Friday, 16 July 2010

A pertinent question...

I am not a ''traditionalist.'' Traditionalism is a rather recent reactionary movement which is doomed to failure (unless it has not already failed) because it seeks to emulate the errors of the pre-Conciliar church (and they are many). I daresay that it is thus in the same class as such things as modernism (just another 'ism'), a 19th century reaction against the infallibism of Pius IX, and soundly condemned by Pius X. It is greatly ironic that George Tyrell's understanding of Liturgy was more holistic and traditional than Pius X's - George Tyrell being a man held in contempt by Traditionalists, and Pius X (a man who did more violence to Tradition than any Modernist could) seen as the arch-defender and guardian of Tradition. Both, in my view, appear to have been exponents of an understanding of the Church which is fundamentally inimical to the Apostolic Tradition. Modernism is a heresy - it can offer nothing to the Church except doctrinal relativism. But then Ultramontanism is also a heresy - this false understanding of the Papacy has demonstrably had catastrophic effects on the Sacred Liturgy, and can offer nothing to the Church except fanatical legalism and an untraditional cult of the Pope - seeing not only Liturgy, but also Theology in merely juridical terms, and hanging onto the Pope's every word as though it were the very breath of the Holy Ghost.

I think that since I have started this blog, or rather the other one, I have been poorly understood. ''I can't work you out!'' Someone on another blog accused me of heresy for thinking I am ''more catholic than the Pope'' (and someone else thinks I am a Jansenist!); others are confused that I seem to advocate an even more traditional approach to Liturgy than most Trads (you know, things like Joe the Worker and Signum Magnum on the feast of St Mary's Assumption - Propers which are simply unworthy of the feast) whilst I simultaneously think that the High Altar is no place for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, Tabernacles really ought to be either in the Presbytery or a side Chapel, the Bishop's Throne ought to be in the apse of the church rather than on the Gospel side (the Ceremonial of Bishops still provides for this arrangement), I advocate Communion under both kinds (and I have no real theological problem with the communicants standing either - but I would have them receive less frequently, and having fasted from Midnight, as is traditional), the permanent Diaconate, decentralization of the Church, free-standing Altars etc. When I was talking to my mother a few weeks ago about the damnable heresies of the Sacred Heart cult she asked: ''what do you believe Patrick?'' Hmmmm...

Is there a label for little old me? I hope this doesn't sound too pretentious but I am rather fond of the term Old Believer - the term used of the old ritualists of the Russian Orthodox church who repudiated the reforms of Patriarch Nikon. Since I hail from the Roman Church of about the 12th century this seems especially apposite. I am a fundamentally liturgical person, and there is no hope for the Church outside of traditional Liturgy. There is no quick-fix solution to the liturgical crisis but for the meantime I would have the Pope abolish the New Rite (and '62) as an aberration having no intrinsic value, and I would have the Church go back to the Mass and Office as they were before 1911, using the hymns of the Breviary as they were before 1629. Only later can we work on things such as Communion under both kinds and a sacramental concelebration rather than Low Mass, the curtailment of other late accretions etc...

But to what extent does this treatment of Liturgy express rather artificiality than Tradition? Am I another Bugnini or Antonelli for trying to forever fix the Liturgy in some era (I am not advocating this, but mentioning particular dates is always going to entail this criticism)? He alone sees all ends though...

The above image is the famous fresco from the cathedral church of Orvieto of the Antichrist. It could well be how the Devil whispered the text of Maxima Redemptionis into the ears of Pius XII...


  1. I didn't say you were a Jansenist (I don't think you would be theologically sophisticated enough to pass for a Jansenist), but your particular liturgical archeologisms remind me of Jansenism. That's not such a bad thing, but if you want to see why the shoe fits, I would study the question. I do not mean "Jansenist" as a four letter word per se.

    Although you probably would be closer to a bizarre form of "Anglo-Catholic", pulling stuff out of thin air that hasn't been tradition for a very long time. I would say that your idea of tradition is tied less to life, and more to scholarship, which is why I find it so inauthentic.

