Tuesday, August 30, 2016

To Boldly Go...HD 164595

It seems that at least a handful of times per year the news cycle circulates with news stories related to either the discovery possible Earth like planets, or some form of measured astronomical observation hinting at a discovery of the ever allusive signs of intelligent life beaming through vast depths of space.

It is the later that are more interesting. The discovery of possible Earth like planets seems routine and is, truthfully, expected. It is the more tantalizing prospect of discovering an intelligently produced signal or other measurable indicator intentionally transmitted that fires the imagination. Although this story still hasn't topped the normal media channels, the account of SETI's investigation into a signal coming from HD 164595 has as much, if not more, steam behind it than any other similar story.

Centauri Dreams provides a more detailed presentation of what we know so far:
The signal was received on May 15, 2015, 18:01:15.65 (sidereal time), at a wavelength of 2.7 cm. The estimated amplitude of the signal is 750 mJy.
No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization. If it were a narrow beam signal focused on our Solar System, it would be of a power available to a Kardashev Type I civilization. The possibility of noise of one form or another cannot be ruled out, and researchers in Paris led by Jean Schneider are considering the possible microlensing of a background source by HD164595. But the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target.

The significance here is two fold: 1) thus far, it is measurable/detectable and 2) there is at least one legitimate research telescope station advocating for further study of the target.  Yes, it could be other things, but SETI is notoriously conservative about raising any possibility of a given signal warranting attention. Add that this data has apparently been studied for just about a year and half before the story broke, and one suspects that the signal detected is outside of the ordinary and otherwise expected.

Of course, measurable signal or no, the daunting mathematics behind several possibilities aligning at once is nearly indomitable. The universe is a vast place and for this to be the "real thing" one has to have several variables line up: 1) there is other life in the universe; 2) there is other intelligent life in the universe; 3) there is another civilization in the universe that has mastered at least our level of technology and is transmitting signals into space; 4) the signals of the advanced civilization were directed to our corner of the universe; 5) all other possible sources of the signal have been investigated and cannot be a reasonable source.

But what if everything aligns? What if this is it?

To be clear, I believe that given the enormity of the universe and the mechanics of creation, it is more than probable that other intelligent life exists in the universe and, like us, has at least a passive interest in searching out other civilizations in the hope of proving it is not alone.

Furthermore, I believe it is inevitable that we will at some point confirm the existence, at one time or another, of said civilization.

It remains to be seen if this signal if the harbinger of what one can only suspect would be paradigm shifting moment. It is not the prospect of discovering intelligent life itself that takes us to precipice of a new epoch. Rather, it is the prospect of coming face to face with life that is equal to or greater than our own which provides for both anticipation and anxiety.

Invariably, I would ask the question, if we can demonstrate a high civilization exists, what is the probability that at some point in humanity's distant past we had some form of interaction with a civilization more advanced than our own? What does such a civilization mean for our philosophies and religions?

I suspect our conception of God would go through some form of re-emphasis. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we could anticipate a pivot to the Wisdom literature and perhaps later Apocalyptic texts, filled as they are with abundant symbolism and cosmic imagery.

The more immediate question is clear: is this really it? I suspect, when all is said and done, the odds favor this being another "big wow" moment, a one of anomaly that is never repeated, but otherwise suggests an artificially occurring signal. And that is most disappointing. Where post-modern humanity (in the West) has determined that there is no reference point or subject of reality other than itself, perhaps the indication of the existence of an intelligence greater than our own is capable of realigning the collective philosophical view.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Well bound, beautiful, blissfully readable, and criminally underrated

In 2007 Crossway published the Single Column Reference Bible. This was still some time before the single column format gained some traction. As such, it was a bit of an oddity. In 2011, Crossway canceled this same edition. The reference line went off in a different direction and the single column format was primed for the Legacy Heritage, and now the Reader's Bible.

Sometime after the moratorium on the edition, Crossway's ESV SCR has become something of a "sleeper hit." It has a devoted following of readers or would-be readers most all of whom want to see Crossway bring this edition back into print. In truth, it is perhaps more highly regarded now than it was upon initial release.

In 2013 the prestigious R. L. Allan released their goatskin bound edition of the ESV SCR. The reviews were uniformly positive. You can find a great video review here:

You can also consult Mark Bertrand's review.

Since then, nothing. Crossway has no plans to produce another edition of the SCR. Schuyler has no plans, although it might be something they consider doing down the road. The prestigious R.L. Allan announced plans for a reformatted version of the ESV SCR in February 2015 via social media. Since then, progress has been apparently slow. No new updates have been forthcoming in the past year and a half and it was slated for launch in February of this year.

