Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Traditional Vigil of Easter – Part 1: From the Lucernarium to the Prophecies

This is, again, a reposted article, in two parts, from my previous blog, with some minor modifications.  
Last year, I wrote an article (reposted this year) touching on certain aspects of the ancient rite of Palm Sunday, prior to the changes made in 1955 under Pope Pius XII. In that post, we saw that the reform abandoned a large amount of symbolic text and ritual, so that much of the liturgical significance of Palm Sunday was lost. The resulting liturgy, which is contained in the 1962 missal, was one largely devoid of the traditional biblical typology, and the symbolism which demonstrated the continuity and harmony between the various moments of the history of salvation. The contemplative participation in the mystery of this day is consequently radically impaired: the symbolism that once offered us the medium of such participation has been destroyed.

This year, I have decided to devote two posts to the rites of Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil, of which much the same could be said as of Palm Sunday, perhaps even to a greater degree. The Easter Vigil is one of the most well-loved liturgies of the whole year among pious Catholics, yet little is known of its actual history, and of the magnificence of the ancient rite. The ancient rite conveys the sense that the liturgy is a means of actually revisiting the mysteries of our faith, and not merely thinking about them piously. In the liturgy, God is present to us in a real way through His mysteries, which are made available for our participation, so that we might be united to God through the mediation of the Incarnate Word, in whom God is united perfectly to man. There is a sense of realism underlying all of the symbolism of the rites; as Laszlo Dobszay notes, during this week especially the Church professes her belief that the mysteries are not merely remembered in the liturgy, but really and truly made present. A good deal of this sense was lost in the ritual reforms of Pius XII. Hopefully this will become clear in what follows.


Much controversy exists among historians regarding the time of celebration for the Easter Vigil. Whatever the specific disagreements, this much is clear: the mass of the Easter vigil was never, until the mid twentieth century, a first mass of Easter Sunday itself. There was never a midnight mass like that of Christmas. Indeed, the structure and character of the Easter vigil mass is one which is only partially a celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, and not the full celebration. There are various interpretations of this fact. Some compare this liturgical phenomenon to the biblical narrative, in which Christ, after He rose, nonetheless did not reveal Himself immediately to His disciples, but remained hidden for awhile. Hence, in the liturgy the resurrection is fully celebrated, not at the vigil Mass, but during the day on Sunday itself. Another interpretation is that the vigil liturgy, rather than celebrating the resurrection, anticipates it. Thus, though Christ is not yet risen, the Church joyfully anticipates His resurrection by a mass that is in some parts joyful and in other parts incomplete, to signify that the Church does not yet celebrate, but merely awaits that most sacred event. The moment of the resurrection itself occurs at midnight, at the celebration of Easter Matins and Lauds – the first of which has been eliminated in the 1955 rite, thus doing away with the most important hour of the office on the most important day of the year. Whichever interpretation one takes, the fact is that the vigil mass was always just that – a vigil, i.e. a waiting for the actual celebration, and not the full celebration itself. The modern notion of a vigil mass which is an early celebration of the mass of the day is a complete novelty. This means that, normally, the vigil mass would not have occurred deep in the night, around midnight, but earlier in the night, just after sunset; and it was not a mass of the feast day, but a preparation for it the feast. In actual fact, for pastoral reasons (which some have also interpreted symbolically), it often occurred during the day on Holy Saturday, since vespers was commonly sung earlier during Lent. But the normal time, as indicated by the liturgical texts themselves, is at night – but decidedly not at midnight, as an early mass of Easter Sunday.

So much for the time of the Easter Vigil. Greater changes occurred in 1955 in the actual ritual itself, which had the effect of destroying the profound symbolism that was contained in the traditional rites. Without going into absolutely all of the details, I will now attempt to provide a summary of the most important changes.

The vigil of Holy Saturday begins, in both the old and new rites, outside the Church with the blessing of the New Fire, or the Lucernarium. In the traditional rite, there are three prayers for the blessing of the fire, all of which make reference to a certain aspect of the symbolism of the fire. The first refers to the lighting of the fire by flint, with an allusion to Christ the cornerstone, Who lights our hearts on fire with divine splendor; and it prays that our hearts will be inflamed with heavenly desire during the Paschal season, so that we may enter into eternity with solemnity. The second prayer contains some of the same references, but speaking also of the light of the world and the pillar of fire which guided Moses towards the promised land; and it prays that we too might be led by this light towards the heavenly land promised to us. The third prayer invokes again the name of the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit, begging that the divine light of grace may strengthen us against the fiery darts of the enemy. The second and third prayers are no longer existent in the 1955 rite; thus, the typological reference to Moses and the pillar of flame no longer appears, nor the prayer for opposition of the divine to the demonic fire.

In the old rite, these prayers are followed by a fourth prayer for the blessing of the five grains of incense which are to be inserted later into the Paschal candle. After praying this prayer, the priest sprinkles both the fire and the grains of incense with holy water and incenses them with the thurible. Then all process into a darkened Church following the deacon, who carries a tall reed with a triple-branched candle. Each branch is lit from the New Fire successively as the procession moves closer toward the sanctuary, each time accompanied by a genuflection and the singing of the Lumen Christi. In the sanctuary, the Paschal candle itself is placed in a pillar next to the ambo. Once reaching the sanctuary, the magnificent rite of lighting the Paschal candle now occurs alongside the singing of the beautiful text of the Exsultet by the deacon. This whole rite – the procession of the triple candle, from which the Paschal candle is lit – symbolizes the Resurrection as the work of the Holy Trinity. The Exsultet is a ritual incantation for the lighting the candle. At the words “Therefore on this sacred night, O Holy Father, receive the evening sacrifice of this incense,” the five grains of incense are inserted into the candle. At the words, “And now we know the excellence of this pillar, which the bright fire lights for the honor of God,” the candle itself is lit. And then, at “O truly blessed night,” the whole Church, which up to this point has been in darkness, is bathed in light. The Exsultet is thus not merely a text or a song, but a ritual.

