Friday, February 27, 2015

Blessed Are They Who Hear the Word of God


Never has the Word of God been more discussed than in the last two centuries. Vatican II's Dei Verbum is an entire document on interpreting it. Protestantism is an entire religion founded on most of it. Nineteenth century German biblical scholarship assured us it was mostly second century bosh while late twentieth century scholarship has shown it originated frighteningly proximate to Christ and the Apostles. The average American household owns four copies of it. Never before has it been more read, more discussed, and less heard.

Our modern relationship with Scripture is abecedarian. A layman sits at his reading desk or cozies himself in his arm chair in quiet repose, opens his Ignatius Study Bible to whatever section of the Johannine gospel looks interesting, and reads while imagining the events described, as though he is the woman at the well. Could anything be more Ignatian? Could anything be more modern? Could anything be more removed from how our fathers in the faith interfaced with the Word of God?

The dispute over the place of liturgical theology and the value of the pre-20th century Roman rite—the real thing, I call it—is closely related to a long lost dispute over the place of Scripture in the liturgy. The Byzantine rite long replaced most of the Scriptural portions of the liturgy with hymns and symbolic gestures, although readings of substance remain at Vespers for great feasts and the pre-Sanctified weekday rites of Great Lent. The un-reformed Roman rite retained the place of Scripture from ancient times, although some abbreviations took place, such as the reduction of the psalm verses in the introit. Holy Writ narrated the Mass and the Office. The liturgy was how people encountered what we call the Bible. Liturgical worship outside the Eucharistic sacrifice culminated in the reading of the words of Christ by the herald of the Gospel, the deacon, from a lecturn or ambo in the midst of those destined to hear it. In the Roman rite this singing of Christ's words took place in medio choro, in the Greek rite from an enormous stone ambo in the center of the Hagia Sophia.

In neither of these settings was the place of proclamation a rival or equal to the altar of sacrifice that so much heterodox architecture now presents it to be. The Gospel was sung from a prominent place amid the congregation. The Eucharist is offered from the most prominent point, somewhat veiled, and removed from the congregation until Holy Communion. The Word anticipates the Sacrament as it did for the Israelites in the desert of Egypt.

source: lamprotes1 on YouTube

The Gospel was sung either in vernacular or in a mostly intelligible language proximate to the common tongue. Slavonic is near enough to most Slavic languages as is Latin to French and Italian. If not directly understood, the gospel readings would be comprehended to some degree and decorated with some ornament of mystery. A few oddities did and do exist, like Classical Arabic, which is far removed from vernacular Arabic. We Anglophonic men also seem to have been born outside of the Lord's good liturgical graces, condemned to a bastard Germanic language well removed from the tongues of liturgy.

Above all the reading of the Gospel was the greatest encounter with the spoken word of God a human being would have. God the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets and Christ spoke to the Apostles His commandments. Christ wrote nothing, but He did say, "Blessed are they who hear the word of God and who keep it." The extravagant actions of the Greek rite and the Scriptural narration of the Office and fore-Mass in the Roman rite climaxed with the solemn speaking of God-made-Man. The words of Christ and the actions of Christ are renewed in the presence of the faithful for their edification and holiness. Previous generations, enriched in their poverty of electronic entertainment and television, understood that anticipation and fulfillment meet the imagination's ideas about God. Gestures, actions, and words together synthesize into a taxis which follows the plan of Revelation: the anticipation of the prophets and the fulfillment of Christ.

The marriage of Protestantism and book-printing changed the purpose of the word of God in people's minds. What was something sacred and removed became a pocket-size product for individual interpretation and personal consumption. A Romanian friend once confided that his mother had never heard of a Bible before she came to America: "Oh yes, we have the prophets and the gospels, but not everything bound up in one nifty package." St. Augustine recalls in his Confessions that when the child said "Take and read" he picked up the letters of St. Paul, not the Revised Standard Version. There is nothing wrong reading the Scriptures on one's own outside a liturgical setting for knowledge or spiritual meditation, but who will deny that generally the accessibility of the words of God has resulted in a decline of reverence for those words. God's word has become my Bible. Some well meaning but very lost celebrants of the Pauline spoken Mass try too hard to imbue rediscovered significance in the spoken Gospel by "proclaiming" the "Good news" in theatrical voices punctuated by long, awkward pauses and eye-piercing stares at the congregation. Father, you are trying too hard. The religion founded on [most of] the Bible has reduced the Bible's gravitas. Combined with emotionally and intellectually dulling forms of entertainment like television, the abecedarian approach to Scripture given to us by the Protestants has removed our awe in encountering and keeping the Word of God when we hear it.

