Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's Up With Turkey?

Two news reports from Turkey today, each unsettling in its own way:

(1) There was this unfinished statue celebrating a restoration of relations with Armenia. The Turks are in the process of tearing it apart, piece by piece. Symbolic, right?

Here's the meat of the story, from Radio Free Europe:

During a January visit to the site, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the monument as a "monstrosity” that overshadows a nearby Islamic shrine.

"This looked like a message to the nationalists,” [the sculptor] said. "They'll now say, ‘See, Erdogan is good, he is a nationalist, let's vote for him.'”

The demolition has prompted strong criticism from some opponents of Erdogan's government and prominent Turkish artists. One of them, Bedri Baykam, was
stabbed and hospitalized last week immediately after attending a meeting that discussed actions in support of the statue.
And then this, via i09:

(2) William S. Burroughs's 1966 novel The Soft Machine was recently published in Turkish. The book, along with its publisher Sel, is now under investigation by something called the Turkish Prime Minister's Council for Protecting Minors from Explicit Publications, which accuses it of "incompliance with moral norms" and -- get this -- "hurting people's moral feelings."

We're sure all that sounds less creepily Stalinist in Turkish, but it is a reminder of how the great 20th-century tyrannies routinely generated ponderously long names for bureaucracies and police agencies designed to regulate and prosecute absurd crimes. (Hurting people's feelings? Glenn Beck hurt our feelings every moment he spent on the air. For that matter, so did the guy who invented Jar-Jar Binks. Can we sue for damages?)

We don't know what is most galling in the Burroughs story, but here are our leading gall-ers: (a) the chilling effect that an "investigation" like this will inevitably have on free speech; (b) the ludicrous pretense that the author, or any publisher, would intend The Soft Machine to be read by children; (c) the fact that this means people are still taking Burroughs seriously. Come on, people, that stuff is unreadable. Can't we just canonize the guy, so that nobody reads him anymore? It worked wonders for D.H. Lawrence.

In both stories, however, there is one unifying theme, which galls any reasonable person: the government setting itself up as an art critic, and then -- as what else could it do? -- judging art by political rather than artistic standards. And here we thought that this sort of nonsense was the exclusive preserve of the Commies and the Republicans.

Hunchback Sunday

If there were one expression in general church-use for which we had no love, it would be the phoney verb "to process." (Procede, people. Procede.) But if there were a second such expression, it would surely be "Low Sunday."

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church helpfully suggests that the day now formally known as Dominica in Octava Paschae seu Dom. II Paschae gains its common English monicker "in contrast to the 'high' feast of Easter Sunday itself." We suppose this is the natural derivation, but we can't be sure.

Many pastors of our acquaintance interpret the words as a reference to attendance at worship, which too often declines precipitously from one week to the next. And many more speak, often in muted tones, of their own subjective experience between one Sunday and the next -- of the emotional and physical deflation that follows the marathon Triduum and the exuberant trumpet-blast of Easter morning. It is hardly surprising that so many of us should experience a mild depression or, in Fr. A.'s own customary case, a sudden cold.

One also hears suggestions that that "Low" is a corruption of Laudes, from the sequence Laudes salvatori voce. If so, the English is corrupt indeed, although this etymology would make the thing less disagreeable.

But still: Low Sunday? No. First, because it is Sunday, and every Sunday is the day of the Resurrection. Every Sunday is Easter. And second, because this particular Sunday is no anti-climax. It is the next step in a splendid and too-frequently overlooked marathon, the great Fifty Days of Easter.

Easter Sunday itself is many things. Yes, it is the central feast of the Christian faith, the celebration of the mystery which gives meaning to all of history both before and since. But, let's be honest, it is also the day that ladies show off their new hats. It is the day that children are customarily hepped up on sugar, and indoctrinated into the strange zoology of an egg-bearing rabbit.

But the Second Sunday of Easter? No more hats. No more eggs or jelly beans. No lamb roasting in the oven for family dinner. Anybody who makes it to church is free to concentrate completely upon the unfolding of the Resurrection story, which in in our lectionary now turns to poor no-longer-doubting Thomas, the patron saint of the post-Enlightenment age. This is a great moment for preaching, and teaching; for reflection upon baptism, upon mission, and upon the dialectic between faith and unbelief which is so important to the modern world.

Before the modern revisions, the proper Latin name for this day was Dominica in albis [deponendis], meaning roughly "the Sunday when white baptismal robes [are set aside]." This is okay, in the sense that it connects the celebration of Easter to the sacrament of baptism. But it is a little weak, insofar as it suggests that, Bright Week now concluded, we are to set aside those baptismal robes and return to desacralized existence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But, fortunately, the tradition offers us another and superior nickname for next Sunday: Quasi modo geniti, from the first words of the Introit: "Like newborn babes, desire the true milk of the Word." This, completing a week of mystagogical preaching to the newly baptized (well, in theory), is a reminder to all Christians of who we truly are: newborn babes, longing for sustenance.

Of course, there are some difficulties. One is Victor Hugo and his hunchback. Another is the absence from most churches, and even most service books, both of introits and of their Latin names. But these can be overcome, if one is both determined and a little tricky. And why not, in the service of so great a cause as not calling any Sunday Low?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wash Those Feet!

Before he was the frazzled leader of a crumbling communion, Rowan Williams was one heck of a fine theologian, and we will bet a pretty effective pastor as well. And he still is.

Per David Buehler, who got it from Krista Tippett, comes this:

[Speaking to a BBC program,] Rowan Williams said a return to the medieval tradition when monarchs ritually washed the feet of the poor would serve to remind politicians and bankers what should be the purpose of their wealth and power. ...

''What about having a new law that made all Cabinet members and leaders of political parties, editors of national papers and the hundred most successful financiers in the UK spend a couple of hours every year serving dinners in a primary school on a council estate, or cleaning bathrooms in a residential home?'' he suggested.

An idea for next year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Socialism on the Internet!

False alarm. Just more rodeo-clown nuttiness.

Per Talking Points Memo, conservative activist (and lousy historian) David Barton went on a radio show to talk about (meaning "attack and defame") the idea of internet neutrality. No surprise there; Republicans generally don't like the idea, which they seem to consider a restraint on trade or an intrusion of the government into property rights. You know, like zoning laws.

