Friday, October 27, 2017

After the Reformation Appendix: Exsurge Domine

As the 500th All Souls' Eve since the outbreak of the Reformation approaches, it is worth remembering Leo X's bull Exsurge Domine, which offered Luther the opportunity to recant his positions in Rome after listing numerous condemned propositions of his. Beyond the pale of the pastoral opening to the document, the pope's concern for "pious ears", and the generally practical nature of the bull (the mendicant order priors who served as ghost writers went about it the right way), what is most stunning are the statements of Luther, extracted from his tracts, sermons, and pamphlets, that actually required condemnation. One reads them and wonders if Luther's scruples resulted from an inner psychosis that required the world to be logically consistent with his own talents and short-comings. Perhaps in modern psychology Luther would fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum; in this regard he is not unlike the assiduous and scrupulous St. Teresa of Avila, whose life ended in a remarkably different fashion.

Among the ideas Leo condemned are:

  •  It is a heretical opinion, but a common one, that the sacraments of the New Law give pardoning grace to those who do not set up an obstacle.
  • By no means may you presume to confess venial sins, nor even all mortal sins, because it is impossible that you know all mortal sins. Hence in the primitive Church only manifest mortal sins were confessed.
  • No one ought to answer a priest that he is contrite, nor should the priest inquire.
  • Indulgences are necessary only for public crimes, and are properly conceded only to the harsh and impatient.
  • Excommunications are only external penalties and they do not deprive man of the common spiritual prayers of the Church.
  • Christians must be taught to cherish excommunications rather than to fear them.
  • If the pope with a great part of the Church thought so and so, he would not err; still it is not a sin or heresy to think the contrary, especially in a matter not necessary for salvation, until one alternative is condemned and another approved by a general Council.
  • In every good work the just man sins.
  •  A good work done very well is a venial sin.
  • To go to war against the Turks is to resist God who punishes our iniquities through them.
  • No one is certain that he is not always sinning mortally, because of the most hidden vice of pride.
  • Free will after sin is a matter of title only; and as long as one does what is in him, one sins mortally.
  • The souls in purgatory are not sure of their salvation, at least not all; nor is it proved by any arguments or by the Scriptures that they are beyond the state of meriting or of increasing in charity.
  • The souls in purgatory sin without intermission, as long as they seek rest and abhor punishment.
  • The souls freed from purgatory by the suffrages of the living are less happy than if they had made satisfactions by themselves.
Dissenters, at least the honest ones, will admit that what they find objectionable is rarely something they detest in a vacuum. More often than not, religious dissent, like political rebellion, is born out of restrictions existing systems put on one's manner of life. What restrictions did open contrition for sin, good deeds, resisting the Turk, and Conciliar doctrines place on Brother Martin?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

After the Reformation VII: The Wrong Ecumenism

My articles in this After the Reformation series have focused on culture, politics, and social dynamics after Dr. Luther's little revolution 1517. My cowriter, J, has written more extensive on the theological impact, still lingering today, from the Reformation. But now the time has come to address, if only in a cursory manner, one of the most nefarious and lasting influences of the Reformation, the misguided "ecumenical" practices of the 20th century and the total disappearance of any real, tangible effort to reunite with the dissident Eastern Churches.

The Church routinely suffered schisms in the first seven centuries. During the pre-Nicene era, schisms would often pit two bishops against each other within a city when a theological dispute became a pretext for deeper, personal disagreements to manifest themselves. This was certain the case during St. Cyprian's time in Carthage. As the early ecumenical councils proclaimed binding statements of faith groups rejecting the conciliar anathemas severed themselves from the Church while retaining a Sacramental tie. In the age of St. Athanasius and the second wind of the Arian heresy, Arians retained any number of churches in a city while Catholics held the others. Doctrinal dispute bifurcated the loyalties of cities while true Sacraments remained within the parishes. The Sacraments, the mysterious and enduring presence of Christ enacting His grace on earth through symbols, bind the Church together as glue. If anything, the presence of valid Sacraments outside the visible Church is an act of violence against the Church in need of amelioration.

Often enough time and good judgment did heal schisms (the schism of the Lombard countries and Aquileia during the "Three Chapters" controversy and the enthronement of Photios in Constantinople while Ignatios still breathed), but not always (Eutyches' hoodwinking of the Alexandrian Church and the ensuing Uniate-ish Greek patriarchate erected in the city). While some schisms were more hardened than others due to matters of faith, no major schism effected an entirely novel way of being a Christian or severed Sacramental validity. Moreover, there was no reason to think any given schism would be permanent. Even the misnamed "East-West Schism" was met with two unionist councils, Lyon and Florence, which may have had more lasting fruit if not for the fall of Byzantium and the rebuke of the reunion in 1471 under Ottoman rule.

