Tuesday, November 28, 2017

God Bless, No One

"I didn't start this."
Christmas has become a palimpset, a blank canvas that a given celebrant draws his ideas of happiness or consolation onto. In most families it means family time, itself nostalgic recreations of when Grandma and Grandpa led elaborate Christmas Eve parties back when Christmas meant something to them. In cities it means shopping, Santa Clauses, carols at the symphony, and Salvation Army collections. And among the embittered moderns from broken homes it means a time to ignore old wounds and find distraction in some hipster manner of diluting the time off, be it a vacation to Mexico or a ski trip.

Christmas can be anything to anyone, but why? The Rad Trad, for one, blames Dickens.

At the theaters is a film aptly entitled The Man Who Invented Christmas, an imaginative telling of Charles Dickens' inspiration for the novella A Christmas Carol. The enduring tale of the miser who reforms his sinning ways after the visitation of four phantasms has truly earned Dickens the title The Man Who Invented Christmas, or at least Christmas as we know it.

A Christmas Carol possesses a Christian spirit of goodness that reflects the generally Christian people of mid-19th century, early industrial England where it was penned to paper, yet it is not a Christian tale. It is a self-made man's plea to the charity of other self-made men not to abandon the destitute to the cruel remedies of the emerging welfare state. Dickens escaped Scrooge's workhouses without the classical liberal sureness that anyone who deserves better than his current state can divine a way to obtain it on his own. So, the novella becomes a plea to Christian charity in an era of growing welfare, growing greed, growing government involvement in social structure, and growing factory business. The reader is left with the impression that his Christmas duty is, like Jacob Marley's, "kindness, benevolence, mercy, forbearance." 

What of the Son of God?

He does not make an appearance in this work, either by name or intimation. Nor does any mention of the Deist's God, so in vogue in those days. Nor does any mention of Christianity. "God", "Nativity", "Incarnation", and "Jesus" are words that appear no where in any edition of the novella. Various film adaptations have noticed this void and filled it as best and ask awkwardly as they can. The original talkie movie with Reginald Owen finds the Cratchits and the nephew, Fred, meeting after church services; George C. Scott's 1984 version has Tiny Tim hoping that on Christmas church-goers may think of Christ when they see his own ailment; and a recent Patrick Stewart film makes Scrooge watch people around the world sing Silent Night and even finds the miser in service the following morning! Imagine, he found his religion in less time that did Saint Paul, who had to wait for Ananias to baptize him.

"I will not itemize charitable giving in my returns this year, Spirit!"
Scrooge's conversion is to a love that Saint Thomas Aquinas might find agreeable. Scrooge does "will the good of another". His love, however, is not for God's sake or God's creation, it is for the sake of the created ones themselves. Perhaps this is what makes A Christmas Carol so enduring after the Sexual Revolution, Vietnam, Facebook, and the age of millennials. The sinner is a man who did not see the good in everyone and his conversion experience is that now he does. Coupled with a few specters, this Christmas tale stays safely in the realm of fiction—unlike the supernatural revelation of the Gospel, wherein God's hand touches earth and becomes Man's bridegroom (cf. Origen, Sarum Christmas Eve Mattins). The most supernatural element of A Christmas Carol is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who is a thinly veiled Angel of Death. Otherwise, the novella, intended to move people to charity in a decreasingly Christian society, is a modern day inoculation against believing anything out of the ordinary has happened on December 25.

Might we paraphrase Tiny Tim with "God bless us, no one"?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Decline and Fall of Illusions

The current state of affairs in the Church and what was Christendom is both unhappy and self-evident, but sometimes a fresh perspective, even on such a beaten topic, can present a more thoughtful eye toward renewal. Stuart Chessman of the St. Hugh blog has such an article on his site that is well worth your time.

I disagree with his take on the Jesuits, to an extent, and dating the current decline to Vatican II, which was the culmination of a Revolution long in the making, but it is still a solid read with the right take on the JP2/Ratzinger years and the potential relief of the current pontificate.

A few snippets:

After the collapse of Christendom, however, the Roman Catholic Church was able to reorganize itself internally under the leadership of the ultramontane papacy. Ultramontanism in the 19th century sense contested the growing hegemony of liberalism yet also depended on it. The renewed stature of the papacy presupposed liberalism’s eliminating or weakening other competing centers of material and spiritual power in the Church (especially the absolute monarchies, but also the landed contemplative monasteries, the state churches of France and the Holy Roman Empire, etc.). What emerged by 1870 was a rigidly centralized Church organized around the clergy and the pope. All authority in matters of doctrine, liturgy and to some extent politics was reserved to the Pope and Vatican. The Church strived for uniformity in worship, music, philosophy and theology. Obedience to authority was elevated to an almost mystical value.

Yet the ultramontane revival of John Paul II remained only a “Great Facade” (Chris Ferrara).  Aside from insisting on a limited external conformity and firing warning shots at the most egregious progressive offenders, the Vatican made no attempt to recreate the uniformity of doctrine and morals that existed the pre-Conciliar years.  At all times in the papacy of John Paul II, Catholic hierarchs, religious orders and schools embraced and agitated for the most diverse and contradictory positions. The Vatican’s solution to mounting massive problems – like declining numbers of clergy and religious; clerical sexual abuse, financial corruption and above all the decline in the West of belief and religious practice among Catholics – was to sweep them under the rug.

But out of this seemingly inevitable tragedy may come at least one advantage: the truth.  For far too long the Catholic Church has continued to take refuge in fantasies of stability and success, of secular standing and influence.  You need look only at any of the official Catholic media to confirm this – isn’t the Al Smith Dinner in New York the incarnation of this self-deception? Even the supposedly hard-nosed liturgical traditionalists remained to some extent in thrall to these mirages. The poison of dishonesty has eroded the faith more surely than any persecution or loss of worldly advantages could do. Moreover, in addition to obscuring reality, the culture of ultramontanism also inculcated habits of spiritual torpor, passivity and blind deference to authority (by extension, also to secular authority!) that have left Catholics ill-equipped to navigate the unprecedented post-Conciliar crisis.