R.L. Allan will eventually get a new binding of the ESV SCR ready for shipment. Until then, one is struck by dirth of available copies. It is hard not to think that one of the better designed reading Bibles has somehow fallen by the wayside. For those fortunate enough to have Crossway's original edition, hold onto them - it doesn't look like we'll see a new run too soon.

Which brings me to the ESV Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible I recently reviewed. Crossway makes great product in-house, although its cowhide volumes tend to go under the radar compared to the Jongbloed produced volumes offered by Schuyler, Allan, and Cambridge, and Allan's in-house editions, now bound by Ludlow. The Verse-By-Verse Reference Bible is on its way to becoming the new "sleeper hit." It has laid low and relatively unnoticed, save for a handful of reviews upon its initial release. Reader's, however, are beginning to catch up to this otherwise under acclaimed edition and there is more talk about it those circles that are typically in the know.

If you've never really spent time with the ESV and you're looking for a well made Bible that you can keep coming back to, take a closer look at the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible. This is going to be another one of those releases by Crossway that slips under the radar for so long, and by the time it is picked up, it will already be gone. Just watch the secondary market soar on this one after it is taken out of print.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Crossway ESV Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible, Top Grain Cowhide (Review)

Verse-by-verse Bibles are quintessential to the Western Christian Tradition. When the thought of the sacred page is evoked, the verse-by-verse is seeming the archetypal layout that comes to mind. This is perhaps good reason. The verse-by-verse layout has established its predominance for use in preaching, praying, and otherwise liturgical use, It is so much to be preferred that Weber followed the format for the critical reconstruction of the Vulgate (minus punctuation).

The verse-by-verse format lends itself to a different experience. As mentioned above, preaching, prayer, liturgical, it has an entirely different feel than paragraph formatted layouts. It is a layout that pushes the reader towards a more deliberate and perhaps even somewhat delicate experience of scripture. It is less about textual comprehension or reading for the purpose of doctrine. It is more in the ever allusive direction of the experiential encounter with the Logos through the sacred page. In light of the purpose, it seems only appropriate that one should find a Bible bound to fulfill such a noble purpose.

Towards this end, Crossway's Verse-by-Verse in black top grain cowhide is something of a feat. This is a solid volume that immediately strikes the reader with its appropriate heft (this Bible has substance) and the culmination of its specs. This a well designed Bible, the appreciation of which only grows with regular use - after weeks, it genuinely dawns on you just how well it was made.

Truth to be told, I have a soft spot for top grain cowhide. When done right, top grain cowhide pulls off a certain look that alludes calf skin or goatskin.

The raised hubs are a fine example of this. Crossway's cowhide editions have consistently have thick raised hubs - if you're going to do raised hubs, this is how you should do them. In general leather manufacturing, cowhide is known to be smoother and more resistant to breakdown under tension (tensile strength). As such, there is "work-horse" quality to cowhide and it gives you a Bible that is both in the upper tier of leather options and sturdy for daily use and travel. In other words, put this in your satchel or bag and go without reservations - the Verse-by-Verse is meant to be used, and seen.

The top grain cowhide is complemented by leather lining - I believe this is Cromwell bonded leather. As result, the flexibility of the cover is superb - you should have no concern that inside cover will crack and it you should expect it to remain flexible.

The binding is edge lined, adding more resilience and decreasing the stress put on the book block from opening the cover.

The font is a very readable 9 point Lexicon and is enhanced by the opacity of the paper.  Crossway's decision in favor of 36 GSM Apple Thinopaque paper is a genuine boon for the reader. Needless to say, the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible brings back all of the fond memories of first reading through the Legacy's gorgeous paper. There is a similar, though not identical, look and feel to the paper.

When considering the paper used for the book block, one begins to appreciate just how well built the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible is. The paper, sewn book block, and cowhide all come together to create volume with the right amount of heft and substance. Holding it in one's hand, the volume convincingly conveys the sense that this is a Bible built to last. Like any well made sacred book should, the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible conveys presence.

Crossway has provided two black satin ribbons with the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible. Crossway prefers something more subtle and understated compared to the more luxurious ribbons out there, even in the Heirloom line. Here is no exception, although many readers will find the opacity of the paper to be worth the trade-off, especially with the attractive price point on the Verse-by-Verse.

The ESV Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible is a job well done by Crossway, who continues to impress the reader with the breadth of its line. Crossway is gradually changing expectations in Bible publishing and is able to deliver publication line that runs the full spectrum of price points and features.

You can get this for a great price at EvangelicalBible.com - perhaps the best price you'll find on this one.