What amuses and appalls us is that, rather than phrase this as a question of economics, or even of civil rights (that is, the civil rights of corporations, which our Supreme Court has shown itself ready to defend), Barton decided to go the crazy Manichaean route, and present internet neutrality as a question of Christian morality:
It is a principle of free market. That's a Biblical principle, that's a historical principle. We have all these quotes from Ben Franklin and Jefferson and Washington and others on free market and how important that is to maintain. That is part of the reason we have prosperity. This is what the Pilgrims brought in, the Puritans brought in, this is free market mentality. Net Neutrality sounds really good, but it is socialism on the Internet.
Okay, let's rephrase that. He didn't choose Christian morality over against civil rights or economics; he smooshed them together in one breathtakingly complex, and breathtakingly ludicrous, paragraph.

Sigh. The free market is a Biblical principal? Supported by such devout exegetes as Franklin and Jefferson? The mind boggles.

Anyway, if you are looking for some Christian socialism on the internet, click here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Non Moriar, Sed Vivam

If you are preaching come Sunday, and can tear yourself away from a comparison of atonement theories, you might spend a moment on Psalm 118.

In our sacristy here in Romania, there is a picture of Luther -- one of those unconvincing 19th century illustrations, that makes him look both handsome and heroic, even in his funny cap. And underneath is the verse in question: Non moriar, sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini. One also sees it, not infrequently, incorporated into Luther's seal.

Here's why, according to William Johnston's website. During the fateful spring and summer of 1530, Luther was under the imperial ban, and subject to arrest if captured. Naturally, he could not attend the Diet of Augsburg. Instead, he stayed at the Coburg castle, and as Johnson writes:
Luther became very depressed and believed his end was near. In this state, Luther sent a letter to a friend, the famous German composer Ludwig [Senfl], asking that he send him a polyphonic version of a favorite antiphon, In pace in id ipsum. Stenfl did not send that song until later ... but he immediately sent Luther a copy of his motet on the 17th verse of the 118th Psalm: Non moriar sed vivam (I will not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord). The text and music had an incredible effect on Luther. He wrote those words on the wall of his room and came back to the fight with a renewed spirit (Nettl, 21-25). Luther later arranged Non moriar himself as a motet (Nettl, 60).
He is citing Paul Netti, Luther and Music (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1948).

We're no fans of graffitti, but there are worse things for a preacher to write on the walls of his or her bedroom. Not least as Easter Sunday approaches.

Tu Nobis, Victor Rex, Miserere

A couple of weeks ago, after Vespers, we heard an Orthodox priest answering questions from his parishioners. They were a young and engaged crowd, posing some good questions. In response to one, asking him to compare Orthodoxy with Latin Christianity, the priest averred in the politest way possible that he had some doubts about the West's reliance on using the language of the courtroom to describe the majesty of God's work. Ah, yes, we thought; and here comes Aulen versus Anselm.

According to its website, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America includes twelve congregations named Christus Victor. This is an unusual name, and seems to be as distinctively Lutheran as Gustavus Adolphus. We've never heard of a Christus Victor Presbyterian Church, and doubt we ever will.

The oldest of the ELCA's Christus Victors was organized in 1947, the newest in 1988, but most date from the 1960s and 1970s. Now consider the publication dates of Gustav Aulen's influential study of the atonement, Christus Victor: Swedish in 1930; English in 1931 -- and the first American publication in 1969. It seems reasonable to conclude that the idea of giving this curious name was prompted by the gradually increasing prominence of the theory Aulen describes, and which he attributes in various forms to many Fathers and much of the Orthodox world.

Now, we in the West (and, frankly, we at the Egg) generally default to a juridical, Anselmian model of the Atonement. You know: We were (and are) guilty, but Jesus paid the penalty, and therefore the Father treats us all as if we were innocent. There are more sophisticated ways of putting that, but you get the idea. This has been a part of our ecclesiastical culture for so long that it simply seems right, at the most basic learned-it-in-Sunday-School level.

To be brutally honest, it sometimes seems that American Christianity, at least, has a higher regard for the theory of vicarious substitutionary atonement than it does for the doctrine of the Trinity. If true, this ought to give us all pause.

Anyway, we mention this because, thinking about his sermons over the past few years, Father A. sees that the Christus Victor model has assumed a surprisingly important position. Hardly a week goes by anymore in which he does not use some expression on the order of "for our sake, Christ has defeated sin, death and hell." We fully expect to say something along these lines come Sunday, and hope that you will as well. It's an important part of the story.

On the other hand, it may not be the whole or sufficient story. In the wake of the Rob Bell tempest in a teapot, Christianity Today has recently published an editorial warning that when Protestants start to talk about the Atonement as a victory rather than a substitution, they are generally soft-pedaling the reality of sin, and opening the door to universalism (which, for CT, is the Devil). Maybe sometimes. But probably not. A quick review of our own victory-besotted sermons shows that we are quite happy to talk about sin, the uglier and more personal the better. Without that, "the victory over sin death and hell" loses its meaning.

It seems to us that the two models in question, victory and substitution, are held in an admirable tension -- a Lathropean juxtaposition, if you will -- by the traditions of the church. Consider the great (and fairly late, and thoroughly Western) Easter hymn, Victiamae Paschali. It begins, obviously, with the image of Jesus as a sacrifice: "Christians to the paschal victim." And it ends with the title of this post: "Victorious King, thy mercy show."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week of Destruction!

Some guy tried to burn down the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. He is described as "disturbed," which hardly seems necessary. We take for granted that anybody who tries to burn down a cathedral is disturbed in some fashion.

Two things jump out at us from the initial coverage. First, and fortunately, nobody was injured. Fifteen hundred people had to leave the premises, but that was just a precaution. Scary, no doubt, but nothing more. Enjoy your trip to Catalonia, everybody.

Second, though, is this: the fire started in the sacristy, when the arsonist took a lighter to some vestments. What was this disturbed guy doing in the sacristy?