The Paschal candle is lit from the triple candle, with the FSSP in Rome.

This whole ritual, from the blessing of the fire to the Exsultet, has been radically changed, even mutilated, in the rite of Pius XII. The five grains are no longer blessed along with the fire; instead, they are inserted into the Paschal candle, which is then lit, still outside the Church, according to a ritual that is wholly novel and invented – and which has always struck me as awkward and disjointed in character. The Paschal candle itself is then carried into the Church, with the three genuflections and the Lumen Christi, which thus no longer correspond to the threefold ignition of the triple-candle, since it has been eliminated from the rite. Thus the Trinitarian symbolism of the Resurrection has been obscured – a symbolism which is fundamental to the entire Christian mystery and its universal liturgical expression – and the triple Lumen Christi has no actual liturgical function. The Paschal candle, already lit, is then placed in the center of the sanctuary, rather than next to the ambo. This is a strange departure from constant universal tradition, in which all the liturgical ritual revolves around that of the altar itself, whose centrality is never displaced. Moreover, since the candle is already lit, the symbolic and ritual function of the Exsultet is no longer existent, and the singing of that sacred text likewise no longer has any reason to exist, except as a text. This reflects a general trend in the 20th century reforms, which suppressed much of the ancient sense of the action of the liturgy, and reduced the liturgy to a mere text; or else sought to invent an arbitrary ritual with no basis in traditional symbolic modes of expression. The lack of ritual in the Exsultet is an especially disturbing loss, since the traditional rite of lighting the Paschal candle was perhaps one of the greatest highlights of the liturgical year, and now the connection of the text to the ritual action has been entirely lost: no longer are the grains of incense inserted at the words which indicate so; no longer is the candle itself lit when the texts refers to this action; and no longer is the darkness of the Church enlightened at the words which refer to the blessedness of this sacred night, which is illumined by the Resurrection.

In both rites, the singing of the Exsultet is followed by the chanting of the prophecies. In the traditional rite, there are twelve prophecies read, each of them prefiguring some aspect of the Resurrection. Some of the most beautiful and most profound texts of the entire Old Testament are sung in this rite, in which a complete picture of the history of salvation is typologically and symbolically portrayed, as it culminates in the Resurrection. In the new rite of 1955, only four of these twelve prophecies remain. Among those suppressed are some of the most vivid symbolic depictions and prophecies of some aspect of the Resurrection contained in the Old Testament: the tale of Noah and the Ark (Genesis 5, 31; 8, 21), the sacrifice of Abraham (Genesis 22, 1-19), a prophetic image of baptism and restoration (Isaiah 54, 17-55, 11), a discourse in praise of the light of wisdom (Baruch 3, 9-38), the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 12, 1-14), the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12,1-12), a discourse on penance (Jonah 3, 1-10), and the tale of the three young men in the furnace (Daniel 3, 1-24). This heavy elimination of scriptural texts is somewhat ironic, given the purported intention of the 20th century reformers to expand the quantity of scripture contained in the liturgy. In any case, a substantial body of symbolic content was lost with the suppression of these texts, with a result similar to that of the reform of Palm Sunday: no longer does the liturgy offer to us so vivid a picture of the Resurrection, as it is presented to us figuratively in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New, and participated in by God’s people – us, the worshipers – unto life everlasting. This participation occurs principally through the sacraments, especially baptism, but also through the liturgical living out of the fruits of baptism by the celebration of the Resurrection itself, which is the archetype of baptism (new life, regeneration, etc).

(To be continued.)

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Notes on "Rigidity" and "Spontaneity"

The Lesson of The Merchant of Venice: "Rigidity, thou art a heartless wench!!!"

In the histories of science, philosophy, theology, ethics, politics, social work, and liturgy, one may observe many instances of oscillation between various kinds of rigidity and spontaneity - two tendencies which sometimes complement and support each other, and sometimes seem to war against each other. It is difficult to describe the essential elements of these two tendencies. Rigidity is often a derogatory term used by the spontaneous to denote persons who appear close-minded, adverse to the surprise of life, insistent on rules and letter of the law, legalistic, reductionistic and rationalistic, "goody-two-shoes," unwilling to change, inattentive to the personal and subjective dimensions of human life, stoic and robotically unemotional, etc... There are all kind of characterizations of this tendency, which, for lack of a better term, I will be content (for now) to denominate as rigid. On the other hand, spontaneity is likewise sometimes condemned by the rigid as indiscriminate, unintentional, inattentive to unchanging truths and moral norms, lovers of novelty, adverse to tradition and custom, agents of ambiguity, "loosey-goosey," etc. Again, there are an infinity of ways to characterize this tendency in a likewise derogatory way.

So many avenues of thought and practice are characterized by the tension between these two tendencies. It is almost impossible to know where to begin in listing the examples of this tension. One example, in philosophy and theology, is the tension between scholasticism and the proponents of the nouvelle theologie. In philosophy, many proponents of a kind of phenomenology or personalism also view scholastic philosophy in this way, as a system that is overly-rigid and closed off to the rich ambiguities of the personal experience of reality. On the other hand, scholastics can view phenomenology and personalism as nothing more than a way of thought that is merely afraid of rationality and logical rigor. 

In morality, there are so many varieties and degrees of extremity on both sides of this spectrum, often characterized as a matter of the letter versus the spirit. Those who insist upon the letter of the law are, once again, often seen - sometimes quite rightly - as rigid and close-minded, judgmental and pharisaical, often even cruel and unmerciful and inconsiderate of the more complex and fluid workings of human subjectivity. Whereas those who insist upon the spirit of the law, in contradistinction to the letter, are often perceived - sometimes rightly - as effectively destroying morality itself, reducing it to a matter of sentimentality, ignoring unchanging principles and the reality of objective good and evil, adverse to any sort of punishment, relativistic, etc. Noticeably, the tension between justice and mercy often appears in this context, as does the debate over situation ethics (e.g. Veritatis Splendor versus Amoris Laetitia).

