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For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Loose Ends

The four main posts in series on Holy Scripture, Liturgy, the Blessed Virgin and the Petrine office may have loose threads and may be a tad opaque here and there, but there was one glaring ambiguity that I wished to clear up in this the concluding post. At the beginning of the post Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi I gave a definition of liturgy which more or less applied to any formal or ritual elements when a group meet together to worship God. I then, farther into the post, began to use the term liturgy or divine liturgy to talk exclusively about either the Eastern or Latin rite Eucharistic liturgy as the bearers of Tradition in the specific sense of Apostolic and authoritative tradition. I ought to clear up this confusion.

The post on the Apostolic and Petrine office Apostolica Ecclesia gives some idea of how I intend to distinguish the more general from the more specific use of the word liturgy. Apostolic liturgy refers to liturgy developed in union with the Apostles and their successors. This kind of Eucharistic liturgy has had a remarkably similar form for over sixteen centuries, and there is a great deal of parallel between the different liturgies within these traditions, with the congruity at its height as one approaches the central drama of the consecration. Significantly, the theology underlying these liturgies is inescapable. So the argument for giving these liturgies a special place and a capital 'L' is their Apostolicity, their theology, and the empirical grounds that they contain a large amount of common material. Changes within these liturgies have been, by and large, very slow and incremental.

There is an obvious objection to this description of the Latin rite as a rite with a slow organic growth. Firstly, there was the disappearance (with the exception of the Ambrosian liturgy of Milan) of a large number of liturgies and the standardising of the Roman rite in the Counter-Reformation. This included the Gallican and Sarum rite among others. While this reform represented a sea change in normal incremental liturgical development, it was put in the shade by the much more root and branch changes of 1970 and Vatican II. I think both interventions were a bit drastic, especially Vatican II which resulted in different practices (e.g. the versus populum arrangement) which were based on sometimes mistaken claims about antiquity. I think that there is little disagreement now that there was a limited basis for some of the actual changes put into place in the Vatican II texts themselves.

My two objections to the Vatican II changes, besides the change of orientation and the obvious abuses, are firstly the drastic chopping up of the lectionary and rewriting of the collects, and secondly the sudden shifting and changing of a large number of liturgical feasts and traditional practices, among this second category being the changes to Holy Week. Besides the point that change needs to be gradual to be digested, and tends to be more sympathetic to the spirit of the liturgy when introduced gradually, there is a problem with the theological rationale of the lectionary changes. There is an interesting link on Rorate Caeli to a series of articles, the most recent essay (Number Fifteen) dealing with this, at Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce. There was a move from a more symbolic and sacramental to a more narrative and historical series of readings; and the switch from a one to a three yearly cycle means that no-one, in their lifetime, is ever going to acquire familiarity with the cycle. Three years is too long a span. The argument is that more of the Scripture is read, but one must counter that less is remembered; and in any case, the place for systematic Scripture reading is in the daily prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, or in the devotional practice of lectio divina.

I hope and pray that the Ordinariate's final rite will keep the traditional language of the Book of Divine Worship used by the Anglican Use parishes in the United States, and that the collects will be more or less left alone, and the readings preserve the traditional Latin lectionary used in the Book of Common Prayer. This would restore continuity with the Sarum rite, and step back into a Latin tradition that predates the sudden alterations to the liturgy at Vatican II and even before then, in the Counter-Reformation. The Ordinariate's Anglican patrimony in this instance would be the language of the rite, which given its dignity and reverence would be no small or peripheral contribution. And I think that this would also provide a pattern for the integration of other Reformed developments in liturgy (in the more general use of the word liturgy) back into the Apostolic prayer of the Eucharist.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Apostolica Ecclesia

I don't see the need for agonised soul-searching about the question "Who is in the Church?" when there is a very clear, simple New Testament answer. The Church is the communion of the baptised, and those preparing for baptism, and includes both the living and those whose bodies sleep, awaiting resurrection. Baptism is the birth by water and the Spirit, the birth "from above" where we are born in Christ as subjects of the Age to Come. Therefore, all the questions about what the Church should be, about communion and authority and unity, apply to all this group. The notion of Churches - in the denominational sense - should I think be firmly and systematically purged from our thought and action. There is a difference between a religious order - where a group of Christians undertake to bind themselves by certain principles, ideals and discipline - and a denominational notion, which is on a vague boundary between the notion of universal Church and a religious order. The voluntary rules of a religious order are not binding upon all Christians, even if all Christians could do with a good dose of their spirit (such as the influence of the Franciscan movement in the thirteenth century). On the other hand, adherents of a denomination have a vague idea that being under this discipline and this authority are a Christian thing, but no very clearly defined idea of how things stand with those in other groups, or perhaps an all too clearly defined idea that no-one else is a proper Christian.

Now against all theories that would try to deal with such denominational differences with a "branch theory" (originally developed in the Oxford Movement) where different denominations are simply branches of the stock of New Testament Christianity, there is the unfortunate insistence of Jesus on the unity of the Church. One cannot really find in the New Testament a notion of spiritual unity that isn't also a unity of Apostolic authority. The practical discipline of excommunication, for example, gives the lie to the notion that unity of the administrative kind is totally irrelevant, because unity is just a matter of spiritual unity and all the petty differences of doctrine and praxis are secondary etc. This Platonising spiritual idea of unity isn't derived from the New Testament where people are quite clearly expelled by the Apostles. (And would it make a lot of sense if they could join the New Independent Church of Corinth in the next street?) It is the Apostolic nature of unity that I want to discuss.

Reformed readers of the classic texts about St Peter such as the granting of the keys of the kingdom of heaven by Christ, or Jesus' injunction to "feed my sheep" are somewhat shocked to find Catholics disingenuously "cooking the books" in their interpretation of these texts. Faced by the argument that these texts refer to the papacy, they can only shake their heads. I think that the obvious gulf between the two sides should alert us to the fact that there is something more than mere willful self-delusion among Catholic interpreters of these texts. It is not as simple as it looks, which (from the Protestant side) could be stated something like this: you have this papal institution to defend at all costs - which, even if Peter was ever the overseer of the Roman Church, is in its details at a thousand removes from the kind of role he had - and then you expect us to accept as proof-texts a few personal remarks that Jesus made to Peter as if he was instituting the papacy, by splicing this together with a few references to the permanent presence of Holy Spirit guaranteeing truth to the Church in John's gospel. It is either naive, or even worse self-deluding, and intellectually dishonest.

Protestants are right, of course, in that these are not "proof-texts", because they don't - in the historical critical notion of the word - prove. But there is a sense in which they witness, rather than prove, and run with the grain of a certain way of thinking about what kind of thing the Church is. There are a couple of biblical texts that will illuminate this, and I am not sure people pay them too much attention normally, because of a current, very Platonic and un-corporeal notion of the Church's reality.

