Monday, September 28, 2015

The Holy Art of the Sacred Book (future Schuyler KJV)

Schuyler has recently posted some preview images of a possible new edition of the KJV via Facebook. They're looking for feedback

I like Schuyler. There are very few publishers of this caliber out there, and the KJV (monument of the English language that it is) merits such a publication effort.

Some initial thoughts.

The red highlights are well done, and appear (to my monitor) to be of a more subtle variety. The art typeface at the beginning of the chapter or psalm is especially nice. I would suggest adding the same red shade to the art lettering. This would give it an iconic look. It's a feature I found in the latest editions of the Italian Bible produced by the CEI. 

The paragraph markers, though conventional for the KJV, distract from an otherwise attractive page layout - I personally would like to see them expunged, or at least a variant edition without them.

The psalms have been confirmed to be single column. Deo gratias! The single column format is absolutely preferred for the Psalms and profoundly complementary for prayer or worship.

We'll see how this shapes up - hopefully, this is just a proposal. The KJV has a wide base, including the Orthodox Church for liturgical use. There should be a fairly large audience for this when it drops.

Speaking of which, the 2nd edition of the Quentel ESV is in stock. You can order it here. The Quentel ESV took the market by storm earlier this year - you'll be hard pressed to find a negative word about it.

Finally, the Caxton NLT is nearly here - the shipment is close to arriving at Schuyler's facility. 

The Offer You Can't Refuse (the Secular World)

Every so often Christians of various stripes laud the virtues of Christianity in contrast to the secular world. This is not exclusive to conservative types; it is a tendency as well placed among liberals as conservatives, even among those left leaning in the Roman Church.

There is no escaping it. When the opportunity arises, Christianity will invariably go on the attach against secularism, even when such offensive voices are normally the first in line to propose jettisoning Tradition.

This is especially true when the defense is not so much Christianity itself, but the Church in particular. In these instances, the line of reasoning is particularly Manichean. The secular world is portrayed as cruel and abusive, fixated upon class and hierarchy, where people are valued only for the most shallow criteria or based on worldly merits. The Church, even among liberals, is a bastion of equality, where people are valued for their intrinsic worth (in virtue of being made in the image and likeness of God), and there is no competition, and everyone lives in a society built not upon a systems of wants, law, and punishment, but upon God's love.

The saccharine undertones of this reasoning ought to tell you something is up. Invariably, there is, not the least of which is the anachronism of reading ideas that came out of the enlightenment and the birth of the secular world into the New Testament and subsequent Christian history. No doubt, Christianity espouses some such principals, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking these principles were clearly enunciated from Christianity's origins.

The tendency to ignore how much the secular world has bequeathed its values to the Church, such that some of these values are taken as "a given," demonstrates a sort of willful ignorance on the part of the church-affiliated persons. In place of sobering fact which suggests the Church is not a virtuous alternative to the secular world, certain persons would rather carry on with a post-modern quasi-religious myth in which the Church perpetually alleviates the pain put upon the human family at the hands of secularism.

This notion is not only false, but it is a truly inadequate response to the challenges posed by increased, and unyielding, secularization. While such a (self deceptive) narrative may bolster the camaraderie and commitment among religious adherents, it does not enable the Church to begin to adequately comprehend why (in the Western World) the secular experiment has been so successful in capturing the imagination of masses and defining their world view.

I believe it was Charles Taylor who suggested that this current system did not necessarily have to be. There was nothing about previous eras that concluded this current course was the only possible development. Nevertheless, this is the system we have and there is no real indication that it is going away. True , the non-Western world is growing more pronounced in its resistance, however, in the West, secularism is the presumptive interpretive lens coloring most every one's worldview.

Christianity, particularly any group claiming to be "the Church" needs to propose and honestly investigate two questions if it ever hopes to wrap its mind around secularism in the West. First, what does secularism offer that "the Church" or church association fails to offer? What, if any, need in the human psyche does secularism address that established churches fail to do? Second, and intimately related to the first, what can "the Church" offer that secularism does not? Can it indeed offer something capable of displacing the dominant cultural paradigm?

The quality of the answers will range from very concrete to entirely nebulous. Such would be quite appropriate. When one discusses the dominance of cultural paradigms, one invariably begins to touch upon the more intangible qualities of human life; there are reasons for accepting or rejecting a cultural paradigm that exceed the limits of quantitative analysis. Yet, the intangible elements do not pose the primary difficulty established churches will face when attempting to answer either question. In large part, the primary difficulty is one of perspective. It is difficult, but not impossible, to extract oneself from a paradigm one has received as one's own, whether consciously or unconsciously. The degree that mainline churches read secularism's values into the Christian narrative reflects the degree to which they are enmeshed into the very secularism for which they often struggle to offer a counter-proposal. This is further complicated when the secular world trumps "the Church" in following through on some of these same values.

