The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Calvinist Liturgy

I found this on the Reformed Liturgical Institute Page. As a liturgy junky, I am going to give it a listen.


Calling all Anglicans:

Join in the fun here!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Lyon Opera Ballet

Last Saturday I saw a rather interesting program done by the Lyon Opera Ballet on its American tour. Unfortunately, there was a change in the program due to injury, and Sasha Waltz's Fantasie set to Schubert's Fantasie in F minor was not performed. (Another work was performed in its place, but I forgot the music and who choreographed it since it was announced quickly prior to the performance.)

The first work was the best one of the night. This was Die Grosse Fugue choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and set to the Beethoven piece by the same name. I thought the costume design of conservative black suits and rather insensible shoes was a rather powerful aesthetic innovation. The dancers removed their jackets and over-shirts as the danced progressed and moved gracefully throughout. Someone commented behind me that the dancers "fell too much" during the performance, but I thought the piece was executed elegantly. The piece had a real sense of "agon", synergy, and controlled movement; it was classical and fluid at the same time.

The second work (the one I forgot to note the name of) was a little more modern in its sensibilities, and the constant stopping and starting, the play of lights and rather odd arm gestures were not to my taste. Nevertheless, the dancers were strong in their execution and received a deserved enthusiastic ovation for their efforts.

The third piece presented after the intermission was by far the oddest of the night, and one of the strangest spectacles I have seen performed on a stage. It was the ballet Groosland by Maguy Martin, set to Bach's second and third Brandenburg Concertos. As one can surmise from the title, the dancers of the troupe donned padded suits to make themselves seem ridiculously obese. The program described this concept as "the Michelin man touched by grace, inhabited by dance". I saw it more as a freaky orgy of faux fat. Being a tad overweight myself, it was a bit whimsical to see the lean bodies of these dancers maneuver themselves in all of that padding. The apex of strangeness was the final part of the dance done "naked" by the dancers in their body suits. I realized that it must have been rather stuffy in those things and that the whole work was an almost superhuman effort on their part. Nevertheless, while I was entertained by the spectacle, I don't know if I was entertained for the right reasons.

In any event, the whole night was well worth my time, and more information on the Lyon Opera Ballet can be found by going to their website.

I Couldn't Resist Posting This

Martin Heidegger: Helping Old Ladies Worship Jesus since 1927 AD from the Anglican + Calvinist Blog. With a title like that, could you blame me?

In any event, what he says here is what many Orthodox theologians have been saying for years. So congratulations in finally coming around! I suppose Calvinists can think straight, it just takes them a little more time to get it.

One of my reservations about any "Reformed" theology (and mind you, just in "thumbing through it") is how a-historical it is. That is, I have come to the conclusion with Georges Florovsky that real Christian theology is history, pure and simple. It is the history of what God has done for his people. So when I see articles with few proper names, few historical references, and overly systematized reasoning, I cease to pay attention after a few paragraphs. Who said something is just as imporant as what was said in many cases. That is the point of tradition. Tradition is Christianity, and God, in a real sense is Tradition; He is giving, even in the sense of being Father, Son, and Spirit..... the passing on in fulness.

Abstraction is good for some things. But real truth is personal.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sylvia Plath Reads Lady Lazarus

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Recommended Essay

"These traditionalists aren't anything like what we used to be" - the pre-conciliar Church was much calmer and more measured.

This is from Fr. Anthony Chadwick's site, Civitas Dei. Since he stopped doing the blog on this site some months ago, the Internet world has been much less enlightened. Nevertheless, some new articles appear occasionally on his site, so it is still well worth visiting.

Readers of this blog should know that Fr. Chadwick is my "godfather" in Anglicanism, and I deeply appreciate his prayers and counsel in my own situation.

Friday, October 27, 2006

If You've Never Heard Coptic Chant Before....

This is your chance. Someone posted this on YouTube. I have been to this monastery in Yermo, CA many times. This is an entrance of a bishop into the monastery

A Brit in the Southern Cone

In life, he suffered from a sense of unreality, as do many Englishmen.--
Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"

I got this in my mailbox, so I can't resist using the Borges quote. He still is an interesting fellow. I would so like to have a cup of tea with him.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What Is Offered?

I wasn't going to post anything tonight, because my brain had been sucked dry. I am being bombarded by so much stuff I don't want to read that thinking about important things has become almost impossible. However, I had a few minutes to continue reading Frank Senn's Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical, and I found this interesting quote:

What we do not find in the classic Eucharistic tradition is an offering of the body and blood of Christ. Even in the ancient Roman canon, what is offered is the bread and cup. True, it is the "bread of life" and the "cup of salvation", both elaborations using biblical references; and theologians of the sixteenth century and later could interpret this as the body and blood of Christ, especially since the change (transubstantiation) of the elements occurred at the words of institution before the anamnesis-oblation. But it is only when we come to the 1974 Roman Missal that we find in Eucharistic Prayer IV the bald statement, "we offer you his body and blood." This is a new development in eucharistic tradition, and it might be challenged in the name of tradition, as Martin Chemnitz did in his examination of the Council of Trent. (p. 477)

Lest I get into a full-fledged theological rumble where the Catholic and Orthodox readers of this blog start dog-piling on me, I want to emphasize that what I want to discuss here is the end of this quote which is for me profoundly ironic. Having grown up in the Tridentine-Vatican II guerilla war in a liberal parish in the Catholic Church, I find it quite strange that perhaps what the liberals in the Roman Church are doing is not subverting Trent, but rather completing it. Perhaps it is the traditionalists, without knowing, who are defending the poetic approach to the Roman Faith that the traditional liturgy embodies, against the rationalistic, Tridentine machine. Wouldn't that be a strange turn of events!

I know one other instance in which this occurs: in the old Roman offertory, the bread and wine are offered to God the Father as if they had already been consecrated, thus subverting the concept of linear time in the liturgical setting. By contrast, the new Roman prayer over the gifts is very rationalistic and logical:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread of offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.

The Roman Catholic Church may have wanted for a long time to become an institution where the ideology is pure and correct, but the worship is stripped of any poetry or symbolism. Perhaps this is the ultimate downfall of "sacramental realism", if understood in a hyper-rationalistic manner.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sometimes on a Blog.....

...there has to be room for an inside joke.

So there, Sean. The other post was just not working out.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

An American Opera

These are songs about the Corn Belt, and some of the people in it.... or on it.

Perfect Lives is an opera for television created in the early 1980's by the composer Robert Ashley. The opera is mainly done by Ashley himself using a sort of lounge singer sprechstimme that ranges from the banal to the Neoplatonic sublime ("stick that in your pipe and smoke it, a#$hole", "Giordano Bruno.... I think they burned him....") This opera is an innovative, metaphysical reflection on American small town life in the Midwest.

Also notable in this opera is the piano playing of "Blue" Gene Tyrrany as "Buddy the World's Greatest Piano Player", which is far from avant-garde, but takes classical American piano idioms to a whole new level.

