Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Three Calm Thoughts on Sarah's "Liturgical Reconciliation"

Cardinal Sarah's recent suggestion of a "liturgical reconciliation" between the Pauline Mass and the Pacellian-Johannine Missal has set the Tradosphere blogosphere on fire. There are the Ordinariate-like ideas of inserting elements from the 1962 Missal pertaining to the priest's piety (Introibo ad altare Dei, a real offertory, and the Last Gospel), but also the obligatory lip service to the new liturgy's more of a good thing is better: more disorganized Scripture, more green Sundays. Anyone who thinks more of a good thing must be a good thing should try drinking Chartreuse every night; he will first be drunk and broke, and then in withdrawal and homeless.

Here are three calm thoughts, after the storm, about Cardinal Sarah's idea.

I: A Useful Reminder

Cardinal Sarah's proposal is a useful reminder to proponent of pre-Conciliar liturgical forms that "conservatives" may be helpful allies, but they will never truly be their friends. Benedict XVI Ratzinger was a bona fide liberal to the core. He lamented the mediocre outcome of the liturgical reform while defending its purpose to the end, whilst some fight over whether or not he ever celebrated the 1962 Mass privately as Pope of Rome. After Summorum Pontificum we heard that the liberation of Pacellian-Johannine Missal was not primarily an overture to the Fraternity of St. Pius X; of course it was, while also running a part-time job in Benedict's desire to jump-start discussion of organic "reform of the reform" in the modern liturgy.

Just as Ratzinger is no conservative, the conservatives are neither traditionalists nor Traditionalists. Their interest in the 1962 Missal is not primarily an overture to the Fraternity, but as a template to make the Pauline Mass more acceptable. Ratzinger, aside from any lingering guilt over the botched negotiations with Archbishop Lefebvre, also had a pastoral interest in those who may have been left behind in the liturgical changes of the 1960s, then an older crowd. Modern prelatial celebrants of the old rite share this interest in pastoral welfare, doubtlessly, but also have other interests. They were not ordained in the old rite for the old rite and are too young to have been caught up in the post-Summorum traditionalist movement; instead, these good spirited men are dedicated to making the most out of what they were given and refuse to believe what they were given was so thoroughly bad that it was not in some way a substantial renewal of what preceded it. One must not forget that a conservative conserves what was given to him, while a traditionalists, colloquially speaking, lives within a tradition given to him.

II: An Academic Idea If Ever There Was One

Anyone who has spent more than a minute within a university seminar perceives that the seminar leader thinks other people should think his ideas are relevant to the world at large. More commonly, they are not. While doing something about the Mass nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand Roman Catholics attend is relevant, expending an equal quantity of effort on the Mass the other fellow attends is merely wasteful. Could this be a nod to the history books, which would show reform of one Mass and not the other as an acknowledgement of one's unique lacking? The term "reconciliation" offers some insight, since a reconciliation, in the spoken understanding of the word, means a coming together at a mid-point. Raymond Cardinal Burke pushed the hybrid Mass four years after Summorum and gained little for it. While one can fathom putting effort into making a "hybrid" Mass for general use with the Novus Ordo as a template, it would be far more difficult to make the old Mass (1962 or the real thing) into something consonant with the average parish liturgy and not make a shambles of it.

On an academic level, the things the "Reformers of the Reform" would insert into the new Mass are the newest features of the old Mass (Introibo ad altare, the Tridentine offertory, the Last Gospel) while the very features Cardinal Sarah would like to impose on the old liturgy are the more ancient features of the Roman rite so unceremoniously tossed to the curb by what Louis Bouyer aptly called "three idiots" (the kalendar and the lectionary upon which it is based, as well as the matching Vespers and Lauds antiphons). Priests might benefit from the piety of the old Mass, but the laity would also benefit from its liturgical stability in the propers, which predate the separate sacerdotal elements.

On a practical level, the parts of the new liturgy worthy of imposition into the "extraordinary form" simply do not fit with the proper chants, orations, or kalendar. There is no Pentecost octave, Septuagesima, or series of Ember Days in the Pauline lectionary; there is no feast of "Saint John Paul the Great" in the old liturgy, or Ascension Thursday Sunday. To revise the Ordo of the Pauline liturgy could be done with a small committee (it's the Vatican, folks) of translators after a year of internal deliberations. To ensure that a similar, countervailing force hit the propers in the old liturgy would take a team of "scholars", researchers, translators, "liturgists", and bureaucrats unseen since the original Consilium and likely involve several years of work.

Would it be worth three years of work by eighty men to ensure 0.1% of the Latin Church is met with the same effect as ten men in one year could assert on the other 99.9%? 

III: A Minority Opinion

The last thing worthy of consideration, and perhaps most important, is that the "conservative" liturgist is among the rarest creatures in the Church. Many who we, in imitation of American political divisions, we call "conservatives" are pro-life, JP2 generation Catholics who frankly do not give a hoot about the Mass as long as it is valid. We know where liberals stand. We know where Traditionalists stand. As state in section I above, the conservative liturgist is often of an older generation that feels fidelity to the reformed liturgy and at the same time wishes for something more vivacious and reverent for the Church. This is a noble idea, but it was never popular and is fading with the priests ordained in the '70s ad '80s, In many Western dioceses now, outside of Latin America, one can find a few old rite Masses, the odd outrageous liberal Mass, and a ubiquitously mediocre parish Mass; what one almost never finds is the idealized "Reform of the Reform" new rite Mass, which few priests have the courage or interest to practice and even fewer bishop wish to permit. In America and England these are limited to a select few parishes in a select few metropolitan cities. On continental Europe they seem even rarer, aside from pilgrimage sights like St. Peter's in Rome.

A Closing Recommendation

Reread the previous article The Future of the Roman Liturgy & the Ordinariate Option. It touches on the phenomena behind Cardinal Sarah's remarks within the perspective of recent trends and an eye towards the future. I believe it is the most worthwhile thing I have written this year.

A blessed feast of Saint Pantaleon to all.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Old Claimants

"Some would argue that the Austro-Hungarian Empire still exists, since Blessed Karl never lawfully abdicated," said my host during the post-dinner cigars last evening. "That's quite something," I quietly thought, "since when my grandmother left Hungary in 1925 she was accustomed to calling it Hungary."

Our sympathies for noble causes can sometimes distract us when they are too removed from reality to see the tinge of human fault, which would be more apparent were there any substance to them. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is very gone. 

This conversation led me to remember a strange tomb I saw in the Vatican basilica six years ago. I could not understand why it was there, ignorant of pretender history at the time, and was convinced the Latin must have been some sort of mistake, since England never had a James III. The "Karlists" may never have their chance, but the Jacobites did and made the least of it. The Hanovers and their descendants continue to supply English monarchs. Walter Scott's Edward Waverly failed to advance the Stuart cause, apparently. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mary, Quite Contrary [Repost]

[Unfortunately I have not had the leisure to study more deeply into the cult of the "Apostle to the Apostles" since writing this short overview last year. The uncertainty surrounding her identity—is St. Mary Magdalene the sister of Sts. Martha and Lazarus or another woman altogether?—does lead to devotional difficulties, not to mention minor ecumenical hardships. I tend to side with the Roman tradition on this matter, as on many others, but not nearly with the level of certainty I give to "Old" St. Joseph. The academic study of hagiography too quickly splits into schools of skepticism (the majority) and credulity (the clear but vocal minority), and Catholic intellectuals rarely approach these subjects with both thoughtfulness and reverence.]

The Quasi-Assumption of Mary (Giotto)
Last month Pope Francis promoted the commemoration of St. Mary Magdalen in the new kalendar to a feast, prompting a small flurry of discussion about the true identity of the Apostolorum Apostola. The western conflation of Magdalen with the sister of St. Martha has a long and noble tradition dating back at least to Pope Gregory the Dialogist, but in the east the Orthodox have long considered them to be distinct persons.

After finishing my Josephology series, I had considered writing a short series on the history of Mary Magdalen in liturgical history, but most of the books on the subject were written either from a neo-Gnostic or an egregiously feminist philosophical base. The few Orthodox sources I could find were polemically anti-occidental, so finding a sober consideration of this great saint was next to impossible. (Honestly, is it really so difficult to think that a woman from whom was cast seven devils might have been a great sinner?)