Liturgy likewise furnishes particularly interesting examples of this tension, in Catholic circles. Traditionalists are sometimes viewed as de facto rigid and legalistic, as though tradition itself were something constricting, unopen to the rich ambiguities and complexities involved in a truly personal, heartfelt, and expressive manner of worship. Tradition is merely formulaic and rubricist, an impediment to the spontaneous expression of the spirit. The opposite perception is also directed, by  liturgical traditionalists, towards the "agents of spontaneity," who are seen again as relativistic, subjectivistic, sentimental, adverse to law and the submission to law, etc. 

It is impossible to provide an exhaustive list of the tensions between "rigidity" and "spontaneity." It shows up in so many forms that it is quite hopeless to try and systematize or classify it. It is also difficult to know how to express the virtuous mean between these two extremes. The agents of spontaneity may, indeed, heartily affirm that such an effort is besides the point to the begin with; one cannot put such things into a neat formula, after all. Whereas the agents of rigidity will insist that it is necessary to have a grasp of the universal principles, which are "rigid" and unchanging, in order to really be able to arrive at a balance and equilibrium on the prudential and particular level, in matters of morality, for example. 

But the difficulty of discovering this equilibrium remains vexing and frustrating, to those who, coming from either tendency, genuinely see the need for balance with the other. There are the "rigid traditionalists" who nonetheless deplore reductionism in all its forms, and have a desire for the infinite complexities of a more human experience and encounter with the world, and with persons... And there are "spontaneous" persons, who yet desire a solid ground for their thought, their morals, their lifestyles, their spirituality. How to discover this balance?

Saturday, 24 March 2018

On the Traditional Rite of Palm Sunday

As we enter into Holy Week, it is good for traditionalists to reflect upon the liturgical reforms that have transpired in the 20th century, especially in light of the recent permission granted from Rome for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to celebrate the ancient pre-1955 rites during the next three years, in certain locations. Accordingly, I post the following essay on Palm Sunday, which is a repost from my previous blog, with some minor modifications. During the week I will also post my old articles on the Paschal Vigil. For some years I have intended to write on the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified of Good Friday, but I have not yet gotten around to it, alas. Perhaps next year I will write on Good Friday, and perhaps write a more extensive commentary on Holy Week in general, as well. In the meantime, some excellent resources on the pre-55 rites have been compiled here.
Many traditionalists are not aware of the extensive reforms to the liturgy of Holy Week which were carried out under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Most traditionalists who are aware of those reforms are of the opinion that they were either insignificant or could not be compared to the later reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council. Traditionalists associated with the SSPX generally have this view. But I think a closer look indicates very much otherwise. I have come to the conclusion that the reforms of Pius XII were a real precedent to those of Paul VI - nay, the very process of reform which produced the Novus Ordo actually began under Pius XII. (I have written elsewhere that Vatican II was only a stage in the liturgical reform, not its ultimate first cause.) This is evident first from history, but also in the effects which these reforms had on the rites themselves. I think it would not be a stretch to say that the essential problems with the Novus Ordo also exist in the reformed Holy Week of Pius XII, which is found in the 1962 Missal. 

I do not have the time or space just yet to devote to a very detailed study of the reforms; others have done so before me, in some degree or another. But I would like to say a few things in this post about the reform of Palm Sunday. 

Prior to 1955, the rite for Palm Sunday was much more elaborate than it is in the 1962 Missal, and it was filled with theological and symbolical content pertaining to the mysteries of the entire week. Palm Sunday begins to anticipate the mysteries of the Triduum and of Easter. The greatest changes, in 1955, occurred in the ceremonies prior to the Mass, in the rite for the blessing of the palms and the procession of the cross. The rite of blessing was closely structured after the order of Mass itself, with an Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, another oration corresponding to the Secret, a Preface and Sanctus, a kind of "Canon" for the rite of blessing, the distribution of the palms (corresponding to communion), and a final oration corresponding to the Postcommunion. This structure is noteworthy for what it says about the order of Mass itself, manifesting a certain continuity between the Mass and other rites of blessing. The Mass is traditionally considered as an elaborate rite of blessing, the blessing par excellence in which consecration involves transubstantiation. This is manifested by its similarity in form to other liturgical blessings, especially today's blessing of the palm branches. The structure of this blessing was totally lost in the reform of 1955.

The texts of these prayers and readings contained a vast amount of symbolic meaning, to put the mind in the frame of thought for contemplation of the sacred mysteries. The liturgy for this day provides a complete theological interpretation of Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which is a figure of His triumph over sin and death, to be definitively accomplished by His death and resurrection in just a few days. The Christian people participate in this victory of Christ, entering with  Him into the eternal Jerusalem. The first Collect is an expression of hope, enabled by Christ's death, and fulfilled by His resurrection, which is also our own. The liturgy of today thus begins showing its focus to be profoundly eschatological, a symbol of our entrance into heaven with Christ. The story of salvation is prefigured by events in the Old Testament, brought to our attention in the readings. The text of the Epistle is from the book of Exodus, chapters 15 and 16, which recounts the story of the Israelites after they had triumphantly emerged from the bondage of Egypt. "In those days, the children of Israel came unto Elim, where there were twelve fountains of water, and seventy palm-trees; and they encamped by the waters..." The Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, are the figure of the people who are saved in Christ, through His own triumph over the bondage of sin. They also prefigure the Jews who welcomed Christ into Jerusalem with palm branches. Moreover, "all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat over the flesh-pots, and ate bread to the full. Why have you brought us into this desert, that you might destroy all the multitude with famine?" Just as these Israelites here rebelled against Moses and Aaron, their leaders, so would the Jews rebel against Christ and crucify Him, whom they had first welcomed as a prophet and their King. In response to the complaints of the Israelites, "the Lord said to Moses, Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you." Likewise, God would give to His people the Bread of Life, come down from heaven, Christ Himself, who would be offered as a sacrifice and consumed by His people for their sanctification. The mystery of Christ's sacrifice will be celebrated in a special way on Holy Thursday, the feast of the Institution of the Eucharist, and in an even greater way on Good Friday, the celebration of the sacrifice itself. This text thus shows itself essential to understanding the mystery of Palm Sunday in the Roman tradition. It also introduces an unmistakable connection to the Eucharist, which is so integral to the mystery of Holy Week as a whole (See below, on the reading of the Passion).

