Sunday, February 21, 2016

Religion and Politics (the Two Most Dangerous Words in the English Language)

When "news" broke of the dust-up between Donald Trump and Pope Francis, my impulse was to avoid writing anything about it - because I frankly don't care.

When I was asked what I thought about it, I refused to offer any response - because, well, see above.

When I was visiting a Trappist abbey in my neck of the woods, having a relatively pleasant discussion about Orthodoxy and Catholicism with a monk and the topic still came up in discussion (largely due to someone who happened to overhear us talking) I realized that, much like the Borg, resistance to this topic is futile.

To begin, what the Pope says on any given topic isn't entirely relevant to me; I do not identify as a member of the Church of Rome and thus feel no need to consider of his comments on any number of issues.

This said, it was hard not to notice how much the secular media and their chosen darlings of modern American Catholicism gushed over the report of Francis' remarks regarding Donald Trump. It is worth asking, would one have seen the same devotion to the pope's remarks had the bishop been Benedict XVI and the target of his comments been a liberal darling? I suspect not, save from some of the more conservative outlets, though they would turn a deaf ear had the former Patriarch of Rome criticized a conservative stalwart.

Of course, you wouldn't expect to see such open politicking from Benedict XVI, who contrary to both his predecessor and successor was/is the most a-political pope in recent history, if not since the dawning of the modern papacy under the aegis of infallibility.

Benedict is the type to criticize ideas (not an individual) and more often than not eschewed political entanglements. Francis, by contrast, is a sort-of hyper-political pope, using the papacy as a vehicle to advance political agendas and using  his media image to convey an atmosphere of divine mandate upon his said agendas. In this respect, Francis' papacy, though influenced by Liberation Theology, is more the fulfillment, or perhaps apotheosis, of the concept of the papacy established by Pius IX's definition of papal infallibility. His papacy is, perhaps, "the end" of modern Catholicism, in so far it is the last possible conclusion of the changed sense of self-understanding brought about by Pius IX's assumption the entirety of the tradition into the papacy itself.

Liberals will scoff at the above assertion. Pius IX, they will argue, was an arch-conservative and a reactionary. Perhaps; ideologically the two men may differ, but in terms of conception and actualization of the papacy, Francis follows perfectly the trajectory set by Pius IX. The tradition/religion is the papacy, the papacy is the tradition/religion.

For liberals, the power to bind and loose has never felt so good. Conservatives, meanwhile, hope their next man, whenever he arrives, will exercise the office in the manner Benedict XVI refused. In both cases, the Orthodox feel justified in thinking Rome has seriously misunderstood both the office and the tradition.

Perhaps more dangerous than realizing the concept of the papacy initiated by Pius IX is that Francis is treading closer to reducing religion to political exercise. One's political opinions ans support are increasingly equitable to moral and spiritual truths. It is the ultimate triumph of nominalism over the religious worldview, a reduction of the supernatural to politics which, setting aside the theological problems, has the deadly potential to whip political partisanship into a mass of religious fervor, replacing prayer and adoration with political action spun with religious vocabulary and mission. Never do people become so intolerant in civil society as when they believe their political opinions are transcendental truths obligatory in an open society.

Although there is a level of caution that ought to be shared among those subsets who clamor for a return to a pre-Constantine Christianity, it is worth acknowledging that for the first three hundred years Christianity operated by working around the dominant political system. After Constantine, Christianity became the dominant political system. Since then, it has found itself unable to conceive of itself outside of the political system, save for perhaps the monasteries and other communities that consciously reject said system. Would it were that those who would politicize Christianity reflected upon this.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible - New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Fully revised Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press (Review)

There is a lot in a name, and the New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV with Apocrypha (4th edition) conveys as much. For those familiar with the road map of academically inclined study bibles the New Oxford Annotated Bible series is well revered landmark. The series has provided a consistent delivery of quality translation and supporting textual commentary. The 4th edition continues the tradition, reflecting the most up-to-date research on the biblical text through ample annotation and essays.

Of foremost note is Michael Coogan's assumption editorial duties. This is the first edition of the series since the death of Bruce Metzger. Coogan has left his mark; the content of the annotative notes has substantially changed. Some reader's have detected a shift in the interpretative lens, though this assertion may be somewhat more subjective. Although the NRSV has an Iapetus detailing variances in the manuscript tradition, annotations do not appear to go into much detail about manuscript variance or detail why one textual tradition was followed over another.

The text of the NRSV needs little in way of discussion. Although it is decried by some conservative Roman Catholics and Protestants as having a "liberal agenda," the fact remains that it is the agreed upon scholarly standard across secular and religious spectrum. Further to this point, most persons with knowledge of the ancient languages readily see the logic of the translation and attest to its credibility. Although translation choices can always be debated, the discomfort some groups experience with the NRSV is perhaps better directed at the original text itself.

For those interested in the varying definitions of the canon in Christianity, this edition of the NRSV includes 3 and 4 Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, 3 and 4 Esdras, and Psalm 151. To get a more exhaustive collection, one would have to follow the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church!

