Christians first engage the surrounding culture in their own hearts and minds.
This is important to grasp. Well meaning people misunderstand Benedictine withdrawal from the world as a lack of engagement with culture. Not so. [Read more…]
Christians first engage the surrounding culture in their own hearts and minds.
This is important to grasp. Well meaning people misunderstand Benedictine withdrawal from the world as a lack of engagement with culture. Not so. [Read more…]
One of the ‘great books’ that most University of Chicago undergraduates have to read is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. If you’ve ever used the phrase, “paradigm shift,” you’re trading with Kuhn’s coinage. His notion is that normal science is done under conditions of a dominant paradigm. This contains all of the theories that everyone takes for granted and provides the background for research and further extensions of knowledge. Newton’s physics provided an amazingly powerful paradigm for three centuries. But by the late nineteenth century, researchers were discovering holes in it. The perceived problems in Newton’s paradigm led Albert Einstein and others to propose a paradigm shift, a new set of theories that today (along with the seemingly incompatible particle physics) are mostly taken for granted as the background for current research and practice.
Kuhn’s idea has been subjected to a lot of criticism. But his basic insight is vindicated by the amount of fertile thinking that has ensued in dialog with his book. One of the better refinements of Kuhn’s theory was made by Imre Lakatos, who moved away from general paradigms to more local ‘research programs’.
I begin with this excursus on science because science is, for moderns like ourselves, the dominant practice in life. Science is successful. It sells. It works. More than that, because we are all somewhat familiar with how it works, it provides a good model for other types of human practices and disciplines. In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre’s proposals to reinstate a traditional Aristotelian morality depend heavily on what he calls ‘practices’. I will spare you his difficult definitions. These practices have a lot in common with Lakatos’s research programs (MacIntyre, in a separate essay, indicates his debt to Kuhn and Lakatos).
Yesterday I asked what tools a community needs if it wishes to engage in a kind of recovery of tradition. From the opening of this post, you can see that what is involved is something like a research program into the common good. I offer the following in the context of writing about the Benedict Option, and doing so from the standpoint of genuine Benedictine life, but also from the standpoint of someone who is intimately familiar with MacIntyre’s writings. He’s the inspiration for this project, after all, as I indicated in the first post in this series.
After Virtue doesn’t make clear what concrete qualities such a community will need. So I will use a boiled-down version of some insights from Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, one of his follow-up books. As I read MacIntyre, here is what a community needs, if the members wish to engage in some kind of disciplined pursuit of the common good: 1) a canon; 2) legitimate authority; 3) practical boundaries; and 4) modes of engagement. There are probably plenty of other things that such a community will need, but these are important and easy to overlook.
Canon: This is some kind of record of the best results of the practice so far, usually reference texts. For physicists, this would include Einstein and Heisenberg and the records of experiments of various kinds. For a monk, this includes Scripture, the Rule of Saint Benedict, the writings of the Fathers (Benedict himself names Basil and Cassian), the marytrology, Canon Law, etc. Studying the canon gives the participants common imagery, shared goals and a common vocabulary. It helps to solidify common commitments. Of course, texts, especially theological texts, can issue in disputes about interpretation. Therefore, authority and boundaries are necessary, as are proper modes of engagement. For the Benedict Option, I imagine that the usual Church documents will be in play, as well as the writings, say, of Pope Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the like. I will be offering copious suggestions for supplementing such a canon.
Authority: The role of authority in such a practice is not so much to boss people around. But someone must be responsible enough and well-versed enough in the practice to identify when an interpretation of the canon is out of bounds. Thus in science again, we have peer-reviewed journals (alas, these are becoming less authoritative), and academic hiring committees. In monasteries, we have the abbot. In the Church at large we have the bishops. Authority facilitates the ongoing argument about the common goal of everyone involved. Sometimes this requires authority to correct a participant, even to censure in some way. Sometimes it even requires a participant to get kicked out, which is why we need:
Boundaries: It is important to know who exactly is qualified to engage in the debates about the common good. Scientists usually don’t oversee original research until they have achieved a diploma indicating some level of expertise. In monastic life, only monks in solemn vows are allowed a vote in the community Chapter meetings. Part of the goal of formation is to bring the new monk into the discussion by teaching him the canon and teaching him how properly to respond to and engage with authority. When a scientist is caught faking data, his or her career can quickly come to an end, as institutional funding will dry up, effectively ruling the person out of further research. We don’t excommunicate monks anymore, as far as I know, but the principle is clearly sound (the canonical penalty of excluding a monks from Chapter is still used): monks who cease to base their decisions on the canon and abide by the community authority pose a grave risk to the community’s existence. It is up to authority to make this call. It seems to me that authority and boundaries are potential sticking points for serious efforts at the Benedict Option. Noah Millman has already helpfully issued this challenge: ‘any conscious program to implement a “Benedict Option” would be concerned, first and foremost, with questions of communal organization.’ Yes.
