Friday, February 14, 2020

The Legitimacy of the Sarum Use


The Sarum Use of the Roman Rite always seems destined for a breakout and yet never seems to get there. Interest in Sarum began in the '90s with the Oratorian celebrations at Merton College chapel in Oxford and has only increased in the years since Summorum Pontificum. Here we had a full length video for the information age to behold: medieval Catholic liturgy in all its splendor, no taste of minimalism or restriction, just the spirit of the ancient Roman liturgy as distilled in England during the centuries prior to the Reformation.

Most recently Sarum Vespers were celebrated in Philadelphia under the approval of the archdiocese in a place where that liturgical rite has never been observed before. It prompts the question: is there a legitimate place for the Sarum Use in the Catholic Church today?

Recapitulating History


With enough resources available to celebrate a proper solemn high Mass over two decades ago, there is already enough about Sarum for readers, but to construct an answer to the question we must construct a premise for understanding what Sarum is.

The Sarum Use was, as characterized by Dr. Adrian Fortescue, a local dialect of the Roman rite adapted to the medieval city of Salisbury in England. There is developed into the cathedral liturgy with its processions, unique texts, variations of Roman melodies as its music, its extra readings on feasts, and other unique features that made it different from the Use of York, the Use of Braga, the mother Roman rite etc.

Its origins are two fold, in Rome and in Saint Osmund. In the former case, Saint Gregory the Great, pope from 590-604, sent missionaries from his house monastery to re-establish the Christian religion in what is now England. During the age of the Roman Empire, when the state religion switched from paganism to Christianity, England followed suit. Gregory Dix records Anglo-Romans asking the pope to bless the corporals used in Masses, demonstrating an early affinity for the Church of Rome itself. After the mission of Saint Augustine of Canterbury various monasteries requested monks and liturgical books from the collegiate chapter of Saint Peter's Basilica so that they might celebrate the Office and Mass as they were sung at the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. While other cities of Europe wished to keep their own rites English churches decidedly wished to follow Roman praxis.

The second great event that led to the Roman rite was the invasion of England by William the Conqueror and the ensuing Battle of Hastings in 1066, the year which begins "modern history" according to my professors on the Oxford History faculty. William received Rome's blessing to invade England in no small part due to the generally disatisfactory leadership of the English Church at the time; a new regime would allow the wholesale replacement of the upper clergy. Among the new higher clerics was Saint Osmund, Norman by birth and later bishop of Salisbury by the will of Saint Gregory VII.

Osmund brought the Norman customs of the Roman rite to Salisbury and built the [first] cathedral to house his synthesis of Norman-Roman liturgy and English habits. Many of the features of Sarum will be familiar to readers of our series of the Lyonese Mass and Br. Aelred's translations of the Voyages Liturgiques. Among them are the stational processions for Sundays and feasts, the role of canons in regulating the cathedral liturgy, the pontifical blessing after the Canon, and the generally communal observance of choir ceremonies.

Sarum continued and thrived, winning a place of honor in the heart of Henry VIII, who commanded it be the only rite of Mass celebrated in England. Not long after came the "king's great matter." Heresy and Schism became friends with each other and Reformers desperate to destroy the Mass whispered into the ear of a king desperate to end his marriage. Eamon Duffy demonstrated in his Stripping of the Altars that the king likely did not approve of the extent of liturgical purging that ensued, but trimming excesses were presented to a generally orthodox king as means of destroying the entire Catholic edifice.

As with the relics at Oxford during Jesuit days at Saint Aloysius, the Missals and vestments were hidden in hopes that better days would come. Churches were ransacked, looted, sold off, the priests butchered in some places and given Prayer Books in others. Then came the Marian Restoration. Mass in the Sarum Use spontaneously returned, Catholic culture revived itself with official approbation for five years until Queen Mary and her ally, Cardinal Pole of Canterbury, died within hours of each other. The Missals and vestments once again were boarded up in plaster and walls in hope that a Catholic would again tolerate the Mass, but Elizabeth became queen, Saint Pius V excommunicated her, and Mass would never be sung in the great cathedrals again.