Let be be finale of seem! Jettisoning the Catholic culture of pretend is the first, most necessary step towards reform. To that extent we owe Pope Francis a debt of gratitude. Does not the shipwreck of a mythical centralized day-to-day magisterium make possible a return to the Catholic spiritual “basics” of prayer, penitence and evangelization? And, doesn’t the Tradition of the Church, present before us in the Fathers and Doctors, in history and art and, above all, in the liturgy as it is lived every day remain to us as a surer guide? 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Age of Hooper

Illustration from Ship of Fools
“Hooper was no romantic. He had not as a child ridden with Rupert’s horse or sat among the camp fires at Xanthus-side; at the age when my eyes were dry to all save poetry—that stoic, red-skin interlude which our schools introduce between the fast flowing tears of the child and the man—Hooper had wept often, but never for Henry’s speech on St. Crispin’s Day, nor for the epitaph at Thermopylae. The history they taught him had had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change. Gallipoli, Balaclava, Quebec, Lepanto, Bannockburn, Roncevales, and Marathon—these, and the Battle in the West where Arthur fell, and a hundred such names whose trumpet-notes, even now in my sere and lawless state, called to me irresistibly across the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood, sounded in vain to Hooper. He seldom complained.” —Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

So is described Mr. Hooper, a young officer in the Army despised for his lack of culture and imagination by the novel’s narrator. The problem with Hooper is not so much wickedness as it is insensibility. He is, in terms of being a man of Western formation, neither hot nor cold, but passive-aggressively lukewarm.

Sadly, we all know too many Catholics similarly uncultured in their own past. We have an excess of flowchart-smart apologists, but few who have pondered the depths of Augustine’s De civitate Dei contra paganos. Our artists chase after every faddish movement, but few contemplate much less venerate the depths of our iconographic tradition. Lovers of the old Roman Rite too frequently possess an irrational hatred of oriental rites. Devout laymen glory in thoughtless repetition of things written in books meant for the formation of children. Yeats was assuredly correct concerning passionate intensity.

Would not our compatriots in religion be better served with stories of saints and sinners than with mere catechesis? In preconciliar times Catholic youth could rattle off their Baltimore, but was their historical education anything beyond sanitary hagiography and polemics against the enemies of the Church? I do not know what young Catholics today actually learn, but my brief experience with teenage preparation for Confirmation suggests that it is nothing much beyond vague sentimentalities about God’s love.

Hooper would not be roused to joy at the justice of Phinees against the initiates of Beelphegor. Hooper would not laugh at Elias's mockery of the prophets of Baal. Hooper would not weep at the self-effacement of David. Hooper would be barely sensible to the shipwrecks of Paul, the exile of Athanasius, the trial of Formosus, the conversion of Augustine, and the death of Joan of Arc. Annoyance and sentimentality are the only passions left to the Hoopers of the world. Greatness is quite literally unimaginable to them, whether that greatness be heavenly or hellish; Paradise is bland and the Inferno desolate. Heroism and hedonism alike hold no appeal for Hooper.

The intellectuals of Christendom were set alight by the verses of Virgil, seeing in them the preparation for the salvation of the Gentiles and a symbol of our own spiritual conquests. The poets of Europe sought to imitate Virgil and build upon his foundation, reviving the epic form for retellings of the crusades and the legends of Charlemagne’s court. The Roman poet ends his invocations to the gods in the Georgics with, “Look with favor upon a bold beginning.” How can we inspire our fellow Catholics to boldness in deed and thought? Charles Ryder despairs at the arrival of the Age of Hooper as if it were the destruction of Jerusalem, and he is not roused to action against it. What can be done to convince the Hoopers of the Pews that there is an immense scope of being beyond what they have comfortably accepted?

Virgil himself explains the fate of the indifferent damned to the Christian poet Dante, “This miserable mode / Maintain the melancholy souls of those / Who lived withouten infamy or praise.” But fear of punishment is not an effective motivator for our Hoopers; they have too many defenses against it. One hopes they will be attracted to the immensity of the Good when it is shown to them more clearly, but this is difficult to predict. If these things are not imposed upon them in their formative years, it is doubtful they will expand their appetites as they age.

I do not have much in the way of recommendation. In my own experience, the unimaginative and lazy are heroically valiant in their rejection of change, like the Trojan women burning the ships of Aeneas in Sicily so that they can cease their difficult journeying. But probably no one is entirely immune to wonder, that species of fear which is the catalyst for great change. Probably.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Our Patronal Feast

Do say a prayer to St. Felix of Valois for J, Fr Capreolus, and I today, for it is the feast of this blog's patronal saint, who, before he died in the Lord, was given the gift to sing the praises of God in the company of the Virgin and heavenly choir. Please be sure of our regular prayers for our readers, including those whom we have been privileged to know through correspondence.
"O God, Who by a sign from heaven didst call thy blessed Confessor Felix out of the desert to become a redeemer of bondsmen, grant, we beseech thee, unto his prayers, that thy grace may deliver us from the bondage of sin, and bring us home unto our very fatherland, which is in heaven."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Eastern Church Five Years On, Part III: Ecclesia

Aside from God Himself, little is as worthy of reverence and care in writing than the subject of the Church, which is nothing more than the extended presence of Christ and His revelation on earth after His ascension into heaven. While the Church has its hierarchical nature descended from the Apostles, antitypes of the twelve sons of Jacob, it is also something intrinsically local by virtue of its Sacramental nature. Wherever there is Christ, there is the Church.

In the years between the election and abdication of Cardinal Ratzinger to and from the papacy there arose and fell a façade of normality, as if a restoration to an organizational order innate to Latin Christianity found a glimmer of light and began to insinuate ever more brightly through the crevice in the wall of Modernism. Coffee hour after Mass regularly turned to the state of Rome, its transformation under Paul VI, the trouble of episcopal conferences and their members’ thwarting of the 1962 liturgy. Clergy offered their own opinions, usually polite rewordings of what everyone else already thought on the topic. Generally any discussion of the Church, as an idea, began with the Church broadly understood with the papacy as its pivot and everything else levering down from the Petrine chair.