Within the context of fifteen centuries of schisms and occasionally resolutions among churches maintaining Sacramental unity and ties to Apostolic origins, the statement of Lumen Gentium "the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church" would seem a friendly if all too eager statement. In reality, it was an act of outreach to religious patterns with shared none of the aforementioned characteristics of traditional Christianity which held attached separated groups, at one level or another, to the Catholic whole. The premise of this statement is hopelessly caught up in the ignorance befitting a 1959 sociology seminar at a German university, with atheism on the rise and Roman Catholicism along with Reformation-era protestantism presumed to be the two forms of Christianity. However, 20th century Roman Catholicism does not even reflect the entire Latin Catholic tradition, much less all traditional forms of Christianity.

In short, the Reformation created a new way to be a Christian in common society displaced from the differences of singular doctrines which split parishes and episcopates a millennium earlier. In the years following 1517 established Christian institutions negotiated the new paradigm with great difficulty. The cathedrals and Strasbourg and Cologne had both Catholic and heretic canons for a time with the former even being assigned heretical services for a century by the city council. University faculties, particularly in Germanic countries, were similarly split. It was in this context that concepts of religious plurality, association betwitx Church and State, and ecclesiology developed after the Tridentine Council all the way up to Vatican II and Lumen Gentium. Since the Rhine flowed into the Tiber during the 1960s, and does again during the Bergolgian years, one can only interpret Lumen Gentium and the ensuing movement of derranged ecumenism through the narrow duality of Latin Catholicism and Protestantism. Ecumenists content themselves to invite Orthodox Christians to their silly events, provided they bring their funny hats, and dicastries in Rome will praise the Eastern Catholics Churches for being the other "lung", but any serious observer of Church history sees these moments as what they are: ignorant tourists pointing out things in a menagerie.

As protestantism becomes less relevant and more fissiparous, we would do well to rediscover the historic outreach to our "separated brethren" who are indeed alienated children of the same spiritual fathers as our ancestors did with the Eastern Churches before the Reformation. Perhaps then we can credibly pray for "peace throughout the whole world, the welfare of the holy Churches of God, and the union of them all."

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What is the Genius of Missa Cantata?

Genius, before psychometrics, meant the intrinsic nature of a thing. The genius of a pontifical Mass, then, is that it is a Mass celebrated by a pontiff with all the accompanying ministers, ritual, prayers, and variations that reflect his sacred office and place in the Church. Similarly, solemn Mass is Mass with a celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon fully performing their ordained duties. And low Mass, the most reduced form, is the simple celebration according to the text, read by the priest with little ceremony. What, then, is the Missa Cantata?

An Italian-style sung Mass in Chicago

Depending on whether one follows the Roman or Gallican ars celebrandi, Missa Cantata can be either a sung low Mass or a reduced solemn Mass. Either version is characterized by the singing of the propers and ordinary with only a celebrant, no deacon or subdeacon assisting. In the city of Rome, saturated with clergy, Missa Cantata did not envision the offering of incense until 1960, when Missa Cantata ceased to be a description and somehow became a rubric. According to the Roman praxis it followed the ceremonies of a said Mass with a server or two. To this day in Italy one often sees a sung Mass wherein acolytes kneel on the bottom steps behind the epistle and Gospel horns of the altar.

Padre Pio sings a Roman-style Mass (note: the Saint is not a fussy celebrant)

The other manner of celebration envisions a reduction of solemn Mass through means of fewer ministers. The institution of this sort of Mass is often attributed to missions, but this seems unlikely in light of the communities and fraternity-based orders which served missions during the Counter-Reformation era until 1960. More likely, it was a way of doing more with less in isolated parishes served by a single priest. In this schema acolytes serve from the credence, as they would at a solemn Mass, processions can be made, incense is offered, and the priest assumes most of the duties of the deacon and subdeacon; duties unassumed (such as holding the paten during the Canon) are simply discarded. This form of celebration may have been popular in the Latin uses of the Roman rite before the universal imposition of the Roman books in 1570. Less equipped parishes may then have received the Roman rite while retaining their own instinct for ceremony.

A "higher" take on sung Mass according to the northern tradition

One cannot argue the Italian or northern way is more right than the other. Prior to the 1960 rubrics there was no gradation of Mass called a Missa Cantata, merely public Mass and private Mass, the rubrics of which revolved around the kalendar and its observance more than ceremonies. The 1960 rubrics could be interpreted as an accommodation for an organic development, but it may also have stifled greater leniency. John XXIII's rubrics, like those of his successor, erroneously assume the parish Mass as normative rather than an episcopal celebration by the leader of the distinct church. As such, Masses are called solemn, sung, and low (the practice of two candles for low Mass and six for anything else comes into play here, too previously the numbers of candles was dictated by feast rank). But what is wider needs?