Proposing a comprehensive solution is not something that will done here. There are however a few points worth reflecting upon.

Any proposal must consider the types of spiritualities and religious movements exerting "pull" in the West. Traditionally non-Western religions, new age/occultism, contemporary analytical and Jungian psychology, and a general popular paganism are all movements vying for a place in the spiritual market. Notable features among all these categories include more precisely defined precepts for observance and a blunt mysticism, relatively untamed by contemporary cultural attitudes.

Perhaps more relevant for established churches is the diffusion of evangelical churches. Evangelical Christianity has literally picked up the remnants left behind by the established churches, entering into the areas abandoned by the established churches and picking up numerous converts among the disaffected members of these churches. Evangelical Christianity often offers its members an intense mystical experience built upon the firmly situated belief in the radical access to God. The extremely high mystical experience is complemented by tight community bonds forged by the experience of adopting a religion that deliberately chooses an open counter-cultural stance on a host of cultural issues.

Undoubtedly, there are other issues that negatively impact the established churches, however, an unfettered mysticism and strong community bonds among coreligionists appear as two major traits defining the various religious movements gaining traction in the West. These are not the only traits, they are however two that make themselves readily apparent. Furthermore, this does not take into account the situation of Orthodox Christianity in traditionally non-Orthodox lands, something that appears to vary between the Americas and Europe. Yet, these two issues remain a good starting point for consideration.

The problem is that community and spirituality/mysticism have been under consideration in established churches for the better part of the last forty or fifty years and the results have been negligible. There is no room to go into all of the details. It suffices to say that there are numerous publications and workshops and even concrete action plans dedicated to these areas, yet somehow there appears to be little in the way of tangible results. Far from demonstrating that either element is inconsequential, the failure to yield sufficient returns demonstrates the problem with the whole approach undertaken by established churches.

Community has been pursued by a range of "welcome initiatives" and socialization events. More often than not, the liturgy functions as the play ground for such theories. From assigned greeters to community building exercises held in the midst of the liturgy itself, there is a dominant assumption that the liturgy is the venue during which community building should in fact take place. Furthermore, there is a presumption that community is build through words and gestures proscribed by an authority in said community. Such approaches, however, are hindered by the sheer artificiality compared to how we actually establish relationships in the "real world," and the direct correspondence to similar exercises in the workplace or education environment. The end result is a "community" devoid of genuine socialization and relationship building and bearing the same connotations of such associations as work and academy.

The risk should be readily apparent. If religion evokes the same connotations as one's associations for employment or education, it will be treated similarly. The church community itself becomes functional only, lacking the intimate associations we would normally see among family or friends. Indeed, that is the main issue. A religion only survives and is propagated to another generation if the intimacy and, dare we say, intensity of the relationship mirrors that of family and friends. These are relationships that can be variously instinctual or born through a long, gradual, and typically uncontrolled process. The relationships built in the church community require a similar quality. In the case of evangelicals, the impetus for such quality is provided by the concrete decision to pursue a church community that is at various points contrary to both established churches and the dominant culture. There is a sense of "we're all in this together" propelling the establishment of fellowship and bonding. The contrary stance is the pointed mission of the community and the mission serves to reinforce the community's identity and complement it with a sense of urgency. This is not a tame "to love the Lord and be a faithful Catholic Christian community through the Eucharist" parish mission statement.

There something all too suburban and sedated in the average parish mission, something all too easy to brush off. Conversely, evangelicals have a mission resounding in gravitas that demands a response. The mission often extends to concrete support systems among members, typically helping other members fulfill open needs. Jehovah's Witnesses have made strides among the Latino community in the US by supplying immigrants with cars and employment. This is achieved by their community allocating all of its genuinely human resources together to help the individual - this is not the prosperity gospel. In truth, the Catholic Church used to excel in this area, constructing an entirely alternative community for its people to meet their needs. This structure was hit hard soon after Rome opened up the possibility of assimilating modernity and the modern socio-political state.

The intense mysticism or spirituality equates to unmediated access to God within evangelical Christianity. There are some unique aspects of this that need appreciation. Spirituality or mysticism is treated as a living fact or phenomenon, as something entirely active. It is not relegated to academic study or confined to theoretical treatises. It is a very real experience and, more importantly in our age when self realization and Jungian psychology are themselves major areas of "secular spirituality", thoroughly transformative. This is perhaps the most allusive aspect of evangelical Christianity that established churches often struggle to assimilate. Evangelical Christianity bases itself not the only the concept, but indeed the real action of transformative experience as a result from direct access to the Christian God. It is a religious phenomenon among evangelical circles, one that is both cultivated by the community association and profoundly interior and independent of traditional Christian sacramentalism. It is not a passive study of Mystical texts from the patristic or Medieval eras, nor is it filtered through contemporary psychology to the point of irrelevance. It is a lived experience believed to produce tangible results in one's way of life, mental and emotional states, and worldview. To the degree that it succeeds effects change, it is a phenomenon that as elusive as it is to established churches is one that many would wish to have among their members with some modification. If indeed it is true, if in fact there is a genuine transformation of the person, it fulfills one of the most ancient promises made by religion to the believer.

