Friday, June 03, 2011

"To Hand the Bible Over to the Devil"

Fr. Hunwicke -- who, if we understand correctly, is at the moment better addressed as Mr. Hunwicke -- seems far more eccentric than he really is. After a first glance at his blog, linked to your right, some readers may be tempted to move along quickly without returning. We encourage you to stick around. There is wisdom to be had, even when you disagree.

And, make no mistake, we disagree with Mr. Hunwicke. He is one of the Anglo-Catholics who have now Romanized via the Ordinariate of Etc. No matter how many explanations of such a thing we read, it remains unfathomable to us. To jump the Tiber may well be a matter of conscience; to do so while imagining that one somehow remains an Anglican, or preserves the Anglican patrimony, is delusional. We could keep going, but, honestly, we do come to praise Caesar.

The thing is, you see, that Hunwicke is both smart and funny, attributes which together constitute the core of good blog. He is a student (and teacher) both of classics and of worship, and his comments on both are worth the price of admission. But, unlike more than a few of our friends among the clever-and-high-church set, he is not merely an antiquarian. He still reads. And then, although it isn't his main purpose to do so, he thinks, and writes, in conversation with a good deal of contemporary theology.

All this leads to some of the funny bits, such as a recent half-hearted encomium for Catherine Pickstock's On Writing:
Pickstock's book is not often found to be easy going. She has a donnish weakness for neologisms and an assumption that any potential reader will be happy to work hard to understand her sometimes contorted jargon means. But her book deserves to be rescued from its ... frankly, not entirely undeserved ... obscurity, for several reasons.
Disagree with his point though we do, days later we still chuckle over the idea of bothering to rescue something from not-undeserved obscurity. Maybe that's the Anglican patrimony.

Apart from the chuckles, though, Mr. Hunwicke is often and powerfully on target. We don't say this merely because, a few weeks after our own smack upside Urban VIII's head over those breviary "reforms," Hunwicke jumped onboard, with vastly more erudition. We say it because of gems like the one he posted today.

His post has the chuckle-making title "Eviscerated: Can the Ordinariate Put New Guts into the Western Church." Our immediate answer was No, and we'll stick by that. With a header like that, we expected a bit of self-serving twaddle, which is what we would have gotten from plenty of blogs. Still, we gave the guy a shot, and by gum he gave us something in return: another reflection on the damage done by "reforms" of the breviary, in this case under Paul VI.

To some readers, it may sound hopelessly twee, but it's not. This is the sort of thing that really matters, because it touches on the way Scripture is read -- the very meaning of the sacred books, and therefore the shape of our life together. Paul VI's breviary omits the scary verses of Psalm 58 (Break their teeth, O God, and so forth). The LBW omits the entire psalm, and likely for the same reason: the "difficulties" that such passages create, hermeneutically and psychologically. Nice Christians, after all, don't go around asking God to break people's teeth.

Hunwicke fires a blast of patristic typology across the bow of this shallow liturgical thinking, and rightly so. And then comes this priceless remark (ellipses original):
Of course vast swathes of Scripture provide enormous difficulties ... are in fact not so much unusable as potentially positively poisonous ... IF we do not trace out the richly complex patterns of intertextuality which formed the basis of their apprehension before the dark shadow of the 'Enlightenment' fell upon the study of Scripture; if, in other words, we do not use them in the Tradition. Reducing Scriptural semiotics to the naked Historicism of the 'Enlightenment' is to hand the Bible over to the Devil. I think I very probably mean that literally.
And that is why it's worth reading.

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