Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Monk-ey Business

Readers of a certain age will remember Gary Hart, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, who dared the press to catch him womanizing on a boat called Monkey Business. The press obliged, thus quickly ending Hart's presidential ambitions. What is it, we wondered then and many times since, that makes smart, talented people fritter away their potential on stupid stunts?

We have wondered this lately as we consider the abbey Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, in Rome, which Benedict XVI has recently closed. Most of the press coverage -- like this titillating spread in the Daily Mail -- has centered on one tidbit, which is the occasional presence there of one Anna Nobili, a former lap-dancer turned nun, who now performs a new dance which is not, one gathers, sufficiently different from her old ones. Not to mention that Madonna visited! And yes, these are juicy details which play to all the cheap jokes about easy-living monastics which have been repeated through the ages, thus making for readily-digestible journalism.

But John Allen, in the National Catholic Reporter, urges a more sober assessment of the closure and its meaning. The Cistercians, who have been located there 450 years, have built a powerful reputation for Santa Croce:

Until quite recently the basilica was actually seen as a major success story. The consensus was that a renaissance was unfolding under Cistercian Abbot Simone Maria Fioraso, an ecclesiastical mover and shaker if ever there was one. Vocations were growing, and the basilica had become a crossroads for Italian nobility, political VIPs and pop culture icons.

In the autumn of 2008, Fioraso ... organized a six-day reading of the entire text of the Bible, called "The Bible Day and Night," carried live on Italian state TV [and in which many famous people took part].

It's tough to overestimate what a media sensation the event constituted in Italy. Headlines proclaimed, "Holy Cross in Jerusalem becomes a superstar."

Now, of course, it has been closed, for what the official statements refer to vaguely as "numerous allegations of conduct incompatible with the vowed life," which are said to include "liturgical abuses." Underneath this, however, Allen detects something larger than some sexy dancing buy an underclothed nun:
... the monks ran a successful boutique and hotel, apparently without clear accounting of the revenue flows. More darkly, there were rumors of "inappropriate relationships" carried on by some of the monks, understood to be code for some sort of sexual misconduct.
Quelle surprise. But the point isn't really the abuse, so much as the official response. And it is here that Allen finds in this closure evidence of a "quiet revolution" begun by Benedict, in which high-flying and outwardly successful church leaders are not given a free pass, but rather subjected to careful scrutiny and ready discipline:

The suppression [of Santa Croce] is part of a pattern under Benedict XVI, which began with crackdowns against high-profile clerics such as Gino Burresi, founder of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. More recently, in September 2008 Benedict laicized a well-known priest in Florence, Lelio Cantini, whose Queen of Peace parish was regarded as among the more dynamic in the country. Earlier this year, Benedict permanently removed Fernando Karadima from ministry, a legendary priest in Chile known as a spiritual guide to a large swath of the clergy and episcopacy.

All those cases, and others like them one could mention, pivoted on charges of sexual misconduct and abuse.

Allen does say, and rightly, that none of this will really make a difference in the public eye until the bishops who exercised such seemingly lax discipline in decades of sexual abuse cases are dealt with firmly and publicly. What he does not say, incidentally, that is was the now-and-hastily-Blessed John Paul whose blind eye was turned during many of those decades, and whose mess the less wildly popular Benedict is beginning to clean up.

All good points. But we are still stuck on the underlying psychological conundrum, what one might call the Hart-Clinton-Gingrich Syndrome. What is it that moves smart, able, leaders like Fioraso to take stupid risks which endanger not only their personal position but the credibility of their ideas? This is surely not just about sex, sublimated or otherwise; nor is it likely to be just about money. It is about the strange dark recesses of the human heart, and the peculiar minds of those who are most drawn to the limelight.

Which is why, at we at the Egg have said so many times, the moment we hear the words "charismatic leader," we turn in the opposite direction and run. Fast.

Cheap, Clever Shots

Niall Ferguson is apparently an historian of something, although less of the archives-and-statistical-tabulations sort than of the op-eds and TV appearances sort. Michael Lind works for a think tank, so it's all class on both sides. Politically, Ferguson leans well to the starboard, Lind to port.

None of this matters to us one way or the other, but we are delighted by the rhetorical devices that Lind uses to asault Ferguson's reputation in a recent Salon piece. Consider, if you will, these gems:

Time magazine in 2004 named Ferguson one of the 100 most influential people in the world, which might help to explain the condition of the world.

What accounts for the attention lavished by the American media on a huckster as vulgar and shallow as Niall Ferguson? His accent surely is part of the explanation.

The mass extinction of America’s intellectual right at the hands of anti-intellectual Jacksonian populists like the Tea Partyers has created a lack of native conservative thinkers with impressive academic credentials who are willing to dash to a TV studio at a moment’s notice.
Lind ends with a long and superfluous quotation from Ghostbusters, which seems over the top. Still, a good read in its genre. If you're going to live in the sort of tawdry world these guys inhabit (which we confess we would sort of like to ), you may as well be funny.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Creepy Evil People

Two items struck us lately, both grim. Neither, we regret to say, is especially unusual. But each is dreadful in its own way.

First, we see that the Rev. David Radtke has been arrested for repeatedly fondling a teen-aged student from Spain who was stating with his family. Radtke, an LCMS pastor who for the moment remains under call at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Gibbon, MN, has apparently confessed and said that he will take responsibility for his crimes. This is a nice sentiment, and but there is no meaningful chance that Radtke will be able to undo the damage he has done, either to this poor (but quite brave) girl, or to his own parish, or the the reputation of the Christian churches throughout the world. So thanks for nothing, you creepy pervert.

And in the same news feed, which clearly originates in Hell, we read that Libyan soldiers loyal to Gaddafi have been using rape to punish and terrify their victims. Apparently, they have been doing this on a pretty large scale -- a psychologist investigating something else entirely stumbled upon 200+ reported cases, meaning (as it always does with sexual violence) that there are likely to be many, many times that number which will never be reported.