These are brief considerations. Any thorough analysis of secularism and its impact on established churches in the West would be, by necessity, substantially longer. It should however be enough to begin illustrating the point: there are ways in which religion or the more uncommitted spiritualities can in fact gain traction and experience growth in the secular world. To do so requires an honest assessment of secularism and what it offers. It also requires established churches to honestly admit how enmeshed mainline Christianity is in the secular world - which may well prove to be the most challenging task at hand.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Spectacle

It was nearly impossible to avoid being caught up in the coverage of Pope Francis landing in Washington, DC. The media swarmed to the event. The glamour and seeming adoration that flanked John Paul II during the peak of his years (and somehow avoided Benedict XVI through the duration of his papacy) flanked every step of Papa Francesco as he limped (bad hip!) in the company of the President of the United States.

The pundits who must have grown up on images of John Paul II greeted Francis with a familiar appellation, "the people's pope." Did it strike them that something was missing? It was hard not to think back of those now iconic images of the same John Paul II kneeling to kiss the ground of every country he landed on.

One sees the stark images of those white robes against the backdrop of Western dress fit for dignitaries and heads of state, one hears the cheers of the crowd and the undertones of adoration in the press coverage (one anchor referred to him as "His Holiness"), and it becomes impossible to find one's way out of the spectacle of papal pageantry. There are even a few moments at which the thought may pass, either conscious or unconscious, that regardless how far the West goes away from its roots, this man, this office, remains the conscience of the West. This man, this office, remains the embodiment of whatever is left of the West's religious soul. The papacy has that much weight in the Western world.

Francis is another pope of spectacle and splendor. Perhaps not the geopolitical titan like John Paul II, and equally not the nearly universal focus of adulation and identity as Pius XII. Nevertheless, he is reviving the modern papacy's potency as a political power-broker and personality cult. Francis puts Benedict's papacy in sweet relief; Josef Ratzinger was quite content to let the papacy fade from view in favor of Catholicism itself, focusing primarily on bringing liturgy and doctrine to the foreground. In a media saturated society, this approach proved to engender hostility, the magnetism of a charismatic figure being preferred to the precepts of a religion itself.

The upcoming general Synod and all of his political and ecclesiastical maneuvers remain in the background of the live footage of Francis walking upon US soil. For the time being, there they will remain. Watching the man in action, one has little doubt of the genuine nature of his empathy and the sincerity of his convictions surrounding his role and his place at this particular moment in time. His charisma resides in his very human quality (as opposed to the larger than life personality of John Paul II and the ascetic, almost mystical, aura which Pius XII cultivated for himself).

Francis' humanity is his gift- this is how he plays to the crowd and why the crowd loves to respond. He is not a conniving iconoclast dead set on razing what is left of Catholicism's edifice. He very much believes in the themes that have come to mark his papacy. The man must be understood in his context. He is very much the product of the theology, ecclesiology and spirituality that took root in the Roman Church after Vatican II. He reflects, then, what is arguably the archetypal fulfillment of everything that council produced. For well or ill, it is a reduction of 2000 years of theology and the study of the soul and spirit into social service and an overuse of the word "love" as a synonym for "God," such that both words have lost the force of their meaning.

If one wondered whether Vatican II would ever fade from view, one need only view the spectacle of this papacy. For the time being, this council and the paradigm shift it brought remains the new orthodoxy and now as it was then, it is nearly impossible to breakout of that paradigm and retain any relevance to the larger Roman body. Any appeal to pre-modern thought garners perplexed glances at best, thorough suspicion at worst.

Francis' popularity highlights how daunting it will be for anyone who rejects this particular manifestation of Catholicism to refuse and resist. Practically speaking, where does one turn? The satisfaction with the spectacle is so diffused, one will find it impossible to find many sympathetic ears. One's rejection of it will be seen as a deficiency and whatever legitimacy is present will be largely ignored.

This is where the Western Tradition has come to rest, with the will of one man who, through either an accident of history or series of ecclesiological blunders in the 19th century, has come to wield previously unknown influence over it.

Ratzinger's papacy wasn't popular. It was, however, one of the more healthy exercises of said office - he was only a ubiquitous presence to those who had an unhealthy obsession with him.