The first is that after Christ's resurrection and before His ascension, the disciples ask Him if He is going to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time; and Jesus answers simply that it isn't up to them to know these things. They are to get on with the work of teaching and baptising all nations. Interestingly, this train of thought is also in evidence in the passage before the crucifixion when the disciples bicker about who is going to sit beside Jesus' throne in His kingdom. But isn't Jesus' reply rather odd, and isn't the disciples asking the question rather odd, unless they are in error about a very definite doctrine that Jesus had taught, and which he doesn't trouble to correct? viz., that they will sit with Him on thrones, ruling over the twelves tribes of Israel. A lot of sermonising has been done about how terribly carnal the disciples notion of Jesus' teachings were, about how they still, after all this time with Jesus telling them that His kingdom was not of this world etc. were hankering after an earthly rule. I find this line of thought utterly unconvincing, because it isn't what Jesus said to the disciples in reply. He answers them by saying: the rule in the kingdom of heaven is of another kind than the rule here, so don't go lording it over people; and the time will come for you to rule the world through Israel, but right now teach and baptise. What is implied in Jesus words, as a corollary of this is firstly, you will sit with me on thrones, and your place of rule will be assured, although your rule itself will be exercised in service; and secondly, there is coming a day when this kingdom, its order and rule, will be manifest to all, even though it isn't manifest now.

Thus, in understanding the Apostolic role and order, we are back again at the theology underlying the anagogical interpretation: the kingdom of God may be spiritual, established by the Way of the Cross, and its full manifestation future, but it is nonetheless a matter of flesh and blood. The book of Revelation gives yet another vision of this reality. The Apostles themselves are the twelve foundation-stones of the City coming down from God; and it is to the City that all the nations come, to be healed by the twelve fruits growing by the river flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb.

One can therefore look back over the history of the Church and decry the blatant abuses of worldly power in the medieval papacy, and be rightly horrified at the spectacle of warrior bishops in the legend of Roland and Oliver. But there is a more subtle error being played out here than mere power-seeking, and until one feels it to be at least as natural an error as an over-spiritualising notion of the Church's authority, then I am not sure that one has got the point. A lack of sympathy with St Thomas à Becket betrays a lack of sympathy with the Apostles, and probably with whatever our Lord said to them also. And it is within this context that I am not so sure that the granting of the keys to Peter can be interpreted as a merely symbolic and spiritual instruction to him by Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is something that the disciples envisage with a door, and inside that door they sit on thrones in the Age to Come, and our Lord said nothing to disabuse them of the notion. The Israel of God - the City, the Bride, the Church - is ruled over by our Lord and the Apostles, not by the rulers of the world, although we are called also to submit to kings as ministers of God's justice.

Thus, if I could try to summarise my contention so far, the words of our Lord lead us to believe that the Apostles are indeed the rulers of Christ's kingdom, and their rule is at present exercised in the service of the people of God, in teaching, baptising and making disciples of all nations. The full manifestation of their authority, however, will be a very corporeal share in the regal might of the Lamb whom they followed to martyrdom, and whom we see exalted in His meekness in the book of Revelation.

The continuation of the Apostolic office in the Church is not so much something to be proven historically as something that follows from the very nature of the Church itself. I tried in the post about liturgy Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi to depict a notion of unity centred around the liturgy, where the Eucharistic liturgy is the apex of unity in the body of Christ, and the highest expression of Scripture and Tradition. The role of the Apostolic office in unity can be seen as yet another face of this jewel. The Apostles are the teachers of Tradition, which found in the liturgy of the Word and Sacrament; the Apostles are the witnesses by whom the New Testament is written, and which interprets the Old; and the Apostles are spiritually present in the Eucharist of Christ's offering. In addition to this, the Eucharist is celebrated where the Church assembles with the one who received the gift of the Apostolic office by the laying on of hands, as the Apostles' vicar in ruling, teaching the Word and instructing the Church how to conform to the likeness of Christ in their deeds. (There is a kind of parallel here, for just as the Eucharist is the sacramental but real and personal presence of Christ, so the bishop sits on the cathedra as the sacramental and real Apostolic authority.)

The bishop - or the one who stands in for him, his vicar - together with those gathered together around the altar form the whole body of Christ when the Eucharist is celebrated. All heaven and earth redeemed is present in its Creator at that moment, for the primary reality is the ascended Lord who stands among them and gives Himself to them. Therefore the celebration of the Eucharist is quite simply the completion of the Church, which is why denominationalism is such a profound error. The Eucharist is the answer to the question of unity, and it is here also that the Apostolic unity manifests itself (and forms part of the Eucharistic prayer at the offering of the gifts). And it is speaking from this place that I would argue for the necessity of at least this minimum notion of Apostolic unity.

Several thoughts occur to me in regard to this.

(1) There is a real difficulty for groups of baptised Christians, members of the Church, who do not have a Eucharist, and who do not have an Apostolic office. I don't doubt that there are de facto elements of Apostolicity in their teaching, in the service of the clergy for the people, and a spiritual offering to Christ in their rite of Holy Communion. I don't want to introduce a criticism of a denominational stance, I stress, but a noting of something that, according to the theology I have espoused here, is missing from the concrete reality of a group of baptised Christians meeting for worship. But I believe that they are included, however, as members of the Church Catholic born into Christ in the Eucharist wherever and whenever it is celebrated in Apostolic unity. I think one can and should offer up the Eucharistic prayer of unity for all such Christians.

(2) Perhaps a re-evaluation of the exercise of the Apostolic teaching and ruling office in the context of unity through the Eucharist would set a different order of priorities. I remember a book by Avery Cardinal Dulles which I read about five years ago, on the history of the papal office, and the definitions of Vatican I, and which raised questions about the application of the famous infallibility formula. From memory, what he wrote about the tradition and its development lead to the idea that the normative way by which the Pope defines doctrine is in union with the successors of the Apostles, according to the sensus fidelium, with the proviso that the Petrine authority is not granted by these conditions being met, but by the gift of Christ Himself. Which is more or less to say that when a doctrine is Apostolic and in keeping with Tradition and is believed by the whole Church, the successor of St Peter is always right when he proclaims it. Very well, but that does not leave us farther forward in deciding which bits of various pronouncements are to be considered to fall within these criteria, especially prior to 1869. That is why I wonder if one thought the whole issue through in the light of the divine liturgy, whether a new appreciation of priorities might arise. For myself, I consider the encyclical Humanae Vitae as an important example of Apostolic teaching that is binding upon all Christians and which illustrates vividly the guidance of the Holy Spirit (and which will become a greater source of light the more the world sinks into unnatural and Manichean insanity). And there is a definite relation of its teaching about human life and procreation to the central Christian mystery, something particularly evident in the Eucharistic theology of St Paul where he speaks of marriage and the mystical union. Questions of the exercise of authority might also be judged in the same light. I don't have the historical competence to do this, or the time to go looking for pertinent examples just at the moment.

(3) How the specifically Petrine office (and how it relates to the Apostolic office more generally) is carried out is of course a different matter, but firstly as regards the vestments etc. one doesn't have to either like or loathe the historical development of the external trappings of the office to get on with the business of being a Christian in union with the Apostles and their teaching. For me the matter crystallises out pretty clearly into two separate issues. The first is the papal abuses of power, entanglement in struggles for worldly advancement, etc. which unfortunately gives colour to the second issue, authority in teaching and administration, because the administration was badly done and the doctrine poorly expressed by people who were serving mammon. (For various reasons I regard the current Vatican State arrangement, part of the first question of the relation of papacy and power, as a Bad Thing.) I don't think that disentangling the two is any more difficult than, say, interpreting the Penteteuch. So, yes, very difficult indeed, never mind doing anything about it. But then God sometimes takes matters into His own hands.

I hope to tie up a few loose ends in a concluding post to this Confessional Program series.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Fair As The Moon, Clear As the Sun

In the post about liturgy Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi I suggested that traditional liturgy is the place of unity of Tradition and Holy Writ in Christ, and that the authentically Christian form of Old Testament interpretation is the anagogical sense, because behind this sense lies the theology that witnesses to our Lord's identity, and which by the Holy Spirit - in the days of His sojourn amongst us - formed His human self-understanding. There are a few things I would like to clarify about that post, but I thought I should save up all the loose ends for a concluding post to this series, and press on with the next piece.

