I’ve mentioned ‘discontinuity’ a few times in recent weeks. This is what happens when a tradition like monastic life or liturgical music suddenly takes on a strikingly different form than what came immediately before. Why does this interest (or concern) me? If you are allergic to long quotations, you probably can read the first and last sentence of what follows, and still get the gist:
Articles tagged with tradition
If you are in the Chicago area this Friday night, I hope that you will come by the monastery for Solemn Vespers at 7:00 p.m. The service will last for about 45-50 minutes and will feature the exquisite motet Tu solus, qui facis mirabilia. Unlike the version in the embedded video, however, our Schola will be singing it as a part of the liturgy, and your hearing it will be as part of the publicly assembled Church at worship! Also scheduled: Magnificat by Palestrina and Gustate et videte by di Lasso. And finally, we will be debuting a piece composed just for this celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Auctor beate saeculi by Kevin Allen.
I spent Monday morning at the Regenstein library at the University of Chicago, in the forlorn area of the stacks where rest the a cappella liturgical compositions of the 14th century to the present. I was enjoying myself browsing, hoping to discover some long-overlooked masterpiece (I found several dusty books of obscure pieces–we’ll see whether they turn out to be masterpieces). After about an hour of browsing, I was struck by the almost complete gulf between the music of the sixteenth century and that of the seventeenth. Compare, for example, a Magnificat by Orlando di Lasso (ca. 1532-1594):
…and a setting by Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1554-1612):
So these are two composers separated by one generation. Gabrieli is thought by many to have studied under di Lasso, which is why I chose these two in particular. In di Lasso, one can hear already some incipient Baroque elements, to be sure. And he was a much more prominent composer of secular music than was his exact contemporary, the hallowed Palestrina. But Gabrieli moved in an entirely new direction (Mind you, I love Gabrieli’s music!). He was not alone. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), a priest, was the most celebrated figure of the revolution from Renaissance to Baroque style. Significantly, he was one of the pioneers of the new secular humanist entertainment, opera. His opera L’Orfeo is the earliest opera still in the repertoire.
Back to my Monday experience: what we see in liturgical music of the seventeenth century is precisely the importation of these secular humanist elements into liturgical music, necessitating a break from tradition. For example, the tradition of alternating chant and polyphony in the singing of the Magnificat, is almost always dropped, so that the whole text is set for the choir and orchestra. Also quickly gone is the association of the Magnificat with a particular ecclesiastical mode (or scale), drawn from the proper antiphon of the day (On Friday, we will sing Palestrina’s Mode 1 setting because the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart uses the antiphon Ignem veni mittere in terram, “I came to send fire upon the earth…” which is in the First Mode). Practically speaking, this means that in the new style the monks, canons or nuns, whose job it is to pray the liturgy, are squeezed out in favor of the professional musicians. The particular consecration of specific men and women for the performance of the liturgy is obscured. I will leave an exploration of the consequences of this obfuscation to a later post.
There are many other similar consequences. That these were not apparently felt at the time is somewhat surprising. Why? I mentioned Palestrina’s name with hushed, respectful tones above. He was the greatest composer in Rome at the time of the Council of Trent, and he took it upon himself to forward the Tridentine reforms. Among these were calls for the simplification of liturgical music. Some council fathers had been prepared to restrict liturgical music to Gregorian chant, and legend has it that Palestrina himself rescued polyphonic music for the liturgy with his composition of the sublime yet direct setting of the Mass for Pope Marcellus II:
So within two generations of the council, it seems that liturgical music was largely going its own way, quite contrary to the expectations of many at Trent.
I wrote last week about discontinuities in monastic tradition and the difficulties that these pose for the recovery of a vibrant monastic tradition. Here, I suggest, is a similar discontinuity in liturgical music, one that is probably as radical, in its way, as that which happened after Vatican II. On the other hand, it has more in common with the hidden discontinuities in the broader intellectual tradition of the West, in the sense that it was not clearly perceived as such at the time. And when it was perceived as at least a change, this change was celebrated by those in the know as a liberation from hidebound tradition and a recovery of ancient models of music, which it was not–this was pure propaganda of the sort that Renaissance thinkers excelled in.
Next time: the specific problem of discontinuity and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s brilliant remedy of the Hermeneutic of Continuity.
Key concept #2: Traditions are arguments before they are agreements. And then they are arguments after they are agreements.