Another text in the rite, prayed immediately after the Gospel reading, introduces another instance of Old Testament typology alongside that recounted in the Epistle, namely the story of Noah and the flood. This prayer, corresponding in position to the Secret of the Mass, explicitly refers to both the stories Noah and Moses as antetypes (ante- as in "before," not "against") of present realities: "Let these branches, whether of palm or of olive, be blessed +, and, as in the antetype of the Church, Thou didst multiply Noe, when he went forth from the ark, and Moses, when he went out of Egypt with the children of Israel, so may we, who bear palms and olive branches, go forth with good works to meet Christ, and, through Him, may we enter into everlasting joy."  This prayer shows us that through our participation in the liturgy of today, we mystically enter into the events of Palm Sunday and everything they represent, that we might be saved by our union with Christ. The relevance of the story of Noah is explicated more clearly in the proper rite of blessing - the "Canon" of the blessing of the palms - in the prayer Deus, qui per olivae. The text is as follows: "O God, Who didst appoint a dove to bring its message of peace to the earth by means of an olive branch, grant, we beseech Thee, that Thou mayest sanctify with heavenly benediction these branches of olive and of other trees, so that they may profit all Thy people unto salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen." The olive branch is thus a sign of the peace foreshadowed by the subsiding of the great flood, when the world had been cleansed of all sin, and Noah and his family could step out onto the "new earth" to begin a new life, which signifies eternal life itself. This eternal life is won for us by none other than Christ Himself and His triumph over death, which He announced upon His entry into Jerusalem. In the prayer immediately preceding, Deus, qui miro, we learn that "the palm branches, therefore, look to His triumph over the prince of death, but the sprigs of olive proclaim that in a certain manner the spiritual unction is already come."

All of the texts just cited were suppressed from the rite in 1955. The typology of Exodus no longer appears, nor the typology of Noah and the flood, nor the collects and orations; likewise all but one of the prayers that constituted the "Canon" of blessing have been abolished. Of these last there were originally six, all of which overflowed in eloquence and beauty, some which were even explicitly didactic in their manner of expression. Only the fifth of these prayers, Benedic, quaesumus, was retained, and it is placed near the very beginning of the rite. These rich texts could form the basis of a treatise on liturgical theology and the nature of liturgical signs and symbolism, which so closely resembles the nature of the sacraments themselves. In fact, it is notable that the first of these prayers, Petimus, Domine, explicitly refers to the olive branches as a sacramentum - obviously the same word which refers to the seven sacraments. Traditionalists are often stingy about using this word for anything other than the seven sacraments, and yet it is significant that the tradition itself does precisely this, in the ancient liturgy. 
FSSP in Rome

In the traditional rite, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem is itself celebrated - even re-enacted - later in the rite, in a supremely vivid manner, at the end of the procession of the cross which follows the distribution of the palms. After a long procession outside the church, accompanied by the singing of antiphons recalling the entry to Jerusalem, the clergy and faithful stop outside the doors of the church, which are now shut. A few cantors within the church alternate with the choir outside singing the hymn Gloria, Laus, et Honor, in acknowledgment of Christ's triumphal majesty. At the end of this hymn, the subdeacon who has been carrying the cross strikes the doors of the church with the staff, and the doors are then opened, clearly signifying Christ's opening the gates of the New Jerusalem by His death upon the cross, foreshadowed by His entry into the earthly Jerusalem. This profoundly vivid rite is again no longer contained in the liturgy of Palm Sunday after the reforms of 1955. 

Following the procession, the actual Mass of Palm Sunday begins. Traditionally, the recitation of the Passion, from St. Matthew, included in it the account of the institution of the Eucharist. The same is true for the Passion readings on Spy Wednesday and Good Friday. Again the essential connection of the mysteries of Holy Week to that of the Eucharist is thus made unmistakably clear. The entire Christian faith centers around the mystery of the Eucharist, which is the selfsame mystery as that of Christ's passion and death upon the cross - the culmination of Holy Week, and the ultimate source of meaning for every rite that is celebrated during this week. Hence it is eminently fitting that the account of the institution of the Eucharist be included in the Passion readings for these days. It is simply astonishing that the reform of Pope Pius XII removed these accounts from all of the Passion readings during Holy Week, with the result that not even once in the entire liturgical year do we hear the institution of the Eucharist recited, in the "Extraordinary Form" of 1962. This is no small loss. This connection to the Eucharist is also diminished in other aspects of the reform of Holy Week, specifically that of the Good Friday "Mass of the Pre-Sanctified" - a rite which also strongly paralleled the rite of an actual Mass, in a way that made abundantly clear that those rites were the re-presentation and re-visitation of the sacrifice of Christ, albeit the consecration of the host does not take place that day. This rite too was quite destroyed in 1955.

The effect of all of these changes is that the rites no longer foster so intensely the concrete acts of contemplation and participation in the mysteries of the liturgy during Holy Week. There is no longer the symbolic awareness of our progression with the triumphant Christ towards the heavenly Jerusalem, fostered by the typological and symbolical content which permeated the ancient rite. The traditional liturgy revealed itself to be the means by which we unite ourselves with Christ in all His mysteries, so that we might be united ultimately to His divinity through contemplation. This purpose is no longer perfectly clear in the new rites, which consist more of arbitrarily constructed prayers - however pious - than sacramental acts of participation. The same effect would later result from the changes that followed the Second Vatican Council. 

