Sunday, 14 August 2011

What is the meaning of orthodoxy?

Those of you expecting a thorough treatise on the subject will be disappointed I'm afraid - I'm not bright enough for such work. I am reading The Banished Heart by Dr Geoffrey Hull, an excellent book if I may say so. I have only reached chapter II but already he has made some highly reasonable points (though I daresay I am disappointed that he cites Michael Davies in a serious context), some of which I have tried to address on this blog. One of them is the subject of liturgical versus doctrinal orthodoxy. Hull rightly observes that there is a tendency in the Roman Communion to regard orthodoxy as first and foremost moral and doctrinal correctness, submission to the teachings of the Magisterium, and that all other things (liturgical worship in particularly) are subordinate to this. I humbly observe that this seems to be a modern, and dangerous, misapprehension. Orthodoxia means ''right-glory'' as well as ''right-belief'' simultaneously, and so the solemn Liturgy of the Church is not the duty of the already ''doctrinally orthodox,'' who confess the teachings of the Church fortified by the Magisterium, but of all men alike who confess Christ. The rudiments of the Christian Liturgy were in place long before the Ecumenical Councils and pro-Life movements!

Rome is full of ''conservative'' Ultramontane types - you know the sort, they love to quote the documents of the Second Vatican Council, join the ''Faith Movement,'' and don't know the first thing about Liturgy (priests of this ilk don't wear the cassock in public but rather the Protestant-looking clerical suit). The ignoramus who wrote that article on homosexuality and the priesthood is even so. To be quite blunt I think these people are apostate from the Faith; at least ''ideologies'' (even if they are good) and Ultramontanism don't seem remotely Catholic to me. The only thing in their favour (to distinguish them from the average ''traditionalist'') is that they are more open-minded and ecumenical. Years ago I remember trying to remonstrate with one of them about why Mass facing the wrong way is a pernicious liturgical abuse (the absolute worst in my opinion), but she just wasn't interested. She is quite famous I think, but of the ''spirit of Vatican II'' generation; that is to say someone who is staunchly committed to the Novus Ordo of Paul VI and considers anybody who questions the latest decision of the Magisterium as a heretic.

A scene from the Papal Mass in Westminster Cathedral last September - how our Anglican brethren put us to shame the day before! I noted how ridiculous and untraditional it was for the pope to come direct from the Sacristy in a chasuble and to celebrate versus populum in front of and behind a row of six candlesticks and a crucifix! And this was supposed to be better than the Missa de Angelis in Scotland? The Roman Church is a liturgical laughing stock...

But where does this mentality come from? Why does the Roman Communion consider intellectual assent to her teachings more important than the cultivation of liturgical orthodoxy? Christianity is fundamentally a worshipping community. Our ritual response to the sacramental activity of God in our lives is primary; doctrine comes second to that. In the encyclical letter Mediator Dei (1947) - infallible as Holy Writ to the Traddies - Pius XII reversed the ancient liturgical principle legem credendi statuat lex supplicandi; a matter of immense import in the liturgical life of that communion, and don't we feel the effects to this day? The fact that the present Pope fully supports the liturgical heterodoxy of his predecessors, in spite of Summorum Pontificum (which in reality renders tradition superfluous and a second-best thing anyway), is simply evidence that Rome's whole approach to the Sacred Liturgy is essentially flawed. The Novus Ordo with a kind of Baroque veneer is really traditional isn't it! When was the last time folded chasubles were used at a Papal Liturgy during Lent?

Why do ''doctrinally'' orthodox people who are indifferent to Liturgy exist? They seem to be a peculiarly Roman phenomenon. Are they orthodox in any meaningful sense at all? How can you be orthodox if you don't think that Liturgy is that important? Of course those of us who have eyes to pierce through the deceits of Rome and perceive at the heart of that system only the purpose to perpetually keep Tradition under the foot of the Pope (i.e, we liturgically orthodox) can just get on with Tradition as though the Counter Reformation never happened and endure the names of heretic and schismatic. What does it matter, on the Day of Judgement, if you never took part in a prayer vigil outside an Abortion clinic? Or you never attended some other neo-Conservative rally? If you couldn't be bothered in life to worship God as He wants to be worshipped then I'm sure His Judgement will be terrible, though I'll leave that to Him.

The image of Our Lady seems apposite. No doubt some of you will be celebrating the festival of the Assumption as an ''external solemnity'' today. I have no objection to external solemnities (sometimes they are pastorally expedient), so long as they are celebrated within the kalendrial Octave and not before the feast itself, which seems to be the tendency these days. Is it the nearest Sunday? Anyway, it is orthodox to confess that St Mary is the Mother of God, that she was sinless, that she was assumed into Heaven. Why is it orthodox? Because the Tradition of the Church, endued with ancient piety, says so. It was already the custom among pious folk to refer to St Mary in prayer and discourse as Theotokos long before this was an officially ''acceptable'' term (although it is a misconception that Ephesus ''defined'' St Mary as Theotokos - the fathers did no such thing). In 1950 Pius XII replaced the ancient proper prayers of the Mass and significantly changed the Office for the feast of the Assumption, to adorn it with a new dogma instead. Those traditionalists out there who confess the doctrine of the Assumption and yet use the Pacelli propers for the celebration of Mass are not orthodox, they are Ultramontane. The entire impetus to believe the doctrine was removed by Pius XII and replaced with Papal authority. To put it simply: Gaudeamus and the traditional Office have the witness of centuries of Tradition. Munificentissimus Deus and Signum Magnum undermine the very orthodoxy of the Assumption since they have nothing to do with St Mary.