(h/t to Adrian Belew)
This appears to me as one of Alasdair MacIntyre’s most important insights. He borrowed the idea from Blessed Cardinal Newman, and he refined it considerably.
Why is this important? For several reasons, though I will mention two today.
In my previous post, I said that liturgy is ‘first theology‘. A fine sounding notion! But what do we find when we gaze out upon the liturgical scene in the contemporary Church? Lots of disagreement. In fact, you will hear Catholics say that we’ve been fighting over the liturgy for forty years or more. And this liturgical stew only got messier when Pope Benedict XVI gave priests permission for a wider use of the ‘extraordinary form’ of the Mass. So what, exactly is the material of the liturgy at this point, the material that is supposedly going to give form to prima theologia?
I would not argue that our present situation is ideal. But I also don’t believe that the situation in, say, 1950 was ideal, either, but for the opposite reason. Church tradition had come to be seen as something unchanging and unquestioned. Now, by contrast, it has come to appear as something up for grabs. The reality is something else. Tradition is an argument. And it is an agreement on what to argue about and how to argue. It is not true that tradition-as-argument means ‘anything goes’. It may appear that way in an emotivist society, such as ours is, where arguments are not rational but are exercises in emotional manipulation.
This brings me to the second point. The idea that traditions are arguments makes it possible for them to be rational. MacIntyre generally shows great respect for other thinkers, even when he strongly disagrees with them. This makes his open criticism of Edmund Burke more piquant. Why is Edmund Burke in his sights?
During and after the French Revolution, Burke began to write down his intellectual defense of Tradition. Few people are aware of just how radical many elements of the Revolution were. There were movements to change the names of the days of the week and the months of the year. There were proposals to renumber the years, using a starting point other than the birth of Christ. There were proposals to change the length of the week and the month, to remove them from the lunar associations. Why? The supposed goal was to organize society in a more rational manner. A month of 30 days or so may or may not prove functionally most effective for human organization, or so the theory went. So maybe ten months of 36 days would make more sense. Maybe eight days of work and two days off…It was all slightly crazy, though it must be stressed that this was done in the name of reason.
So what did Burke do? Did he give a defense of the rationality of tradition in the face of these assaults? Not really. In fact, in his writings he comes close to celebrating tradition precisely as irrational. And this thinking has infected us ever since. Why genuflect when you come into Church? Because the Tradition says so! And don’t ask any more questions! Why did the old Ember Days have seven readings on Saturday? Who knows? And who cares what reasons there might have been–we ‘traditionalists’ don’t need to ask these questions. [This is strongly akin to the same way in which ‘blind obedience’ came to be a religious virtue.] I’m exaggerating, but the point is, for a tradition to be rational requires something like what Newman and MacIntyre have taught us: there must be some way for those engaged in the tradition to give each other persuasive reasons for doing one thing rather than another.
Where we stand with the liturgy today is, I believe, somewhere before the midpoint of what I hope will turn out to be a fruitful (though tumultuous, alas) reflection on the meaning of the liturgy. Consider the choice facing a pastor who wishes to celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass: he could, of course, simply begin offering Mass in this way because he has personal feelings in favor. But more often, what happens is that he decides to do so for reasons: to educate his parishioners on the broader tradition of the liturgy; to foster a greater sense of devotion; and so on. Now, once he gives such reasons, and hopefully he does so either in some public parish forum or to his fellow clergy in the local deanery, he is open to being criticized for his choice and for his supporting reasons. He will have to make a defense of his reasoning, and he will have to appeal to shared agreements about the liturgy in order to persuade others. He may end up abandoning the project, or he may convince others to begin celebrating the extraordinary form. Or they may continue to disagree, but now the argument has become considerably more refined on both sides (we hope). Everyone has had to reflect together, and so have become more reflective and reasoned. And out of such exchanges, the Church as a whole will gradually come to have better and better reasons for clearer and clearer choices. As poor choices are weeded out and lame reasons are abandoned, the liturgy will come to be more recognizably consistent, and–very importantly–more ‘rational’ itself. But not ‘rational’ in the Enlightenment sense–I mean this in the sense that we are to offer to God “rational worship!”
“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [Greek–logiken…logical!; Latin–rationabile…rational!] worship [Rom 12: 1].” This in turn will allow us to “be prepared to make a defense [lit. “to give a reason”; Gk–logon, Latin–rationem] to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you [1 Peter 3: 15].”
P.S. For those of you who don’t know who Adrian Belew is, he wrote and sang (? shouted?) the lyrics to this…song:
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.