  2. Beatus vir qui timet Dominum- such a man indeed does not lay sacrilegious hands on the Church, to perform an aristotelian autopsy of the Faith, dividing into categories, properties, causes, etc. Curiosity killed the Cat. Poor fat Tommy kitten. Scholasticism is certainly useful but in no way can it be normative or definitive. Scholasticism is just one system among many. What baffles me is that the Greeks had all the texts of the 'Philosopher' with them since the very beginning but were too pious or occupied with performing Opus Dei and praying to cook up a nice coherent system in which everything is subordinated to the unverifiable, if arbitrary, a priori of a philosophical system, which their own ancestors devised. To the Greeks indeed purity of Faith and Liturgy mattered more than philosophical vindication(even Damascene subordinates philosophy to the Faith), and this, even in the teeth of Muslim conquest. They did not give in to the doctrine of divine simplicity, retaining the patristic distinction between divine essence and energies. Hence the parting of ways: a wise mixture of cataphatic and apophatic theology on the Greek part, and abusive cataphatic philosophy on the Western part. How i wish the Middle Ages were truly Dark Ages for the Christian West- bereft of pagan texts and full of Faith.

    Btw, Patricius, have you read Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose?

  3. No Francis I have never read that book - you forget that I am in fact a renegade in Liturgy. I ask questions on this blog, and most of them go unanswered. This is probably why I dropped out of University.

  4. It is pretty easy to see through F.S.G.A.’s rather uniformed posturing. I don’t think any Catholic thinker has ever subordinated theology to philosophy. (Pierre Hadot, an ex-Catholic himself, said that the Roman Church does the opposite.) Aquinas would have considered such an idea to be preposterous. As for “scholasticism”, that sort of rhetorical straw man is versatile enough to use against any form of rationalism one doesn’t like. Heck, Damascene is often considered the father of the scholastic approach.

    The more interesting question is the role of “scholasticism” in Orthodoxy itself. Peter Moghila in Czarist Russia relied more on Aquinas than any particular Greek Father. That was easy since the lingua franca of learning in late Czarist Russia was not Old Slavonic, but Latin, to the point that seminary courses themselves were taught in Latin. Moghila himself changed the sacraments (again, Patricius, such a tendency is not just found in the Western Church) to adapt them more towards Western legalistic realism. The Greeks, when not too busied being culturally raped by the Turks (see life of Cosmas Aitolos) were pretty darn Westernized in their theology well into the 1950’s, their seminary textbooks being little more than bad renditions of Western manualist theology. This is not even to bring into the conversation the fact that the Summa of St. Thomas was already translated into Greek in the late Byzantine Empire, and they themselves had a whole class of scholastic philosophers. (Though my sympathies lie with the neo-pagan, Gemistos Plethon).

    All of that “essence/energies” distinctions obsession is a late accretion begun very faintly in the eighteenth century with the publication of the Philokalia, brought through the 19th century mixed with passé romanticist philosophy (Khomiakov, Soloviev, etc.), only to land in the mid-twentieth century mixed with the pretentious toxin of Continental philosophy. Try finding a reference to Palamas before 1930. So if you are going to paint with wide brush strokes, at least get your dates right.

  5. 'All of that “essence/energies” distinctions obsession is a late accretion begun very faintly in the eighteenth century with the publication of the Philokalia, brought through the 19th century mixed with passé romanticist philosophy (Khomiakov, Soloviev, etc.), only to land in the mid-twentieth century mixed with the pretentious toxin of Continental philosophy. Try finding a reference to Palamas before 1930. So if you are going to paint with wide brush strokes, at least get your dates right.'

