Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Francis' Trinitarian Theology


This needs little comment from the peanut gallery, as the selection speaks for itself. This is from an article on Crux about an Argentinian theologian who thinks she understands and can explain the thought of P. Francis.
She [Dr. Emilce Cuda] says Francis urged them to do theological ethics with a “hermeneutic of unity in difference,” an idea that the network has already embraced before his election. It’s a theme that recurs in the pope’s intellectual passions: creating processes in which the Holy Spirit forges new synthesis out of disparities and disagreements.
In the meeting, the pope jokingly likened this to the way the Holy Trinity functions. “Inside the Holy Trinity they’re all arguing behind closed doors,” Cuda says Francis told them, “but on the outside they give the picture of unity.”
Cuda says his comparison made her think of something more earthy attributed to Argentina’s famous leader Juan Domingo PerĂ³n. “In Peronism, when they hear cats shrieking, people outside think they’re fighting; in fact, they’re reproducing.”
There are few words for this kind of casual blasphemy, only a rising desire to do a great deal of penance. God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Book of the Church

(source)
While it goes by the name of Sirach in many Bibles, the ancient title in the Latin Church was Liber Ecclesiasticus, shortened today simply as Ecclesiasticus. It was so named because its content was used frequently for the teaching of doctrine and morals, especially for the education of catechumens. The book begins with the doctrine that there is one God, but also Wisdom and his Holy Spirit, and admonishes the soon-to-be-convert: "Never come to him with a heart that hesitates.... Submissive be thy heart, and ready to bear all.... Firm let thy feet be set on the path the Lord has chosen for thee." What better advice to give to a catechumen?

Much of the book's content is aphoristic, but much also is a series of long-form considerations on different topics: social duties, husbands and wives ("He best thrives that best wives": ch. 26), care for the poor, the choosing of friends, exhortations against sadness, and so on. All of it worthwhile advice that today's homilists would be wise to consider including in their sermons.

The mid-book monologue from Wisdom herself is famous for being the one with the most Marian imagery ("I am the mother of fair love..."). Indeed, one wishes to contrast one passage—"Eat of this fruit, and you will yet hunger for more; drink of this wine, and your thirst for it is still unquenched"—with the dominican passage in St. John's Gospel—"He who comes to me will never be hungry, he who has faith in me will never know thirst." The acquisition of wisdom leads to a desire for more wisdom, and devotion to the Theotokos leads to a desire for the God she bore.

Certain passages contradict Protestant doctrines of depravity, antinomianism, and predestination: "Do not complain that it was [God] led thee into false paths; what need has God, thinkest thou, of rebels?... Those commandments if thou wilt observe, they in their turn shall preserve thee, and give thee warrant of his favour.... A brood of disloyal sons and worthless, how should this be the Lord's desire?" (ch. 15). Luther and Calvin both would have a strong dislike for this type of wisdom.

The last five chapters or so recapitulate Hebrew history and praise holy men of years gone by: Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Phinees, Samuel, Nathan, Elias, and so on. He ends with a magnificent soliloquy about a more contemporary high priest—Simon, son of Onias. So rare is it to hear a priest praised for his holiness and good works, it is worth reproducing at some length:
A great priest was Simon, son of Onias; in his day the house of God was repaired, to make the temple strong was his life’s task. The high part of the temple, where the building was of double thickness, and the towering walls about it, he underpinned; in his day, too, the cisterns received their full flow of water, rose beyond all measuring, sea-deep. So well he cared for his fellow-citizens; no enemy should be able to compass our ruin; nor lacked he means to enlarge the city’s span. See in what state he comes out to meet the people; entrance of temple and of temple-court lifted high above him! Bright he shone as the day-star amid the clouds, as the full moon in her season; nor sun ever shed on our own temple such generous rays as he. What shall be compared with him? Rainbow that lights up the clouds with sudden glory, rose in spring-time, lilies by the water-side, scent of olibanum on the summer air? Fire that glows brightly, and glow of incense on the fire? Ornament of pure gold, set with whatever stones are rarest; olive-tree that burgeons, tall cypress pointing to the sky? Such was he when he put on his robe of office, clad himself with the full majesty of his array; sacred the garments in which he went up to the sacred altar, yet were they ennobled by the man that wore them. (ch. 50)
God send us priests worthy of such praise!

After reading this book cover-to-cover, I doubt it would be useful to simply dump it all on a catechumen and tell him to read and discuss later. Much of it is too repetitive and poorly organized for catechesis, and many of the asides are not terribly relevant (such as instructions for throwing dinner parties in ch. 32). Selections from Ecclesiasticus could be incorporated into teaching material, especially during the inevitably long discussions of moral theology. The exhortation to combat ignorance is a good one for catechumen and mentor alike: "Speak thou never against the known truth; and if thy ignorance has erred, own thy error" (ch. 4).