By contrast the subject of the Church at large rarely presents itself during the coffee hour after the Divine Liturgy and even more rarely do the clergy have anything to say on the subject, much less on the Vatican. They do not so much ignore it as much as it disinterests them, much as accounting principles would rarely fascinate a biologist. In five years the subject of the current pope has come up twice, once when a Melkite deacon spoke disparagingly of the Roman bishop’s naiveté regarding Islam and the other occasion when a Ukrainian deacon advised the congregation to ignore him unless he speaks “of the faith.”

In contrast to the Mystici Corporis paradigm prevalent in the Latin Church, in which all things descend from the current pope, good or bad, the oriental approach offered a satisfying, wholesome, and tangible understanding of the Church as an inherently local continuation of the Tradition given by an Apostle in some place some time ago. The Apostles gave to faithful what Christ gave them and those early Christians transmitted it through their own communities to mine today. In a qualified capacity the prevailing macro, Roman view is not wrong, merely incomplete.

A church is a structured, visible community just as those naughty Corinthian communities who gave Saint Paul so much grief were supposed to be structured, visible communities obeying a received taxis and pursuing sanctity. In the three Eastern parishes to which I have belonged for the last five years I have joined the structure which attempting to remember my place. There is a blessed humility that comes from the unique combination of smallness and order that so characterizes Byzantine temples particularly. The priest is not surrounded by a parish council, an army of lay geriatric women with “ministries”, or a thousand parishioners demanding his attention; he is a very real, communicative person with normative life experiences in practicing Christian virtue who, a few times each week, assumes his higher office and calling before God and leads our prayers facing the same direction as the rest of us, but from the partitioned side of the iconostasis, where his holy calling is directed by heaven. If anything, the priest’s wife ensures he is accessible to the congregation because she is a deterrent to any potential “church ladies.” The deacon is someone similarly who is respected in virtue of his liturgical role, but who is in no way a distant member of the community. The number of lay people involved in the administration of the parish is noticeable, but never excessive. No one pretends to have a “ministry”, merely a desire to serve in some capacity. One or two people watch the parish finances; a few people will be formally asked to teach catechism classes every year. The parish is a meal with fewer invitees, but with enough courses that no one grabs other people’s plates.

This model does not different very much from the Latin setting before the 20th century, certainly as it existed in more rural settings or smaller suburban parishes. Aside from the Anglophonic anomaly of calling priests “Father” from the 19th century onward, priests were generally addressed under some version of “Mister.” One might kiss his hand during Mass, but never his shoe in the street. The minor orders rarely existed and the priest’s wife never did, but the church ladies also lacked the “ministries” necessary to control the priest. The same order which prevailed in town of mayor, counsellors, guilds and societies also held true within the church, where “[Christ] seeks after and draws to Himself whatever has come to birth for His sake; but for a better purpose He draws the soul to Himself, Who is the fountain of all blessedness" (St Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection). The tasks of catechesis would fall to a curate in recent times and an educated layman armed with a primer before then. While the particulars differed, the concept of the church as an innately local continuation of the Apostolic tradition reflects what one still experiences in an Eastern temple today, where the tradition has continued unabated.

The local churches, ruled by the bishops and their appointed pastors, are bricks within the larger and universal Church, which the Latin and Greek views understand as somewhat different houses. At this point it is worth distinguishing what is “Eastern” from what is Byzantine, as though the two are necessarily the same thing. Geographically the Byzantine tradition occupied the space between the Latin Church and several far eastern churches in Assyria, Egypt, India, Ethiopia, and into China at one point. It should be no surprise then that the “Eastern” ecclesiology in Greek rite churches is little more than a surviving elaboration of the understanding of both the Church and world which pervaded the Byzantine Empire from the time of Justinian until the fall of Constantinople to the Turk in 1453. Steven Runciman defended the attempt of the Archbishop of Constantinople to entitle himself “universal” or “ecumenical” patriarch on the grounds that in the context of Byzantine Greek vocabulary, to be “ecumenical” or within the “universe” meant to exist within Byzantine political and cultural structures. One wonders if the seven councils exclusively recognized as “ecumenical” by the Orthodox Churches and by some Greek Catholics should be qualified in such a way?

Within the Byzantine paradigm of Church government, historically, the Church was ruled broadly by the patriarchs of their respective traditions: the pope over the West, the archbishop of Constantinople over the Byzantine imperial churches, the Alexandrian pope over his church as so on. This “Pentarchy” of five traditional patriarchs derives from the First Council of Nicaea’s specific enumeration of the honorary primacy of five bishops over all others. If ecumenical councils are divine events of the Church’s active governance worthy of commemoration at the Divine Liturgy then the traditions established by those councils must carry a similar merit in the governance of the Church[es] today. Since the disappearance of the Byzantine emperors, the senior partner of the archbishop in the administration of Greek Christendom, the prevailing opinion has come to be that Churches exist independently of each other, each legitimate in its Apostolic origin and equal in validity with other Churches that hold to the same beliefs, places of honor notwithstanding.

The trouble with this outwardly appealing ecclesiology comes below the surface assumptions when one delves into the history behind it. For one the Pentarchy did not exist, at least not in any tangible manner related to Church governance. The Nicene statement, contextually, aimed not to codify a traditional understanding of the broader Church, but rather to promote the bishop of New Rome to a greater standing than any other bishop, save that of Old Rome. In short, Constantinople was a new capitol and its bishop required recognition for his place in it. Similarly, the Pentarchy, if it ever really existed, was short lived and any continuation of it beyond 451 contrasts with the modern understanding of Greek ecclesiology’s focus on the independence and communion of individual Churches. After the regrettable Alexandrian schism that resulted from Chalcedon the imperial authorities recognized a rival (Uniate?) Archbishop in Alexandria who continued the Pentarchy tradition. This is not to say the Greek Churches are hypocritical or without merit, merely that their understanding of the Church as a composition of individual Churches reflects the very Greek culture in which it began. This is sense, they are not unlike the confusingly denominated Oriental Orthodox Churches, who hold a similarly ecclesiology with a circumscribed set of ecumenical councils.