Personally, I find the scriptural argument for conflating the two Marys and the female “sinner” reasonable if not absolutely compelling. It would be strange if the women Luke and John describe as having anointed the feet of Christ with their hair were two separate people, and John’s Gospel suggests that Mary of Bethany indeed anointed his feet twice. “Mary who is called Magdalen” is named just after Luke’s narrative of the penitent prostitute, suggesting but not necessitating a connection. But it is reasonable that the Mary who had anointed Christ’s feet in preparation for his burial would also be the one to go out to the Holy Sepulchre to anoint his dead body.

Hugh Pope constructs this possible sequence of events for the “conflated” penitent and Marys:
In the view we have advocated the series of events forms a consistent whole; the “sinner” comes early in the ministry to seek for pardon; she is described immediately afterwards as Mary Magdalen “out of whom seven devils were gone forth”; shortly after, we find her “sitting at the Lord’s feet and hearing His words.” To the Catholic mind it all seems fitting and natural. At a later period Mary and Martha turn to “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, and He restores to them their brother Lazarus; a short time afterwards they make Him a supper and Mary once more repeats the act she had performed when a penitent. At the Passion she stands near by; she sees Him laid in the tomb; and she is the first witness of His Resurrection—excepting always His Mother, to whom He must needs have appeared first, though the New Testament is silent on this point. In our view, then, there were two anointings of Christ’s feet—it should surely be no difficulty that St. Matthew and St. Mark speak of His head—the first (Luke 7) took place at a comparatively early date; the second, two days before the last Passover. But it was one and the same woman who performed this pious act on each occasion.
The Protestant separation of the Marys was not ubiquitous even among the heretics. Although John Calvin explicitly separated Mary of Bethany from Mary Magdalen in his Gospel commentaries, the Lutheran and Anglican sects retained the Gregorian hagiographical tradition.

I cannot agree with Fr. Erlenbush that the Latin tradition and the common post-Gregorian papal opinion of Marian conflation easily proves the Roman martyrology correct, as if the eastern tradition was not worthy of account. Perhaps someday a future Council will consider this topic worthy of dogmatic clarification, but for now we must live with some measure of uncertainty.

The Greeks say that the Myrrh-Bearer Magdalen lived with St. John and the Blessed Virgin in Ephesus for many years until her death. The Latin tradition has her being cast into the sea on a small boat with Martha and Lazarus until their ship found the coasts of France. From there, Mary made her retirement as a hermit until her death. The medieval Golden Legend describes her desert life:
In this meanwhile the blessed Mary Magdalene, desirous of sovereign contemplation, sought a right sharp desert, and took a place which was ordained by the angel of God, and abode there by the space of thirty years without knowledge of anybody. In which place she had no comfort of running water, nor solace of trees, nor of herbs. And that was because our Redeemer did do show it openly, that he had ordained for her refection celestial, and no bodily meats. And every day at every hour canonical she was lifted up in the air of angels, and heard the glorious song of the heavenly companies with her bodily ears. Of which she was fed and filled with right sweet meats, and then was brought again by the angels unto her proper place, in such wise as she had no need of corporal nourishing.
The head of Mary Magdalen is believed to be held in La Sainte-Baume, in the south of France.

Mary Magdalen, feminist icon, pray for us!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Can I Depose a Pope?

Yes, of course I can! And you can, too! It just takes an army.

What was the difference between the deposition of Saint Liberius for archdeacon Felix and the deposition of Gregory XII (and Benedict XIII and John XXIII) at Constance? Why, that the latter stuck and the former did not.

Of course the election of Papa Bergoglio was quite uncanonical if we are to pay attention to the politicking of Messrs. Mahoney, Danneels, Kasper and the rest before the conclave, but there is the simple fact that Francis is a validly consecrated bishop who wears a white cassock and is recognized by the people of Rome as their bishop, whether they like him or not—all all signs point toward not.

The most common way to depose a pope, historically, has been murder. During the saeculum obscurum the strumpets Theodora and Marozia routinely gave birth to popes and, while nursing the future pontiffs, put old daffers on the Petrine chair until the pontifices reached age twenty. The reigning bishop would then suddenly die of old age and the new brat would be elected. It was during this time that the praegustatio entered the offertory (and canon, and Communion) of Papal Mass. This is not a method of deposition to be recommended.

The other two, more ethical manners are these:

  1. Throw him out
  2. Paralyze him
The first manner has only been done a handful of times, last during the lamentable third pontificate of Benedict IX. It is to raise a group of armed men and tell the pope to take a hike. The election of his successor would then follow. The fate of Benedict nearly befell John XI (who "turned the Lateran into a brothel"), but Alberic II merely decided to imprison his older brother in the palace rather than outright sack him. 

The other manner is papal paralysis, which is to say, to render a pope impotent despite the trappings of his holy office. The two papal claimants who visited the Council of Constance were theoretically voted out of office before they met the Council, but realizing that the Council could only be a true ecumenical council with the approval of a valid pope, both claimants had to convene the Council and then resign the Apostolic See. Both could have held on to their claims, but the Church at large had grown so tired of the Great Schism that they risked being ignored. Seeing the tepidity of their positions, Benedict XIII and Gregory XII resigned to make way for Martin V. This is the sort of forced resignation which is more violent than the former two, which merely used violence. Murdering a pope and firing him merely hurt the man in the Office (something that would not be possible were not the age spiritually sick already), but throwing aside the Office is a greater problem altogether, as it diminishes the prestige of the Office. Would there be a Borgia Papacy if not for the Great Schism? Or a Reformation if not for a Borgia Papacy?

The "solution" to the current papacy is not the wishfully wanted forced resignation with Cardinal Burke throwing the gavel at Bergoglio. Was not something to the effect done with Papa Ratzinger, who some now lament losing? 

Our age, spiritually, more approximates to the pornacracy and saeculum obscurum of Benedict IX and John XI than to the Christian Age in confusion that was the Great Schism. Monasteries planted the seeds for a restored Western Christendom without strife from the papacy precisely because they ignored it. It may not be plausible to turn off the computer and the iPhone when the archbishop calls, but the Church can be changed in certain places until one day Rome recognizes that the corrupt Church which allowed it to devolve to its current state no longer exists. Then will end the days of Capozzi and begin the days of Hildebrand.

Or you can just depose the pope. You just need an army....

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Vietato Lamentarsi!

Few symbols can summarize the banality of the current papacy better than this "Complaining is Forbidden" sign on Pope Francis's apartment door. The sign was a gift from Italian self-help writer Salvo Noé, a man with the least sincere smile that side of the Atlantic. News outlets around the world are praising the sign as a sign (ahem) that conservatives are getting too whiny about the disregard The Francis extends to their half-baked heroes like Müller and Burke. It is certainly a sign that Papa Piagnone doesn't mind continuing his run of hypocrisy.

To be sure, there are plenty of whiners in the Catholic Alt-Right. Christopher Ferrara, Esq. never ceases to hiss at the Dubia cardinals, no doubt excoriating poor Cdl. Meisner even beyond the grave. Steve Skojec screams about beta masculinity at anyone who contradicts him on American politics. Frank Walker's barrel of sarcasm never runs dry. Louie Verrecchio and Ann "Crazy Eyes" Barnhardt boldly proclaim Long-Faced Francis an antipope. Anonymous traddy priests upload sermons about the dangers of gossip and Harry Potter while the world burns.

And yet...

Last week I had the pleasure of witnessing the marriage of two very close long-time friends. The wedding was beautifully (if novusorderly) done, the reception was full of decent food and fun dancing, and the send-off was cheerfully memorable. The world may be crumbling, but that is no excuse to forgo feasting and family, to ignore the good things God still gives us. Our pope is at least correct that joy is a necessary part of the Christian life, even in the midst of turmoil. The City of Man can never overcome the City of God.

While it is necessary to point out the nudity of the Emperor, it is unseemly to stare at it for any great length of time. Noe's prudent sons covered his nakedness in his drunken stupor, but if he had belligerently refused to be clothed, what could they have done but walk away? Francis doesn't want complainers near his door because he does not want any harsh truths being spoken in his hearing. No true prophets are desired in his presence.

"For the Lord hath mingled for you the spirit of a deep sleep. He will shut up your eyes, he will cover your prophets and princes that see visions. Wisdom shall perish from their wise men, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid."

