Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Guardian on Calvin

Why won't John Calvin die? | Cif belief: The question | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

This Friday is the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth, and the tradition he founded is still in pretty good shape. There are something like 80 million Calvinists around the world, grouped in slightly fewer denominations. This is extraordinary to an English mindset...What is it that accounts for the success of the ideas of John Calvin, when so many of his contemporaries among the reformers are forgotten?

FYI--a response by the Guardian, and its readers, to the Calvin's 500th birthday.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Aestheticism and Authenticity

This is the Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, a repository of artistic and conceptual kitch constructed on the site of a real shrine that went out of business at the Reformation. Built during the grand finale of Anglo-Catholicism Triumphant in the UK, the aim was to recapture the pre-Reformation piety of the English Church before The Stripping of the Altars, to show everyone that Anglicans really were Catholic dammit, and to prove that Anglo-Catholics weren't just a bunch of aesthetes and fakers.

But why, one asks, did the builders of the shrine and many other educated, sophisticated people with good taste--including perhaps Eleanor Stump in her commendation of St. Louis Music--feel they had to do kitch to prove that they were really religious? It may be an Anglican thing you wouldn't understand but here is the story.

I grew up in Paterson, NJ, the shooting site (in more ways than one) of several Sopranos episodes. In Paterson there were just two ethnic groups: Italian and Not Italian. The People of the Land were Italian and the state religion was Mediteranean Folk Catholicism, which ran to lawn statuary and shocking representations of the Sacred Heart.

Growing up as we did, I and other Patersonians saw Catholicism as real religion, the industry standard, in the way that most Americans now view conservative, evangelical Protestantism as paradigmatic Christianity. And the Catholicism we saw was the Catholicism of Sicilian peasants--tacky, trashy and frankly superstitious though, on the bright side, not in the least guilt-inducing: supernatural beings operated as a transcendental Mafia who could be wheedled and bribed.

Given this picture of what real religion was like we developed two rather strange ideas about religious authenticity:

(1) If it's tasteful, beautiful or aesthetically interesting it's not real religion. Catholics were the only people who put themselves out for religion, who went to church every Sunday (or sent their womenfolk to go proxy) whether they felt like it or not, who stuck with bad marriages because divorce was against the rules. And their stuff was kitch--they weren't just in it for the aesthetics. In fact they weren't into it for aesthetics at all.

(2) If it's reflective, sophisticated, or involves a seriously considered intellectual commitment it's not real religion. Indeed, if it was something in which one was interested it wasn't real religion. The Catholicism we saw was culture religion. It was inherited, reinforced by classical conditioning and never questioned. It was part of the world-taken-for-granted, more of the boring stuff you had to do but never really thought about. We believed that this stimulus-response, taken-for-granted religion was a deep part of the self in a way that religion which was taken on as a matter of conviction was not.

So this was the model of authentic religion for us and, I suspect, for the movement in the Church of England that produced such self-conscious monstrosities as Walsingham in the interests of religious authenticity. Now one asks: why did Anglicans, who possessed any number of pre-Reformation churches, lovingly restored and maintained by the National Trust, want Walsingham?

The story is similar to the Paterson story. During the 19th century--a century which I believe should never have happened--Anglican Romantics became convinced that the 18th century killed real religion: the religion of the Middle Ages and the Irish immigrant working class. So in the interests of religious authenticity this was the religious sensibility they tried to emulate.

The irony, perhaps paradox, of these attempts was that striving for authenticity precludes any possibility of attaining it. Call it the Walsingham Paradox. It isn't even the sheer ugliness of the place--I've seen much, much worse--but the overwhelming, embarrassing inauthenticity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