The DVD recording of the opera can be found here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

On Limbo

There are days when bloggers have to point to responses they make on other blogs to keep their readers happy. This is a response I made on the "Glory to God for All Things" Blog on limbo. Tell me what you think.

This is a good Orthodox blog with a nice aesthetic eye.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

For My Emerald....

I am a fool. A real fool.


De la belleza de su amada
Lope de Vega

No queda más lustroso y cristalino
por altas sierras el arroyo helado ni está
más negro el ébano labrado
ni más azul la flor del verde lino;

más rubio el oro que de Oriente vino,
ni más puro, lascivo y regalado espira
olor el ámbar estimado ni está
en la concha el carmesí más fino,

que frente, cejas, ojos y cabellos
aliento y boca de mi ninfa bella,
angélica figura en vista humana;

que puesto que ella se parece a ellos
vivos están allá, muertos sin ella,
cristal, ébano, lino, oro, ámbar, grana.

(On the beauty of his beloved

translated by Aodhagon O'Broin

The icy stream is not on mountain high
more scintillating or more crystalline,
nor carvèd ebony as dark or fine,
nor flaxen flowers as blue in deep July,

nor does the eastern gold more brightly shine,
nor breathes the scent of precious amber more
sensual, more delicate or pure,
nor can the conch a richer red define,

than forehead, eyebrows, eyes and hair and breath
and mouth of my seraphic lovely one,
an angel's face revealed in human guise;
these things without her would seem dull as death,
since she embodies them: crystal; ebon';
flax and gold and amber; scarlet dyes. )


Saturday, October 21, 2006


Here is a video from La Oreja de Van Gogh: "Puedes Contar Conmigo".

Warning: This is Spanish cotton candy, bubble gum rock that has absolutely no aesthetic nutritional value whatsoever. It will probably aid in rotting your eardrums, but it is still so sweet.

Epilogue: In Pursuit of the Human

On Pierre Hadot, Anglicanism, and La Oreja de Van Gogh

For those of you not keeping score in my "Ten Books That Have Most Influenced My Life" posts, here they are again:

1. St. Louis de Monfort's True Devotion to Mary

2. Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness

3. Karl Marx's The German Ideology

4. Leon Trotsky's The History of the Russian Revolution

5. Marcel Lefebvre's They Have Uncrowned Him

6. St. Gregory of Nyssa's From Glory to Glory (an anthology of his writings)

7. The Apophthegmata Patrum

8. St. Therese's Story of a Soul

9. Christos Yannaras' The Freedom of Morality

10. Marie-Dominique Chenu's Aquinas and His Role in Theology

How's that for a list? Now you know why this blog is all over the map in so many ways.

In one of my last unpleasant conversations with my ex-abbot, I told him after working a fourteen hour day at the bakery that all I wanted to do was to be a human being. I realized then that from a very early age I had been fleeing from my own humanity. I suppose if I ever wrote an autobiographical sketch of this twelve year portion of life, I would have to title it: "The Boy Who Wanted to Be an Angel". I wanted to escape from the travails of this vale of tears; from the fluxuation of joys and sorrows that come with being an incarnate spirit. So there I was, with a long beard and long hair, in a riassa and with another name, and I was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. I had only put myself through all of that because I thought I could become "impassible". That is not possible in this life. I had totally missed the point of the preaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is when I started this blog.

In reading the scholar Pierre Hadot, I began to realize that even at its inception, philosophy was never about "finding the answer". It was about finding hapiness, about being able to face life honestly and pursue bliss in this life (if possible) and in the next (much more likely). Life is what is important, not the ideology that frames it. Christianity is about life and the transmission of the life of God to the world. So it doesn't matter if I save my soul as a lowly librarian in a small town or a great staretz living in the desert. The result would be the same, and maybe the former is much more of an honest approach than the latter in our day and age.

Anglicanism was something that I encountered out of pure coincidence. Accepting the legitimacy of this Christian way was for me merely accepting what was in front of me and not trying to find the church floating in the sky like a dreamt Gothic cathedral. I have long ceased trying to make my religion into an agenda. The approach of this blog has always been irenic: I spend about as much time on Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as I do on Anglicanism. Obviously, my bias is with the latter since the last of these is more open, but to say that I swear by all things sacred that I will be an Anglican to the death would be less than honest on my part. I will always have, however, the same attitude towards Christianity that I have now being within the Anglican tradition. To quote a nineteenth century Ukrainian bishop, the walls we construct between the churches do not reach up to Heaven, no matter how much we think they do.

A lot of this, however, has been an issue of letting myself do "normal things". Obviously, here is not the appropriate place to reveal the details of my personal life (besides, I can assure you that they are not that exciting). Even getting used to buying things again has been odd for me. Sometimes I still think that I have the same approach to life as when I was a monk. This, however, must change little by little. There are certain things that for so long I did not let myself appreciate. Having so radically "turned my back on the world", there were many things I thought were "unholy" or "decadent" that I now find perfectly alright. One of these is just listening to popular music, like the cheesy Spanish pop-band La Oreja de Van Gogh (Van Gogh's Ear) and appreciating it for what it is: fun and not serious. Life is not as horrible and sad as I have tried to make it. So many times in my life, instead of having romanticist dreams of living an "authentic life", I should have just lived life. That being said, for some reason I still have no regrets.

I suppose one of the false assumptions I was working under was that once we know we are going to die, there is no use living this life to the fullest. It is very true that an unexamined life is not worth living, as the Platonic tradition says. It is also very true that all things are transitory and that we will not be able to take anything with us. To think, however, that somehow we will learn fully and organically that life is full of only passing glory without actually living it is delusional at best. It is only through going through everyday joy and suffering, fun and travail, love and loss, that we can really know what the Cross is and how we must always look at ourselves as pilgrims going back to our Father's house. There is no theoretical trick that can do this for us. There is never any time in our lives that we "get it". Perhaps the only time we come close is on our death bed.

Nevertheless, this exercise of reflecting on these books has not been in vain. True, the greatest lesson that I have learned in these books is that the solution is not found in books. I did pick up from them, however, wisdom for the journey. Books are indeed wonderful things, if taken in moderation.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Aquinas and His Role in Theology- Marie- Dominique Chenu

Part X- Ex Occidente Lux

In a real sense, four years ago I turned my back on the Christian West in favor of Byzantine Christianity. I never broke communion with the Western Church, but I felt that the Western Church in all of its manefestations was misguided. I felt that in liturgy, spirituality, and theology, the West no longer had the vision of the early Church. Part of this was due to a disillusionment with Roman Catholic traditionalism. While I absorbed the ancient ethos of the Roman Church through the traditional liturgy, this Patristic witness was often overshadowed by Counter-Reformation propaganda and politically reactionary agendas. The scholastic "Thomistic" theology of most Latin traditionalists is taught in an almost Talmudic manner: we were not really expected to understand what we read, as long as we memorized it and believed that it was right. Everything else was modernist and not to be trusted. You can see why I severely mistrusted St. Thomas after my seminary years.