One contrast to the post-Tridentine rubrics that has always impressed this writer about the Byzantine tradition is celebrations always attempt to make the most of whatever resources are available. A bishop, as the lone celebrant, can "dress down" to a phelonion with his omophorion; multiple deacons can serve one liturgy; pontifical Divine Liturgy can be had with numerous subdeacons or none; a layman can read the epistle if a tonsured cleric is unavailable; Vespers can be sung with one incensation or many. The Roman rite may not have been like this, but the Parisian rite was. There existed provisions for celebration of high Mass without the availability of a subdeacon: a cleric or server could sing the epistle from the ambo and the Canon was observed as at low Mass. Pius XII made a similar concession toward the end of his life, but it is a widely unpracticed observance despite its potential usefulness in parishes with one priest and married men, eligible for the diaconate, who know Latin.

Could the Italian form of Missa Cantata be the superior version after all, at least, if used in the proper way? If the essence of a solemn Mass is the full participation of the deacon and subdeacon, the Missa Cantata cannot anything more than an improved version of low Mass. It could even be argued that the Missa Cantata is an under-utilized tool, at least in the Italian version. Given the density of the kalendar in the Missals printed from 1939-1962, used by traditionalists today, a cantor well versed in the Commons of various types of Saints combined with a laity who know a simple ordinary (Mass VIII, Mass XI, Mass XV, Mass XVIII would all work) could easily elevate a daily Mass with a single server from a low Mass into something fuller. Marian Masses on Saturday would be an excellent starting point for such an effort.

The Missa Cantata has been a welcomed change in the Traditionalist world after decades of low Masses and four hymn sandwiches from the end of World War II until recent times (is not the parish Pauline Mass normally a four hymn sandwich?). Still, one out to keep in mind that the Missa Cantata is a practical compromise for when the ideal is implausible, but the ideal is not always implausible.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Calendar Quandaries

Introducing a New Feast Day the Right Way

Pius XI at the throne during a Papal Chapel in St. Peter's
With all the talk lately about "integrating" the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form of Mass, in particular with regard to adding feast days of recently canonized Saints, it might be useful to look to the not-so-distant past: the most recent period when the traditional calendar was left mostly undisturbed--a key provision!--even though new feasts were added.

Under Pius XI (of happy memory), some changes to the calendar were not entirely felicitous, in my opinion. The feast of Christ the King is certainly a beautiful and noble devotion, but its liturgical observance does--we have to admit--act as a "perpetual translation" of the last Sunday of October. (Further, there is, in the associated Office, the unwelcome innovation of using at Matins fragments of a psalm, Psalm 88: that is, one psalm divided into two sections, something otherwise unheard of in the Office of Matins from the Common or Proper. But that is a quibble for another time.)

Some have argued, not without reason, that Christ the King essentially duplicates, in order to bring into relief, the mystery celebrated on Ascension Day. And although there is a kind of precedent in the duplication of the Transfiguration on August 6th from the Second Sunday of Lent, it is not a completely apt precedent in that there is no holy event in the life of the Church associated with the "Sunday nearest All Saints" as there is for August 6th (the relief of Belgrade thanks to St. John Capistrano and his battle cry of the Holy Name).

The extension by Pius XI of the feast of the Sacred Heart with an Octave is obviously modeled on the Octave of Corpus Christi. With the advantage of hindsight, though, it does seem perhaps to attempt too much with too little. I mean, the texts (not the reality of the mystery!) simply do not possess the splendor of St. Thomas's Office and Mass. Perhaps it's impossible that they could, since devotion to the Sacred Heart, properly so called, is essentially modern (post-Tridentine). In the medieval and ancient Church, devotion to the Sacred Heart seemed to be more intertwined with devotion to the Passion and consequently enjoyed greater literary riches to draw on. I must add, though, that I am myself attached to the Sacred Heart devotion and do not consider its post-Tridentine provenance to make it any less necessary or accessible. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that the Octave was sufficiently warranted, especially at the expense of Simplex feasts that went without their Office if they fell during the Octave.

