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

Saturday, January 05, 2008

traditions



Reading Hans Urs von Balthasar is a little like eating flavored rice cakes. You might like the experience while you're doing it, and you might think it's quite good, but you never really take anything away from it afterwards. You never really feel full. There is too much of him in it, and not enough of the voice of the Church. So far, of the books that I have read or tried to read by him, only Cosmic Liturgy is the one I would ever own, and that is because it has some cool quotes and summaries of the thought of St. Maximus Confessor.

But the real point of this post is not to bash von Balthasar or to post once again the famous picture of him with Mickey Mouse. It is to write about the foreword to his book that I am reading now, Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philsophy of St. Gregory of Nyssa. While I love St. Gregory of Nyssa, and his influence on how I think I have written about here and here, it is von Balthasar's approach that I care to focus on. It has much to do with the approach to tradition in the Patristic resourcement of last century, which I think has left us rudderless in the face of Church history and praxis.

Von Balthasar begins by stating correctly that one cannot merely transpose the thought and concerns of one epoch, (in this case, that of Greek Fathers) to another epoch such as our own. He also writes that tradition cannot be conceived as passing a baton in a relay race; the light of the Spirit is not flawlessly passed from one generation to another unchanged. Then, however, he begins to drift off into talk about more "spiritual" approaches to tradition, and how in order, "to be faithful to her mission, the Church must continually make the effort at creative invention." In this sense, our German theologian wishes the Church to read St. Gregory of Nyssa as an adult would read her diary that she wrote as an adolescent: not directly pertinent to her circumstances, but rather providing inspiration for her life that is so completely different now:

Let us read history, our history, as a living account of what we once were, with the double-edged consciousness that all of this has gone forever and that, in spite of everything, that period of youth and every moment of our lives remain mysteriously present at the wellsprings of our soul in a kind delectable eternity.

Now, dear reader, you know that I am not the most reactionary person when it comes to liturgy, Church governance, theology, etc. My more reactionary sentiments often come from my counterproductive desire to be a curmudgeon, and I really don't care where people attend Mass or what prayers they say, as long as they're in the pews saying their prayers. But the old traditonalist flame ignites again whenever I read things like this. I think there is a tremendous hermeneutical hubris involved here that plagued much of the Patristic resourcement leading up to the Second Vatican Council. From Chenu, Congar, de Lubac, von Balthasar, etc. we find simultaneously a sense of wanting to return to the roots of tradition and a contempt for many things that came before them. For simplicity's sake, I will break this down into numbered objections.

1. Why are we so different? In all of the ideas that bubble to the surface, there seems for the Vatican II peritus a sense that the sky is falling, and that this has just begun to happen. That is, our epoch is in drastic crisis, and drastic crises call for drastic measures. I'm sorry, but especially in reading a St. Gregory of Nyssa or a St. John Chrysostom, the sense I get is that things haven't really changed a bit. Even down to people being more concerned about sports than they are about what's going on in church. (Chariot races, anyone?) So why do we have to frantically start putting up new drapes and throwing furniture out the window (or in this case, adding or subtracting things from the Mass or the rosary) under some pretense the we are "different"? I don't get it.

2. Does the Church have to increase her calcium intake? Is the Church older? Middle aged? Concerned about her 401-K plan? For all we know, these end times after the first coming of Christ could last another 2,000 years. So where's the fire at?

3. It's okay. I'm a doctor (of theology). All of those years in a Jesuit novitiate, knowing six languages fluently, and even being well versed in all the jargon of modern philosophy make you perfectly competent to diagnose and treat all the things that "ail" the Church? Seems like you better think twice before you pick up the saw and start amputating, doc.

4. Caught in a head trip. Most importantly, what really irks me about the advocates of the Patristic resourcement is their disregard for small "t" traditions in favor of a supposedly neglected big "T" tradition. That is, it is the idea that the former have somehow clouded and eclipsed the vitality of the latter. In other words, since the Middle Ages and the Baroque era, we have been doing it wrong, that is, up to 1962 when they started to have their say in the Church.

