Saturday, 16 April 2016

At Florence...


A while ago I had claimed (without evidence) that even at the Second Council of Lyons (1274) the Greeks had been scandalised by the decadence of the Latin liturgy. I made this claim having vaguely remembered reading a footnote somewhere that suggested this. I haven't been able to find it, nor do I even own a detailed study of the council save two chapters in Henry Chadwick and Adrian Fortescue's hyperbolic and certainly biased account. But I have been able to find this:
"While the long months dragged on in this strange land [Italy] the Greeks got very homesick; they understood nothing of the rites they saw around them, they complained that when they went into a Latin church they could make nothing of the ikons, there was not a single Saint they even knew by sight, the crucifixes were solid statues, all they could do was to chalk up two lines on a wall cross-wise and say their prayers before that. Indeed by this time the liturgy of either side had become a deep and suspicious mystery to the other. Towards the end of the council [of Florence] the Pope was to assist in state at the Byzantine Liturgy. Then he said that he was not sure what they did and that he would like to see it all done in private first before he committed himself to a public assistance. Naturally they were very indignant. On this occasion the Emperor let fall the astonishing remark that they had come all this way to reform the Latin Church. The Greeks could not bear our plainsong, but they had the comfort of being able to wear far more gorgeous vestments. The old Patriarch Joseph never went back to his own country. He died while the council was going on (10th June, 1439), having first written down his acceptance of the union and his acknowledgement of the Roman Primacy. So he was buried with great honour at Florence in St. Maria Novella. There he still lies, far away from his city, among the Latins whose ways he could not understand, and a set of Latin verses over his tomb still tells the traveller of the strange chance that brought 'Joseph, the great prelate of the Eastern Church,' to be buried here." Fortescue, The Orthodox Eastern Church, pp.213-214.
The trouble is, this is not what I remember. I was sure it was at Lyons that the (undoubtedly few) Greeks present had found the Latin liturgy, rather sumptuous compared with its mediocre Tridentine descendant, distasteful. I wonder what it was? Low Mass? It can't have just been plainsong, which in those days was unlike the corrupt Solesmes stuff. They were experimenting with polyphony at Notre Dame de Paris in the 14th century. Still, I expect it was just ignorance, rather like that ridiculous, if well intended, epistle the Greeks sent to pope Francis imploring him to renounce his heresy. To properly critique the Latin liturgy, it takes somebody who experienced and practised it for years - like me. As for such ephemeral things as statues, I rather like "solid statue" crucifixes, and the "ikons" unfamiliar to the Greeks in Florence were probably painted by some disciple of Duccio or Giotto, perfectly apt to be used in divine service. The finest church in Western Europe is the royal chapel of the Kings of France, the Sainte Chapelle, which glories in those Latin things so anathema to the Greeks, three-dimensional images, and stained glass. There is, or rather was, a unifying spirit of liturgy common to both East and West in the Middle Ages. Would that legitimate custom were allowed without prejudice, and superstitions rooted out (as well as false doctrine), then the history of the Roman Empire might not have been cut so tragically short.

8 comments:

  1. I think we can chalk it all up to Greek ethnic arrogance. Anything not Byzantine is trash; that includes not only the Roman tradition, but the ancient Oriental Orthodox ones as well.

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    1. Dale, I must say I find your hatred of the Byzantines hard to understand at times, particularly since you have recently called upon me to retract everything I have said about my own reasoned hatred of the Lefebvrists. Give me authentic Byzantine over inauthentic Lefebvrist tosh any day!

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    2. 'Give me authentic Byzantine over inauthentic Lefebvrist tosh any day!'

      Well, I would certainly agree with that statement. Twenty odd years ago I went to a Greek Pontifical liturgy for a patronal festival of the Cathedral in Shepherd's Bush - I still count that as one of the five finest liturgical celebrations I have ever attended. (None of the other four was Lefebvrist - rather doubt any of the remaining Lefebvrists have any understanding of what liturgy is).

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    3. Patrick, it is not hatred, it is attempt to have a more reasoned understanding that all is not perfect in the Byzantine world either, and that their hatred of any ancient tradition not Byzantine is truly problematic. They do not only hate the Latin tradition, but the ancient traditions of the east, which they have suppressed whenever they had the power to do so.

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    4. Patrick, I did not ask you to retract, but to perhaps modify your posting on the Archbishop. It was indeed over the top. Rubricarius, some of the finest celebrations I have ever seen had been in establishment Anglo-Catholic churches, that does not make them correct.

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    5. Also, especially in the Russian tradition, the present tradition is very much a reconstructed 19th century vision as well; even in the Greek and Russian churches, the ikon styles are reconstructions, until the 19th century, the style preferred was a very debased western style. The same can be said for the music found in most Orthodox churches, it is also a reconstruction, much like the plainchant revival, based upon ancient models, but very reflective of the period of its reconstruction. Perhaps the only true Byzantine-Russian tradition is found only amongst the Russian Old Believers, who are schismatics.

      Also Patrick, your attack was against the person of the Archbishop; your more balanced attacks against what has become the Catholic traditionalist movement has my complete support and I have mentioned this as well on several occasions.

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  2. You mention “the corrupt Solesmes stuff”. Could you expand on that, or preferably point to some critical literature? Most of my books give Solesmes and Pius X the highest prise for reviving Gregorian Chant, compared to the earlier Pustet edition, yet I already know that this “revival” also brought with it the imposition of Italianate pronunciation which leads me to taking the authors with a grain of salt. What sound alternative is there to Solesmes?

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    1. Tom, I have referred the question to a more competent authority for reliable source material, but I would say off hand that the Solesmes stuff is inauthentic and not very Roman. And actually rather vulgar in a sort of note-by-note way. The Old Roman chants, and the other Western chant traditions, were more variegated and resonant. What's in the Liber is just not good enough.

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