  1. I see that you now add the Faith Movement and priests wearing clerical suits to your usual shopping list of invective and annual rant against the propers for the Feast of the Assumption.

    The course of action that advocates having a beautiful and 'traditional' liturgy (as defined by whose aesthetic sensibilities?)whilst being deliberately and persistently selective on faith and morals and accepting no authority but your own leads nowhere.

    I'm sticking with the Church, thanks. Valid sacraments and valid teaching authority. Can't beat it.

  2. Leutgeb, I never implied (or never intented to) that doctrinal complacency is a good thing. My point is that ancestrally Liturgy comes first, strict adherence to the traditional Liturgy as handed down to us from the Apostles. The Lex Orandi carries far more auctoritas than either Mediator Dei or Humanae Vitae or pick any Papal encyclical you like. Adherence to the latest Papal pronouncement on faith and morals is less important than liturgical orthodoxy.

    I am not selective about doctrine. I believe all the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, the Creeds and the other articles of Faith.

  3. As for the ''Faith Movement'', I know a number of Traditionalist RCs who are suspicious of this movement. I am more interested in the Henry Bradshaw Society...

  4. The Catholic Church has traditionally maintained, as do the Orthodox, that the Divine Cult , i.e, celebration of the Liturgy of the Mass, Divine Office and the Sacraments, is the primary raison d'etre, purpose and task of the Church. However, in practice, (as Hull explains) this truth became evermore effuscated in the Latin Church to the point where it is today unknown to most Catholics of the Roman Rite. We are christians not because we give assent to a list of defined teachings, nor because we regulate our personal and public lives according to a handbook written by half-senile men who isolate themsevles in the Roman Curia. We are christians because we worship Christ in His holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and through Him, the most Adorable Trinity. Right worship is the conditio sine qua non, the cause of and the proper context of right belief and right living. It doesnot work the other way around, as the present crisis proves. The down-playing of Liturgy, and the exaltation of obedience to centralised authority, reached a high-point just before the Second Vatican Council. Partly under jesuit influence, partly due to an exagerated scholasticsm, partly due to combatting protestant heresy, there entered into our Latin understanding of the LIturgy a deadly miniminalism, formalism, and utilitariansim. In theological manuals, even in catechisms and other literature for the layfolk, the Mass and the Sacraments were too often portrayed as mere means of sanctification, as helpmiddles which give us the grace to make us behave properly. OTher than that, the Liturgy was seen as taking up precious time which could be better used making converts, cultivating virtue, reading devote literature, and working towards building up the Catholic Church (since Vatican II this has been turned into: being of service to the world; but the anti-liturgical mentality is exactly the same as before the Council). THe Mass, Office and Sacraments were hardly ever treated as subjects on the own, and for their own intinsic and objective worth, as if the LIturgy were not the very Heart and Soul of our religion at all! I know all this from first-hand experience, and realise now, that this needed to be corrected. Alas, it wasn't. _

  5. Patricius: The rudiments of the Christian Liturgy were in place long before the Ecumenical Councils and pro-Life movements!

    The American Catholic hierarchy's politicization of abortion has very little to do with abortion itself. Rather, abortion is used as a means to gain sectarian influence in a nominally secular republic. The neocons talk up pro-life and the Republican Party because they wish to have a crumb of political influence. Their hysteria (no pun) is not really about babies.

    Aside: The local Anglican church is advertising Assumption Day as "The Summer Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary". Don't want to alienate the broad church types, eh?

  6. JM, there has been a Marian feast on 15th August since ancient days - it was not always the Assumption.

  7. "and to celebrate versus populum in front of and behind a row of six candlesticks and a crucifix!"

    Between two sets of candles and a crucifix, perhaps. Surely you are not so foolish as to suggest, however, that it was untraditional of the Bishop of Rome to celebrate versus populum?

    "Why is it orthodox? Because the Tradition of the Church, endued with ancient piety, says so."
    I disagree, albeit slightly. It is orthodox, because it is true, as attested by the Tradition of the Church, endued with ancient piety.

    As for why doctrine is placed on a higher level than liturgy: Liturgy is an expression of the Faith, not the Faith itself. Ergo: First the Faith (given form by the doctrines, creeds, and so on), then the expression (the Liturgy).

    JM: One does wonder, when looking at the American Church, whether there is anyone interested in both saving babies and assisting the poor and needy. It seems, sadly, to have become an either/or situation over there.

  8. Addendum: I have had some time to think, and I once again think you are mistaken. For the sake of brevity:

    1. I cannot think of a single instance in the entire history of the Church when a person or group has been condemned on the primary basis of their liturgy. I can think of many, many examples of the condemnation of groups on the basis of their doctrine, be they Donatists, Docetist, Adoptionists, Arians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Monoenergists, Nestorians, Pelagians, Valentinians, Sethians, Marcionists, and so forth.