In the years that followed Recusant families funded priests stationed out of Douai to come to their homes and offer the Sacraments for their loved ones and neighbors who kept the old religion. Early on the priests were clergy who fled Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth Tudor, priests reared in the Sarum liturgy. A Sarum Missal used by one such priest is one display at Coughton Court with the una cum papa nostro N blacked out early on in the Henrician schism. Later priests from Douai, trained by Jesuits in the Tridentine books, let the Sarum Use obsolesce, not that junior clerics would rule the choir at Coughton Court on lesser Simplex feasts.

Unlike the other local usages of the Roman rite, which fell away due to clerical sloth or the costly expense of maintaining a parallel set of liturgical books, Sarum died because the people who used it died off.

Cognizant of this fact, we must consider what would be the proper, legitimate setting for the Sarum Use today, if there is one. As we will see below, although it was the liturgy of medieval Catholic England, it has been used in a variety of settings since then and only occasionally under its original auspices.


Catholic Revival




As stated above, the first major modern celebration of the Sarum Use came through the efforts of Fr. Sean Finnegan, then of the Oxford Oratory. He, along with the now departed Fr. Jerome Bertram CO, and some other liturgically inclined person founded the Saint Osmund Society to organize annual celebrations of the Mass according to the Sarum books. Utilizing the Bodleian Library's resources ranging from Missals and Graduals to medieval commentators and illustrations from devotional Primers, Finnegan put together the blessing, procession, and solemn Mass for February 2, the feast of the Purification or Candlemas.

The Saint Osmund Society offered its first Mass in Merton College's chapel in 1996 and, pleased with the success of the event, followed up with a similar event in 1997. The clergy were from the Archdiocese of Birmingham and the singers taken from local parish choirs. The vestments came from the Oratory. Finnegan celebrated and Bertram preached the sermon. The Archbishop gave his approval for both events and the celebration was destined to become an annual recurrence until legalism struck.

The Rad Trad has heard one version of this story from separate parties which present very different images of the person involved. Whether he was harmless in intention and genuinely curious or an unstable meddler out to cause trouble by means of confusion, a man wrote to the Vatican to draw their attention to the celebrations and denoted that they were being held outside of a diocesan church and under the auspices of the "Saint Osmund Society," an association unapproved by any Roman congregation. Rome talked to the Archbishop who talked to the Oratorians who agreed that to avoid any future confusion they would receive permission under Ecclesia Dei to celebrate the Roman rite and put Sarum to bed. Fr. Bertram, of blessed memory, said that Rome might have been less confused if their association's name had been translated "gruppo" instead of "societa", which they took to mean something akin to "Society of Saint Pius X". Henceforth, Oratorians remembered the organization as the "Donny Osmund Society."

Three years later a pontifical Sarum Mass was celebrated in Aberdeen, Scotland, where it never would have been celebrated in the Middle Ages, by Bishop Mario Conti.

The brief Catholic revival, early in the information age, guaranteed a unique future for the Sarum Use that other non-Roman, Latin rite liturgies have not enjoyed: a deep abundance of information and resources that would perpetuate its interest and enable its survival, even if only as a theoretical rite of liturgy. Blogs concerned with medieval history, Anglicanism, liturgical history and much more make either passing or extensive mention of Sarum. The interest may well have been more tangible if Sarum had become the cathedral liturgy of Westminster Cathedral, as was supposedly an option, then interest may have been deeper. As it were, many of the religious orders during Catholic re-establishment in England were Continental and bound to the Roman rite as were the Irish clergy who often staffed parish churches.

In 2011, the year the Ordinariates were concretely established by Benedict XVI, those close to Msgr. Andrew Burnham whispered that Sarum might once again become available as a liturgical choice for England. The Ordinariate had no liturgy of their own. The books now for the Ordinariate bear a greater resemblance to the Prayer Book and reformed Roman rite than they do to the Sarum Use.

I was present at the first ever liturgy of the Ordinariate, held at Blackfriars that summer as votive Vespers of the Holy Ghost, a service devised by Msgr. Burnham himself. The service followed the older Roman (and Sarum) pattern of Vespers: five psalms with antiphons, a chapter, versicles, the Magnificat with an antiphon, and then several collects and suffrages for the needs of the Church, including the "Deus a quo sancta desideria...." It was a mix of traditional Catholic Vespers with Anglican elements and celebrated in elevated vernacular.

