A Highly Lucid Analysis

I warmly recommend you to read – Understanding Context and Reading the Grand Narrative.

I suggest you read the article fully in its place and then come back here for my reflections.

Of course, Catholicism has not really been a traditional religion from some time before the Reformation. Reformations have always seen the need to put religion under centralised control, and what might have been thought of as “organic growth” under theological speculation and trends.

It has always been my belief that liturgical reform alone did not cause the “crisis” in Catholicism, but that the “crisis” is much older and goes back many centuries. I too went along with the traditionalist narrative, but it will not survive critical thought. Theology became autonomous from the liturgy and praxis of the Church, and liturgy became a mere adjunct of canon law. Latterly, liturgy would be regulated by theological developments rather than the old principle as expressed by Prosper of Aquitaine: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi popularly expressed as Lex orandi lex credendi. The way Christians pray (liturgically) determines what they believe. Scholasticism reversed this axiom and made liturgy subject to developments in theology.

I take a more radical view than someone like Fr Hunwicke, or myself as I wrote my university piece on the Pius V reform of the Roman missal. It was an act of reform that created the precedent for Paul VI’s Missale Romanum of 1969: In conclusion, we wish to give the force of law to all that we have set forth concerning the new Roman Missal. In promulgating the official edition of the Roman Missal, Our predecessor, St. Pius V, presented it as an instrument of liturgical unity and as a witness to the purity of the worship the Church. Pius V allowed the continuation of local uses, and the Roman missal of 1570 was comparatively conservative, but really, the principle was the same. Paul VI went further, and trashed everything outside his new missal, requiring complete uniformity outside of “pastoral adaptations”. The liturgy has its importance, since it is the Church’s “shop window”. Seen from this point of view, the “ordinary form” was in perfect continuity from the “extraordinary form”. Many aspects of the western Catholic tradition were trashed in 1570 and by Counter-Reformation rubricism and legalism.

The most radical conclusion to draw would be that western Christianity is dead and the only viable form of traditional sacramental Christianity is Orthodoxy in the Byzantine rite and the various other oriental rites that have continued to be used. Another possible conclusion is to revive pre-Reformation rites and hope they will influence the (marginal) communities using them. Such an idea assumes adequate documentation to be able to do it with an acceptable degree of authenticity without “inventing” or “reconstructing” too much. Another possibility is to go along with the new rites and keep away from theological speculation and teachings, preferring the foi du charbonnier and “keeping out of the engine room”. Yet another possibility is to scrap Christianity altogether as something that has become so distorted that the original idea has been irretrievably lost. Most of us try to make some form of compromise to avoid having to resort to that last radical denial. There is no simple solution, though we should avoid seeking complex ones.

By at least the thirteenth century, the unity of Latin Christianity was coming undone. The Reformation left little doubt that a homogenized Latin Christianity had vanished in the West. So, there was a need to have the law of faith determine the expression of prayer.

Such a notion leaves western Christianity, both “sides” of the Reformation, in a very awkward situation. Restoration is possible or impossible. My own approach is to try, whatever the odds against it, as the only alternative to abandoning Christianity.

Reading, however, does not solve the problem of actually having to do something, to find some model of life that reflects the conviction that reality is not merely the quantifiable, that our greatest purpose for existence far exceeds the limitations of sense perception.

Perhaps Christianity could be reborn in another western culture, one that has suffered complete collapse and return to beginnings. However, in such a scenario, it is unlikely that any knowledge would survive and be transmitted. Such a notion is bleak. Reducing religion to conservatism and liberalism will only accelerate the decline. Perhaps we would do well to look at Christianity in other parts of the world, as different culturally as it is from our own distant roots.

Certainly this article is thought-provoking in the extreme, and can be taken as a warning. It is for us all to decide what we want.

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One Response to A Highly Lucid Analysis

  1. Joseph says:

    Thank you for the very kind words. Given how many posts of your I’ve read and thought, “I wish I had written that,” I am honored that you found something to take away from what I have written.

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