Papa Bergoglio no longer wishes to hear what his critics have to say. He wishes to have his ears tickled and his feet massaged. The only reason to criticize his words and actions is to remove the stumbling block that is Francis from the path of one's fellow Catholics and inquirers of good will. Let not the Bishop of Rome be a scandal against the practice of the Faith.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

After the Reformation IV: Pauline Theology

One thing you learn when growing up Protestant is that you cannot understand the words of Jesus except as explained by St. Paul. The dominican words of the Gospels are too vague and symbolic, too emotional and hyperbolic, to ever be understood in their plain sense. Christ's admonition to perform good works and the threat of damnation leveled at the justified are simply too complex to be taken at face value. What the average Christian needs is an interpreter who is also speaking divine words: enter Paul the Apostle. Jesus, with whom the Christian supposedly has a personal relationship, takes a back seat to Paul, with whom he is not allowed to have active relations.

Supposedly one need only look at some of the crazy things Christ said—plucking out eyes and spinning yarns—to see that he was speaking simply and to simple people. For robust theology, one apparently must look elsewhere, and St. Paul's epistles are easy pickins for the would-be reformer. Not, of course, that any contradiction can actually be found between the words of Christ and the inspired writings of St. Paul, but in many ways his words are easier to to twist than Our Lord's. In his writings "are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction" (II Pet. 3).

These terrible warnings remained unheeded by Fr. Martin Luther, who was so bold as to flagrantly correct St. Paul's epistle to the Roman Church. The Apostle's theology of grace, justification, predestination, and law are highly complex. Because of the density of his writings, the average layman is relieved to rely on a commentary rather than slogging through the epistolatory swamp on his own. If the commentator appears erudite but still writes at a low level, he is almost certain to succeed in convincing many.

When Protestantism began to disintegrate into liberal movements, its overemphasis on St. Paul remained. These new perfidious theologians accused the Apostle to the Gentiles of inventing Christianity and of twisting the true teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. This was nothing more than the flip side of the longstanding reliance on Paul—an inevitable exploitation of an interior imbalance. There has been some pushback among conservative Protestant scholars with a so-called New Perspective on Paul, but most consider this an unwanted compromise.

Throw a rock into a crowd of Protestant theologians, and you are unlikely to find one that specializes in anything but Pauline theology. Sometimes they possess a passing familiarity with the other books of Holy Writ, but much in the way one might remember the required reading of his youth (Homer and Virgil in a better age, Steinbeck and Salinger in ours), not in the way of an expert or a careful reader. They cannot abstract their heresies from the Gospels, and must of necessity find easier targets.

Like many of the theologian-saints who have graced the Church of God throughout the centuries, St. Paul has not been free from the indignity of misuse and exaggerated importance. He had a much more humble opinion of his own person and abilities, and a higher opinion of his office, than most of his commentators have bestowed upon him.

It is unseemly to cast aspersions upon any part of Holy Scriptures, but one does wonder if Protestants will ever be cured of their Pauline madness if they do not put down the Collected Letters of St. Paul and read just about anything else in its place. Their theological tunnel vision has been corrupting Catholic schools for far too long, and if only for our sake it needs to come to an end.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cut Chasubles, East & West

The history of the chasuble is well-documented on New Liturgical Movement. It is essentially common male clothing that covered the toga and provided protection much like a suit jacket or overcoat might for a well-dress gentleman today. By contrast, the dalmatic—the tunic worn by the deacon—was a uniform of state administrators adapted by the seven deacons of Rome who ran the bureaucracy of the diocese of Rome; Byzantine deacons preceded the Romans in using the dalmatic (sticharion), and their bishops eventually took up the practice in the middle of the second millennium.

Joseph Braun, SJ posited that around the 9th century deacons wore the chasuble during stational processions, but removed the vestment when entering the church. During penitential times they retained the chasuble rather than don their ornate officials' uniforms. The "folded" part of the folded chasuble shares an origin with the practice of lifting the priest's vesture during the incensations and elevations (not that they originated at the same time, they just originated because of the same problem). Chasubles were normally made of layered wool, often embroidered and layered with additional materials to create motifs, scenes, or ornamentation; some even carried heavy jewels and ivory veneers. The ample cuts that prevailed until the Reformation broke out combined with the heavy properties made movement very difficult. Since deacons and subdeacons did quite a bit of carrying things (lectionaries, the gifts, the chalice) they began to roll up the fronts of their vestments.

Good baroque: $$$$
What is fascinating is that the phelonion, essentially the Byzantine chasuble (yes, we can call it that, both originated in the same religion and the same Roman culture), shares its properties with the Western folded chasuble. Rather than rolled, the front is simply cut out for the priest to manipulate or carry books, the gifts, the spear, or to give Communion.
Sadly, the Western way of adapting the priest's vestments to his need to move was an inelegant one: cut off the sides. Silk, which does not breath as well as light wool or cottons, became the preferred material for vestments during the Renaissance and the age of exploration. At first they merely reduced the scope of the vestment, as with the "Borromean" and "Philippian" chasuble styles. Eventually, someone just cut off the arms and snipped the thing at the knees to create the sandwich board style we all know and don't love. It would be wrong to call the vestments most popular before Vatican II, and hence what it almost exclusively used in Traditionalist circles today, "Roman." Roman vestments were a bit more ample, almost like the Borromean and Philippian styles, and had the perpendicular inserts in the back, a continuation of the medieval parish chasuble style. The dominant pre-Vatican II style is really French: still material, bulging maniples, open fronts, no break in the back, and always a Cross on the back. As with most baroquerie, it can work, but only with the best and most expensive of materials. Otherwise, the chasuble becomes a canvass for kitsch.

In a fit of ludicrous regulation befitting an Italian bureaucracy, the Vatican decreed that traditionally cut Latin rite vestments should not be made without the permission of Congregation for Rites. Pius XI eventually dismissed this rule, but it ranks with some of the sillier things anyone has seen worthy of regulation.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

St. Augustine & the Single Life

"Ball and chain." That is the term we use to describe the wife in marriage these days. Before tying the knot we call the process "settling down." Contemporary society holds marriage in derision, and not without good reason. What was once a promise before God to care for the other and to provide souls for the Church is now a nod of recognition to preceding love, or lust, between two people with the option to leave at any time; children are optional. No wonder modern Christians are unable to contest the pseudo-unions of homosexuals. Today the single life reigns supreme. Even those in relationships treat them as expensive, voluntary associations: I will share the bed with you and split the bills till death do us part, or till something better comes along. It was not always like this for the married, and certainly not for the single. A clerk in a cigar store summed up the modern prescription when he advised me, "Don't get married, dude. Just get some and make money."

From ancient times until a century ago marriage meant many things: the promise between two people, the maturity and responsibility of the two, the man and woman coming into their independence, the creation of a family unit with its associated trappings of home and business, and the union of two other families. Marriage was the natural end to which a grown man aspired. To forfeit marriage was an unusual, even extraordinary act. And yet this is what St. Augustine did.

Augustine worked in Rome and Milan, then capital of the Western Roman Empire, as court orator primarily, while also taking students who wished to imitate his rhetoric and segue into political life. Augustine kept a concubine (today called a live-in girlfriend) and recalled his fidelity to her bed as God's way of showing him what a genuine marital union is not. His relationship bore him a son, a bright young boy named Adeodatus ("given by God). Still, Augustine's saintly mother, Monica, was embarrassed and sent the concubine back to Carthage after arranging a marriage with a woman of good repute.

Augustine declared himself a catechumen in the Church and intellectually assented to the Church's teachings, albeit with difficulty towards the understanding of evil, yet he could not accept Baptism while he "was in both the flesh and the spirit." More self-aware than the hedonists of today, pagan Augustine found himself a slave to sex and none the happier for it. "But it was my own doing," he wrote, "that habit gripped me so fiercely."

