It’s been a busy week, and an even busier one lies ahead. Still, here are some interesting links that I’ve been meaning to pass on. Minimal commentary this time. (And look forward to a notice tomorrow regarding a new series related to the Anglican Church of Canada.)
Beauty and liturgy
For all the #liturginerds out there (yes, it is a hashtag), let me warmly commend the New Liturgical Movement, started in 2005. There, you’ll find picture after picture of vestments, processions, statuary, and so forth, along with regular articles on liturgy, links to new books, and direction to classic resources.
A good recent post has been Peter Kwasniewski’s “The Logic of Incarnation and the Temptation of Discarnation” (May 30). Here was a thought-provoking paragraph, for which I’ll offer a trigger warning to our more evangelical readers.
Carried to its furthest conclusion, the view that externals don’t matter, or that they matter only in “moderation” and with a hearty dose of relativism about other possible configurations of externals, runs the risk of repudiating or marginalizing the Incarnation and the sacramental system by which it continually irrupts into our world. It will provoke over time a rejection of the “scandal of the particular” in favor of a bland ecumenism in which all paths to salvation and all expressions of faith are valid, as long as one is sincere in one’s devotional life. It will express itself in a disposition that is more welcoming to evangelical Protestants, who are outside of the unity of the visible Church of Christ, than to traditionally-minded Catholics, who, prioritizing a certain definite ritual worship as Catholics have done for at least 1,500 years, are definitely inside of it.
We are looking at nothing less than a temptation to reject the Catholic religion in favor of an American religiosity that looks more to “where the heart is” than to where the intellect is in its act of faith and what the definite object of that faith is.
Regarding other “externals,” a spate of articles and photographs about Corpus Christi processions and similar affairs have been filling my Facebook feed, doubtless a commentary on the kind of company I keep, and a result of this year’s clustering of festivals in my locale: Corpus Christi, the May Devotion at Little St. Mary’s, and the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The photo below shows the burgeoning procession held each year in Cambridge, UK (which I keep missing due to travel).
Visible faith in cities and towns is one of my things, which is why I found a recent post at First Things by Jordan Zajac, OP, so interesting: “Public Displays of Piety: Corpus Christi among the Bohemians” (June 2).
On a Greenwich Village street corner, amid a throng of man buns and designer sun hats, the priest held up the monstrance, aureate and glistening. The public square was filled with a sticky, sweet smell — not the usual resinous notes of cannabis, but the rich scent of myrrh. Two thuribles were swung by youngish, steady-eyed acolytes. Performers in the square paused to gawk at the procession, allowing us to hear each other as we chanted the Adoro te devote.
In a metropolis known for parades so huge they halt traffic, this small Corpus Christi procession interrupted the evening commute only briefly (following the Roman custom, it was held last Thursday). Perhaps that is why no one mocked or derided us. Or maybe the Village’s bourgeois bohemians were simply dumbstruck, bemused by this incongruous display of medieval-looking piety on streets begrimed by postmodern irony. What was the point of such a public pium exercitium, anyway?
Anyone who has had the experience of publicly carrying a large statue on their shoulder, or singing hymns and psalms in procession in an urban context, will know what Zajac is describing.
In Cambridge, we now hand out leaflets at some of these public events. Take that, Chick tracts. These are not the Catholics you’re looking for.
Ecumenical and Anglican
It has been really hard to keep up with, let alone comment on, all the important developments in Anglican and ecumenical circles. Here’s a relatively short list of links.
- Tali Folkins, “No Anglican Covenant decision in 2016,” Anglican Journal (May 14). The story concerns the Anglican Church of Canada.
- Oliver O’Donovan, “The Wreck of Catholic Identity: Marriage Canon Revision in the Scottish Episcopal Church,” Fulcrum (May 14).
- Archbishop Justin Welby, “Speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland” ACNS (May 25).
- Gavin Drake, “Anglo-Scottish ecumenical agreement approved by Church of Scotland,” ACNS (May 25).