But what if—athwart the modern Vatican, the heart felt intuition of everything Byzantine, and the isolation of the various traditions over the years—what if my years in the Eastern Church taught me that the Roman ecclesiology is, in fact, both the older and more functional understanding of how individual bricks of Churches fit into the Universal Church?

The Latin view of the Universal Church requires a clear understanding of what the Roman Church is. It is not, contrary to the modern convention to read the history of papal power expansion through a Hellenizing lens, the Patriarchate of the West, those Christians and their descendants who spoke Latin during the sunset years of the united Roman Empire. The Church of Rome never claimed to be a patriarchate until the gratuitous expansion of papal titles in during the garish Baroque tendency of monarchs to find more things to say about themselves. The Church of Rome is the local Church of the diocese of Rome, sanctified by the blood of Ss. Peter and Paul and led by the former’s successor as bishop of the Church. It is through communion with this local Church that other local Churches enter communion with each other and the unanimity of the Church’s decisions is ratified. Pastor aeternus teaches,
“So that the Episcopate also might be one and undivided, and so that, by means of a closely united priesthood, the multitude of the faithful might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion, [Christ] set Blessed Peter over the rest of the Apostles. And He fixed in him the abiding principle of this two-fold unity with its visible foundation, by the strength of which the eternal Temple would be built up, and the Church, in the firmness of that faith, would rise up, bringing her sublimity to Heaven.”
Vatican I quotes St. Leo the Great here, but may as well have achieved the same in referring to St. Cyprian’s “one chair” argument. Roman ecclesiology becomes quite simple in its antiquity here. The fourth chapter of Pastor aeternus goes on to elaborate that the Roman bishopric is, along with synods and “other exigencies of the time”, an office instituted by Christ for the passing on of the faith and not for innovation of doctrine. Within this context it also becomes clear that the Universal Church does not descend from the papacy to the local Churches; the successor to the Prince of the Apostles does not exist outside the other successors to the Apostles. In Banish Heart Dr. Hull quotes Cardinal Hergenrother, a confidant of Pius IX, in clarifying the now dogmatic understanding of papal power: 
“The Pope is circumscribed by the necessity of making a righteous and beneficent use of the duties attaches to his privileges… He is also circumscribed by the respect due to General Councils and to ancient statues and customs, by the rights of bishops, by his relation with civil powers, by the traditional mild tone of government indicated by the aim of the institution of the papacy—to ‘feed’ .”
The Roman perspective here—born before the Diocletian persecution and the Constantinian liberation, and prior to the rise of sui generis national churches—is the older perspective, but in practice it has shown itself ripe for abuse to anyone with eyes to see. One wonders if any of the twentieth century liturgical changes, and especially their manner of imposition, would have withstood the words of Pius’ friend. What has grown out of the Vatican, once a palace and now a bureaucratic extension of the papacy, has stunningly little to do with Vatican I or the local Churches and everything to do with the active administration of Latin Christendom in the place of bishops. Traditional Roman ecclesiology will only come about by a reform minded pope who is willing to make reforms to his own office, including reforms to his relationships to other prelates.

I could enumerate more points of macro-level ecclesiology lessons learned during my five years in the Byzantine tradition—the Council of Chalcedon proves a challenging and depressing point for both the nationalistic, caesaropapist Greek approach and the heavy handed, ubi Petrus ibi Latin view—but it would detract from the ultimate lesson that the local Church is where the presence of Christ continues on earth and where He works His grace and great goodness among us through the successors of His Apostles and friends so that we may also be numbered with them.

Dedication of S Peter's Basilica

In a previous post we looked at the first millennium Roman liturgy from a textual and historical perspective, at how the traditional liturgy as we have it today evolved from a remarkably similar Mass around the year 800 AD. Today I just want to "throw" some material at you for your own edification once again, this time pertaining to the setting of the first millennium and medieval Roman liturgy, namely the original St. Peter's basilica. Most of what I have below is republished from last year, but with many improvements.

The original St. Peter's basilica was begun by Emperor Constantine over a shrine on Vatican Hill here Christians had venerated what tradition tells us was the place of St. Peter's burial since the first century—St. Peter's bones were not actually discovered until the reign of Pius XII. The basilica was completed in 360, but constantly remodeled. Originally the tomb of the first Pope of Rome was in the apse of the basilica, behind the altar. Tidal flow of pilgrims necessitated switching these two. A more elaborate throne for the Pope was constructed, as consecration of the Bishop of Rome became more usual at St. Peter's. The proliferation of Papal burials at St. Peter's and a series of ninth century invasions by Saracens necessitated further renovations. One such remodel, around the time of Leo IV, led to an altar embroidered in precious stones, ambos and doors of silver, and mosaics taken from the finest Eastern churches. Like most Roman basilicas, there was a group of canons attached to the church.