We will spare you the details of both stories; trust us when we say that one cannot read them without rage. Follow the links if you must.

And while it may seem unfair to throw a creepy middle-aged man giving unwanted midnight "massages" to his houseguest up alongside bloodthirsty killers, we aren't so sure.

We just wrote, and deleted, a long and pretentious post on power, privilege and the narcissistic misuse of sex. But you know what? Egg readers are smart people, and we're going to bet that you already have that stuff down cold.

So instead, after a couple of weeks when the former Governor of California and the former director of the International Monetary Fund have given breathtaking witness to the capacity of powerful men to use abuse powerless women, let's just take a moment to remember the obvious fact that not all these men are movie stars and Socialist bankers, living lives of obvious privilege. As we all know, evil is everywhere.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

We'll Be Back Soon

Your humble correspondent hasn't blogged in while, but not because nothing noteworthy has happened in the domains proper to this blog. The dissolution of the Schwarzenegger-Schriver marriage itself is a sufficient mashup of sex, religion and politics to keep us going for quite some time.

But no. Father Anonymous has been, and remains, away from his desk. Specifically, he's been holed up in the Bavarian Alps, mulling over the problems of free will and determinism. We are guests of the Bavarian church and its office for ecumenical studies, which hosts a week-plus shindig each year, drawing together church people (clerical and lay) from a wide swathe of European churches.

We've been learning a lot, much of it having to do with sausage, cheese and schnapps. But also some churchy stuff. We confess that until last week, we didn't even know there was a Czechoslovak Hussite Church; now, we count two of its priests among our friends, and have at least a sense of its liturgical style.

We are also reminded, constantly, of how proficient European schools are at teaching languages. After several shots of something clear and pluripotent last night, and attractive Bavarian ecumenist admitted that she had been a bit standoffish at first for fear that her English wasn't up to snuff. We muttered quietly that she was the one speaking our language, and not we hers. The sad fact is that we can't meet anybody here halfway -- even the Romanians don't bother suffering through our broken Romanian. Meanwhile, we dropped by a German prison the other day, and were deeply impressed by the erudition of the prisoner who shouted to us from his cell as we crossed the yard -- in German, English and then Russian.

Anyhoo, lest you wonder, we'll be home soon. (At least assuming the volcanic ash cloud doesn't wreak any havoc.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Because You've Been Waiting

Here is the official English translation of Universae Ecclesiae, the instruction on Summorum Pontificum. (All the versions are on one page; scrolling may be required). It's one of the documents which will help to track the developing course of liturgical thinking -- and liturgical law -- within the Roman Catholic church.

We haven't given it a good read yet, but at a glance it seems to be pretty much what we expected: a ringing endorsement of both the Latin language and the pre-Conciliar liturgical forms. The 1962 Mass is to be made available whenever a "group of the faithful" requests it and a "qualified priest" is available. The size of the group is not spelled out, and ordinaries are given some discretion. The "qualifications" of the priest are fairly mild; he must be a Roman Catholic priest who can pronounce Latin and understand the words of the Mass, and who has celebrated according to the EF previously.

Of interest to us is the fact that the 1962 Roman Breviary is expressly permitted, provided that it is prayed in Latin. This will be a big hit with those guys at the Baronius Press, who have a gorgeous bilingual edition scheduled for release this summer.

The Dead Faith of the Living

We couldn't help but chuckle when we saw Mark Chavez, of WordAlone, identified in the press as a "traditionalist Lutheran pastor." Really? Does that mean he is partial to the copes and maniples that are usually associated with "traditionalism" in a Christian context? Or to a specifically Lutheran version, which we suppose might involve talars, ruffs and and extensive reliance on the chorale service? (If so, Mark, call us. We're sort of interested.)

Probably not. Chavez is a graduate of "Luther" Northwestern Seminary, which in our experience seems to produce pastors of a low-church bent. And of course, he is best known for his association with WordAlone, which has its roots in the opposition to the ELCA's ecumenical agreements and has since found new purpose in its support for pastors who divorce and remarry, so long as they aren't gay.

When Roman Catholics talk about "traditionalism," they have something reasonably concrete to which they can point: the Lefebvrist reaction to Vatican II. Even there, of course, it is possible to nitpick. Are sedevacantists also "traditionalists," or are they "ultra-traddies," or are they simply nuts? And what about the Old Catholics who reacted the same way to Vatican I?

When Anglicans talk about "traditionalism," things get a but murkier. For pushing 200 years, one school has staked its claim on aping Rome, with such vehemence that it has eventually just joined up. Another has looked toward Laud or the "Caroline Divines" (or, more rarely, the Celts) for a sort of purely English Christianity that was still identifiably big-T Traditional. But of course, this approach implies that Tradition does not presuppose communion with Rome, nor celibacy, nor latterly an all-male clergy.

We Lutherans don't often use "traditionalist" to describe ourselves. Perhaps, despite the very conservative direction of our earliest liturgical reforms and our near obsession with history, we are too conditioned by the popular image of our Reformation as a clean break with Rome, as well as with contempt for the decadent Roman religion of the 15th and 16th centuries. "If that is tradition," we seem to say, "then we will distance ourselves from it."

Of course, there are specifically Lutheran traditions, and we don't simply mean ruffs and talars. There are the confessions of faith, which describe a confidence in God's power to save us as a gift offered for Christ's sake, and which base this confidence in a confident (if sometimes idiosyncratic) reading of the Bible. Chavez and his colleagues do make the specific claim that the ELCA has not maintained these traditions; but of course, we in the ELCA maintain with equal vigor that Chavez is mistaken. So any newspaper that calls him a traditionalist, based upon his own claim, would logically want to call Mark Hanson one as well.