More recently, and hopefully with greater endurance than the Oxonian venture, is the Durandus Institute's celebration of first Vespers of Candlemas in Philadelphia. Under the leadership of James T.M. Griffin using, presumably, local clergy and singers for the event. It comes a year after the Schola Sainte-Cecile also celebrated Sarum Vespers, once again in Oxford. Both were recorded—the Philadelphia event with video and the Oxford one with photographs—and publicized without any fallings out that plagued the 1997 Mass. To my knowledge no Mass has yet been celebrated according to Sarum books under official approbation since 2000.


Anglican Celebrations


"I grew up next to an Anglican church," said Fr. Bertram, "and I still don't understand the Church of England."

A not insignificant number of Sarum instances have come up under Anglican banners in both Europe and North America in recent years. For outsiders to Anglicanism it would be surprising that the Church which replaced the Catholic Church, and which practices the liturgy which replaced Sarum, would be interested in the medieval Catholic liturgy.

Anglicanism does not always hold to the general congruity Catholic and Orthodox Christians perceive between theology and liturgy. A Dallas Episcopalian church offers a vernacular Tridentine Mass once in a while; I have seen the priestess at a local seafood restaurant during Lent with her congregation.

As such, some Anglicans hold a view of the Eucharist more in line with Henry VIII's Six Articles than with the later Thirty-Nine Articles. To such a view Sarum is more comprehensible. It holds to a traditional view of the Eucharist, even if the people do not hold a traditional view of who may confect it and how, its collects and readings, its cycle of saints and choir tradition all preceded the Prayer Book and, indeed, the Prayer Book is in no small part a translation followed by cut-and-paste of the propers of Sarum.



St. Thomas on Huron Street in Toronto celebrated Sarum on, you guessed it, Candlemas, a decade ago. An Anglo-Catholic church which observes the Prayer Book, Sarum would have been an exception to their normal practice.

More famously, Fr. Anthony Chadwick celebrates the Sarum Use in his chapel in France. Much like the Oratorian celebrations in Oxford, Fr. Anthony does not make his Masses an act of historical play acting, replete with period style vestments and vessels. He uses what he has from his days observing the Tridentine books and does his best. He has even put out videos of his low Masses, one of a straight through low Mass and the other an instructional. Both are the only videos of their kind available now.

What is interesting is how like the Dominican Mass and other medieval, monastic usages Sarum resembles as a low Mass. It contains fewer reverences and signs of the Cross than the Roman Mass, prepares the chalice at the start of Mass, and does not perform the Last Gospel as a liturgical function at the altar, merely as the celebrant's private devotion.


Western Rite Eastern Orthodoxy


Without a doubt the strangest place Sarum has reappeared is as one option, in many forms, in the Western rite experiment of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. According to Byzantinist and Orthophile Steven Runciman, the pope's name was omitted from the commemorations at the Divine Liturgy of the Hagia Sophia in 1009. Cardinal Humbert's lamentable venture in 1054 is the commonly accepted, if generally inaccurate date of the East-West Schism. Greeks took a disapproving view of Latins prior to the 11th century yet the final parting did not happen until after the fall of Constantinople, when Mehmed II appointed anti-unionist leader Gennadios Scholarios as Patriarch, who rebuked the Council of Florence in 1471, nearly five centuries after the pope's name was first slashed from the diptychs.

Why does all of this matter? Sarum is presented in these rare communities as a return to pre-Schism Latin Orthodoxy. More than just a liturgical rite, it is a means of constructing a narrative of an England or a Western Christendom that was one a Latin-speaking part of the Orthodox Churches with its own liturgy. One video of such a community contained constant references to Saint Bede the Venerable's time. This is probably a means of bypassing the obvious influence of Saint Augustine as the theologian par excellence of the Latin Church and the role of Saint Gregory the Great, the Dialogist in Eastern terminology, in diffusing Augustinian thought as a means of practical theology.

If one accepts any date prior to Hastings for the Schism, be it 1009 or 1054 even when the West began to use unleavened bread more commonly in the 9th century, then neither Sarum nor its roots were ever celebrated in England or known to Bede, whose monastery at Jarrow would have known some other version of the Roman rite, likely with influences and particularities lost to us. It was the rite of medieval, post-Augustine and potentially post-Schism England.