A cloister preceded the entrance. I cannot help but think of Dr. Laurence Hemming's theory of the Catholic churches as temples, as fulfillment of the Temple of Jerusalem. The cloister here is more of an enclosed sacred courtyard than anything monastic. It functioned as a gathering place for people to prepare for Mass, an eschaton—a place between the world and eternity. A pineapple, which I believe predates the Christian era, sat at the center of the cloister. The faithful, as late as the eighth century, washed their hands for Communion at the fountains in this area—although reception on the hand differed drastically from the modern practice. In all, it is like the courtyards of the Temples of Solomon and Herod: a gateway through which the faithful would leave the world and prepare for the Divine. Sort of the story of salvation, eh?
Drawing of how the mosaics on the façade of the basilica,
as restored by Innocent III, would have been arranged.
source: chestofbooks.com

The inside was very much that of a Roman basilica which, before the Christian age, just meant an indoor public gathering place for Romans. The nave would be lined with colonnade, but statuary and imagery was sparse and likely introduced in the early second millennium. The primary source of color would have been through patterns and mosaics on the ceiling, particularly in the apse. While Byzantine churches tend to either depict Christ as a child in our Lady's arms or Christ the Pantocrator in the apse, Roman churches vary more, and St. Peter's would have been no exception. St. Mary Major's apse bears Christ and our Lady seats in power, while the Lateran depicts Him ascended above all the saints—and above us, lest we forget, and St. Paul outside the Wall depicts Him in blessing but with a book of judgment. St. Peter's might have also had some variation of Christ in the apse, above the stationary Papal throne.

The altar was both ad orientem and versus populum, a rarity outside of Rome. During the Canon the faithful would go into the transepts and the aisles of the nave and face eastward with the priest, meaning they did not "see" the change on the altar. Curtains may have been drawn regardless, guaranteeing people did not see the consecration until the Middle Ages at least.

The populistic arrangement, of the Pope facing the people, gives us a clear indication of where the reformers discovered their "Mass as assembly" idea, but neglects the very hierarchical arrangement, which the Bishop of Rome elevated, surrounded by his counsel and the servants of the faithful in Holy Orders. Certainly a more popularly accessible structure than a Tridentine pontifical Mass from the throne, but not remotely as democratic as the reformers would have us believe. Papal Mass continued their arrangement through 1964, the year of the last Papal Mass.

St. Peter's basilica around the year 1450
(taken from wikipedia)

Neglect during the Avignon papacy left the Roman basilicas in ruins, St. Peter's included. The roof of the basilica and its re-enforcement were both wood, which had long rotted. Instability eventually caused the walls and foundations to crack and, although many maintained the basilica was still usable, the decision was made to replace it in 1505 by Pope Julius II. The decision rightly sent Romans into uproar, as the old church had been used by the City and by saints for twelve centuries.

The fate of much of the original basilica is unknown. Elements of the portico survived, as did the Papal tombs. St. Peter's tomb received its own chapel, named for the Pope who built it. The high altar was retained and en-capsuled in the new altar. The altar sanctuary had been walled from the nave by winding pillars, supposedly taken from the Temple of Solomon. They were destroyed, although their design is retained in the new basilica's baldacchino.

Below is a reconstruction of how the sanctuary would have looked during the Middle Ages. Note the wall and doors, much like an iconostasis, betwixt the sanctuary and nave. The semi-circular benches around the Papal throne were for the canons of the basilica, the seven deacons of Rome, the archpriest, and the cardinals. The doors on the sides might have been either for the deacons, for those administering Holy Communion to the people in the transepts, or for those visiting the tomb below the sanctuary.

From New Liturgical Movement
Note the side altars, where the Roman low Mass as we know it was formed. Also, the entrance to St. Peter's tomb from doors under the stairs.
The reconstruction below, however, seems to aim at imitating a medieval version of St. Peter's basilica. The above image, of the basilica in the first millennium, shows a church which has not yet undergone various renovations consequent to medieval piety and style: the barrier above is more of a railing than a wall, there are side-chapels below but not above, and curtains around the altar—emphasizing the mystery of it all, and colonnade around the Papal throne—pointing to the unique place in the sanctuary of the chair of Peter. The walls are also sparser in the pre-Middle Ages image above. I suspect the person who created these images is of the Byzantine tradition, as he has put icons above the altars as decoration rather than more Romanesque mosaics and paintings. Still, quite an effort.

Below is a video from the same source showing a detailed view of the old basilica. I always found the old pineapple funny. It is a pagan bronze work dating to the first century and which resided in the Vatican square for no reason other than its pre-dating the basilica. The video is well worth your time and hopefully will engender some appreciation for the scale and Romanitas of the original church. Of course the details of the inside are mostly lost and would have taken the video's maker an eternity to construct.

Here is an account of the demolition of the original church:

From Idle Speculations:

"At the beginning of Paul V.'s pontificate, there still stood untouched a considerable portion of the nave of the Constantinian basilica. It was separated from the new church by a wall put up by Paul III.
There likewise remained the extensive buildings situate in front of the basilica. The forecourt, flanked on the right by the house of the archpriest and on the right by the benediction loggia of three bays and the old belfry, formed an oblong square which had originally been surrounded by porticoes of Corinthian columns.
The lateral porticos, however, had had to make room for other buildings—those on the left for the oratory of the confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament built under Gregory XIII., and the house of the Cappella Giulia and the lower ministers of the church, and those on the right for the spacious palace of Innocent VIII.
In the middle of this square, at a small distance from the facade of the present basilica, stood the fountain (cantharus) erected either by Constantine or by his son Constantius, under a small dome supported by eight columns and surmounted by a colossal bronze cone which was believed to have been taken from the mausoleum of Hadrian.
From this court the eye contemplated the facade of old St. Peter's, resplendent with gold and vivid colours and completely covered with mosaics which had been restored in the sixteenth century, and crowned, in the centre, by a figure of Christ enthroned and giving His blessing.
To this image millions of devout pilgrims had gazed up during the centuries.
Internally the five-aisled basilica, with its forest of precious columns, was adorned with a wealth of altars, shrines and monuments of Popes and other ecclesiastical and secular dignitaries of every century. The roof consisted of open woodwork. The walls of the central nave, from the architrave upwards, displayed both in colour and in mosaic, scenes from Holy Scripture and the portraits of all the Popes.
It is easy to understand Paul V.'s hesitation to lay hands on a basilica so venerable by reason of the memories of a history of more than a thousand years, and endowed with so immense a wealth of sacred shrines and precious monuments.
On the other hand, the juxtaposition of two utterly heterogeneous buildings, the curious effect of which may be observed in the sketches of Marten van Heemskerk, could not be tolerated for ever. To this must be added the ruinous condition, already ascertained at the time of Nicholas V and Julius V., of the fourth century basilica a condition of which Paul V. himself speaks in some of his inscriptions as a notorious fact.
A most trustworthy contemporary, Jacopo Grimaldi, attests that the paintings on the South wall were almost unrecognizable owing to the crust of dust which stuck to them, whilst the opposite wall was leaning inwards.
Elsewhere also, even in the woodwork of the open roof, many damaged places were apparent. An earthquake could not have failed to turn the whole church into a heap of ruins.
An alarming occurrence came as a further warning to make haste. During a severe storm, in September, 1605, a huge marble block fell from a window near the altar of the Madonna della Colonna. Mass was being said at that altar at the time so that it seemed a miracle that no one was hurt.
Cardinal Pallotta, the archpriest of St. Peter's, pointed to this occurrence in the consistory of September 26th, 1605, in which he reported on the dilapidated condition of the basilica, basing himself on the reports of the experts.
As a sequel to a decision by the cardinalitial commission of September 17th, the Pope resolved to demolish the remaining part of the old basilica. At the same time he decreed that the various monuments and the relics of the Saints should be removed and preserved with the greatest care.' These injunctions were no doubt prompted by the strong opposition raised by the learned historian of the Church, Cardinal Baronius, against the demolition of a building which enshrined so many sacred and inspiring monuments of the history of the papacy. To Cardinal Pallotta was allotted the task of superintending the work of demolition.
Sestilio Mazucca, bishop of Alessano and Paolo Bizoni, both canons of St. Peter's, received pressing recommendations from Paul V. to watch over the monuments of the venerable sanctuary and to see to it that everything was accurately preserved for posterity by means of pictures and written accounts, especially the Lady Chapel of John VII., at the entrance to the basilica, which was entirely covered with mosaics, the ciborium with Veronica's handkerchief, the mosaics of Gregory XI on the facade and other ancient monuments. On the occasion of the translation of the sacred bodies and relics of Saints, protocols were to be drawn up and graves were only to be opened in presence of the clergy of the basilica. The bishop of Alessano was charged to superintend everything.
It must be regarded as a piece of particularly good fortune that in Jacopo Grimaldi (died January 7th, 1623) canon and keeper of the archives of the Chapter of St. Peter's, a man was found who thoroughly understood the past and who also possessed extensive technical knowledge. He made accurate drawings and sketches of the various monuments doomed to destruction.
The plan of the work of demolition, as drawn up in the architect's office, probably under Maderno's direction, comprised three tasks : viz. the opening of the Popes' graves and other sepulchral monuments as well as the reliquaries, and the translation of their contents ; then the demolition itself, in which every precaution was to be taken against a possible catastrophe ; thirdly, the preservation of all those objects which, out of reverence, were to be housed in the crypt—the so-called Vatican Grottos—or which were to be utilized in one way or another in the new structure.
As soon as the demolition had been decided upon, the work began.
On September 28th, Cardinal Pallotta transferred the Blessed Sacrament in solemn procession, accompanied by all the clergy of the basilica, into the new building where it was placed in the Cappella Gregoriana. Next the altar of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude was deprived of its consecration with the ceremonies prescribed by the ritual ; the relics it had contained were translated into the new church, after which the altar was taken down. On October 11th, the tomb of Boniface VIII. was opened and on the 20th that of Boniface IV., close to the adjoining altar.
The following day witnessed the taking up of the bodies of SS. Processus and Martinianus. On October 30th, Paul V. inspected the work of demolition of the altars and ordered the erection of new ones so that the number of the seven privileged altars might be preserved.
On December 29th, 1605, the mortal remains of St. Gregory the Great were taken up with special solemnity, and on January 8th, 1606, they were translated into the Cappella Clementina. The same month also witnessed the demolition of the altar under which rested the bones of Leo IX., and that of the altar of the Holy Cross under which Paul I. had laid the body of St. Petronilla, in the year 757. Great pomp marked the translation of all these relics ; similar solemnity was observed on January 26th, at the translation of Veronica's handkerchief, the head of St. Andrew and the holy lance. These relics were temporarily kept, for greater safety, in the last room of the Chapter archives.
So many graves had now been opened in the floor that it became necessary to remove the earth to the rapidly growing rubbish heap near the Porta Angelica.
On February 8th, 1606, the dismantling of the roof began and on February 16th the great marble cross of the facade was taken down. Work proceeded with the utmost speed ; the Pope came down in person to urge the workmen to make haste. These visits convinced him of the decay of the venerable old basilica whose collapse had been predicted for the year 1609. The work proceeded with feverish rapidity—the labourers toiled even at night, by candle light.

The demolition of the walls began on March 29th ; their utter dilapidation now became apparent. The cause of this condition was subsequently ascertained ; the South wall and the columns that supported it, had been erected on the remains of Nero's race-course which were unable to bear indefinitely so heavy a weight.
In July, 1606, a committee was appointed which also included Jacopo Grimaldi. It was charged by the cardinalitial commission with the task of seeing to the preservation of the monuments of the Popes situate in the lateral aisles and in the central nave of the basilica. The grave of Innocent VIII. was opened on September 5th, after which the bones of Nicholas V., Urban VI., Innocent VII. and IX., Marcellus II. and Hadrian IV. were similarly raised and translated.
In May, 1607, the body of Leo the Great was found. Subsequently the remains of the second, third and fourth Leos were likewise found ; they were all enclosed in a magnificent marble sarcophagus. Paul V. came down on May 30th to venerate the relics of his holy predecessors
Meanwhile the discussions of the commission of Cardinals on the completion of the new building had also been concluded. They had lasted nearly two years"
[Pastor History of the Popes Volume 26 (trans Dom Ernest Graf OSB) (1937; London) pages 378-385]
The loss of the original St. Peter's Basilica is a long forgotten misfortune for the Church. The current basilica is very impressive in all regards, and yet when he visited it (a day after seeing the Lateran and two days after seeing St. Mary Major) the Rad Trad found the current structure lacking in only one element: continuity with the past. The previous basilicas were truly Roman. And yet they have been updated with gothic flooring, Renaissance ceilings and paintings, baroque altars and décor, and even modern Holy Doors. The newer St. Peter's seems very much a standalone, quite apart from the other Papal churches in the City.
St. Peter's fell into neglect during the Avignon Papacy, when earthquakes could have their way with the Basilica and no Papal coffers proffered repair money. The wooden roof was similarly neglected. Upon return to Rome the Popes moved their major liturgical functions elsewhere and the deterioration worsened.
Perhaps some future oratory or cathedral, looking to maximize return without spending a load of money or choosing a brutally modern look, could go with the Roman basilica arrangement using St. Peter's as a model.