Look, if traditio still referred primarily to the handing on of the creed when a candidate was prepared for baptism, most of us would qualify. But as Christianity has developed, it has become ever more difficult to distinguish a single Great Tradition. Poor old Vincent of Lerins, with his nonsensical ab omnibus (offered as part of a passionate defense of semi-Pelagianism) was barking up the wrong tree as early as the fifth century. There is precious little of the Christian faith to which there have not been principled objections from within the family, often made consistently through history.

The essentials, such as they are, seem to us to include an assertion that the history of salvation described by the Bible is true both historically and, especially, theologically; that sin and salvation are real, and that the latter is assured by the cross and empty tomb; that baptism and the Eucharist are effective mediators of this salvation; that the vision of God as Trinity is spelled out clearly enough in Scripture to justify its normative role in subsequent theology.

A more expansive vision of Tradition can also be proposed. It would include, for example, specific liturgical practices, especially around the sacraments, but also those used to signify the relationship of Christians and Christian churches to one another -- we are thinking of ordination and confirmation.

What is most difficult to fit into any comprehensive Tradition are detailed ethical or hermenuetical propositions. In how many senses can the Bible, or any portion thereof, be read? How shall we enact the prescriptions of the Sermon on the Mount? These are exceedingly dark areas, contested continuously through history, and often by saints of great wisdom. They are surpassed in obscurity only by the questions of free will and predestination. And yet is upon just these difficult and contested loci that WordAlone (and the NALC, and ACNA, and whatever) stake their putative claims to "traditionalism". Color us unconvinced.

We're not quite sure what to make of it, but we suspect that "traditionalist," like "conservative," "liberal," "evangelical" and "fundamentalist," is on its way to becoming one of those words which doesn't mean very much anymore. (All to be joined shortly by "catholic," "orthodox" and "protestant."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

About the Presbyterians

Many years ago, we had breakfast with Jane Spahr, the poster child for lesbian clergy in the Presbyterian church. Afterward, we heard her preach in the seminary chapel. We liked Dr. Spahr just fine, with a few homiletical reservations. But even then, we had among our classmates three or four, ahem, Lesbyterians whose preaching we preferred to hers, and we hoped for little more than that they would have what Spahr had largely been deprived of -- the chance to preach, often, without needing to be made either scandalous or heroic by their sexual identity.

That day is somewhat closer now, since the PCUSA has just voted to permit the service of ministers who are neither straight nor single, nor pretending to be one or the other.

The debate of homosexuality, ferocious in many European and American churches, was perhaps especially so among the Presbyterians. During our seminary years, it had reached such a fevered pitch that the General Assembly actually shut down debate -- declared a moratorium -- in the hope that hackles would lower. Not so much, as it turned out.

The present decision will surely alienate some congregations and cost the church some members. It is unlikely that those already alienated by the status quo ante will come back in comparable numbers, and so the net impact, at least in the near term, is likely to be an accelerated loss of membership. And we expect that most voters knew that, which is a reminder that this decision (like those taken in the UCC, ELCA and PECUSA) is not a matter of cynical calculation, or an attempt to appease the fearsome Spirit of the Age with a stab at relevance. It is, on the contrary, a matter of principle, and a decision based upon the Gospel as those churches understand it.

That's important to remember, because the accusations will fly fast and furious for some time to come. In that line, and thinking of our last post, we couldn't help noticing the comment, in this Reuters report, by Duke sociologist Mark Chaves:
Chaves said his father, a voting member of his presbytery, was persuaded to vote for it due to the vitriol of opponents.
We hope, however vainly, that some of that vitriol will be kept in the bottle, now that the fait is all accompli. And in any case, we are happy for those of our friends and colleagues who have been doing, for all these years, what we all do, but who are now able to do it without hiding, lying or living in fear.

Dude, What?

We really aren't sure what to do with the occasional commenter who feels that this is the right forum to air his or her idiosyncrasies, rather than to join us in airing ours.

On one hand, we enjoy the way a thread of comments can veer off and develop a life of its own; on the other hand, we are reluctant to give a voice to people who are so hostile to religion in general, or our religion in particular, that their hostility colors every comment. You guys should just get your own blogs. You know it's free, right?

So, as we've done before, we're going to take some time to respond to one of last night's comments; but we're also suggesting in our ever-so-subtle way that the commenter needs to up his game a little or risk being deleted.

Regarding Fr. Moats and his nonexistent Navy SEAL career, an anonymous commenter suggested that he had told the lie so that nobody would think he was gay. (Which, so far as we know, he's not.) We suggested that this was unlikely, and that the guy had probably just lied for the reasons that he and Shipley suggested: his own ego, and a chance to impress his members. We also mentioned that there is an element of self-selection in many professional choices, so that one gets fewer gay cowboys and more gay hairdressers, and that in our experience the clergy seem to fall somewhere near the middle. Our anonymous correspondent then took the question in a different direction, away from sex and toward race:
To what extent is this a class issue? Or a difference based on levels of education? Self-selection and diversity are two contradictory impulses. After years of preaching "diversity" yet remaining virtually all white/middle class, this is probably the only incontrovertible miracle that Mainline Protestantism has managed to show anybody.
Okay. That's fair, if a little harsh. The fact is that American churches -- all of them, not just mainline and not just Protestant -- have struggled with race and class since well before the Civil War. The results of this struggle have rarely made anybody look good. And yes, it was transparently self-serving that, when their urban congregations began to deteriorate because of postwar suburbanization and white flight, the mainliners suddenly developed a passion for ethnic diversity. In the case of the ELCA, it set unrealistic goals for transforming its membership roster, and then failed to achieve those goals, or anything like them. Hardly a miracle, but certainly embarrassing.