Be all that as it may, the feast of the Divine Maternity on October 11th seems to be almost perfectly in line with traditional additions to the calendar. It is Pius XI's "liturgical monument" or memorial of the 1,500th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus with its emphatic confirmation of the title Theotokos, Dei Genetrix. With the exception of the specially composed or selected hymns for Matins and Lauds (which are, thankfully, more of the ecclesiastical Latin variety than the ersatz-Horatian style, as found in some Enlightenment forays into hymnography), lessons for the nocturnes, and the antiphons (and none of this is without precedent), everything else comes from the Common, as is the usual Roman custom. (After all, why have Commons if they are never used?) Although someone might argue that there was no "crying need" for a special feast of the Divine Maternity (that mystery is included in January 1st, after all), still he would have to agree that the choice of the date was apt; no violence was done to an existing feast; and nothing jarring or out of place with the Roman Church's liturgical customs was introduced.

Saints Days: Can't Live without Them, Can't Live with Them?

With all that as background, let us consider the unobjectionable proposal much bruited in recent years to "enrich" the Extraordinary Form with new Saints' days. One candidate, we are informed, would be Padre Pio, the great Stigmatist and Capuchin Confessor (in both senses of the word). While I doubt there is anyone who would question the outstanding holiness of St. Pio or his relevance to the contemporary Church amid all her afflictions, there is still the problem of his feast day, Sept. 23rd. Traditionally, this is the feast of St. Linus, with a commemoration of the much-revered Virgin, St. Thecla. Personally, I am skeptical, in the prevailing climate, whether much thought, if any at all, would be given to St. Linus or St. Thecla, because "who even knows who they are?" St. Pio is seen as more immediately important to the faithful. There was already a spate of this kind of reckoning in recent centuries, when ancient Martyrs' feast days were made to give way in the universal calendar to more recent celebrations: Pope St. Stephen I (St. Alphonsus), St. Lawrence's Octave Day (St. Hyacinth), Sts. Felix and Adauctus (St. Rose of Lima), and so forth.

St. Pio of Pietralcina (as celebrant at Easter High Mass):
Is there room in the traditional calendar for the holy Stigmatist?

In all these cases (and others could be cited), the feast particular to the Roman Church is subordinated to the celebration of a Saint pertaining to the Roman Church in the broad sense (St. Alphonsus being somewhat of an exception, of course) but in fact more universal and immediate in appeal, at least at the time of the canonization. Of course, the weight of tradition made it impossible in those days to suppress the earlier feasts entirely. Does anyone doubt that any such hesitation would come to bear nowadays, especially given the minimalist leanings of the 1962 revision?

Of course, no one is suggesting suppressing the feasts of St. Rose, St. Hyacinth, or any other great and established celebration. Rather, the question is: to what extent, if any, do the post-Vatican II Saints merit a universal observance at the expense of more ancient feast days? John Rotondi at his excellent blog Current Tridentine Ordo has suggested how the traditional calendar could be revised to give due weight once again to the particularly ancient and Roman elements of the liturgical year. Among other principles, he suggests reducing in rank or relegating to local calendars those Saints whose devotional appeal, or importance as founders of particular congregations, is no longer what it once was (for instance, St. Francis Carracciolo). His work has laid a foundation and set a precedent for approaching the suggestion grudgingly discussed nowadays of incorporating the new, post-Vatican II feasts into the traditional calendar.

Possible Principles for the Universal Roman Calendar

First: the Roman calendar, though of universal importance, is at the same time the calendar of the local Church in Rome. As such, it should retain its distinctive feasts and observances.

Second: any new feast incorporated into the universal Roman calendar must be of an importance, both for the Church in Rome and the Church Universal, that is unmistakable. Among the precedents from past ages of the Church might be: St. Cyprian, St. Thomas of Canterbury, Sts. Francis and Dominic, St. Teresa of Ávila. All of these Saints, of course, had a connection with the Roman Church even in its aspect as a local Church. They also had a great importance for the Church Universal, including the local Church at Rome, and this importance is unmistakable.

Is there room even for Paul VI?
Third: relegation to a local or particular calendar is not a sign of disrespect or disdain. Even Rome qua local Church has its particular calendar (St. Urban II, Bl. Innocent XI, et al.). Leaving aside the dubious mechanisms of the "new canonization process," we would willingly allow St. John Paul II to be celebrated in Poland and some other places. But to argue that his importance for the Church Universal is as undeniable as St. Cyprian's or St. Thomas Aquinas's is to be caught up in the enthusiasms of the present day. (Does anyone, for instance, read or cite Laborem exercens even one-tenth as much as De Ente et Essentia? Or would anyone put on a par with St. Cyprian's letters a Post-Synodal Exhortation--Pastores dabo vobis--that encourages seminarians to cultivate their "feminine side"?)