He founds some solace in the friendship of Alypius, another pagan of some natural virtue who, like young friends today, joined Augustine in becoming mutual bad influences on each other. Alypius and Augustine shared a villa outside of Milan where they made conversation and contemplated philosophical questions after working hours. It was in this villa that a local named Ponticianus brought St. Athansius' Life of Saint Anthony and read it aloud to them, as was the custom before St. Ambrose popularized sub-sonic reading.
"But as Ponticianus told his story, the more ardent the love I felt for those men who, as I was hearing, had been moved to such a wholesome frame of mind, in that they had entrusted themselves wholly to you for their healing, the more I loathed and execrated myself in comparison with them. Many years—perhaps twelve—had flowed away (and my life with them) since in my nineteenth I had read Cicero's Hortensius and been stirred up to a zeal for wisdom, and all that time I had postponed the decision to despise earthly happiness and leave myself free to hunt for wisdom instead."
Grief and regret overtook Augustine. He and Alypius sauntered through the villa garden until he had to be alone. It was in this solitary, twisting, gnarly moment that Augustine heard a child singing in a neighboring house "Tolle, lege." The African expatriate took the child's song to have a spiritual meaning; he looked down and found a binding of the Pauline epistles, he opened it at random and read, "Not in riotousness and drunkenness, not in lewdness and wantonness, not in strife and rivalry; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its lusts" (Romans 13:13-14). As would happen with the Angelic Doctor eight centuries later, in this moment God released Augustine from his fleshly temptations and enamored him with a life detached from all worldly cares, even those of the family.
"For, from the direction in which i had set my face, and towards which I hesitated to go, Continence was now revealed to me in all her chaste beauty. Serene she was, not full of dissolute mirth, and nor was there anything dishonorable in her alluring voice as she bade me to come and not to doubt, and her pious hands, as she stretched them out to welcome me and fold me to herself, were full of sheep of your flock, good examples for me. There were many boys and girls, men and women newly come to adulthood and of every age, grave widows and aged virgins; and in not one of them was Continence barren, but a mother of children."
It was precisely in this context—a lament over sexual sin and the prospect of a marriage for the sake of getting on with it—that Augustine took the book and read St. Paul's words. Augustine resolved to receive Baptism, which he did, along with Alypius and Adeodatus, from the hand of bishop Ambrose in Milan at the Paschal vigil in 386. Augustine brought the Italian phenomenon of continent men, ordained or lay, living in community back to Carthage and Hippo when he returned there. What had been the way of hermits and monks now became a common bond between men who wished to live singularly for God in an age still weaning off paganism and slowly embracing a Christianized outlook on family life. Augustine and his community lived apart from the world in plain sight.

How St. Augustine's liberation from sensual bondage and resolve to live for God contrasts with our modern view of the celibate parish priest as a limp-wristed eunuch! Before the 20th century, the continent life was viewed an nigh impossible, save for men with remarkable self control. The joke had been that "Father is a man and must be seeing someone in the rectory." Even Hitler perverted celibacy to his own end, hiding Eva Braun and presenting himself as a man whose sole purpose in life was the betterment of Germany.

Christian society has enough ground to make up merely in sanctifying the institution of marriage again that consideration of holy bachelorhood seems frivolous, but is it? A man or woman who has not castrated himself from family life, but rather who has found the world wanting and instead embraced the friendship of God is a sermon unto itself. A habited nun looks enough like a walking prayer to give pause. What of a man who does the same? What a contrast to the wisdom of the age... and to the clerk in the cigar shop....

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ratzinger's Private Latin Mass?

Le Barroux, 1995
source: Una Voce, Venice
We kept hearing from wishful thinkers that Benedict XVI either privately celebrated the 1962 Mass or assisted at it in his chapel (cf. Bishop Fellay) when he sat on St. Peter's chair. There was even some aspiration that he might deign to offer the Vatican II Mass is public, which would give traditionalists ammunition to fire upon everyone else and South American bishop license for open schism. It never happened. In fact, did he even celebrate the EF of the Novus Ordo privately? Fr. Lombardi says no, but Thomas Woods says yes.

On the whole it seems extraordinarily unlikely. Joseph Ratzinger was a reformed theologian and "Vatican II man" through and through; his Introduction to Christianity would have had him before the Inquisition in the days of S. Pius V. Ratzinger, however, favored organic liturgical development and also had some modicum of compassion for traditionalists after he botched negotiations with the FSSPX and Archbishop Lefebvre died under canonical interdict. If anything his description of the Pauline Mass as a "banal fabrication" suggests he wished something less mediocre evolved through the traditional means of changing the liturgy, but he still wanted a different liturgy.

His interest in the welfare of traditionalists and in the [impossibly post-Modern concept of] hermeneutic of continuity may have motivated his half dozen or so celebrations of the 1962 missal prior to his papal election, among them with the nascent FSSP, a conference at Fontgambault, at the monastery of Le Barroux, and a few times for diocesan seminarians in Weimar.

Francis is the modern antidote to Ultramontanism, so why weaponize a past papacy?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Readings: Part of the Roman Rite?

Discussion at New Liturgical Movement has come around to positing that the Roman liturgy proper is composed of "elements more and less central" to its identity rather than a minimal statement of validity. This touches on what has been said on this blog for years, that the Roman liturgy is not to be found in a given set of books ("pre-'55", 1962, "pre-Pius X" etc), but rather a series of characteristics either ancient in origin or synthesized by gradual acceptance over the course of several generations. Some elements, like the Eucharistic Canon of Mass and the Kalendar, are irreplaceable as essentials of the rite. Others, like the offertory prayers and choir ceremonies, form unique aspects of the Latin liturgy that distinguish local "dialects" from the mother tongue. The Sacramentary, Psalter, and Sunday lectionary are essential aspects of the Roman rite, while ritual books and private prayers have always permitted some local variation. However, one aspect of the Roman liturgy that we have not argued as an essential on this blog is the Mattins cycle of readings.....


Simply because they changed relatively often before Trent. St. Pius V's commission to pare down medieval exuberances also looked at the inherited Curial breviary's reading schedule for the Office and found it wanting in the age of sola Scriptura. As of 1529 most of the readings for feasts, aside from the Gospel lesson in third nocturne, were edited Patristic sermons of variable, and occasionally dubious, origin.

It was not always this way. Six or seven centuries earlier readings tended towards Scriptural passages, often at lengths that discouraged concentration by the canons and monastics praying the Office. The Cluniac Divine Office often covered an entire Pauline epistle in two days of Mattins; this proved so onerous during the evening vigil that the abbot regularly appointed a monk to roam the Choir with a wooden stick and call inattentive monks to attention when they dozed off.

Centuries before then the readings may have been an odd mix of Scripture and contemporary sermons. Pierre Batiffol recounts St. Augustine advising a pastor as to which of his sermons he thought worthwhile to read during the Office.

The Tridentine commission assigned Scripture to the first nocturne of Mattins for feasts, often taken from the same book and chapter as the pericope at Mass, and a gradual reading of St. Paul on ferial days. The unique Masses of Lent already possessed proper Gospels and hence required no revision in the study group's mind. Local uses seem to have revised their vigil readings in line with the Scriptural revival in the Roman Office, although some, like Sarum, died out as they were, leaving Origen's sermon on the Incarnation for us on Christmas Eve.

Monday, July 3, 2017

After the Reformation III: The Incomplete Christian

The battles for orthodoxy have left many losers throughout the centuries. With the wealth of divine revelation that came from the Incarnate God through his Apostles, misunderstandings and intentional perversions abounded almost immediately in the infant Church. Simon Peter's paternal mission of protecting the treasure of revelation was opposed by Simon Magus, the father of Gnosticism and—according to many Church Fathers—all heresies. Since the expulsion of Simon from the Church, ecclesiastical history has seen similar treatment given to the Arians, Montanists, Pelagians, Docetists, iconoclasts, Albigensians, Lutherans, and many more. The errors that degrade and deform the true Faith are necessarily anathematized and cast into the outer darkness.

Some of these heresies lingered for centuries after their explicit condemnation. Arianism was anathematized in AD 381, but St. Boethius was sentenced to death by an Arian king in 524, and it survived in organized form until at least the 7th century in North Africa. There's an old joke that goes like this:
Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. The first asked, "How can we compare the Jesuits and Dominicans?"
The second replied, "Well, they were both founded by Spaniards — St. Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy — the Dominicans to fight the Albigensians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants." 
"Then what's different between the Jesuits and Dominicans?" 
"Met any Albigensians lately?"
But that isn't entirely fair. While the Lutheran heresy has lingered for five hundred years, it has done so by way of constant mutation, and it is hardly unique in its longevity. By the time the Church condemned Protestant errors at Trent, men of notable intelligence had already been getting creative with Luther's theology and making it their own, and papal respect had been so greatly diminished among the populace that few cared any longer what the bishop of distant Rome had to say.