The edition sent to me for review by Oxford was the paper back version. Oxford publishes this Bible in other formats, including an extremely well done leather bound edition. The paperback edition will give you a good year of regular use before it looks a little worn and you'll want to consider other options. If this is something you're thinking of buying and will use frequently, the leather edition is recommended - it will handle the use and give you a return on your investment.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Joint Declaration of Francis and Kirill - Routine Diplomacy, or a Step in the Journey of a Thousand Miles?

The historical moment is least for now. The Patriarch of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow have met and produced a joint declaration of their encounter.

Social Media predictably came alive when the text was released. This reaction was complemented with subsequent reactions by "the usual suspects" one would expect after reading the text in its entirety: 1) the so-called Uniates and 2) the traditionalists on both churches. Thus far, there has yet to be commentary (so far as I can tell) from any official ecclesiastical organ or theological group. Until such time as a commentary proceeds from one or the other it will be nearly impossible to forecast with any reasonable credibility as to how this declaration is received and interpreted in ecclesiastical circles and what impact, if any, it will have going forward. 

For now, we are left with having to read the thermometer to diagnose the popular reaction, and although ecclesiastical follow ups to such documents are slow as a matter of policy, one cannot help but suspect that there will be people on both sides taking the temperature of their respective church bodies to see how well or ill this moment was received. 

Traditionalists on both sides are, predictably, dissatisfied and dismissive. For such groups, the only solution is complete submission of one to the other. Robert Taft makes a well timed observation, the principle of which is applicable to Traditionalists on both sides: it is now time to put away childish fantasies of how the Church was, and come to reconcile with actual data we have. The actual quote is worth providing:
“It’s not true that at the beginning we had one Church centered in Rome, and then for various historical reasons certain groups broke off,” he said. “It’s just the opposite. At the beginning we had various churches, as Christianity developed here and there and someplace else, and gradually different units began to be formed.”
While one can debate Taft's proposals for the practical application of his historical research into the liturgy, his grasp of the data around the formation of liturgy and ecclesiology (two subjects ever entwined) is nearly indisputable. Though this statement was directed at Roman circles, the principle behind it is, as noted, applicable across the board.

The Uniate churches have found their position potentially compromised from the declaration. The relevant section is found in paragraph 25 of the declaration. These churches are referred to as ecclesial communities, a phrase that should ring in the ears of anyone who recalls Dominus Iesus. This is a "loaded term" and adds very precise qualification the document's candor that the path of uniatism was a mistake, cleaving a group away from the legitimate hierarchy in the region, "separating it from its Church" as the declaration states. Francis seems to given the Orthodox Church something it has sought, namely a clear statement that the Uniate churches are not Churches properly so-called and do not represent a continuation of the legitimate (and historical) hierarchy of the region. The document calls for co-existence between the Orthodox Church and the Greek Catholics. It would seem, however, that the purpose and function of the hierarchies of these groups is now an open question. At the very least, if they do not constitute a proper Church, then there is considerable debate on the merit of appointing "Patriarchs" for said groups. If their hierarchy is in doubt, to which hierarchy would the role up? Should this paragraph survive the initial firestorm it produced, it will be of tremendous ecclesiological significance.

The more mainline (popular) reaction from both Catholics and Orthodox is somewhere between intrigue and hope. The document affirms the same Tradition and Mission in section 4, while section 24 states,
Orthodox and Catholics are united not only by the shared Tradition of the Church of the first millennium, but also by the mission to preach the Gospel of Christ in the world today. This mission entails mutual respect for members of the Christian communities and excludes any form of proselytism. 
We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world. We urge Catholics and Orthodox in all countries to learn to live together in peace and love, and to be “in harmony with one another” (Rm 15:5).
Once again we have a portion of the text that could have significance depending upon how this declaration is received and interpreted at the ecclesiastical level. Given the persistent view that seems the Roman Church as something intrinsically heretical in the Russian Church, this could function as the text that shapes the mainline view going forward. Whereas such a view is relegated to the fringe of the Antochian Church and the Greek Church, Russian Orthodoxy has little qualm with such a view bordering on mainline. If this document facilitates the Russian Church adopting Constantinople's approach, then a major hurdle is cleared and Francis has achieved something sought by every post-Vatican II pope. This is not to say reunion will happen in the near future. It is to say that, on paper (with signatures) an obstacle was theoretically overcome.

Granted, there are probably intra-Orthodox politics at play, namely the rivalry between Constantinople and Moscow, which may indicate that Kirill believes Constantinople's approach to Rome has some momentum behind it and he wants to position his patriarchate well and influence what, if any, further movement develops.