For now, this is the spectacle.  In the midst of all the splendor, one wonders how much substance is lost.

Ildefonso Schuster, Virgil Michel, and Modernity

I seldom find much worth noting on a once considerable e-hub for liturgical discussion, however this quote from Ildefonso Schuster is well worth noting,

"Chiudo gli occhi, e mentre le labbra mormorano le parole del breviario che conosco a memoria, io abbandono il loro significato letterale, per sentirmi nella landa sterminata per dove passa la Chiesa pellegrina e militante, in cammino verso la patria promessa. Respiro con la Chiesa nella stessa sua luce, di giorno, nelle sue stesse tenebre, di notte; scorgo da ogni parte le schiere del male che l'insidiano o l'assaltano; mi trovo in mezzo alle sue battaglie e alle sue vittorie, alle sue preghiere d'angoscia e ai suoi canti trionfali, all'oppressione dei prigionieri, ai gemiti dei moribondi, alle esultanze degli eserciti e dei capitani vittoriosi. Mi trovo in mezzo: ma non come spettatore passivo, bensì come attore la cui vigilanza, destrezza, forza e coraggio possono avere un peso decisivo sulle sorti della lotta tra il bene e il male e sui destini eterni dei singoli e della moltitudine.”
I am not entirely confident about framing this as a "commentary" on the effect of praying the office itself. In all truth, without factoring in his biographical context nor the literary context, the Breviary is more the McGuffin - life in the Church is more the plot point.

Anytime a figure from the liturgical movement is mentioned, one necessarily has to wonder how many of the dominant personas envisioned the reform of the Roman liturgy promulgated in 1970 and the sweeping consequences it would have across Latin Christianity. Without falling into the trap of trying to separate out an authentic or "real" liturgical movement or, worse yet, papal approved (weren't they all?) from an imposture, one cannot ignore that the movement eventually found itself facilitating every sort of deconstructionist tendency in late modernity.

In liturgical studies, as with other facets of theology and other areas of intellectual life, there were numerous subtle currents heading in the direction of deconstructionism worthy of Derreda. Ultimately, Vatican II's attempt at reconciling with modernity proved to facilitate the near total absorption of such tendencies. As such, it is impossible to avoid the sharp contrasts in worldview and liturgical theory between someone like Schuster or Virgil Michel and their successors, someone along the lines of Jungmann or Bugnini. Whatever points of departure Schuster or Michel had from Catholicism's classic medieval worldview and corresponding (rich) spirituality, neither man lived to see the total assimilation of modernity or live and breathe in such a context.

Perhaps it is disparaging to the legacy of both men to suggest as much. Yet, both men (among others) are roundly considered foundational pillars of a school of modern liturgics that avoids coherence with the Latin Tradition and prefers keeping pace with current sociological trends. Perhaps they are considered outdated or even quaint, subject to self-imposed limitations, but they are invariably considered part of the modern canon.

Yet, labeling either man as "modern" may well be overreaching. Both men clearly broke away from stale "Tridentine" liturgics and, so far as I've been able to determine, advocated for a liturgical praxis (not necessarily a re-ordering of the Missale Romanum) that called to mind earlier periods of liturgical celebration.

So where does someone like Schuster fit? A modern? Perhaps, but can we really see a contemporary liturgist speaking in such terms? A pre-modern Traditionalist? Perhaps, but his liturgical vision was substantially richer than much of what came about as a legacy of Trent.

The allure of someone like Schuster is that one can only conclude, if one is honest, that his vision was a blessed accident of history. His intellectual prowess provided the means of communicating a liturgical theology (maybe even spirituality) that outshone the manualist tendencies borne from neo-scholasticism. He was, thankfully, spared from exercising such prowess during the great compromise with modernity - God only know what his theory would have turned into had this not been the case.

It remains to be seen when and if his vision can be retrieved from the annals of history and if its reality can ever be rediscovered.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Allusive Quality of the Sacred

What I would give to find a church or a monastery chanting this introit at the beginning of Advent!

Yes, it is still some time away, but the Advent period contains some of the most notable liturgical pieces in the Latin liturgy, past or present.

Ad te levavi animam meam has a nearly perennial status. It is hard to imagine another set of words capable of beginning the liturgical year. There is a certain indescribable quality that makes this piece, whether chanted or spoken, suitable for the place enshrined for it by the Tradition. As a testament to its hallowed status, even the liturgical reform dared not remove it.

The words, whether chanted or spoken, evoke the longing for the supernatural, the eternal. If one is in the Western context (or northern latitudes) the words acquire additional poignancy, chanted as they are in the midst of the darkest weeks of the year. There is almost a sense of one's soul reaching out beyond the darkness surrounding it towards divine eternity.