One thought about Rik's paper

I wanted to comment on Rik's great paper. I think I disagree, but I really like his project. I'll put my challenge this way. Consider two cases. The first is the case of the paralyzed person who nonetheless can commemorate in a way that is what we were calling "parasitic" upon the more dominant examples. (Say a paralyzed person prays the Rosary without actually fingering the beads). Here we have a person who commemorates the mysteries simply through the acquiring of certain mental and brain states. Now take the case of a Carthaginian Christian who was not discovered in the Decian persecution. After the fallout, the person claims that she would have succumbed to persecution had she only been found out (though in fact she was not found out). This seems to be a claim of being in the state of conditionally willing the commemoration of the Roman gods (and some of their actions, whatever those might have been taken to be). Are the states of the paralyzed person and the Carthaginian all that different? Clearly there's a kind of conditional state for the paralyzed person, too. ("I would be saying the 'Glory Be' between the first and second decades right now if only I were able to move my fingers"). The most obvious difference between the paralyzed person and the Carthaginian is that the paralyzed person wants to commemorate in the full physical sense, but the Carthaginian does not want to commemorate in the full physical sense. Nonetheless, they both are in a kind of counterfactual state like the following: "If circumstances c were actual, I would will to commmemorate in the full physical sense." So why does the first case count as commemoration (even if it is parasitic on more full-blooded examples) while the second case (of the Carthaginian) does not? Rik may have an answer to this, I'm just interested to hear what it might be.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Remembering the Future

Not much was said about it during the discussion of Rik's paper this morning, but I thought it worth underlining the fact that most Christians commemorate a future event, namely the parousia. In the anaphora or eucharistic prayer of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the priest prays, "Remembering, therefore, this saving commandment, and all that was done for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand, and the second and glorious coming."

This eschatological feature of Orthodox theology that we saw in Schmemann is the subject of a forthcoming book by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, Remembering the Future: An Eschatological Ontology. I thought you might find the following quote on ecclesiology suggestive, taken from Metropolitan John's Lectures in Christian Dogmatics.

"Saint Maximus the Confessor .... [integrates] the cosmological approach, which refers creation to its origins, into the eschatological approach, which looks forward to the future kingdom of God. Maximus took the cosmology of Origen and made it eschatological, transferring its reference from the beginning to the end, so dethroning Plato. He turns us around from the past to the future so that the eschatological community became the centre of ecclesiology again. When cosmology is reconciled with eschatology, we get the eschatological community in the divine Eucharist and the body of the Church. This single eschatological community incorporates the logos of beings, the world, as realities that come to us from the future. The events of he end which the Church portrays are not about this people only, but about creation as a whole. Just as each Christian represents in his own body the gathering and redemption of material creation, so the whole Church is the assembling of all creation in Christ, who is himself the final truth of all things. This ecclesiology gives us an account of mankind in which the new Adam recapitualtes all things, and so it overcomes the dichotomy of individual and eucharistic ecclesiologies" [p. 131].

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Real Presence - Google Docs

Here is my paper which I'll be alluding to in my presentation this coming week. I've now changed my mind about some things. Comments greatly appreciated!

Note: you can easily upload papers to Google Docs as I've done with the paper linked here for discussion and comment.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Three Cheers for Mrs. Murphy!

Since Liturgy is not frozen, I think that Kavanagh's Mrs. Murphy has an important role. There are stories about how much of Rahner's theological work (I would gather especially in the Investigations) came from his encounters with the concerns of ordinary parishioners in the confessional. Of course, there is the need to pull out the theology from the liturgy, but there is also the need to infuse the liturgy with the evolving piety of the people and their own Christian understandings. Why isn't this process of give and take (taking from the liturgy, but giving to it from our experience as well) just the process of liturgical theology? Although I think Von Allmen's concern for God's freedom is misplaced, the point he's trying to make is one that draws a conclusion from his theology to the way that he thinks liturgy makes more sense. Here I agree with Patrick in thinking that primitivity is not the only good to be sought. Clearly there are some ways in which a connection to the ancient Christian past can and must be prized, but liturgy and theology develop, and there is much good in that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Liturgy gone didactic

Regarding Kavanaugh's speculation that the availability of the Bible and other religious material in print encouraged the understanding of church services as instructional it seems that the opposite should have been the case. With widespread literacy and the ready availability of Bibles and other religious books one would think that there was less motivation to use church services for instruction--people could read the stuff at home.

Along these lines here's a heretical thought: maybe sermons should be abolished. Given virtually universal literacy (in developed countries) and ready access to information through printed media and the internet, do we need sermons? If so, for what?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Calvin's Floating Communion Service

I'm still puzzled about why Genevans objected to Calvin's program of having Communion services at different churches every Sunday since such a policy would have been permissive. If someone wanted to go for Communion every Sunday they could--by going to a different church every Sunday. If they didn't want to go for Communion every Sunday, they didn't have to. They could stick with the same church and go for Communion whenever it was offered there. Or, for that matter, they could go for Communion as frequently or infrequently as they pleased.