Note: Special thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this edition.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sant Anselmo's new Vesperale

You can read all about it at the Pray Tell blog, written by the project editor himself, Fr. Anthony Ruff.

Fr. Ruff includes some fairly detailed explanation of the rationale behind the new Vesperale - it honestly reads like a rough draft of a proper forward. Chant aficionados will have much to chew on.

A few interesting notes from the article:
Vespers is sung daily in Latin at Sant’ Anselmo, allowing the international community to pray this key office together as a community. Uppermost for me was that the new book be as user-friendly as possible, since so many students and professors have done little or no Latin chant in their home monasteries. Vernacular chant based more or less on Latin is what predominates in monasteries around the world now.
Interesting, no? Invariably, it will strike some readers as "proof" that a Latin liturgy can foster community, but context is everything. In this instance, there is a presumption at the monks at Sant' Anselmo would know Latin on account of the location being an academic hub as well as monastic. Latin still has its utility, though context is everything.

Early on the leadership at Sant’ Anselmo decided that the psalter distribution would be that of the four-week reformed Roman office, not the old Benedictine one-week distribution or any of the other schemes in the The reason is sound: many monks at Sant’ Anselmo are praying other offices in vernacular using the Roman office (daily sung Lauds and Mass in Italian in the main chapel uses the Roman office), so it makes sense to link up with that. The calendar, of course, is that of Sant’ Anselmo.

Less than encouraging. While the Rule makes allowance for some modification of the order, it still insists on a one week psalter. This said, even the Psalterium Monasticum entertains alternative psalter schemas that were designed to deviate from that principle. The decision to adopt the current Roman schema is pragmatic, though one wonders how a parochial psalter meshes with the charism of monastic life. The decision is slightly disheartening since Benedict's schema is one of the oldest in continuous use. 

The insight provided into both the liturgical life at Sant' Anselmo and in the upper echelons of the order demonstrate why there will not likely be any significant rebuke of the liturgical reforms. What one glimpses is the image of a liturgical life that is...get ready for it...ORGANIC to the community. This is something reform of the reform types and traddies will eventually need to wrap their mind around. The Novus Ordo is less an imposition from on high and increasingly the natural liturgical expression, one that is cultivate by the community.  If one objects to that reform or the liturgical culture surrounding it, one must make some very hard choices.

I don't write this to gloat or endorse the Pauline liturgy (I genuinely have no dog in that fight). I write this because the tipping point is past. The period to argue against the liturgical reforms of the Roman Church is, practically speaking, over. The Novus Ordo has become what more traditional writers portray the Tridentine liturgy to have been prior to the reforms of the 20th century - it is the organic liturgical expression of the majority of the Roman Church. Whatever development, for well or ill, happens, it will use the Pauline liturgy as its template.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

ESV Reader's Bible 6 volume set cowhide over board - we're getting closer....

EvangelicalBible.com (the distribution wing of Schuyler) has put up a page dedicated to Crossway's upcoming 6 volume set of the Reader's Bible.

EvangelicalBible.com has an extremely competitive pre-order price on the cowhide over board edition. Make your decision soon on this one - you won't likely see that price again.

Of course, there are also new images provided on the same web page. Take a gander:

Good Lord, I wish liturgical books were still made like this! Aesthetically speaking, it is hard to think of any volume that gets any better than this.

Although without having seen a physical copy one has to exercise some restraint, the building opinion is that Crossway did their due diligence putting together the production specs of this set. It is too early to say if it will be a game changer in bible publishing, however, it appears Crossway has something special here.

We're getting closer...but it is still a long wait until October 31st....

Monday, August 8, 2016

The end of the reform of the reform?

The sentiment among some of the major liturgy hubs online intimates that the "reform of the reform" in the Roman Church may well have come to a sudden and definitive stop. An address given by Cardinal Sarah in which, among other things, the popular criticism of the Pauline liturgy among more "traditional" quarters, in which it is stated the reform of the Roman liturgy went beyond the directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium, was given voice by the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and said prefect exhorted the clergy to re-institute ad orientem as normative practise in the Roman Church. You can find the full text of his remarks here.

Cardinal Sarah's remarks elicited a flurry of effluent responses from more traditional leaning quarters, although it was somewhat premature. The cardinal made these comments outside of any official directive - their force limited to the persuasiveness of opinion and not institutional attempts at inculcating a normative practise.

