jesus of Nazareth is oftentimes portrayed as coming to shake the status quo from its self assured position.

In truth, there is a sort of primordial radicalism in the gospels that inspires a defiant insurrection against the mundane, commonplace, and socially dominant status quo. In so many ways, Jesus ups the anti on the status quo, his praxis setting a new standard that human beings can seldom attain. Thus it is not the physical act of adultery, but lust in one's heart that condemns you. Whatever is asked of you, go a step beyond (your cloack as well). Perhaps more germaine to our discussion, the status quo for worship was insufficient, to be replaced by worship "in spirit and in truth."

The Bible on its own terms

J. Mark Bertrand, author of the Bible Design Blog, writes the Case Against Reference Bibles.

What strikes me most when reading this article (and the comments on the author's blog) is assured satisfaction of having "read Scripture on its own terms."

For anyone relying on a vernacular Bible, this is a disputable assertion. Although it is one that has settled itself into our collective mindset rather nicely. The major supposition is that literacy will eventually yield to a ready understanding of the sacred text.

Vernacular Bibles sort of go without saying. There is no reason to presume the Bible shouldn't be in the vernacular and it seems most logical to provide the Bible in any vernacular language. Christianity is a missionary religion, afterall. Part of any missionary activity is to provide an account of the sacred narrative in a language accessible to the encountered culture. The 20th century advent of critical study Bibles that take into account the variances in the manuscript tradition and the latest work in reconstructing the original text, such as the New Jerusalem Bible or the NRSV, are to be lauded as efforts to synthesize the results of text critical scholarship into one source for popular engagement. In many instances, such vernacular editions provide a wholistic reading experience of the ancient text as the diverse data drawn from historical critical and text critical scholarship are correlated into a single text.

To say, then, that simply having the Biblical text in front of you without references or notes seems, at least, a bit premature.

In truth, many vernacular study editions leave much to be desired. Apart from the NJB and NRSV, much of the material out there is representative of the most mundane scholarship. Frankly, there are not many vernacular editions that engage sufficiently enough with textual criticism or historical criticism to add any depth to the text.  This said, editions that do just this exist and ought to be utilized.

More problematic, however, is how detached this view is from the complexities of Biblical Studies. If one wants the Biblical text "on its own terms" without editorial matter or references/study aids, fair enough - this actually is a brilliant idea and one that would serve the Christian tradition quite well. However, this is contingent upon having a full working knowledge of the ancient languages and readily engaging the various textual traditions - let there be no delusion of anything to the contrary. To take the Biblical text on its own terms means fully engaging the Masoretic text, the LXX, the DSS, the Greek NT, the Coptic NT, the Vetus Latina, the Syriac text, the Vulgate, etc. In these textual traditions (in their original languages) is where one finds the Biblical text on its own terms. Otherwise, one must have modern vernacular editions that attempt to synthesize the results as much as possible.

It is not that the Bible "on its own terms" is impossible. It is just that one needs to know what one is really talking about when one floats that idea.


A liturgical miscellany

Every so often I am reminded of why I eventually fell out of line with the Traditionalist crowd in the Roman Church, and why I cringe when I read the words "new liturgical movement." The original liturgical movement was well versed in some of the more obscure and arcane corners of liturgical history. The "new liturgical movement" seems to have little more on its horizons than securing its fantasies of what the Tridentine liturgy must have been like

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I read recently the Tridentine liturgy should essentially not be reformed. Or, if it is to be reformed, the reform must follow all previous reforms of said liturgy and be the result of a slow and organic process. I can only wonder if the author has any genuine appreciation of the reforms of Pius X and Pius XII and how very un-organic they were. I never understood this particular bout of cognitive dissonance.
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The myth of the organic development of the liturgy has to go - it has accomplished little more than a solidification of the paranoia held in some sectors of the Roman Church concerning the liturgical reform, not to mention a smug self satisfaction. Worse still, it ignores a very concrete historical process (the development and modification of liturgical rites and books), disembodying it as some ethereal motion, for which no hard historical data can attest.

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The Roman liturgy has been reformed. There is no disputing this, nor is there any real likelihood of reversing its direction. Whatever further reform of the Roman liturgy comes along, it will use the liturgy codified by Paul VI as its template. The monastic orders have already done this, especially the Carthusians.
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There can be innumerable scholarly discussions on the Roman liturgy and the reforms of the 20th century. There can be millions of propositions of the avenue future reform ought to follow. At some point, things have to get concrete; they have to redolent with the real and live very much in the world as it is, not how anyone romanticizes it to be. Which is to say, the restoration of the Latin liturgy will not be compromised of dramatic restorations of old liturgies or the spontaneous celebration of rites that now seem like an alien world to the majority of a religion's adherents. Rather, it will come from taking the existing template and utilizing all of the (neglected) tools available. It will involve exploring the corpus of restored hymns for monastic liturgies and seeing what can be done in the parish setting. It may indeed involve some general rediscovery of Latin on a limited basis. If all goes well, it will come from a rediscovery of the liturgy (without fetishization of a particular Missal) as the rhythm of the cycle of life.

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The hallmark of a morally upright liturgist, whatever end of the spectrum, is the ability to be fully cognizant of his or preferences while having the ability to realize said preferences may very well not contribute much to the greater or nor be practically sustainable.