In spite of these losses, hope is not gone. Even in the reformed rites of Holy Week ('62 or Pauline) people find the non-Sacramental gestures and readings powerful. People attend these rites for these ceremonies and readings almost exclusively. Were Thursday of Holy Week just a Mass, how many would attend? Most go because of what makes it unique: the reading of the Mandatum periscope and the washing of the feet. The same is true for the singing of the Passion and the adoration of the Cross on Good Friday as well as the blessing of the fire and the prophecies on Holy Saturday. They are going to find Christ in His words and actions, something previous Catholics were able to see more regularly than we can, who Platonically peer into the water which reflects the Sun those before us saw so brilliantly.
source: the Pit

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Two Things Worth Reading

  1. Vespers followed by lunch? In my case, by breakfast. The point of inverting the hours of the Office in the Roman tradition examined by JohnR.
  2. An old, still relevant interview with Robert Taft, SJ which illuminates the religious elements of contemporary Russian and Ukrainian politics.
Ten minutes could be worse spent.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Office of the Dead & Salvation

I will put the Office of the Dead back up for Lent during the week so you can post your intentions and, hopefully, whether you plan on praying any hours of the Officium, too. 

I once knew a Swedish Baptist in Connecticut who followed the Calvinistic determination of salvation: I am saved and I know it; God makes some people to be saved and some to be damned. When I shared the Apostolic view of Salvation he asked, "Am I saved then?" I replied, "I do not know and cannot know, but I'm not optimistic." I do not believe all are saved, although a minority of the Fathers did and so I think we should leave the idea alone as I have written here. We cannot condemn St. Gregory of Nyssa, St Isaac the Syrian, or the Alexandrian saint who believed it, but we should not promote the idea as a given and a false hope either as many in the 20th century have done. Christ has told us through Revelation and the Church what we must do to be saved. For those outside the Church, we must trust in God's mercy and justice—which never conflict and which balance the scales far better than our veiled human ideas about justice or forgiveness. 

Why I am writing this is because some traditionalists and neo-cons seem to thrive on as few people getting upstairs as possible, on the elevator being too crowded to bring everyone in the lobby to the penthouse. Objectively, salvation can only be expected within the Church, but is not excluding an extrinsic act of forgiveness telling God what who He can and cannot save? 

As with the teetotalling Swedish Baptist-Calvinist, I am neither optimistic nor sure. Stop worrying about those outside the Church and start worrying about your own soul and those you can influence in your own life who are outside of it.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Like Sheep Among Wolves....

After our respective choices for liturgical celebrations, a group of us—four Catholics—met at a bakery for some coffee, coco, and munchies masquerading as a viable breakfast. We dilated upon many topics: the Lenten fast, East-West relations, the Fraternity of St. Pius X, if scholastic theology has a future, the literarily livid rants of John Senior, and the like. At one point I even let loose some discomfortingly direct thoughts on the pope and some of his recent statements that would have shivers down the spines of many a pious church-lady. 

At one point two young men who had been sitting in the adjoining booth approached us and asked if we were Catholics They introduced themselves as seminaries from other southwestern dioceses and struck up ten minutes of conversation. After establishing that they had finished philosophy and were in "pre-theology" (like pre-math or pre-reading????) we inquired as to their curriculum. "We are reading about the Fathers," one said. 

"Better than reading about the Fathers, read the Fathers and let their practical wisdom permeate you," I replied.

"Well, we do read some of the Fathers, too," he retorted.

"Do you study Latin and Greek and that sort of stuff?" my contiguous diner asked.

"We might take Latin next year, but right now we've gotta think about pastoral languages like Spanish. We need to be pastoral."

My friend pressed him. "Learn about all the traditions of the Church. Learn the old Latin Mass, learn about the Byzantine rite and the Greek Fathers and Augustine!"

"Yeah, it's great! Isn't there just so much stuff in the Church! It's just like amazing!"

"Learn Latin and Greek," I continued. "They're the gateway to the Church's wisdom and heaven's native tongues!"

"Why not just learn Hebrew while they're at it," my friend snorted. "If you want to go back to the beginning, why not!"

"Hebrew hasn't been heaven's native tongue for a while."

"Stop it!" the seminarian rebuked me, as though I had spoken some sort of a slur, which, evidently, I had.