Even assuming that every Genevan was required to go to church every Sunday, given this policy, no one would have to go for Communion more (or less) often than he wanted to. So where was the the beef? Am I missing something? Why would anyone oppose merely making it feasible for individuals to go for Communion every Sunday if that was what they preferred?

Thoughts on "How the Liturgy Might Have Been If..."

I had been hoping to talk more about Nick’s paper this morning, but we moved away from it without really getting into any discussion of his characterization of St. Thomas and the medieval liturgy. So this blog is a nice opportunity to say more.

The first thing that struck me about Nick’s paper is that he appears to exemplify an attitude towards getting liturgy right that I find completely wrong. I don’t think it’s a surprise that a Catholic and a Reformed Christian would have some significant disagreements on such matters. But it’s worth mentioning this one in particular, I think, because it seems important, and I’m not sure whether the point I’m about to make would be obvious to everyone.

Nick likes the “balanced” approach to liturgy he finds in St. Justin Martyr. He may very well have independent reasons for embracing that approach, but it does appear that he takes the antiquity of that approach to be an important argument in its favor. As he says, at the time of St. Justin, the liturgy had settled in, but hadn’t yet become “encrusted.” (185) It’s as though we’re getting closer to the mind of Christ (or at least the Apostles), with respect to the liturgy, by modeling our liturgy on the early forms.

I think antiquity is a great thing, and other things being equal, I’m in favor of old stuff over new stuff. But Pope Pius XII has given a rather stern warning about antiquity:

The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world…. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form…. Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas…. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20111947_mediator-dei_en.html

The thrust of this passage, as I see it, is the very simple point that we ought not to think of the early liturgy as though it provided a structure that needed to be preserved at all times. This seems entirely right to me.

Is the balance in the medieval mass leaning heavily towards Eucharist and away from Word? Sure. Some of the reason for that may be human elements that have crept into the liturgy and corrupted it to some extent. (I’m certainly not so silly as to suggest that everything about medieval liturgy was admirable, although I probably see much more to admire about it than do many others in the seminar.) On the other hand, maybe the reason for the “imbalance” is that the Church came to see the Divine Office as being more the time for Scripture reading and meditation on God’s word, and the mass as being more the time for Eucharist. (And, no doubt, many other such considerations.) But to whatever extent the Church comes to see the liturgy as not being done well, I think the way to fix that is not simply to try to head back to the early liturgy, but rather to correct the excesses or defects while keeping the developments that seem to have been genuine promptings of the Spirit. Nick does make a gesture in that direction, by noting that the various liturgical reforms have “enriched” the early form with some later developments. So this may just be a dispute over emphasis.

But I don’t think it’s just emphasis: there’s substantive disagreement, too, since some of what I would claim are fundamentally important and wholly irreformable developments, Nick seems to see as unfortunate encrustations or deviations. One such development is the mature sacramental theology of the Church. And I have two concerns about Nick’s account of St. Thomas on the sacraments. First, Nick seems to interpret the causality of the sacraments as somehow minimizing God’s causal role: “God,” he says, “is content to remain in the background.” (191) This is very far from how I understand St. Thomas. The sacraments are true causes, yes, but not as independent agents. They are, as Nick rightly says, instrumental causes. A standard example of an instrumental cause is the pen I use to write with. The pen is a cause of the appearing of the words on the page. But it’s not a cause that pushes me into the background. An account of how a manuscript gets written that mentions the pen, but neglects to mention the author, wouldn’t just be incomplete or quirky, but would in fact be profoundly misleading. Likewise, one simply cannot accept the Church’s sacramental theology in any sensible way, and in any sense at all keep God in the background. Keeping God in the background is wholly inconsistent with accepting Catholic sacramental theology.

Second, Nick suggests that St. Thomas’ account of the Eucharist pulls the Eucharist out of the sacramental system: “presence displaces sacrament.” (194) I agree that this is a tricky area, but I actually think St. Thomas’s doctrine of the Eucharist is wholly consistent and, in fact, the crowning achievement of his sacramental theology.