Any mention of politics necessarily raises the spectre of Putin's involvement in the meeting. Is Putin somehow behind this? Possibly. However, if there is one thing I've learned is that church commentators and theologians are grossly out of their league when discussing either deep politics or economics.With this in mind, a few points should be mentioned. 1) If Putin has anything to do with the meeting and joint declaration, the people in the know aren't talking - this would be a little higher than George Weigel or John Allen. 2) It is also to be remembered, the Bishop of Rome is a head of state. 3) John Paul II demonstrated that the modern papacy can be utilized for political purposes. 4) Francis has returned to the political power-playing of his larger-than-life predecessor for such issues as migrants/immigration, climate change, and economic inequality/disparity.

Did the declaration demonstrate a consensus on ecclesiology by which the prospect for reunion can move forward? The declaration of the shared Tradition and mission, and referencing brotherhood between the two bishops seems to favor the Orthodox understanding of equality among the patriarchs as opposed to a model of papal supremacy. The list of reasons behind the continued schism avoids such topics as the recent Marian dogmas on the Roman side, favoring instead historical events, cultural divergences, and the Filioque. This could or could not indicate some progress related to ecclesiology, but caution is to be favored - documents such as these are not comprehensive or conclusive, nor is an argument from silence necessarily credible.

Is there, all things considered, reason to hope for reunion or shared communion now that the meeting and declaration are behind us? Institutional change is a slow and arduous process, wrought with significant internal push-back along the way. Whatever theoretical appeal reunion has, one wonders if anyone involved REALLY wants to the concrete results of a thousand year old schism healed. For Rome, the stakes involve a cognitive disruption as the cult of the papacy is reduced in role and importance and the possible de-emphasis on recent Marian dogmas that were thoroughly engineered into much of Catholicism's self-understanding. Whereas academics or those with considerable theological background will not be too disturbed (or may even be happy to see them go) a sizable segment of the Roman Church would be left struggling with such change. Orthodoxy faces a similar problem. Although Western countries are familiar with (and somewhat admiring of) the very pre-modern feel to the Orthodox liturgy (which is only half true as most Orthodox churches in the West do not celebrate it in the same way as they would have either in the old country or a century ago), the pre-modern mentality of Orthodox faithful "in the old country" or among reactionary converts poses a significant problem. Russia is actually fine example of both problems; rampant superstition persists that every facet of Latin Christianity emerged after the schism and is intrinsically heretical. To a lesser extent, this same phenomenon exists in Greece as well. The only churches that appear immune to this phenomenon are those located in the Middle East where the shared experience of being a minority religion and suffer persecution seems to have made the schism effectively obsolete.

The experience of the Middle East perhaps offers the route by which functional reunion will occur. Where institutional change moves on a time frame of centuries (if at all), personal inter-confessional experience (the boots on the ground) sporadically raises challenges that threaten to rupture institutional policy. Scholarship into the Great Schism and its aftermath has largely come to the consensus that the schism was foremost a hierarchical affair. For the most part, the laity and the average parish continued on as though nothing had really changed. It took centuries for the idea of a schism to have any immediate impact "on the ground" and influence the common understanding between Catholics and Orthodox. In developed Western societies where the principle of the open society reigns, the schism is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the understanding between Catholic and Orthodox. As people increasingly marry outside of their religion of origin and thereby integrate Catholicism and Orthodoxy into their family experience (the primary unit of society), institutional policy denying shared communion increasingly comes under pressure and dismissed as irrelevant. The Roman Church, to its credit, read the tea leaves correctly when it started opening up communion to the Orthodox. The patriarchs of the old country can only ignore the development of Orthodoxy in the West for so long. In age where quantifiable data equates to the verification of knowledge and theology's relevance relates to how it can help improve society, the justification for a continued ban on shared communion seems wanting, especially in the light of family experience and personal relationships. Reality seems to say that those upholding the schism are living in "unreality," guided largely by theological propositions in the head but of little substance in real life. It is similar to the pressure felt by the Roman Church in the United States or Germany, where family ties between Catholics and Lutherans, Catholics and Anglicans, or Catholics and Evangelicals (or social bonds between the same groups) is increasingly putting pressure on Rome to provide a concrete rationale as to why the ban on shared communion should persist. The categories of knowledge have changed and the value of theology or religion has shifted as both concepts are seen as things which should better the individual and better society.

In a very real way, the schism is over in the West on the most intimate societal levels. The same may hold true for the Reformation. In this respect, reunion is already happening on an emotional, intellectual, societal and perhaps spiritual level. If the hierarchies of either Church continue to lag behind this development, they will be greeted with irrelevance first with animosity to eventually follow. The declaration between Francis and Kirill may prove to be another proforma exercise of inter-confessional diplomacy. It may also prove to the first step in the long journey of catching up with historical scholarship and the confessional reality of the primary unites of society, a challenge neither hierarchy can avoid much longer.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where have you been, where are you going?

It seems like a lifetime ago, in many respects.

For many years, a Ratzinger papacy was the pontificate so many of us (my particular age group of more conservative to traditionalist leaning Roman Catholics) had pinned our hopes on. In the last decade of John Paul II's papacy we often postulated, "if only Ratzinger."

In 2005, we got just that, and the jubilation (from our particular corner of the world) was electrifying. This was the moment, the fulfillment of the long turnaround from the doldrums of Paul VI's papacy and the chaos that came in the wake of Vatican II.