For a long time, most traditionalists have evaluated the post-conciliar reforms merely on the basis of their doctrinal clarity (or orthodoxy) or lack thereof. The standard argument is that the Pauline reforms were an ecumenical attempt to make concessions in the liturgy to the false doctrines of Protestantism. There may well be truth to this argument. But I would strongly propose that it is only a small part of the story, and the damage done is more than mere doctrinal and formulaic ambiguity. Doctrinal expression is one means that the liturgy employs for the sake of contemplation; right formulation of doctrine is not an end in itself, but an aid to the right perception of the symbolism of liturgical poetry and ritual. But this end can be hindered also through other means than doctrinal-formulaic, such as the attack on symbolism itself; and this is what seems to have taken place in the reforms of 1955.

There is more that could be said. For a detailed summary and analysis of the reform, I would recommend the excellent series written by Gregory DiPippo here. There is also this article by Fr. Steven Carusi, providing some valuable liturgical and theological commentary on the reform. Others, such as The Rad TradRubricarius at St. Lawrence Press (search the relevant topics), and Fr. Hunwicke have also had some things to say about Holy Week on their own blogs. It is my hope that  mainstream traditionalists will grow more aware of these issues, and more action be taken in parishes around the world.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Recommended Reading and Listening - Andrew W. Jones

Dr. Andrew Willard Jones is a Catholic historian, and the director of the St. Paul Biblical Center, at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio. He has recently published a book, Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX, which has quickly become very popular among integralist-traditionalist Catholics. The book is a hefty academic monograph, almost 500 pages long, and it goes into great detail investigating the social order of 13th century France, in order to prove a controversial and decidedly anti-modern thesis concerning the relationship of "Church and State" in the Middle Ages. Modern history tends to construe the categories of "Church" and "State, or "religious" and "secular," as parallel and dualistically opposed categories that are in a necessary state of competitive tension. Not only this, but "State" and the "secular" are considered the primary and constant sphere of reality, whereas "religion" and the "Church" are something inconstant that comes and goes, occasionally trying to supplant the sovereignty of the secular sphere, but only ever simply modifying it. Religion is itself reduced to just one ideology among many ideologies which occasionally modify the secular sphere, which itself remains constant, eternal, and transcendent. Accordingly, the Middle Ages are seen as a time when the Catholic Church competed with the secular monarchies for a kind of universal and temporal sovereignty. Religion was a competitor with the secular, and one destined to fail - and fail it did. The State, of course, emerged victorious as it always does.

Dr. Jones seeks to entirely dismantle this typical modern narrative. I have not yet read the entire book, but once I finish it I may publish a longer book review. (But first, I recommend the review made by Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., over at First Things. I also recommend the writing of Pater Edmund and his colleagues at The Josias on the subject of integralism, which is the name for the central position of Before Church and State.) So far, what I have read of this book is excellent. Jones gives concrete historical evidence that, contrary to modern accounts, in the Middle Ages the secular and the religious were not considered, in either theory or practice, as separate parallel entities vying for sovereignty; rather they were two tiers of a single hierarchic order of the social reality. This single order was, simply put, the Church, or the City of God. There were no modern categories of "Church" and "State," or "religious" and "secular," as these are understood today; these categories did not exist. This is a strong claim; but I think it is fair to say that although there was a distinction between two "spheres" of reality, these spheres were hardly separate realities, but interrelated and interpenetrating spheres of a single hierarchical order. Dr. Jones stresses the sacramental character of this medieval conception: as body and soul are distinct but not separate in the single being of a man, so are the temporal and the spiritual realms certainly distinct but entirely integrated with one another, according to the authentic medieval conception of social order. Just as the body, being integrally united to the soul, is charged with spiritual meaning (symbolism), so was the temporal sphere of the "State" inherently charged with meaning and significance for the eternal and spiritual destiny of mankind. And mankind is a naturally political and religious species of animal, and these imply each other. 


But again, I will leave a longer review for later, once I finish the book. But some of the main points of interest are covered also in the following three lectures, which Dr. Jones delivered in Steubenville in 2015. Again, Jones here emphasizes the dimension of sacramentality; and he intends to publish another book in the near future that addresses the notion of the liturgical cosmos in the worldview inhabited by Pope Innocent III at the time of the IVth Latern Council. These lectures are enlightening not only for the historical information which, as Dr. Jones observes, often seems left out from common courses in medieval history or Catholic theology, but also for the inherently meaningful and liturgically oriented worldview of the medieval people. There is much material here which pertains very closely to my own long-term (hopeful) project in exploring traditional philosophical and theological approaches to religious symbolism, especially in the context of liturgical theology. Of special interest is the role played here by the four senses of scripture, which offer a framework not only for Biblical interpretation but also for a whole way of life envisioned by the Christians of the Middle Ages - a way of life which culminates in and flows from the sacramental life of the liturgy, which is thus the fount and apex of a truly Christian and political life. 

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Friday, 16 March 2018

Recovering Symbolic Realism

Theologians debating about symbolic realism.

"Merely symbolic.

Traditional and conservative Catholics are used to hearing these words as a way of watering down the Catholic belief in the sacraments and the Eucharist, and by extension the Incarnation itself. When we learn how to engage in typical Catholic apologetics of the Eucharist, and the proper interpretation of John 6, we are taught that Christ cannot mean that the bread of the Eucharist is "merely a symbol" of His body; rather, He means precisely what He says, that one must eat His actual body. It is real. Likewise, in the institution narrative, when He says "This is my body," He does not say "This is a symbol of my body." Jesus is insisting on the realism of the sacrament, a realism that metaphysically transcends all of our former conceptions of what it means for something to be real. The Protestants and the Modernists, then, are wrong to think of the Eucharist as a "mere symbol." We Catholics must respond to them that it is not a symbol, but a reality. Christ is really present in His body, blood, soul, and divinity. He is not merely symbolized. The Catholic author, Flannery O'Connor, once said of the Eucharist: "If it is a symbol, then to Hell with it."