The Counter-Reformation fought back with a renewed sense of Thomism, but Protestants were so successful everywhere they went that the Church had to take a defensive approach in places where the Catholic Faith had once reigned uncontested. A siege mentality may be necessary from time to time, but it is not conducive to social health. A city under blockade will not survive for long without suffering from famine and plague, even if it is not ultimately conquered. Likewise, the Church suffered for centuries under a war of attrition by Luther and his spawn, and the wide open fields of Christendom were traded for bunkers and priest holes. P. John XXIII's admonition to "throw open the windows of the Church" was not a sign that the enemies of God had stopped lobbing mustard gas our way, but that he was tired of smelling his fellow bishops' funk.

Since then we have engaged in an uneasy truce with the mutant grandchildren of Luther and his fish-barrel wife. The alternative to closed-door, manualistic flatulence was the recognition of our former enemies as fellow men of faith. The condemnations of Trent died the death of a thousand qualifications, and only positive acclamations of Protestant doctrine and practice were permitted to be voiced. The mere practice of baptism was enough for the Council Fathers to declare them as "separated brethren": "For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect"—surely this was a surprise to the millions of Evangelicals who considered the papacy to be something akin to the Whore of Babylon!

So now we have Christians who are in "imperfect" communion with the Church of God (e.g., Lutherans and Presbyterians) in loose brotherhood with those in "perfect" communion (e.g., Cdls. Kasper and Mahoney). Catholic clerics endlessly praise the love Protestants have for the Holy Writ (even while they themselves use its pages as facial tissue), and their desire for a "personal relationship" with Jesus (even while certain bishops refuse to personally genuflect before him). The Protestant is idealized and made an exemplar of Catholic piety, even though his spiritual life is composed of a series of existential crises rather than solid faith and hope.

Some Catholic converts from Protestant sects refuse to even call themselves converts, preferring rather to express their move as a growth into the fullness of Christian reality. No longer is Luther a heretic to be despised, but a misunderstood German theologian—aren't they all?—who only wanted the best for the Church. The traditional anathema was necessary for the mental health of Catholics cleric and lay, for it allowed them to see reality as it actually was. Now we are forced at gunpoint to see only the good in the enemies of the Church, and so we have descended gradually but inevitably into actual madness.

The Protestant milieu is not "mere Christianity" as C.S. Lewis would have it, nor is Catholicism simply "more Christianity" as Fr. Dwight contends. Catholicism is Christianity, and Protestantism is something else; that the latter happens to contain elements of Christianity is ultimately immaterial. We would never call Arianism an "incomplete Christianity" because Fr. Arius happened to say many true things in between his lies.

Heretics are men who have made shipwreck of their faith, and they visit their sin upon their third and fourth generations by denying them the means of salvation. If they are mindful enough to baptize their sons, even these deny themselves salvation as soon as they are old and knowledgable enough to repudiate the Catholic Faith. (In some Protestant circles this is practically a rite of passage.) Since more and more Protestants no longer even baptize in an acceptable manner, the single Sacrament they could once boast is slipping from their grasp. They stand naked and trembling before the gaze of Heaven. It is a terrible thing to possess knowledge of Christ and salvation, but to lack the means to attain it.

"The devils also believe—and tremble."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


In most pre-20th century, Western cities the most impressive building in town is a church built within a century or two of the city's founding for Catholic worship. This is not just true in Rome or New York, but even in modestly sized towns like Salisbury in England, which today boasts a population no larger than it did in medieval times. For all the poverty of past times, the pennies of the poor collectively contributed to impressive and lasting structures which seemed as constant as the God they were built to worship.

Houses were not all that different. Republican and Imperial Roman homes as well as homes from the medieval period onward were built to last for several generations and form the corpus of an ordinary family's inheritance, which would fall to the next paterfamilias in line. Not every house was Blenheim Palace, or even the Breakers, but ordinary families developed their properties for posterity and added to it with every generation.

Then came the Industrial Revolution, and the Middle Class was willed into being. Increased disposable income combined with mechanized manufacturing processes to create affordable facsimiles to traditional goods. Tailors began to disappear in favor of ill-fitted, machine-made suits; the vibrant, coach-built automobiles were replaced by standard body, standard color vehicles; the Old Fashion somehow acquired a cherry and Bourbon; and the unique, organic outlook on church architecture was supplanted by a cookie-cutter pattern: big altar wit the big six, Mary and Joseph altars on either side, and a plaster statue of the Sacred Heart.

Gone were the vast, empty churches to be furnished by guilds, sodalities, generous donors, and the pennies of the future poor. In were churches built for immediate satisfaction. It was not unlike today's McMansions, which create the most recent global recession, in that it provides immediate satisfaction instead of prolonged enjoyment by means of fakery. That's right, fakery. Just as a proper mansion (or peasant home, for that matter) has had numerous bricks re-pointed, wings added, copper and slate roofing, and changes perceptible from generation to generation, a proper church is an organic and living structure. A McMansion, on the other hand, looks like a mansion in that is has spires, pillars, colonnade, and cooper roofing, but on the inside it is replete with the most modern amenities, crummy furniture, and structural work intended to last no more than 20 or 30 years. It is a fleeting pleasure for those who want it and can afford it, not unlike our churches.

The McChurch model has changed considerably since the end of World War II. Mary and Joseph altars have given way to the only noticeable decor, the oversized Crucifix (or sometimes Resurrexifix). The Sacred Heart plaster statue has made room for Eucharistic adoration chapels, often with monstrous monstrances built into brutalistic tabernacles. Perhaps in an alcove, near the "Reconciliation Room", is an out of place oriental icon of the Theotokos. It is quite generic, ready-made, and unusable for an artistically inclined or growing community (unless the community wishes to grow by razing the existing structure for a new McChurch every generation).

By contrast, what a sermon it would be for the McMansion generation to build a proper, vertically-minded church with room for a Marian chapel one day. How about a real baptistry, with eight walls, separated from the nave or sanctuary, and encased in depictions of the Baptism in the Jordan or the Baptism of Saint Augustine? Or perhaps even a modest versus Deum altar against a reredros showing the important events of the patron saint of the church? Even one well-executed addition each generation speaks volumes more to the pagan and to the un-catechized Catholic than a thousand McChurches.

Better yet, proper churches tend to roll over from generation to generation and are not viewed as disposable assets. Even Salisbury Cathedral, built for medieval Catholic worship and now beholden to Anglicanism for over four centuries, without a Mass since the reign of Queen Mary Tudor, preaches a better sermon on the Catholic faith than this or this.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Maureen Mullarkey on Kitsch

Here are a pair of articles worth reading on the triumph of kitsch in Western religious art (here and here) from the mid-19th century onward. She accurately observes that the sentimental, saccharine kitsch that pervaded post-19th century art was a poor man's imitation of the expensive skillful Baroque and Renaissance art.

Would not we be better returning to the mosaic, iconographic, and medieval statuary traditions, which did not require once-in-a-decade talent and great cost to produce?

A Burning and Shining Light [Repost]

[The supplanting of that most ancient celebration of the Vigil of St. John's Nativity by the Sacred Heart devotional feast (due to a peculiarity of the current calendar year) prompted this repost of last year's praise of the Savior's forerunner, that great man who was so close to Christ's heart and mind. Perhaps no saint is more needed in our current trial, where even ostensibly traditional churchmen wink at divorce and adultery.]

(Pierre Puvis de Chavannes)
St. John’s Eve is tonight, a celebration of the Nativity of the Forerunner. No other saint’s birth is celebrated in the liturgical kalendar, apart from the nativities of Christ and Mary. If the Josephites have their way, the stepfather of Christ will someday receive a similar feast, but for now we are spared that indignity.

Among those born of women, none have risen greater than John the Baptist, who was filled with the Holy Spirit in his sainted mother’s womb. None deserve to have universal side-chapels opposite the Virgin more than John, which would be a magnificent continuation of the ancient iconographic tradition of the Deësis. While the pre-ministerial years of Our Lord are shrouded in shadow, we know that he expressed a great affection for his cousin with many compliments:
“For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him.” (Mt. 21) 
“He was a burning and a shining light, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.” (Jn. 5) 
“The baptism of John, was it from Heaven, or from men?” (Mk. 11) 
“Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” (Lk. 7) 
“What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? a prophet? yea I tell you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’” (Mt. 11)
Angel, Burning Light, More Than a Prophet, Friend of the Bridegroom—the Forerunner is given the Messiah’s stamp of approval at every opportunity, even though John himself says that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3). But “he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23), and thus the Church has historically placed him opposite the Virgin herself in his exalted intercessory position.