Maybe we can blame it on Aristotle; that whole accident vs. substance distinction has got us all into heaps of trouble. For one could envision the folks at Vatican II getting together and saying: "okay, guys, what is essential to the Mass? And what can we change to make it more relevant?" That is, what is accidental? What is essential to the Gospel, and is that getting across, or is it being clouded by Gregorian Masses for the dead and novenas to St. Jude? Is a drunken procession of Indians in Peru really what the Church Fathers had in mind when it comes to liturgy? And so on and so forth.

There are philosophical presuppositions to all of this, ones which I feel are highly questionable. For they all assume that in matters of Faith, we are the ones who are active in the signifying: that is, we must create a medium that expresses perfectly a clear and transparent message. It is a well defined process of transmitting information that is best left to predetermined planning and meticulous composition. I would contend, however, that we are much more passive in this process than we would care to admit. The stained glass windows, the burning candles, the statues, and the priest mumbling with his back turned to you all transmit things that we cannot express in mere words, things that are far from "accidental" to use the Peripatetic term. That is why the Church in the past, if it did intervene to change liturgy or praxis, did it slowly and almost imperceptibly, ultimately not feeling confident enough to radically alter a system that, if it didn't work well, at least worked.

(One can thus see why the historical liturgist's job can be so difficult since he has to trace small changes over an immense amount of time. One can speculate that a liturgist studying our own time would be utterly bored since everything is so variable that it would spark little interest for a keen investigator.)

In those details then lie small sparks of divinity; in those solemn and seemingly superstitious actions lie the very life blood of the Gospel as it has been read for centuries. My greatest fear is that the periti behind Vatican II unwittingly deprived the following generations of the formation in "small things" that they had as children but in their mature years deemed inessential and detrimental to the Gospel. We do not form Tradition, the devotions, processions, and mumbled prayers; they form us. Our resourcement theologians extracted Tradition out of life and made it into a mental construct.

Even if I can live with the Pauline liturgy, the new church buildings, and the priests walking around in lay clothing, I cannot help but feel that the "hermeneutic of continuity" is a rather hollow phrase. If it doesn't look the same, it isn't the same. And no amount of "spiritual" explanations about the "signs of the times" can silence the lament of the eyes, the ears, and the soul.

14 Comments:

At 4:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just think Hans Urs von Balthasar is a cool name.
I repeat it sometimes.

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger Antonio449 said...

The so-called "Hermeneutic of Continuity" is still relevant; however, in that it allows for a balance between traditionalism and liberalism.

Also, from what I understand when van Balthasar was writing he was one of a small number of theologians whose theological experimentations still maintained some semblance of orthodoxy despite his eccentricities.

The Resourcement movement with the likes of de Lubac, van Balthasar, Ratzinger etc. allowed for the Church Fathers to be accessible again. And that the patristic mode of theology was not outdated but still relevant for our times.

Particularly in view of the validity of the use of Neo-Platonic or Aristotelean metaphysics despite the modern obsession with passing the post-Kantian critical bar.

That these theologians are able to write in a patristic mode belies the notion that for modern man the world is disenchanted and cannot be viewed sacramentally.


This intellectual context also allows for Renaissance thinkers such as Pico etc.

And Fray Luis de León in the Hispanic sphere who combined the Neo-Platonism of the Humanists with the Patristic Tradition as well as Spanish Scholasticism (Vitoria, de Soto etc.)

 
At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mickey must be a Traditionalist with the white gloves and all.

 
At 7:57 AM, Anonymous Tony said...

You say: "Reading Hans Urs von Balthasar is a little like eating flavored rice cakes. You might like the experience while you're doing it, and you might think it's quite good, but you never really take anything away from it afterwards. You never really feel full. There is too much of him in it, and not enough of the voice of the Church."

