Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Baying of Hounds

I am, as mentioned elsewhere, despite my current ecclesiastical affiliation, heavily biased towards the Order of Preachers. The Dominican Order has, for a multitude of reasons, ensconced itself in my mind as something admirable, as an exemplar, in spite of Timorthy Radcliff's tenure as Master General, of a corner of the Roman Church that retained sight of its charism and corresponding tradition.

There is a fair bit of romanticism in this sentiment. The Dominican liturgical tradition is in a delicate state. The order has its own proper hymns, antiphonal and occasional offices built onto the modern Roman Rite. For the most part, its venerable liturgy has fallen into obscurity, given occasional use by the Western province and largely unknown to the majority of the order. One can also hardly ignore that a Dominican paved the way for much of the post-modern deconstruction in the Roman Church and the order is not without some questionable interpretations of its charism and tradition today. Yet, all things considered, my interaction with the order was always healthy.

Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle holds a very special place in my heart, if only because the lure of nostalgia is always most powerful in its pull after one has had the sobering encounter with hindsight. While in the Pacific Northwest, there was only the most vague interest in Biblical Studies and my languages were limited to Italian and extremely elementary Latin. There was an increasing interest in early Christian origins and the desire to comprehend the religion of my baptism, particularly the discrepancy between the pre-modern and post modern expressions of it.

Reconciling the discrepancy between pre and post-Vatican II Catholicism proved then as it does now - utterly elusive. At that time, however, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle provided an oasis. The theology was sound, the spirituality was redolent with the Dominican tradition, and the liturgy was typically the better interpretation of the new rites. It was bitter sweet; there was little to no inclination to labor for the full restoration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy and there was no denial that we found ourselves in the modern age. The Dominicans adapted  as much as they could, although one still wonders is it a matter of adapting modernity to Catholicism or Catholicism to modernity, or a combination of both. Whatever it was, it succeeded in cultivate a coherent point of spiritual reference and religious praxis.

There are those who would argue that revisiting Latin Christianity after having migrated to Orthodoxy is useless. Hence, waxing nostalgic over the portion of my life in the Roman Church is a waste of time. I would argue that such a position is uninformed and may or may not be demonstrative of something that may be loosely termed spiritual schizophrenia, or perhaps psychic disintegration.

It is advisable to be suspicious of anyone who has a marked vituperation for his or her previous religious affiliation. True, hagiography more often than not celebrates such violent disavowal of one's past. In this respect, vintage hagiography closely resembles the high grid identity and exclusive community found in cults and extreme sectarian groups. In such cases, we would readily identify the psychological abnormalities present in group a's control of its adherents and the adherents' willingness to suspend normal behavior and judgment in favor of maintaining the group identity.

There is occasionally a similar phenomenon among persons who migrate between the mainline branches of Christianity. We can theorize that this phenomenon stems from Christianity's exclusivist claims and is compounded by the traditional exclusivist ecclesiology in most Christian bodies. It is not merely sufficient to affirm one's belief in Jesus as "the way, the truth and the life." One is forced to go a step further and then identify which particular way, truth and life as represented in various ecclesiastical bodies, most of whom put themselves out there as "the one true church," and bolster their claims with a spotty reading of early Christian history and sources.

One cannot dissever oneself from one's past religious affiliation without developing a neurosis which will play itself out in the context of one's new religious affiliation. The latent Manicheism in some of Augustine's major works is a prime example of this point.

The challenge is not to disavow one's prior religious affiliation. Rather, the challenge is to accept that one's prior religious identification played a formative part in one's being, provided crucial experience and perspective, and, oddly enough, facilitated your development into your current affiliation. There are of course outliers to this. Persons who typically have no religious experience to speak of in their prior religion are often more prone to vituperation towards it when they leave. Additionally, there are times when the development of a one's former religion necessarily forces a reevaluation of one's affiliation and possibly a migration to another religious body. Finally, there are those who leave a religion solely for reactionary reasons - those persons typically find themselves in a terrible disposition when the quality or precept they previously believed was only in their previous church or religion manifests itself in the church or religion they sought shelter in.

Anyone with a healthy psyche should be expected to recollect positive experience from his or her previous religious affiliation. It is natural, it is healthy. Conversely, he or she must also be fully connected with his or her present context and the reasons for making the change and persisting with it.

Until about six years ago, I used to own and heavily use a copy of the Dominican Breviary. Those books are long gone, lost in a move and likely never to be replaced. Simply put, family obligations and responsible budgeting excludes any possibility of investing in those books. But for a number of years (after a member of the order kindly gave me the set that is now God-knows-where-across-the- USA) I devotedly recited that office. As I recall,the Dominican office was superior  to the Roman in most respects and I found its structure highly intuitive - it just made the most sense of any breviary I had used. Six years on from discovering the volumes had vanished and that I was in no position to acquire them again, I cannot help but think fondly of that office and the exquisite rhythm of prayer therein, to the point that, whatever my corporate affiliation, I have determined I would immediately take up the practice of reciting that office again should the opportunity ever present itself. Why? Plainly, it was the desire to find a corporate affiliation that best reflected the perception of reality in those venerable volumes that contributed to my later decisions. Herein, there will always be, however faintly, the baying of the hounds of Lord echoing up from the valleys left behind amid the journey.

....And for this, no matter what my affiliation is or will be, I am grateful and boisterously proud


  1. I found this a very helpful, balanced and insightful comment on the problem or challenge of religious evolution or change, as well as one which prompts me to moderate somewhat a couple of my views or perspectives. It is certainly one I would recommend generally.

    1. Thank you. You are very kind in your estimation. I hope this post resonates with others. We'll see...

    2. Thank you. You are very kind in your estimation. I hope this post resonates with others. We'll see...