The Sarum Use as practiced in Western rite settings varies. Some observe it as given in the books with the odd change to suit the practices of broader Eastern Orthodoxy: no Filioque in the Creed and leavened bread. Others heavily Hellenize the Mass and Office to a super-Uniate level. Six years ago a friend looked for an English translation of the Sarum Mass and found a pew book for the Antiochian Orthodox Church's "Sarum" rite. This bastardized Mass containing several exclamations from the end of the litanies of the Divine Liturgy randomly inserted between chants with inappropriate ascriptions to Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory and others. The Thrice Holy Hymn, the Trisagion, was placed before the Epistle, where it is found in the Divine Liturgy. Most dramatically the Roman Canon was amended to include the epiclesis of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, although without any instructions to use that from the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great during Lent as is the case in the Byzantine rite. These celebrations are invariably in the vernacular rather than in Latin.


Conclusions: Legitimate Settings for the Sarum Use


In conclusion, is there a legitimate place for the Sarum Use today? There is certainly legitimate interest.

In Rhode Island a Portuguese priest named Fr. Santos occasionally celebrates Mass according to the Use of Braga, his native archdiocese and the origin of many Portuguese immigrants who settled in the tiny state next to Massachusetts. The Bragan liturgy, like any Use of the Roman rite, is an essentially local variation of the Roman liturgy and belongs to the people for whom it was intended to be celebrated. A Dominican can celebrate the Dominican Mass in his convent or in Saint Peter's Basilica, whereas a canon of Saint Peter's may not celebrate the Dominican Mass at all, as he has no claim to it.

This is an important point in considering whether Sarum should have a future and what it should look like. Sarum was the Mass and Office of post-Hastings, medieval England—not Toronto, not Antioch, and not Philadelphia. Unlike other local Uses, Sarum did not die off due to centralization, the cheaper cost of book printing, or the unanimous decision of the collegiate chapter as happened with many other local liturgies. Also, it was not replaced by the Novus Ordo Missae as was the case for the Dominican, Cistercian, Carmelite, Bragan, and Lyonese liturgies. It was killed by monarchs of the kingdom where it was said. The Catholic clergy of that country never consented to its death and its replacement was due to primarily theological rather than liturgical motivations.

As such, it could be revived on the grounds that the Church never decided to relinquish its practice in England. It belongs to England and is a Catholic rite of Mass, ceremony, and psaltery.

Extending the principle governance of local Uses to Sarum legitimizes its celebration in England, but certainly not readily elsewhere. While I am happy that a video of Sarum Vespers exists and that the event was well attended, I cannot help but think, unless something else was behind it, that the service in Philadelphia was perhaps misplaced.

One place outside of England where the Sarum Use would also be appropriate is in the Ordinariate. As stated above, the Prayer Book which many in the Ordinariate knew as Anglicans is based, at least in the propers and kalendar for the Eucharist, on the propers of the Sarum Mass: its cycle of readings, its Sundays counted after Trinity, its collects and more. Even the beautiful Collect for Purity was a vesting prayer in the Sarum books before the Reformation. While the traditional Roman books are available to any priest of the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, Sarum would be a logical and very fitting extraordinary form of liturgy for Catholics who were raised on those texts in a different setting. Indeed, they would unite those prayers with the Catholic theology from which they were removed in the 16th century.

As for the rest, I am merely a blogger and cannot tell anyone what to do, but Sarum, were it to return, would be most appropriate if celebrated in as close a setting as it was originally intended.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Quo Vadis, Knights?

Knights of Columbus poster from the first World War.
The leadership of Carl Anderson over the Knights of Columbus has had its fair share of controversy. The current Supreme Knight was elected before this writer had even been received within the Church, and it is difficult for me to form a clear picture of how the Knights might have operated before then. I am told by good men who have been part of the order for many decades that the Knights were once well known for their dedication to the corporal works of mercy and for their deep integration into local communities. The Connecticut priest Michael McGivney founded the Knights to assist Catholic widows and orphans, but they went on to provide wartime services, and, in many other ways throughout the years, made themselves indispensable to the everyday operations of American parochial life.

I have also observed the perception that the Knights fell long ago into irrelevance and disrepute as an old men’s club. The Knights of Columbus still retain some visibility in pro-life events, but council halls are usually perceived as watering holes for an aging membership who wish to hide from their wives and complain uselessly about problems. How many pastors actually rely on the parish council as their go-to team to get things done?