    Indeed,as the late Thomas Cardinal Spidlik, a man far more eminent and scholarly than i, would have been surprised at this comment, i'd better pore over my pandectae or exegete the constitution of, say, Russia, and leave the theologising riff-raff(ie the author of the comment and the host of self-appointed STD's on the net) to educate themselves:

    A very interesting book. A must have.Larchet's work on Maximus the Confessor is also very worth having.
    Dom Odo Casel was precisely criticised for not using scholastic verbiage and founding himself on the Fathers. In affirming the reality of the Sacrifice of the Mass, Paschasius Radbertus based himself on the Fathers, mostly, Augustine and Ambrose, whereas his adversaries were philosophers to the core, in the shape of Ratramnus, Eriugena, Gottschalk.

    Fortunately, the Faith is not about getting 'dates' or 'categories' right(see the sham of the Gregorian calendar), not about (papal) indictions, but about Christ our Lord same always. Christus Victor, not 'Holy Infant of Prague'.

  6. Patricius:

    I've enjoyed reading your blog, and if my western scholastic rationalist pantheist filioque calendar doesn't prevent me from talking about dates, I'd like to add my two cents on the question of artificiality and tradition.

    I find myself agreeing with much of what you say about the state of the Roman Rite. Jansenist or no Jansenist, you're doing a good thing in pointing out that "Tradition" isn't the answer, if what "tradition" means is 1961.

    But I think it's unfortunate that you feel the need, like the Trads, to use the language of turning back the clock, even if you want to do a better job of turning it back than the SSPX and Co.

    It has been ordained by the providence of God that time moves only forward. Now, of course it would be ridiculous to take this basic fact as a mandate to conform quam maxime to the Zeitgeist, as so many have done. But it would be equally wrong to pretend that we can step in the same liturgical river twice. Wherever we end up -- even if it should resemble our antiquarian ideals as much as possible -- will not be the past; necessarily, it will be the future.

    And so I'd say our responsibility is to find whatever's worth holding on to, and cling to that, to find whatever novelties might cohere with the faith (for every tradition was once a novelty) and practice and encourage them, and to find whatever in the Church works against its holy tradition, and root it out.

    On an official level, this is a matter for the hierarchy, I think. But on the level of religious practice there's much each of us can do to conform our youth to the tradition, and thereby to add to the tradition some of the vigor of youth.

    But whatever is done, whether by clergy or laity, will be neither 1961, nor 1910, nor 1628. Let's pray that the same Spirit that gave the Church whatever of good she ever had will continue to inform and guide her.

  7. I think the main issue that I took with the F.G.S.A.'s comment was the romanticizing of the Christian East. Like the West, it has sought to define itself in the context of modernity around such theological issues as the energy / essence distinction. I am just pointing out that this has not always been the case, nor has it been the case that the East has rejected scholasticism as a whole. One would do well to actually delve into the questions in the West of created grace and the absolute otherness of the Divine essence as outlined by Aquinas and much of high scholasticism. Also, the great influence of Pseudo-Dionysius in Thomistic thought should also be taken into consideration, as the entire Summa Theologiae unfolds on an exitus – reditus axis. You are all big boys, so you can do your homework on that one. However, to fault such a disputed point of theology for the West’s malaise is akin to Yannaras’ blaming of flying buttresses on the Filioque.

    Of course, I am not a scholastic myself, and have more pagan / Neoplatonic sympathies, so I can see the point of citing Casel and Co., though I still think they all came up with false solutions to real problems. (Sort of the angst of the Patristic resourcement in general.) But it is not useful to idealize to romanticize either the Eastern or Western Church, simply because what people seem to think that they are is pretty much a construct of certain ecclesiastical pundits.

    And my family venerates the Holy Infant of Atocha, not Prague:

  8. Try finding a reference to Palamas before 1930.

    Well, there's the Councils and the Liturgy – and that's really the point, isn't it? The vindication of the Palamite-Cappadocian tradition at the level of dogma and liturgy is what guaranteed its survival and resurgence when the bleak conditions of intellectual captivity to the West had abated. To dismiss this resurgence as a kind of inauthentic removal of something marginal into the mainstream is therefore as fundamentally daft as dismissing on the same grounds the Triumph of Orthodoxy following a century of Iconoclast captivity.