But mainline Protestantism is not remotely alone in this. Do you think that Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy aren't largely shaped by the ethnic heritage of their members? Do you think that the African Methodist Episcopal Church isn't? This is all basic sociology-of-religion. The difference is that, whether out of naivete, self-interest, or genuine passion for sharing their faith -- and generally a little of each -- it is the mainline Protestant denominations which have made the most noise about pushing beyond their traditional constituencies, and are therefore most conspicuous when they fail.
If you've got a lower percentage of non-whites than the Southern Baptist Convention, you're either hypocrites or you're too self-obsessed to deserve to be treated seriously.
Buzzzz -- sorry, wrong answer. Despite its roots in the pro-slavery movement, the SBC has been a startling success in the move toward and ethnically diverse Protestantism. Since 1970, it has gone, by its own measurements, from all-white to 20% minority. Here's an article on it. This is genuinely impressive.

But does this mean that everybody else is hypocritical? Not at all. The truth is that, at least in the ELCA, our most ethnically diverse regions -- chiefly big cities -- have had considerable success in achieving diversity as well. It hasn't been enough to offset the massive demographic shift that emptied out our existing urban parishes years ago, but it is still pretty good. Our self-delusion was imagining that we could do this in, say, North Dakota.

So what makes the SBC different? The SBC is far more aggressive about evangelism, not to mention skillful, than most other churches. But it also has a very strong presence in the southern states, which are already thick with black Baptists. The SBC's growth has involved some church-planting, but it has also involved the absorption of existing independent congregations. Of these, one leader observes that
... many of the church's black congregations are aligned both with the SBC and with traditionally black denominations, and that they joined the SBC only for the resources and health benefits it offers pastors [and because] being involved with the SBC requires a minimum amount of money and time and effort.
That's the sort of thing that a congregational polity permits, at least up to a point. Most of the rest of us discourage or prohibit it. So the SBC has grown more diverse because, among other things, it is southern and because it is Baptist. In any case, that hasn't prevented it from succumbing to mainline decline -- its numbers are flat and receding, about where [the rest of] the mainline was thirty years ago.

Our commenter goes on:

Odd how nobody notices that barely a generation after women were allowed to become mainline pastors, they're already on their way to over 50%; why hasn't this happened yet in medical or pharmacy or engineering schools? Is there something intrinsically "feminine" about ministry? And why the resistance from Black/Hispanic churches to women's ordination, but much less vitriol leveled at them compared to white evangelicals who don't allow female pastors for the same reasons?

And this is where he really misses the mark, and kind of ticks us off.

First, "barely a generation"? It has been 41 years since the LCA and ALC ordained women, nearly as long for the (D&FMS of the) PECUSA. That's two full generations by anybody's count, three by some counts.

Second, "on their way to 50%"? Sure, in the sense that New York is "on the way" to Los Angeles. Per the ELCA,
In 2009, 19.9% of clergy on the ELCA roster are women, while 31.2% of the active roster are women. In seminaries, the numbers of women and men preparing for ministry are about equal.
As we recall, seminaries were about equal twenty years ago, too. It appears that a fair number of women train for the ordained ministry and then either fail to enter it or enter and leave. If anything, this suggests that there is something that is intrinsically "masculine" about it. Could be congregational sexism, but it could just as easily be the low pay and no hope of advancement. In an age when women make up close to 60% of all undergraduate degrees, and walk away with most of the honors, men are just learning to live with closer horizons. (Yeah, we know: Boo-hoo, poor us.)

As for the comparison with science and engineering, Wikipedia says that in 2001, 37% of the doctorates in those fields went to women, with the proportion on the increase. In a sense, and despite the enormous amount of hand-wringing that goes on about women in science, it is arguable that women have a slightly easier time there than in the ordained ministry of the churches which ordain them. Or anyway about the same.

Third, what vitriol? Seriously? What are you talking about? If you mean us personally, you're just wrong. This blog has plenty of vitriol to share, but we reserve the great bulk of it for preachers who lie, cheat or steal, with a little left over for Newt Gingrich and Antonin Scalia. And the ELW psalter. And Urban VIII.

If you mean among mainline Protestants in general, you're still wrong. Sure, those of us whose churches ordain women disagree with those who don't, and within a particular family the disagreements can get pretty heated -- ELCA vs. LCMS, PCUSA vs. PCA, ABC vs. SBC, and CofE versus the Ordinariate of OL of Walsingham. But in every one of those cases, including the last, the ordination of women is one among many points of division, and in no case (although the Presbyterians come close) is it the first or the critical, church-dividing point.

Moreover, if there is any real poison poured out on that particular subject, it generally comes from the other side of the fence. The churches that don't ordain women (or out-of-closet gay people) routinely declare that the rest of us are "unorthodox," a complex, tricky and deeply offensive word in theological circles. That's vitriol. When the ELCA began its full communion relationships with some other churches, the LCMS took out a full-page add in USA Today accusing us of abandoning the confessions. That's vitriol, too.

And specifically, white evangelicals who don't ordain women? If by "evangelicals" you mean what we do -- Lutherans -- then see above. If by "evangelicals" you mean what the press usually does, the neo-Prot churches that identify themselves as "independent" or "community," nobody really expects them to ordain women, and nobody (in our experience) cares much when they don't. If anything, we're always a bit surprised when they sometimes do -- even when the one of their female pastors then robs a parishioner's house at Christmas.

So do you see what makes a comment like this so frustrating for us? It starts out with an interesting observation, but then starts in with the meanness, misperceptions and bogus "facts." Somewhere along the line, it ceases to be a useful contribution to the blog, and becomes just the sort of thing our original post had been about, a dissemination of falsehood.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Nude Nuns With Big Guns"

That's the classy title of what is, no doubt, a classy motion picture.

In what must be the most sordidly entertaining series of intellectual-property cases to come down the pike in a while, two companies are suing each other for ownership of the said classy film, and have at the same time brought separate suits against the no-doubt-dozens of Internet users who have already downloaded it via BitTorrent and related technologies.