Engagement: I’m not completely satisfied with this word, but here is the basic idea. There has to be some kind of institutional support for serious discussions about how the group is going to act and how it is going to understand itself. There must be ways to alert authority to issues that need careful discernment. Again, in science, this is the publication of study results in accredited journals and the methods of peer review. In a monastery, engagement mainly takes place in Chapter meetings and other stylized settings. What is important about these engagements is that they are above-board and involve everyone in some fashion or other (in a monastery, different monks have different capabilities in terms of being able to engage in practical decision-making, but somehow everyone needs to be included). So Benedict Option pioneers should be wary of any sort of engagement that is too informal, too dependent on personalities, and so on.
Keep in mind that how community membership is defined, how authority is determined and exercised, what rules of engagement are allowed and institutionalized…all of these will probably require regular negotiation at some level, especially among the leadership of the group. Benedictine monasticism has never been static. We’ve constantly debated the role of priors versus abbots, sleeping arrangements (dormitories versus cells), expressions of poverty, which texts novices are to read, how to celebrate the liturgy properly, and on and on. As long as there is a way for legitimate members to be heard, as long as arguments derive from canonical sources in some way, and as long as authority can issue decisions that are binding on everyone, these debates will strengthen the communal project and provide for course correction even when things go awry. Communities break down when authority and authoritative texts become too diffuse, when members are allowed entry but lack the proper formation, and when legitimate members feel excluded from decisions that affect their participation.
Our monastery has been consciously attempting to put these insights into practice. What sort of results have we had? Which texts have become canonical in our work to engage the broad tradition of Catholic and Orthodox monasticism? We will sally next into that fray.
One of the criticisms of the so-called Benedict Option that comes up regularly in discussions is the fear that those who take it will turn their backs on society, drop out of political engagement and so on. And this at a time when our current Pontiff is urging Catholics to go out, not to remain, much less make a deliberate choice to be, narcissistic and inward-turning.
Our monastery would seem to be a contradiction in this case. We discerned a call to live the Benedictine life, but in the heart of the modern city. We can hardly avoid all sorts of interaction with the world. And indeed, we’ve heard mutters from the other side on this point. Some years ago a young man made a retreat with us while we was preparing for vows in another contemplative-leaning religious order. As he was leaving, rather than saying, “Thank you,” he told us that contemplation was not possible in the city.
This would have been news for Basil the Great, one of the primary influences on Benedictine monasticism. He generally wanted his monasteries in cities, connected to important parishes, in places where the bishop could keep an eye on things. Moreover, the idea that monks turn their backs on the world is completely refuted by any knowledge of the first evangelization of Europe. If you’d like your worldview altered (I think in the best possible way) by great historical writing, I can recommend to you The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, by Richard Fletcher, a book that demonstrates just how important monastic evangelization was in establishing the Church in mission areas from the fourth through the thirteenth centuries. Not bad work for a bunch of guys and gals turning their back on everybody.
So why have we decided to come to the city? The short answer is already indicated above: this was a discernment by our three founders, who were greatly assisted by Bishop Victor Balke and Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, who, as representatives of the Apostles, could help to clarify this call through their listening and prudent action. We thought we knew then why God called us to the city. The city was the great urban desert, a place of alienation, crime, and so on. Well, this sounded alright until we moved into an actual city and lived with real people in a real neighborhood and so on. We couldn’t really know what sort of mission we would encounter until we put down roots here. And part of our ongoing work is listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to discern what His mission is for us.
So we’ve been discerning the community’s goal all along. In conclusion, let me make a connection with Alasdair MacIntyre’s ideas about traditions. One of his key insights is that tradition is not, as commonly held, a fixed, immobile set of practices and formulas. Rather, it is an extended inquiry by a group of persons committed to one another, and it is carried out in arguments, disputations, corrections, abridgments, extensions, and whatever other means available in rational debate. This doesn’t mean that everything is up for grabs all the time, either. There do have to be common commitments to certain base-level principles. So let me apply this now to our discernment about the monastic life lived in a giant modern city.