When I decided not to become Orthodox, and before I entered the monastery, I decided that I would have to study if the West was indeed "heretical". In order to do this, I had to go back to the roots of what divided the East and the West. For me, that meant going back to Aquinas. But how should we approach Aquinas? Through which theoretical lense should we look, and who is a reliable guide? I found one in the Dominican theologian Marie-Dominiqe Chenu, probably the greatest Roman Catholic theologian of last century, in his book, Aquinas and His Role in Theology.

Chenu presents Aquinas as a product of his time. He also presents the change in Western theology in the second millenium as something profoudly centered in the Gospel and the spirit of the early Church. For Chenu, the Incarnation is the central event in theology. The changes in the Western Church after the schism of 1054 were the result of the Gospel reacting to the new conditions in which the Church found itself. No longer could theology and spirituality remain in the countryside and the monastic cloister, but rather it had to expand into the towns where a new society was emerging. For Chenu and for Aquinas as members an urban mendicant order, the Dominicans, change is not necessarily a defection from the Faith. It can be, on the contrary, the movement of the Holy Spirit expanding one neglected aspect of the Faith as opposed to another.

Central to Chenu's theological history is the emergence of Nature as something good in itself and not just a symbol of other-worldly goodness. Aquinas at one point in the Summa Theologiae that things are not just good because they particpate in God's goodness, but the goodness is their property in every sense. In another passage, Aquinas locates the virtues not above the carnal passions, but rather IN them. In the new theology that emerges out of the twelfth century, the world becomes something to study in itself because it was created by God. Someone once said that Aquinas can best be given the title: Doctor Creationis, the Doctor of Creation, of its goodness, order, and beauty.

The role of the power of the intellect in Aquinas also influenced me very much. In it, the intellect is not just a dull tool weakened by original sin, but rather a participation in the knowing of God. Although Aquinas, through Dionysius, was very much aware of the infinite difference between the created and Uncreated orders, he nevertheless was confident that we in some real way participate in the intellect of God. Aquinas did not believe in a higher faculty above the intellect, so at least in my opinion, he does not put the "things of God" in a realm entirely different from the one we are in now. For the Angelic Doctor, the beatific vision is merely an augmentation (though supernatural) of the powers we already have in order to see God as He is. In this way, Aquinas makes Christianity human again, not in the sense of "pulling it down to our level", but rather by recognizing that being human means being made in the image and likeness of God.

So does this mean I am a Thomist in the full sense of the word? Chenu, at the end of his book, Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century, wrote that,

The statues of Reims would have been out of place in the tympanum at Vezelay, no less than the masters would have been in monastic cloisters. But the two Christendoms of feudal Vezelay and of urban Reims, each with its own understanding of faith and mode of expression, formed part of a single church (p. 309).

Chenu thus says that the plurality of monastic (or traditional) and scholastic praxes does not divide the Church, but rather adds to the richness of the expression of the Christian Faith.

In this way, in my eyes, the Western Church was definitively redeemed. While Chenu would take his ideas too far in helping to draft Gaudium et Spes at the Second Vatican Council, his ideas are too persuasive to be discarded totally. In perceiving and studying the change that occured in the Western Church from the twelfth century onward, he put them in the context of the Incarnation of the Word of God in history. For me, this was another aspect of the Gospel that I was perhaps ignoring in my obsession with Byzantine icons and monastic spirituality.

To take the world as it is, to affirm it as it appears to us, glorious though fallen, is a very lofty and Patristic labor. This is the charism that Aquinas and the Christian West have in Christianity.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Essence of Christianity

Read this post from Hispania Sancta.

La Malade Imaginaire

The newest addition to my music collection is this recording of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's music for this play of Moliere. It is done, of course, by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, which means that it is worth its weight in gold.

I had the privilege of seeing Les Arts Florissants give a presentation of Lully's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. It was a memorable experience. Christie, the honorary Frenchman who I believe is from the American Midwest, gave a talk before the performance. That was really cool. This guy exudes enough culture to fill a football stadium. Anything by Les Arts Florissants is worth buying and listening to over and over again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Of Love and Cucumbers

The first memory I have is that of a cucumber field. It is slightly hazy, green and brown from all of the dirt. About twenty feet away, my family is bent over picking cucumbers. There is a chain-link fence to my right, and I am all by myself, in the morning sun, a new world of dreams emerging in a three year old mind...

We lived in the country in a small trailer. There must have been at least ten of us living in there. We would run around barefoot chasing the chickens and being chased by the geese. (Geese are nasty creatures, especially to children.) That cucumber field was my first nursery, my first library, and the first place I encountered God, staring at me, smiling with the first light of day.

When you are a child, you do not really know what poverty is. If you are lucky like I was, you love and are loved. Sure, with the age of television, children have become much more covetous. I have been surprised by children carrying around large bills of twenty or even of a hundred dollars on their persons. When I was five years old, my family took us children out to cut apricots, and for four weeks of labor we received ten dollars total. (More if you were older.) But we had ten dollars, and we were rich. That was love, and it is very difficult now, twenty-two years later, to return to that simplicity, tenderness, and contentment.

You know the story now. You know that since that day when my mind first emerged from that cucumber field, I have not stopped dreaming. Dreaming, however, can make you very bitter and ungrateful if you are not careful. So let me reflect briefly then:

I live in the richest country in history. I attend the best public university in the U.S. I am very clever, and have the health of an ox. I have the whole future in front of me. So why am I complaining that "things didn't go according to plan"? What happened to that contented three year old playing in the mud of a cucumber field. Or that five year old whose favorite food was fresh cucumbers cut up and soaked in large amounts of lemon, red chili powder, and salt. What happened to that child who knew that even if he didn't get all of the toys he saw on T.V., his mother and family still loved him. We can be so ungrateful sometimes.

Yesterday, when I was at Mass, a shaft of light hit the corpus of the crucifix right down the chest. "A spear of light," I thought. "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a lance...." Everytime we complain to God, it is like we are piercing the Crucified's side again. It is not enough that He made us, sustains us in our being and promises us eternal life... we always want more. How does God react to this insolence? Meekly, like a beggar, always trying to make us happy just because we (even complainingly) ask. For Him, our whining is sweet like the name of a lover just because it is directed to Him. A spear of light. A spear of love. As long as we ask. As long as we talk to Him. We can be so ungrateful sometimes.

Love is a tricky thing to understand. I began to understand it in that musty smell of sweat and dirt. Life is not for the timid and the cowardly, but He will always be there to pick us out of the mud. It takes so little to be happy, but it does take a simple and suffering heart. May God grant me one so that I can love Him more perfectly. To Him be all honor and glory, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Invierno Porteño

One of my favorite pieces by Piazzolla, played by Gidon Kremer and friends.