There is a quality to the sacred that defies every mode of theological, philosophical, and (dare we say) scientific inquiry. Indeed, Pseudo Dionysius explicated it best - there is a point at which the divine defies every form of affirmative description, every manner of quantifiable and qualifiable demand. There is something so primordial in Ad te levavi, perhaps because it points one towards a journey (that of the soul to God) which dwarfs the span of natural life and the boundaries of physical existence. Perhaps because these are words at the beginning of the eternal magnum mysterium.

Monday, September 14, 2015


The Ordo Cantus Officii is here.


Pray Tell had a quick write up about the release, as well as the complex back story behind its publication. 

The office ought to be chanted and any resources that potentially facilitate such a development are always welcome, regardless of the breviary one prefers.

Like most of the Latin editions out there (of either the modern Roman rite or Monastic sources), this will likely be a rare sight "in the wild," property to a small group of liturgically concerned parties.

Truth be told, chanting of the office rides heavily on the successful publication of a new Antiphonale Romanum, a project that has been backlogged for a while now. Volume II of the Antiphonale saw publication in 2010. The reviews have been consistently positive - indeed, it looks like a wonderful edition

This particular volume covers chants for Vespers on Sundays and Feasts. 

Antiphonale Romanum Vol II

You can order your copy here

Friday, September 11, 2015

Salt of the Earth

Fr. Chadwick does me the honor of writing a post in response to my previous entry. I always appreciate Fr. Chadwick's blog - there is an erudition, depth of thought, and genuine human sensitivity one doesn't find often in the open exchange of ideas.

One observation genuinely resonated with me:

When Pope Francis goes the way of all of us, who knows?Cardinal Burke for Pope! I don’t think so. What the Church needs is not conservatism but vision. Benedict XVI had it, but he was unable to translate it into terms that would be understood by ordinary folk and priests brought up on slops since the 1970’s and earlier in some places.

I am part of that group that spent roughly the last decade of John Pail II's pontificate hoping one day Ratzinger would walk out on that balcony of St. Peters to the words "habemus papam!"

That day came and by the mid point of his papacy it seemed everything happened that ought not to have happened. As Fr. Chadwick notes, Ratzinger was not and is not a conservative. He is a German Romantic with a theological, liturgical, ecclesiological and cultural vision. The vision proved too complex for his mass conservative fan base and liberal detractors to understand, marked as it was with intellectual rigor, precision, and subtlety. Needless to say, it never translated well in age where mass communication necessitates compressing content into readily accessible messaging and messaging is more often than not used to manipulate public opinion.

At the time, it was tempting to accuse Ratzinger of banal restorationism. I am roundly guilty of having done this. Amid the throng of conservatives presenting Ratzinger as their ideology finally come to power, it was easy to forget the content of his vision.

There remains speculation as to why Benedict resigned. Whatever the reason, his supporters and detractors failed to understand the vision he had for the Roman Church and the content was translated into a torrid parody of the real thing. Is it because Ratzinger himself wasn't able to aptly communicate it to a mass religion? Perhaps, or perhaps more accurately he failed to understand that mass religions are scarcely the forum for complexity or subtlety, prone as most humans are to immediately bifurcated thinking.

This is part of the reason his pontificate failed. Another factor was his insistence in calling crisis of belief and culture for what it is. Ratzinger was never a proponent of the forced optimism of Vatican II and I'm not sure he was particularly keen on a new springtime of the faith or new Pentecost. For those who could comprehend his mind, Ratzinger's vision did not suffer delusional optimism well.

Further to the above, his vision of a leaner but more committed Catholicism positively terrified much of his hierarchy. It frankly did not translate well for people who cannot conceive of a Christianity that survives by working around the system, not as part of the system. Those same persons have found tremendous comfort in recent years.

Under the present pontificate, the Roman Church has a crowd pleaser and everyone can ignore both the decline of their religion and the radical opposition of their host culture to it. Those who accused Ratzinger of pessimism can rekindle their fantasy of Church once again relevant to the West, and throw up their hands in befuddlement when the march of secularization continues to eviscerate their religion despite whatever compromises may or may not come.

Ultimately, Ratzinger's idea of a leaner Roman Church, unencumbered by the institutional girth so much of the episcopacy is grasping to retain, will be a reality. The difference is, with Ratzinger it would have been a proactive decision. The current trend increasingly makes the likely future a consequence of events, rather than an exercise of reason and will.

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit. --- Alcuin of Tours

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Brief (Very Brief) History of Practical Liturgics

Note: What you are about to read is an unfinished post. I began this and frankly found myself disinterested in following it to its conclusions. Having hammered out a good chunk of it, it seemed best to publish it rather than let it sit in draft form perpetually.