With the above notion in mind, the obvious corollary when talking of the Blessed Virgin is that Mary should be understood through precisely the same lens of reception of the Old Testament. We draw upon the Old Testament as the preceding history and shadow or type that lifts us up to the Incarnation, the union of God with man. But there is a further principle discernible in Christ's appropriation of the Old Testament - or perhaps two principles - which one might term contraction and concretion. (1) Contraction, because the prophecies and expectation of the faithful, waiting in the Temple like Simeon and Anna, were "folded up" from nation to Messiah, from the Chosen People to an Anointed Person. Some of the prophecies upon which the synoptics draw, like the prophecy "out of Egypt have I called my son" seem prima facie to refer in their original context to the nation of Israel. Such prophecies, however, receive a new and contracted purpose in the New Testament, and are seen to be primarily about Jesus. Christ's identification of the Temple as His own body is another similar example of contraction in a different context, that of the place of God's presence and man's offering. (2) Concretion, because abstract terms of God's grace to the Hebrew people are translated into the concrete language of the Gift. Take Simeon's words, for example: he says "mine eyes have seen thy salvation", but here salvation has come to mean Saviour, the baby in his knarled old arms. These two principles - contraction and concretion - are a rather clumsy way of expressing the central fact of the Incarnation, but get across the point that God's mercy and providence are now seen as emanating from the Messiah, and that the nation of Israel is chosen for the sake of the promised Seed. (These principles, I think, rather than the supposedly corrupt Greek philosophical influence on Christology at Nicaea, are the Hebraic foundation of the orthodoxy of the councils.)

Thus the covenant promises and grace of God are crystallised in the person of Christ: but this fact also gives us the greatest and most significant Marian event, which is the Annunciation. For as Israel, and as God's love, becomes personally the Son of God in Christ Jesus, the door through which the Everlasting God steps Incarnate into time is Mary. There is - according to the Fathers - a similar contraction and concretion going on with the Virgin. J.H. Newman points out the parallelism of the Fathers in their interpretation of Romans, where Mary becomes the New Eve, whose obedience to God reverses the sin of "Eva" in the "Ave" of the angel Gabriel, and from whom the last Adam comes forth, inverting the emergence of Eve from Adam's side. A number of traditional parallels in the understanding of God's electing of the Blessed Virgin could be pointed out in addition to this:

- Christ is the Son of God, the summation of the elect Israel; Mary is Israel as precursor to the Lord, the one chosen to bear Him in the faith of God's promise
- Christ is the Head of the Church, and through the Spirit and the blood its body is mystically His own; Mary is the figure of the Church in her bearing of Christ's body through the Holy Spirit's action
- Christ is the divine Logos, by and in whom all things consist; Mary is both the figure of Wisdom as the immaculate and redeemed Idea of Creation, and the void darkness of nothingness and humility brooded over by the Spirit into which the Creating Word of God is spoken: "full of grace, the Lord is with thee!"
- Our Lord's crucifixion and death enabled the gift of His flesh and blood to be given for the world; and Mary's slow and painful death to her motherhood of Christ culminated in the sacrifice and giving of her maternity to the beloved John at the foot of the foot of the cross, where the Church was mystically formed and Mary's spiritual motherhood of the Church was born

But in addition to this notion of the Old Testament prefigurings and antecedents crystallising out in Christ, and in which Mary is caught up as it were, we come back to the anagogical sense and the theology underlying it. This does underlie some of the notions I have already mentioned - for example, the notion of Mary as Israel brings us up to the Incarnation by the Holy Spirit. It must be stated however, that the theology underpinning the anagogical sense is directed towards Christ, and reflected back onto Mary as the Theotokos, the bearer of the Divine Son. I believe, however, that the theology of the anagogical sense is expressed supremely in the liturgy. It is the liturgy as the culmination of divinely communicated Tradition and Word that is the proper orientation of our beliefs about the Blessed Virgin.

But before considering where and how liturgy comes into it, I must execute a diversion. I have always found it puzzling that there is so little polemic at the time of the Reformation about the Virgin Mary, certainly in the first few generations of Reformers. There was plenty of wrangling about devotion to saints, but that was about devotion to saints in general; there was argument about asking for Mary's intercession; but that was in the context of disagreement over asking for any saints' intercession. If this seems improbable, consider the following. Zwingli, the most Protestant of the Swiss Reformers, celebrated Mary as Immaculate, and told his followers to say the Hail Mary as a devotional rather than an intercessory exercise (at that time the prayer only contained the first half of the modern Hail Mary, ending with the name Jesus). Luther preached to pilgrims to a Marian shrine and defended the Perpetual Virginity of Mary; so did Calvin. There is good evidence that some of the Reformers believed in her Assumption into heaven. If one considers the supposed medieval over emphasis on Mary, it is interesting that Zwingli gives much the same kind of warnings to her devotees as St Bonaventure: they were obviously handling the same kind of feeling with the same kind of pastoral guidance. So what has made this such a controversial matter?

I can think of three reasons off the top of my head. The first is simply that the Reformers were living on borrowed currency, and as their reformed ideas leavened the thought of subsequent generations some traditionally Catholic elements were gradually seen as out of place - such as the doctrines about Mary. I am not so sure about this though: there doesn't seem to be any Reformed dogma that would argue against the recognition of Mary as having a unique role in our salvation history. The second is that the development of Marian doctrine in Roman Catholicism - the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception in 1848 and the Assumption in 1950 as dogma - have turned what was "pious belief" among Christians generally into something necessarily and specifically Catholic and therefore had a polarising effect. Very well: but the polarisation seems to predate such developments. One doesn't find much enthusiasm for Mary Immaculate and the Perpetual Virginity in the Puritan divines of the seventeenth century. The real reason, I think, for the Protestant scepticism may well be confounded by the above two factors, but I am pretty certain it is has a basis in a particular application of sola scriptura.

The guiding hand of sola scriptura meant that not only was the cumulative voice of Holy Scripture considered to be the guiding hand on the formulation of doctrine, church government, etc. but that the New Testament became the only reliable account of what did or did not happen in the times of which it spoke. Thus a principle of dogmatic theology (e.g. what has the Scripture to say on justification by faith?) became a notion that the witness of the Scripture to the events of the Apostolic age ought not to be supplemented by tradition, which was of course fallible tradition. Thus, (said the Presbyterians vs. the episcopal office) if St Paul did not give a clear and consistent distinction between ἐπίσκοπος and πρεσβύτερος, bishop and priest, that is because there was none, or at least the Holy Spirit didn't mean us to draw it; and (said the Anglicans vs. the papists) if St Peter did not sum up the decision at the council of Jerusalem, but rather St James, that was because of course St James was the local bishop, it was his territory and therefore his right to do so, ergo St Peter was not given universal jurisdiction by Christ as the papacy claimed. The relevance this has to the current subject is the apparent witness of the Scripture to Mary's family: there are several asides in the gospels about Jesus' mother and brothers. Previous interpreters had simply stated that these were not Mary's children, but were cousins or close relatives and were called brothers by Aramaic idiom. But that was because there was a broader narrative within which the text of Scripture fitted, and part of that narrative was Mary's Perpetual Virginity. Now, tradition's reliability having been abolished by the plain meaning of the bible, there was no good reason to find a way around the text's obvious import; and a willingness to continue to do so indicated a cavalier treatment of the Word of God to favour the errant traditions of men.