As I wrote above, we thought we knew what it would mean to plant ourselves in a city. We had a fairly good idea of what a good urban monastery might look like and might do. Then we encountered reality, and our vision began slowly to change. It changed because of intense community discussions prompted by new information: homeless persons at the door, invitations by local universities to give talks, benefactors wanting to buy us things, and so on. Every time we made a response to these circumstances, our vision was clarified or muddied, and so altered in some nearly imperceptible way. Sometimes the stimuli were more bracing. The single biggest decision we made was to become Benedictines in 1997. To do this, we needed to enter into a relationship with the Abbey of Christ in the Desert. And to do that meant to accept their authority, especially that of Abbot Philip Lawrence. When he would come to visit, he might say something like, “You should end such-and-such a practice,” and we would do it. And with the adoption of new practices and the end of old ones, our sense of mission again was slightly changed.
All that said, this kind of change was possible only because we had the more stable foundation of Church teaching and discipline. The Benedictine Rule added another layer of authoritative agreement. Not that we can’t make prudential decisions about how to interpret the Rule–but in discussions, whatever the Rule does say tends to carry greater weight than someone’s opinion, or a minority practice in, say, the Eastern monastic tradition.
The good news for the Benedict Option: if you are quite sure what the goal is at this point, that might well be just fine. But in order to discern the goal, certain things will be necessary. Tomorrow: what is required of a community that wishes to engage in a tradition?
In the preface to After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre makes a curious admission:
Ever since the days when I was privileged to be a contributor to that most remarkable journal The New Reasoner, I had been preoccupied with the question of the basis for the moral rejection of Stalinism.
Wait–what’s there to be preoccupied with here? Rejecting Stalinism should be easy, shouldn’t it? Could there be anything simpler, less risky, than soundly denouncing Stalinism? What could he possibly mean? [Read more…]
Have you heard of the “Benedict Option?” If not, you may hear a lot more about it soon. Rod Dreher is working on a new book that will presumably help to explain the concept that he coined. But even before the book comes out, important blogosphere voices have been engaging in spirited discussion of it.
What is it? [Read more…]
In this era of late vocations, it is worthwhile meditating on the extraordinary life of St. John Vianney, who was not ordained until he was nearly thirty, having his studies delayed by his own difficulties with learning Latin, and by the Napoleonic Wars. His prospects were so unpromising that he was given his first assignment at the country town of Ars, population 230. St. John, a farmboy, got lost on his way there.
Yet he would go on to be such a renowned confessor that the French government constructed a special railroad line to accommodate the 20,000 pilgrims who visited this gentle soul every year. It is tempting to think that his bishop and formators were mistaken in making St. John wait for ordination and giving him an unimportant assignment.
Or perhaps is was St. John’s knowledge of his own weakness and insignificance that was his great secret. Going to confession is a humbling act, a beautiful one to be sure, but not always easy. It can be especially difficult when the confessor is critical, or, oddly enough, too lenient and dismissive of one’s heartfelt sorrow for sin. What drew people to the Cure of Ars? Was it his own ability to be humble with the humble, weak with the weak, one with his penitents in their need for forgiveness and gratitude for redemption?
One of the features of the liturgical reforms following Vatican II is the abundance of liturgical options available. The calendar, the rubrics and the readings and prayers from the Missal had been completely fixed for some time, and as times have changed, and as the Church has moved into new mission territory, it seemed sensible to offer bishops and priests more flexibility in the celebration of the liturgy.
I never gave this much thought until I became a religious superior and was responsible not only for my own choices, but that of the priests under my authority. There were several difficulties that I began to encounter. One was that when we change parts of the liturgy on a regular basis, those celebrating it become unnecessarily self-aware, focused too much on correct execution (or, frequently enough, stewing over lame execution). To use an analogy from my musician days, every liturgy feels like debuting a newly composed song, and it might come off pretty well for the audience, but the performers are sweating, counting, wracking brains to remember transitions, agreed-upon dynamic changes and the like. I recall one great compliment my old band received from a friend who drummed in another band. After we recorded our first CD, he noted that we began to play our old songs as if they were covers (familiar old songs learned from someone else’s recordings). He meant this as high praise: we were relaxed enough to mean what we playing because we weren’t thinking about it, we weren’t watching ourselves. Our songs had become old friends. We were comfortable with them. He was a perceptive enough musician to hear this difference.
It has taken me eleven years as a superior to feel as if the Easter Vigil were natural. Some things can’t be rushed and can only be learned by repetition through time. The liturgy is a bit like good wine: it improves with age…so long as you don’t grab the fermenting barrel and stir up the lees constantly.