Was it everything we expected? I suppose. There is a definite feel and aesthetic to Benedict's papacy that is easily distinct from both his predecessor and successor. The Roman liturgy seemed to celebrated (finally) with serious intention. Lest we forget, there was (finally) a proper theologian heading the Roman Church.

Certainly, when I think back to the Roman Church as piloted by Benedict XVI, all things considered, I feel more at home, as compared to Francis.

Then again....the announcement of Benedict's resignation coincided with the day my migration into the Orthodox Church became seemingly irreversible.

Benedict's papacy was enjoyable, so long as one found the proper enclave in which to enmesh oneself. It wasn't that he was "wrong," mind you. Rather, it was a more a problem of having a vision that proved too theological for the nuts and bolts of a massive church. Frankly, the majority of the people who flanked onto Benedict's papacy were cut from a radical right wing cloth. Meanwhile, his detractors were ideologues of the other extreme. In both cases, Ratzinger's intention was ignored and his thought distorted, save for a few monasteries that actually seemed to get it. It was with that realization that it became readily apparent that monastic communities were the only sure source of sanity in Roman Catholicism. The monasteries have a way of staying above the fray - sadly, they are operationally removed from the needs of family life, and the normative formation most of us will receive.

Still, it is impossible to think back on Ratzinger's papacy and not recall the initial hope we all had in my circles. The hope, the anticipation, the sense that (finally) everything that had been building in potential was about to come to fruition.

Though I don't frequent the same circles and I no longer call the Roman Church my confessional home, I would like to seem him back.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Corporate Association and Intentional Communities

Fr. Chadwick continues the discussion on the Perennialist school.

I have concluded that eccentric and spiritual ways are only for individual persons who try to be true to themselves. At the level of communities, we have to learn to get by with conventional exoteric Churches – in the same way as we live in the general population. Some Churches are more conducive to others. Some believe they have found “it” with Orthodoxy, and one can only leave them to discover reality over the years. Others join a Church which is less exclusive in its “truth” claims but in which worship is uplifting and human relationships draw at least some inspiration from teachings by Christ, St Paul and others on charity (ἀγάπη). A Church is always a compromise between our idealism and the common denominator of humanity. We cannot expect too much from Churches, any more than from the civil institutions of the country in which we live: government, law, police, armed forces, welfare state, education and so forth. Churches give some attention to the metaphysical and spiritual, and give the first guiding steps. We are responsible for our own spiritual adulthood and the discovery we are called to make throughout life.
There is so much to agree with here.

Corporate association is more often than not an exercise in routine and duty, which helps explain the perpetual urge in Christianity to rediscover the ancient tradition by breaking away from the larger body into smaller associations. This is the basic impulse behind monasticism (both Orthodox and Catholic), the Catholic Worker, and the intentional communities of the later 20the century. Corporate association (even dutiful observance of the liturgical books) is often perfunctory and formulaic. The more earnest reflection on the nature of God, the meaning of life and the purpose of man seems to take place amid smaller associations who find the need to create some distance with the larger corporate body. In such contexts, there is a conscious reflection on the praxis and prayer of Christianity.

Such associations implicitly question the ability of established churches to embody the Tradition in so far as established churches fall short of being communities in which a conscious and deliberate on Christianity Tradition, theology, liturgy and prayer is fostered. In our context, these intentional associations increasingly originate on either evangelical or inter-denominational grounds. In all cases, such communities are not after "observance" or even "sacramental participation." Rather, they are looking for communities that support formative experience and a transformational life via the application of an active application of Christianity's tenets related to living and prayer.

Again, the implicit criticism made by such associations is that established churches fill a role that is more sociological in nature and as such do not prove to be environments for actively cultivating the praxis of Christianity. There are times it is difficult to avoid a similar conclusion. If Christianity has any credible future in the West, it is not in a cultural or sociological model. It is more along the lines of intentional communities (perhaps a new monasticism) that deliberately blur the tired distinctions between Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant. Ultimately, the principles binding the three together are more persuasive than the at times exaggerated distinctions between them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Great Restlessnes

Along the highways and byways of the spiritual life, one finds the company of many a fellow traveler and wayfaring strangers.

In my own life, I've found this to be the case. Whatever particular path of the journey you are embarking upon, you're always in the company of fellow novices walking along a well worn road with many travelers ahead, some better disposed to the effort than others.

Over the past few years, I have met many other people coming out the Western Tradition into the Orthodox Church, a number of whom were, like myself, once Roman Catholic, of whom there were those who sought Holy Orders.

One such instance struck me as most peculiar. He was man who had studied for the Roman priesthood, migrated to the Byzantine churches, and eventually entered the Orthodox Church where he received ordination and maintained the vow of celibacy.

Having not heard from this gentleman for a considerable time, the surprise to learn he had become an associate minister in a local Protestant denomination.

