Friday, December 8, 2017

Tertullian on the Blessed Virgin

From On the Flesh of Christ, by Tertullian:

But, leaving Alexander with his syllogisms, which he so perversely applies in his discussions, as well as with the hymns of Valentinus, which, with consummate assurance, he interpolates as the production of some respectable author, let us confine our inquiry to a single point—Whether Christ received flesh from the virgin?—that we may thus arrive at a certain proof that His flesh was human, if He derived its substance from His mother's womb, although we are at once furnished with clear evidences of the human character of His flesh, from its name and description as that of a man, and from the nature of its constitution, and from the system of its sensations, and from its suffering of death.

Now, it will first be necessary to show what previous reason there was for the Son of God's being born of a virgin. He who was going to consecrate a new order of birth, must Himself be born after a novel fashion, concerning which Isaiah foretold how that the Lord Himself would give the sign. What, then, is the sign? "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son." Accordingly, a virgin did conceive and bear "Emmanuel, God with us." This is the new nativity; a man is born in God. And in this man God was born, taking the flesh of an ancient race, without the help, however, of the ancient seed, in order that He might reform it with a new seed, that is, in a spiritual manner, and cleanse it by the removal of all its ancient stains.

But the whole of this new birth was prefigured, as was the case in all other instances, in ancient type, the Lord being born as man by a dispensation in which a virgin was the medium. The earth was still in a virgin state, reduced as yet by no human labour, with no seed as yet cast into its furrows, when, as we are told, "God made man out of it into a living soul." As, then, the first Adam is thus introduced to us, it is a just inference that the second Adam likewise, as the apostle has told us, was formed by God into a quickening spirit out of the ground—in other words, out of a flesh which was unstained as yet by any human generation. But that I may lose no opportunity of supporting my argument from the name of Adam, why is Christ called Adam by the apostle, unless it be that, as man, He was of that earthly origin? And even reason here maintains the same conclusion, because it was by just the contrary operation that God recovered His own image and likeness, of which He had been robbed by the devil.

For it was while Eve was yet a virgin, that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin's soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced. But (it will be said) Eve did not at the devil's word conceive in her womb. Well, she at all events conceived; for the devil's word afterwards became as seed to her that she should conceive as an outcast, and bring forth in sorrow. Indeed she gave birth to a fratricidal devil; while Mary, on the contrary, bare one who was one day to secure salvation to Israel, His own brother after the flesh, and the murderer of Himself. God therefore sent down into the virgin's womb His Word, as the good Brother, who should blot out the memory of the evil brother. Hence it was necessary that Christ should come forth for the salvation of man, in that condition of flesh into which man had entered ever since his condemnation.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Vigilia Nativitatis: Nulla Fit Commemoratio?

Is Christmas Eve confusing for priests who offer the old Mass? No, but apparently it might be to those who offer the "TLM", which is itself a bit of a mish-mash of 1962, old rite, and whatever Archbishop Lefebvre liked.

The 1962 crowd at Rorate extol the centuries old rubric of the Christmas vigil Mass superseding the scheduled fourth Sunday of Advent (a shame we had the longest possible Advent last year and the shortest this year), without any commemoration of the Sunday. Are we to believe this is consonant with liturgical custom in the Roman rite? The Sunday is entirely disregarded on the grounds that it is already a feast of the Lord, making a commemoration redundant, according to the drastic reductions of Papa Roncalli. The problem is that the two are not exactly the same sort of day.

The vigil is, for one, a vigil. Prior to 1960 it was exceptional among major vigils in that it was celebrated in violet vestments without use of the folded chasuble (more along of the lines of vigils of the Apostles—axed in the '62 books, less like Pascha and Pentecost); also unusual were the combination of ferial Mattins and its one nocturne of lessons from Saint Jerome with festive Lauds, complete with doubled antiphons, reflecting a full celebration.

Advent's fourth Sunday is comparatively conventional and restrained. It is still a semi-double, which would ordinarily admit commemorations and, despite the festive Lauds normal to Sunday, it is still a somewhat penitential day, with folded chasubles, no organ music, and continuation of the Rorate caeli desuper texts from early Advent.

It seems improper to call either day full festive, but the vigil clearly anticipates Christ's birth while the Sunday looks forward with sober restraint. The latter is as integral to fulfilling Advent as the former is to ending it, and so omitting its memory makes Advent shorter than the natural calendar has already done.

Byzantine tradition has a commemoration system both simple and complex. At Vespers one simply adds the troparia from the superseded feast to those of the day; at the Divine Liturgy one tacks the tropar and kontakion onto those of the day. Orthros (Mattins) and its sessional hymns are where things get messy. The older Roman system similarly desires to accommodate as much of the liturgy as possible and does so in an easier manner, merely adding the orations at Mass, combining Mattins readings of the day so the concatenated lessons of the replaced feast Mass may be added, the versicles and oration at the major hours, and the Gospel read in place of Saint John at Mass. There are more places for commemorations, but they are easier to manage.