Taking my cue largely from the work of Jean Borella, but also from certain hints in Hans Urs von Balthasar, I would like to suggest a slightly different approach. The Protestants and the Modernists are wrong, certainly; but I think something more fundamental to their error is the assumption that symbol and reality are mutually exclusive. The Catholic apologetic response to the Protestant and Modernist error about the Eucharist also rests on the same assumption. The Protestant says, The Eucharist is merely a symbol. The Catholic apologist responds, No, it is not a symbol: it is real. I, however, prefer to say: It is both. Symbolism and Realism are not mutually exclusive; indeed, I think it is philosophically necessary to maintain that symbolism and realism uphold each other, and it cannot be otherwise.

Naturally, this conviction of mine is rooted in a certain Platonic worldview which sees the reality of things as consisting precisely in their character as symbolic of a higher order of reality. Participation is the ground of the existence and intelligibility of things in our experience. In the classical, Neoplatonic sense, a symbol is precisely nothing other than an immanent participation in a transcendent intelligible order. The symbol reveals reality itself as the togetherness of immanence and transcendence, contingency and necessity, change and permanence, matter and form, etc.; and yet it is a togetherness in which these dual dimensions remain distinct. To speak in the terms of William Desmond, the symbol is a mode of metaxological mediation. Metaxology is a speaking of the Between; the symbol pertains to the betweenness of being, flanked by the same and the other, participating in both, jointly but distinctly. The symbol mediates between immanence and transcendence, as a mode of being between them. 

Certainly, it would be wrong to equate the sacramentality of the Incarnation or the Eucharist with the mode of symbolism that is described by Platonic participation. The man, Jesus Christ, does not merely participate in the Divine Nature; rather, He is hypostically united to it. One may point to the man, Christ, and truthfully declare that He is God, and God is a man, in a literal sense. The reality surpasses participation; whereas the is of a metaphor - "God is the rock of my salvation" - is not literal. Likewise, the Eucharist is Christ in a manner that is not metaphorical, but literal; one identifies the Eucharist as being the substance of Christ Himself. A metaphor does not designate any such identification. Yet it is not therefore unreal. The is of a metaphor designates a different reality than that of identity, to be sure; but it does designate a reality. The rock participates in God by a likeness that is ontologically grounded, and thus constitutes a real pathway of communication with the transcendence that it symbolizes; it is not merely fantastical, as an image of that transcendence. This is what the notion of symbolism is meant to communicate: the real possibility of "touching" transcendence. In this sense, the person of Christ, or the sacrament of the Eucharist, is definitely and undoubtedly a symbol, not by way of participation, but by way of identity. (Of course, one must understand this identity properly; it is hypostatic, i.e. it is not an identity of the human and divine natures, but of the Person who is both Man and God.) Christ is the symbol par excellence; He is in a sense the archetype of every symbol, that towards which all symbols tend. Participation is, in some sense, a desire for identity, though it also involves the recognition of non-identity. Yet identity is mysteriously and hypostatically achieved in Christ. 

I do understand, of course, where the typical response of Catholic apologetics - which is also the response of Pius X to the Modernists, in Pascendi Dominici Gregis - is coming from. There are perhaps two reasons that may partially justify the mindset which engenders the response, It is not a symbol: it is real. 1) A desire to avoid reducing the Eucharistic presence to a fiction, and thus something unreal; and 2) a desire to avoid reducing the substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist to a mere presence by participation. The former desire rests on a misunderstanding of symbolism as something contrary to realism. The latter, however, is more justifiable, because within symbolism itself there is indeed a distinction between participation and identity (or substantial presence), even though both are quite real. Nonetheless, symbol does not mean only participation, but togetherness; and never were immanence and transcendence more together than in either the person of Christ or the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is why I think it is more proper to say that these realities are symbols in the most radical sense, par excellence. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Tradition and Democracy - And Chesterton

I have noticed that many traditionalist Catholics love to quote the attractive and witty words of G.K.Chesterton, from chapter 4 ("The Ethics of Elfland") of his book Orthodoxy, on the compatibility of the concepts of tradition and democracy. One has to admit that in this chapter, Chesterton seems to turn the liberal idea of an anti-traditional democracy on its head, appealing to classical notions of the common good versus the private good, and the primacy of the former, in order to put forward a defense of democracy as something essentially harmonious with tradition. There is certainly much in his argument that is very worth considering. But I have reasons to think that it does not work so well as Chesterton thinks,  and I suspect him of a very deep misunderstanding of the notion of common good. Readers should beware not to be misled by the genius of Chesterton's use of words - and it is truly undeniable that few men have ever mastered the art of persuasion as well as Chesterton. Nevertheless I think he is quite wrong about democracy, and specifically about the relationship between democracy and tradition. The famous paragraph on tradition is as follows:
But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad. Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club, along with the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.
There is, again, much in this passage that is attractive, even to me as I read it now with a critical eye.  There are many respects in which I think, practically speaking, tradition is lived on the ground, so to speak; it flourishes in the context of communities, in the villages and among the people. There is much in the process of tradition that works "from the bottom up." But I think Chesterton errs in seemingly reducing it to the opinion of the many, even the many stretched over time. Recall Socrates' great defense in the Crito of the opinion of the wise over that of the many. It is wisdom, not numbers, that is the guarantor of truth.