- Gavin Drake, “Lampedusa cross at the Anglican Centre in Rome,” ACNS (May 25).
- “Roadmap for European Reformation 500th Anniversary,” ACNS, adapted from the World Council of Churches (May 31).
- Duane Alexander Miller, “Anglican Mission in the Middle East up to 1910,” Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion (June 2).
Archbishop Welby’s speech is particularly important to read before the story on the Columba Declaration between the Church of England and Church of Scotland. He personally apologizes for recent rancor surrounding it.
Ecumenism … is from above and is person-shaped. The key sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit of God in the life of the church is the creation of a dynamic ordering and profound love amidst welcomed diversity.
If we begin with that assumption, then certain things follow. First, for me at least, is an apology.
The Columba Declaration is one that I support strongly and I hope you will, but the handling of its announcement caused much consternation and deep hurt to the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC). That hurt is exclusively my responsibility and I want to put on the record to you and to them my apology. We know that the goal of unity envisaged in the Columba Declaration cannot be pursued by some churches in isolation from others, and in our context that must mean a particular place for the Scottish Episcopal Church as your Anglican partner in Scotland, and as our immediate neighbour in the Anglican Communion (we have many close links, including ordained ministers moving between our two churches, as we do with the Church in Wales). For this reason, there is great importance in the motion at our Synod saying that the Contact Group to take the Columba Declaration forward should include an SEC representative, whom we ask to be a full participant. (emphasis added)
From time to time I peer over the parapets of my theological library, and remind myself that I am a great lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and comic books (among more “highbrow” interests). We’re in something of a mini-Renaissance, generated by increasing public appetite for material ranging from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to Game of Thrones to the myriad products of the Marvel Universe. Perhaps it’s because the Harry Potter generation is all grown up. Shout out to my people.
I always love adding a new author to the endless list of books to read. Over at First Things, David Randall has described a recent series.
James Stoddard ought to be famous for his Evenmere trilogy — The High House (1998), The False House (2000, revised 2015), and Evenmere (2015). He isn’t, unfortunately. The High House received the Compton Crook Award for best fantasy by a new novelist, but The False House and Evenmere haven’t gotten much notice. But the three books are wonderfully written fantasy, and Stoddard is nearly as good as C. S. Lewis at recapitulating aspects of the Christian myth. He isn’t just trying to be another Lewis, either. Stoddard’s trilogy does something new and nifty: It is an argument in fiction that narrative is at the center of Christian theology — that the universe is narrative, that Christ is its sacred narrator, and that narrative is the means by which mankind can understand God.
The idea interests me, since I am invested in an Augustinian account of the world and its creatures and events as a sign or sacrament of ultimate reality: that is, God. But it also makes me wonder about the subtle differences between seeing the Creation as a narrative or as a symphony. Are we hearing a message, or a beautiful music? I’ve been teasing this idea out a bit lately (see here and here).
I can’t claim to have come to an end of that investigation, so I’ll leave you with one more quotation. Sorry. But this time from Hans Urs von Balthasar, Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism (Ignatius Press, 1987).
In his revelation, God performs a symphony, and it is impossible to say which is richer: the seamless genius of his composition or the polyphonous orchestra of Creation that he has prepared to play it. Before the Word of God became man, the world orchestra was “fiddling” about without any plan: world views, religions, different concepts of the state, each one playing to itself. Somehow there is the feeling that this cacophonous jumble is only a “tuning up”: the A can be heard through everything like a kind of promise. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets …” (Heb. 1:1). Then came the Son, the “heir of all things,” for whose sake the whole orchestra had been put together. As it performs God’s symphony under the Son’s direction, the meaning of its variety becomes clear. (p. 8).
We cannot wrench Christ loose from the Church, nor can we dismantle the Church to get to Christ. If we really want to hear something intelligible, we are obliged to listen to the entire polyphony of revelation. We cannot make Christ shine through the Church by destroying it or replacing it with forms of community of our own designing. (p. 11)
(Hat tip for the latter source: the inimitable Christopher Wells.)
The featured image comes via Phil Roussin.