The Roman liturgical establishment delighted when Cardinal Sarah appeared to receive a not-so-subtle rebuke from the Bishop of Rome, in which it was plainly stated that the GIRM holds final say in determining normative practise and the very concept of a "reform of the reform" was explicitly dismissed. Andrea Grillo, one of the more notable Roman liturgists (literally) was among the most vociferous, relishing this as the end of a self referential delusion. Grillo's piece underlines the latent suspicion opponents of the "reform of the reform" have that the entire notion is an attempt to role back the modernizations implemented with Vatican II and its aftermath. In his analysis, the death of the "reform of the reform" is intimately tied with attempts to normalize the SSPX (and the resulting ecclesiological fallout), a return to a conception of the Church as predominately the affair of clerics and hierarchs, and an intention to restructure the Pauline liturgy with as many elements of the so-called Tridentine liturgy as possible.

The reality is, Grillo and other opponents of the "reform of the reform" are in fact correct. The "reform of the reform" readily demonstrates all of the characteristics they so viscerally disagree with. One could go further: the "reform of the reform" was and is delusional. Its aims revealed a liturgical vision thoroughly benighted by its in ability to get beyond the series of questionable liturgical reforms implemented by the "Pian popes," and its devotion to an ecclesiological image that largely exists in romantic notions of what the Roman Church must have been like in previous decades.

This said, the liturgical vision of the likes of Grillo is unquestionably terrifying. A liturgical landscape in which even Redemptionis Sacramentum (or Ecclesia Eucharistia) is considered an attempt at "rolling back the vision of Vatican II" is a deconstructionist nightmare, fulfilling only the wishes of a limited few who are pathologically obsessed with innovation, bordering on a tyranny of the "eternal now," a liturgy in which even anamnesis is dead, in so far as nothing is recollected.

Has the "reform of the reform" worn out its welcome? Perhaps. There was a specific context in which the concept was created and entered the sphere of "public" (relatively speaking) knowledge and discourse. Then there is the history of the idea, from its initial debut and reception, through its maturation. At the heart of the concept is the quest to recover the sacred, or some tremor of the supernatural in an ancient patriarchate that seems to have succumbed to materialism. Most modern permutations of Catholicism differ very little from the myriad of NGOs and other political/social action organizations.

There were and are some worthwhile points for discussion raised by the "reform of the reform," at least in its earlier years, not the least of which is the orientation of the celebrant during the liturgy. The versus populum celebration that became normative in the Roman patriarchate after Vatican II is in direct conflict with the ad orientem celebration that both East and West converged upon. This is significant; although early evidence seems to indicate that there was vacillation on the matter, it is impossible to ignore that both East and West come to uniformly settle upon "ad orientem," to such a degree that it is impossible to find clear evidence of any memory of versus populum shared in the undivided Church. A case can therefore be made that rejecting ad orientem is in fact rejecting a shared tradition that has no practical example to the contrary.  On a more pragmatic level, there is the matter of the actual rubrics of the Pauline liturgy presuming ad orientem celebration in virtue of the fact that the celebrant is instructed to turn from his position in order to face the assembly as specific times. These include

  1. Cantu ad introitum absolutio, sacerdos et fideles, stantes, signant se signo crucis, dum sacerdos, ad populum conversus, dicit: In nomine...
  2. Stans postea in medio altaris, versus ad populum, extendens et iungens manus, dicit: Orate, fratres...
If the celebrant is presumed to be facing the people during the liturgy, these rubrics are redundant, or at least in need of a little copy editing. Having survived approximately 50 years of publication history, it seems reasonable to suggest that ad orientem is the presumed orientation of the celebrant during the liturgy, and that we ought not chalk these rubrics up to mishaps in the Vatican publishing house. Immediately, this brings the Missale Romanum of Paul VI into conflict with GIRM governing the celebration of said liturgy and its directive in favor of versus populum

In retrospect, ad orientem probably should have been the primary goal after John Paul II's edition of the Missale Romanum was published. The orientation of liturgical prayer goes a long way towards setting the tone and directing our focus during the liturgy.  The "reform of the reform" began to lose the plot when it fixated upon greater use of Latin and re-incorporating elements from the 1962 books into the 2002 Missale Romanum. When a certain proponent of the "reform of the reform" tried rallying the troops like a scene from Brave Heart after the publication of the new translation (not because he found if faulty, but because it didn't go far enough towards reconstituting the so-called "Tridentine" Missal) it became apparent that the movement was leaving behind what had become the dominant liturgy of the Roman Church in favor of a very particular liturgical vision. 

Whatever merit there was in the concept's implicit critique of the Roman Church's modernization, the "reform of the reform" movement oftentimes overshot its bounds and thereby failed to accurately assay the context in the West and the developing world. In the Western context, the majority interest is for the Pauline liturgy to be celebrated well, and in the vernacular. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, St. Paul's in Cambridge (right near Harvard University), and Blessed Sacrament in Seattle are three such churches which demonstrate how the Pauline liturgy ought to be celebrated, and, it could be argued, capture what most active members of the Roman Church want to see in the celebration of liturgy. All three parishes demonstrate that the Pauline liturgy done well will invariably satisfy the desire for the sacred among the majority - interest in other liturgical forms will always be, for better or worse, the priority of a smaller subset. 