Whether or not this perception is correct, it does seem to be the impetus driving Supreme Knight Anderson into making sweeping changes. Even in the midst of accusations of financial corruption, the Knights have been busy redesigning the 4th Degree regalia and are about to entirely rewrite the initiation ceremonies for incoming members. The expressed hope is that, by removing the requirement for secrecy and by collapsing multiple hours-long ceremonies into something that can be over and done with inside half an hour, they will be able to attract more young Catholic men.

While I do not agree with making changes that I think will result in nothing more than a brief uptick in membership, I must admit that I have no real counterproposal for fixing the order. If even the example of Catholic fathers could not convince their sons to join the Knights when they became old enough, how can the marketing team at Supreme do any better? How does an organization recover from the perception of being a crowd of aging do-nothings?

One does not truly respect something that is attained with too much ease. The difficulty and length of the traditional ceremonials made entry into the order something that had to be earned. Previously, a Catholic man had to be proven as a “practical Catholic” by those nominating him for membership, but now anyone with an internet connection can apply online without the need for witnesses. What can such a man expect to join? A social group? An insurance program? Surely not a brotherhood joined by bonds of difficult service and exemplifications. Members are not even required to perform a minimal amount of volunteer work to remain in good standing.

The stated meaning of “practical Catholic” is “a Catholic who accepts the teaching authority of the Catholic Church on matters of faith and morals, aspires to live in accord with the precepts of the Catholic Church, and is in good standing in the Catholic Church.” All well and good, and all necessary, but the more colloquial meaning of “practical” may be what has been missing in the life of the Knights. Requiring nothing more than the correct age, sex, and religion does not do much to give a group a unique identity. The historically practical side of the Knights includes the corporal works of mercy, fundraising for parishes and for the poor, a show of arms (quite literally in the recent past), and camaraderie based on a common initiation. When a group becomes more generic it often becomes less attractive. If the order is going to pull itself out of this downward spiral, it must find practical causes through which its men can make practical contributions.

Presumed KofC fraternal banner from the late 1800s.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Looking for Perspective (Intro)

The funeral is over, my father is buried, and an Eastern rite Christian burial is concluded. For those who have never been to a Byzantine funeral, the Constantinopolitan authors of the service must have been dealing with a congregation stricken with doubt as to the death of the deceased, because the troparia and farewell rites constantly reiterate that the dead's eyes will never see, his ears shall never hear, and that we shall never ever speak to him again. Beyond emphasizing how utterly miserable death is, I left with the conclusion that the old Roman Mass would have been textually cheerier, Dies irae and all. There is, however, the moving conclusion when the priest taps the coffin with his cross and says "This is sealed until the Second Coming of Christ," leaving we the living with one thing to look forward to.

We the living are seemingly bereft of direction in the Church right now. Events with correspondents and physical acquaintances nearly brought me into writing something bordering on confessional disputes, which is neither in my nature nor that of this blog. Instead I will seek to write a short series in the coming month on the various maladies afflicting orthodox Catholics in our times, which are perhaps not as turbulent as we believe in our narcissism.

In the interim I would like to thank you, kind readers, for your prayers and support in these difficult months and request you not relent just because the worst is past.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Remembering Roger Scruton


I only recently learned that Roger Scruton, eminent conservative and aesthetic philosopher of our day, passed on only a few short weeks ago. Between my own father's death and that of Fr. Jerome Bertram I am becoming wary of mortal news. All the same it is really worth re-visiting Scruton's thought and his journey from an apolitical, middle class rearing to that of a thinker who promoted a coherent and political significant understanding of the world.

That recounting will not happen here, but you can do it in this marvelous essay he penned seventeen years ago where he recounts his conversion while witnessing the students of Paris rioting against the bourgeoisie in '68. "I must find out what these people believe so that I may believe the exact opposite," he often said. I have alluded to Scruton in a post on searching for illumination in our post-Christian age and leaned on him significantly for two posts on what makes "good" ecclesiastical music (here and here). He even once wrote about Mgr. Alfred Gilbey in a book on wine. Do read those posts and Scruton's own essay on his intellectual conversion.