And third, coming on top of a hammer-and-chisel attack on a painting by some "Catholic" activists in France: Happy Holy Week, everybody! Yikes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Things We Don't Like

#1: Andres Serrano's "Immersion (Piss Christ)," a well-known photograph of a crucifix soaked in blood and immersed, as the title suggests with admirable clarity, in urine. Call us old-fashioned, but we like poetry that rhymes, and pictures painted with oil. If one must pretend that photographs are art, we suggest tasteful black-and-white studies of either a mountain range or a naked lady.

#2: The trio of thugs who took a hammer to "(Immersion) Piss Christ" yesterday, while it was on display in Avignon. Defacing art, even bad art, is generally conceded to be bad form. We disapprove in the strongest possible fashion. And while rassling with a museum guard -- another mark of exceptionally poor taste -- these particular thugs also damaged a neighboring picture. Of a nun praying.

The AP headline, at least the one running on HuffPo, claims that this was the work of "Catholics." The story doesn't offer immediate substantiation of this claim, since it doesn't identify the vandals. However, it does say this:
Young far-right Christian activists from the General Alliance Against Racism and for the Respect of the French and Christian Identity is taking the Collection Lambert to court Wednesday to try to have the crucifix photograph removed from the exhibit. The group denounced the photograph on its Web site, saying it "insults and injures Christians at the heart of their faith."
It certainly seems possible, even likely, that some of these folks decided not to wait for the law to act -- or, more likely, for the law to ignore their pathetic whinging.

So who are they? Formed in 1984, the AGRIF is a French right-wing organization, devoted to what the French Wikipedia calls "catholicisme traditionaliste." As readers surely know, this phrase is a bit tricky; it can cover anything from us at the Egg to Pope Benedict to the sedevacantist fantasies of Mel Gibson's dad. We don't know enough about it to say whether their professed Catholicism is Roman, Old, or Lefebrist.

Anyway, let's be clear about the theology. Since Latin Christianity, at least, denies that images have any particular spiritual power, apart from the wisdom they may convey or the faith they may inspire, it is simply mistaken to claim that an unfortunate representation of Jesus "injures Christians at the heart of their faith." Were that true, our religion would long ago have been destroyed by tacky Jesus art, of which there has been no shortage lo these thousand years. What in fact injures Christians is cruelty to the poor and the weak, persecution of the innocent, and the willful violation of just laws, especially when those things are done in our name.

So, the Avignonese brownshirts don't really get it about Christianity. But wait. There is one religion whose adherents seem to feel that every misrepresentation of its great hero is an assault on the faith, and a crime worthy of vigilante justice. Not Christianity, but some other world religion, with a permanent hate-on for Salman Rushdie and Danish cheese products. Hmmm. Which one are we thinking of?

Got it, AGRIF? If you are looking for a religion that will support and encourage your vandalism and assault, please leave Christianity, which does not, and make common cause with the one which is already taking over your country.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The New Face of Opus Dei?

We admit it: we've always had a soft spot for Madonna. In the beginning, it was easy enough to explain. We're about the same age, so her first rush of fame coincided with our misspent youth. Her public persona, at least, was all sex with a little religion thrown in. It's kind of Eggy, or would be if she had sung a few more madrigals.

Over the years, that soft spot has become ever-more difficult to justify, and in fact we don't recall actually hearing any of her music after ... well, "Music." We had hoped she would just retire and become a Garbo-style legend, quietly breeding horses in the Midlands and dribbling her fortune out to worthy causes. But she's a shade too narcissistic for that. So even as we have tried to look away, she has remained there, on the margins of our consciousness, a living reminder of our dubious youthful taste. As Hamlet says, "Ex-nymphette, in thine aging biceps are all my sins remembered."

Anyway, the latest word is that she has moved away from Kabbalah and started spending time with Opus Dei, the personal prelature that is not a cult, is not a crypto-fascist boot camp, and is not as bad as people make it sound. It couldn't be.

On balance, we consider this good news. We liked her better as a tortured Catholic.

Still, we have to wonder what she is looking for. A return to her heritage? We hope so. A chance to mingle with the fans? Given the number of gay men said to be in some seminaries, quite possibly. Some bald albino assassins for her next video? One never knows.

Dept. of No Surprise: Rodeo Clowns Division

"Donald Trump is a joke." That's what political analyst Charlie Cook says in The Atlantic. He is shocked and appalled that the short-fingered vulgarian is tied for first in polls of Republican voters. Needless to say, we agree with Crist's shock. We have been referring to most of the current crop of would-be-candidates as rodeo clowns. They're the entertainment that makes the crowd laugh while the serious contenders are bracing for the bullride.

Cook also likes the clown image, suggesting that rather than "send in the clowns," the intellectually serious GOP voters must be humming a song about getting rid of them. That, of course, assumes that any serious GOP voters remain in the party. Cook's best line:
Anyone assuming that the reality-show host's interest in running for president is just another one of his publicity stunts would not likely be wrong. But what does it say about the Republican Party or, for that matter, the American people that this guy gets a second glance? Could a Jersey Shore personality be far behind? Legitimate Republican candidates have to wonder whether they'll be sharing a stage in the early debates with characters straight out of the bar scene in Star Wars.
Okay, we're just going to say what we're all thinking: Sarah Palin in a Princess Leia slave outfit, and Newt as Jabba the Hutt. You know the campaign poster is coming, don't you?

Dept. of No Surprise: Gerontology Division

The world's oldest man died this week. So did the world's oldest marathon runner (maybe). We can't claim to be surprised. They were really old.

Raised in poverty, married once, a railroad man and a Shriner, 114-year-old Walter Breuning sounds like a decent guy. (Although he hailed from the cold flat northern states, he doesn't seem to have been a Lutheran. For the record, though, we do live to some astonishing ages.). The BBC says he was "passionate about ending [the wars] in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Breuning was also a lucky guy, in many ways and especially with regard to military service. He signed up during World War I, but was never called for duty. He was too old for WWII.

Also dead this week: Buster Martin, who claimed to be 104. He ran the London Marathon in 2008, but didn't make the Guiness book because he couldn't verify his age. The guy might have been a mere 94 at the time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Intercontinental Ballistic Missal: A Primer

It seems that, after what the Times calls "thirty years of labor, intrigue and infighting," the new translation of the Roman Missal for use in English-speaking regions has been approved, and will be coming to a parish near you in November.