The picture is brought to us by the aptly-named Freak Show Entertainment, and harks back to the golden age of Roger Corman and, especially, Russ Meyer. Among the many great tag lines: "I'm not here to confess any sins. I'm here to commit them." Yeah, we've heard that one before.

Here's a quick look at the legal situation. And here, for those of you not offended by violence, nudity and sacrilege -- all gratuitous practically by definition -- is the NSFW trailer.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Truth Is Out

Okay, readers. There's something Fr. A. hasn't been telling you, and it's kind of big. About some stuff he did before seminary.

We'll get to the secret in just a second. First, let's wag the finger at our clerical colleague, Rev. Jim Moats of Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville, Pennsylvania. According to his website, Moats "unashamedly preaches 'an old fashioned message' for 'new-fangled people.' " We're guessing that he's doing it with just a bit more shame these days.

See, word got a round in his parish that Moats had been a Navy SEAL in Viet Nam. He never said much about it, but there was this plaque in his office honoring all SEALS for their service, and, well, there you go. Then, in a recent interview, he came out of the, uh, closet: about SEAL training, being slapped around by his instructors, even about the time his wild side got the better of him and he was busted down to company cook. Just like Steven Seagal in Under Siege. And a little GI Jane.

Anyway, it was a lie. The guy was never a SEAL. He spent a few years in the Navy, on a ship in the Mediterranean. Maybe he really was a cook; we have no idea. But he wasn't a SEAL. He was just a wannabee, a regular guy who -- like his father before him and his sons after him -- served his country. But for whom that wasn't enough.

It took a genuine ex-SEAL, Don Shipley, one day to out the guy. Shipley apparently spends a lot of time checking up on guys who claim they were part of his old unit, largely because so many of them are lying. And here's the line that gives us pause:
“We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up,” Shipley said.
Ouch. Look, you know how we sometimes wax censorious about preachers who use "true" stories that aren't? Well, just in case you weren't sure, this is worse. We oppose pastors lying about their military service for just the reason we are in favor of letting gay pastors go public about their sexual preference: because a liar in the pulpit will inevitably give people reason to doubt the truth of the Gospel.

So, okay, lecture over. We promised you a juicy tidbit and here it comes.

For years now, there have been rumors about Fr. A's past. They were all started by a piece of art he used to keep in the church office, nothing too conspicuous, but a treasured memento just the same. He never said anything, but people started to talk, and he never told them they were wrong. And why should he? They were right. It's all true.

So there it is. We don't like to talk about it. We aren't proud. But yes, it's true: For a few years, just before seminary, Father Anonymous was a Blade Runner.*

* Not strictly true, but we'll say anything to build that flock up.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Hymnals, Pt. 3: "Thee We Adore"

What with all the whining in that last post, you might very well walk away with the idea that old Fr. Anonymous is one of those clerics with a constitutional objection to novelty, of the sort who in Victorian times encouraged their parish children to chant "If it's new, it isn't true."

On the contrary, your humble blogger takes an almost childlike pleasure in new things: the smell of a dealer-fresh automobile, the latest issue of Detective Comics, kittens. And of course that sunrise thing he writes about, despite seeing it so rarely. Thus also with hymns. We live in an age when a great many new hymns are written, and some of them make us very happy. To be sure, there are plenty of recent hymns for which we do not care, but that would be true in any age, if only because of Sturgeon's Law.

In fact, all this blather about hymnody has reminded us of two things: first, that writing (or translating) hymns is very demanding work, requiring the skills of both a poet and a theologian, not to say some acquaintance with music; and second, that editing a hymnal is no less demanding, in its own way. Editors are required to make a long series of decisions -- what hymns to include or exclude, what textual variants to choose or blend, what emendations to make in diction, and on and on down to the order in which the hymns appear in the bound volume. (And all that is before they come to the question of which tune to prescribe for a given hymn, given the number that can be sung to the same melodies. One of the faithful once remarked that "there are really only six hymns," and she wasn't far wrong.)

It is a tough job, and no editor has much hope of pleasing everybody.

We were moved to think about all this by the simplest thing: choosing our own parish hymn for this coming Sunday, Easter 3. Given the powerful Eucharistic message of the Emmaus story, we were for some days settled upon Adoro te devote, attributed (with some uncertainty) to Thomas Aquinas, and generally known in English as Thee We Adore. It's a beautiful song, and when you slur the words a bit it sounds like the proper name of Preschooler Anonymous.

But which version? We Lutherans have two hymnal versions readily available to us. One from the SBH and the Lutheran Book of Worship is by James Woodford (1820-1885). Another, printed in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, is attributed to Woodford "and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1885)," followed by the dreaded "alt." So which to choose? The first has been in regular use since the 1950s, and is well-known to many people. The other has contributions from one of the best known poets of his generation. We may not care for Hopkins, but we are snobs, so that's a very tempting option. And the two versions are noticeably different:


Woodford and Hopkins

Thee we adore, O hidden Savior, thee,

who in thy sacrament art pleased to be;

both flesh and spirit in thy presence fail,

yet here thy presence we devoutly hail.

Thee we adore, O Savior, God most true,

thy glory clothed in bread and wine anew;

our hearts to thee in true devotion bow,

in humble awe, we hail thy presence now.

O blest memorial of our dying Lord,

who living bread to us shall here afford:

oh, may our souls forever feed on thee,

and thou, O Christ, forever precious be.

O true remembrance of Christ crucified,

the bread of life to us for whom he died;

lend us this life then; feed and feast our mind,

be thou the sweetness we were meant to find.

Fountain of goodness, Jesus, Lord and God:

cleanse us, unclean, with thy most cleansing blood;

increase our faith and love, that we may know

the hope and peace which from thy presence flow.