I do not know the condition of his soul in how he died, but I do find some lament in how he lived. He was a realistic and did not hanker after a past age. He wished to conserve traditions, meanings, and institutions given to us by the dead so that they may be passed on to the unborn; he was a true traditionalist. Aware of the irreligiosity of his age he was moved by the less radical Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophers, namely Hegel and Kant, and seems to have latched on to some quieter ideas of the Romantic era, which used art and philosophy to replace the God sized hole in the human heart, perhaps including Scruton's own heart.

He was a traditionalist, too, in that he retained ancient ideas and questions and passed them on to the new generation.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Imaginative Prayer


If you have ever prayed before an icon or a holy image you have engaged in imaginative prayer. Someone has created an image of a holy person or event and presented the image both for the grandeur of God and the efficacious devotion of the living. Indeed, even mental prayer is imaginative, it merely requires the person praying to construe the image rather than an artist or iconographer.

Imagination is the construction of images in our own heads, our ability to move them and join them abstractly using ideas we have accumulated in reality. In his chapter on the theme of memory in Confessions, Saint Augustine asks how he has a desire for God without having known God in the flesh and concludes that he had some awareness of God haunting him all his life in his head, an image formed but not yet fully realized.

Imaginative prayer should be just that, prayer focused on some image, visible or construed, concerning God, the saints, the events of Christ's earthly presence, and the Church. It is a vehicle for thanksgiving and petition as much as it is meditation and reflection. Perhaps two of the most historic and prevalent types of prayer that require imagination are the Rosary and lectio divina, the former a medieval development of the practice of repetitive prayer and the later something older than monasticism itself.

How is lectio divina an imaginative prayer? While the Rosary is more apparent in commanding meditation on fifteen certain mysteries of the Word, lectio allows one to enter a text as a form of prayer and commune with God therein. Without using the text as a form of imagination, to place one's self before God in humility and even to place one's self in the events described, reading becomes academic study and collecting knowledge, but not prayer.

In Mystical Mush one commentator asks if the Counter-Reformation emphasis on the "spiritual life" may reflect the augmentation of imaginative prayer in a way that the medieval Christians and the Eastern Churches do not know. This is possible, but it is territory that requires some caution. Some writers of that age absolutely prescribe what one might call imaginative prayer.

In the old kalendar today is the feast of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva, spiritual master, and successful missionary for the re-conversion of cold hearted Calvinists to the warm of the Church's bossom. Saint Francis's Introduction to the Devout Life, or Philothea, is abundant with instructions to meditate on some spiritual truth, to place one's own self there, and to reflect on one's own standing with God and the need for conversion. In his early chapters he specifically calls to mind the Crucifixion and places the reader there at the foot of the Cross, then imagines the love of the just and the unsightliness of the damned. Which line will you pick, o reader, asks Saint Francis.

This may seem highly imaginative in departing from accepted norms, but is it really that different from the Kiss of Christ described by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in his commentaries on the Canticle of Canticles?

Liturgical prayer itself requires some imagination, albeit less than most others. To see Christ truly crucified when the Cross is raised on Good Friday or truly betrayed during the responses of Tenebrae (Amici mei....) is to see the sacred rites as more than re-enactments or duties paid. The elevation at Mass was born out of a desire to see both an image of the Body of Christ and the thing itself. The same age which proliferated more [good] liturgy than any other was, in some way, more "imaginative" in perpetuating the presence of Christ than any other

Things become "mystical mush" when the imagination of the person praying is required to put words into God's mouth, as if a reply is the necessary and only point of interior prayer. No where in Philothea does Saint Francis ask for Christ's reply to a meditation, but plenty of mystics, spiritualists, and quietists have imagined such replies in their hearts or heads and then given them to us as matters of truth. At best, one can only hope for pious nonsense in these cases. At worst, one might reasonably fear voluminous novelties acquired on a two-ray radio with the Holy Spirit. Worst of all this approach puts someone's words in God's mouth and makes God into the fulfillment of one person's desires rather than all hearts' desire.

Prayer is imaginative and it should be as long as one does not begin to make it up.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Mystical Mush


Is there a problem with mysticism? That depends greatly on what "mysticism" means.

In the Latin Church mystical theology signifies an interior, prayerful approach to understanding the mysteries of the Catholic faith. This is not opposed to, but certainly a contrast from, the more rigoristic theology of the Schoolmen, which used the Traditions of the Fathers and applied the logic of the Greek philosophers.