Finally, as in the Apocalypse, this book ends with a blessing on the reader: "Blessed is he who lingers in these pleasant haunts, and treasures the memory of them." A pleasant haunt, indeed.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Origins of "Church Militant"

Recently while reading the discourses of P. Gregory the Great with Peter the Deacon concerning the immortality of the soul, I came across this interesting passage recounting how the death of multiple monks in Gregory's old monastery was foretold by an angelic visitor:
That those also, which lie a dying, do oftentimes by divine revelation foretell what shall happen afterward, we may learn by such things as have fallen out amongst us in divers Abbeys. For ten years since, there was a monk in my Monastery, called Gerontius, who, lying sore sick, saw by vision in the night time, certain white men beautifully apparelled to descend from above into the Monastery, and standing by his bed-side, one of them said: "The cause of our coming hither is to choose out certain of Gregory's monks, to send them abroad unto the wars": and forthwith he commanded another to write in a bill the names of Marcellus, Valentinian, Agnellus, and divers others, whose names I have now forgotten: that being done, he said further: "Put down also the name of him that now beholdeth us." By which vision he being assured of that which would come to pass, the next morning he told the monks, who they were that should shortly die out of the Monastery, adding also that himself was to follow them. The next day the foresaid monks fell more dangerously sick, and so died all in that very order which they were named in the bill. Last of all, himself also departed this life, who had foretold the departure of the other monks before him. (IV.xxvi)
What interested me especially was the phrase used by the angel of death, that these monks were being recruited to be "sent abroad unto the wars." This imagery of the saints in Heaven engaged in warfare is not, to my knowledge, found elsewhere. It makes sense that the souls of holy men war against the Devil just as the holy angels do, but still the appellation Ecclesia Militans is applied to us here on earth, and Ecclesia Triumphans describes those safe in the harbor of Heaven.

The imagery in the Militant-Triumphant metaphor is clear: the soul of a man on Earth is in constant warfare against sin, the world, the flesh, and the Devil; while the soul of a man in Heaven has triumphed over all these enemies and is established forever in grace. St. Thomas Aquinas used the Militant-Triumphant dichotomy in his Summa (II-I.102.4), but I cannot otherwise trace the origins of this terminology.

I have to wonder why the Gregorian imagery of the holy dead being sent off to war did not gain purchase in popular piety. Was it because of a increasing consciousness of the middle state, the Ecclesia Dolens? Did Purgatory conquer so much of the imagination that theologians desired to emphasize the rest and triumph of the state of blessedness? The ecclesial phrases suggest a transition from activity to passivity, but if the holy angels truly rest in the Beatific Vision and yet are perpetually active on our behalf, why should not the great "cloud of witnesses" do the same? We might we not go from one sort of militancy to another?

Mind you, I am not being critical or especially skeptical of the popular terminology of Militant-Suffering-Triumphant. I am merely curious about its origins. If any of our good readers have knowledge of this aspect of Catholic piety, I would love to hear it.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Joseph's Dream of God


Today being the external solemnity of the Feast of St. Joseph, I suppose I am required to say a few words. Thankfully, P. Francis has saved me from my writer's block with a new radio address (link courtesy of the ever-irascible Frank "Barnhardt Was Right" Walker):
Today I want to ask, grant to all of us the ability to dream, that when we dream great things, beautiful things, we might draw near to the dream of God, the things God dreams about us. [I ask] that he might give to young people – because he was young – the capacity to dream, to risk, to undertake the difficult tasks they have seen in dreams. And [I ask] him to give to all of us the faithfulness that tends to grow when we have a just attitude – Joseph was just – [the faithfulness that] grows in silence, with few words; that grows in tenderness that guards our own weaknesses and those of others.
Actually, I do like to imagine Joseph dreaming prophetically, when he was young, of his future bride and her Divine Son. Perhaps he, too, dreamed of the sun and moon bowing down before him, a figure of his eventual role as the head of the Holy Family.

Or perhaps Francis should re-read the ancient words of Sirach before encouraging the young to follow their dreams: "For dreams have deceived many, and they have failed that put their trust in them." Food for thought.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Audi Filia, et Vide, et Inclina Aurem Tuam


Above is a Stanford recreation of the acoustics of the Hagia Sophia and how chant would have sounded there in the Christian age. The Cappella Romana performed several Greek pieces, like the Cherubic hymn, which were then processed using an auditory blueprint of the cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum.

After listening to Greek chant in this setting the droning makes more sense than it does in modern Orthodox and Greek Catholic churches. Far from dominating the tone or drowning out inflections as it does today, the drone acts as background music to give body to the sound in the same way strings do to woodwinds in an orchestra or a bass does to a rock band. When the chant resonates the particular traits of words can be lost, but the drone, in the same key as the words sung when the drone was made, keeps the note clear as long as the noise persists. The melismatic nature of Gregorian chant in Latin Christendom and the chanting of reading doubtlessly accomplished the same end by slowing down the singing.