The Catholics and Orthodox who once knew are, by and large, not surprised. Seminary fellows from both churches made the determination that he is equal parts "church hopper" and "a careerist" who couldn't quite keep up with the politics in either church. The truth behind either of these claims is unverifiable, and its objectivity is certainly questionable.

When one considers the numbers of Catholics who leave the Roman Church in favor of another Tradition, be it Orthodox Christianity or another tradition, one ought to recall the perennialist figures such as Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon, Both figures hungered for what we today define as "the supernatural" and found reason to disembark from the Roman Church. Guenon identified the West as in the midst of a metaphysical crisis and, at one point, believed a return to Catholicism was the only remedy. The time, however, had come and gone. Guenon found a Roman Church that, among its theologians and professional religious, had reached the tipping point towards the modernity that had already devoured much of Western thought and metaphysics.

Schuon, for his part, retained more of a connection with Christianity, although he would not explicitly identify with it. Schuon lived through Vatican II and its aftermath. He was highly critical of the Vatican II and its reforms, and although he maintained that "Traditional" Catholicism as he knew it (as a former Catholic) was closer to the concept of perennial metaphysics, he came to the conclusion that it had been subject to a type metaphysical degeneration, roughly during the counter-Reformation (if memory serves me correctly). As such, in his system of thought, Orthodox Christianity was more of a direct derivative of the perennial metaphysics than Catholicism solely on account of the counter-Reformation's influence on Catholicism's self understanding.

Of the two, Schuon has had more impact, largely due to the immediacy of his activity and its overlap with Catholicism's adoption of modernity and the secularization of the West. Both men, however, left a philosophical (and some say mystical) documentary of the profound change in metaphysics and mystery undergone by Western society and its dominant religious expression (Roman Catholicism). Both men present a daunting proposition that neither reform and restorationism, as has been seen in recent decades, possesses the dynamism to uncover the depth of the problem.

If one agrees with Guenon or Schuon that there is a crisis of metaphysics and mystery that has taken root in the West and its religion, and that "Traditionalism" as it is so marketed is a rather shallow response (or parody) to a deeper problem, a facile solution to something inherently more complex, if one agrees with all of this, then one suffers a certain restlessness.

Is there some truth to Guenon or more particularly Schuon? Oddly enough, I have thought more about Schuon's theories since becoming Orthodox than when I was Catholic. Schuon, as mentioned, had the distinction of living through Vatican II and its reforms. He is, to be sure, absolutely dismissive of everything post-Vatican II, do the point of conveying the since that everything in the Catholic religion has become ineffective. Having spent most of my life in the Roman Church, whatever my criticisms on certain ecclesiological and dogmatic matters, it seems an extraordinary claim demanding evidence of equal magnitude. Guenon, meanwhile, is somewhat easier to swallow. The West's migration into modernity is total and complete, not one facet of western man has been left unimpacted.

Yet, a restlessness exists in the Western context. Enough data is collected demonstrating a notable percentage in the West migrates away from the religious tradition of origin. Christianity is becoming more fluid as cultural and ethnic boundaries increasingly give way to confessional choices based upon religious conviction and or religious experience. Alternatively, there is the continued persistence of various new age spiritualities (some offer esoteric initiation, some offering the formation of the transcendent self) which continue to make roads into the mainstream of religion acceptance. Still more, in the United States there is a general "consumer spirituality", an interest in acquiring books and other articles of various spiritualities and religious traditions without committing to anything in particular, other than equal opportunity consumption.

The question, of course, would be what gave rise to these conditions.

Advanced literacy rates and general education in the West would be one likely factor. It is no longer possible for clerical classes to control the access to religious literature or other such documentation, nor claim exclusive right to interpret such material. Most persons in a Western context are able to encounter such material make their own interpretive decisions. To this is compounded the critical study of religion and comparative religion, the result of which has challenged the capacity of any religion to propose exclusivist claims towards either salvation or religious organization.

Influencing factors aside, the final result seems evident: the West's religious matrix has fallen apart. The conventional religious associations no longer appear to hold and the dominant religious traditions are in a process of critical self-examination. All of this leads to environment in which religion cannot provide one of its most basic promises: security and stability in exchange for adherence. The temptation is to provide facile answers, to pretend as though the last century never happened, or claim it is all some grand global conspiracy. To follow through with either tendency requires the suspension of our critical faculties, even where the bulk of the data comes to a conclusion opposed to pious ideas. The simple fact is, one cannot pretend the developments that took hold in the West during the last century didn't happen or have not permanently conditioned the Western mind and shaken many institutions from their own sense of security. To illustrate the point, take a look at many a Roman Catholic prayer book, lay missal, or religious manual from before Vatican II. You will find that much of Catholicism's mainstream understanding of itself revolved around the alleged apparitions at Fatima and purported secret revelations. Flash forward some 50 or 60 years and cultic devotion to Fatima is by and large reserved to less educated segments of the Roman Church or reactionary conservatives, having little role in the larger corporate body, other than a calendar observance that will, more than likely, not be observed by most adherents. For the most part, the corporate body has left behind Fatima and its content, viewing it as some of the last manifestations of a type of Catholicism that found itself increasingly foreign to the modern western world and is now under the proprietary ownership of those who wish they could return to what they perceive to have been a more simple time for the religion.