Indeed, while conventional Patristic and Scholastic theology concern themselves with understanding the faith, mystical theology concerns itself with the understanding of God Himself and the human being's relationship to Him. The mystic, in this sense, is concerned with spiritual truths, understanding (intellectus) rather than knowledge (ratio). Both the Middle Ages and Counter-Reformation produced numerous mystical theologians counted among the Doctors of the Catholic Church, among them Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the reforming Carmelite saints of Spain, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, and potentially even Saint Francis de Sales, whose Introduction to the Devout Life and works on the Blessed Virgin Mary could only have been derived in pectore.

The mystic is one who leads primarily an interior life of prayer, finding similar power in reflection and surrender as most would find in the great liturgical ceremonies and Sacraments of the Church.

There is, however, a problem with mysticism: it exists in the heart and head of the mystic, and as such can be given to dreams, ecstasies, ill-judgments, and ignorance. Unchecked, these forces can accumulate to give mysticism a new meaning and a bad name to those familiar with its former glories and contributes to the spiritual life.

Our recent post reviewing a new book on Consecration to St. Joseph has renewed commentary which presents itself whenever a post on the topic of Saint Joseph and his constant re-invention appears. There is not much of a tradition around Saint Joseph, conventionally speaking, aside from that which appears int he proto-Evangelium of Saint James: he was a widower with six children who took the Virgin as a wife after she left the Temple, was thrown into doubt and confusion after her conception by the Holy Spirit, he took part in the events described in the canonical Gospels, and died in advanced age. The Church Fathers saw him as minor figure and none ever wrote more than a few lines about him. He figures more prominently in the Yorkshire mystery plays around Corpus Christi than he does in any sermon by Gregory the Great or Chrysostom. This is hardly a slight against the stepfather of Christ. Popular imagination in Christian Europe afforded him higher regard than any Father gave him.

Where this becomes difficult, aside from a well placed Spanish propaganda campaign, and where this relates to mysticism is that the contrary tradition of "young" Saint Joseph was born in intellectual theology and insinuated its way to mystics. The evolution of Saint Joseph during the 17th-19th centuries coincides with a de facto reinterpretation of mystical theology and the purpose of mysticism.

Name a mystic. María de Jesús de Ágreda? Anne Catherine Emmerich? Maria Valtorta? Each of these mystics provided a corpus of texts narrating the entire life of Christ in minute details, details which their defenders adumbrate as evincing proof: how else could person X have known such particular information about the layout of ancient Jerusalem?

Yet this is exactly where mysticism and mystical theology have changed. Whereas previously mysticism was a source of inner, spiritual knowing of God, it is now semi-synonymous with a person who has special knowledge of new information. In fact, it is a source of information and even lower tiered revelation where Holy Writ and accepted Tradition are silent on a matter, or in this case if they fail to say the right thing.

Most of "young" Saint Joseph has come to us from devotional writings and rational theology inadvertently ignorant of the larger Tradition. If Saint Joseph was a protector of Christ and the Virgin he must have been virile. If he was a provider he must have been a model worker. If he was worthy to live with the Mother and Child he must, too, have been a Virgin, sanctified in his mother's womb, and assumed into heaven; if he had those privileges he must have been the greatest saint after Our Lady and before John the Baptist, who Christ called the greatest man ever born of woman.

Mystical writings, particularly those of the aforementioned authors, provide legitimacy to these theological speculations in the form of purportedly revealed evidence. The problem, especially in the case of Saint Joseph, is that it is antipodal to the previously accepted characterization of the Saint. It would in fact be more intellectually honest to admit that if the Early Church's understanding of Joseph is unreliable then we do not know much about him at all other than what is plainly stated in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

The result is that the power of Tradition is undermined, a house divided against itself, and mysticism is transformed into a means of obtaining private revelations for popular consumption rather than a means of communing with God. If a private revelation, vision, or supposed miracle purports to say anything inherently new about God, the Saints, or the Church then I am not interested in it. Biographers and contemporaries of Saint Philip Neri frequently recall that after his own solitary ecstasy he always held in suspicion those who had mystical visions, ecstatic prayers, or who learned special secrets when they prayed.