So we had already been desiring a more stable liturgy when I became Prior. Then a new question arose. Given the number of options available, what principles should guide our selection of one option versus another? The temptation is just to have confidence in oneself and one’s pastoral instincts. But there were a few problems with this approach. First of all, I had only been a priest for three months when I started in office, and I had no pastoral experience of any reasonable kind. Second, for any argument one could make for one sort of choice, an equally compelling argument could be made for the opposite choice. My own study of the liturgy, mainly through Gregorian chant and other musical questions, led me to be wary of assuming that I understood the reasons that old customs and phrases existed in the liturgy. A restless progressivism infects most modern persons, and it would be foolish to imagine that I’m immune to this self-serving ideology that makes our own time the pinnacle of human intellectual and cultural achievement. I was suspicious of this anyway as a musician. Can it reasonably be argued that our liturgical music has progressed since the composition of chant? Since Palestrina? Since Mozart?
As he has so often in our community’s history, Pope Benedict XVI (formerly as Cardinal Ratzinger) gave us a key for thinking through this dilemma. His ‘hermeneutic of continuity‘, which proposes that we see the One Catholic Church on both sides of the council reforms offered a first principle. Where options exist, choose the one that is in continuity with the 1962 Missal, unless there are compelling reasons otherwise. This is harder than it might sound, mostly because the lectionary has been so radically changed. But it has helped to stabilize our liturgy, and also helped us to have a greater appreciation of the Extraordinary Form.
The second major influence was the late musicologist Laszlo Dobszay. Note again the fact that he was actually a musicologist and not a liturgist. I think there are advantages to being outside of the liturgical studies establishment and in the fast-evolving world of historical studies in music. In any case, his final book argues that we will eventually probably return to the ‘old Mass’ (with certain needed, but less drastic, reforms) and admit that the new was a mistake. Perhaps. I think that this is too radical itself. I personally suspect that there will be a conscious reform of the reform in maybe another two generations, once my generation is gone at least. But also it will happen at a time when critical lessons will have been learned and some agreement will have been reached about what to fix and how. In the meantime, I’ve taken it as my goal to come at this from the other direction. My question is, “To what extent does the Church’s law permit me to adopt the forms of the previous Missal so that our present celebration is more continuous with the preconciliar Mass?” Note the importance of acting within the law. Pope Benedict XVI explicitly ruled out confusing to the two forms. On the other hand, we have found that an historically-informed study of the whole of the liturgy offers all kinds of opportunities for recovering older practices that were illegitimately suppressed or just forgotten. At Kevin’s suggestion, I will write about them from time to time. But you can experience them at virtually any liturgy you attend at the Monastery of the Holy Cross, especially for Mass, but including the Divine Office and other celebrations. We have found the results to be eye-opening and prayerful, and we hope that this will make some small contribution to the strengthening of liturgical observance throughout the Church.
Fr. Joseph Koterski, S.J., in his Great Courses CD’s on the Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle comments that new readers of Aristotle’s ethics are frequently surprised that he spends almost no time discussing rules of behavior. What is right behavior, then, if not obedience to rules? Don’t we have the Ten Commandments? And a host of other rules? Aren’t Jesuits supposed to be jesuitical and concerned about minimal applications of rules and maximal excpetions? What’s with Fr. Koterski and Aristotle?
St. John Cassian demonstrated that he is in the Aristotelian tradition when, in his first Conference, he asks “What is the goal of a monk?” And he answers this by saying that monks choose their actions based on a calculation of what is most likely to bring about the Kingdom of God in their lives. The word ‘calculation’ might sound odd here. All I mean by this is a reference to the cardinal virtue of prudence. And by mentioning prudence as a virtue, I’ve indicated what is different about Aristotle and Cassian versus modern ideas about ‘morality’ or ethics. Aristotle and Cassian are interested in achievement of a goal: happiness for Aristotle*, the Kingdom of God for Cassian. Good actions move us closer to our goal and evil actions move us away. Rules can help us in important ways: they tend to condense the hard-earned wisdom of those who have been in the quest before us. But they can almost never be adopted naively. The second Conference makes this clear. There are many stories of monks who failed to achieve the Kingdom because of an over-reliance on a limited number of hard and fast rules.