Certain religious bodies in the West (Roman Catholicism, the Anglican Church, the Lutherans, to name a few) attempted (in one way or another) to address the massive cultural shift head on. Although the exact application has varied in each group, there seems to have been a common principle that guided all three bodies: shed whatever pre-modern baggage that was present in the religion for the sake of being able to adapt to the modern context. In large part, this is why ecumenism became such a concern, even within the once highly resistant Roman Church. The historical study of religion made denominational exclusivism highly untenable as more extravagant claims became increasingly difficult to substantiate. Polemics in general became more difficult to sustain, particularly after World War II and the question over the role of Christian antisemitism in the Holocaust.

On a more practical level, the simple experience of living in a open society that forces the the development of "working relationships" with persons outside of once common cultural boundaries has the impact of humanizing people that would once have been subject to polemics. As a consequence, it proves much harder to enforce traditional religious boundaries, particularly among branches of the same family tree. In turn, a flux between religions is thereby encouraged with no effective mechanism to prevent such movement among the more literate members of society.

Is there a genuine metaphysical or spiritual gap in Western Christianity? Guenon and Schuon certainly argued so...but is it true? Western Christianity sought to shed itself of much of its baggage. To a certain degree, this was impossible to avoid; as the average Christian in the West became more literate and better educated, the pressure began to build to find a model of Christianity that could keep pace with the changes in its congregants. Much was eliminated that was deemed excess. This being so, there was no real agreement as to what should be implemented to take the place of those things that were discarded. The liturgical movement, for instance, sought to disestablish much of the piety that had situated itself as the dominant religious exercise of the laity. This aim was well and good and, frankly, highly agreeable. The mainline liturgical reform, however, failed to seriously proposes a praxis of liturgical prayer to fill in he gaps left by the dismantling of piety. The Roman Liturgy of the Hours, for example, was afflicted with so many structural problems so as to make it difficult to adopt for both public recitation of the hours in the Latin Church, and as meditative recitation of the psalter for individuals or monastics. With no liturgical praxis clearly developed to be put in place of the various pious devotions or para-liturgical practices in vogue, there was a notable gap in prayer which could easily be seen as the tell tale sign of a metaphysical or spiritual gap in so far as it appears as a flattening of Latin Christianity's reference to the supernatural.

...But is it true?

It seems hard to argue against the notion that the mainline liturgical praxis of the Roman and Anglican churches seems relatively pedestrian. This said, aficionados of contemporary monastic observance would argue that all of the tools are present for an optimal representation of the Latin tradition that is capable of engaging the contemporary Western mind so critical as it is of religious presumption. From this perspective, the resurgence of the egregiously ill informed (perhaps ill formed) piety of the pre-modern is a distressing sign, one that potentially presages the institutional foothold of a reactionary and unreasonable conservatism as the new normal.

I am therefore not willing to necessarily adopt Guenon or Schuon's perception of things in toto, yet it does seem fair to agree that there is a deep crisis in the Western tradition, the end product of which is restlessness within the Western context. Conflicting currents have ruptured from the common source and there is little indication that a convergence is happening any time soon. Traditionalist and conservative parodies of the Latin tradition fail to offer any sound (or intellectually credible) path forward. This said, more progressive or liberal polarities are often unable to ground themselves enough to reconstitute some sense of stability with which to work off of. All of which leads to a particular moment in which the wayfaring stranger seems like constant company, even if he isn't so sure if he is singing home to God.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Patriarch Kyril and Pope Francis - Is the Meeting Imminent?

I seem to recall a certain Traddie blog saying this wasn't in the near future.

CNN reports that Lomardi announced the meeting today.

Whatever one thinks of his governance of the Roman Church, Francis, I believe, is earnest in wanting to restore communion between the Latin Church and the Orthodox Church. Much as the Patriarch of Istanbul is an important ceremonial figurehead, Russia has the demographic weight and political clout. Nothing happens without Moscow.

Will something happen? Sociologically, there is more connecting Orthodoxy and Catholicism than dividing it, although Francis does occasionally blur the lines on certain issues Kyril would not permit any ambiguity.

Ultimately, everything rides on ecclesiology. What is the proper place of the Patriarch of Rome among the other patriarchs? Tangential to this question is the matter of certain "Latin" propositions that Rome has traditionally positioned as binding upon all Christians (Augustine's concept of original sin, the Immaculate Conception, and papal infallibility), for which Orthodoxy finds no grounds. This says nothing of the liturgical question - Orthodoxy has some underlying suspicions of the liturgical reforms instituted in the 20th century, although in practice most of the bishops accept that it is a matter internal to Rome.

Stay tuned....

UPDATE : It looks like both Rome and Moscow have confirmed this meeting WILL take place in Havana February 12th, this imminent Traddies?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

First they came for your sons, then they came for your daughters....