As an aside, I essayed to reader Valtorta and Emmerich some years ago and found both to be excellent cures for insomnia.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Consecration to St. Joseph?

It has been only a few weeks since Marian Press published Fr. Donald Calloway’s Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father, and since the book seems to be gaining some traction I thought I should give it a read. I know almost nothing about Fr. Calloway save what he includes on the back cover—he is a vocation director for the Marian Fathers and lives in Steubenville—and a little bit from his social media footprint. I am not usually interested in reviewing new Josephite devotional material, but Calloway’s twist of a Montfort-esque consecration to the foster father of Christ piqued my interest.

Oddly, the focus on consecration is so strong that Calloway seems annoyed that any reader would want to take time and learn about St. Joseph before embarking on the 33-day preparation process:
Most likely, the majority of people who acquire Consecration to St. Joseph are going to go straight into the 33-day preparation. However, there might be some people who get the book but are not quite ready for consecration to St. Joseph. Some people might feel that they want to get to know St. Joseph better before committing to a month-long preparation for consecration to a saint they don’t know much about. (p. 7)
They might, indeed! St. Louis de Montfort made sure to lay the theological groundwork for his “total consecration” to the Virgin Mary before encouraging his readers to embark on the lengthy preparation process. Fr. Calloway has a difficult time understanding why St. Joseph would require any introduction, much less why any Catholic would need convincing before preparing himself for a sacred vow to the carpenter of Nazareth.

Fr. Calloway’s version of St. Joseph is, of course, the “New St. Joseph” that I have written so much about in my Josephology series on this blog. Those posts expound (perhaps at excruciating length) upon the Josephite doctrines I consider untraditional and therefore in error, and Calloway adds very little to the doctrinal list.

I would rather consider a bizarre aspect of Josephite devotion which crystalized for me while reading this book: Why is it that devotees of St. Joseph strive to make him so much like the Virgin Mary, both in doctrine and spirituality? Let us consider this list that traditionally applied in whole only to Mary, but which the New Josephites claim as the common property of them both:

Doctrines:
  • Sanctification in the Womb
  • Sinlessness
  • Perpetual Virginity
  • Annunciation
  • Spiritual Parentage of All Christians (New Adam/Eve)
  • Bodily Assumption
  • Celestial Coronation
  • A special kind of dulia (hyper for Mary, proto for Joseph)

Prayers/Devotions:
  • Litany (of Majestic Titles)
  • Memorare
  • Seven Sorrows
  • Seven Joys
  • Flowery Iconography
  • Consecration with a 33-Day Preparation

Why does New St. Joseph appear to be, for all intents and purposes, a male clone of Mary? Does he have no spirituality of his own? No doctrine or personality that could be considered particularly his? (I’m actually surprised no Rosary of St. Joseph exists. It would be the next logical step.) Calloway makes an attempt to push the idea of Joseph as “The Savior of the Savior” in reference to the Flight to Egypt, but other than this and a brief observation about manual labor, he comes up empty in demonstrating anything manly or even unique about St. Joseph. The historical trajectory of Josephite devotion is to mimic everything wonderful and special about the Mother of God, while gradually discarding those few facts concerning him we actually received from Tradition.

On the other hand, the Real St. Joseph is full of personality and is at no risk of losing himself as a dim reflection of the Virgin Mary. He is indeed virile, proven by the generous procreation of many sons who would become disciples of Christ. He is indeed manly, proven by the feeling of dishonor upon learning about Mary’s unexplained pregnancy. He is indeed both just and merciful, proven by the subtle decision to divorce her, but quietly. He is indeed wise, for he obeyed the angel always without complaint. He is indeed longsuffering, for he endured many trials, humiliations, anxieties, and undesired journeys for justice’s sake.
O how comely is judgment for a grey head, and for ancients to know counsel! O how comely is wisdom for the aged, and understanding and counsel to men of honour! Much experience is the crown of old men, and the fear of God is their glory. (Sirach 25)
Let the real glory of St. Joseph shine in all its radiance. We don’t need to carbon copy the Second Eve to make him seem worthwhile. Jesus is the sun, Mary is the moon; what glorious humility that they would bow down before Joseph of Nazareth! Perhaps he understands humility more than any other saint ever could. Let him remain humble.