In light of this, the 1962 omission of the Advent Sunday, which is fundamentally a different day than the Christmas vigil, seems more consonant with.... the rubrics of 1970.... with the two days flipped....

Note: folded chasubles seem to be making an overdue comeback. Perhaps we are witnessing organic, rather than wholesale, restoration?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Prayer Request

Please pray for my aunt, Lisa, who lives in Bel-Air, California. A wildfire has been compounded with high winds and has destroyed over 400 homes in the area. Her street has been compelled to evacuate by local authorities and she is up in a hotel with a risk of losing her house.

Thank you,
The Rad Trad

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent Office for the Dead

It is Advent and time, again, to pray for the dead in this penitential season. Please visit our page to leave the names of all the deceased you would like us to pray for and, if time permitting, you can join us in praying for. Since first posting this Office of the Dead several years ago the natural shifts in the kalendar with the years has made some of the instructions in the front section outmoded. With Christmas falling on a Monday this year we also only get three instances to pray this Office, which is typically said on the first ferial or simple day of the week. Therefore, we propose the following schedule:

  • December 4th, Monday
  • December 12th, Tuesday
  • December 18th, Monday
For those observing a more modern kalendar, such as that in use immediately before Pius XII, you could pray the first Office on December 5th so as to observe St Peter Chrysologus. December 12th would be within the Octave of the Immaculate Conception, which cannot be avoided, but allows the ancient feast of St Damasus to be had.

Be sure to leave those intentions!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent and Last Things

Virgin and Unicorn, by Domenichino
On this Advent Eve, thoughts of the end of the world and the many mini-apocalypses that are divinely ordained to precede it bubble up into the Catholic consciousness. Last night your own Mr. J. Grump found himself thumbing through an abridged publication of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West—one of Evelyn Waugh’s favorite works of social commentary—and an old, periodic feeling of melancholy briefly overcame him. The world entire will one day come to an end, but our smaller worlds of nations and empires will also come to their fated ends, as will we all come to our individual ends and judgments.

A recent interview with Cdl. Raymond Burke has been making the rounds, in which he imagines what he would do as pope (make a clear profession of faith) and also gives his thoughts on the end times.
So there is a feeling that in today’s world that is based on secularism with a completely anthropocentric approach, by which we think we can create our own meaning of life and meaning of the family and so on, the Church itself seems to be confused. In that sense one may have the feeling that the Church gives the appearance of being unwilling to obey the mandates of Our Lord. Then perhaps we have arrived at the End Times.
Another century, another mass-feeling of apocalyptic doom? Perhaps, but who can say for sure? There will be at least one generation whose personal ends will all coincide with the final End, and it would be presumptuous to think it could not possibly be ours. The world’s last night will eventually fall, whether we are ready or not.

Our Lord’s first coming ended part of the world, the old Mosaic covenant, but also brought with it unimaginable hope and joy. His second coming will end the whole world, but also bring with it eternal bliss for his people.

The allegory of the Virgin and the Unicorn represents the Incarnation of the Word, the mythical beast being driven by the hounds of mercy and justice to the lap of a chaste maid. In some renditions of the allegory the angel Gabriel blows his horn as a hunter, much like the trump St. Paul says will blow at the final hour (I Cor. 15, I Thess. 4). Many spiritual writers have observed that the office of Mercy has been given to Mary, just as the dispensing of Justice has been given from the Father to the Son. The workings of the eschaton are still mysterious to us, but surely the Woman Clothed in the Sun will play a large part, just as she did two-thousand years ago.

“Take ye heed, watch and pray, for you know not when the lord of the house cometh.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

God Bless, No One

"I didn't start this."
Christmas has become a palimpset, a blank canvas that a given celebrant draws his ideas of happiness or consolation onto. In most families it means family time, itself nostalgic recreations of when Grandma and Grandpa led elaborate Christmas Eve parties back when Christmas meant something to them. In cities it means shopping, Santa Clauses, carols at the symphony, and Salvation Army collections. And among the embittered moderns from broken homes it means a time to ignore old wounds and find distraction in some hipster manner of diluting the time off, be it a vacation to Mexico or a ski trip.

Christmas can be anything to anyone, but why? The Rad Trad, for one, blames Dickens.

At the theaters is a film aptly entitled The Man Who Invented Christmas, an imaginative telling of Charles Dickens' inspiration for the novella A Christmas Carol. The enduring tale of the miser who reforms his sinning ways after the visitation of four phantasms has truly earned Dickens the title The Man Who Invented Christmas, or at least Christmas as we know it.

A Christmas Carol possesses a Christian spirit of goodness that reflects the generally Christian people of mid-19th century, early industrial England where it was penned to paper, yet it is not a Christian tale. It is a self-made man's plea to the charity of other self-made men not to abandon the destitute to the cruel remedies of the emerging welfare state. Dickens escaped Scrooge's workhouses without the classical liberal sureness that anyone who deserves better than his current state can divine a way to obtain it on his own. So, the novella becomes a plea to Christian charity in an era of growing welfare, growing greed, growing government involvement in social structure, and growing factory business. The reader is left with the impression that his Christmas duty is, like Jacob Marley's, "kindness, benevolence, mercy, forbearance." 