A Via Media?

Why I'm an Anglican (And Why I Really Don't Know What That Means)

Having given a negative response to why I am not something, it is only fair that I say what I am. In reality, I washed up on the beach of the Anglican Continuum after I left the monastic life last January. Those who want to do some archeological work can go back to the beginning of this blog and see my progression from a bitter pseudo-RC traditionalist ex-monk to the liturgical crypto-Protestant you are reading now. I fully admit the theological speculations on this blog are eclectic, disjointed, and sometimes incoherent. They can only reflect the confusion of their author. I really don't have the time to delve into anything in depth. In truth, my only exposure to the theology of the Anglican Way has been mainly through the Prayer Book as used in a number of different settings by congregations of diverse churchmanships. I have come to appreciate all of them for what they are, and I don't feel any real necessity to go a whole lot more in depth from what I already know.

Of course, when I first began to go to Anglican services, I really wanted to study the theology behind it all. What I found was complete theological Jello (some of it was tasty Jello, though). There is never one answer in Anglicanism, and agreeing to disagree seems to be the order of the day in most things (as long as you are a gentleman about it). I wanted to ask the Anglican Church at the foot of the altar, "What should I think?" I have never gotten a straight answer. And I am learning that maybe that is precisely the answer.

When I was barking up the Catholic and Orthodox trees, many theologians were very eager to tell me what to think, how to pray, and why it is all so very important that I follow it all to the letter. Being of a rather melancholic disposition emotionally, I once thought it very necessary that I have a system that dominates my entire religious being almost militaristically. (If you have ever seen me serve at altar, it can seem that I move almost robotically.) The greatest cross of Anglicanism for me is that there is no absolutely right and wrong way to do things. Perhaps because of this, it all doesn't have a future. I have heard many a priest, layman, and outside observer say this. But if we in the Continuum do not have a future, it is because Christianity in general "doesn't have a future". We are not singled out for destruction.

Many of us who associate with the Anglican Way are now seeing our temples razed, our priests scattered, and our hymns silenced. Many on the outside look on with silent glee waiting to scavenge whatever is left for themselves. But like the Kingdom of Judah watching Israel being taken into captivity, maybe such a tragedy should be taken as prophesy of things to come. For this reason, at this point, I don't necessarily see Anglicanism as the fullest way to be in the Church of Christ. I like icons, Gregorian chant, troparia, Marian devotions, and the whole catastrophe. It may not be the most colorful way to do things, but it is at least the most honest. You can't flee from uncertainty as a Christian, and accepting that is the greatest act of Faith I have ever had to make.

If I am sometimes a great fan of "Prayer Book Reformed Catholicism", it is only because I see it as a special charism that should be preserved, and if we don't do it, who will? It is perhaps a more aesthetic approach to churchmanship than is acceptable, but it would be a pity if this approach faded into oblivion. I am, however, by no means convinced that this way is better than more Anglo-Catholic approaches to doing things. If we are seeing a new dark ages in terms of the Christian Faith, we will need all of the traditional voices of the past that we can preserve to get us through them.

So that is me in a nutshell. If you don't understand, I can assure you that things are not that much clearer for me. In any case, I thank you for your patience and as always, for your readership. God bless.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Here I Go Again...

Why I Am Not A Roman Catholic.... From the Broken Record Album

I really need to learn to keep my mouth (fingers?) shut. I said in passing that I was an Anglican over at this post at the Cornell Society for a Good Time, and people jumped on me like vultures on carrion. So for those of you just tuning in, here is the reason why a guy with the Mexican name of Arturo Vasquez, once a Roman Catholic and son of a Roman Catholic, is no longer a Roman Catholic. Take notes this time, so we don't have to go through this exercise again:

Truth is manifested and not proven, according to the Russian theologian, St. Pavel Florensky. For me, this summarizes the ancient Christian approach to truth. This is because it has everything to do with life in all of its rawness and splendor. Christianity is about life and death, simply put. Christ means life, beautiful life, everlasting life. And "no Christ" means death. Abstract categories such as "truth", "certainity", "sin", "law", "grace", etc. must be read against this definition, and not vice versa.

Now, the immediate experience of Christ is in the Church, which is His body in pilgrimage here on earth. Through the Church, particularily in the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, we receive the life of Christ. These two sacraments constitute the Church, for they came from the side of the Lord on Calvary in the form of blood and water flowing from His side. Therefore, the Church is primarily the synaxis of God's people around the table of the Lord to receive this life. Without this, there is no Church, no matter how much organzation and letter-head is created.

Now, for me at least, this icon of the Church necessitates laity, deacons, priests, and bishops transmitting the "mysteria" of Christ in an apostolic manner. While this can have a number of forms and God is not strictly bound to work in this manner, the people must constitute the Church by right belief and right worship. The guarentee of the indefectibility of the Church is the people and their sensus catholicus, not an abstract office or legalistic checks and balances.

Many agree that most Christian denominations in this country are suffering from a huge crisis in many respects. This is especially sad in the Roman Catholic Church, since it used to be so traditional. Many conservatives and traditionalists of this church, however, tend to say that while they might despise their bishops and priests, they are still "with the Pope, since the Pope is infallible". This is neither a traditional nor a very sound view of the Church. For even in contemporary Catholic theology, the parish priest is the immediate representative of Christ over his flock, and the bishop is even moreso. You cannot love one part of the Body of Christ and hate another. You cannot say that one part of the body will always be healthy, and the rest of the body will rot from gangrene. The Church is not a set of legal relations that binds people to the one infallible source of truth. If the Church is not the true Church on the ground level of the immediate liturgical assembly, it is not the true Church. Here, one's own criterion is involved in this very confusing time. And thus, we cannot a priori say that this is or is not the true Church just because of such-and-such a reason. There is uncertainty involved, and one must pray for discernment. But like Newman, we must toast to conscience first and then to the Pope (if there is anything left in your glass after the first toast). This is not the easy way out, but it is certainly the most honest.

My Anglicanism is a very loose thing still very much in formation and who knows if it will ever really be truly formed. The bottom line is: if it looks Christian, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, trust your gut instinct and stay there. If it doesn't, try to leave on the very best of terms and don't burn your bridges. THE CHURCH is what you see and experience every Sunday. If you are in full communion with those people, then you are home. I am home every Sunday, but that is just the very beginning of the fight to save my soul. And that is what is most important.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Please Read This Post

The doctrine of the sacraments is alien to the Orthodox because in the Orthodox ecclesial experience and tradition a sacrament is understood primarily as a revelation of the genuine nature of creation, of the world, which, however much it has fallen as “this world,” will remain God’s world, awaiting salvation, redemption, healing and transfiguration in a new earth and a new heaven. In other words, in the Orthodox experience a sacrament is primarily a revelation of the sacramentality of creation itself, for the world was created and given to man for conversion of creaturely life into participation in divine life. If in baptism water can become a “laver of regeneration,” if our earthly food – bread and wine – can become the body and blood of Christ, if with oil we are granted the anointment of the Holy Spirit, if, to put it briefly, everything in the world can be identified, manifested and understood as a gift of God and participation in the new life, it is because all of creation was originally summoned and destined for the fulfillment of the divine economy – “Then God will be all in all.”