Some didactic abstracts from a conference on the old basilica three years ago.

Lastly, here are some photographs I took while visiting the Petrine basilica three years ago:

Today is the feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul, two of the four patriarchal basilicas of the Roman Church. The current buildings are fairly recent (St. Peter's is a 16th century replacement of a 4th century basilica and St. Paul's is a 19th century reconstruction of the original, which burned and imploded). The Rad Trad did not get to St. Paul outside the Wall during his visit to Rome, but did manage to spend a full day in St. Peter's Basilica. The current building has very little to do with the one which preceded it, other than that it too houses the relics of the Prince of the Apostles.

I have re-posted some older material, a photo tour of the current basilica, for readers' edification. As stated on our previous post for the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran, these photos are perhaps better than what one will find online because they were taken during a progression through the church and hence give a clearer impression of the arrangement, scale, and style of the place. Some photos towards the end show the Rad Trad in personal horror (not a fan of heights).

The second lesson in the second nocturne of Mattins today seems to be based upon the fictitious Donation of Constantine (did Benedict XIV not want to rid us of this sort of thing?), but concludes with the interesting, and more historically feasible, statement that the consecration of a stone altar by St. Sylvester, Pope at the time, marked an official point of transition from wood to purely stone altars.

Happy feast!

Approach from the square

Sneak by the Swiss Guards

Our Lord watches this place

Where we hear "Habemus Papam"

Friends of the Rad Trad awaiting entry into the nave

First altar on the right is graced by the Pieta

Peering through the right-side door

A rather ugly statue of Pope Pius XII, among many statues of saints and popes

Looking back from the first chapel. This place is big! The current basilica
was built over the previous one, which too was the largest church in the world at
one point. The basilica's interior is a sixth of a mile long. I have sailed on large cruise ships
which would fit within this edifice comfortably.

A shot across to the altar of the Presentation

The baptismal font is enormous. Scale dominates this place

The dome over the baptistery

The coffered ceiling

Tomb of St. Pius X

The domes under the side chapels are quite colorful

The chapel of the choir, south of the high altar, which contains relics of St. John Chrysostom

Tomb of St. Gregory the Great. The Pope once vested for Solemn Mass here
while the schola sang terce

Apse of a transept

The baldacchino over the high altar is over 70 feet in height,
the largest piece of bronze work in the world

St. Andrew. There are many statues in the nave, but none of Apostles or Our Lady.
Those of the Apostles are to be found around the (ill-defined) sanctuary.

The entrance to the tomb of St. Peter and the Clementine chapel

St. Peter presiding at the basilica. A line of people wait to kiss his foot.

Confession in 22 languages from 7AM to 7PM

Looking from the altar to the nave

A friend of mine, who is over six feet tall, for size comparison

St. Gregory the Illuminator, disciple to Armenia

"I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple...."

The altar at the Petrine Throne with the Holy Ghost descending upon it.
It makes much more sense to see this during a Mass, which we did.

Saints watch and keep vigil

As we depart....

Later that day the Rad Trad visited the dome

The Rad Trad does not like heights

The Rad Trad really does not like heights.
Grabbing the cornice for dear life!

The Four Evangelists at the corners of the sanctuary

The inside of the dome

That ant below is a person! We were well over 200 feet above the floor

Friends delighting in the Rad Trad's fears

One last shot of the altar

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dedication of the Lateran Archbasilica

Today is the feast of the dedication of the Cathedral of Our Savior, commonly known as the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome and hence the foremost Church in the world. The cathedral has probably been re-built half a dozen times due to fires, earthquakes, and the Avignon papacy, yet some of the original building remains, which traces its origins to the Emperor Constantine. I had re-published an old post showing some pictures I took of the Cathedral during my visit there a few years ago. I think this better than posting images available from the internet because the display the "flow" of the cathedral and lend themselves to an appreciation of the look and scale. At the end I have added a video of the consecration of the FSSP seminary chapel in Nebraska which, although done to the 1962 rite, is textually very close to how the Mass part of the rites would have been done at the Lateran during its several re-consecrations. Happy feast!—one of my favorite of the year.

The image of Christ dominates this great cathedral built in His name
The Archbasilica of Our Savior has also been known as St. John Lateran since Sergius III re-consecrated the building once, adding the patronage of the Evangelist and the Beloved Apostle; the primary patronal feast is the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This church is great not so much for its size, grandeur, history, or architecture—although all are quite impressive, but because this church is the cathedral of Rome and, hence, the foremost church in the world. It is the Pope's cathedral, although people often mistake St. Peter's for this honor.

The throne of the Bishop of Rome
Christian worship existed at this location in the southeastern corner of Rome, near the walls of the old City, since the first century, when Ss. Peter and Paul themselves were present there. After Christianity was permitted to crawl out of the Roman woodwork Emperor Constantine began to build several major churches on behalf of the Christians. Contrary to popular opinion, Constantine did not give too much preference to Christianity over paganism during this period. He gave the Church and the Bishop of Rome considerable real estate, like the Lateran Palace, where the popes resided until the reign of Pius IX, but not in prime locations.