To see why, consider the standard medieval threefold distinction: in any sacrament, there is (a) what is sacrament only, (b) what is sacrament and thing, and (c) what is thing only. In the case of baptism, what is sacrament only is the water and the washing (the purely symbolic elements). What is thing and sacrament is the baptismal character that is imparted to the recipient. And what is thing only is the baptismal grace imparted to the recipient. The elements can come apart. Imagine baptizing a person who sincerely desires to be baptized, but who is living in sin and has no intention of changing that. In such a case, the baptismal character is imparted, but the baptismal grace is not. In other words, the person is baptized, but it does him no good. Now imagine baptizing an adult who completely repudiates the whole thing: doesn’t want baptism, doesn’t believe any of the stuff involved, etc. Such a person doesn’t receive the baptismal grace, of course, but also fails to receive the baptismal character. This person hasn’t been baptized. There has been no baptism unless the sacrament and thing is present in the recipient. (Similarly, there has been no marriage if one of the supposed spouses doesn’t really intend to be married. And so forth.) (For some discussion of all this with respect to baptism, see http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4068.htm#article4 and some surrounding articles, especially 7.)

In the case of baptism and all the other sacraments except the Eucharist, both the thing only and the sacrament and thing are in the recipient. For this reason, St. Thomas will say that the sacraments (except Eucharist) contain something sacred in reference to something else (the recipient). But the Eucharist contains something sacred absolutely. Namely, the Body and Blood of Christ. To apply the above threefold distinction to the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ are the sacrament and thing, the sacrament only is the bread and wine (falsely so-called), and the thing only is the grace imparted to the recipient. As we saw with baptism, what is essential for the sacrament to have “occurred” is that the sacrament and thing have been made present. But the sacrament and thing with respect to the Eucharist is present irrespective of whether anyone receives the Eucharist. The sacredness of the Eucharist is not merely in reference to some recipient, but absolute. The Eucharist is hence a unique sacrament—which Catholics would have insisted on anyway—but still a sacrament. Its sacramentality hasn’t been displaced by presence, but rather the fullness of sacramentality has been achieved in the sacramental presence of the immolated Lord.

The concern one might have about all this (I mean, aside from doubts about the whole theological picture) is that St. Thomas says that sacraments are signs of holy things insofar as they make men holy. But with respect to the Eucharist, the need to make men holy has dropped out. So hasn’t the sacramentality gone with it? In fact, St. Thomas writes (in a passage cited by Nick in n. 28) “this sacrament is both a sacrifice and a sacrament; it has the nature of a sacrifice insomuch as it is offered up; and it has the nature of a sacrament inasmuch as it is received.” (III, 79, 5) Isn’t sacramentality being undermined here?

This passage is, I think, easily misunderstood. As Abbot Vonier notes, we should pay attention to the subject: “this sacrament.” (See his lovely book A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist.) St. Thomas doesn’t say The Eucharist is both sacrifice and sacrament, he says the sacrament is both sacrifice and sacrament. He is not intending to suggest that the Eucharist can be considered equally well as either sacrament or sacrifice. He’s saying that in the case of this one particular sacrament, there’s some special stuff to consider. (Namely, the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ: the absolute sacredness, together with the fact that Christ is present as immolated: the sacrificial element.) But that absolute sacredness is there because the Eucharist makes Christ sacramentally present. Moreover, “because the use of the consecrated matter belongs to a certain perfection of the sacrament, in the same way as operation is not the first but the second perfection of a thing…” (III, 78, 1 ad 2) This connects up nicely with our discussion this morning about Aristotelianism. The Eucharist is what it is (namely, the Sacrament) in virtue of its consecration, but it only “actualizes” itself as sacrament when it is received, thus conveying the grace that is thing only. Fortunately, at least the priest always receives at every mass, so there is never a case where Eucharist fails to attain its “second operation” as sacrament. All this is meant to say that medieval Eucharistic piety has not undermined the Eucharist’s place as a sacrament, but rather brings out its special role in the sacramental system.

On the other hand, one might very well argue that the baroque emphasis on Benediction as somehow even more important than the mass was a gross overreaction to the Reformation. Fortunatey, Benedictine fathers of the liturgical movement such as Dom Gueranger and Dom Beauduin effectively took to pieces in the late 19th and early 20th century. But their thrust seems to have been inherited by Schmemann: for they simply wanted to get liturgical piety fixed up, and not at all to mess around with the script of the liturgy itself.


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