I would point out, first, the distinction mentioned previously between the bible as normative for doctrine, and the bible as an historical document. By all means, the bible and what it is to be gleaned from it is in a sense the God's last word in doctrine. All we must do now is to draw out its meaning in ever greater clarity. But by what reason drawn from the Scripture itself must one hold that its words are the only witness to events in the Apostolic age? And that nothing must be believed about the events of the Apostolic age which cannot be directly deduced from its historical record, even when the beliefs so refused do not contradict but rather enlighten the overall trajectory of New Testament teaching and its recorded narrative? That is the first point. The second is to point out the difference between traditions - as for example the story that Mary's parents Joachim and Anna presented her like the prophet Samuel to the Temple at the age of three - and Tradition.

The notion of Tradition, as I have suggested, is something quite distinct from traditions in the sense of a bunch of stories and beliefs of uncertain historical provenance. Tradition in the elevated sense is Apostolic in its authority, and is given expression in the Liturgy in which we are offered to God and He - through Christ - gives Himself to us. What does Tradition in this sense have to say about Mary? Although this is not what I wish to concentrate upon directly, there are several times the Blessed Virgin is mentioned in the traditional form of the Eucharistic liturgy: in the Confiteor (general confession), and more pertinently in the phrase from the canon "united in one communion, we venerate the memory, first of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary". The prayer then continues with a list of other saints of God. I shall come back to the phrase ever-Virgin, because what is present here is not a late addition, but a phrase present also in the canon, or anaphora as they call it, of the eastern Liturgy of St James which was the liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem, i.e. a predominantly Jewish Church, and is traceable - allowing for the timidity of modern scholars - to circa 200 years after the last Apostle died (some Orthodox Christians say it is unquestionably Apostolic). A likely context for pagan notions about virgin mother goddesses to attach to the mother of our Lord? I ask you.

This reference to the Perpetual Virginity aside, it is the context of communion - "united in one communion" - within the Eucharistic rite that interests me most. In the Eucharist, our offering of praise, prayer, bread and wine is taken up by Christ and united to His all-sufficient sacrifice on Calvary. The Church, His mystical body, is presented spotless to God in heaven in this rite. That includes the Church militant, although I'm not sure that we Christians nowadays particularly qualify for that martial epithet, and the Church triumphant, present with Christ at the Father's right hand. Mary, as the spiritual mother of the Church, and the one who (so to speak) enfolds the Church's existence through the Annunciation, is united with all of us in the Eucharist through the offering of Christ. This is the ground, the apex, and the reality of every other doctrine and devotion and hymn about Mary, and without which (forgive my bluntness) all such are nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. I don't mean one must know this piece of theology about the Eucharist to get one's Marian devotion right, but rather the extent to which one's Marian devotions are orientated to the sacrifice of Christ is the extent to which one is devoted to Mary in the right kind of God-glorifying way.

Just in case the claims advanced above about Holy Communion as a celestial feast of all the faithful seem somewhat arbitrary, I would advert to a passage in the letter to the Hebrews which is a tremendous Eucharistic commentary. After telling us that the Mosaic Law has passed away, and that we no longer come in terror to the smoke and lightning of Mount Sinai where the trespasser is slain, St Paul says: "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." The angels, the living, the spirits of the righteous, God Himself and Jesus with His blood, all are present in this celestial feast at which we partake.

What of the doctrines about Mary, then, and the popular devotions? How do they fit into Eucharistic theology? I wish to mention a few that make least sense to Protestants, and which made least sense to me. I don't wish to write about Marian intercession - including the second half of the Rosary, for example - because that brings up the whole question of asking for the intercession of saints, which is a slightly different topic. This piece is already long enough. Those I do wish to mention are:

(1) The notion of coming to Jesus through Mary, ad Jesum per Mariam. It carries the whole theology of Louis de Montfort's book True Devotion to Mary which is a kind of manifesto for this idea. But the whole point about an orientation to the Eucharist and the almighty work of Christ is that there is in the liturgical context no equivalence between Jesus as Mediator and the type of mediation attributed to Mary. It is different not just in degree but in kind. Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, His sending of His Spirit: this is what is present in the Liturgy. It is simply complete. There is, however, an inescapable sense in which the one coming to the Lord is coming in the same attitude as Mary, when hailed by the angel Gabriel. And more than this, for it is not only a question of similarity of spirit. "United in one communion" means united through the body of Christ, and it is this point that we are mystically the children of Mary, in her utterance of the words "behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word". This is not (I believe) a union of wills merely, but a mystical enfolding into Mary who is at once a fellow-servant of Christ with us, and also the mother who carries us: for in these words we have the entire Church in embryo, just as when those words were uttered, so also was Christ in embryo ("Qwan the aungel 'aue' began, fflesch & blood to-geyder ran" as the medieval lyric has it). I am most emphatically not saying that we are incorporated into the body of Mary, which would be nonsense, but that because of her spiritual motherhood of the Church, her spirit includes all its members without exception, and that it is necessarily enfolded in her spirit that we partake of Christ's blessed body, whether we know it or not. Mary is part of the Liturgy as the final form of redeemed creation, full of grace and blessed, the complete and assumed form which the Church is now filling out and striving towards. And it is as mother that she fulfills this role in her prayers, made powerful by the love of Christ, who is the source and virtue of all her requests.

 (2) It is sometimes said that Mary was made the fourth person of the Trinity in the Middle Ages. While I doubt that even the most traditionally Catholic theologians or church historians who would dispute that there was error in popular devotion to the saints in this period, I am not sure that the diagnosis of the error is correct. She was, in fact, given the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church. And if the theology I have espoused above is a fair statement of the truth, then one can see why this particular error is the natural one. Her maternal, spiritual role was exaggerated, and in fact I strongly suspect that this kind of thing is still present in the devotions of some Catholic people. One shouldn't, I think, damn such people, but say to them what St Peter said of himself to Cornelius: get up on your feet, she is a fellow-creature like yourselves.

(3) Once one sees that one is enfolded in the heart of Mary, it creates a subtly different appreciation of one's relation to God. One has, standing between oneself and God the Father, the Mediator, Christ Jesus - or even better, one is presented in Jesus the Beloved Son to our dear Father. The motherhood of Mary does not play this kind of immediate and direct role, but the knowledge of it does change something. The almost invisible humility of the narrative of Mary's life; her gentle holding of the child Jesus and that maternal, indefinable look of incredible and far-off depth of sweetness (but I know of no way to express it) that one meets in the icons: here is the spirit in which one is conceived and the love into whose care God has given us. The Church is a family, and God has willed that there is room in His house for many vivid, even bombastic and wild-eyed characters. But He has also willed that we have a mother, whose character seems so hidden in darkness and halting sayings, one whom no-one ever has and no-one will ever fathom, because she was created to love Love Himself.