After few more minutes of mild cheer and banter they had left. Bitter sorrow for them overcame us. These poor fellows are being taught nothing of the Church's traditions or great thinkers. They are getting Sparknotes theology, no liturgy, political correctness, and "pastoral" interests. The world detests the Church and will detest her more in the years to come. When these youths receive the laying of hands from their bishops they will be ill-equipped to combat either earthly assaults or internal strife. As dull as scholastic theology and the '62 low Mass may be they do impart something firm to students for the priesthood. These poor lads will be like sheep among wolves, and they won't be wise as serpents. Pray for them.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Short Lenten Reflection: Passion as Sacrament

We have arrived at Lent and are now in the midst in the great Fast. So if you are at work, you hear your stomach growl, and you peal over your desk then just say a quick prayer and realize that is what is supposed to happen. 

During my late lunch I sometimes step into the cathedral a few blocks away to say an hour of the Office (remember, Vespers before noon!). My eyes traversed the walls and caught glimpse of a few of the latter stations of the Cross: the third fall, the stripping of garments, the crucifixion, the death of the Cross. The Passion is something of a Sacrament unto itself. Yes, the Sacrifice is there "perfect and complete" as the Byzantine pre-Sanctified Liturgy says during Communion, whenever one partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ. A Sacrament is the grace of God, something done by Christ through the Holy Spirit, and more. It is both the thing it symbolizes and a symbol. The waters of Baptism outwardly symbolize the cleansing of sins—recalling the Flood—and the renewal of Creation—water is a symbol itself of Creation—but inwardly it actually does these things and more. Christ told us, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Is not the Passion both a symbol for this and its actual fulfillment?

Simon of Cyrene bore the Cross with Our Lord, not eagerly, but willingly. He had little interest in the Cross and tried to escape it with the same half-hearted effort children use to avoid doing their chores until Roman force persuaded him to cooperate. He wasn't a bad man, he just wasn't interested. In the patristic age writers emphasized Simon's "symbolic and mystical" rather than "accidental" place in pre-signif[ying] the Gentiles' faith, to whom the Cross of Christ was not to be shame but glory" (St. Leo the Great, 8th sermon on the Passion). By modern times Simon had become a minor miscreant who begrudgingly entered the Passion. How many devotions booklets include a station of the Cross that laments Simon's unwillingness rather than his eventual consent?

Simon symbolized the Gentiles who would receive the faith that the Jewish people declined in the eyes of the ancient Church. Today he can still be that. Can he not also be an archetype of ourselves and so many saints we seek to imitate? Other than Padre Pio, I can hardly think of any saints eager to share in the Lord's Passion. Some of them unwillingly came along and others willingly and quietly. Christ invites us, we do not invite ourselves to His act of redemption. Christ gives us a Cross just as from eternity He created the wood that would be used to carve His own device of salvation. The Romans thought they gave Him the Cross in much the same way we think we get Communion or get absolution in Confession. We do not. They are gifts, as is every suffering and difficulty which brings us closer in faith, much like the stomach growling midday at work during the great Fast.

And then there is the Passion itself. Three falls, seemingly the pattern of sin when we try to expiate and reform our ways. First, sin seduces us in temptation. Second, we fall. And thirdly, we repeat and repeat and repeat. One Anchorite said, "It is not our falls that matter, but what way we face when we get back up." Bearing the Cross with Christ, the Christian must persevere through the Fast as Christ did with Simon on the way to Calvary. The Cross is not pleasant. The fast is not pleasant. Yet they are both sweet: dulce lignum, dulce clavos.... 

At the end of it, during Holy Week, we should be physically exhausted and nearest death as we can healthily be, if such a thing is possible. When the fire is hidden and the "earthquake" shakes the darkened church during Tenebrae remember that Christ is indeed buried, God in the form of human frailty. By His aid let us bury our own human frailty, too, that with Him we may rise in a luminous, glorified body made into what it was supposed to be originally by His work. Your goal on the Sunday of the Resurrection is to say that you participated in the Passion and the now the Resurrection, both in symbol and in reality.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Placing St. Thomas

I have criticized the prominence of neo-Scholasticism and the aphoristic attitude towards clerical education is elicited in the post-Tridentine age, culminating in the three generations of bad clergy who met in Rome from 1962-1965 (the old bishops, the middle aged monsignori and auxiliaries, and the priests and monks who would succeed them). At night, when I find a moment, I navigate John Senior's The Restoration of Christian Culture. Chapter Four, Theology and Superstition, begins with a series of astute mini-rants observations about the problem of Thomistic education, which has little to do with the portly, saintly friar who wrote the Summa:

"Superstition" is something "standing over" from a former time which we no longer "understand...." The theology of St. Thomas has become something like that, a superstition among twentieth-century Catholics, including conservatives and traditionalists, his formulas, like rakes and hoes, hanging in our theological gingko trees; and it is no wonder that the younger generation has decided to junk them.
A few uncommon and relatively unknown, and old, theologians still study and teach St. Thomas, but he is no longer received as the Common Doctor of the Church. The Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas himself says in the Prologue, is a book "for beginners;" but we have few real beginners anymore. Our schools and colleges turn out advanced technicians in what are called the arts and sciences, but none has the ordinary prerequisites to traditional philosophical and theological study, none with the famous mens sana in corpore sano of the ancients, that is, disciplined in the perception, memory, and imagination of reality. To compensate for our failures, seminaries in the decades preceding Vatican II tabulated maxims based upon the Summa as texts for easily testable courses run on principles remotely traceable to Descartes, full of method, and having little to do with reality, ess of memory and nothing of imagination or the spirit of St. Thomas. In the great Catholic universities at Rome and elsewhere, the grand old Dominican and Jesuit masters went on lecturing in Latin to students, many from America, who had to get laugh-in signals from the graduate assistants when the master cracked a joke because none knew Latin well enough to tell a joke from a Scholastic formula. It is hardly surprising that in such universities scholastic formulas became jokes. The only usual skill you had to master at the Roman colleges, they say, was to read the easy Latin upside down because on oral examinations the professor would read aloud a question form the manual—holding it right there in front of him. If you had the trick of reading upside down you could give the answer word for word to pass with high distinction. Through a gross misunderstanding of docility, students sat on their disengaged intelligences through hours of what to them was gibberish, at the end of which they received gilded Italianate certificates in Canon Law and Theology certifying in reality an education in outlines, "ponies," and tests whose questions had been leaked in advance with answers right in front of them. And with these doctorates, as professors, rectors and even bishops, their graduates occupied positions of authority in Catholic universities and seminaries. Of course there were exceptions, but I think, brutal as it seems, this is a fair description of the general situation....
....It is better, as Socrates repeatedly said, not to know and know you don't than not to know and think you do. Or as the poet said.... A little learning is a dangerous thing/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring....
....Neo-Thomism in our own time couldn't even stand up to the grasshoppers of relativism and Social Darwinism. Nor could the few serious Thomists such as Garrigou-Lagrange propose a real theology to those who couldn't see beyond the rhetoric of popular science, which dazzled them with figures of speech in place of the quiet light of thought. Gilson recounts in one of his last, sad books, how he had refused a request from Pius XII to write a refutation of Teilhard de Chardin.... because there was no clear doctrine in Teilhard to refute, only a kind of poetry which confused the imagination and affected the emotions but without argument, evidence, or substance.
So I do not advocate anything like a revival of St. Thomas. I think it is impossible under present conditions. He is better off where he is and incidentally needs no "revival" because he isn't dead; we're the ones who are dead, or almost dead; the rent is overdue and we are starving in ruined torment.


Nox, et tenebrae, et nubila,
Confusa mundi et turbida:
Lux intrat, albescit polus:
Christus venit: disc├ędite.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When Did They Become Orthodox? (2)

His re-discovery of his Christian faith did not change the fact that Dostoevsky was mad, it just made his books more readable and fulfilling. Notes From the Underground was terrible, but Crime & Punishment should be one everyone's reading bucket list. I am currently ploughing through The Brothers Karamazov during lunch breaks at work and happened upon this lengthy discourse by Aloysha on the role of the Orthodox church with regard to the state. Dostoevsky, writing in 1880, insists towards the end of this edited excerpt that his vision is different from Rome's because Rome wants to become the state and Orthodoxy wants the state to become the church. In light of Pius XI's documents on the topic, that delineation becomes, at best, arbitrary and superficial.

What do we make of this passage? Is it a relic of "Holy Russia" and Slavic Erastianism? A remnant of Caesaro-papism? A common vision of the cooperation of the state with the Church in matters moral and religious held East and West, despite the separation? Evidence that state power vitiated Christianity irreparably a millennium and a half before this was written? Is it a holy goal we should still aspire to reach by grace? Speak!

The eristic exchange takes place in the context of one character challenging another's article reviewing a book on ecclesiastical jurisprudence.