Finally: if we haven't realized by now that anything that deviates from the well-trodden path of Tradition ("Worker Priests," lay investiture, nouvelle théologie, etc. ad nauseam) is bound to end in frustration, error, or defeat, then we probably have no business meddling with something so delicate and fraught with consequence as the calendar of the venerable and sacrosanct Church of Rome.

Having said all this, I would be interested to hear which, if any, of the post-conciliar Saints our readers would consider nominating for the universal calendar of the traditional Mass and Office. Are any of sufficient weight to justify supplanting existing feasts or commemorations?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Abyssus Abyssum Invocat: A Vocation for Literature?

"I don't believe in hell, not for things like that," said Lady Julia to her dim brother Bridey and the Marchmain matriarch in Brideshead Revisited. Oh, to long for the day when people debated what was a sin, if only to assuage their own guilt and justify their actions while their consciences actively accused them! Counter culture, where is thy victory? Counter culture, where is thy sting?

It has stung and gone, leaving a wounded people behind. In our post-Reformation, individualistic society we can no longer rely on mere social convention to condemn our sins. Indeed, Dostoevsky's Christian novels confirm that sometimes society lags and fails to condemn the sinner as quickly as his own conscience does. Despite living in the Pyrrhic "Holy Russia", Dostoevsky was a prophet for our time in imagining how the individual remains cognizant of his sin, despite every plausible justification by sound logic and every external act of evasion. Raskolnikov's land lady may well have been a userer and a wretch, and he may have intended to use her funds for the good, but had he proven himself any better before the noble prostitute Sofya convinced him to repent?

If Dostoevsky's anarchistic guilt was meant for the lonely Christian, Donna Tartt's guilt is meant for the lonely modern brat. Tartt, a convert to Catholicism with a brilliant command of technical writing (although her latest book could have been half as long), writes impossibly modern characters, people who live like dogs, meandering between one set of sensory experiences to another, often supplemented by cocaine, a bottle of scotch, and a one-night stand. From Richard Papen in The Secret History to Theo Decker in her Pulitzer Prize winning Goldfinch, her main characters (they're unworthy of joining Frodo Baggins in the dignified realm of "protagonists") lead transitory existences, unaware of the moral consequences of their actions.

Like many novels, the interesting characters are the secondary ones, and in Tartt it is these who are the writer's guinea pigs in her experiments with sin. In The Secret History a group of characters accidentally kill a farmer during a reenactment of a Bacchanalia; to cover their tracks, the tight-knit coterie have to murder one of their loose-lipped friends. Most of the characters cannot sleep with the guilt of having killed to cover up killing; the funerary process is especially taxing, as the deceased's family reminds them of their iniquity, keeping their sin always before them. One character, whose conceived both the Bacchanalia and the cover-up killing, is unmoved to the point of attempting to murder his lover's guilt-ridden brother. The stoic pagan's own events corner him and he can do little other than eat a bullet from a Beretta. The largely irreligious work concludes with the survivors hearing Mass on Ash Wednesday.

Her third novel, Goldfinch, has an unhappy character as disjointed as Richard from The Secret History. His occasional companion, Boris, is quite different. Boris is not a good man; he shares many of the same vices as the lead figure, however, he does not seem to enjoy it. Amid a turgid, long novel with little direction, we hear of Boris' sympathy for Dostoevsky's characters, the sinners who are closer to God than the rest if only because they are aware of the sins that carry with them as they ambulate through life. The dull Theo dismisses this idle Christmas day talk, but Boris insists that, like the agonizing Russian sinners of novels past, he will put right what he has done to our narrator by doing the right thing—not by amending his perspective like Ebeneezer Scrooge, his choices are his problem, not his perspective.

The modern novelist may not be able to write a story with as vivid as Christian metaphysic for guilt and penitence as Dostoevsky nor pen as nostalgic a narrative of grace as Waugh. The last tool at the writer's disposal in an impersonal, atomistic society may well be the bare bones formula of sin, awareness of sin, guilt, and repentance. Natural law for those intentionally ignorant of Divine law. The Church may not accuse them, but the conscience will if they listen.
"Therefore was I at war with myself, and destroyed by myself. And this destruction overtook me against my will, and yet showed not the presence of another mind, but the punishment of my own." St. Augustine, The Confessions (VIII.10)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Picking Sides

“Wizards are always troubled about the future. I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me.”
The busybodies of online Christendom are forever insistent on side-picking. In the eternal struggle between Them & Apollyon, there is little patience for those engaged in unhasty thought and deliberation, those who watch and pray, those who are not swift to judge and are willing to work within the established rules. Cdl. Burke has been viciously insulted by those who lack the capacity for longsuffering, and others who will not sign the correction for various reasons are despised for their tardiness. These gadflies do have a point that consideration must eventually lead into action, but not all action is wise even if it is well-intended, and not all delay is cowardly or lethargic.