The story in a nutshell: (a) the new version is closer to the original Latin; (b) and not many people appreciate Latin syntax these days.

The new translation has already been subject to considerable attack, notably by the Association of Catholic Priests -- which, nota bene, represents about 10% of the Catholic priests in Ireland. They accuse it of being theologically questionable and possibly sexist, as well as, and above all, full of bad English. Meanwhile, the traditionalist blogospere has embraced it as a "correct" translation, although, in all honesty, their enthusiasm is necessarily limited for anything that is not in God's own Latin.

Indeed, to read the publicity on both sides, one would might leave with the sense that this was some bitter defeat for the "liberals" and an equally exhilarating victory for the "conservatives." And it's not as though there isn't a germ of truth to that interpretation. But, and we sincerely hope most readers already grasp the point, ecclesiastical debates rarely boil down to anything so simple. If pushed, most sober citizens will acknowledge that the matters in question in a project like this have little to do with the usual tired markers of ecclesiastical partisanship: genital theology, abortion, child molestation, inclusive language, social welfare, religious freedom, the salvation of the Jews, or human perfectibility.

The questions that translators, bishops and ultimately pastors grapple with, when preparing and introducing liturgical texts, are much less exciting to the average secular newspaper reader. For example: How shall we balance the desire for clear communication, even to the undereducated, with that for fidelity to the original text? Does "fidelity" mean what translators call "dynamic equivalence," i.e., getting the idea across, or "verbal equivalence," i.e., getting the idea across with words and sentence structures which correspond closely to those of the original? How important is the use of words (such as "consubstantial") with a history of technical use in theology, but little currency in common speech? Is there, or should there be, a distinctive idiom for liturgical language, the sort of thing that is sometime called "hieratic English"? Critically, what constitutes "beauty" in English prose?

As you can imagine, these meaty matters will never interest the newspapers. But we hope that they interest Egg readers, most of whom have at least a passing concern for truth, beauty, and worship.

The arguments over the new translation do touch, directly, upon the intentions of Vatican II and, indirectly, upon some questions of ecumenism, both of which might possibly interest an outsider, and to both of which we shall come momentarily.

For those who would like to delve a little deeper, here are some basic resources:
Here is a sample comparison of the current and forthcoming translations, borrowed from the USCCB:

Prayers at the Preparation of the Gifts


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

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.

Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts.

Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin.


Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodnesswe have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become our spiritual drink.

With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.

Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

Orate, fratres

Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

Yes, the new translation is syntactically clumsier. Perhaps now the Vatican will rethink its use of Google Translator in place of native speakers. (We tease, for pity's sake.)

But, in all honesty, we are not comparing Shakespeare to Dryden. Neither of these translations is a testimony to the grandeur and nuance of the English tongue. On the other hand, neither is so wretched that it makes you want to cry. Frankly, each has its own charms. So in the end, we're willing to call it even-steven, and move on.

We suggested that the new missal touches on the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, and here's why. In the heady years which followed the council, its authority was claimed for an immense number of changes in Roman Catholic life and practice, and most especially in worship. For many people, it is these changes -- few of which were actually called for by the council's own documents -- which constitute the "legacy." But at the same time, there was a movement to separate the council proper from some of the things that were done in its name. Hence we have John Paul II, making quite clear his position that Vatican II meant to encourage neither a blurring of the lines between Roman Catholicism and its Protestant dialogue partners, nor the propagation of Marxism disguised as theology by even the best-intentioned of Jesuits. And, now, we have Benedict XVI, who has made no less clear his position that the council fathers never meant to jettison, nor even marginalize, the role of the Latin language in the Latin Church -- much less to encourage goofy experimentation with the sacred liturgy.

In that sense, then, this missal is one important part of the half-century-old struggle to discern and define (dare we say control?) the meaning of Vatican II. Yes, there are plenty of people, not all of them in the press, who would like to reduce this to a simple case of liberals-versus-conservatives, but it is far more than that. It is a slow process of reckoning not only with one council, but with modernity itself.

This is one of the ecumenical aspects of the new missal. Those of us outside the Roman communion have our own versions of the struggle with modernity, sometimes quite different -- but never entirely so. The other is less abstract. In the last half of the 20th century, and especially the last quarter, there was a certain degree of convergence among Christian liturgies, particularly among the Roman, Lutheran and Anglican families. In matters of translation, the emblematic organization was the International Consultation on English Texts, which gave us most of the stolid, wooden liturgical language to which we have become accustomed. It's successor organizations, the (Protestant) ELLC and (Roman Catholic) ICEL, have since continued doing the same dirty work.

Lately, however, the paths seem to have diverged into a yellow wood. For the past ten years, Roman liturgical translation has sounded a retreat, of which the new missal is the first major product. Much of Protestantism, on the other hand, has continued its ... well, advance is not the best word for it. Have you seen the ELW psalter?

So the question is whether, assuming that Roman Catholic liturgiology continues its present course, Protestantism will continue in the direction set during the 1970s, or make some sort of corresponding course correction. Not, we hasten to add, toward the Douay-Rheims style of ultramontane bad English. We could do better, much better, by simply reclaiming Cranmer and King James. And, to what looks daily more like their credit, some Protestants never gave up either one.

Monday, April 11, 2011

We Would Argue

... and in fact, by gum, we shall.

A few months ago, we stumbled across the following passage in an otherwise excellent article on Hans Urs von Balthazar:
Balthasar ... asks that scholars no longer draw on his work Mysterium Paschale in order to portray his theology. He calls this work "a quickly written work," which was only an "attempt to pave the way for the more daring teachings of Adrienne von Speyr." Balthasar's demands notwithstanding, I will consult his Mysterium Paschale for my purposes: first of all, because I am analyzing Balthasar's own work; and second, because the ideas present in this work can also be found in other places in Balthasar' vast theological ouevre. I would argue that his theology has not fundamentally changed since he wrote this work.*
No such argument followed.