"I start from the position that this confusion of elements, that is, of the essential principles of Church and State, will, of course, go on forever, in spite of the fact that it is impossible for them to mingle, and that the confusion of these elements cannot lead to any consistent or even normal results, for there is falsity at the very foundation of it. Compromise between the Church and State in such questions as, for instance, jurisdiction, is, to my thinking, impossible in any real sense. My clerical opponent maintains that the Church holds a precise and defined position in the State. I maintain, on the contrary, that the Church ought to include the whole State, and not simply to occupy a corner in it, and, if this is, for some reason, impossible at present, then it ought, in reality, to be set up as the direct and chief aim of the future development of Christian society!"

"Perfectly true," Father Paissy, the silent and learned monk, assented with fervour and decision.

"The purest Ultramontanism!" cried Miusov impatiently, crossing and recrossing his legs.

"Oh, well, we have no mountains," cried Father Iosif, and turning to the elder he continued: "Observe the answer he makes to the following 'fundamental and essential' propositions of his opponent, who is, you must note, an ecclesiastic. First, that 'no social organisation can or ought to arrogate to itself power to dispose of the civic and political rights of its members.' Secondly, that 'criminal and civil jurisdiction ought not to belong to the Church, and is inconsistent with its nature, both as a divine institution and as an organisation of men for religious objects,' and, finally, in the third place, 'the Church is a kingdom not of this world.'

“A most unworthy play upon words for an ecclesiastic!" Father Paissy could not refrain from breaking in again. "I have read the book which you have answered," he added, addressing Ivan, "and was astounded at the words 'The Church is a kingdom not of this world. 'If it is not of this world, then it cannot exist on earth at all. In the Gospel, the words 'not of this world' are not used in that sense. To play with such words is indefensible. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to set up the Church upon earth. The Kingdom of Heaven, of course, is not of this world, but in Heaven; but it is only entered through the Church which has been founded and established upon earth. And so a rivolous play upon words in such a connection is unpardonable and improper. The Church is, in truth, a kingdom and ordained to rule, and in the end must undoubtedly become the kingdom ruling over all the earth. For that we have the divine promise."
"The whole point of my article lies in the fact that during the first three centuries Christianity only existed on earth in the Church and was nothing but the Church. When the pagan Roman Empire desired to become Christian, it inevitably happened that, by becoming Christian, it included the Church but remained a pagan State in very many of its departments. In reality this was bound to happen. But Rome as a State retained too much of the pagan civilisation and culture, as, for example, in the very objects and fundamental principles of the State. The Christian Church entering into the State could, of course, surrender no part of its fundamental principles- the rock on which it stands- and could pursue no other aims than those which have been ordained and revealed by God Himself, and among them that of drawing the whole world, and therefore the ancient pagan State itself, into the Church. In that way (that is, with a view to the future) it is not the Church that should seek a definite position in the State, like 'every social organisation,' or as 'an organisation of men for religious purposes' (as my opponent calls the Church), but, on the contrary, every earthly State should be, in the end, completely transformed into the Church and should become nothing else but a Church, rejecting every purpose incongruous with the aims of the Church. All this will not degrade it in any way or take from its honour and glory as a great State, nor from the glory of its rulers, but only turns it from a false, still pagan, and mistaken path to the true and rightful path, which alone leads to the eternal goal. This is why the author of the book On the Foundations of Church Jurisdiction would have judged correctly if, in seeking and laying down those foundations, he bad looked upon them as a temporary compromise inevitable in our sinful and imperfect days. But as soon as the author ventures to declare that the foundations which he predicates now, part of which Father Iosif just enumerated, are the permanent, essential, and eternal foundations, he is going directly against the Church and its sacred and eternal vocation. That is the gist of my article."

"Why, it's beyond anything!" cried Miusov, suddenly breaking out; "the State is eliminated and the Church is raised to the position of the State. It's not simply Ultramontanism, it's arch-Ultramontanism! It's beyond the dreams of Pope Gregory the Seventh!"
"You are completely misunderstanding it," said Father Paissy sternly. "Understand, the Church is not to be transformed into the State. That is Rome and its dream. That is the third temptation of the devil. On the contrary, the State is transformed into the Church, will ascend and become a Church over the whole world- which is the complete opposite of Ultramontanism and Rome, and your interpretation, and is only the glorious destiny ordained for the Orthodox Church. This star will arise in the east!"

Friday, February 13, 2015

For the Captives and for Their Salvation....

Among the petitions in the Great Litany of the Greek rite—sung at Vespers, Orthros, and the Divine Liturgy—is for "those held captive and for their salvation." In our comfortable modern lifestyle we rarely find any substance for this petition except for when we see a news story about someone being kidnapped by a madman or captured by ISIS. Yesterday I had the rare experience of witnessing a real application for this prayer.