Hasty action ends, more times than not, in regrettable situations. It ends in pro-choice conservative candidates. It ends with a charismatic young actor in the papacy. It ends in the trusted white wizard devastating your forest to fuel his war machines. It ends with hands covered in blood or a belly full of hemlock.

The whole Western world has turned activist. Long gone are the days when common folk could keep to themselves and fight only when fought against, or when forced to fight by their rulers. The half-educated are propagandists who exploit the wrath of the quarter-educated with crafty slogans and long-buried resentments. We are rending the Church apart over a footnote inserted by a devil, but have more than a few dozen across the globe even bothered to read Amoris Laetitia in its entirety? Who would even care to do so, when the next papacy or the one after that will overturn it? Our days would be better spent reading The City of God or even Tolkien's Silmarillion than the doorstops printed by the Vatican press.

Is the age of activism better than the previous age of passive clericalism? Perhaps in some aspects, but it is scarcely a lasting solution. The earlier sense of lay people that they were comfortably sheltered from the occasional madness of their betters by the mere fact of their lower station has been eroded by the artificial elevation of the laity. There is no escape from the news cycle, nor from the demand of busybodies that they must decide on Important Issues without delay and without sufficient education. Suspension of judgment is considered unacceptable when all people are required to choose between polar positions that did not even exist mere weeks before.

Lay siege to Isengard and imprison the mischievous wizard within, if that is necessary for the world's safety. Make sure that Wormtongue is captured as well. Enjoy the peace of good Shire tobacco while the enemy screams and withers away.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

After the Reformation VI: the Baroque

Is the Baroque Simply Late (Very Late) Gothic?

St. Paul's, Antwerp, during High Mass

One of the more debated points in the reemergence of the traditional Latin Liturgy is whether the Baroque is the ideal artistic vehicle for the expression of the traditional Mass. I use "ideal" advisedly, because, while some may tolerate or even have a certain affection for the Gothic or the Classical Revival or even the arte moderne of the twentieth century, the exemplar sans pareil remains, for some, the Baroque. Contrariwise--I need hardly add on a blog that boasts a tongue-in-cheek Liturgical Boutique--some will tolerate the Baroque but prefer the Gothic, in all its manifestations, and lament that it has been so unjustly dethroned by the Baroque.

But, what if the whole controversy is really a lites vocum, a mere dispute about terms? What if the Baroque was simply the exotic flower that budded forth from the no less exotic rod of the Gothic? Granted, here we take "Gothic" to mean the Late Gothic, sometimes referred to as "Flamboyant" (or in England, the Perpendicular).

In other words--in the illustration above of St. Paul's, Antwerp, from the good ol' days--does the Baroque altar piece, with the elements it obviously borrowed from the so-called Renaissance, represent an awkward break with the soaring Gothic vaulting and arches surrounding it? Or rather, does it, like the Gothic before it, simply incorporate and transform elements of the classical tradition, so that the broken pediments and doubled columns are made to soar upward like those glorious Gothic arches?

The Argument from Architecture

If we turn briefly to architecture, we must keep in mind that no one is arguing that the Baroque and the Gothic (even the Late Gothic) are essentially the same style. They are, of course, decidedly distinct. What is being proposed--at least for your amused consideration--is the possibility that there was a seamless transition from the one to the other.

First, let's dispense with a somewhat shopworn idea about the Baroque, namely that the Gesù in Rome is the First Baroque Church.
Interior of the Gesù
There is no doubt that elements that would later be considered typically Baroque made their first appearance at the Gesù, but too much insistence on this aspect ignores the plain fact--so plain that it's literally the focus of the eye in the above perspective--that the basic style is Renaissance. The pediment, for example, that forms the altar piece is not especially Baroque-looking; it's more in the Palladian style, like many other Italian Renaissance buildings. In short, it would be a mistake to take this first essay into the Baroque as the standard of comparison when we try to make a case for the Baroque developing out of the Late Gothic.

But on to the matter at hand! Let us consider a very late example of the Gothic: St. Anne's in Vilnius, Lithuania (from 1500):

Abstracting from its, shall we say, Northern influences, one can say, without being too fanciful, that arches are being assimilated to pediments (over the three main doors and mid-way up the two flanking towers), while the pilasters and other architectural features of the towers more or less serve to frame the central, eye-catching façade of the nave.