With the lifting of restrictions on women in combat, the clamoring calls of the war drum for women to be subject to the draft have increased.

Is this a terrible irony? Feminism's final triumph is the slaughter of women in war, it is, broadly speaking, the death of women. Or is is simply how things go when a society ultimately begins to hold nothing as sacred, save the illusion of autonomy and the petty highs induced by the material conquest facilitated in a consumerist culture?

Pacifism is at first glance the childish wish of men and women who deny the complexity of geo-political reality in the pursuit of a utopia untethered to the reality of evil. This is at first glance. When one realizes that warfare in the post modern world has liberated itself from the shackles of decency, ethics, and the rules merited by a shared humanity, one quickly finds that anyone can be a pacifist in at least some circumstances.

Many currents confluence in the contemporary rebirth of the liberal theology in vogue towards the end of 60s and through the 70s. In the United States, a leading factor was the complicity of more conservative Christian churches in the establishment of a rampant war/national security policy post 9/11. Conservative churches appeared to either mute potential criticism or, in the worst case, fully toe the neo-conservative line. Truth be told, the change in administrations made no difference in rolling back the excesses wrought in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. In truth, the policy has become more shadowed and more insidious.

 The inability of conservative Christianity to call a spade has necessarily offered an opening for the more aggressively liberal social justice theology of the 70s to reclaim its voice. It has found new relevance and speaks with thunder in a time where it appears war policy and national security have run amok. There is no interest in citing the Prophets as witnesses to the Messiah. Rather, it is the Prophets as harbingers of the great Day of Yahweh that seems to inspire. These days there is less an interest in reading Isaiah in line with a myriad of nativity displays. There is more interest in reading Isaiah as a dissident political voice rebuking a corrupt system.

If one values human life, one cannot ignore how expansive the war machine has come. This is not to deny that war can, does and will happen. It is to say that the West has abandoned "the rules" of war designed to remind us of our humanity. Drafting women seems less like a triumph for women, as it does the war machine finding more bodies to use as fodder, more expendable numbers to plot the ambitions of persons so ready to convoke conflict, though never having seen it themselves.

Eisenhower warned the nation of the expansive influence of the war machine. Its influence would be, in his words, "even spiritual." The degree to which Christianity remains silent to the pervasive inhumanity of post modem warfare and the national security state is the degree to which Christianity forfeits its credibility and demonstrates its compromise. Should Christianity remain silent as the powers so willing to push nations and people to war make their grab at women, then it will have failed women. In fact, it will have failed family and the primordial relationships that bind us together. It will have offered them up as sacrifice to the same institutional rot that seeks to hollow them of any force and vigor.

Will liberal Christianity come to the fore and denounce the increasing militarization of society? Time will tell - the cognitive dissonance between supposed liberal aims and a Pacifist convictions burn just a tad too much. It is for the social justice wing to lose, really. It is easy enough to say that the resurgence of certain strains of liberal Christianity is the work of moral indifference or, in Roman circles, inner conspiracy. It is much more difficult to stomach the idea that resurgence of a Christianity with a early to mid 70s flavor is in response to a need more conservative elements were either ignorant of or willfully opted to ignore.

There are things with fighting for, and there are things worth dying for. The expanse of entity Eisenhower once termed "the military industrial complex" is not necessarily one of them. This is not to say war is always preventable. It is to say that humanity calls for some limits to warfare and in recent history those limits have been progressively erased - and Christianity has had little if any serious response to the phenomenon. Perhaps the thought of watching someones wife, sister, or daughter being involuntarily drafted to perpetuate military exploits of debatable wisdom and morality will be enough to elicit action.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A note on Reader's Bibles

I recently threw my two cents into a somewhat inactive thread on Mark Bertrand's Bible Design Blog.

Bertrand's blog is to be recommended if a) you like book binding eye candy (there's loads of it) and b) you want to keep a pulse on the popular (and largely Evangelical) perception of the Bible. No, it is not a place for much academic sparring and scholarly speculation. It is, however, a place to reconnect with people who haven't become jaded on the Bible as a literary unity.

The subject of "reader's Bibles" (Bibles largely lacking in chapter and verse and other editorial divisions) often comes up - in large part because Mark Bertrand is himself an advocate for such formatting.

Single column "reader's Bibles," or Bibles lacking in much editorial content have a certain merit - in all truth, they're quite nice.

This said, the notion of "the Bible on its own terms" - that is, without any "editorial" content, such as critical apparatus - seems more of a reactionary impulse, derived from a frustration with Biblical scholarship that is seen as diminishing well ingrained religious readings and expression.

The historical critical method has, by and large, proved its mettle. It is not going away and provides enough returns to maintain its keep.

The results of critical scholarship necessarily change how we ought to encounter the Biblical text. It is no longer possible to simply open the text and read. Original languages are crucial. In order to appreciate the breadth of the manuscript tradition, one has to have a working knowledge of the dominant languages in the manuscript tradition to account for both variances in the textual tradition as well as flesh out texts whose meaning has become obscured over centuries. One also needs to have some knowledge of comparative linguistics between the original languages and neighboring languages, particularly in the case of Hebrew where text appears influenced by these languages. This says nothing about the issue of connotative meaning running through the text.