But what about the Rule of Saint Benedict? The translation of the Latin Regula as ‘Rule’ is another example of what I all ‘linguistic drift’. We no longer easily sense what is meant by regula, and our word ‘rule’ only gets at a small part of it. A regula is a guide to behavior, a framework, a template. It doesn’t do your thinking for you; it provides the contours of the arena in which the spiritual battle is to be fought by monks. Saint Benedict is very clear that he does not wish to legislate a series of rules, and throughout the Regula, he gives the local abbot the discretion to dispense with virtually any particular rule. This is why the abbot should be a man learned in divine things; he must know how to assess the particular situation and adapt himself to many different characters and temperaments.
When Saint Paul writes that the letter of the law kills and the spirit gives life, he is teaching in this vein. The danger with rules, as the monks of old discovered, is that they tend to deceive those who put too much trust in them. The legalistic monk is tempted by vainglory and pride, and is tempted to judge his fellow monks who seem to fail at keeping the rules strictly enough. Self-justification through the keeping of rules is far from the justification that we receive unmerited from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Preoccupation with rules leaves uninspected the deeper questions of the heart.
None of this is to say that no laws are necessary, or that sin is no big deal. Rather, it is to alert us to a particular modern problem we have, living as we do in liberal democracies where laws are paramount. Laws in our political system are there to allow individuals to pursue their own personal goals, rather than teaching us how to pursue common goals, like eternal life with God. The teachings of Christ are meant to bring us into communion with God and with neighbor.
God’s blessings to you!
Fr. Peter, OSB
* It is important to specify that for Aristotle happiness is not mere pleasure, but knowing how to take pleasure in truly noble, good things, even Goodness itself. In this case, he is quite close to Cassian, for whom Goodness would simply be God. And to delight in God, to seek the face of God, is to seek His Kingdom.
For the medievals, God was not distant and separate from the material world. To the mind of the Middle Ages, everything that exists has meaning, everything is a sign pointing to God, and everything is mystically connected. –Rod Dreher, How Dante Can Save Your Life
I would go even further, or perhaps simply draw out the implication of this observation in Dreher’s most recent book. Everything in the universe is a message from God, teaching us how to live with Him in love. Can we learn to understand this message? Can we learn the ‘language’ of creation? Or is this just a dream? After all, isn’t it possible that every person simply reads his own meaning into things? Isn’t this idea of the cosmos having an inherent meaning just a romantic, childish fancy that sober modern men and women have left behind?
Dreher underlines the fact that the meaning really was objective in his following sentence: “The point of life…is to let go of one’s ego and live in harmony with God and the cosmos.” Again, I agree with his observation of the medieval mind. If this is true, however, it would seem that merely personal interpretations of the cosmos would risk reinforcing the ego (and for Dreher, hell is “a dark and loveless place of absolute egotism”), and that harmony with more or less brute objects within the cosmos would require a degree of acceptance of how things are. This idea is profoundly at odds with the modern scientific view. But this modern view is at best incomplete, at worse completely erroneous, as I hope to demonstrate in future posts.
So how does one go about learning the language of the cosmos? Can we learn to say with St. Antony the Great, “My book, O Philosopher, is the nature of created things, and any time I want to read the words of God, the book is before me?” Perhaps we should ask instead, “How did St. Antony come to this knowledge of the language of God?”
Antony learned this language within the monastic world of the third and fourth centuries. In this world, there are two disciplines required to learn the language of the Creator. The first discipline is the acquisition of virtue. Without virtue, our desires distort the meaning of things. For the temperate man, food is a sign of God’s love and constant sustenance of our life. For the glutton, food is there to serve the ego’s craving for pleasure. For the chaste person, sexuality is a wondrous and mysterious gift for building up the human family through mutual self-giving. For the unchaste, it is for personal enjoyment and domination of others.
The second discipline is the training of the mind in God’s language through meditation on the Scriptures, especially as explained in the liturgy and the homiletic writings of the saints. The Church Fathers made a great effort to read creation in the new light of the Resurrection of Christ. There is really very little arbitrary about this, and the persistence of certain kinds of reading support the idea that there is a kind of objective reading of things. This work is what the first systematic theologian of the spiritual life called ‘natural contemplation’. For the great monk Evagrius of Pontus, natural contemplation was about finding the ‘reasons’ for things. All things came to be through God’s Word, and therefore contain in them a message from God, a rationality and purpose. We are invited to decode this message.
And as Dreher so aptly puts it, the recognition of God’s loving presence in all things makes Him astounding near.