1) What books exactly of Balthasar have you read? I ask because you give the impression that you've read most if not all of his books and can therefore pass judgment on his works and say that there is "not enough of the voice of the Church" in them. Really? As if Volumes II and III (english translation) of The Glory of the Lord do not have "the voice of the Church" in them? Or could it be that your vision of "Church" is that of Pius IX and ONLY that??? You mention Cosmic Liturgy, but really, that is an early work when Balthasar was deep into his patristic studies. His attachment to Thomas Aquinas remains real and substantial and faithful, even if thinks Aquinas does not have an explicitated theological aesthetics. Balthasar's main opus is the trilogy. Tell me you've read ALL of them and then tell me whether "THE VOICE OF THE CHURCH IS NOT" in them.

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the cb code -
thedietsolutionprogram -
the diet solution program -
the rich jerk -
the super mind evolution system -
turbulencetraining -
turbulence training -
vincedelmontefitness -
vince del monte fitness -
warp speed fat loss -
wedding speech 4u -
windo fix -
wrap candy -
zygor guides -
7day ebook -
360 fix kit -
advanced pc tweaker -
adware bot -
affiliate naire -
art of approaching -
beating adwords -
believe and manifest -
blogging in action -
body building revealed -
burthefat -
burn the fat -
carb rotation diet -
cheat your way thin -
cold sore freedom in 3 days -
conversationalhypnosis -
conversational hypnosis -
convert 2 ev -
cure for bruxism -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

cure hemorrhoids -
digi cam cash -
digital media solution -
dl guard -
driver checker -
earth4energy -
earth 4 energy -
easy backup wizard -
easy member pro -
easy tv soft -
eatstopeat -
eat stop eat -
error fix -
error killer -
evidence nuker -
fap turbo -
fatburningfurnace -
fat burning furnace -
fatloss4idiots -
fat loss 4 idiots -
final uninstaller -
fitnessmodelprogram -
fitness model program -
flatten your abs -
gamers testing ground -
gov auction -
governmentregistry -
government registry -
gov records -
herbal hair solution -
homebre ware -
home job group -
homemadeenergy -
home made energy -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

inteli gator -
joanas world -
joyful tomato -
kidney stone remedy -
learn digital photography now -
learn elements now -
linden method -
lose man boobs -
malware removal bot -
maternityacupressure -
maternity acupressure -
meet your sweet -
muscle gaining secrets -
muscle gain truth -
niche adsense themes -
ninety day powerseller -
pc optimizer pro -
pregnancy miracle -
pregnancy without pounds -
privacy control -
publicrecordspro -
public records pro -
quit smoking today -
reg genie -
registry easy -
registry genius -
registry smart -
registry winner -
registry winner download -
retrievea lover -
reverse mobile -
richard mackenzie direct -
rocket italian -
save my marriage today -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

secrets book -
seo elite -
spyware cease -
spyware remover -
spy zooka -
stock assault -
talking to toddlers -
the action machine -
thebadbreathreport -
the bad breath report -
thedietsolutionprogram -
the diet solution program -
the rich jerk -
tonsil stones remedies -
top secret fat loss secret -
turbo cash generator -
turbulence training -
twitter online system -
uncle sams money -
underground hypnosis -
vincedelmontefitness -
vince del monte fitness -
warp speed fat loss -
water 4 gas -
wedding speech 4u -
wp goldmine -
wrap candy -
xsite pro -
zygor guides -
37 days to clean credit -
advanced defrag -
adware alert -
adware bot -
affiliate prophet -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

affiliate video brander -
anti spyware -
art of approaching -
atomic blogging -
auction classified cash -
automated cash formula -
bbq book -
bloggers pay check -
blogging in action -
body building revealed -
burnthefat -
burn the fat -
carb rotation diet -
cheat your way thin -
chopper tattoo -
cleanup the profits -
cold sore freedom in 3 days -
commission blueprint -
conversationalhypnosis -
conversational hypnosis -
cure for bruxism -
declutter fast -
driver checker -
earth4energy -
earth 4 energy -
easy member pro -
easy tv soft -
eatstopeat -
eat stop eat -
fap turbo -
fatburningfurnace -
fat burning furnace -
fatloss4idiots -
final sync -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