(4) But what of the witness of Scripture regarding some Marian traditions - the Perpetual Virginity, for example? All of what has been said is very nice I'm sure, and no doubt Mary had a special role given to her by God's grace, someone might say. But, ahem, the gospels do mention Jesus' brothers all the same, and therefore traditions about her seem to be somewhat spurious. Well, in this connection I have already mentioned the title ever-Virgin in the ancient Liturgy of St James, which even by the most conservative estimates is a few generations after the Apostles, and is likely to stretch back in part to the Apostolic times. (One can't imagine a liturgy being composed do novo 350 A.D. without any prior tradition of growth.) But apart from the testimony of this kind of tradition, which would be shaky ground if set against the near contemporary witness of the gospels, there are several lines of reasoning that call into question some of the most watertight evidence contra the ancient tradition of the Perpetual Virginity. A certain James, described in Acts as "the Lord's brother", is also described as an Apostle. Now there are two Apostles called James: the son of Zebedee, who had been already martyred when this other James crops up in the Acts of the Apostles. The difficulty is, that the only other Apostle James is the son of Alpheus, not the son of Joseph and Mary. It seems extremely likely that we have here a usage of the word brother that does not mean a first-degree relation. There are other confusing details - the first two names of the four named as Jesus' brothers (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) later crop up as the sons of the "other Mary" (i.e. not his mother) who is, a "disciple" of Jesus. Thus it is by no means clear from the semantics of brother in the gospels and the Acts (remembering that Aramaic has no distinguishing words for brother and cousin), and from the various hints about who was who's son, that there is a watertight case for Jesus having had brother and sisters by Mary. There are other hints: Jesus is called the "son of Mary", but none of his "brothers" are ever given this appellation; and further, the behaviour of these brothers - they try to restrain Jesus and tell him to be sensible and come back home to Galilee - is, I read, rather unlikely in this period from younger Jewish brothers. From uncles or elder cousins, possibly. And then there is the suggestion in Mary's answer to the angel as narrated by Luke that she was a consecrated virgin in the first place: "how can this be?" is not a question that really fits Gabriel's message until that point, unless she had a prior vow and consecration to God within her betrothal and marriage (such a marriage was provided for by Jewish law). This was the Patristic understanding, and true or not, it sets the Perpetual Virginity within its proper place in the Annunciation: Mary's calling was complete, a calling of body and soul into total and undivided service. Some people have a difficulty with setting consecrated virginity above marriage, but I think the New Testament's teaching is fairly clear cut, given the words of our Lord about eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake, and a few passages in St Paul's letters too.

(5) I hope devout Catholics will forgive what might seem like a flippant tone in what I am about to say, but there is a particular kind of devotional meditation on the Blessed Virgin that could be rather cruelly parodied. It runs something like this: Jesus was so good, and Mary was so good, so how could such a Son refuse such a mother anything she asked? Go to Mary to ask for things, in other words: she is such a nice mother that Jesus will give her whatever you want. I know that this is a parody of what people are thinking when they say this kind of thing. But I don't think, as it is often quite baldly and sentimentally stated, that it holds water. Jesus doesn't give Mary what she asks simply because she is His mother.

(6) I can imagine a Protestant reader wondering - what about that semi-blasphemous stuff about Mary as Mediatrix of all graces, or Co-Redemptrix? Firstly, these speculations aren't dogma. Secondly, I think that the language is a mistake because it creates an impression that one needs a dozen caveats to correct. The Protestant isn't right to smell blasphemy: proponents rightly insist that this kind of speculative Marian theology also applies to the Church, in that our meagre efforts are, by grace, made part of Jesus' work of redemption and mediation. They are raised by Christ in the Eucharist and offered by Him as things of worth. And thus I don't see anything un-Christian about the little I have read of the underlying theology, apart from a strong conviction that some titles are better left unique to Christ because they express His unique place as the Alpha and Omega of both creation and redemption.

(7) Finally: I wonder if someone can answer the following. Setting aside the minimalistic sola scriptura notion I mentioned above (i.e. it is not in the bible, so the presumption is against it having taken place), why get so upset about the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary into heaven whilst accepting the bodily assumption of Enoch, Moses and Elijah?

Saturday, 8 June 2013

St Barnabas, Dalston

If you go to this photo-documentary site and enter the search term St Barnabas' Church Dalston, you will see the interior of the church I had the pleasure of being shown round today. I was meeting with a group of friends for a philosophy discussion; one of them was good enough to invite us to use his church hall. He belongs to a fledgling Anglican group, who when they were looking around for a place to meet in Dalston, had this neo-Byzantine late Victorian gem offered to them by the diocese. Apparently it was a bit like Miss Havisham's house: the congregation had dwindled away and it hadn't been used since the 1970s. There were dusty choir robes in the vestry, half burnt candles on the altar, and even the vicar's coat and hat in the cupboard. He had died on the job.

It is so hidden away in a little courtyard behind the Merchant Tailors' charitable mission (now their church hall) that the locals hardly even knew there was this sizeable, solid and lovely building around the corner. The mission for boys and young men in the Hackney slums preceded the church, and the church was built for them in the late Victorian era; so many of them died in World War I that the church limped along with scarcely a quorum until it was closed in the 1970s. The photographs do not do the height and space of the place justice, which is a very much of an era: a very good example of an Anglo-Catholic inner city parish, formed and fired by mission. There are moth-eaten altar cloths in the vestry - a particularly beautiful one for Lent; there are lovely sanctuary lamps; there is a low side chapel for the Blessed Sacrament; and of course that chunky chancel screen and rood, in the almost garish electric blue that somehow manages to give a discreet impression when one is standing in the building.

I am not sure if, or how it will ever happen - for there is no foreseeable chance of the Ordinariate receiving this kind of place on loan from an Anglican diocese - but one feels very much that such a place would be their natural home. The folks I was with today - and may God bless their endeavour - have their ritual space in the nave, where their communion table is, and the high altar and original ritual significance of the place is a bit lost. The building has been thoroughly spruced up, but it is still sitting in the metaphorical dust, from that point of view. The Ordinariate rite, a proper east-facing rite with Coverdale's sixteenth century translation of the Canon and the hymns of Keble, would be perfectly at home in such a building. It is rather difficult, one feels, for the Ordinariate to live out its charism whilst sharing a ritual space in a busy parish, where (quite rightly) they cannot simply take over the best times for their worship and re-decorate the place in their own style.

But more than the ritual significance, there is also the urgent task of the Ordinariate: to bring to life the kind of evangelical zeal that built this kind of Anglo-Catholic parish, and to unite a sacramental and unhurried worship with the service of the poor. One can hope, and pray.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

By the word liturgy people normally mean a ritual act done with the aim of serving and worshipping God, including both the bodily ritual itself and the words accompanying it. This needn't be rich or elaborate, and in fact I would include in this definition the kind of order of Sunday service with which I grew up, in an Irish Presbyterian tradition of worship. Even though the prayers were ex tempore, there was still a recognisable pattern; and even though Holy Communion might have had a very minimal rite attached, it was a formal rite nonetheless. I mention this because sometimes the word liturgy, derived from the Greek λειτουργός or service, has a kind of "High" association, and I want to point out that it isn't about the aesthetics of worship, or even a written as opposed to an improvised ritual. I would say that even Quakers, in this sense, have a liturgy. It is about a direction and an offering: what is it, when we gather as Church that we offer, body and soul, to God?

There is a Latin maxim, lex orandi, lex credendi: what and how you pray - liturgy - is the content and nature of your belief. Drawing on this notion, I wonder if the lex orandi, liturgy, is a key to the relation of Scripture and Tradition via the Incarnation of Christ. At least, that is where I am going with this post. My starting point, as mentioned towards the end of the Scripture and Tradition post, is the first century Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament, and our Lord's appropriation of that same tradition in His consciousness of Himself as the Son of God, the sufferer of the Psalms, and the Holy One of Israel.