In most writings on the spiritual life since Evagrius, natural contemplation is left out. His system lists three stages of the spiritual life: the practical or active life of moral purification from the distorting passions; the acquisition of knowledge of the reasons for things, or natural contemplation; and then finally contemplation proper, the knowledge of God as God is, no longer mediated by created things. In simplifying this into the two stages of ‘active’ and ‘contemplative’ (and further distorting this ancient distinction by turning it into the canonical description of two types of religious life), we have lost the idea of natural contemplation.
When you speak of contemplation in religious circles today, most people are going to think of a withdrawal from created things to one’s inner world and direct converse with God. Contemplatives are sometimes criticized for disengagement with the world, for a kind of navel-gazing self-absorption. What the contemplative claims to experience as God is, I think, rightly called into question. Aren’t we just inventing an idea of God? Or confusing our feelings with God?
Natural contemplation undercuts the accusation of egotism and solipsism in the larger work of contemplation (so does the active life of acquiring virtue, but I will save that for a later day). Acquiring an understanding of God through His prolific ‘writings’ in the natural world requires us to be attentive to the reality of things. This was the insight that revolutionized the world of the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things…” The living God has arranged every molecule, continually sustains each whirling electron and gives pattern to all manner of charged inscapes. When we attend with care to His works, reading them like the love letter to humanity that they are, we come to know the very mind of God. And then, when we close the doors of our senses and pray to God in secret, it is that God, not a wishful projection of our own insecurities, that we encounter.
God’s blessings to you!
In a recent post, I suggested that we can learn how to pray by listening attentively to the prayers of the liturgy. I used the example of the long, and quite beautiful closing prayer of the Major Rogation. The idea of learning prayer from the liturgy is not at all new; I’m stealing it from the Church Fathers. It’s just their thinking can be remote from us. There has been a linguistic drift over the centuries, and traditional words have slowly taken on slightly different meanings, making it more difficult to understand traditional teachings.
Let me give an example. Many Catholics have heard the phrase ‘lex orandi lex credendi‘, which means ‘the law of worship is the law of belief’. This fifth-century saying hold that we believe what we believe because we celebrate the liturgy in the way we do. This seems to suggest that changes in the liturgy should be approached with extreme caution. More than that, to reorient the liturgy based on the latest ideas in theology is precisely to put the cart before the horse, to found the law of worship on the law of belief.
When someone tries to clarify what we believe, that person is doing theology. Theology is one word that I’d like to focus a bit more on, since its meaning has drifted quite a bit. Another famous saying from the ancient church comes from the great monk Evagrius of Pontus. “He who prays is a theologian.” In the last century, Hans Urs von Balthasar gave renewed expression to this idea by urging that theology be done ‘on one’s knees’. I am grateful that von Balthasar (who was a scholar of Evagrius, among many other subjects), brought back the notion that perhaps theology is best practiced in the milieu of prayer rather than in the academy. Nevertheless, he misses an important part, I think. Really to pray requires that we have clear ideas of the God Whom we address (especially as we get older and face challenges to our faith; the prayer of a child can be very lovely and theological astute, as children tend to trust naturally, but as we age, we need to learn to pray as adults). From where comes these clear ideas? From the liturgy, Lex orandi lex credendi.
The decline of the liturgy in the West I would place in parallel to the rise of the philosophical ideas of voluntarist nominalism. I won’t try to demonstrate that here, since I’d like to wrap up for now. But one of the great insights of Laszlo Dobszay, the recently deceased dean of musical liturgists, makes this more plausible. Most people date the decline of liturgical observance to the reforms that followed Vatican II. Dobszay claims something else quite startling: that the reforms of Trent were already driven by a kind of expedience, by a centralized bureaucratic mindset that sensibly prevailed in the halls of the Roman curia, but was somewhat tone-deaf to the rich, local traditions that had been the warp and woof of liturgy since the Early Church. Thus the liturgy, as traditionally practiced, was already ceasing to make clear sense, even to sixteenth-century bishops. And this is, I would argue, because they were all formed, to a large extent, by the university system of the day, one that stressed voluntarism at the expense of a more integrated Thomism. I have to ask you to trust me on this one for now, and obviously I’ve got a bunch more posting to do to fill in the blanks.
My main point in this last paragraph is this: when we think of the decline of belief that has correlated with confusion in the liturgy since Vatican II, those who think that we’ve gone the wrong direction tend to look back to Trent for guidance. What if the Tridentine Fathers (affected by more than two centuries of nominalism) were already suffering from a slightly problematic understanding of the relationship between theology, prayer and liturgy? What if we need to return, not to 1950, but to 1150? Or 650? Obviously Benedictines will have a certain preference for the latter two years. Something to think about.
God’s blessings to you!