Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Latin Orthodox Church?

A very insightful post appeared overnight at The New Liturgical Movement web site as part of a discussion of my recent comments on the Tridentine Mass on this blog. I thought I would share that comment. The original and responses to it can be found here.

If we want to earn the respect of the Orthodox, it will not be by using their customs as a justification to neglect our own customs, nor by showing a general peppy enthusiasm for iconography (while rejecting its most important principles).

If we want their respect (and if we want to do what is best for our Church, regardless of its oecumenical effect), we need to adopt a more Orthodox attitude - that is, to make a pious deference to tradition in all things, and to treasure the customs particular to our own rite.

Really, this is what will make us more like the undivided Church of the early centuries - too many Roman Catholics think that Catholic liturgy is defined by rubrics and Vatican congregations.

But the Latin Church survived for most of its history with far less regulation - rubrics and Roman oversight are Counterreformational measures to protect the liturgy, not the Liturgy itself. They are part of the armor, not part of the knight.

Yet when Roman Catholics criticize some awful practice, they are more likely to condemn it as "unrubrical" than "untraditional". I have to imagine that the Orthodox think our obsession with rubrics and the pronouncements of the CDF are somewhat ridiculous - after all, they have no comparable mechanisms to safeguard their liturgy. And yet theirs has not been ruined, has not been discontinuous, has not lost its unity throughout the Orthodox world.

Why is this? Because the Orthodox have a natural traditionalism - which is the normal means for the liturgy to be preserved. It is what preserved the Western liturgy for fifteen centuries. It is what is necessary for the Latin Church to regain.

When Roman Catholics hear that the Orthodox have a canonized system of iconogrpahy, they imagine some big dusty book filled with instructions as to what angle Mary's head should be tilted. It doesn't exist - there are no rules of the sort that Borromeo and Molanus tried (unsucessfully, thank God)to impose on the Roman Church after Trent. Iconography is canonized because its creators make a pious deference to tradition and possess the humility not to apply their own fool notions to sacred art. And that is how it is in Orthodoxy, with everything.

That isn't to say that rubrics and Vatican instructions are bad - they provided a necessary corrective to Medieval excesses, and could provide a necessary corrective to certain flaws of Orthodoxy. But ultimately, they are patching the armor, not healing the wounded knight.

Until we regain a natural traditionalism of the sort the Orthodox have, all the rubrics and instructions in the world will not fix our liturgy.

[Imagine a Church that has a liturgy in natural continuity since the apostolic age, of the most extraordinary beauty and profundity, that is unquestionably deep in history; with a rich tradition of didactic iconography that lends great symbolic significance to every detail of Church building and ornamentation. Then imagine that the liturgy and iconography are Western, not Eastern.

That is an idealized vision of the late Medieval Catholic Church. Call it the Latin Orthodox Church. And then do everything possible to make sure that that Church and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same.]

-Daniel Mitsui


The young fogey said...

Been saying things like this for 20 years.

Eric D. Gahlon said...
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