To have heard the Trisagion and to hear Chrysostom rebuke Eudoxia....

Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's Lent, So Pray for the Dead


Lent is upon us, so please take the time to pray for the dead, either in the firmer structures of the Office of the Dead or in your own way (psalm 129 is great).

As usual we have prepared the page above where you can list your intentions and also download our formatted version of the un-reformed Officium Defunctorum for votive and Requiem uses. If you can, please join the writers of this blog in praying for our intentions.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

All Lined Up


I present you with a speculative question: when and how did the unitary movement of the three senior ministers at solemn Mass come about in the Latin Church? It is so fundamentally a part of the physical vocabulary of the Latin Church's liturgy that by the time of Trent it was done in seemingly every Western rite descended from the Church of Rome, hence excluding the Milanese and Toledoan rites.

My own guess is that it came in two stages: first with the principle of a singular celebrant for each Mass and second with the increase of reverences paid to the altar.

Sacramentaries and and psalters and the odd fragment of a lectionary come down to us from the pre-medieval days, but very few descriptions of the physical movements of the ministers. Even the increased output of book production from monasteries yielded very little in this regard; when the Oxford Oratorian Sean Finnegan put on Sarum Masses in 1996 and 1997 he derived the ceremonial from illustrations in old Missals and texts rather than concrete rubrics (although some of this may have to do with the modest number of Missals that survived the Reformation). The best hint as to the structure of the ministers in the early days of the Roman liturgy is the pre-Paul VI Papal Mass, the most direct link to the primitive Roman liturgy. In this order of Mass the Pope celebrated at the top step of the altar surrounded by an archpriest and the Cardinal-Bishops vested in copes. A step down from him were the deacons and at the bottom the subdeacon and the Greek deacon and subdeacon. Cardinal-Priests vested in the chasuble and Cardinal-Deacons in the dalmatic; they sat in choir according to the dignity of their Cardinal order, not their ordained order, as most Cardinals were forcibly ordained bishops by this time. As with the additional ministers in the ponitifical form of the Lyonese Mass these vestures and orders of stature are relics from an age when more ministers took an active part in the Mass. At some point the number of sacred ministers and their functions began to consolidate. For example, if the subdeacon is given the right to hold and purify vessels at ordination then why must he hold the paten under the hummeral veil? Simply because he is fulfilling the role previously occupied by the acolytes (cf. Ordo Romanus I) in the first millennium in Rome and in the northern rites under Trent (cf. Sarum); the acolyte in the Roman liturgy held the various patens on the ground level while the breads consecrated at the altar rested on the linens until the fracturing of the sacred species, as the subdeacon does today.

Why did the number of ministers and celebrants become reduced? Requiem Masses, private votive Masses, and additional Masses for the day had much to do with it. Outside of a few major feasts (Christmas, potentially Pascha, Nativity of St. John the Forerunner etc) it was very uncommon for a priest to celebrate more than once a day. The rise of unique Requiem Masses for deceased monks and votive Masses in honor of Saints gave monastic celebrants the option between a private Mass for a specific intentional and the communal Mass, which would be celebrated regardless. As the number of celebrants declined to one so the number of deacons, subdeacons, and acolytes declined to one each. As late as the age of Innocent III the Cardinal-Priests still concelebrated with the Pope on special feasts (then again the primitive Office was still used in St. Peter's and the Lateran, and the primitive Mass on the feast of St. Peter's Chair; the Pope may be referencing these usages and not the curial books popularized by the Minorites). While archaeological evidence remained at Papal Mass, Lyon, and Salisbury of additional ministers in the form of honorary attendees, the older number of active ministers clearly declined by the end of the High Middle Ages. There was one of each minister assigned, as they were in ancient times, to a step from the altar according to each minister's dignity.

This brings us to the second phase in the development of the concurrent movements of the ministers: the increased reverenced paid to the altar. With the single ministers aligned step by step they began to move in unison with the celebrant, who would reverence the altar before greeting the people with Dominus vobiscum. This happened with greater or lesser frequency depending on place. Sarum made a few reverences to the altar and the Dominus vobiscum before the orations happened from the corner where the Missal rested. In Rome the celebrant would move to the center of the altar, kiss it, and return to the Missal for the Collects and post-Communions, so the ministers moved with him.

If done without fuss the movements of the ministers rightly reflects the sacred order of the heavenly hosts, the choirs of angels and the saints in their place before the even high Lord of All. If overdone, these movements can appear comical, which was the impression a friend's mother (JP2 type) received after her first "old" Mass. "I like it when they nod their heads together."

I welcome any further insights on the development of these very Roman movements.