"Well lack-a-day," we wailed. "Under what circumstances would you make this argument? Because it seems to us that when you are debating the explicit self-representation of your subject himself, you have the perfect opportunity. Not to mention the obligation. And if you aren't going to make the argument now, buddy, you probably won't ever make it. So why pretend?"

We certainly don't mind examining any and all of an author's published works. The guy did publish them, after all. But to make the somewhat bold claim that the author in question doesn't know what he is talking about, and not follow that claim up with some evidence, strikes us as on the cheap side. Or so we would argue, did we not think that the expression "I would argue" were an execrable bit of cant which should be sliced entire out of the English language, and especially out of academic writing.

Pardon our lapse into irritable pedantry, if indeed there is any other kind, but for many years now, the expression "I would argue" has stuck in our craw. We first heard it, or anyway noticed its use in a formal context, from a teaching assistant in seminary. He was a doctoral candidate in Old Testament, a pleasant enough guy, but one who did not strike us as likely to set the academy afire. We thought at once, and continue to think, that this expression is a cheap academic trick, used to give improbable claims the sheen of probability.

We are not master grammarians, but we take this to to be what is sometimes called the unreal conditional. As we understand it, the form properly requires a protasis, a preliminary "if" clause, which is implicit in its use as jargon: "If I had the time and inclination, I would argue that you are full of bollocks." That sort of thing. Despite the lack of a protasis, there's nothing grammatically wrong about the phrase, mind you. Our concern isn't about grammar but meaning. Being unreal -- counterfactual -- this form presumes that the conditions do not exist. So "I would argue," in any sort of supposedly reasoned discourse, seems to imply that the speaker is prepared to make a case, but in fact is used to avoid making the case in question.

In other words, it is a bluff. It is a sign of intellectual laziness, on the part both of writers who use it and of readers who do not demand demonstrations. So call their bluff! When people from whom we expect better try to brush aside those details in which the Devil is known to hide, let us shine a bit of light into the recesses. When they say, in that cavalier fashion, "I would argue," let us ask them when and -- more to the point -- how they would argue. And until then, let us not be quick to believe them

*Steffen Lossel, "A Plain Account of Christian Salvation," Pro Ecclesa 13:2, Spring 2004, 150n. We emphasize the fact that, despite our crankiness about a footnote, this is an otherwise excellent essay.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sctatch That Last Post

Well, maybe not scratch, exactly. But, mere moments after writing about how America will eventually need to rein in military spending along with all the other kinds, which is still true, we stumbled across the video below, courtesy of Danger Room. It reminded us of how much we really love exotic weapons systems. Bottom line: the Navy actually has a laser weapon. A working laser weapon that can burn up a Zodiac.

Hey, Somali pirates. You ready for us to go all Captain Kirk on you?

The Eagle, Uh, Let's Say "Sits"

Just to keep it clean. Add a letter, though, and you have the age-old military slang for payday. We imagine other federal employees also use the phrase from time to time. And the good news is that they can use it again on the fifteenth of this month, because the government shutdown has been averted.

We call this "good news" with some trepidation. It is good because it means that the decent and hard-working people who actually run things like the State Department, the Army and -- also important come the 15th -- the IRS can feed their families this month. It is also good, we suppose, because it spares the US, and especially its two governing political parties, some embarrassment. But then again, we're not sure that our parties deserve to be spared any embarrassment.

It's hard to know just what has been going on during these eleventh-hour negotiations. In this Times article, Harry Reid denies that things went to the last minute for the sake of drama; but "allies" of John Boehner accuse him of doing just that. Once the negotiations got to within a couple of billion dollars -- chicken feed at this level -- Reid declared that any deal was being held up by Republican intransigence on the social-policy riders; Boehner swore that "there is only one reason we don't have an agreement yet, and that is spending." Who is lying? Your guess is as good as ours.

But here's the scary-as-heck bottom line: it doesn't really matter. By which we do not mean that the truth doesn't matter -- it always does -- but rather that, at least apart from the social policy questions, this agreement doesn't matter. Because they are cutting $38 billion. Out of a $3.7 trillion budget proposal. As a reminder to the math-impaired, that is just over one percent of the total.

Yes, folks. Our fearless leaders were going to embarrass the nation, and impair its operations, for the sake of a few days worth of operating expenses. They are idiots.

Sure, the Republicans were asking for closer to $61 billion in cuts, so maybe a week.

This is nonsense. The 2008 budget deficit was $455 billion, and -- because a lot of our actual spending is outside the formal budget -- the national debt increased by $1,o17 billion. Just to break even, we need to close a trillion-plus dollar gap. Instead, our leaders are threatening to shut down the government over a few percents of that. The Economist has been all over this lately, referring to both the White House and Congressional budget proposals as "risible" and "mendacious." (Also, of the Republicans in particular, "a joke, and a cruel one.")

And here's something else the Economist said, almost in passing, a few weeks back: some of those cuts will have to come from the military. Not all, mind you. Realistically, not even most. The world is not, to put it mildly, a safe place. But to hear politicians talk (and especially the Republican ones), you would think we were still living in an age when we could afford to just give the brass a free pass. Or when it made sense to spend, as we do now, roughly as much on defense than every other nation in the world combined. (Off a GDP of roughly one-fifth of the world.) As the Atlantic put it recently, commenting on the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter plane program, even Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a champion of the aircraft, voiced his frustration: "The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of restraint."

The facts are these. Officially, military spending is about 20% of the federal budget. But that figure does not include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been paid for with special appropriations. Nor does it include veterans' health benefits and retirement, which are generous by most standards. Add it all up, and the War Resters' League (okay, not the most objective resource) estimates that 54% of our actual income taxes go to the military, both past and present. We at the Egg love and honor those guys, but ... come on. Fifty-four percent?

So, huzzah. We saved ourselves the equivalent of a few days' expenses. If we'd saved every penny that any of these heroes asked for, it would have amounted to almost exactly the cost of our last aircraft carrier -- the one we named for George Bush.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

We Do It Oooooourrrr Way

In matters of worship, our habitual preference here at the Egg is for signs and symbols which are shared across ecumenical subdivisions, especially so when those things have the imprimatur of a long or noteworthy tradition. So, for example, we prefer alb to talar, weekly to occasional Eucharist, and a chalice to those despicable shot-glasses.