But to get to the starting point, I have to take a step back to discuss Scriptural interpretation. There are two main strands of biblical interpretation that separate and divide in the first and second century AD. These are firstly the Jewish strand, which increasingly codified and interpreted the Torah as a personal and communitarian legal and moral code; and secondly the Christian strand, which as it became predominantly Gentile, began to allegorise the Old Testament as a figure or shadow of, and as a preparaton for, the New. This is a rough characterisation: one of the most allegorising of all interpreters, Philo of Alexandria, was a pre-Christian Jew. But it isn't allegory (a stream that entered into both later Jewish and Christian hermeneutic) that is the kind of interpretation that I believe to be most significant. But now I see that a detour is required, into the four senses of Scripture, a hermeneutic of the layers of meaning within the text that was developed by Christian theologians in the Patristic era. It can look specious when applied (as it often was) to each and every text; but some passages are more congenial to the method.

The four senses or layers of meaning in Scripture, a schema more or less fixed by the time of Augustine, are:
(1) the literal or historical sense - the obvious "surface" meaning of the text.
(2) the moral sense i.e. the text as a "lesson for life" - although this sometimes looks allegorical, because e.g. Jerusalem is a type of the soul in its ascent to God, and therefore texts about Jerusalem can have a moral sense because they apply to the soul's moral purification.
(3) allegorical or typological - here the interpreters sometimes ran two distinct things under one heading (allegory is placing the concrete for the abstract: Esau is a type of the vice of incontinence, for example, because he sold his birthright to satisfy his hunger; typology on the other hand is where one concrete thing images another, such as when the undeserved suffering of the patriarch Joseph in Egypt is said to be a type of Christ's suffering for His brethren). Allegory was an established interpretative method, as noted above, with the Alexandrian Platonists and in Homeric interpretation, before it became first Jewish and then Christian property.
(4) anagogical - from the Greek ἀνάγω, to bring upwards, meaning a kind of interpretation that leads one upwards to the heavenly kingdom.

The fourth type of interpretation, the anagogical, is the puzzling one. When I first came across it I didn't really get the point, or see the need for it. But, for reasons given below, I shall argue that it is the most specifically Christian of all the three spiritual or non-literal senses, and together with the literal it forms the frame into which the other interpretations should fit. While I say it is the Christian sense of the three spiritual senses, it is also - and here is the salient point - it is also the paradigm of Jewish Old Testament reception at the time of Christ.

The Jewish anagogical interpretation presupposes a theology about the future kingdom of God, when the nations and tribes of the world are ruled by God and His Messiah. This theology relies heavily on the prophets, Isaiah in particular, for its images of the kingdom: the people of God flowing to Mount Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads; the lion lying down with the lamb, and the little child playing fearlessly with deadly serpents; the Temple of God erected above all nations; heaven and earth made anew. It supposes a kingdom and a rule that is spiritual, but (and this is of vital importance to appreciate) nevertheless not immaterial. That is, there is no suggestion of Platonism in the strict sense, i.e. that spiritual implies the exclusion of matter and the body. Here are two examples that will illustrate the theology as applied to the Old Testament.

(1) The manna, the bread given to the Israelites in the wilderness, was understood to have been created at the beginning of the world, on the eve of the first Sabbath upon which God rested. It was bread from heaven, the "bread of angels", which Michael the Archangel offered in the worship of the heavenly Temple upon which the Jerusalem Temple was patterned. The manna, having ceased to fall from heaven on the day when Israel's tribes entered Canaan, was nonetheless still present in heaven. The doors of heaven would open and the treasury of manna come down again when the new Moses, the Messiah, appeared: because (according to the Jewish apocalypse of 2 Baruch) those who eat of it have arrived at the consummation of time, at the coming of the heavenly kingdom. You will not find the manna again in this age, said one rabbinic commentary, but in the Age to Come. The thread of thought here is a complex one: the Temple ritual is a pattern of the heavenly liturgy; in heaven the manna is made by the angels for this liturgy; the manna was rained upon the tribes of Israel in the wilderness and they were able to consume it physically, and although a heavenly reality it was therefore also a corporal reality; it will rain down again in the Age to Come when the Messiah will appear, who will lead the people of God in a fresh exodus, into the new heaven and earth prepared for them. I will return to Jesus' use of this theology in a moment.

(2) Shortly after receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses seals the covenant with sacrificial blood, and then takes the seventy elders to Mount Sinai, where they "beheld God, and ate and drank". A brief remark, but one upon which great stress was laid by the Jewish rabbinic tradition. Moses and the elders, they believed, went up not only into the mount, but into heaven itself, where the covenant was completed by a heavenly banquet. Some rabbis saw the covenant banquet as a feasting upon the presence of God Himself: the eating and drinking of the seventy elders was a feasting upon Him, an image of Age to Come when God will be the food and drink of His people. Again, as in the example of the manna, we have a sudden and startling union of the physical - the seventy elders, food and drink, a mountain in Arabia - and the heavenly. They feast with God Himself; they banquet in heaven.

How then, is this theology and tradition taken up by Jesus and in the New Testament in general? It is all there in the synoptic gospels. Take the Transfiguration, when Jesus too goes up the mountain, and is changed in appearance, taken up, and surrounded by the divine presence. And afterward he speaks of the exodus that he must shortly perform. Take Jesus' talk of His body as the Temple which will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. Take Jesus' bread of heaven discourse, where He makes explicit mention of the manna in the very context mentioned above. I have no doubt that we are seeing hints of a current of thought and understanding of the meaning of the Old Testament not only propagated by Jesus Himself, but appropriated by Jesus to Himself as Messiah, and as herald of the Age to Come. And all of the features of the contemporaneous Jewish anagogical interpretation are present, thrown into even starker relief by the context in which they are applied. Jesus is, He makes very clear, the manna which came down from heaven: at once a spiritual and corporal reality, we will receive His flesh and blood both spiritually and corporally in the kingdom of God. He is the heavenly Temple, the place of celestial sacrifice and of God's dwelling presence, the presentation on earth of the divine pattern. He is the new Moses who will lead His people in an exodus from this present into the Age to Come. Point for point (and they could be multiplied), Jesus takes the anagogical theology and interpretation of Old Testament symbols and puts them very firmly in their place. He says it is I of which these speak.

I have strayed rather far from liturgy, which was what I was meant to write about. But now the background work has been done, and the threads can be taken up again. Research on the liturgy in the last hundred years has uncovered the correspondence between the liturgy of the Jewish synagogue and the early Christian liturgy. Unsurprisingly, one might say, as early Christian cells were a Jewish synagogue run by the "Jesus sect". The readings from the Law and Prophets were eventually replaced by the Epistle and Gospel; the Psalms were kept but were re-interpreted as Messianic prophecies about Jesus specifically; the annual cycle of Jewish feasts gave way to the Christian year, revolving originally around Easter and Pentecost. What has been a little lost, however, is that the Christian liturgy took over a function of the Temple liturgy. Typically (say the scholars) in addition to the Jewish synagogue's liturgy of the Word, was added the Christian Eucharist. They also think that this was very often followed by a third element, the practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But the point here is that the Eucharist took over and united to the synagogue's liturgy a symbolic Temple liturgy, the sacrifice of the Lamb. One can see hints of this in the book of the Revelation (another tremendously significant anagogical piece of work) where the heavenly liturgy is very likely a stylised presentation of the early Christian celebration made to look a bit like a Temple rite. The elders sit around the throne of God and the Lamb, incense and prayers are offered, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is upon the altar, and the newly washed and white-robed saints sing a new song. What if what one has here is the New Testament and Christian version of the Temple liturgy? Here heaven is joined to earth, the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of God and of His Christ, and the heavenly banquet, the Eucharist, both corporal and celestial, has begun.