One might respond: "But Socrates was hardly a traditionalist! He was the great innovator of his time!" But tradition has a way of being shatteringly new (how's that for a Chestertonian paradox?), especially to men of a fallen nature, who are constantly inclined to fall away from the truth of permanent things - to abandon the Oneness and Sameness of Truth for the dispersed chaos of wanton novelty and individualistic autonomy. The many as such, when left to their own devices, have no guarantee of persevering in fidelity to the permanent values; as many, they are just that: many, and not one. If then they are to be united, whence does their unity originate? There must a principle of unity. To posit a principle is already to acknowledge the necessity of hierarchy for the sake of unity-in-multiplicity. Indeed, the classical notion of the common good led St. Thomas Aquinas to argue in De Regno that commonality in society is best preserved by oneness of government; and thus, at least in principle, it is monarchy and not democracy that is the ideal form of government. Tradition is a kind of unity that can only be received, in its most fundamental sense, from above. The "process" of tradition is fundamentally a hierarchical, top-down motion. (Hence, tyranny in ancient Greece meant both the corruption of monarchy and the violation of sacred tradition; these meanings were inseparable.)

Even from a historical point of view - it seems to me at least (I suppose I can be corrected) - Chesterton's thought here is surprising, to say the least. The democratizing of Western society in the modern age was never conceived as a return to traditional values; if anything, it usually coincided with their rejection. It was always conceived in some sense as an escape from hierarchy, which was seen as the unwelcome representative of permanence and rigidity, an obstacle to the true flourishing of individual human freedom. In a sense, the liberals were right: hierarchy is part-and-parcel of the structure of tradition; although they were wrong to think that this necessarily impinges on true human freedom; they merely failed to conceive of freedom itself aright.

In the religious order, especially the supernatural order of Catholicism, one cannot fail to observe that tradition is inherently bound up with hierarchy. The Catholic religion is very little like a democracy; it is rather a monarchy, in which God Himself reigns as King, and the hierarchical ecclesiastical institution is but the emanation of His divine authority on earth. To leave religious faith in the hands of the many, apart from hierarchical tradition, would be to spell disaster for the Church; tradition is inconceivable apart from the miracle of revelation, in which the truth is literally given to us from heaven. In a derivative sense, tradition would likewise cease to be visible without the authority of its principal earthly guardians: in the Church, the Magisterium; in the State, the ruler subject to the Church.

There is much to be said, of course, for Chesterton's instinct to look for the living tradition in the lives of the people, at the ground level. This is, after all, where one hopes the tradition itself to flourish: in the worship of the faithful, in the village festivities, in the dances and songs of country-folk, in the artistic achievements of individuals among the masses, etc. Indeed, one hopes and expects the common people to be faithful to the tradition, and even to contribute to its ongoing growth and maturation. For this to work, they must receive it from others. But this is not merely a temporal reception from past generations: each generation is also responsible in its own time for the preservation of tradition, which must be given to them not only as a thing of the past, but as a thing of abiding and atemporal relevance; and thus it must be represented not merely by past generations, but also and especially by hierarchical authority and nobility. The people cannot be left on their own as the receivers of tradition; there must always be also the continuous existence or representation of the giver of tradition. God speaks through His ministers, who are the instruments of His Tradition. Theirs is a sacred ministry indeed, through which God communicates the spark of the divine impulse unto those who are faithful - or through which He likewise communicates the fire of His wrath unto those who are unfaithful.

There is much more to say about Chesterton's thoughts in this chapter, which is certainly full of his usual wit and his taste for paradoxes. But it is also here that, in appearing to be the defender of tradition, Chesterton is in fact manifesting his most liberal side (indeed, he himself admits his own liberal background in the same chapter). I am a true admirer of Chesterton, and I certainly do not wish to detract from his reputation as a great Catholic thinker; but on this particular issue I suspect him of a grave misunderstanding.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Notes on Escapism

Escaping to Valinor... painted by Alan Lee

A couple days ago, I had a very personal discussion with someone very dear to me, in which we touched on the subject of escapism. Life can be difficult, and we can be tempted to desire to escape from it. This desire for escape is pursued in many forms. But I think one of the powerful, and in a way the most fundamental, forms of escapism is an escapism of the imagination. In our discussion, I suddenly realized something about myself - and about very many people, I think; and that is that I am an escapist. I frequently wish I that were somewhere else; that the situations of my life were different; that I did not have to face the problems that might happen to afflict me in the present moment. In my case, this has always involved the act of imagining being in other scenarios. All my life, ever since I was a young child, I have loved to fantasize about being elsewhere, or being someone else, or achieving other things, or having other opportunities. I have always been a dreamer. I have concocted some of the greatest epics, adventures, fairy tales, and romances, all inside my head, and all with a great sense of longing or nostalgia - for even though none of these stories were really memories for me, they have often become so powerfully ingrained in my imagination that I treat them as memories; hence the feelings of nostalgia. But all of this was only a form of escapism, a way of distracting myself from unpleasant or mundane situations; after "waking up" from these idyllic fantasies, I always find myself confronted with the present, and its tasks and obligations.

This habit is something I wish to suppress in myself. It is difficult to suppress it, or even to want to suppress it; in a way, the escapist memory is something I have treasured very deeply. It is something in which I have often taken very great delight, especially when it was something like a relief from present mundanities. But the fact remains that it was always unreal, and almost useless... So I wish to suppress it. In many ways, when I reflect upon myself and my virtues and my vices (something which I can also do quite obsessively), this habit strikes me as weakness, as the fear of duty, the fear of being practical, the fear of making sacrifices, etc.