We take no position on yeast, as it seems that there are perfectly good arguments (and histories) on both sides.

And as readers who put up with our occasional rant about worship have probably gathered, we find that Lutheran worship, for all its wonderful-and-wretched diversity of practice, has generally gravitated toward the preservation (or, at least, restoration) of the central -- and ecumenical -- symbols. Especially since the Common Service, and comparable restorative gestures among the European churches, our worship life has tended away from sectarian distinctiveness. This is a very good thing.

But it leaves us wondering: What, in the conduct of worship and especially of the Mass, is distinctively Lutheran? What is it that, if you were to walk into a strange church on Sunday, would identify it for you as a community loyal to the Augsburg Confession? Beyond the frequent singing of A Mighty Fortress, we mean.

Our first thought was the Brief Order, but its is close enough to the Roman penitential rite, at least in structure. Here were our first thoughts on the subject:
  • The Kyrie. And Greco-Latinizing generally. Ever since the Service Book and Hymnal, many of us have used a "kyrie" based loosely on the offertory ektene in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. This is one of the numerous eastward tips of the hat (like the Eucharistic prayer beginning "Holy art thou ..." and the Vespers litany) made by Luther D. Reed and Eugene Brand, and there is nothing inherently wrong with any of them. But they do seem odd in a Western service. Incidentally, our parish has been using the Latin Kyrie from With One Voice and found it quite satisfactory.
  • Singing the Nunc dimittis after communion. Most people sing it at Vespers or Compline.
  • Historically, the very strange prohibition against self-communion by pastors. Although not presently on the books, at least in the ELCA, it has a long, long history among Lutherans. And, as Toivo Harjunpaa make clear, among absolutely nobody else. This must be one of the weirdest, dumbest and least ecumenical innovations ever to take root in the Reformation traditions. It is right up there with, and may well surpass, south-facing celebration in Anglicanism.
There are surely some other distinctives, but none come immediately to mind. We don't mean hymns, or homiletical emphases. We mean structural elements, especially of the Sunday service. Any thoughts, readers?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Luther's Via Media

Years ago, thumbing through the Lutheran Quarterly, we noticed a circa-1915 photograph of some Norwegian-American church built on a piece of prairie that later became downtown Minneapolis (or St. Paul, or maybe Fargo. We just can't remember). The article was a brief congregational history, focusing on the location and relocation of the buildings. Tepid stuff. But the picture jumped out at us. There was a nice little rail encircling the altar, and draped over that rail was a chasuble. A fiddleback, if we recall.

We think of this photo every time grumpy old Mrs. Sachsenhausen greets us at the door with a whine about our Sunday apparel, sniffing that "we didn't do it this way when I was young." Or "back in the old country," which is even more annoying. Because while she may be right, it is just as possible that she may be wrong. Over the past century or two, selective amnesia has hit Lutheranism hard, and convinced many people that as soon as the Reformation hit a city, the only vestments left were black robes. This is just nonsense.

What actually seems to have happened is that, from the very beginning, the Evangelical movement treated vestments as one of those things in which consciences were free. So long as nobody told you that you were obliged to wear one, or alternatively that you must not wear one, you could do whatever seemed best. Accordingly, some churches went with the black robe -- meaning, in essence, street clothing -- and many stuck with what they knew best, meaning albs and chasubles and whatnot.

We however take the middle course and say: There is to be neither commanding nor forbidding .... We are neither papistic nor Karlstadtian, but free and Christian, in that we elevate or do not elevate the sacrament, how, where, when, as long as it pleases us, as God has given us the liberty to do. Just as we are free to remain outside of marriage or to enter into marriage, to eat meat or not, to wear the chasuble or not, to have the cowl or tonsure or not. ...

We have also done both here in Wittenberg. For in the cloister we observed mass without chasuble, without elevation, in the most plain and simple way which Karlstadt extols [as following] Christ’s example. On the other hand, in the par ish church we still have the chasuble, alb, altar, and elevate [the host] as long as it pleases us.*

This "middle course" -- which is really the ability to encompass wide differences within a single theological movement -- is typically Lutheran, the gentler counterpart to our ferocity about central dogmatic questions. The 1561 Torslunde Altarpiece, from Denmark and pasted above, is an especially well-known example of Evangelical freedom in action. The preacher wears an academic robe, the ministers of baptism and the chalice are in cassock and surplice, the celebrant in alb and chasuble.

Just a few years ago, Arthur Carl Piepkorn's essay on the use of historic vestments was floating around the internet. As you could probably guess, he discovered that Lutherans wear them, and that we (generally) retained the medieval vesture straight through the Reformation proper and the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, only to (generally) abandon it during the icky days of Rationalism.

The piece seems to have been removed, no doubt because of a copyright problem. This is a shame, since Piepkorn has been dead for decades, and loses nothing if his copyrights are violated. Even absent Piepkorn, though, there is plenty of evidence hanging idly around these interwebs.

In our too-darn-long ramble on maniples, we linked to a page maintained by Pr David Jay Webber, which collects a variety of testimonies -- both in writing and in pictures -- regarding the the use of vestments in historic Lutheranism. If you missed it, take a gander here.