A similar use of lines and focus is very typical of the Baroque as well:
San Telmo Palace, Seville
Perhaps the affinity of the one style for the other becomes even more obvious once we enter inside. The altar piece of the cathedral of Toledo is necessarily labeled "Gothic" because of the time period and the style of its constituent parts:
It nevertheless shares a certain esprit d'exubérance with another altar piece, one with a clearly Baroque pedigree:

One might argue that the characteristically Spanish idea of the grand retablo is here simply rendered in two different styles: the Late Gothic and the Baroque. We can concede the point, provided that we recognize that doing so confirms our argument that both styles are capable of similar expression; both are of the same lineage, as it were. One can hardly imagine a similarly monumental retable in the Classical Revival style.

The Argument from the Pictorial Arts

It's a commonplace of art history that Gothic sculpture and painting gradually relaxed--some would say developed--the rigid canons of the Romanesque into a more expressive and lifelike idiom. Even by the High Middle Ages, sculptors were portraying the Saints with human expressions, as though to elicit the viewer's affection and confidence.

Late Gothic (ca. 1471): even figuratively, the Gothic opens to a vista of perspective and classical elements that would soon move to the fore in the new Baroque style.
Although the characteristically Late Gothic S-curve is only subtly implied in the figure of Our Lady, the very human affection of the Child and His Mother--as well as the quiet devotion of the attending Angels--is beautifully represented. We might also note the use of flowing draperies to heighten the impressiveness and majesty of the figures, a technique the Baroque would use to full advantage. Simultaneously, with other subjects at any rate, the portrayal of emotion and humanity became quite prominent in the Late Gothic:

It seems reasonable to suggest that in the Baroque descendants of these types of artwork, there is a difference in degree but not in substance, albeit some stylistic details have certainly changed. Here is Our Lady of Victories, of seventeenth-century vintage, with impressive draperies and the S-curve very much in evidence; the tender affection of Mother and Child, though, is now replaced with the regal gravitas of the Queen and her Son, in warning, perhaps, to the new threat of the Protestant heresy:

In the most representative examples, everything in the Baroque is directed toward the intense emotion to be associated with the dogma depicted, as in this world-famous stucco sculpture in Bavaria of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin:

Form, movement, gesture, and expression:
all direct the spectator to rejoice in awe at the resurrection of the Most Blessed Virgin
It probably should be noted that one thing the two Baroque sculptures have in common with each other and many other Baroque artworks is the sense of triumph, something rarely encountered in the Gothic, even in imposing scenes of the Last Judgment over many a cathedral's west door. Whether this emphasis on the Church's defeat of error and darkness is an adaptation of the Gothic genius or a new departure altogether is but another facet of the question we began with.

The Argument from Music

Terminology is more problematic when it comes to music. Bach is considered "classical" music, but his output is more accurately categorized as Baroque. Handel seems, somehow, to be more commonly placed in the Classical category, and yet he was a contemporary of Bach's. At the other end of things, one rarely hears the term "Gothic" applied to the polyphony of the early sixteenth century, but the Gothic in other realms of art certainly extended into those years.

I would offer only a few thoughts for your consideration rather than, by trying to summarize too much, risk oversimplifying something as sui generis as music.
Josquin: Gothic, Renaissance, or sui generis?
The great bond of continuity between these epochs--whatever we call them--is the plain-chant. "Renaissance" polyphony (simultaneous with Late Gothic painting and architecture) often made use of the "parody": the independent voices (or melodic lines) that combine to form the polyphony derive from some familiar tune. Often enough (though not always--hence the reform at Trent) that tune was from the chant, as for example in the Mass "Pange, lingua" by Josquin des Prez ( 1521).

Similarly, the great J. S. Bach wrote several works on the chorale melody "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland," usually translated "O Saviour of the Nations, Come," which itself is derived from the plain-chant hymn "Veni, Redemptor gentium," still in use after Trent in some Latin rites. Bach's preludes and other works derived from "Nun komm" added a great deal of flourish and extravagance (in the original sense) to the old-style parodies of the Late Gothic (or Renaissance, if one prefer). As with architecture and the pictorial arts, the Baroque influence retained something of the original inspiration while greatly amplifying the more imposing aspects.

Even the great Handel (admired by Mozart and Beethoven alike), whose predilection for striking homophonic passages is well-known--e.g., "Wonderful, Counselor," etc.,  from Messiah--concluded that great oratorio with a sweeping melismatic fugue on "Amen."

Even the quintessentially Classical Mozart in his later (more mature) years, turned to the heritage handed on by Bach and others, and he thereby gave us his most memorable and deeply impressive work, the Requiem. He makes use of chant melodies and psalm tones in that great composition, but apparently only by way of other German composers in the Baroque tradition (as some have argued).