I work high up in a forty-story building, at the base of which is a bank. A man walked into the bank, produced a weapon, demanded money, and took two hostages out the backdoor of the bank with him. Returning late from a business lunch, I happened upon a police cruiser and thought to myself, "Best not j-walk here." Then another cruiser, and another, and another until I attempted to cross the street to my building. "Can't cross here," a man wearing a bullet-proof vest and holding an AR-15 said to me. "Can I go around?" "No, the whole block's closed. Please leave." A man next to me clad in a well-tailored suit informed me, "There was a bank robbery and two hostages are still missing. The building is under lock-down." I returned to the restaurant to pass the time with my co-workers. Twenty minutes later the lock-down continued. A friend and I visited a coffee shop and mistakenly asked tax accountants to tell us when the all-clear came through. Tax accounts can compute through a nuclear meltdown. After ninety minutes the lock-down ended and I returned to work.

Here was a real moment when anyone—a businessman, a bystander, a teller—could have found himself before the awesome judgment seat of Christ and called to account for his life before the Creator of life. It did not happen, but at any moment it really could without our control or cooperation. The Good Lord smiled upon us that day though and deliver the hostages, locked in a bathroom near the backdoor (sounds like an inside job).

Et redemit nos ab inimicis nostris: quoniam in aeternum misericordia euis

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Holy God We Praise Thy Name....

A hymn a friend of mine heard endlessly as a child in the FSSPX.... I have never heard it sung in a church and by the grace of God never will. The Ordinariate community here in Fort Worth sings high brow hymns with occasional insight, elevated language, and festive relevance out of The English Hymnal. Growing up in the typical Pauline liturgical setting, I was exposed to barn-burning, up tempo classics like Let Us Build the City of God and Lord of the Dance. I dreaded Immaculate Mary until I heard the far superior British version, which may well be my favorite vernacular hymn. The St. Gregory Society, where I attended Mass in Connecticut, never sang hymns. It was a blissful hour of plainsong bookended by thunderous organ preludes and postludes.

Hymns are a uniquely Western interest. Yes, the Greek and other Eastern Churches have them in their traditions, but they occupy a minor place liturgically if at all—unless one counts the Akathist for feasts, a thirty minute "hymn." Protestant and modern-Roman hymns are generally bosh: saccharine sentimentality which appeals to emotions, familiarity, and melodic memory. Lost are deeper ideas of beauty, meaning, and encounter with the Divine. Liturgical hymns, such as those of the Office, conclude with a Doxology, a contrast to hymns inspired after secular music's alternation of verses with a chorus. More popular hymns imitated the secular musical pattern rather than the liturgical one. Any English hymn will follow this pattern, but the pattern is not necessarily a Protestant one. Even great Christmas hymns from the 15th century like Resonet in laudibus exchanges verses with the chorus Gaudete, gaudete Christus natus hodie....

What makes a hymn good? What makes a hymn liturgically suitable? At its heart I have always favored the St. Gregory Society's hymnless approach. I love the hymns the Ordinariate church sings, but what criteria separate those pieces from the devotionalist hymns the FSSP sings or the Gather hymnal doggerel of the common parish?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rare Transitional Missal

When Did They Become Orthodox?

"I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" nearly all Christians who claim any sort of apostolic origin recite on Sundays. Among them are the various kinds of Orthodox Christians of the Eastern Churches. One friend, a Russian Jew born in Orthodoxy who left after falling victim to ethnocentrism, could not quite understand why they said that they believe in the "catholic" Church while not being Catholic. But they do believe they are the Catholic Church, and Orthodox, too.

The birth of "Orthodoxy" and the "Orthodox Church" is one of the minor mysteries in religious linguistics probably worthy of some level of study. The Church of Constantinople—as the Church of Rome, and the Church of Alexandria, and the Church of Aberdeen—believed itself to possess those four marks of the Church and hence to be a part of the Church Christ founded. That Church has gone by a few different names in its two thousand year history, but only a few. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his letter to the Smyrnaeans 
"Where ever the bishop is let the multitude of the people be, as where there is Jesus Christ there is the Catholic Church." 
That phrase, Catholic Church, went on the shelf for the better part of the next few centuries, only coming off when the concept of "Christian" was no longer sufficient to distinguish the true Church from the odd sects engendered by heterodox thinkers or gnostic divines. "Christian," meaning "little Christs"—itself meaning "little anointed ones," a strong indication of Confirmation—by the fourth century had the same general meaning it has today. Anyone who professes Jesus Christ in some meaningful way is a Christian. Those who professed the true faith claimed membership in the "Catholic Church."