A strong critical apparatus is necessary in any contemporary vernacular edition of the Bible. Vernacular editions have the unique advantage of being able to synthesize the various manuscript traditions in the hope of establishing a translation approximate to the original text and capturing the breadth of meaning the text likely had in its original context. Towards this end, a strong critical apparatus that elucidates meaning and duly notes variant readings is essential for a modern vernacular edition to properly function. The NJB and NRSV (in various study editions) both provide examples of such an apparatus.

Ultimately, "the Bible on its own terms" is the aim of critical scholarship. For well or ill, this means more than having the text in front of you. It means collating a broad swath of textual variants and literary knowledge. For the most part, this requires more than just an unadorned text. It requires a text that is heavily annotated and refers one to yet additional material and, where necessary, a lexicon.

Reader's Bibles, all told, are a good idea. They pull you into the text. This said, Reader's Bibles need to be carefully positioned. Enjoy them for what they are (and they are quite enjoyable) and avoid claims that do the format a great disservice.

Keeping it Real

A quick discussion on one of Pius XII's major liturgical reforms.

Pius XII's reforms to the old Roman Rite remain a point of contention for those with a critical eye towards 20th century liturgical reform in the Roman Church, and consequently, in virtue of its size, the main purveyor of the Latin liturgy.

To many Traditionalists, preference for the pre-Pian Holy Week (or breviary) is splitting hairs - even among Traditionalists, a critical view of liturgical reforms of Pius X and Pius XII often leaves one on the borderlands of acceptability due to the implicit ecclesiological critique, re: il Papa.

This said, a genuine appreciation of liturgical history makes one uneasy in the presence of liturgical reform that is either a) undertaken without solid manuscript evidence pointing to precedence or b) dismissive of a liturgical praxis, prayer, or custom long established.

Truth be told, I've never been too much of stickler over the reform of the Mass of the Presanctified - the reduction of the 12 prophecies to 4 always seemed to be the bigger loss.

Of more interest is the testimonial that various communities are subtly reinstituting the Pre-1955 Holy Week liturgy by increments. The definition of the debate as being between 1962 and 1970 is artificial, and seems based more on the resultant ecclesiology of Vatican I than the sum total of the Latin tradition.

When one looks back at the 20th century liturgical movement (putting aside the somewhat juvenile fixation on Pius X as the figurehead of the "authentic liturgical movement"), the case can be made the movement's golden age (the height of its enthusiasm, energy, movement, intellectual and spiritual powerhouses, and liturgical exposition) was well before 1962 or the Pian reforms in 1955. When we talk about the liturgy of the original liturgical movement, we are (sans the breviary) talking about the pre-modern Roman Rite, untouched by the Pian reforms or the truncate rubrics of John XXIII. That was the liturgy at the heart of the original liturgical movement. As much as one can openly ask whether or not the Missal of 1970 was in fact the liturgy the liturgical movement was working towards during its golden age, we can (and should) apply the same inquiry to the Pian reforms and the Missal of 1962. Someone like Virgil Michel may have seen application of the vernacular to the liturgy as it stood in the 1930s, however, the reconstructions applied between 1955 and 1970 were not conceived.

Of course, one may ask "what about Jungmann and the like?" True, the later figures of the liturgical movement lived and breathed the reforms undertaken between 1955 and 1970. Although, this coincides with the decline from the golden age. In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the liturgical movement was just that. It was real, palpable, and it was vying to make the liturgy equally as real and palpable. It was imminently practical in its approach, discarding piety and devotionalism in favor of making the liturgy the principle source of prayer, contemplation and praxis.

Before liturgy became the speculation of academics and playground of committees, the liturgical movement was at its height. More importantly, the Missale Romanum of the same period was the same principle source of prayer, contemplation and praxis the liturgical movement upheld. This leaves something contemporary Traditionalists would be wise to consider: the Missale Romanum of 1962 was a product of the transition from the liturgy as the principle source of prayer, contemplation and praxis to liturgy as academic speculation and majority vote.

Perhaps that is the way of all things when a bureaucracy finally takes notice.

As mentioned in a previous post, the likelihood that there will ever be full scale revival of the pre-Vatican II liturgy is slim. The likelihood we'll see a revival of the pre-modern Roman liturgy is, well, none. The likely course appears to be the re-appropriation of Latin chant or prayers into the Pauline liturgical template. Perhaps that will prove to be the better solution. At the moment, the re-appropriation is largely "on the ground," resultant from the will of a given community.

Perhaps this is the way things should be.

There is, of course, danger. We live in age during which Christianity is confused over its own principles and the matrix of faith that held together a parish is, in large part, shattered. Yet, it shattered due to poor guidance from larger authority structures.

Perhaps the danger is a worthy risk.