Saturday, December 26, 2015

God Incarnate



Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.
πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν
ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων·
καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος, ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης·
οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός, ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν δι’ αὐτοῦ.
οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνος τὸ φῶς, ἀλλ’ ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός.
Ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν, ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον, ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον.
ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν, καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω.
εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν, καὶ οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον.
ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν, ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι, τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος ἀνδρὸς ἀλλ’ ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν.

While Nativity Season typically brings to mind the accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke, the prologue of the Gospel of John always seems to add a certain profundity that the miraculous births of Luke and Matthew seem to lack. From the very depths of the Deity, God has definitively breached the divide between His eternity and the temporal world.

For the textually inclined, there is a variant reading of verse 13 (see underlined) attested to in the Old Latin and Syriac textual traditions. It reads (paraphrasing for lack of the actual text in front of me) "who not from sin, nor from the will of the flesh, nor from the will of man, but from God was born." Rather than refer to "τοῖς πιστεύουσιν", verse 13 (in these two textual traditions) refers back to the incarnate logos. That this variant appears in two disparate traditions as the Old Latin and the Syriac is somewhat perplexing. It seems random and one is pressed to determine whether or not some exchange took place between one or the other, or whether or not they are both independent holdovers from an alternative Greek text of John that otherwise hasn't been preserved - likely because it had little to no currency in Egypt where a great portion of our extant manuscripts were preserved.

Jerome, in his rather erratic revision of the Old Latin text of the New Testament (truth be told, Jerome really didn't apply his translating prowess outside of the Old Testament), made sure to change verse 13 to what we now call the majority reading and in so doing definitively stamped out the variant from the Latin Church as a consequence of the Vulgate eventually becoming the dominant Latin text. There is a rather eclectic group of scholars and others with a background in the ancient languages that prefer the variant reading. De Vaux preferred the variant reading and famously followed it (and provided accompanying notes) in the text of the La Bible de Jérusalem. This was in keeping with the broader philosophy behind editing of the sacred text in the La Bible de Jérusalem, a scholarly endeavor which sought to communicate as much as possible the subtly of the text and the complexity of the manuscript tradition in a vernacular Bible.

For full disclosure, I prefer the variant reading over the majority text. One of the strengths of de Vaux's work was his determination to demonstrate rich diversity of the manuscript tradition, a quality severely under appreciated by both conservative dogmatics and the liberal propensity for insisting on accessible vernacular editions.

Regardless of the text one chooses to follow, the characteristics Johannine dualism demonstrates itself early and definitively in the prologue. Once thought to be the product of gnostic or platonic influence, the Qumran scrolls have readily demonstrated that John's dualism a stream following from a river of thought running through Second Temple Judaism, especially in Apocalyptic literature and early mystical texts. We can now say with fair confidence that John's dualism is 1) entirely Jewish, 2) was "in the air" Jesus of Nazareth breathed, and 3) is actually pretty diffused in the New Testament.

The idea that there is a divergence between "the World" and God runs throughout the New Testament. John's gospel, however, frames this divergence as a reality that is apocalyptic in nature and demands a response from whosoever has received the unveiling. The coming of the Only Begotten is part of supernatural drama that in theme resembles the ancient chaos myth. The war to establish equilibrium in the universe is no longer fought in the heavens alone - it has poured forth and become part of the created order. As John's prologue readily alludes, we are eventually compelled to choose - God or the World, we can't have both.

With the exception of perhaps the Apocalypse, one can only imagine that were the canon up for re-certification, John's gospel would likely be voted out. John refuses to allow the reader any luxury or indulgence, he does not see the "World" as something to reach compromise with, nor something to which we should "open our windows." We are presented with two contrasts, God and the World/flesh/the will of men. To choose one is to follow a very different path from the other. In this respect, it is hard not to see an ascetic praxis lying beneath John's gospel in addition to an apocalyptic reality. So, consider John's gospel and the Christianity therein and compare it with the re-engineered Christianity that is coming to the foreground in the West, a Christianity that is reducing every ancient principle to socio-political action or psychological models, a Christianity that is determined to subvert moral world of the sacred text and tradition to the indulgences of a post-moral/post-modern West.

There are those who would say that the moment the Edict of Milan came into force, Christianity was compromised. It is a fair argument. The difference between now and then is that rather than "the World" seeking to make peace with Christianity, Christianity is seeking to accommodate itself to "the World." True, we occasionally get to choose between liberal and conservative colors, but the choice is still the same: sacrifice your principles and find comfortable footing in a secular world that essentially rejects them.

John's gospel is the conscience of Christianity, the perpetual memory of Christianity's foundational experience and earliest strata of Theology and praxis, speaking to us with words that will often make us uncomfortable when we consider our own orientation towards God. God became incarnate, to take men and women away from the same mischief many churches are seeking to accommodate in our own day.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Publication Limbo? (Pre-1955 Missale Romanum)

I continue to watch this project with much interest.

Sadly, there does not appear to be much of an update to report. Angelus Press did a fair job at giving people a behind the scenes peek at the publication of their 1962 Missale Romanum. At present, it appears the interest in a Pre-1955 Missale Romanum is too esoteric to warrant such an expose. This state of affairs should be expected. There appears to be almost no room to consider editions of the Roman Missal prior to 1962 - the Traditionalist world just isn't wide enough, apparently.

There are criticisms one can make of the publisher's choices here. There is an argument to be made that the what we could reasonably call the "ancient Roman Rite" was no longer in force by 1950 or so with the changes to the Mass of the Assumption, which up to that point had an established history in addition to thematic affinity to the tradition of the Dormition in the East. This, mind you, is not the only reason for such argumentation. Persons fair more familiar with the subject matter can provide a pretty thorough list.