The Church of Our Savior eventually became the main seat of the Bishop of Rome due to its proximity to the Lateran Palace. Important stational days during Holy Week—particularly Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Holy Saturday—which are communal in nature take place here. The consecration of the Bishop of Rome, and his coronation as Pope, and special blessings took place at this cathedral, emphasizing the Pope's role as a bishop for the City. During one Maundy Thursday Pope St. Gregory the Great was performing the mandatum (re: foot-washing ceremony) and after washing twelve men's feet and thirteenth appeared. This man's luminous face was described as perfect by the Pope. The man immediately disappeared. St. Gregory concluded it was an angel, or perhaps even Our Lord Himself. This is why in the old Roman rite thirteen men's feet were washed in Maundy Thursday as opposed to the instinctive twelve.

The Cathedral of Our Savior was subjected to barbaric invasions by the Goths in the sixth century, by the Saracens in the ninth century, and earth quakes throughout. By the reign of Sergius III (r. 904-911) the Cathedral had fallen into such disarray it required a re-model, including a new roof. It was re-dedicated by Pope Sergius and given a consecration to Ss. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, hence its vulgar name "St. John Lateran."

The Lateran Cathedral as seen from the square
In the first millennium the square in front of the Lateran Cathedral and Palace hosted the election of the Pope. After the death of the previous Pontiff the clergy would gather all Roman citizens, the cardinals (originally the priests and deacons of Rome) would elect nominees from among themselves, and the candidate with the greatest yell from the crowd would be the new Bishop of Rome. In the late first millennium violence often resulted and which faction could gain entrance to the Cathedral, consecrate its candidate, and enthrone him would have the Pope! During the middle ages the Archbasilica hosted five ecumenical councils, the Papal Court, and the public square of Rome. Pope Innocent III famously received St Francis of Assisi here, after first suggesting that the poor saint preach to the pigs in the public market—a suggestion which the saint immediately followed, and also saw the friar holding up the Cathedral, which was crumbling under the sins of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI enthroned after election

As the Popes moved to Avignon, the Cathedral fell again into disarray and was partially destroyed due to a fire. It was re-modeled during the Renaissance and again during the 18th century, when the statues in the niches were added. Today the Popes still use this great Cathedral for Maundy Thursday, Ascension Thursday, Corpus Christi, pastoral visits, and enthronement after election.

I was blessed by God to be able to visit this awesome place a year and a half ago, whilst in Rome during Lent. My two friends and I, one Catholic and one then-searching, thought the Lateran to be an interesting one hour stop we could make on our way to the Colosseum. We spent five hours in the Lateran and two in the Colosseum.

The facade, a baroque addition, is impressive, but not as impressive as the one gracing St. Mary Major. I was not impressed with the Lateran until I stepped inside. What first struck me was the sheer scale of the place. I have been to St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City several times, a larger church, but less open and hence smaller in scale.

The imposing Cosmatesque floor
My feet were sore from walking the Eternal City in boating shoes, so I ended up dragging the pads of my feet without intending to do so. This had the most spectacular effect. One can feel the texture of the mosaic floor in this Cathedral. Every bump and tile has character to it. History seeps from the ground of this place and the Spirit of God encompasses it. The words of the introit are verily said of this house of God:
Terrible is this place and This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven; and it shall be called the court of God.—Genesis 28:17
We made our way through the various side chapels over the course of an hour or two, before coming to the Chapel of St. Francis of Assisi, shown below. The five piercings on the heart held by the angel simultaneously recall the stigmata of St. Francis and the devotion to the Five Wounds, popular during Francis's time.

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is next to the Papal Altar. There is a grand tabernacle surrounded by four statues of Popes and crowned with an ethereal image of the patronal feast, the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Interestingly the Popes are vested as deacons, indicating that they too are just servants at the altar of the High Priest, Christ. May his holiness, Francis, wear the pontifical dalmatic and find himself in the same self-effacing service as past pontiffs.

In the center of the Cathedral is the Papal Altar, topped by a canopy and reliquary which, although ornamented with busts of St. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, contains the head of St. Paul. Imagine that almost every Pope from the fourth century has celebrated Mass in this place, surrounded by St. Paul and Our Lord Himself.

The Papal Altar

And the ciborium with the reliquary:

Across from the altar is the great apse of the Cathedral. A massive back wall is topped with gold mosaics containing icons of Our Lord, Our Lady, Ss. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, and other Biblical figures. One must also recall the organic continuity of this cathedral. Icons of Ss. Francis and Dominic were not-so-deftly inserted at a later time! At the end of a long aisle, containing an organ, balconies for the cantors, and choir stalls for clergy in attendance, is the throne of the Supreme Pontiff:

Beyond the apse is a gift shop. Horrifically, the tomb of Pope Innocent III, the most powerful man of the Middle Ages, is a cross beam for the door frame! How passes the glory of the world!

Something striking about this place is the color in it. The nave is a bland white, as per Italian baroque style for public places, but the sanctuary and other locations from the early Christian era, Middle Ages, and Renaissance is thriving with life and color. Even niches between icons and mosaics were treated as opportunities to paint images, images which literally pop out into a third dimension:

The nave for contrast:

The layout is distinctly Roman, the floor is medieval, the ceiling Renaissance, the chapels Baroque, and place entirely Catholic.

The ceiling is a wonder

The Cathedral's altars, chapels, aisles, and niches are a testament to the on-going effort that is the Gospel of Christ, one held by sinners and saints, which must endure every trial and be maintained and expressed through every age. This aisle towards the entrance contained numerous chapels under renovation.

I will leave on a light note. One of my companions was quite taken with the statues of the twelve Apostles in the nave, which are gargantuan in this size given the scale of the Cathedral. Upon arriving at St. Matthew, my friend decided that since the former tax-collector no longer needed his gold, there was no excuse to let is sit unused.

Lastly, across from the Lateran Cathedral is the Scala Sancta, the Holy Stairs from Pilate's palace. Christ was tried atop these steps and descended them to take up His Cross for us. One may only ascend these steps on one's knees. More on them another time....