    2. I cannot think of any major council called chiefly for the discussion of liturgical matters (Even at Nicaea I and Quinisext this does not appear to have been the main issue). I can think of many, many councils - not least seven rather significant ones - which were called chiefly for the discussion of matters of doctrine.

    3. Few, if any, of the early Fathers make reference to the liturgy, yet many, many early Christian works are dedicated to the correct way of living, and believing.

    4. Christ told us to keep his commands, believe, and be baptised. He said nothing of his cult. I believe this last one to be of utmost importance in weighing the primacy of doctrine against that of liturgy.

    I do not believe, on this basis, that you here represent accurately the mind of the Fathers of the Church, either before or after the Great Schism, or, on that basis, the Tradition of the Church. Indeed, I am fairly confident that liturgy proceeds from doctrine, and not the other way around.

  9. Evagrius: Surely no? Surely that's all the wrong way round. First the worship, because that is "the faith itself" (God wants to be worshipped, he wants us to worship him that is how we enter into relationship with him, that is the whole history of salvation: the Israelites go out from Egypt not to be freed men, not because of some idea but to worship God, to "know" a person who Is) and then the doctrines, creeds and so on which really only come into existence to protect what is already given: the true faith worshipping the Trinity.

  10. Legem credendi statuat lex supplicandi. Pius XII reversed this principle in 1947. This was clearly not the cut-off year, that is the year the Roman Communion went into liturgical heresy, but it was perhaps the beginning of the end.

  11. 1947. We have a date at last.

    Some traddies are suspicious of the Faith Movement? But I am quite capable of forming my own opinions without recourse to others.

    Humanae vitae is entirely consonant with the teaching of the Church for the previous 19 centuries, so no surprises there.

  12. Evagrius - the Liturgy, like the male presthood, was simply taken for granted. It wan't up for dispute! The way things were done, and the "pattern of sound words" (St Paul) themselves constituted the primary rule of faith. St Basil the Great (IIRC) states this explicitly and places the liturgical texts on the same level as Scripture. Futhermore he appeals to them when rebuking the Arians "Do you baptize in the Name of the Father and two creatures?"

  13. I, for one, and not the only one by far, do not believe that ''Humane Vitae'' is consonant with Holy Tradition, which ignores the question of artificial birth control. A human tradition, even in the Church, can be bad, as Pope Benedict XVI admits; and certainly not all traditions are part of Tradition.
    The Church officially recognises ''sensus fidelium'' (the feeling of the faithful) as a proof of the validity of a teaching, but in practice, largely ignores said 'sensus fidelium'' unless it be handy, such as in the defining the Assumption of our Lady, when Pope Pius XII appealed - not only to the Holy Liturgy, to Tradition, to Scripture and to the near unanimous request of the Catholic episcopate - but also and especially to this ''sensus fidelium'' as proof of the trueness of the teaching. As regards Pope Paul Vi's Humanae Vitae, I have always found this document to be a false teaching, not only because the ''sensus fidelium'' has rejected it, but also on grounds which most theologians, bishops, priests and lay faithful seem to ignore, that is: in Catholic moral theology it is foreall INTENTION which determines the rightness or wrongness of our conscience in doing something. For God looks foremost at our intention, says the cathechism. Now, Pope Paul Vi in his encyclical Humane Vitae writes that 1) every single marital act must be open to reproductiton: it is illicit to use any ''artificial'' means to prevent conception; 2) that it is legimitate for married couples to regulate conception by totally abstaining from sexual intimacy, or, by use of ''natural '' means only, and only if their social condition justifies this (such as poverty); 3) that, in this last instance a couple may follow the so-called rhythm method, which entails - in a most unnatural way! - taking the temperature of the woman's slime daily and plotting the temperature on a calender ( i am ignorant of all the details...) and then having sexual intercourse only on those days when the woman is unable to become pregnant. Now, this method allowed by the Pope actually goes against the whole point of the Encyclical: that evry ''conjugal act'' must be open to reproduction, so that as many children possible may be given by God. But to allow couples to have intercourse when they know that the woman will most likely not be able to conceive, and with the explicit INTENTION of AVOiDING CONCEPTION, is to foster hypocrisy, and a mentality that it is perfectly legitimate to try to deliberately deceive God and nature, and if you get a way with it, then you have avoided both ''sin'' and the normal consequences of heterosexual intercourse - i.e., pregnancy, which the Encyclical teaches must be made possible by every sex act! How in God's name the Church, or anyone else, can consider this to be moral, is beyond me. It is merely legitimised hypocrisy and the warping of people's consciences in order to keep the Church's Magisterium in control of their sexual lives, and at the same time to allow couples to get around the whole principle enounced in the Encyclical by making use of a complicated and hardly natural biologcial method, whilst having the intention of doing precisely what the Encyclical condemns! The whole thing is so ludicrous, that the Church at large could not do otherweise than to reject the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, though they did so, i think, on instinct, rather than based upon the above analysis.