Fountain of goodness, Jesus, Lord and God,

cleanse us, O Christ, with thy most cleansing blood:

increase our faith and love, that we may know

the hope and peace which from thy presence flow.

O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see:

may what we thirst for soon our portion be,

to gaze on thee unveiled, and see thy face,

the vision of thy glory, and thy grace. Amen

Jesus, by faith we see thee here below;

send us, we pray thee, what we thirst for so:

someday to gaze upon thy face in light,

blest evermore with thy full glory's sight. Amen.

(We should mention that the second version is surely copyrighted by Ausgburg-Fortress, and the first one may be as well.)

All this made us wonder what Hopkins actually wrote, and it isn't much like the Lutheran hymnal version. We found a text here and a more complete one here. His try -- and we say this as mortal enemies of The Windhover -- is quite good:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I adore,
masked by these bare shadows,
shape and nothing more,
see, lord, at thy service low
lies here a heart
lost, all lost in wonder
at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting
are in thee deceived;
how says trusty hearing?
That shall be believed;
what God’s Son hath told me,
take for truth I do;
truth himself speaks truly,
or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy Godhead
made no sign to men;
here thy very manhood steals
from human ken;
both are my confession,
both are my belief;
and I pray the prayer
of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas,
wounds I cannot see,
but can plainly call thee
Lord and God as he;
this faith each day deeper
be my holding of,
daily make me harder hope
and dearer love.

O thou our reminder
of Christ crucified,
living Bread, the life of us
for whom he died,
lend this life to me then;
feed and feast my mind,
there be thou the sweetness
man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosom ran
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at
shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me
what I long for so,
some day to gaze on thee
face to face in light
and be blest for ever
with thy glory’s sight.

It's really very good as poetry, although we're not sure it begs to be sung. Nor are we sure that the ELW editors have done favors for anybody by merging the two. If, indeed, that is what they have done. Is it our imagination, or does the the version that ELW attributes to Woodford and Hopkins look very much as though it were written by neither one? Hopkins, in particular, is responsible only for a few lines mutilated in the final stanza. Perhaps some editor was simply trying to be humble, but that "alt." seems significant enough to justify naming a third author.

Now, there is another problem, at least for those of us lacking proper library access. Here on the web, you can find another translation -- also good -- which some people attribute to Hopkins. It appeared in the Monastic Diurnal in 1932, and Episcopalian hymnals in 1940 and 1982

But how do Woodford, Hopkins, or the curious ELW mashup compare with the Latin original? Funny you should ask, because (as we learn from Fr. Edward McNamara at Zenit, who incidentally seems to mis-attribute the Monastic Diurnal version to Hopkins) there are two distinct Latin versions, equally well-attested. They differ principally in the opening -- "hidden truth" is the reading of the so-called critical edition, and "hidden God" that of the popular one.

ELW, for reasons we cannot easily guess, chose to split the difference -- "God most true" is present in the Eucharist, but latens, normally translated as "hidden, concealed, secret, lurking" becomes "clothed."

So the poor hymnal editor is faced with some difficult decisions. There are several fine renderings already used in current hymnals, not to mention two distinct base texts. Which to choose? Only rarely are all the stanzas included -- the poor pelican, editors surely assume, would confuse those dummies in the pew who can't even handle "thee," "thou" or "veil." So again, which to choose? And even of those stanzas that are sung, several are may contain images or language that will stop pewsitters in their proverbial tracks. What, they may ask after service, does Christ's Godly head steal from a human named Ken? So, finally, which to dumb down? Yes, an editor has many difficult decisions to make.

And yet, as those of you who struggled through Part 1 already gather, we are irritated by this entire process, and all its implicit assumptions. Why not sing the songs as their authors intended them to be sung, or else write new ones which please you more?

Better yet, and we intend no sarcasm whatsoever, why don't they commission some new hymns and translations of classic texts, deliberately written in what is called "global" or "simple" English, the grade-school style of the Good News and CEV Bibles? We have used these translations ourselves, and to good effect -- but they are emphatically not appropriate for a room full of educated native speakers. The creation of a "simple" hymnal might be a great boon to some congregations, while leaving others free to enjoy the pleasures of complexity in language and thought.

We understand the argument -- frequently made by those who work for publishing houses -- that these songs are not the property of their authors, but of the church which uses them for its own purposes. It is, on its face, and setting aside copyright concerns, a reasonable argument. But we have also seen that argument made ad nauseam through increasingly idiosyncratic renderings of the liturgy and psalter. These days, its implications frighten us. What began as a typical conviction of the modern liturgical movement -- that worship was the work of the gathered assembly, not a slavish imitation of some past model -- has become a license for chaos masquerading as concern.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Hymnals, Pt. 2: "The Great Hymn Massacre"

(This is meant as a footnote to Part 1, and a bit of an introduction to Part 3.)

In the 1730s, printer's apprentices in Paris rounded up all the stray cats they could find, put them on trial and convicted them of witchcraft. Then, with what appears to have been a great deal of joy, they beat them to death. because the cats were fed and even pampered by the printers, and the apprentices were not, the historian Robert Darnton has, famously, interpreted the "Great Cat Massacre" as a form of worker's protest.

We wonder what Darnton would make of the Great Hymn Massacre, which had taken place barely a century earlier, at the urging of Pope Urban VIII.

To make a long story short, Latin hymnody can be said to have begun with St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, to have developed gradually and ultimately to have exploded in the later Middle Ages. Ever conservative, the Roman rite was slow to accept the use of hymns; they seem to have worked their way in the side door, first coming to be established in other liturgical traditions, and especially in monastic communities. Still, even Rome will eventually recognize a good idea, and so by the 12th century (if not sooner), Latin hymns had taken their place in the Daily Office.