"Catholic" lived on in the Creed of Nicaea in the condemnation at the end:
"But those who say 'There was once when he was not,' and 'Before his generation he was not,' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or pretend that the Song of God is of another subsistence or substance, or created or alterable or mutable, the Catholic Church anathematizes."
Christians called the Church Catholic yet they did not always refer to themselves as Catholics. I can recall one occasion when St. Athanasius used the word Catholic substantially to describe individual believers. Most believers contented themselves with the label of Christian except for in the city of Constantinople, which, as the gateway to the east from the west and to west from the east, was the bottleneck of nearly every Christological controversy of the first millennium. Christians there described themselves as "orthodox" or "right worshippers" in contrast to the "heretic," the one who "chooses" to worship God according to his own will. The dialogues of the Greek Fathers crystallized this term in literary style and by the time of St. Theodore the Studite it was an accepted means of self-identification for the Christians of the Byzantine city. As an aside, the Roman Canon does pray for "omnibus orthodoxis.... cultoribus."

"Orthodox" signified an aesthetic, a type of Christian, a Christian who worshipped according to the rites of the Byzantine Church, who bore the scars of the heresies and the scabs of the triumphs that passed through Constantinople, and who adhered uniquely to the theology of the Greek Fathers. John Senior wrote that if philosophy is footnotes on Plato, theology is footnotes on St. Augustine. This phrase holds true only in the West. In the Greek tradition, theology is footnotes on the Cappodocian Fathers. Greek Christians prayed in the Great Entrance "May the Lord Our God remember all you orthodox Christians in His kingdom at all times...." and during the Litany of Fervent Supplication for "our orthodox fathers who here and elsewhere lie asleep in the Lord." While "orthodox" they certainly believed themselves part of the Catholic Church if not the Catholic Church. Then came the fall of Byzantium.

As political as the Roman Church was during the Middle Ages and Baroque era and as institutional as the Roman Church has been since Trent, the Constantinopolitan Church was before 1453 and more. The emperor was God's living representative on earth and the living icon of God the Father before whose image the citizens of Byzantium were to bow in reverence. He could call Councils, kidnap popes, replace the patriarch of his city, and—when he met little resistance—create Church laws that would mold the religious practice of his empire and beyond. Byzantium's triumph in Slavic lands buffered the empire from the west. The disaster of the fourth crusade and the decline of the Byzantine empire polarized Constantinople from "the West" when, hitherto, Constantinople had been more western than any eastern church. In the Palaiologian empire the Greek Church further distanced itself from "the West" during the Hesychast years of St. Gregory Palamas. Theology and liturgy became less communal and more mystical under the influence of Palamas and monastic patriarchs. Symbolism replaced realism in icons which now sat on the curtain around the Holy Place of the Hagia Sophia. Monastic patriarches replaced the organ, choral music, and the old Office with their own chants and psalter. The fall of Constantinople ossified the synthesis of the first millennium Constantinopolitan tradition with the Hesychast monastic movement, the last expression of "orthodox" Christianity.

In the midst of the newfangled Islamic city and without the institutional structures and imperial support the Greek Church previously enjoyed, Christians of Constantinople ceased to identify themselves as the Catholic Church. More troublesome to Greek Christians might have been Rome's unique hold over the title "Catholic Church." All that was left was the way of being Christian that they knew, orthodox. "Holy Orthodoxy" was born. 

One potential pitfall to this argument is that some non-Byzantine Churches of the East that accept the Councils until and excluding Chalcedon are now called "Orthodox." Coptic Christians in my experience are very fervent about the denomination "Orthodox" while Armenians accept the title, but are more content for their church to be known as the "Armenian Apostolic Church." Perhaps the solution to this flaw in my argument lies in the popularity of the term "Orthodox" itself. Could the term have been spread by the Ottoman empire to denote Christians who had nothing to do with the Pope in Rome?

The question is an interesting one and worthy of further study.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Man & the Machine

Step into the driver's seat of a pre-World War II car and find yourself in a very foreign world. The dashboard sports no buttons, save in a few odd American cars. No gadgets and few instruments. It should all be simple and straight forward. Put your key into the column, turn, and voila! Nothing happens. Nowadays keys, in everything other than cars, unlock things. Back then they unlocked the controls to your car, but did not start it.