This being noted, I would like to see the publisher's endeavor take off. The only way to really launch a movement of rediscovery of the pre-modern Roman liturgy is to publish an edition of the Missale Romanum before the reforms of Pius XII. This is not to raise call to displace 1962, or 1970 for that matter. Rather, it is a conviction that the pre-modern Roman liturgy constitutes an accessible avenue for exploring the historic Tradition of the Western Church and, in many areas, reflects an earlier epoch (in thematic affinity if not in actual use) in Christian history. As such, it ought to be preserved, studied, and, God willing, practiced.

Currently, there is no other comparable publication effort for any earlier edition of the Missale Romanum. I suspect that should this effort fail, the next attempt will be a long time coming.

If anyone is interested in the Roman liturgy pre-1962, or pre-1955 for that matter, The Tridentine Rite blog is well worth your time. The author's aim is clear: demonstrate via actual contents what a liturgy according to the liturgical books as promulgate Pius V would look like (when celebrated without the subsequent changes).

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Passing on the Tradition - Notes on Formation

The past few days have afforded to get in touch with some old acquaintances: a now retired auxiliary bishop and a former priest-professor I had while and undergrad.

The Dear Bishop now walks with a cane, plots his movements carefully, his battle word face surveying the landscape in bifocal glasses. 

Fr. Professor responded to an email I sent - just hoping to check in, really. He revealed that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's and retired from active teaching over the summer. He presses on withe last of the PhD theses he advises and is gradually clearing out his office.

Both of these men have two things in common.

Both men demonstrated great fidelity to the Latin liturgy as it was revised after the Second Vatican Council. This was not shallow emotive "love" for the liturgy or a celebration of the liturgy as "creative" play. Rather, this was the commitment to the new liturgy in all the contours of is Latin form and firm adherence to its law of prayer as the law of faith. In brief, they were rare examples of men who accepted the Pauline liturgy as a the liturgical tradition to be received, without seeking to amend it in conformance with "particular" interests. Both men devotedly observe the divine office via the Liturgia Horarum and can make even the most ardent critic of the Pauline liturgy appreciate the corpus of hymns.

Both men, and I don't think this is coincidence, are also examples of that last generation or so of priests who may be said to have had a pre-Vatican II formation. They both have a living memory of the Roman Church before Vatican II and their formation before, during, and in the immediate years after the Council was still defined by pre-Vatican II discipline and practice, even though the Roman liturgy was substantially recast. 

The Dear Bishop and Fr. Professor are instances of the journey that generation is making towards the great transitus. There is an enormity to this event that appears when pause if given for consideration. As that generation enters its twilight years, they bring pre-Vatican II formation with them into the sunset of age. 

The influence of Vatican II upon formation in the Roman Church is ubiquitous - there is no corner of said church that does not bear the influence of the Council. Traditionalists may object and point to their own orders. They may also point to the relative youth of their priests (and in some cases bishops). At which point it is reasonable to ask, how many among them have an actual memory of formation before the Council? What percentage of Traditionalists under the Roman umbrella have the real experience of formation before the Council? How much of today's Traditionalist formation is artificial or fabricated and as a consequence ill-reflective of formation prior to the Council? And where does one find a credible conduit for pre-Vatican II formation in the modern world?

Contextually speaking, pre-Vatican II formation is impossible. Vatican II, whatever one thinks of it, was a watershed moment in the Roman Church and perhaps Western culture as whole. There is no facet of Roman Catholicism that has not been formed by this Council. Even the Traditionalist orders that view the Council with suspicion developed their identity, agenda and "charism" in reaction to the Council. As such, even in terms of content it is not a guarantee that Traditionalist Catholicism necessarily provides pre-Vatican II formation in virtue of its content being defined and conveyed under the influence of the Council. 

If pre-Vatican II formation still exists, it exists in a more piecemeal fashion as opposed to in the well defined contours of an institutional entity. It is found here and there, scattered in the wind, in the living memory of those who experienced it in the original context and offer to impart some this same experience. 

I have seen the ethos of the original liturgical movement conveyed best by priests who lived it, such as the late Fr. Bernard Gilgun, as opposed to those who self-consciously try to recapitulate it. I have seen a total application of lex orandi, lex credenti in persons such as the Dear Bishop and Fr. Professor, as opposed to a number of rank and file men (my age or younger) who never experienced pre-Vatican II Catholicism and are obsessed with a faux scholasticism. I have found Tanquerey's The Spiritual Life implemented as praxis among monasteries that give scarcely a thought to their old liturgical books.

This is not to say the Roman Church is not in a state of crisis or otherwise decline. Like the West as a whole, the Roman Church is waging an internal war between adherence to principles that were once considered immovable and increased secularization. It is to say, however, that if one truly believes the Western Tradition is of importance, merit, and benefit, one must seek it out with utmost honesty, recognizing that there are no easy answers to difficult questions, nor comprehensive cures for complex maladies. 

Formation is everything. Spend enough time with the ancient monastic literature and one sees how that principle is foundational to Christian praxis. The problem of contemporary Christian formation (particularly Vatican II inspired formation) is a known problem. What is less known is whether or not elements of pre-Vatican II formation are capable providing some perspective on account of the issues raised above. Traditionalist Catholicism scarcely recognizes the degree to which it was formed by Vatican II, and how much of its content is largely formed by persons with limited or no experience of pre-Vatican II formation. The window for rediscovering pre-Vatican II formation grows ever more narrow. The best way to find it, is to find the priests an religious that lived it and an coherently impart its content to another generation, however piecemeal the content may be.