Again, this is a "for better or worse" situation. Although the Pian reforms of the 20th century were the original wrecking balls taken to the Roman liturgy, there was nevertheless some semblance, however mutated, of the ancient Roman liturgy. Granted, at a certain point prior to the 1960s we can no longer speak of a pre-modern or pre-reformed Roman liturgy in any real sense. Yet, the early attempts at liturgical modernization still retained some threads of a more ancient observance, thereby facilitating continuity with the tradition, even if such moments had to be eruditely sought in the Missal of 1962. That interest in these genuinely modernized examples of the old Roman liturgy elicit such limited interest (and it is genuinely limited) demonstrates how removed the "reform of the reforms" aims were with the major current in the Roman Church. 

This is not to say the Pauline liturgy ought to be uncritically accepted. It is, however, to point out the degree to which the "reform of the reform" crowd was often detached from the interests and expectations of their co-coreligionists. 

To a certain degree, the most damnable weakness of the "reform of the reform" was its inability to clearly articulate a critical vision of the Pian reforms. Plainly, there often appears to be a self imposed restraint from critiquing papal mandated liturgical reforms prior to Paul VI. Again, this is not to shield the Pauline liturgy from much deserved criticism. It is to say, however, that the "reform of the reform" hardly passes itself off as anything more than a sociological or cultural response if it fails to propose a coherent program for reform that addresses a history of questionable liturgical impositions from the Tridentine to the modern period. A genuine, and non-ideological, discussion of reform would have sought to retrieve what was lost during the transition away from pre-Tridentine Catholicism. Self-censorship (inspired by a rather recent dogma, one imagines) has prevented this movement from seriously engaging a long history of liturgical problems.

If the "reform of the reform" is truly dead as Grillo seems to believe (and I am not sure that it is, although I think recent events are yet another wake up call that needs to be answered), then it seems only too reasonable, if only for the fact that it is time to dismiss the fantasy that Rome will walk back on the liturgical reforms it implemented. This is simply not going to happen, if not due to consequences of post-infallible ecclesiology, than due to the simple fact the consistent judgment from John Paul II to Francis has deemed anything that could be conceived as an other liturgical revolution ought to be avoided. There is some wisdom in this. Rome has lived in the wake of one such revolution in its history. In producing its own revolution, the Roman hierarchy discovered just how fragile institutional faith really is. Institutions do not typically endure when they convey any semblance of the ephemeral. By committing itself to modernization, the Roman Church actively shed the perception of permanence and stability. Further disruption to now normative liturgical praxis would, it can be argued, only further Rome down the spiral of institutional upheaval and disruption, further undermining any pretense to religious stability. If Francis has stamped out the "reform of the reform" it is with an understanding that the Roman liturgy requires a period of stability before any person of institutional influence should begin entertaining reforms of either structure or praxis.

The immediate future of the Roman liturgy is attainment of stabilization of its modern form; the Pauline liturgy must get to the point where it simply is the liturgy and investment of resources is directed towards celebrating it well. This is the direction the signs are pointed in.

For those who labor in the field with a broader perspective on Western liturgical history and practise, they must content themselves to continue with their own research and personal edification - perhaps the next eventual wave of liturgical reform will look to recapture the spirit of Western Christianity as found in pre-Tridentine Catholicism. However, this has always been the minority, hardly represented by the "reform of the reform" and certainly not represented by the Traditionalists. Indeed, one criticism that will always linger when discussing the "reform of the reform" is that it always appeared to follow along the lines of the 20th century reforms imposed by Rome. The fundamental question it should have raised was not whether reforms implemented in the name of the Second Vatican Council were well and good, but  whether the whole program of papal tampering with the ancient liturgy of Rome (and arguably the premiere liturgical expression of the Western Church) ought not to have been sufficiently audited against the Tradition.

Beginning with Pius IX's tampering with the Mass and Office of the Conception, the papacy showed no feeling of restraint imposed by the Tradition, seeing the liturgy increasingly as a vessel for papal prerogative. It is tempting to give pontiffs such as John Paul II and Francis the benefit of the doubt by viewing their steadfast insistence on the Pauline liturgy as a return to restraint. Invariably, however, it proves difficult to avoid concluding such positions are intended to be more a re-emphasis on modernization than re-discovering a pre-infallible papacy, or returning a sense of reception to the liturgy.