What of the Son of God?

He does not make an appearance in this work, either by name or intimation. Nor does any mention of the Deist's God, so in vogue in those days. Nor does any mention of Christianity. "God", "Nativity", "Incarnation", and "Jesus" are words that appear no where in any edition of the novella. Various film adaptations have noticed this void and filled it as best and ask awkwardly as they can. The original talkie movie with Reginald Owen finds the Cratchits and the nephew, Fred, meeting after church services; George C. Scott's 1984 version has Tiny Tim hoping that on Christmas church-goers may think of Christ when they see his own ailment; and a recent Patrick Stewart film makes Scrooge watch people around the world sing Silent Night and even finds the miser in service the following morning! Imagine, he found his religion in less time that did Saint Paul, who had to wait for Ananias to baptize him.

"I will not itemize charitable giving in my returns this year, Spirit!"
Scrooge's conversion is to a love that Saint Thomas Aquinas might find agreeable. Scrooge does "will the good of another". His love, however, is not for God's sake or God's creation, it is for the sake of the created ones themselves. Perhaps this is what makes A Christmas Carol so enduring after the Sexual Revolution, Vietnam, Facebook, and the age of millennials. The sinner is a man who did not see the good in everyone and his conversion experience is that now he does. Coupled with a few specters, this Christmas tale stays safely in the realm of fiction—unlike the supernatural revelation of the Gospel, wherein God's hand touches earth and becomes Man's bridegroom (cf. Origen, Sarum Christmas Eve Mattins). The most supernatural element of A Christmas Carol is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who is a thinly veiled Angel of Death. Otherwise, the novella, intended to move people to charity in a decreasingly Christian society, is a modern day inoculation against believing anything out of the ordinary has happened on December 25.

Might we paraphrase Tiny Tim with "God bless us, no one"?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Decline and Fall of Illusions

The current state of affairs in the Church and what was Christendom is both unhappy and self-evident, but sometimes a fresh perspective, even on such a beaten topic, can present a more thoughtful eye toward renewal. Stuart Chessman of the St. Hugh blog has such an article on his site that is well worth your time.

I disagree with his take on the Jesuits, to an extent, and dating the current decline to Vatican II, which was the culmination of a Revolution long in the making, but it is still a solid read with the right take on the JP2/Ratzinger years and the potential relief of the current pontificate.

A few snippets:

After the collapse of Christendom, however, the Roman Catholic Church was able to reorganize itself internally under the leadership of the ultramontane papacy. Ultramontanism in the 19th century sense contested the growing hegemony of liberalism yet also depended on it. The renewed stature of the papacy presupposed liberalism’s eliminating or weakening other competing centers of material and spiritual power in the Church (especially the absolute monarchies, but also the landed contemplative monasteries, the state churches of France and the Holy Roman Empire, etc.). What emerged by 1870 was a rigidly centralized Church organized around the clergy and the pope. All authority in matters of doctrine, liturgy and to some extent politics was reserved to the Pope and Vatican. The Church strived for uniformity in worship, music, philosophy and theology. Obedience to authority was elevated to an almost mystical value.

Yet the ultramontane revival of John Paul II remained only a “Great Facade” (Chris Ferrara).  Aside from insisting on a limited external conformity and firing warning shots at the most egregious progressive offenders, the Vatican made no attempt to recreate the uniformity of doctrine and morals that existed the pre-Conciliar years.  At all times in the papacy of John Paul II, Catholic hierarchs, religious orders and schools embraced and agitated for the most diverse and contradictory positions. The Vatican’s solution to mounting massive problems – like declining numbers of clergy and religious; clerical sexual abuse, financial corruption and above all the decline in the West of belief and religious practice among Catholics – was to sweep them under the rug.

But out of this seemingly inevitable tragedy may come at least one advantage: the truth.  For far too long the Catholic Church has continued to take refuge in fantasies of stability and success, of secular standing and influence.  You need look only at any of the official Catholic media to confirm this – isn’t the Al Smith Dinner in New York the incarnation of this self-deception? Even the supposedly hard-nosed liturgical traditionalists remained to some extent in thrall to these mirages. The poison of dishonesty has eroded the faith more surely than any persecution or loss of worldly advantages could do. Moreover, in addition to obscuring reality, the culture of ultramontanism also inculcated habits of spiritual torpor, passivity and blind deference to authority (by extension, also to secular authority!) that have left Catholics ill-equipped to navigate the unprecedented post-Conciliar crisis.

Let be be finale of seem! Jettisoning the Catholic culture of pretend is the first, most necessary step towards reform. To that extent we owe Pope Francis a debt of gratitude. Does not the shipwreck of a mythical centralized day-to-day magisterium make possible a return to the Catholic spiritual “basics” of prayer, penitence and evangelization? And, doesn’t the Tradition of the Church, present before us in the Fathers and Doctors, in history and art and, above all, in the liturgy as it is lived every day remain to us as a surer guide?