Of course, many of the hymns that the Roman rite inherited were old -- 800 years for the oldest -- and in a language that had changed significantly. During those centuries, Latin had gradually dissipated, transforming itself into a family of local vernaculars. And in the course of that dissipation, Latin had changed a great deal: pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar (in practice, if not in theory) all changed. So too did preferences in poetic meter, which gradually shifted from quantity to stress-accent. Not to mention the new love of rhyme. It was, and would long remain, the most commonly spoken and written of all second languages; but the Latin of Mortis, portis, fractis fortis was quite different from that of an Horatian ode.

It was inevitable, then, that the Renaissance revival of pagan antiquity would look askance at medieval Latin, and so it did. Adrian Fortescue describes two phases of this askance-looking:

First, there were the hymns written by humanistically-educated scholars. Of these, Fortescue says dismissively,

There came the time when no one could conceive anything but the classical metres and classical language. So they wrote frigid imitations of classical lyrics. It is the time when people thought it effective to call heaven Olympus, to apply pagan language to God and his saints. There is nothing to be done with this stuff but to glance at it, shudder, and pass on. ....

Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries people still wrote Latin hymns. They had become by now like the Latin verse of Oxford Dons, correct enough according to the rules (it seems as if their writers are conscious that correctness is all they can offer), correct, too, in sentiment, with here and there an ingenious little trick of ideas, an apt parallel or a clever inversion. But there is not a trace left of the feeling of Ambrose and Prudentius, not a spark of the fire nor a ray of the grace of old hymns.

Indeed, we may not hope for real Latin poetry any more, because Latin is now a dead language to all of us. However well a man may read, write, or even speak Latin now, it is always a foreign language to him, acquired artificially. It is no one's mother tongue. Does a man ever write real poetry in an acquired language ?

(Mind you, Fortescue never had a chance to read Nabokov.) But he saves his real anger for Urban the VIII and his Jesuit hatchet men:

In a fatal moment [Urban, the former Maffeo Barbarini] saw that the hymns do not all conform to the rules of classical prosody. Attempts to reform them had been made before, but so far they had been spared. Urban VIII was destined to succeed in destroying them. He appointed four Jesuits to reform the hymns, so that they should no longer offend Renaissance ears.

The four Jesuits were Famiano Strada, Tarquinio Galluzzi, Mathias Sarbiewski, Girolamo Petrucci. These four, in that faithful obedience to the Holy See which is the glory of their Society, with a patient care that one cannot help admiring, set to work to destroy every hymn in the office.

Perhaps this is an overstatement.  We aren't deeply enough versed in the matter to say.  But we have most certainly noticed, lately, that when we investigate the history of a great medieval hymn, there are typically two versions available:  the original, and the version mucked with by Urban's team.  Even a Latinist of the most limited ability can see that the originals are generally better, if by "better" we mean more exciting to read.  If by "better" one were to mean more regular in their classical meter and diction, then Urban would win.  But why would one?

For those who wish to examine this in more detail, Shawn Tribe offers a brief essay here at NLM. Perhaps it will suffice to observe that those religious communities which had the power to resist Urban's reforms did so -- including the Vatican basilica itself. Tribe's best line is lifted from one of Urban's contemporaries: Accessit Latinitas, recessit pietas -- Latin came in, piety went out.

For those of us who don't use a lot of Latin hymns in everyday worship, this may seem like trivia. And it more or less is. But many of us use use hymns -- many hymns -- that are translated from Latin originals, and from time to time we may want to investigate which "original" serves as the base text.

But this incident does raise some more abstract questions for modern worship leaders. Over nearly four centuries, Urban has been derided for his "improvements" to the inherited treasury of beloved hymns. By his own standards, the inverted commas are unnecessary: regularizing the meter and diction was an improvement. He and his team genuinely thought that they were making the hymnal better, by cutting it to pieces, rewriting it and angering the people who used and loved the hymns. Angering them, we note, so badly that even when the revised hymnal was recommended by the pope, those who could reject it did so.

So if you were the editor of a hymnal, would you learn a lesson from this? Not, apparently, if you were the brains behind the New Century Hymnal, the New English Hymnal, the Lutheran Book of Worship, or any of a dozen others published since the 1970s. As for the translation teams at ICET and so forth, it appears that they have been even less eager to learn. They have continued Urban's work, but on a larger scale -- involving many more hymns, and more dramatic changes in diction. And while they have done a great deal to advance their theological positions, with some of which we at the Egg are prone to agree, it is at least arguable that they have also alienated a significant portion of their original constituencies.

And then the questions for actual day-to-day leaders: Where do we stand? And where do the faithful stand? Some of us, to be sure, genuinely prefer the revised hymns. We find them easier to sing, more natural in their language and more contemporary in their theology. Others do not. Both sides, however, may do well to consider the needs of their congregations.

At the very least, we wish that somebody -- and ideally one of the large denominational publishing houses -- would make available, at a reasonable price, a hymnal containing songs that have not been altered, and that reflect the intention of their authors and translators. (We also wish that ELW had included among its ten versions of Holy Communion one -- one -- using the archaic English that still signals "church" many churchgoers. ) The sort of thinking reflected by this strategy might go a long way toward closing the rift that often seems to have grown up between denominational leaders and their memberships.

Finally, there is the most abstract of all questions: How will some social historian of the 2300s write up the First and Second Great Hymn Massacres? Was the first, under Urban VIII, truly a matter of snobbish classicism and nothing more, or does it reveal a deeper tension between the papal court and the communities which lay on the very fringes of papal power? And who won? Then, in the same vein, what is really going on in this endless mucking about with modern hymnals? What does it say that the mucking has intensified as the churches doing it have begun to dwindle? Do the editors truly not hear the howls of outrage that they routinely cause, or do they simply not care? And in either case, then if not, why not?