I wish to pause and point out three things.

Firstly, the early Church didn't have a get together and have a kind of spontaneous worship session. All the evidence points to something more formal; and all the evidence is that the existing synagogue worship was colonised and adapted by this new "sect". Thus I don't find the argument that Holy Communion was just like a meal, with everyone sitting around a table, to be particularly compelling. There might have been a communal feast such as that mentioned in St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, but the Eucharist - from what we can glean - was a liturgy proper.

Secondly, if this is the case, taking the hints gleaned from the Acts of the Apostles and St Paul to build up a systematic picture of what an early Christian gathering was like is a highly questionable procedure. What one has in the Acts is a brief history; in St Paul is very often an ad hoc letter with some theology thrown in. I don't mean that they aren't divinely inspired books: but I mean that they aren't meant to be liturgical manuals or histories of liturgical development. What we take to be an informal term e.g. "breaking of bread" might have been a term for the Eucharist with all kinds of formal connotations. From the text, we don't know. That isn't what these books are about.

Thirdly, liturgical rites tend to have a remarkable permanence. They might be added to, but are rarely (except in iconoclastic movements) drastically pared down. This - and the considerable body of very early documentary evidence - gives a very sound science of liturgical history. What one hears today in an Orthodox liturgy is not far in wording and ritual from a third century liturgy, and may not be terribly far off the liturgy of one or two generations after the Apostles.

Now for the conclusion of this post, after I give a brief summary. Jesus' use of the Old Testament is anagogical, a mode of interpretation common to the rabbis of his day, but He changes the reference so that He becomes the term and meaning of the Old Testament. The anagogical mode supposes a theology which was congenial to what He wished to say, and to His person as the Incarnate Son of God, because it contains a notion of spiritual which does not exclude the corporal. What one has in the early Christian liturgies is a union of the Jewish synagogue liturgy with a Eucharist which is a modified Temple ritual, with certain aspects of the Temple ritual united in one image (both the burnt sacrifice and the shewbread, for example, are united in the offering of the Eucharistic bread). This comes out in more visual form in the more traditional and oriental Orthodox liturgy than in the Latin rite, and by the time one gets to some modern Latin rite liturgical celebrations, well... But I wish to suggest more than that the Christian liturgy is a kind of symbolic harking back to the Temple, with bits of the synagogue ritual added on.

What I wish to do finally, is to say simply that Christian liturgy itself is anagogical in its theology, and in its reality, because in it we are taken up to heaven. In it Christ speaks, acts through the Holy Spirit, and we are given to eat the spiritual food and drink of the body and blood of our most blessed Saviour.

In it Christ speaks, because He is the meaning of the words of the Old Testament, and by His Spirit speaks through His Apostles and in His Gospel. Some people seem to think that the readings at the celebration of the Eucharist are less important. But without the words, the ritual and its elements would not have the significance that they do. Without the Word of Christ, spoken and heard, there would be no Eucharist at all. The Scripture is the voice of Christ and His body the Church, speaking by the Holy Spirit the words that the Father gives to the Son. And thus our utterance of and obedience to these words is a share in the life of the Trinity.

In the Eucharist Christ feeds us at the heavenly altar, in the divine Temple which is His body. My reason for being so utterly persuaded of this are the words of Christ Himself in the Gospel of John, where He speaks clearly of Himself as the bread from heaven. Understood anagogically, and I believe they make sense in no other way, we are to understand something that points us to the Age to Come, whose full reality is not yet revealed but in which we nevertheless partake by faith; the reality of what we partake is enacted in heaven in all its fulness, but yet the physical event we undertake is a part of that divine reality. With the uttered Word, the bread becomes the Eucharist of Christ's body, constituted through the Spirit, and offered up to the Father. And our partaking of the Eucharist is a joint-partaking in the offering of Christ, our incorporation into His body.

I hope that gives some idea of why I don't think that liturgy is extraneous or can be altered without a clear knowledge of what it is; and why I don't think that a doctrine of the Real Presence is dependent on Aristotle's doctrine of substance. One simply needs to become a first century Jew to grasp the theology. Further, one could continue to extend the same principles of anagogical interpretation to baptism etc. but I think this piece is becoming overlong. There are a couple of other things I would like to mention, however.

A good deal of the thought in this section was prompted by Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, which while written at a very popular level is a good portal into the first century Jewish theological atmosphere, with a good list of sources at the back.

I have begun to wonder: why do the synoptics give a "natural" account of the Last Supper, but John not? Is it because the large section of John, from the beginning of the Last Supper to its end, is a commentary on the Eucharist itself? It would make perfect sense if so. The themes of His discourse are very much of organic unity (by abiding in Christ the Vine), of the coming of the Spirit because Christ will ascend (another Eucharistic motif - unless He leaves, He cannot be present in this manner with His Church), and of the preparation of a place for us (here again is the anagogical image of the Eucharist: Christ is using an image of the heavenly habitation, the Temple, which is being prepared for us to dwell in, and it turns out to be Himself, the Way, Truth and Life, of which He speaks). If anyone reading this knows of a book that gives more meat to this notion of this Johannine discourse as a Eucharistic commentary, I would be very glad to be pointed in the right direction.

My (very) final footnote is to go back to the lex orandi, lex credendi comment at the very beginning of the piece. If Christ is the meaning and in fact the being of the Scriptures in the anagogical sense, and if the Eucharist is the action of Christ as I believe it to be, then Christian liturgy is the union of the Scripture and Tradition in a very profound sense. The tradition, mediated through the Old Testament, that framed the Jewish consciousness at the time of Christ was taken up and re-applied by Him. This reoriented tradition, established by Christ and His Apostles, was then the impetus and framework for the emergence within the Jewish of the early Christian liturgy, in which the activity of Christ is carried out through His body. This activity is primarily an act of worship and sacrifice to God, and Scripture is the Word of God, is Christ, supremely when it is uttered in the liturgy, when it constitutes us and the very matter of the world as the Body of Christ. God lives in the liturgy. Said the Psalmist David: "Thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel".

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A Postscript to "Scripture and Tradition"

I thought I should clarify what I meant by a couple of terms in the previous post Scripture and Tradition Anno Domini as I don't want to engage in, or seem to be engaged in, polemic. Polemic is not my aim.

(1) By sola scriptura I mean the doctrine that Scripture is not just the supreme rule, but the only rule, of faith and practice. For its adherents, tradition has nothing essential to offer to the understanding of what Scripture teaches; the aim is rather not to enter a long and established scheme of interpretation, but to get to the point of what the text is really saying without bringing anything in from the outside. And this approach, claims Kugel, when taken up by the new discipline of biblical criticism in the nineteenth century, Wellhausen etc., began to uncover the "cut and paste" of the redactors and editors of the bible. There are of course, plenty of Christians who hold to sola scriptura and don't hold with all the results of critical academia. Kugel says this is inconsistent, because the assumptions such people hold about the text (its inerrant nature, its perfect consistency in teaching, its divine authority and so on) are not simply there in the text. These assumptions are in fact what make the Scripture the divine Word. Take the assumptions away, proceed to textual analysis by sola scriptura, and one will soon enough find human inconsistency, factual error, and divergence of teaching about the very nature of God Himself.