Liturgical studies is a curious field with a myriad of manifestations. You have your mainline academic scholarship with its increasing reliance on sociology, cultural anthropology, gender theory, etc. You have, typically in Europe (and more than a few times buried in the halls of the Vatican), a subset devoted to amassing an almost encyclopedic knowledge of some of the most arcane pieces of liturgical history. Sometimes this group crawls out of the shadows and discusses how a particular piece found its way into the modern Roman liturgy. You have your ecclesiastical liturgists, those concerned largely with liturgy in its ritual setting. Then you have the area of practical liturgical studies, that is, the subversion of all of the aforementioned into allegedly immediate concerns. It is this group that has made its presence felt on the Internet and, for the most part, takes up the majority of the space in the open commerce of ideas.

More accessible to the layman and better suited to get boisterous discussion going, the practical or popular liturgical studies movement has made its mark. It was this movement that put some wheels on the "reform of the reform," made Josef Ratzinger's liturgical writings an unavoidable reference point, and ultimately galvanized a series of publishing projects one wouldn't have thought possible only 20 years ago.

And then things kind of stopped. A hard, sudden stop. And there doesn't seem to be much sense of direction.

Sometimes it easier to have a focus when you initially get off the ground. Practical or popular liturgical studies initially had very manifest goals. Starting with the late Helen Hitchcock's Adoremus Bulletin, the field set its sights on some immediate targets: adherence to liturgical norms, translation issues, restoration of sacred music, etc. Among a younger generation, it eventually incorporated Reform of the Reform ideas and a restoration of the 1962 Missal.

Results were achieved (or perhaps merely witnessed), though somewhat mixed. A new translation was published. There has been more press concerning sacred music, in particular chant, and perhaps even more overall interest - although this may have had as much to do with the succession of chant themed music releases over the last decade and a half. And of course, Summorum Pontificum.

Popular Liturgiology or practical liturgics (whatever you wish to call it) has wandered aimlessly after living to see some major events. It seems the field is tired and cliche`, lacking the excitement of the mid-late 90s and the sense of purpose of the early 2000s.

Part of the problem was the shift that occurred as the 2000s has worn on. What began as movement invested in curbing the mediocre celebration of the modern Latin liturgy and diving headlong into said liturgy became sidetracked by the Missal of 1962. The Missale Romanum of 1962 became a totem object, fetishized as the height of liturgical expression in the Latin Church. In the process of this festishization, there was a concerted attempt to "revive" what was imagined to be the Catholic culture of the 1950s and 1960s (forgetting that the 1920s, 30s, and 40s were far more interesting). It soon became a mess of things taken totally out of context, selective readings, and a growing arrogance towards anyone who failed to see the necessity of restoring the former missal and its trappings.

The arrogance had little to do with sound scholarship (as if that would make it acceptable) and more to do with the particular religious imagination of a subset of people being drawn to the topic. Thus, the debatable work of Christine Morhmann took on pride of place along with those of other scholars who fed their religious imagination. Works of the same scholars that did not feed the beast were typically ignored. Even their beloved Pope Ratzinger was heavily edited until he sounded exactly like one of them.

The end result was the popular liturgics had become a narcissistic little liturgy cult, so self referential that anything that could not be used to feed the imagination and further their particular narrative was discarded.

Sound linguistics on the nature of the Latin language was ignored in favor of a contrived tale of the origins of Christian Latin. Impeccable research on the history of the Latin liturgy or studies into the modern Latin liturgy (so few spent time with Johnson and Ward's work) was practically non-existent in their reference libraries. And somehow, somehow, many of them missed the point of Hull's The Banished Heart.

One can only wonder what comes next. This is a question of pivotal interest as the future of the Latin tradition rests in its answer. Practical liturgics has run along side the liturgical and ecclesiological currents in the Latin Church. From its origins in the effort to see a new translation of the Missale Romanum promulgated and see a line-by-line celebration of the liturgy missal to the present, this at times unconventional subset of liturgical studies has variously depend liturgical appreciation and ecclesiological divide.

Post script: There was a time when what I call practical liturgics had a certain creative energy, a sense of purpose, and indeed a sense of fun. Despite my bias for the old liturgy, this was during the period where most efforts were geared towards re-translating the modern Roman Rite and/or re-integrating the Latin language into the liturgical setting. When the focus eventually shifted on restoring the missal of 1962 and the Church they (a generation that hadn't even been born at the time) imagined existed, the whole thing simply devolved. When the paradigm shifted from recovering the sacred via the enforce liturgical books, to pretensions of a "new liturgical movement", the whole thing became a self referential narcissistic liturgy club. Great scholarship was ignored in favor of filling an ideological narrative and the only opinion permitted was that which supported their little dictatorships.