final uninstaller -
fitness model program -
fit yummy yummy -
flatten your abs -
forex ambush -
governmentregistry -
government registry -
healthy urban kitchen -
homebrew installer -
homemadeenergy -
home made energy -
instant article wizard -
jamo rama -
joyful tomato -
lose man boobs -
lower body make over -
maternityacupressure -
maternity acupressure -
maverick money makers -
meet your sweet -
muscle gaining secrets -
muscle gain truth -
natural cancer treatments -
niche review templates -
nyhms warcraft guides -
pappa pc -
pc booster -
pc optimizer pro -
pc secret formula -
pda flix -
privacy control -
publicrecordspro -
public records pro -
push button ecover -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reg defense -
reg genie -
registry easy -
registry genius -
registry smart -
registry winner -
registry winner download -
reverse mobile -
richard mackenzie direct -
rocket japanese -
rotator cuff training -
save my marriage today -
secrets book -
silent sales machine -
silver lotto -
spyware cease -
super affiliate handbook -
the 11 forgotten laws -
thebadbreathreport -
the bad breath report -
thedietsolutionprogram -
the diet solution program -
the power pause -
tmj help -
tonsil stones remedies -
top secret fat loss secret -
turbulence training -
twitter rockstar -
uncle sams money -
underground hypnosis -
vincedelmontefitness -
vince del monte fitness -
warcraft millionaire -
warcraft wealth -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

warp speed fat loss -
webcomp analyst -
wedding speech 4u -
win back love -
your software website -
zox pro -
zygor guides -
500 love making tips -
acid alkaline diet -
acne no more -
advanced defrag -
adware alert -
adware bot -
affiliate elite -
anti spyware -
anti spyware bot -
article bully -
art of approaching -
auto pilot profits -
bbq book -
blogging in action -
body building revealed -
burnthefat -
burn the fat -
carb rotation diet -
chopper tattoo -
conversationalhypnosis -
conversational hypnosis -
cure for tinnitus -
debt free in three -
driver checker -
duplicate file cleaner -
earth4energy -
earth 4 energy -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

easy member pro -
easy tv soft -
eatstopeat -
eat stop eat -
end your tinnitus -
fap winner -
fat burning furnace -
fatloss4idiots -
fat loss 4 idiots -
final sync -
final uninstaller -
firewall gold -
fitness model program -
fit yummy yummy -
flatten your abs -
forex auto money -
forex auto pilot -
forex confidante -
game tester guide -
governmentregistry -
government registry -
healthy urban kitchen -
higher faster sports -
homebrew installer -
homemadeenergy -
home made energy -
i am big brother -
instant profit machine -
i want a teaching job -
joyful tomato -
lose man boobs -
lower body make over -
macro virus -
magic of making up -

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

make money taking surveys -
malware bot -
maternityacupressure -
maternity acupressure -
meet your sweet -
moles warts removal -
money siphon system -
muscle gaining secrets -
my airfare secrets -
my miracle loans -
Auto Content Cash -
Banner Ad Blueprint -
Copy Paste Systems -
Every Other Day Diet -
Farm Ville Secrets -
Plugin To Green Profits -
Rapid Mass Traffic -
Tinnitus Miracle -
Tweetomatic Profiteer -
Woodworking 4 Home -
24 Hour Internet Business -
Blogging To The Bank -
Burn The Fat -
Earth 4 Energy -
Fap Turbo -
Fat Burning Furnace -
Fat Loss 4 Idiots -
Foex Auto Money -
Hemorrhoid Miracle -
Legit Online Jobs -
Magic Of Making Up -
Magni Work -
Micro Niche Finder -
Plr Article Software -

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home