Our favorite is probably the 1924 booklet "Proper Communion Vestments," by one P. Severinsen and translated from Danish by J. Madsen. Its general argument is familiar -- the German churches, especially down south, and even those that tried to retain their old customs, eventually capitulated to pressure from the Reformed; the Scandinavian churches, and especially Sweden, did not. But some of the details are especially nice -- such as this one, from the Reformation:
When the South Germans in 1536 came to Wittenberg to close the Wittenberg-Concordat they were therefore greatly shocked by the Communion Service on Ascension day. Wolfgang Musculus from Constanz has confided it to his journal: There were pictures in the church, candles on the altar, and a priest in "papistic" clothes! The Introitus was played on the organ while the choir sang in Latin as was the custom of earlier days) while the priest having the celebration proceeded from the sacristy wearing Vestments.
Or this:
The evangelical churches in Nuremberg received orders in 1797 to deliver their collection of chasubles to the city treasury as a contribution to the taxes. In the churches of St. Sebald and St. Lawrence, the collection contains 18 chasubles of very elaborate design and many of them ornamented with pearls. There were also some dalmatics. Three Jews bought the pearls and are said to have gotten 2300 Gylden for them. The surplice was abolished in 1810 as it had already been in 1798 in Ansbach -- to save laundry expenses. (This certainly is the way of Rationalism in all its modifications.)
Indeed, Severinsen has a good deal of fun with the "war on vestments," which in Germany seems to have begun in earnest around 1700, and which -- adroitly avoiding the matter of Pietism -- he portrays as being driven by the twin engines of Rationalism and Reformed influence, the latter especially in the shape of regional monarchs:

The royal house of Brandenburg, Prussia, was Reformed while the population was largely Lutheran. ... The war against the Communion Vestments was declared by the peculiar soldier-king, Fred. Wilhelm I who. ruled in a very autocratic fashion. Through a Decision of 1733 he "prohibited the remnants of Popery in the Lutheran Church: Copes, Communion Vestments, Candles, Latin song, Chants, and the sign of the Cross". Many priests sanctioned this step, but conservatism was also very strong. Many complained and counted the whole event a "betrayal of genuine and pure Lutheranism". Many reports were also given of the disappointments of the congregations.

The brutal king repeated the decision in 1737 with the addition: "Should there be those who hesitate or who desire to make it a matter of conscience, we wish to make it known that we are ready to give them their demission". At least one priest was discharged for refusal to submit.

See what he did there? For Lutherans, this sly foreshadowing of the Prussian Union is inflammatory: black robes = unionism! Hey, ever'body, let's declare a statu confessionis. We hasten to remind readers, as we so often need to remind the LC-MS, that things are not now as they were then. There is no authority prepared to "accept our demission" should we insist upon vesting our deacons in dalmatics, or what have you. Things are back to what they were in Luther's day -- at least in vesture, the diversity of American practice has reclaimed the middle way.

Would somebody please remind Mrs. Sachsenhausen for us?
* "Against the Heavenly Prophets," LW 40: 130 (WA 18: 112.33-113.5), quoted in Helmar Junghans, "Luther on the Reform of Worship," Lutheran Quarterly (Autumn, 1993), p. 329. Timothy Wengert translated it. The same passage is quoted by Severinsen.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Manipulos Suos

As it happens, we own a maniple. Funny story, really.

Some years ago, for reasons which now escape him, Fr. Anonymous took to buying used vestments on eBay. This was emphatically not a good idea, as the vestments so procured demonstrate each time they are used. The kindest thing to be said for our rose chasuble is that it is rose, and therefore needed infrequently.

But the real winner is our white (backup) chasuble, an amply decorated garment bought to supplement one so plain it would be positively Quaker, if Quakers wore chasubles. (And maybe they do; we don't worship with them very often.) Anyway, this white eBay chasuble and its matching stole had been ... modified ... by their original owner, a priest in one of the Old Catholic communions. He had, quite reasonably, sewn a piece of cloth into the back of the stole, to keep the silk -- if it is silk -- from coming into contact with a sweaty neck. That his stitches were irregular, and the resulting pad a bit lumpy, in no way diminishes his good intentions. He then went on to sweat, profusely, leaving the pad a lovely shade of brown. But his most notable modification of the set was to smoke cigarettes, apparently in vast quantities, and so help us we do believe while wearing his Christmas-and-Easter robes. Words like "reeking" fail to do justice to his work; the vestments as received were likely carcinogenic.

After a great deal of Febreze, and many hours spent flapping in an offshore wind, the chasuble and stole were made wearable. It was only then that we took a few moments to consider the third piece in the set: a maniple. Apparently unused, ours had escaped its first owner's unhappy modifications. It was white, clean, and fragrant.

For those who don't know, the maniple is a strip of cloth, worn over the left arm. It seems to have started out as an actual hankie, carried in the hand by noble Romans, which evolved into a decorative silk garment, worn at Mass -- and only at Mass, not at other services -- by Western clerics from subdeacon up to bishop. (The custom was to remove it when preaching. God knows why, and we imagine a few readers do as well, and we expect they'll tell us.) After the Reformation, it was retained principally by Roman Catholics. But, as they rushed to dress themselves more like Protestants in the wake of Vatican II, they issued a 1967 instruction on the liturgy which declared, in part, that "the maniple is no longer required." Which was widely, if illogically, interpreted to mean "forbidden." And so, for the past 45 years, the maniple has been a (nearly) lost garment. There are plenty of them floating around, and you can still buy them from church supply houses, but nobody much wears them.

Except, of course, for eccentrics -- Roman Catholic priests enjoying the indult formerly required for celebration of the Extraordinary Form, and the occasional Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic with a taste for tat. Readers know, of course, to which category poor humble Fr. A, with his closet full of stinky eBay chasubles, belongs.

Now, among certain Roman Catholics, the maniple has become a potent symbol; how you feel about it very nearly stands in for how you feel about the changes to the liturgy since 1967. Some wrinkle their noses at the sight of one, associating it with everything they hated about parochial school. Others look for technical arguments against it, such as the claim that the garment was meant for those who had been ordained as subdeacons -- and that since the church doesn't ordain subdeacons anymore, the maniple is meaningless.

At the other end of the spectrum, a few declare that it is an absolutely obligatory garment, arguing that it is and has always been required for the EF, for which the Novus Ordo is a licit but inadequate replacement. If you want a real celebration, they say, you need real vestments. They sum this up with the neat slogan "No maniple, no Mass." The very best and funniest take on this comes from blogger John Whitehead, who suggests several forms of pro-maniple propaganda, including this:
Perhaps one could adapt one of those nauseating pictures of a kitten clutching a tree branch and bearing the words "Help me to hold on Lord", beloved of a certain type of wet liberal cleric, to one with "Every time a priest celebrates Mass without a maniple God kills a kitten."
(Pastor Joelle is already digging though her sacristy closet, just in case.)