The old liturgy (whatever version of it you prefer) was done a tremendous disservice by such a clumsy attempt at restoration. I am willing to state publicly what more than a few readers have communicated to me privately, this grotesque parody of the Western tradition made the modern Latin liturgy a far more attractive option than it had been previously.

So perhaps it is only fitting that things seem to be coming full circle. There is more discussion about restoring chant in the modern Roman Rite and increasing interest in the present day liturgical practice (and books) of the monastic orders. Perhaps practical liturgics is returning to form and leaving the charade of restorationism behind. Unfortunately, the classical Latin liturgy will be undesirable casualty of this - it will be herculean task to salvage the old Latin liturgy from self referential ecclesiology and shoddy historical perspective.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"There's a'do'ins a'transpirin'!" A national Orthodox Hierarchy in the U.S., and Secularization Breaking Down the Ethnic Walls.

Note: "There's a'do'ins a'transpirin'" is apparently NOT a phrase actually used in the Southern United States. This having been noted, it seems to mesh well with a southern drawl.

Two points of interest that came my way, one of which may or may not be public knowledge and was relayed to me by a first hand account.

Patriarch Bartholomew allegedly exhorted Greek and other Metropolitans in the US to get the gears moving on establishing a single Orthodox Hierarchy in the US at his recent gathering in Constantinople...or Istanbul. This account comes from one of the people who claims to have attended the meeting and I personally cannot vouch for the accuracy. An interesting bit (if true) is that Bartholomew eschewed the idea of a national hierarchy divided up on ethnic lines. Presently, such a division has been a common working model among American Orthodox "in the know", thereby allowing for the preservation of Greek, Antiochian, Ukrainian, Russian, etc., ethnic identity, parishes, and property. If true, it would indicate Bartholomew is hedging towards a non-ethnic module for the United States.

Three points to consider:

Will there be a patriarch of America?

If this rumor is in fact true, is Bartholomew attempting to cut the knees out from under Moscow? Moscow has had an intrinsic role in establishing Orthodoxy in the United States.

Finally, all of the other patriarchs talk a good game about the canons and the tradition and how there needs to be a single American Orthodox church and hierarchy, but, really, which one of those guys in the old country is going to want to see their cash-cow in diaspora start wandering off west? I'll own up to my cynicism here: there is no real interest on the part of the old country to see the cash-cows of the diaspora unite into a single national church and turn off the financial flow back east.

Meanwhile, the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States is attempting to come to grips with secularization, recently appealing to laity to help them understand the trends that are leading to a decline in the sacraments. Perhaps more than any other branch of Orthodoxy, the Greeks go out of their way to cultivate an ethnic church that repels interest from anyone without said ancestry. Yet, the Greek archdiocese notes that a full 60% of its marriages involve someone who is non-Greek and/or non-Orthodox.

Orthodoxy, much to the consternation of Schmemann, has carved itself out a niche as the mystics church. Whatever it has to say with regards to theology and the practical Christian life is secondary to the perception that it is awash in mysticism, compared to the overly moralist or intellectualized Western branches. Orthodoxy runs into a wall when the appeal of its mysticism/spirituality meets the tendency of Orthodox Church to default into an ethnic enclave. One is forced to tolerate ethnic pep-rallies masquerading as sermons and church mission and the subtle alienation such a focus has on persons outside of the ethnos.

Ethnic identity can give a demographic boost - Antioch is benefiting from the flux of Arabs coming to the US. However, eventually ethnic identity dries up. Orthodoxy has benefited from the curiosity of Westerners looking for an alternative to Western Christianity, which has been battered by siding too often with the political right, cultivating an anti-liturgical mentality, succumbing to nominalism, materialism, and practically rejecting the supernatural. Orthodoxy offers an alternative, real or imagined, from the woes that have become almost endemic to Latin Christianity and its Reformation based offshoots. Whatever truth there is to this is muted by a few factors, one of which is that for Orthodoxy to become an integral Christian Church in the West, it must become Western, in so far as it must be able to integrate itself to the non-ethnics.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife - Why it Matters

A reader pointedly questioned why the fuss over a Coptic fragment that may or may not have mentioned Jesus having a wife, presumably Mary Magdalene.


1) Historical criticism and manuscript studies aren't going away. The 20th century was marked by achievements in both fields, such that their value has been demonstrated. One gaff doesn't invalidate either discipline and we will likely find another manuscript haul that sheds more light on the context of early Christianity.

2) The body of extant evidence implies our picture of the earliest centuries of Christianity is incomplete. Plainly, in the process of forming a coherent religion, much of was removed and some traditions that pre-date the definition of orthodox Christianity were lost. The actual content of the early Christian kergyma, the diversity of churches in the early centuries, these things are coming more into focus and the emerging picture is one of a religion we might only vaguely recognize.