-Alexander Schmemann

Read the whole post from the Scrivener. It is very moving and well-written

Friday, October 13, 2006

And Now For Something Completely Different...

What Happens When You Get Your Birthday Present A Little Too Late?

Was it ever the case that, when you were a child, you wanted a toy so bad but never got it? And when you finally were in a position to obtain it, you no longer wanted it anymore?

The Roman Catholic Internet is abuzz with rumors that Pope Benedict will somehow free up the traditional Latin Mass. It is odd for me to hear this news. From the age of fourteen to a little less than a year ago, I was obsessed with this question. Even when I was in the Eastern Church, I always hoped that Rome would give some freedom to the Latin Mass. I remember I even recorded at the tender age of fourteen the Latin Mass as it was played over the radio said with a thick accent by Father Gomar de Pauw. I tried to learn the Latin responses even before I had ever seen a Latin Mass.

When I first came into contact with the Society of St. Pius X, I thought I had been assumed into heaven. I thought there I could be a Catholic without apologies. Soon, however, I realized that the beautiful liturgy was part of a package that was not very appealing and not at all theological. Mostly, it was a vendetta that the SSPX faithful had against the Vatican's excommunication of Action Francaise and its about-face on political issues in the French post-war era. Theology was really only an after-thought.

My time in Argentina sealed this sense: traditionalism down there is a badge of honor for those who are "more right wing than thou". In this sense, Rome's neglecting of the theology of vicarious satisfaction was not just a betrayal of the Council of Trent, it also smacked of communism, liberalism, and Freemasonry. If you want to be a good Lefebvrist, you must be for the "Social Reign of Christ the King", which means that all the "liberals" deserve what they get, whether it means getting tortured to death, having their babies stolen from them, and having their corpses thrown out of a plane over the Atlantic Ocean. Behind every Lefebvrist polemic lies the shadow of Marshall Petain or a corrupt Argentine general hiding behind dark glasses.

But that is just the Lefebvrists. What of the rest of the traditionalist movement in the Roman Catholic Church? For the more principled, the theological issue of the Latin Mass being a re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary is first and foremost. The Mass is primarily a propitiatory sacrifice, and the Pauline Mass does not highlight that enough in their opinion. For some, this means that these Masses produce less grace (Cranmer is starting to sound better and better, isn't he?). The more sensible ones think that the Novus Ordo Mass is silly and just want people to behave better in church. I can't disagree with that sentiment as a High Church Anglican. Maybe, if Rome doesn't give them back the Latin Mass, these Catholics can come to our Anglo-Catholic services. Why not?

It is very difficult to milk theology out of liturgy. Liturgy is a self-giving to God by the Body of Christ. It cries, it rejoices, and it loves. I don't have the answers on how this occurs, its limits and its laws. I know what works and what doesn't, at least in my case. In my case, going to the Novus Ordo Mass that I had growing up is above all a social event; religiously, it means very little to me. To pretend that going to the traditional Latin Mass now is a profound experience would be dishonest. Really, both Novus Ordo Catholics and traditionalists are the same. One is completely passive (the Novus Ordo Catholics), the others kneel in their pews completely mystified and confused, with their noses buried in a black missal. It's taken me this long to realize it, but all Roman Catholics are alike. And I will always be a Roman Catholic, even if I decide to become a Hare Krishna. Real Faith doesn't depend on a liturgical formula. Often, it is found in spite of it.

So I will be totally indifferent if the Pope of Rome does finally let the Latin Mass free. While my aesthetic tastes will be appeased, deep down, I just don't want that toy anymore.


This is a thought-provoking post from The Prayer Book Society website.

This is not to say that I agree with it or with the line given by this group in general. The logic of Fr. Toon's argument, however, is quite clear. We will not argue against the "liberal" side, since I am assuming that there are no left-wing ECUSA "queer" tree-worshippers reading my blog (though you are more than welcome if you are). On the other hand, what he says about the "Anglo-Catholics" really hit the ball home for me.

Does Anglicanism have a future? Is the future in the Continuum some sort of "Catholic Tridentinism-lite", turned in on itself and archaic like an old lamp in the attic? What is the point of being Anglican if you don't take the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles seriously? (Should they be taken seriously? It's not as if they are the Nicene Creed.)

Maybe we shouldn't be too fundamentalist about these things either way. But if we cease to take these things seriously, what is the point of putting the word, "Anglican" in front of our churches? We should just become Old Catholics and be done with it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Two Quotes in Contrary Motion

Part I- In his deepest being, man still retains a memory of [the sacred], as after the first "fall" his ancestor, the primordial man, retained intelligence enough to enable him to rediscover the traces of God that are visible in the world.

-Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 213

This of course I have inferred on this blog many times before. We are in our deepest beings creatures who seek the one, the true, the good, and the beautiful, and this can only find its summit, I have argued, in the sacred. This is the only hope we have in our messed-up postmodern world.

For our postmodern interlocutor, what I have said is logocentric, sexist, racist, homophobic and [fill in this sentence with whatever "reactionary" epithet you can think of]. No matter how much filth man piles onto his nature, he is still made in the image and likeness of God. Our task is to dig through that filth and find the "divine spark" (St. Gregory the Theologian) that lies at the heart of every being born of woman.

2. For Luther, the word of God is not primarily a text; it is first and foremost an oral event- the act of preaching. The scriptures are the written form that the word has taken as a necessary aid in the ongoing proclamation of the church. But, as Luther stated, "the need to write books was a serious decline and a lack of the Spirit which necessity forced upon us; it is not the manner of the New Testament."

-Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical, p.303

As a life-long Roman Catholic (with certain impromptu stops in the Christian East), I never could understand Protestantism. And I never will. It's something in my heritage; even though some of my aunts and one uncle converted to evangelical Protestantism, my blood is too Latin to understand the cold religion of the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon North. There are places, however, that I can intersect some of the ideas of Protestantism, and this quote is one of these moments of understanding.

Can anyone else observe that what Luther is saying here contradicts 99% of what Protestants believe now? If I am not too rusty in my theology, what Luther is referring to here is kerygma, the time when the Gospel is being proclaimed for the first time. The whole "turn with me, brother" attitude of all of the strictly Protestant services I have attended seemed too rationalistic and made God so distant. No wonder, not even Luther thought that things should be this way. It is the living proclamation of the Word that constitutes the Church, not the text.