    If the restoration of patristic theology in the 20th century has given rise also to a kind of popular critique of “the West” that is sometimes formulaic and facile, the fact remains that even this refers to something real (in sharp contrast, I may say, to most popular, formulaic and facile Western criticisms of Orthodoxy): regardless of whether or not Aquinas would have laughed at the proposition, a practical subjugation of the God who acts in creation – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of the Fishermen - to the Unmoved Mover of the Latin schools – the god of the Platonic dichotomies, the god Aristotelikos, ouk alieftikos (of “Aristotle”, not of the Fishermen) is exactly what was accomplished.

  9. Kevin Gallagher, thanks for your kind comment.

    Re: turning back the clock. By and large is there any other solution? My ''quick-fix'' solution of turning back the clock is going back to the liturgical books which were untampered with. In the case of the Missal I guess this would be the typical edition of 1884, and in the case of the Breviary much farther back - before Urban VIII.

    In my opinion there is a great difference between much-needed reform, beneficial to the liturgical life of the Church, and tampering and mutilation by recourse to authority - which is more often than not how this has come across. In Urban VIII's case, for example, it was a case of: ''As Pope, I can't say that I like these traditional hymns, so as Pope, do what I want, I'll change them for no justifiable reason.''

    In the case of Vatican II, which was a conciliar reform, it was slightly different - though again fraught with so many problems.

  10. Moretben: Well, that's the rub, isn't it? You can sit there all day and type how Palamas is more traditional than Moghila, or that some new icon painted in a studio in Greece in the neo-Byzantine style is "more traditional" than the Russian Virgin of Compunction, but all you are doing is painting yourself into a corner. Especially in the Roman Church, once you get the ball rolling, it is hard to make it stop. That is why Pius XII called it "archeologism", and why it was tragic that people at least ignored his counsel at least on that. Often, people who do that read more of themselves into the past than was actually there.

  11. Arturo: I'm sure the same was said in their day of the return of the Hebrew exiles. Really, it's not that difficult: Palamas (and what Palamas defended) is there in the liturgies and in the councils and in the lives of the saints, and Moghila isn't. That's all.

  12. Patricius: have you thought about the Carthusians? I've read somewhere that their liturgy remained untouched by the reforms of the popes(they qualified for Quo Primum standards of antiquity) and it was only after the latest latroncinium that curial tampering began. Their spirituality and discipline deeply appeals to me.

  13. Moretben:

    I am assuming you have never been to a Russian church, then, where some of the sacraments are dispensed in the fashion that Moghila "reformed".

    As we Americans say, it is easy for people to Monday morning quarterback about these things, as long as their agenda is served.

  14. Arturo, it's perfectly true that as a member of a "Greek" parish, Moghila is not really on my radar. I sometimes serve at a local Russian monastery, but whether or not the practice there is as you describe, I simply couldn't say. I'm dimly aware of him bistorically insofar as I recall that he leaned heavily on Latin theology, which, as you pointed out earlier, was rather par for the course in the intellectually straitened circumstances of the time; I believe the Church required him to revise certain propositions that appeared to overstep the mark. That's about all.

    By comparison, Palamas is colossal figure, in the liturgy and in theology, equally for my own jurisdiction as for the Russians and everyone else. There's simply no comparison. The Second Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to his memory throughout the whole Church, as a kind of second Triumph of Orthodoxy - the most exalted level of significance imaginable.

    I don't understand your point about "agendas". I certainly don't have one, beyond the determination to pass something realisable on to my children. I speak merely as I find.

  15. Palamas has only been a colossal figure recently in terms of the theology aspect. But the council that supposedly sealed Palamism as doctrine was far from being undisputed, and far from being on the forefront of Orthodox identity. But whatever. Could some archeologist Orthodox liturgist want to restore Second Sunday of Lent as a commemoration of the Transfiguration, as it was in the first millenium?

    And some of us are perfectly fine passing on our Catholicism to our children. I would just like for people to come up with intellectually honest arguments rather than propagandize to me concerning what Orthodoxy is, when the reality is much more complicated.