3) It is the business of scholarship at work. If a forgery, the fragment raises questions about the methods for acquiring ancient manuscripts employed since the dust settled on the Dead Sea Scroll and Nag Hammadi codices. It also raises questions about what, if any, ideological bent is guiding the scientific research into early Christianity at some of our leading universities. By all accounts this should have been flagged early on, yet it somehow escaped such critique and was almost a major publishing event for Harvard University and Dr. Karen King.

4) Were it authentic, the fragment would have added to already complicated picture of Christianity's earliest centuries, attesting to a belief largely unknown in the extant material.

Missale Romanum editio iuxta typicam tertiam emendatam (chapel edition)

For those interested, the chapel edition of the modern Missale Romanum dropped a few weeks back.

The price tag is still up there, but significantly less than the altar edition by the same publisher. Of course, the chapel size takes away some of the unwieldy girth of the full altar edition. 

For anyone interested in tackling the modern Latin liturgy head on, this is a must.

As always, it is good to see the Latin text of the modern Roman rite get more exposure.

Traditionalist Ecclesiology- is there a future for Traditional Latin Christianity?

Recently, a reader commented to me that Traditionalism doesn't have much of a long term future in the Roman Church.

To draw this out a bit by way of example, consider the following reactions to a recent announcement by the Bishop of Rome that referenced the SSPX in its conclusion. What follows is an exercise in contrast:

"We have always believed that, though negotiations are important to smooth details, only a generous and kind unilateral settlement by the Supreme Legislator could get things done -- that was the only way Summorum Pontificum was promulgated as well."

--- well known Trad blog


"In the ministry of the sacrament of penance, we have always relied, with all certainty, on the extrdaordinary jurisdiction conferred by the Normae generales of the Code of Canon Law."

--- SSPX statement on the same.

Do you see the difference in ecclesiology? One looks at the Bishop of Rome as the ultimate authority. The other references a Law to which everyone is subject. Can you spot the significance?

Traditionalism only works if one accepts that papal authority has been grossly exaggerated in the Roman Church. It requires the conviction that far from being the ultimate authority, there is a code of law to which even the Pontiff is subject. This law, ecclesiastical law, belongs to the Church proper and the Church proper is subject to it. 

I have often wondered if the SSPX will, in one way or another, fully encapsulate the ecclesiology that results from their very existence. To some degree, the SSPX understands what is at stake with communion with Rome in a way that Ecclesia Dei groups do not. If the Bishop of Rome is accepted as the supreme authority, there is little justification for any dissent from the exercise of said authority. The SSPX holds there is a law higher than the authority of the Roman pontiff and said law is demonstrable in the canons of the Church. 

Bearing the above in mind, I would agree with the reader who emailed me to a certain extent. The Traditionalists that have sought and achieved communion with Rome eventually reach a point where their existence will be difficult to justify. 

Conversely, those who have broken communion with Rome have a greater justification for their existence and propagation. The resolution can only come when there is a restoration of law upon the Bishop of Rome. 

All of the above should not be construed as an endorsement of the SSPX, or at least that is not the intention. Rather, it is written with the intention of demonstrating that the current scenario of Traditionalism, concerning both liturgy and spirituality, has an end point. 

Ecclesia Dei groups have a finite amount of time. Their ecclesiology leads them to accepting Roman authority. Eventually, they will reach a point where they have to reconsider their liturgical use. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Clearly the modern Roman liturgy can carry on the Latin tradition if it is the intention of the community utilizing the books.

The SSPX, meanwhile, have followed an ecclesiology that brings them to nearer to Orthodox ecclesiology than contemporary Roman ecclesiology. Much as Rome I suspect fears, they have the ability to perpetuate until they become a Church running parallel to Rome. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, in so far as it would propel the Latin Church back to an earlier ecclesiology that had a healthy respect for the Bishop of Rome but did not subordinate the Church to him. 

While there are pockets of interest in an earlier Western ecclesiology, it takes a movement with the organization, presence, and growth of the SSPX to force events into motion. Granted, this will not make the situation in the Western Church any easier. It will, however, bring closure to certain occurrences that really have gone on long enough and risk atrophy if they continue with the status quo.

Piero Marini to head Special Commission for the Liturgy in the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

You can read the official Bollettino here. Details are scant.

Marini's reputation in circles as a nefarious disciple of the insidious Archbishop Bugnini is a bit much. He did solid work during the transition from John Paul II to Benedict XVI. One can disagree with his interpretations and theory, however, he knows the history of the Latin liturgy and has a vested interest in it.

This having been noted, the placement is a bit of a puzzle - Marini's knowledge and experience of the Eastern liturgies is a bit of an unknown. This being said, I don't believe he is the type that would try to impose any Latinizations (whatever the term would mean these days).