The Anglican Church in Hollister had very much this feeling of proclaiming the Word. I entered Anglicanism here in a much more "High Church Protestant" setting than where I am now. Having now read this quote, now I realize what I might have experienced there. Those "Protestants" did not just read the Word of God; they "preached" it, brought it to life, and made it move about and sing. I like the Anglo-Catholicism of my church now; obviously with my background, it is much more familiar. Many times, however, I miss my Protestant congregation in Hollister.

Christianity is like music. Some days I really want to listen to Chopin, Dvorak, Debussy, or even Bruckner; this would be the equivalent of wanting to attend a Pontifical High Mass or an All-Night Vigil at a Russian Cathedral. Some days, however, a piano etude by Philip Glass, a tango by Gardel, or even a simple corrido is more to my taste; this would be the "straight '28", no frills, no lace, no incense. The latter, of course, is the bare-bones of what is acceptable (at least in my mind), but it is so simple is can surpass even the most elaborate and colorful ceremony.

Maybe I understand a little more now than I did before.

Academic Life

I haven't been able to post as much as I could of late, probably due to laziness or sheer lack of ideas. Today, for example, I had to go to the American Studies Association conference in Oakland, and if I hear the names Roland Barthes or Michel Foucault one more time, I am really going to have to "get ghetto" on someone, and it won't be pretty. Piled high and deep, that's all I can say about it.

Actually, I'll say one other thing: it seems postmodern and poststructural theory are just really bad attempts at prose writing. Did not someone once say that all philosophy is just bad poetry? He must have been thinking about this rubbish.

Tonight I might post something of substance, otherwise bear with me during my exile in this intellectual wasteland. It will be over soon.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jansenist Chant

Like its Protestant cousin, Calvinism, Jansenism also produced some beautiful works of music. See this link from the Aggiornamento site to hear and read about the plain-chant of the exiled Jansenist clergy in the Cathedral of Auxerre.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Two Reviews (and Some Reflections)

1. Oakland, October 6th, Oakland Opera Theatre, Les Enfants Terribles by Philip Glass.

I went to the premiere of this ambitious production of Philip Glass' danced opera last Friday night. This is the third opera of the trilogy of operas based on Jean Cocteau's films, Orphee, La Belle et la Bete, and Les Enfants Terribles. While all of these operas concern Cocteau's ideas of the power of art and the imagination, Les Enfants Terribles portrays the tragedy that can occur when reality and fantasy are blurred. It is a disturbing story, but it is one of my favorite works by Glass.

The original production was staged by the choreographer Susan Marshall, and took the innovative step of having each character in the opera portrayed by one singer and two dancers. The dancers and singers could then give all of the emotional aspects of how the characters felt in each scene. The singers then had to interact with the dancers, and the movement was flawless and integrated. Truly, it was one of the most fascinating performances I have ever seen.

Having seen the original production back in 1997, I was anxious to see how this small theatre group in Oakland would re-present this spectacle. I have to say that they indeed pulled it off. If anything, they have proven that this work is modest enough in terms of forces that it could be revived anywhere from San Francisco to Omaha. The score is for three pianos, and the operatic and choreographic forces needed are not large by any means. Hopefully, it will one day be a normal part of the repertoire of any ambitious theatre group ready to take on a challenging and beautiful work.

In this California production, the setting of Cocteau's novel is changed to French Indo-China in the 1950's. The narration and action available now in the recording were thus significantly altered in many respects. The mother, who dies but never appears in the original production, is actually portrayed here and brutally murdered. The snow ball fight at the beginning of the work is changed into a scene of a sling-shot fight with mud, and many other "cultural" changes also are made. These turned out to be minor in the greater scheme of the action of the opera.

The action between the singers and the dancers was less integrated, yet nevertheless the singers did their fair share of movement. The Nguyen Dance Company did a very good job in passionately playing out the ethos of Cocteau's elegant and brutal story. The soprano, Joohee Choi, was enchanting in her role as Lise, and the other singers gave a performance worthy of the original tour of 1997. Being a premiere, there were of course a number of problems with subtitles, sound systems, and moving about on stage. For the modest venue of the small theatre next to Jack London Square, it was a very magical and intimate performance.

Les Enfants Terribles plays from now until the 22nd of this month at the Oakland Opera Theatre in Oakland, Ca.

2. A Benefit Concert of Indian Carnatic Vocal Music, October 8th, St. John's Church, Berkeley Ca.

This turned out to be for a very good cause: a school for the mentally disabled in India. See this link for more information.

The star of this show was Sangeetha Swaminathan, a rising star vocalist in the classical music scene of southern India. She gave a flawless performance of various songs and ragas from the Carnatic tradition of the Indian subcontinent. She was accompanied by Anuradha Sridhar, violin, and Shriram Bramhanadam, mridangam (a form of drum).

I will tell you one thing, even if you do not like Indian classical music, you will certainly get more bang for your buck if you go to one of these concerts than if you went to a Western classical concert. The performers went over three hours without intermission and did not skip a beat the whole time. While Swaminathan was by far the star of the night, handling these classical pieces with deceptively flawless ease, the other two performers had their share of demonstrations of virtuosity.

There were some very interesting suprises that made me smile. One was that the drone, usually made by a tanpura, was replaced by a recorded drone. Microphones were also present, as was a sound system. People felt free to speak softly throughout the perfomance, and many tapped along with the music following the vocalist who kept the beat by vigourously slapping her thigh.

As a Christian, many things struck me about the attitude of prayer the that perfomers obviously had. If Christians sang so sweetly to Christ as that woman sang to the "Lord Krishna", perhaps we wouldn't be going through the troubles that we are experiencing now. The length of the performance itself also questioned our Western concept of "an hour and a half tops" in terms of capturing our attention. While there was some "boredom" after the first hour and a half, it was odd that I finally started listening in a whole new way after the second hour. The music did its work on me, and it was a very moving experience overall.

La Monte Young, a disciple of the famous North Indian vocalist, Pandit Pran Nath, described in an interview Indian thought on music:

In Indian classical thought there is the idea that the universe was created with sound. In fact, it is said that when Vishnu decided to create the cosmos, he first cut himself in half and made out of one half of himself Brahma. Brahma created the world as we know it through sound. There is a famous Sanskrit line "Nada Brahma"- "Sound is God".

Could it perhaps be hoped that this is not too far from the Prologue of St. John:

In principio erat Verbum.... ?

What the Heck....

Here is another Intocable video. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Real Theology Defies Explanations

With your body, O Christ, you were in the tomb, with your soul in Hell as God, in Paradise with the Thief, on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, filling all things, yet yourself uncircumscribed.

-from the Canon of the Resurrection.
A composition by John of Damascus.
Ode 1. 4th Tone


Friday, October 06, 2006

If Orpheus Had Played the Accordion...

He would have sounded something like this.