One can easily imagine The Baptist in a desert place as a young man, preparing for the mission ahead of him. Like the later desert hermits, the Devil must have sent his craftiest lieutenants against him, perhaps wondering if his imperviousness to temptation meant he was the promised Messiah.

John was a martyr, but not for baptizing nor for prophesying the Christ. He was murdered for one simple, repeated declaration: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” God could have permitted John to live well into the new dispensation, to witness the Crucifixion and Pentecost, and to be finally martyred as a Prophet of the Risen Christ. Perhaps it was not fitting that John should outshine the Twelve, or perhaps it was most fitting that the prelapsarian tradition of marriage should be witnessed bloodily by a sinless man even as Jesus was reestablishing its pre-Mosaic form. The strumpet Salome was herself the product of a broken marriage, a fitting image of contemporary times.

Even long after his death, the bones of St. John produced so many miracles that Julian the Apostate began to burn and pulverize them before the remaining relics were rescued. Today his cult has been pulverized: his feast cheapened into a yearly bonfire party, when it is celebrated at all, and his relics called into question by thoughtless bishops.
“For Herod feared John, knowing him to be a just and holy man, and kept him. And when he heard him, did many things, and he heard him willingly.” (Mk. 6)
But for the craftiness of Herod’s concubine, John would have lived and probably converted the king to repentance. Elijah, too, was harassed constantly by the witch-queen Jezabel. He escaped the persecution of the prophet-killer by a fiery chariot, but the Second Elijah was made to suffer and die for the perpetuation of the lie of Herodias’ marriage.

Centuries later, his namesake John Chrysostom would denounce the neo-pagan queen Aelia Eudoxia, who in her turn would depose and banish the bishop. “Again Herodias raves,” he preached, “again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.” The golden-mouthed John would eventually die in exile from his bishopric.
“What peace? so long as the fornications of Jezabel thy mother, and her many sorceries are in their vigor.” (II Kg. 9)
There will be no peace until the wicked queen is thrown by her unmanned slaves to the dogs. There will be no peace until the birth of a true prophet is celebrated, until his father’s dumbness is released and his mother’s childless shame is removed.

Herod feared John, so did Herodias, and so should we.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Salt of the Earth

"As a boy, then, I had already heard of eternal life promised us through the humility of the Lord our God stooping to our pride; and even from the womb of my mother, who hoped greatly in Thee, I was sealed with the sign of the Cross and salted with His salt," wrote Saint Augustine in his Confessions.

Salt is the fix for flavorless food, although too much can ruin a good thing. More conventionally, it was a means of preserving meats, fruits, and a few other foods that could spoil before the concoction of refrigeration. Cardinal Newman, among others, wrote that growth was the only the only sign of life. Salt kept and improved what it touched; what it did not touch decayed and rotted.

So, like water which cleansed and satiated, or bread with nourishes, or wine which "gladdens the heart of man", salt was hallowed by Christ in Christian language. The Christian is the salt of the earth, which gives the earth its savor and which the Christian sins in hiding from others. Salt is Christian charity and goodness, purified by Baptism an enlightened by the Beatitudes.

By the time of Saint Augustine, salt had become a tool of blessing and exorcising those things ridden in darkness. The catechumens or the ailing un-baptized would be anointed with holy oil and signed with salt for the cleansing of their ailments and the expulsion of evil in the hope that those pagans would eventually enter the waters of Baptism. From his Confessions one might surmise that the Doctor from Hippo was salted at the behest of St. Monica after birth and, perhaps, once more during a near-fatal sickness. The aspiring rhetorician lived to be baptized properly and the Church is better for it, perhaps through the healing Christ granted in this uniquely Latin sacramental.

Only after consulting Fr. Capreolus did I discover salt has been exorcised from the deformed new rite of Baptism. Baptized a Methodist at age one, I was unaware of current Roman praxis. Eastern clergy often applaud vernacular in the new Roman liturgy, but retain qualms about the gutting of the Baptismal service.

In an era of innovation and fakery, when even a three Michelin star chef like Marco Pierre White urges us to use artificial substitutes in cooking, we ought not be surprised that the same has happened in our liturgy. Perhaps Paul VI should have revised the Sermon on the Mount to read, "You are the Knorr Beef Stock Cube of the earth."

Friday, June 16, 2017

After the Reformation II: The Mutable Heresy

I have been thinking of how I can contribute to the "After the Reformation" series begun by His Traddiness. One might think that I, having been raised an Evangelical Protestant, would have much to say on the cultural effects of the Reformation, but I already said quite a bit about the paucity of Evangelical culture in a post from last year:
They have no lasting poetry, no sculpture, no memorable novels, no architecture, no music that isn’t a cheap imitation or childish emoting. When an Evangelical wishes to learn how to integrate faith and the arts, he inevitably falls back on Catholic examples, and then spends hours explaining to his friends why reading Flannery O’Connor doesn’t necessarily make one a dirty papist.
Consider the American Calvinist. Occasionally this individual will be a member of a mainstream denomination like the Presbyterians, but most often the Calvinist is to be found in a small, roaming pack of co-religionists. Rather than living within the tradition of the great iconoclast John Knox, they make historical reference solely to the 17th-century Synod of Dort by way of its oversimplification in the 20th-century floral mnemonic TULIP. Sometimes they can quote Calvin himself, but only as already quoted by a Calvinist preacher. Their taste in clothing, facial hair, and alcohol have more in common with urban hipsters than with their Reformed forebears. As likely as not, they belong to no denomination, but only to some "local church."

The case is even worse with the more generic Evangelical Christian. There is no unifying principle, even for a single community—no history, no hymnody, no common creed beyond a bland belief in the Trinity and the authority of the Scriptures. Ministers are often burdened with attendees who are not even certain they believe in God because they are so angry with their Creator. (Horrifyingly, our Catholic parishes resemble the Evangelical milieu more and more every year.)

Protestantism is a persistent heresy in part because it is so good at adaptation. The first few generations of this movement reinvented themselves to appeal to the needs of the time. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Melanchthon, and all the rest were vastly different personalities with vastly differing theologies, all flying more or less under the banner of the five Solas for the appearance of unanimity. Luther was a crypto-Manichean, but Melanchthon retroactively wrote him as an Augustine revivalist. King Henry exploited Protestantism for his own gains, caring little for theology.

As time went on, even the Solas fell out of favor, until Sola Scriptura was the last one standing. And then, liberal Protestants ate away even at the authority of the Holy Writ with its endless stream of German Panzer exegetes. Fewer and fewer Protestants, even self-professed conservatives, can be found today who unironically profess the authority of Scripture.

Luther exploited the exhaustion of the laity who were sickened by simony and clerical lechery. Calvin exploited the rising humanistic trends of linguistics and the dismissal of gradually developed tradition. Knox exploited the political chaos in Britain to loot the churches of Scotland. The so-called Great Awakenings were movements that exploited resentments and pushed for social justice, birthing denominations like an endless series of bastard children. Historical-Critical scholarship exploited the rise of skepticism and anti-religious sentiment. Charismatic groups exploited the dryness that came from an excess of loveless doctrine. Televangelists exploited the lonely and desperate who had no friends outside of their television sets.

Doctrinally, Protestantism might as well be renamed Proteanism in its perversion of the Pauline desire to become "all things to all men." The heresies concerning justification and the sacraments were condemned at Trent, but most spiritual descendants of the Reformation today could not even explain what they believe about those things. They attend church services to hear a nice sermon that may or may not be about Jesus, and sometimes hope to be convicted by "the Spirit" to change their lives for the better, but they don't care to know much about the nature and character of God. They come for the community and the small discussion groups, sometimes for the marriage counseling. When they stop feeling "fed," they move on to what seems like greener pastures at a new church.

For all its faults, the Counter-Reformation insisted on retaining a recognizable Catholic identity in the Roman Rite (liturgically, theologically, and artistically), and this monolithic homogenization was a draw to those exhausted by the shifting waves of Protestantland. Eventually, Protestantism found a way to exploit even the Catholic Church, adjusting itself like a parasite to a new host, and now the Church finds herself desperate to adapt to every perceived need of modern man, no matter how little modern man cares for her attention.