To start it turn the fuel intake up all the way, pull the Spark lever on the wheel down to retard, and push the starter button. If your car is a Rolls-Royce or a few other quirky models you cannot start the car with just the battery. Turn the power switch from Battery to Battery & Magneto. Then press start, turn up the spark, slowly lower the throttle back to a normal level, and switch the power back to battery. The first few disparate metal pangs will overcome you with the ominous feeling something is very wrong until the front jumps, the sounds increase in frequency, and the engine finally turns over. Old cars are just great.

My father nurtured my interest in antique automobiles. When he was my age he collected classic cars and other antique vehicles. A "classic car" is not synonymous with antiquity or popular sentiment. A classic car is a high priced, limited edition car made between 1925 and 1948. His parents bought him his first car, a 1939 Ford Deluxe, at age 13 hoping that if he was "working on it" in the garage he would stay away from the local gangs. It worked and fostered a very contagious obsession. In the 1960s the cars we now call classics were remarkably cheap to purchase. Lightyears removed from contemporary vehicles in design and features, classics were tall, sported pronounced fenders, lacked power steering, rarely made over 200 horsepower, and were difficult to brake. Moreover, they predated the standardization of car production after World War II, meaning repairs and maintenance were expensive. In his 20s my father owned both a V-12 and a V-16 Cadillac, a Lincoln KB, a Rolls Phantom II, a Model A Ford, a Packard, and a few other collectibles in addition to his more road worthy '57 Chevy Bel Air and '63 Corvette Stingray. Like most men at the time, before student loan debt saddled those in their 20s with financial limitation, my father found cars were fun and met the male need for mechanical relationships.

Men love machines. Why? The machine is man's escape. We rarely confront our emotions like women, probably because we are less self-reflective. For all my ego I do not spend much time thinking about myself or my life other than in the shower, something I could say for most men I know. When life becomes difficult we tend to want to step outside ourselves and do something involved that does not require noise or thinking. A machine is the perfect solution. One fellow I knew used to mow his lawn whenever his wife bothered him. I go for a drive. Indeed, the liturgy itself is a kind of machine wherein one forgets one's self, one's problems, one's emotions and gives one's soul and mind to the ritual worship of the One Who Is. This is why men go to Vespers and women go to the Sacred Heart devotion on Fridays. Men are wired for machines it seems, which is perhaps why some of us find it so easy to appreciate fine automobiles even if we do not own them.

"The mighty Duesenberg", the best car made until
it went out of business because of the Depression.
Another facet of older cars that continues to fascinate me is the quality of the designs and execution, both mechanically and stylistically. Cars built for wealthier clientele, in contrast to modern cars for the rich, hardly ever resembled each other. A customer bought the chassis, engine, electrical system, and drivetrain, from the car company but a "coachbuilder" created the body. Coachbuilding died more or less after the War, surviving for a short period in England until 1964. Coachbuilding meant hand building. Indeed, the best cars at the time were all hand built, from Packard to Pierce Arrow. The car maker in Derby did not enjoy the distinct reputation for custom construction it does today. I often muse when the presenters of Top Gear do some gimmick with dated cars from the 1980s that in thirty years today's cars will not be on the road. They have too many damn computers, plastic parts, and non-mechanical bits to break. Old cars' simplicity helped ensure their longevity. Duesenberg (which in 1928 could do 100mph in second gear) managed to put reliable power brakes on cars with adjustable fluids long before anyone else. And of course Rolls-Royce never did anything revolutionary with their cars. They just made cars to a higher standard than anyone did until the 1980s, which is why over sixty percent of the cars they have made since 1904 are extant.

Today's cars lack the same appeal to me, not just because they are eye soars in contrast to the elegant and graceful examples of yesteryear, but because they are too civilized, too computerized, too refined for me. As a lover of mechanical things, why would I want something that offers me no intimacy with the machinery? Even a 1950s American car that drives like a boat still has a tangible engine that can be "tinkered with" and some semblance of control by the driver. When strolling the town last weekend with a friend we happened upon a new Ferrari worth half a million dollars. That car has paddle shifters which imitate a manual shift without the exacting effort, a navigation system, and a racing mode that pushes all the power to the wheels when starting from a stand still. These features alienate the driver from his machine for the sake of performance which he will likely never use. I would not be surprised if the man who owned that car is a sixty year old businessman who needed a means of compensating for his recently lost libido.

Contemporary cars make the driver into a passenger with a round piece of composite fiber in front of him. Unlike my father, I will never own a V-16 car or a Stingray, but I can meet my masculine need for escapism by getting a manual shifter at least before the modernists take even that away from me.