Ricardo Muñoz from the Mexican group, Intocable.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Christos Yannaras - The Freedom of Morality

Part IX- Abyssus Abyssum Invocat

September, 2003- I went to St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Mission in Sunnyvale not knowing what to expect. From the outside, it appeared to be a converted Protestant church with a steeple. I had just been to an Ignatius Press conference and was psyched about being Catholic, but still a little conflicted about the fact that I was going to an Eastern Catholic church and was planning on becoming an Eastern Catholic monk. I entered the church and found that it was like any other church of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia: no pews, lots of icons of impeccable taste, and a gorgeous iconostasis. I began to venerate the icons.

When I came to the icon of Our Lord in front of the iconostas, a priest came out of the sanctuary wearing a riassa and sporting a very trim haircut and beard. The first thing he said to me (and I am not making this up) was:

"You used to be a seminarian, didn't you."

I froze. Was this man clairvoyant? Did I have it written on my forehead that I had left seminary nine months earlier and would be entering a monastery in another six months?

"Yes, Father," I replied, "how did you know?"

" I used to be a Marist seminarian a long time ago."

Needless to say we talked to almost two in the morning after All-Night Vigil was over. He gave me one book, not the only or the first book on Orthodox theology I have ever read, but maybe the one that tied many themes together for me in my own mind. The book was Greek theologian Christos Yannaras' work, The Freedom of Morality, and while it has great flaws like any book, it is one of the most prophetic Christian works ever to confront modern thought.

I can here talk about various themes of the book, but that is not the point of these posts. The point is what I perceived was said, and its affect on how I believe and think. The main theme that Yannaras is trying to get across is: the Gospel is not what you think it is. That is, life in Christ is a relationship and not a system. You cannot buy off God (as I have said many times in the past), and you cannot enter into a relationship with Christ on your own terms. We can say this until we are blue in the face, but we will never understand it. The life of the "old man" of the flesh is our constantly forgetting and reminding ourselves of these things. Yannaras is trying to shake us out of this complacency in our relationship with God, Christ, the Church, and society in general.

One of Yannaras' main targets, infering from the title of the book, is modern moral theology. There is one chapter in the book where he cites that many early editions of St. John's Gospel do not include the story of the woman caught in adultery, implying that many early Christians rejected this story as false because the woman showed no sign of repentance. Yannaras uses this episode to make a key point in his book:

The ethics of the Gospel have as their aim the transfiguration of life, not merely a change in external behavior or punishment of behavior disruptive to social harmony.

I pause here now to reflect how this concept re-formed how I approach my spiritual life. In traditional Western Christianity, there is a temptation to conceive of sin as "strikes on your record" and virtue or good works as "brownie points in your favor". Since sin is an infinite offense against an infinite God, the temptation of Western spiritual practice is to focus exclusively on "not sinning" and "wracking up points" so as not to have to spend time in purgatory and enter Heaven quicker. While this is an exaggeration, it is a very real one. That is how I thought about these things when I was a teenager reading St. Alphonsus de Ligouri.

Many authors of the East, however, are very clear that this is not the case. The important thing is to be formed in the image and likeness of God, and that will almost inevitably involve falls into sin and repentance. As Yannaras writes when talking about confession:

...[T]he healing of such perversion in the sensory organs of life cannot result from binding conditions and obligations to show some objective "reform", which inevitably keep man confined to the impasse of individual effort and individual morality. It can only come through gradual understanding and dynamic experience of the truth of the mystery [of repentance], through bringing one's sins to the Church again and again until one gains real humility, and this humility encounters the love of the Church - until life does its work, and the deadened nature is raised up.

In other words, repentance and all morality is ecclesial: it is NOT about me. I am a pile of filth as an individual; as a person in communion with the Body of Christ, I am born a new creature. That is the message of Yannaras' book. And that changed how I approach my own struggles day in and day out.

The book does have its flaws. Yannaras seems to have never met a Western theologian he liked, and a phenomenological philosopher he didn't like. Some of his arguments paint the Western Church in broad, sloppy strokes, comparing the best of the East with the worst of the West. This is an unfair if very common error that Orthodox theologians commit. He also even gets to the point of accusing Chartes Cathedral of being decadent Western scholasticism in stone and stained glass; a very specious argument to say the least.

Still, it is a book that must be read. If you are Orthodox and haven't read this book, you need to buy it right now (here's a link). Western Christians should of course also read it. It will help you understand that our approach to God is a coming together of opposites that approach one another in love and trust. As Yannaras so eloquently puts it:

As the Christian explores the bottomless depths of human failure through immediate experience, he realizes the magnitude of the possibilities of love, and he dares to make the leap of repentance. Thus he meets complete acceptance in the infinity of God's love for mankind: "He who knows the weakness of human nature, the same has had experience of divine power," says St. Maximus Confessor. Salvation is when two infinite magnitudes come together: here alone does "one deep call to another."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Memories, Memories of the South....

Okay, stop what you are doing and go to this site. These are more fun photos of my former seminary posted on October 1st.

See also this interview with the now rector Bishop Richard Williamson. He became rector shortly after I left, and I have always wondered how everything is fairing down there. Apparently, pretty well. I still recognzie a lot of familiar faces in these photos.

While reading the interview with the excommunicated prelate, part of me wished I can be trapped in the Roman integrist bubble again. It is like my urge to listen to the symphonic poem Don Juan by Richard Strauss or the very last scene of Wagner's Gotterdamerung when the universe catches fire; it is an urge of romantic longing, for certainty, blood, and death. Oh if I can only put away this unsettled mind of mine and just think that somewhere, someone has all of the answers! But that is not going to happen. And you all now know why.

This being said, I kick myself for not staying in seminary longer. Bishop Williamson seems like a really great guy. I once saw him celebrate Mass in socks and sandals. That was way cool. I was getting tired of our French overlords in seminary trying to make sure everything was done stiffly and properly, and the bishop's mannerisms brought a bit of eccentricity to the ordeal whenever he came to do ordinations down there. It's funny how someone who seems so erudite and fascinating can be so rigid in his theology. That is what is so great about the Church of Christ: just when you think you know everything, someone throws a wrench in the gears of your prejudices and makes you think again. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


El Dios Triste
Gabriela Mistral

Mirando la alameda, de otoño lacerada,
la alameda profunda de vejez amarilla,
como cuando camino por la hierba segada
busco el rostro de Dios y palpo su mejilla.

Y en esta tarde lenta como una hebra de llanto
por la alameda de oro y de rojez
yo siento un Dios de otoño,
un Dios sin ardor y sin canto
¡y lo conozco triste, lleno de desaliento!

Y pienso que tal vez Aquel tremendo y fuerte Señor,
al que cantara de locura embriagada,
no existe, y que mi Padre que las mañanas vierte
tiene la mano laxa, la mejilla cansada.

Se oye en su corazòn un rumor de alameda de otoño:
el desgajarse de la suma tristeza;
su mirada hacia mí como lágrima rueda
y esa mirada mustia me inclina la cabeza.

Y ensayo otra plegaria para este Dios doliente,
plegaria que del polvo del mundo no ha subido:
"Padre, nada te pido, pues te miro a la frente
y eres inmenso, ¡inmenso!, pero te hallas herido."