Now, for us Evangelicals, the technical arguments among Roman Catholics -- regarding the language of the 1967 instruction, the silence of subsequent documents, the role of the subdiaconate and so forth -- don't mean a thing. For better or worse, and quite often the latter, we have no rules governing clerical vesture. The question, for us, is not whether a legal document somewhere gives us the right to wear a garment, nor even whether it was worn in (say) Paul Gerhardt's Leipzig church circa 1650. (Which it probably was.) The question is whether it means anything.

With the alb, this is an easy one to answer. From the very beginning, the white robe has been a sign of the new life conferred in baptism. The stole has been a sign of ordination for a very long time, as the chasuble has been a sign that its wearer is celebrating the Eucharist. A bishop's mitre serves a useful purpose, especially in large churches where you can't quite make out the pectoral cross. We don't care much for copes, but at least they match the mitre.

But a maniple? Really?

As with every other vestment, the Middle Ages attached a variety of symbolic meanings to the maniple. And as with every other vestment, these meanings were varied and bogus. It represented the ropes that tied the hands of Jesus; or the towel used by a table servant; it was for wiping away penitential tears -- or whatever else some monk made up. One of Zuhlsdorf's readers, Paramedicgirl, excavated this gem from Alphonsus de Liguori, who claims that the maniple

... was introduced for the purpose of wiping away the tears of devotion that flowed from the eyes of the priest; for in former times priests wept continuously during the celebration of the Mass.

It's beautiful, but ... unlikely. We have little patience with this sort of post facto speculative allegorizing. And yet, that said, there is one proposed symbolism that we do love.

Among its many Latin names, the maniple was sometimes called a sudarium. Literally, this is a sweat-rag, which seems to have been its original purpose. But, as Barbara Dee Baumgarden points out, it was also and specifically the name of the veil that Veronica supposedly used to wipe the sweat from the Lord's brow, and upon which he miraculously left the imprint of his face. (Yes, people, it's like wearing the Shroud of Turin on your wrist.) And we really do like the idea of a vestment, common to all the clergy, which represents the way we are conformed to the Lord's image -- including especially the image of his suffering -- when we celebrate the Eucharist. This idea is alien to many of us these days, but it fits nicely with the Apology's teaching (7-8:28) that those who offer the Word and sacrament do so "in the stead and place of Christ."

So, okay. We have a maniple, and if asked we could give a reasonable and confessional explanation of its presence on our wrist. And yet it is unlikely that we will ever be asked, since we just don't wear the thing. It's not so much that it looks silly -- all vestments look silly, as do most other pieces of clothing, as well as the great majority of naked people. Looking silly is part of the human condition. But to modern eyes, including especially eyes accustomed to the liturgy, the maniple looks silly in a particular way. It looks excessively fussy, even self-consciously antiquarian. And while there are a few parishes in which such a look may well further the spread of the Gospel, we do not believe there to be many.

Look, we could come up with reasons to wear a ruff -- some Lutherans do. And in some Lutheran churches, the ruff is just what the doctor ordered, as a maniple surely is in a Roman Catholic church where the EF is celebrated. But not most.

So our maniple hangs in the closet, virtually pristine, and will do so long after its matching stole and chasuble have completed their work. We dig it out occasionally to amuse and enlighten altar boys, but otherwise we leave it hanging there, reminding nobody but ourselves of the ropes, the sweat, and the image of the Lord in whose name we serve.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

On Second Thought

We certainly did appreciate your comments on our April 1 post. For the record, we'll stick with the biretta a while longer. (And watch for our upcoming post on maniples -- why, when, and whether). But we do need to tip the poor battered bit of headgear to the fine blogger MadPriest, who left this comment:
May I be the first to congratulate you on the massive increase in this blog's popularity following your wise decision to start telling people what they want to hear. Personally I can't wait to read your pronouncements on what God hates - it's what the world needs a lot more of. May I also be the first to congratulate you on your unexpected rise to high office in your church.
Nicely done, sir. Nicely done.

Friday, April 01, 2011

We're Tossing in the Biretta!

Dear Friends of the Blog,

You know what? We give up. We're tossing in the biretta, shelving the Vulgate, dousing the thurible. When we get a chance, we're going to take down that icky old icon on the sidebar, and put up a picture of the Praying Hands. Or maybe a Jesus-fish.

You heard it here first, baby: we're going Protestant.

It has a been a struggle, all these years, trying to speak up for a vision of the church that was both evangelical, as described by the Book of Concord, and catholic, as adumbrated by millennia of Christian tradition. Life within our church is so distorted that people hear "Evangelical Catholic," and they just assume it means "cigar-smoking weasel who likes his gays in the closet and his women self-hating, watches Fox News, forwards chain emails about Nancy Pelosi's war on Christmas, and prays for the intercession of Saint Arthur Carl Piepkorn."*

Outside our church, people just stare at us and and say, "Huh. I didn't know Lutherans [wore those clothes] [used that ceremony] [knew those saints] [believed that doctrine]." You get tired of it after a while.

The last straw, though, was a few months back, when a reader accused us of Pre-Raphaelitism. We looked about the rectory sitting room, at our well-worn Morris chair and the lovely Burne-Jones print over the grating, and wept. It took us half an hour of reading Swinburne just to recover. ("Queen Yseult" mind you, not that creepy "Dolores" or anything. Get your mind out of the gutter).

Well, we're done now. Starting today, this blog is devoted to mass market neo-Pietism, with maybe a dash of post-Calvinist rationalism. We're buying a Hawaiian shirt for Sundays, and subscribing to Church Sound System Monthly. In fact, we're looking for a warehouse to rent for our weekly Un-Service Praise-a-Thon, because it's more ... umm ... authentic than a "traditional church."

If that doesn't work out, we'll try the Prosperity Gospel.

So, sure, it's been a great run. Thanks for clicking by. We hope you'll join us in our move to the dark side of the force, but if not, well, have fun stuck in your dying church preaching a not-so-believable message of "grace" to twelve senior citizens who never really got it anyway. We're moving on to better things!

Yours truly,

Father Anonymous

P.S.: Vobis dies stulti Aprilis festivus exoptamus!

* Which, seriously, we once heard Robert Wilken do.