However... and perhaps this is precisely my weakness speaking... I cannot help but recall and assent entirely to the words of J.R.R. Tolkien about Escape, in his wonderful essay On Fairy Stories. There he very clearly distinguishes true escape from mere desertion, in the context of literary criticism. To cite a wonderful paragraph:
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the Führer's or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery. In the same way these critics, to make confusion worse, and so to bring into contempt their opponents, stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion, but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the “quisling” to the resistance of the patriot. To such thinking you have only to say “the land you loved is doomed” to excuse any treachery, indeed to glorify it. (Pg. 20 in the linked copy.)
I find this very similar to my own thoughts on nostalgia generally speaking. There is a good and bad nostalgia, just as there is escapism and desertion. To engage in a virtuous escapism - especially through the ordering of one's imagination to the proper enjoyment and production of virtuous fairy stories and works of art in general - one must be able to distinguish the senses in which the present life is both real and unreal - both a haven and a prison. William Desmond (a great philosopher, and one of my teachers) might say, following Diotima, that it is something between. Love itself is something between; it is neither fully immanent, nor fully transcendent, but it is the dynamic that occurs between the here and there, what is close and what is beyond. Diotima teaches Socrates a lesson in true escapism, in the Symposium - just as Socrates likewise teaches to his interlocutors in the allegory of the cave. The soul that finds himself in the between knows both that he does not belong there - hence he is seeking to escape, as from a prison or a cave, into the sunlight of the Other world; and yet he also does belong there - hence he returns into the cave, having been enlightened by the Sun, and continues to involve himself in worldly matters with a new sense of competence. The escapism of the prisoner should not be scorned, indeed it is nothing but perfectly understandable that any man should yearn to return home to "the real world" outside the prison, outside the cave. But this life is not only a prison: it is also the city, the place of duty and offices; hence, the desertion of the citizen and the soldier, and especially the unwillingness of the rulers, may and should indeed be scorned.

Virtuous escapism is, in a sense, even necessary for Christian mindfulness. St. Augustine taught of the City of God - in essence, the heavenly Jerusalem, an idyllic paradise. It is something other than the City of Man on earth, which is its opposite: darkness, sinfulness, suffering, destined for condemnation. A man is right to be an escapist, in this sense; he is right to long for the City of God, and to escape from the prison that is the City of Man. "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, as we remembered Sion..." And yet, Augustine teaches, the City of God is itself often found in a confused proximity with the City of Man; they often appear to be mixed with each other. The City of God is also present on earth, in the life of the present, by participation, in the visible form that is the Church (and the State when united to the Church). In this way, the present is not merely a prison; it is also the place where man finds heaven itself. The presence of the City of God in our midst - and the Platonic truth of participation - allows a man to be an escapist without having to be a deserter.

Romano Guardini writes, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, of a sort of liturgical escapism, which is like the escapism of art - both of which he compares to the play of children, who love to pretend they are in a different world:
As life progresses, conflicts ensue, and it appears to grow ugly and discordant. Man sets before himself what he wants to do and what he should do, and tries to realize this in his life. But in the course of these endeavors he learns that many obstacles stand in his way, and he perceives that it is very seldom that he can attain his ideal. 
It is in a different order, in the imaginary sphere of representation, that man tries to reconcile the contradiction between that which he wishes to be and that which he is. In art he tries to harmonize the ideal and actuality, that which he ought to be and that which he is, the soul within and nature without, the body and the soul. Such are the visions of art. It has no didactic aims, then; it is not intended to inculcate certain truths and virtues. A true artist has never had such an end in view. In art, he desires to do nothing but to overcome the discord to which we have referred, and to express in the sphere of representation the higher life of which he stands in need, and to which in actuality he has only approximately attained. The artist merely wants to give life to his being and its longings, to give external form to the inner truth. And people who contemplate a work of art should not expect anything of it but that they should be able to linger before it, moving freely, becoming conscious of their own better nature, and sensing the fulfillment of their most intimate longings. But they should not reason and chop logic, or look for instruction and good advice from it. 
The liturgy offers something higher. In it man, with the aid of grace, is given the opportunity of realizing his fundamental essence, of really becoming that which according to his divine destiny he should be and longs to be, a child of God. In the liturgy he is to go "unto God, Who giveth joy to his youth." All this is, of course, on the supernatural plane, but at the same time it corresponds to the same degree to the inner needs of man's nature. Because the life of the liturgy is higher than that to which customary reality gives both the opportunity and form of expression, it adopts suitable forms and methods from that sphere in which alone they are to be found, that is to say, from art. It speaks measuredly and melodiously; it employs formal, rhythmic gestures; it is clothed in colors and garments foreign to everyday life; it is carried out in places and at hours which have been coordinated and systematized according to sublimer laws than ours. It is in the highest sense the life of a child, in which everything is picture, melody and song. (Chapter 5)
Indeed, the liturgy is the place where the Christian lives out his citizenship of the City of God. The liturgy is where the Christian escapes into eternity, which is where he belongs in the truest sense. The liturgy is heaven made incarnate - or earth itself being brought above its own earthliness, brought into communion with its own eschatological destiny. In liturgical worship, where sacraments and symbols and sublime art - not to mention grace and the Eucharistic presence - transform the visible atmosphere into a living revelation, we enter the House of God, and there partake of His inner life. Entering into the life of God, which is like an eternal ritual of love and self-gift, we enter into a whole new world - quite literally, indeed more than literally. God is more than world; being in God, we are in a Universe which infinitely transcends all universes, and transcends the fantasies that our imaginations might concoct; a universe whose inner motions of loving contemplation far surpass the cosmic motions of our own infinitesimal universe. Ours might seem to be a kingdom of infinite space, but in fact we are merely bounded in a nutshell; a prison. In the liturgy, we glimpse through the pores of our prison-cell-shell the true kingdom, and for a moment we linger there like dreamy escapists. One day our nutshell will crack open - or to employ another ancient image, we will hatch forth as from an egg, being born into Eternity...

There are hosts of poetic symbols one might employ for the escape into Eternity. Cave, grave, tomb, womb, egg/nutshell, prison-cell, earth, birth... These are ancient symbols, found in all the traditional religions, and far from absent in Christianity. They reveal escapism as something fundamental to religion itself. 

It seems, then, that the cultivation of true mindfulness and virtue requires us to cultivate a true escapism - which is not desertion. In an individual soul, especially of the melancholic type, these two attitudes might perhaps be confused and mixed. Mindfulness will distinguish them and separate them. Training for mindfulness might involve the cultivation of an appreciation for art, poetry, mythology, fairy stories, music, and above all, liturgical worship and the sacraments.