The Church has raised up many opponents to the Protestant mutagen, but they are all as different as their target chose to become: Erasmus, Robert Bellarmine, the Society of Jesus, Francis de Sales, and so on. There is an argument to be made that Protestantism is just a continuation of the old Manichean heresy that itself traces back to the Gnostics of Apostolic times. So perhaps there is no true end of the perennial heresy until the end of the world. Even if the last traces of Luther and Calvin are eradicated from the earth, some mutated strain would live on in the hearts of men. The best we can do is prevent infection and hold true, even when many in the Church recommend succumbing to its sway.

Prayer card for the martyrs of Douai College.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ember Wednesday: Date this Collect

The few sources I have found on the matter date the octave of Pentecost to around the 800s. Before that, the Sunday of Pentecost coincided with the seasonal ember days, so, given the Baptismal and creation-based character of the feast, it seemed reasonable to extend it over the ember days to each the whole week.

Some of the language in today's collect hints that the ember Mass pre-dates a certain dispute of language....

Mentes nostras, quǽsumus, Dómine, Paráclitus, qui a te procédit, illúminet: et indúcat in omnem, sicut tuus promísit Fílius, veritátem.... Per Dominum nostrum....

Sunday, June 4, 2017

After the Reformation I: "My Words Will Never Pass Away"

Some weeks ago I was meandering through a bookshop, trying to kill excess time before a distant appointment, when I happened upon a special edition of Life magazine called Blessed Art Thou Amongst Women. Pompeo Batoni’s Virgin of the Annunciation graced the cover of this well illustrated little volume on the Blessed Mother. A Catholic, Robert Sullivan, wrote the long essay inside, an essay which aspires toward a broad perspective on Mary that befits modern journalism, an overview on what she means to people rather than who she is. One particular line caught my view while thumbing through the line; I cannot recall the phrase precisely, but it effectively surmised that the reactionary Reformers of the 16th century preferred the narrowly known Mary of the Bible over the experientially known Mary of medieval Catholic devotions and miracles. And with this the influence of the Reformers’ sola scriptura doctrine crystalizes in modern times.

The Reformation broke out at the end of the Middle Ages, an epoch characterized by an extroverted, almost militant piety which asserted that Christ, the Saints, and holy things had a normal, continual presence in the world and which, by the faithful’s cooperation with them in a penitential spirit, the Church could obtain favor from heaven and the remission of sins. Or say contemporary textbooks. Factually, all of this is true, if amiss in characterizing the spirit of the Middle Ages, the apex of the Latin liturgy, monasticism, pilgrimage, papal power, and also administrative corruption. Many of the virtues of the medieval period—penance, Mass, pilgrimage—became occasions of vice for ambitious Italian and Spanish families in the form of ready-paid indulgences, fraudulent Mass stipends for aliturgical “dry” and votive Masses, and military actions dissimulated as holy war. It was in this time, at the close of the medieval period, that Luther left the loo to make his objections.

In the same bookshop I sauntered over to the religion section and found myself thumbing through one of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s books on the Reformation. He resolutely denies that Renaissance decadence was the condition sine qua non for the Reformation, instead insisting that the Reformers, especially Calvin, were returning to the orthodoxy of Chalcedon—which is convenient, because a few councils later the Church declared the absolute orthodoxy of venerating holy images. This is rubbish. All reform movements are inherently reactionary, at least in cause; they handicap themselves the more they hew to their reactionary stimuli rather than the challenges of the day. But also, reform movements look at the current state, compare it to the past, and find the need to purify the current day to make it like unto the past. This is fine within living memory, but Reformation idealized an age fourteen centuries passed.

In reaction to the excesses of medieval piety and the sums the Borgias and their imitators profited, the Reformers sought consolation in the Scriptures and their friendly confines, where Mary says very little, the Apostles even less, sins are pardoned without the aid of manuals for penance, and there is no Roman Canon. The Reformers arrived at sola scriptura, paradoxically accompanied by two or four other solae, depending on one’s numbering. Within these Scriptures, they taught, all Truth resides for the profit, belief, and salvation of the believer. The reduction of the Truth to what was recounted in a book may seem narrower and purer to modern academics skeptical of medieval piety, but at the time it must have carried an elitist association on par with owning a Rolls-Royce in modern times.

A Rolls-Royce and a Gutenberg-era book have much in common: new both cost as much as the average person made in several years, both took quite a while to produce, both were decorated with the finest materials, and both required something special to wield (in modern times a chauffeur and in older times literacy). One might retort that the non-nobles and non-clergy who possessed academic and functional literacy could read the Scriptures at the local cathedral library, but then again one can rent a Roller for one’s special occasions.

The diffusion of literacy and cheapness of printing after Gutenberg’s press made its way to factories made the Scriptures more accessible to people, who would now understand the Bible in a different way than people had in the old religion. A Catholic would readily admit the profitability of reading the Scriptures, that they are written under Divine inspiration and contain no error of doctrine, and that they are integral to the faithful’s religion; why else would the Church read them at the Office and Eucharist? Where the Church comes full stop is in asserting that the Scriptures are sufficient for all truth and belief. For example, what if someone wants to better their Christian virtue? They can and should read the Gospels to meditate on the miracles and teachings of Christ; they can take some inspiration from the Acts of the Apostles, but little more; the rest of the New Testament has exhortations to virtue proper to the problems of the day, which can often apply to us, but they were not absolutely written for our specific challenges. Saint Luke is aware that he is writing Scripture, Paul is not. Without the examples of the post-Apostolic saints and the various kinds of devotion (pilgrimages, types of penance, parish customs and charities) that emerged over time, one is left with the need to personalize the contents of Scripture to one’s own life rather than take the Evangelists’ plain words as they are meant to be heard.

While popular piety was time-travelling into the Apostolic and Old Testament age, like characters from the ‘80s B film Time Bandits, the scholar class born of the same Renaissance Europe began to take a very different approach to the Scriptures. A renewed interest in Greek language and culture followed the appeal of Emperor John to the western bishops at Venice and the exile of Byzantine scholars and clergy (most famously Bessarion) to Italy after the fall of Constantinople. These men read the New Testament in the Greek original in between Aristotle and Homer. A revival in Greek scholarship enabled various vernacular translations without using the Vulgate as an intermediary; mostly famously, the King James edition came from this movement. By the 18th century the scholarly class had taken a view of the Scriptures quite contrary to what the translators of prior times had. Years of guessing at the better use of words here or there and the study of language patterns gave rise to the notion that the Scriptures were written over a century after their purported events and that their texts constitute several editions of various corruptions, emendations, and made up nonsense that can best be characterized as a wishful piety. At worst, there is Voltaire’s entry for “Eucharist” in his thoroughly blasphemous Dictionnaire philosophique.

By the 19th century a cottage industry of linguists dedicated to the study of religious texts had emerged in Germany. They studied the Koran, the Old Testament, and the New, only to find all three wanting. The Koran was written off as the result of tribal superstition written down in a developing language with poor structure; the Old Testament did not fare much better; consensus arose that the New Testament probably derived from some fellow known to us today as the “Historical Jesus”, and that the Christ described in the Prologue of Saint John’s Gospel came about some time later. The Church resisted this secular take on the Scriptures—the New Testament assertions of which have fallen out of favor in recent decades—until the 20th century, when the German outlook coincided with the ecumenical movement. Was there not a book called The Rhine Flows into the Tiber?

At last we return to where we began, at the Barnes & Noble at 75 and Northwest Freeway in Dallas, reading snippets of Life magazine’s edition on the Blessed Virgin. The post-Christian world agrees with both the pietist and the scholarly aspects of the Reformed Biblical perspective. Christianity was simpler, purer, and without unnecessary extras during the era of the New Testament, when people heard the words of Jesus and kept them without candles before icons, vestments, popes, or works. It also finds that static, real-only-for-a-few-years-and-irrelevant-to-us-now version of events hopelessly impossible to justify according to the historical record and linguistic analysis. We end with a Mary bereft of the Rosary, intercession, and the title “Mother of God”, being left with a Mary who is only known through a few passages of Sacred Scripture and whose role in those texts is best glossed over; at best they might detract from focus on Christ and at worst the Magnificat itself is a later interpolation.