(2) By the hegemony of the "Protestant" approach to Scripture in academia, I am referring to the tradition of biblical criticism that prevails and is practised in universities and theological colleges in the English speaking world; and, I would imagine, in formerly Protestant European countries. There are numerous Protestant theological colleges who wouldn't touch it because they remain persuaded that the bible is God's written word in every detail; there are some Catholic seminaries enthusiastic about it. But it has its origins and its predominance among Protestant academics, and that is why I use the term, and not because I wish to make a point about it being some kind of Protestant aberration.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Scripture and Tradition Anno Domini

A recent presentation of the discipline and history of biblical criticism for the non-specialist is How To Read the Bible by James Kugel, who is Professor Emeritus of Classical Hebrew Literature at Harvard. The general thrust of the book, besides an overview of current critical theories about various Old Testament stories and the Pentateuch, is that the discipline has undermined the idea that there was a single author of the individual books of the Hebrew bible. Instead there are an unknown number of redactors and editors working at cross-purposes, taking bits and pieces of sometimes unrelated narrative and splicing them together with the purpose of giving a shape to Israel's history. The story of Cain and Abel, for example, we are told was originally a tale to explain the fierceness of the southern Kenite tribes, popped into position to fit a need for a narrative after the story of Adam and Eve. Further, as a result of linguistic analysis, scholars guess that there are different schools (e.g. both promoters of priestly privelege and prophets railing against the Temple cult) all re-working the stories of the Pentateuch.

But as well as summarising the often tentative conclusions of biblical criticism, Kugel has an eye on the ancient interpreters, who approached the text as divinely given, consistent and true, and as a word for them in their day. Their method was to uncover the hidden meaning of its words, and to understand what God was speaking through those words. Kugel's notes that (if the critics are right) the original intention of the Old Testament stories is quite plainly supplanted by the interpretative approach of the ancient Jewish rabbis and then Christian writers. But his conclusion, as a practising Jew, is that whilst all of this is troubling for his faith, he simply accepts that one is dealing here with two different methods, and that the critics' method is systematically opposed to a "religious" use of Holy Scripture. The ancient interpreters are supposing that there is an overall narrative in the Old Testament, the dealings of God with His people, and that this same God deals with us, His people in the present day, through this same narrative.

Setting aside the huge challenge that biblical criticism in general presents to believers, with its systematic doubt about the literal truth of the narrative, I suppose a Christian might sing the same conclusion in a different key. Christ (and His body the Church) are the grand narrative of Scripture, and it is by so interpreting the words of Holy Writ that God speaks. Whilst I firmly believe that this is true, there are several points thrown up by Kugel's book that touch on the question of Scripture and Tradition.

First of all, what is the relation between them? If Scripture is a collection of disparate sources, often lifted from their original context, then a rigorously sola scriptura method of dealing with the text (and this is something that Kugel points out) will dig down until it reaches the original source. But then one will have left the overall narrative meaning, which is something given to the text by both the redactors and their interpreters. It wasn't there in the original fragment or tale or whatever. If one is awaiting a divine message within it, then one must accept a list of interpretative assumptions about the bible before one reads a word. The whole cross-section of interpretative layers, generations and centuries and millenia old, are what makes the bible to be what it is. Thus, in one sense, the words are framed, directed, intended and willed by Tradition. Of course, one might say the Holy Ghost instead of Tradition.

But what then of the idea that Holy Scripture is the arbiter of truth, the judge of theology? There is, C.S. Lewis once noted, nothing to prevent the tradition of the Church deciding that such and such a set of books are "canonical", but from thenceforth being subject to the authority of those same books. The situation is, I think, somewhat more complicated. If Kugel's thesis holds water, not just the books but the meaning of their content is determined in advance: what can the words themselves possibly have left to do to exert their authority? I think this objection is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of literature in general, never mind inspired literature. Words are not static; they have a life of their own in the mind of men and nations. Words - take the American Constitution, for example - once admitted as authoritative even within a strictly defined hermeneutic, have the power to change a nation, and its laws, which then lends new meaning, scope and application to the original text. (Of course it isn't the words merely that cause change, but their life in the thought and acts of men.) The only way one can express such facts is to say that the words are living. This has an obvious application to the words of Holy Scripture, by which the Spirit speaks, and by means of which the Church is born. The Church in turn reflects upon the life-giving word and grows with it.

One is led, in turn, to a more profound mystery, and which was thrown into stark relief for me by the time I had finished Kugel's book. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, His consciousness of Who He was, His purpose and His filial love for His Father, was formed in and through the Holy Scripture. The more one reads of Jewish consciousness in the first century, its knowledge of the purposes of God and its choosing, the less one is inclined to posit some kind of vertical and directly infused conceptual knowledge that gave our Lord the certainty of His Sonship and mission. It came, I believe, primarily through the Holy Spirit speaking through the Holy Scripture. But, and if this is the case, then one is in effect canonising not merely a set of books, but also the understanding of those books that prevailed and was current at the time of Christ, and by which His own Messianic and filial consciousness was formed. And that is, for me, the key to understanding the role and purpose and relation of these two ideas, Scripture and Tradition.

Sadly, I am not an expert in the first century rabbinic tradition of scriptural interpretation. It is present, however in the New Testament: one can see elements of it in St Paul (his parallels between Adam and the Christ as the Last Adam in the letter to the Romans, and his theology of circumcision based upon Hagar and Ishmael in Galatians). There is also the parallel between Moses and Jesus as "that Prophet" prophesied by Moses in the gospel of Matthew particularly. A point of note is that Jesus and St Paul reject the forming of a body of law to interpret the Torah or Pentateuch in minute detail by the rabbinic tradition. And thus the significance of the Old Testament in the New, and in the early Fathers, is as a reservoir of exemplars of Christ and the sacraments, in addition to being an historical prologue. (As an aside, should one read the rejection of the Wisdom literature from the canon by the Jewish interpreters partly in this light? It was inimical to their project, but congenial to the Christian one. And should that give Protestants pause before jumping in on the Jewish side of the argument?)

The main point, however, that I wish to emphasise for the purposes of the next few planned posts, are the following: I wish to advocate a Christological approach to Scriptural interpretation, meaning more than just a hermeneutic that puts Christ at the centre. I mean also a hermeneutic that is has as its backbone the kind of interpretation that our Lord Himself must have had in order to understand the Old Testament to be about Himself. I really don't see how a Christian can get by this one, and I think it is good deal more important than any argument about which stories, or to what extent the stories of the Penteteuch are historical, legendary etc. Any valid development of Scriptural interpretation, I think, cannot leave this principle behind or even push it out to the edges.

Finally, by way of introduction to the next post, about Liturgy, I would like to point out what I believe Kugel to be lacking. He quite openly states that he is in reaction against the principle of sola scriptura because by setting the ancient interpreters to one side it has gradually dissolved the meaning of the word in a morass of opposing critical theories. He dislikes the hegemony of the Protestant paradigm of Scriptural interpretation in academia, because it misses the whole point of Scripture qua Scripture, which is to speak directly to our condition: and to recover that we need to go back to the old assumptions. I wonder, however, if Kugel is missing something even if he is not wholly of their party, something that I find Protestant scholars of the bible generally are blind to. This missing ingredient is Liturgy as a kind of key to what the Scripture is all about.