The Sorrowful God

Looking at the boulevard, of the scarred autumn,
The deep boulevard of elderly yellow,
As when I walk in the harvested wheat,
I look for the face of God and pat His cheek.

And this slow afternoon like a thread of weeping
Through the boulevard of gold and red, I feel
A God of autumn, a God without feeling and without song,
And I meet him sad, full of discouragement!

And I think that maybe this awesome and strong
Lord, to whom I would sing with drunken folly,
Does not exist, and my Father who unleashes the mornings
Has a lax hand and tired cheek.

A rumor in his heart is heard of the boulevard
Of autumn: the flowing out of the highest sadness;
His gaze turns to me like a tear,
And that moist gaze makes me bow my head.

And I try another prayer to this suffering God,
A prayer that has not risen from the dust of the world:
"Father, I ask you for nothing,
For I am looking into your face,
And you are immense,
Immense, but you have been wounded".

Purcell's King Arthur

But in one way Purcell is a finer stager than Wagner: his music is full of movement, of dance. His is the easiest music in all the world to act. Only those can realize fully the truth of this who have experienced the joy of moving to Purcell's music, whether in the ballroom, or on the stage or in the garden; but especially in the garden.

-Gustav Holst

I went to a presenation of Cal Perfomances and the Mark Morris Dance Group of Henry Purcell's King Arthur last Saturday evening. Funny, I used to own a recording of this work a long time ago and didn't remember the work. Saturday's presentation, however, was quite authentic and satisfying. The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra handled the music flawlessly, as did the singers and the Univeristy Chorus. The great treat of the night was observing how the whole mise en scene came together so well, and everything was so integrated into one spectacular performance.

I know nothing of choreography, but Morris' presentation really worked for me, combining more classical styles with modernity and quite a bit of satire in between. Good Christians should be warned that the presentation does get a bit lewd, but that is to be expected. The setting and props were all modern, but they worked very well too. I suppose since the presentation stripped away all the spoken dialogue, the more modern aspects did not seem so out of place in the midst of Purcell's lush score.

This work plays through Saturday, October 8th at Zellerbach Hall here in Berkeley. Go here for more information.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Cuius Regio Eius Religio

An ideology must be constantly created and verified in social life; if it is not, it dies, even though it may seem to be safely embodied in a form that can be handed down. Many Christians still think of kneeling with folded hands as the appropriate posture for prayer, but few now know why; and the few who do know cannot, even if they choose, mean the same thing by it as was meant by those to whom the posture was part of an ideology still real in everyday social life. The social relations that once gave explicit meaning to that ritual gesture of the vassal's subordination to his lord are now as dead as a mackerel, and so, therefore, is the ideological vocabulary, including the posture of prayer, in which those social relations once lived.

-Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America

The royal headship could be maintained because Scripture would "bear" it. It rested on the plain precedents of the Old Testament and the clear indisputable teachings of the New. But for the papal headship there was only the flimsiest of biblical evidence.

G.W. Bromiley, Thomas Cranmer: Theologian, p.14

This post is partially inspired by recent posts at the Scrivener and the Going Along Blogs, but I have been thinking on these questions for quite a while. These two posts are from the Eastern Orthodox perspective, and ask some good questions. There are some other thoughts, however, I would care to add, ones that may invert the whole argument at hand.

The subject, of course, is the relationship between Church and State, and more broadly between Church and civil society. How can we be Christians in an indifferent and even arguably hostile civil society? The problem goes deeper than we would like to realize.

Let me start with ecclesiology. The title of this post in Latin means roughly, "the religion shall be that of him who governs". Just the issue of "what church do I go to?" has been historically determined for 90% of Christians by what the State decides is a permissible church in the realm. My Mexican mother, when she first came to this country as a young girl, would make the Sign of the Cross when she passed any building with a cross on it. She didn't know that there was more than one church; in the village, there was one church and that was of course Roman Catholic. Are a lot of the latter-day posturing and hostile apologetics the result of post facto posturing by Christians who confront their fellow Christians as the Other (l'enfer, c'est les autres)? Unable to explain why this person who claims to be Christian looks different from us, do we then begin to apply polemical justifications for why these differences exist? It is arguable that the rift of 1054 started with ritual (who can read the decrees of excommunication now and not blush with embarrassment at the polemics over beards and the sexual habits of priests?), and only later became theological when it was discovered that the Other was bigger and scarier than we first imagined, especially when those in power thought it convenient to inflate those prejudices for their own interests?

Of course, this can be countered with various other examples from Church history. The Catholic Church in Hippo at the time of St. Augustine was also one of many others, but still remained the true Church. There were many post-Reformation villages in Europe where Protestant and Catholics lived side by side, not to mention the early Church having to proclaim its message amongst so many heretical sects. How far, however, can we take these analogies? Were St. Basil's heretics the same as my heretics? Is what is at stake now the same as what was at stake then? Can we be so sure?

Thomas Cranmer, according to MacCulloch's biography, was speechless at one point in his trial when confronted with a well-put point of one of his Roman inquisitors: if the Head of State is head of the Church, does that mean that Nero was head of the Church when he crucified St. Peter? Good question. Why, however, was St. Paul still saying we should obey all (secular) authority? Why did the early Church never set down who was ultimately in charge in ecclesiastical affairs, and why did secular power quickly come to fill the gap in many circumstances after the Emperor Constantine's conversion?

It is hard for us to know just how powerful and sacred "secular" power was considered by the Church itself. We, as postmoderns, like to whip out all of the examples of the Church confronting power, but never the ones when the Church bowed before it and obeyed. Were not the king and emperor anointed at their coronation? Did not the Byzantine emperors receive Communion right from the altar like a bishop? The model of Altar and Crown still seems much more Biblical. Cranmer's point, mentioned at the beginning, remains a very good one.

I have always thought that the phrase, "Kingdom of God" has become one of our many "garbage words" or empty "God-talk" that means absolutely nothing to us. From the time I was a monk, I always thought that the modern congregation is immediately lost in the Divine Liturgy right from the get-go:

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to ages of ages...

Does anyone know what that means anymore? Golly, these days people don't even hit their kids to discipline them! How can we really know what a kingdom is, where the Sovereign has life or death, willy-nilly control over his subjects? Can we truly know what grace is when all we speak is the language of entitlement and "human rights"?

I of course am in the biggest bind of all. I am a semi-leftist who has to pray for a government I don't agree with (it's in the Prayer Book). Can I really consider the Bush administration sacred?
Do I have a choice in the matter? And how does this culture of continual criticism and democracy square with the Gospel ethos?

Again, lots of questions, very few answers. But to smugly proclaim ourselves as Christians contra mundum, to exalt "truth over power" and rejoice in our own strangeness may just be a symptom of petit-bourgeois "self-expression", and in truth very far from the spirit of the first Christians.