Our Lord said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, my words shall not pass” (Matthew 24:35). They have not, but the doctrine of sola scriptura gave its best effort yet.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Liturgical Theology: Pentecost Vigil (REPOST)

UPDATE: You should be able to watch a livestream of the vigil at 5PM EST (US) here.

Pentecost is too big, too vast, too intimidating for any singular explanation, but the Roman liturgy's rich vigil for this feast nurtures the faithful with some food for thought. Let us consider the liturgy of the Roman rite for this great feast, second only to the Sunday of the Resurrection in importance.

The vigil commences with the celebrant—vested in a violet chasuble—kissing the altar and following the lectors, who read six prophecies from the Old Testament, interspersed with collects sung by the celebrant. The first lesson is the familiar story of Abraham ascending a mountain with his son Isaac, prepared to sacrifice his only child in obedience to God. An angel intervenes and tells a relieved Abraham that God would never really do such a thing. All of this was proclaimed on Holy Saturday, prefiguring Christ's willingness to sacrifice everything to the Father on behalf of the world. Pentecost enters this passage late at the point when God rewards Abraham's fidelity by promising "I will bless thee and multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the seashore.... and in thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because thou hast obeyed My voice."

The second prophecy is an extraction from Exodus 14, wherein the Pharaoh's forces chase the Israelites through the desert and into the Red Sea, which St. Moses has just parted by the Lord's command. The Lord then tells Moses to close the Sea and drown the Egyptians, which he does. The tract continues the passage:
"Let us sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously magnified: the horse and the rider He hath thrown into the sea: He is become my helper and protector unto salvation...."
These two prophecies speak of the same thing, Baptism. Water is a symbol of creation and the essential ingredient of all that lives. Yet water is also uncertain, difficult to control. Genesis chapter 1 speaks of water roaming the earth before it had form. God used water to protect the Israelites from the Egyptians. Egypt itself is a type, a parallel, an example of sin and loss and here God saves His people—fulfilled and most perfectly expressed in the Church—through water. Through water He will "multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven," only He will no longer multiply Abraham's progeny through obedience, but Christ's Church through Sacrament. The second collect of the vigil demands this interpretation:
"O God, who by the light of the New Testament hast made clear to us the miracles wrought in earliest times, prefiguring unto us the Red Sea as an image of the sacred font, and Who in the deliverance of Thy people from the bondage of Egypt, hast foreshadowed the sacraments of the Christian dispensation; grant that all nations who have merited by faith the privilege of the children of Israel, may be born again by partaking of Thy holy Spirit."
The third prophecy, take from Deuteronomy 31, compares and contrasts closely with the Ascension of Christ. Moses, nearing death, has taken care to write down his encounters and history with God. He abjures and confronts his fellows Israelites for their infidelity to God, "For I know that, after my death, you will do wickedly, and will quickly turn aside from the way that I have commanded you." The scripture, excluded from this passage, goes on to tell us that his bones were never found. This is extraordinary. Moses joins Elijah, Enoch, and the Blessed Mother among those whose bones have not been found and the others were taken bodily by the Lord, Elijah in a chariot of fire and our Lady after her death in Jerusalem. Moses, a prefigurement of Christ who leads God's people out of bondage, many believe, Jews included, was also taken up by God. Should he have been assumed by God then an strong parallel with the Ascension presents itself. Christ of course was not assumed into heaven, but rather ascended through His own power as God. Moses brought people forth from human bondage and Christ from spiritual bondage. Both died and were raised, so to speak, and rebuked their followers for their lack of faith. Moses's followers would continue to fail God, even if they would eventually reach the promised land and create a kingdom of Israel. Christ, in a marked contrast, promises something perfect that will never be lost, a "Helper" (meaning of the word Paraclete) to preserve the faithful "in all truth." He ascends telling the Apostles to "baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.... For I am with you always, even until the end of the world." Moses's deliverance from slavery is made perfect in Christ's words.

The fourth prophecy again anticipates the inception of the Church in the Baptism of its members, "the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Sion, and shall wash away the blood of Jerusalem out of the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning" (Isaiah chapter 4). At this point perhaps the faithful should consider what Baptism is. It is the movement of water over a person's skin with a Trinitarian formula, yes, but it is so much more, too. "Baptism" derives from a similar Greek word meaning "to immerse" or "to plunge." To be "plunged" into Christ and in the name of the Trinity is more than to enter a visible community or lose a sentence of punishments condine to one's sins. To be "plunged" into Christ is to be immersed and filled with the very life of Christ given by the Holy Spirit, Who, St. Gregory reminds the Church of Rome during Mattins of the feast, is the love of God Himself. The Holy Spirit, to be simplistic, is God's love working and doing something, creating or renewing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes this rebirth in Baptism through water, the physical essential in life and the material, again referencing Genesis chapter 1, which formlessly covered the earth before creation. Water is also like the Holy Spirit, or "Holy Wind" to take a very literal translation, in that water is not easily contained, limited, narrowed, or defined. It enters through crevices unseen and can also be lost by poor care through other unanticipated openings. It is this in water that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, renews His creation. It is for this reason so many commentators have adduced the psalm from the Vidi aquam "I saw water flowing from the right side of the Temple, alleluia; and all to whom this water came were saved...." Therefore the Church uses as her last prophecy in the vigil Ezekiel 37:1-14:
"Thus saith the Lord God, Come, spirit, from the four winds, and blow upon these slain, and let them live again. And I prophesied as He had commanded me; and the spirit came unto them; and they lived; and they stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army.... Thus saith the Lord, I will open your graves, and will bring you out of your sepulchres, O My people, and will bring you into the land of Israel.... and you shall have put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall make you rest upon your own land; saith the Lord almighty."
A procession then brings the sacred ministers to the baptistry where the font's waters are again blessed and infused with chrism, itself a priestly thing, as on Holy Saturday. The Paschal candle, extinguished on Ascension Thursday after the Gospel, reappears. Let not the importance of its reappearance be lost. As Dr. Laurence Hemming adumbrates in his Worship as Revelation, all the fires in a church are to be lit from the Paschal fire much as the Presence of Christ in the Sacraments comes from Christ's Incarnation and work on earth. The Paschal candle is extinguished at the end of forty days because, as with Christ and the Sacraments, its purpose, to diffuse holy fire, is accomplished. The fire remains without the candle's use just as Christ remains in the Church without a bodily physical presence. The candle returns because it symbolizes the Resurrection, the event which made this new life in the Holy Spirit possible. The celebrant plunges the candle into the font, almost baptizing the font with the candle rather the other way around. The celebrant sparges the faithful with the blessed water, infuses the chrism, and baptizes catechumens into Christ and His Resurrection. More adept parishes will also have the good sense to administer confirmation at this time, giving the neophytes the Holy Spirit and His "sevenfold gifts."

After the baptisms all who have been "baptized into Christ" on earth sing the Litanies of Saints, imploring the intercession of those in heaven who are the perfection of God's promise to Abraham, "multipl[ied] as stars of heaven." The saints, together with those on earth baptized into Christ, form the Church and carry that same Spirit and fire found on Holy Saturday. Pentecost makes the Resurrection permanent on earth, preserved in the Church unto ages of ages.

Mass follows immediately during the vigil. The lesson, taken from Acts of the Apostles, recounts Paul's preaching of the Baptism of Christ, or into Christ, to the Ephesians, hitherto only aware of St. John the Baptist's baptism of repentance. The alleluia is the same as on Holy Saturday. And in the Gospel St. John tells of Jesus saying "If you love me, keep my commandments." What is the Holy Spirit other than the strength to do this? This simple, demanding sentence of Christ calls to mind James 2:18, "I will show you my faith by my works." The Holy Spirit creates, re-creates, renews, strengthens, and preserves the Church in Christ, of Christ, and for Christ, as foretold to the prophets long ago. He makes all things anew, fashioning a new, holier creation out of the materials and persons of the existing, fallen creation. And He will remain with us until the very end.

In a rare moment the Byzantine tradition has a far simpler and more understated take than the Roman Church. The Greek theology of this feast can be found in the troparion of Penteost, which I heard today at Divine Liturgy and last evening at Vespers:
"Blessed are You, O Christ our God, You have filled the fishermen with wisdom by sending down the Holy Spirit upon them, and Who through them have caught in Your net the whole world. O Lover of mankind, glory to You!"