Hymnals, Pt. 1: "On Mucking"

One of life's little nuisances is the abbreviation "(alt.)" when it appears, in parentheses, beside the name of a poet whose work appears in a hymnal. This is one of the ways that editors say, in effect, "Look here: rather than simply let you sing the hymn as written, we have mucked about with it. Hope you weren't overly attached to the original."

Why do they do it? The reasons are various, but these seem to be the chief ones, listed in ascending order of evil:

(1) An attempt to improve the poetry qua poetry, by smoothing over rough meter or ill-considered syntax. Among translations, this is often by mixing versions by different translators. John Mason Neale was a brilliant translator, but we will not tell you that on a particular verse or image he cannot be excelled by, say, Edward Caswall.

To be honest, this "improvement" isn't so very wicked, and may even result in better hymns. (Poetic syntax can certainly be a problem. A friend recalls visiting a parish which proudly displayed a banner, handcrafted by its children, featuring this from A Mighty Fortress : "On earth, he has no equal." Our friend remarks, "I didn't know how to tell them that this is about the Devil.") Yet, on the other hand, the Great Hymn Massacre (in Part 2) was just such an effort.

(2) An attempt to make archaic language comprehensible to modern people. This, of course, assumes that modern people are too blooming stupid to recall the meaning of "thee" or "thou," something which is not the case in our experience. Far worse, it may result in the sweeping aside of Biblical imagery deemed "obscure" to the modern churchgoer.

(3) An attempt to change to change the poem's meaning, so that it reflects the theological biases not of its author, but of its editor. This is the most mischievous of all, and it takes several forms:
(a) Abbreviation. Many hymns are so very long that all their stanzas cannot easily be printed in a hymnal, especially given the perverse obligation that some worship leaders feel to play, sing, or require to be sung every word that they see before them. The Stabat Mater has 20 stanzas, and they form a coherent whole; but five is ample for congregational use, unless one intends to structure one's entire devotion around it. (O Sacred Head is no piker, with 11 stanzas -- of which only four appear in either the LBW or ELW).
Abbreviation may be a necessary evil, but it is still an evil. By printing dismembered hymns, the editors deprive congregations of the ability to perceive the author's full intention. They also make it more difficult for worship leaders who may be so inclined to use the full text -- for example, to actually structure one's Good Friday observance around the Stabat Mater or O Sacred Head.
(b) Selection. Worse yet, the decision to chop out stanzas inevitably urges the question of which stanzas -- and which images -- shall go or stay. This is typically guided by the theological views of the editors. For example, we once noticed that when printing The Church's One Foundation, Baptist hymnals omit the lines about "each new-born soldier of the Crucified," for fear that it will confuse the antipaedobaptist faith. Likewise, the newest Lutheran hymnal, ELW, omits the bit about "conquering ranks," perhaps from squeamishness about making Jesus' humblest sheep remember their coreligionists' role in two wars for world conquest.
Mind you, Lift High is practically a test case in mucking-about. As written, in 1887, it was apparently quite different from the rewritten version that first saw print in a 1916 hymnal. We're not sure of the differences, because all our good reference books are packed away. But in modern hymnals, even the re-written version is rarely printed whole; of twelve brief stanzas, five or six are usually printed.
Sadly, this means that congregations rarely have the chance to offer this prayer: "Set up your throne, that earth's despair may cease / beneath the shadow of its healing peace," much less the frighteningly universalist line about "thy Cross which doth for all atone." Maybe Rob Bell's people can sing that one.
(c) Substitution. This, to be sure, is where the mischief is worst -- where sins of omission become sins of commission, and where images and ideas for which the editor does not care are simply replaced with others more fashionable. A lot of substitution is made in quest of gender-neutrality, about which one feels however one feels. We will only observe that a hesitance to call Jesus "Lord" is theologically problematic in the extreme. But that is by no means all, nor even the worst, of it.

A popular GIA hymnal changes a key line in Amazing Grace from "that saved a wretch like me" to "that saved and set me free." Oy. Need we observe that this undermines the entire narrative upon which the hymn is built? From a Pauline story of personal confession and restoration, it is transformed into an Exodus story of passive deliverance from one external power to another. Never mind the backstory, of John Newton's own wretchedness as a slave-trader, nor the fact that the words the editors have changed are among the most famous in all of English hymnody.
Mind you, it does not pay to be overly alarmist about such matters. For example, we can imagine some pastor -- okay, one particular pastor, a fellow with whom we once worked who is given to perpetual lamentation over the decadence of his church -- holding his head in his hands and crying that ELW has changed "O Wondrous Type, O Vision Fair" to "O Wondrous Image, Vision Fair." We can practically hear him going on about how, by removing the word type, the editors have betrayed a central commitment of patristic and medieval Biblical exegesis.

But he'd be mistaken. In fact, the Latin hymn Coelestis formam gloriae isn't explicitly typological to begin with. Neale introduces the word in his 1854 translation, which was not originally the one found in most hymnals: "A type of those bright rays on high ...." It was the 1861 hymnal editors who mucked about with Neale, and produced the compound version most of us know.

Still and all, we do not support this mucking about. If you don't like the hymn, don't sing it. If you do like it, but not all, sing the parts you like. But the custom of chopping hymns up, selectively rewriting them, and leaving out the bits that bother you (but which may be somebody's favorite) strikes us us unmannerly, a poor way to treat the poets and translators who have done their best and produced something to which they, often at least, have been proud to affix their names.

Now, not all editors have the good manners to indicate that they have thus mucked, and we are grateful to those who have worked on our Lutheran hymnals over the generations for choosing the path of manners. We only wish that they wouldn't choose it quite so often.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Shakespeare, As Always

... got there first:

Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.

This is in reference to the treasonous thane of Cawdor -- not Macbeth, but the one before him. And in fact Malcolm's point is that this fellow died a dignified and repentant death. So that part is different.

Still, it does get right to what we were thinking yesterday, about the late You-Know-bin-Who.