This little survey is obviously very summary, and the examples have been narrowly chosen. If a certain probability has been established for the continuity of the Late Gothic and the Baroque, nevertheless certain questions remain unanswered. For instance, which elements of the Late Gothic were left behind by the Baroque, joined as it was to the efforts of the so-called Counter-Reformation? Did, perhaps, the humanity and tenderness of Late Gothic devotion fall into obscurity because of the new emphasis on the triumph of the Faith? Did the renewed interest in purely classical forms sacrifice too much of the Gothic's unmistakably Catholic and otherworldly idiom? After all, when the Baroque is most independent of its Late Gothic roots--say, at a Mass in Vienna's Karlskirche, Mozart's "Sparrow" Mass chirping away in the choir loft--that is when it most seems a rupture rather than a development.

Nevertheless, it's still worth considering that the Baroque, perhaps a little indiscriminately at times, embodies essentially the same exuberance and sheer joy in the beauty of our Faith as the Late Gothic that preceded it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

St. Francis: Where Reform Begins

The courtyard of the Lateran Cathedral is unassuming, little more than an expanse of grass and brick stretching fifty yards in each direction. To the west is the baroque facade to the Cathedral, to the north is the apse of the Great Hall of the original Lateran Palace, built before the age of Constantine and which held five general councils during the Middle Ages. Like all medieval piazzas and squares, the courtyard became a general market by day and a public forum by night; from the middle of the first millennium until about 1000, the citizens of Rome would attend the funeral of the recently deceased pope and immediately elect his succession by popular acclamation. It was here in 1210 that a Roman ambulating through the day's vegetable, fish, and meat offerings might happen upon a barefooted man dressed in sackcloth preaching a sermon to pigs.

The early life of Saint Francis of Assisi took place during an unimpressive spiritual point in Church history. Three crusades had been waged; the archbishop of Constantinople formally rebuked his Communion with Rome; Saladin had retaken Jerusalem; and aside from Innocent III, the Roman Pontiffs generally spent their time helplessly trying to convince the kings of Europe to undertake another expedition to the Holy Land while the cardinals inelegantly juggled the concerns of the foreign masters. And a young ex-soldier named Giovanni Pietro "Francesco" di Bernardone seemed happily unmoved by any of it.

Francis was moved by the detachment of living in poverty, stripped of the elegant clothing his father's business, silk trading, afforded him. Contrariwise to Brother Sun, Sister Moon Francis did not convert his living standard to Christ in an instant, but after the experience of begging for food while a pilgrim. He cultivated a life in the world and apart from its passions with friends he knew for years. In 1205 he received a vision commissioning him to "rebuild the Church." As a man who understood the parochial nature of the Church, he and his beggar-brethren he gathered to himself restored the downtrodden church of San Damiano. It was only after going to Rome five years later that this vision was understood more broadly.

Francis attracted a substantial following to his vagrant, mendicant manner of living and praying. Poorly dressed and probably smelling quite rancid, he made his way to Rome to ask Innocent III to bless his nascent order. He walked through the markets and trading posts in the Lateran square, through the Constantinian basilica, to the apse where a short man from Segni, ornamented in cope and crown, held court. The pope beholding Francis's deportment and hearing him speak incongruously told the visitor from Assisi to "save [his] sermons for the pigs." After finishing court Pope Innocent walked through the courtyard to enter the then-larger Lateran Palace only to see the man he ejected in fact preaching to the pigs as he had asked. Innocent arranged for Francis to pay another visit the following day, which was preceded by the now renown dream in which the Pontiff saw Francis bolstering the collapsing Lateran.

The Minorites proliferated as men sought to be like Francis, although the desire to be like Francis rather than follow his way, as was normally the case among founders of orders, proved to be a lasting defect of his following. Francis was ordained to the diaconate so he could lawfully read the Gospel and preach to the faithful in churches. He even returned to battle, so to speak, in preaching to Malik al-Kamil, the sultan, in hopes that he would convert and end the Crusades.

At the end of his life Francis became the first stigmatist, something not lost on the people of the age, whose devotion to the sufferings of Christ (cf. Five Wounds devotion) contrasted with the distance at which prelates lived from people. Bishops may well have been selected among learned monks, but they were just as often selected among second born gentry. In suffering with Christ Francis credibly touched the faithful and encouraged reform where most clergy, even the good, failed. And in begging with his friends and rebuilding a local parish he aided in rebuilding the broader Church. And today he is honored in Rome, not at the tomb of Saint Peter, now the symbolic center of the Church, but in the head local Church in Rome, the Lateran Cathedral, where in the north side stands a chapel to the Saint. It is baroque, but quite plain; its pediment and porticos merely meant to frame images of Francis dying and of the Five Wounds of Christ which Francis shared.