3 June 2011

friday week 2; Eviscerated; can the Ordinariate put new Guts into the Western Church?

Liturgia Horarum, Friday in Week II: Ad Horam mediam. Psalm 58(vg) = 59(MT) is traditionally regarded as referring to David, when Saul had his house watched so that he could kill him.

This psalm is printed with (Neovulgate) verses 6-9 and 12-16 (= RSV 5-8 and 11-15) removed.

That deceived and mis-guided pontiff Paul VI, or whoever wrote the words he signed, explains why: "A few harsher verses are missed out, taking account especially of the difficulties which would be going to arise when the Office was done in the vernacular". The relevant coetus itself is rather shame-faced (and not a little naive) about this. "This omission is done because of a certain psychological difficulty, even though imprecatory psalms themselves occur in the piety of the New Testament, e.g. Revelation 6:10, and do not intend in any way to induce people to cursing." And "In general both the Fathers and the Liturgy fittingly hear, in the psalms, Christ crying to the Father, or the Father speaking with the Son, and even recognise the voice of the Church, the Apostles or Martyrs".

So, as the LH tells us, quoting words of Eusebius of Caesarea referring to this psalm, "these words should teach everybody the devotion of the Saviour towards his Father". Exactly. The Lord was surrounded by the temptations of Satan himself; he was beseiged by the Powers of Evil. The Church, and the Christian, also find that their warfare is against the Powerrs of Evil in High Places. It is in this sense that we beg the Father that we may be delivered from those who come back each evening, howling like dogs, the half-wild dogs which infest most Eastern cities and which especially prowl round the town-ditch in search of carrion (I plagiarise John Mason 'Ordinariate Patrimony' Neale). Ss Augustine, Hilary, and Gregory of Nyssa regard the story of David, for whom his enemies lay in wait by night, as a Type of the story of what befel the Son of David, in that Night in which he was betrayed.

The reason why it is so questionabe to expurgate a psalm in the way that LH does is: expurgation still leaves words like "There is no crime or sin in me, O Lord", and leaves them decontextualised . If such things are said simplistically, they can only foster a very dangerous sense of of complacency and self-righteousness. We are only entitled to say such words in persona Christi, or en Christoi, or as speaking with the voice of the Church which in her essential nature is without spot or wrinkle. How can we say them as if they were true of the imperfect lives of each one of us?

I am not one who believes that every psalm needs to be read in the Divine Office. History gives imperfect support for such an integralist approach to the Book of Psalms and their use in Christian worship. I am concerned with dangerous imbalances which can result from the use of psalms over which someone has been allowed to roam with a care-free pair of scissors. (I also rather dislike the implication that the 'problems' of such psalms are only apparent when they are said in the vernacular. There is every reason to feel disquiet about the cheerful assumption that nobody notices what they are saying when they use Latin. Is Latin, or is it not, supposed to be still the clerical vernacular of Western clergy?)

Lastly, I draw your attention to the root of the problem: the loss in the Western Church of the Typological Method which was the heart of scriptural exegesis in both the Patristic and Medieval periods and in both East and West*. Furthermore, I have yet to see very much about this in the ongoing discussion about the authority and inerrancy of Scripture which resulted from the transactions of the 2008 Synod of Bishops. Often discussion seems to be mired in reductionist considerations about "What is the bare minimum we are required to believe about Biblical inerrancy?" rather than about the hermeneutical, exegetical and eisegetical modalities by which we are all to embrace and be fed by the whole of Scripture ... every sentence, every word of it. 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.

If members of the Anglican Patrimony enter into Full Communion with the works of Lionel Thornton and Austin Farrer under their arms, perhaps there is something they can do to help the ailing Western Church to understand the Patristic way of appropriating Scripture.


*Byzantine worshippers, lucky people, are largely protected from this problem by the annual Lenten glory of the Akathist Hymn, jam-packed full of the most exhilarating typological tropes. Not that I advocate its use by Westerners so much as the need for them to rediscover these same games in their own tradition. The more we all get to the hearts of our own traditions ... I've said this before ...


John said...

Bravo !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Needed to be said. And you said it so wel.. Thanks.

jagribbin said...

Thank you for this post, I could not agree more (though like Pope St. Pius X, I rather like the weekly recital of the psalter). Yes, we need to rediscover our rich patristic roots and an appropriate, more 'Catholic' hermeneutical approach to Sacred Scripture - I think here of Henri de Lubac.

Tomas said...

Fr. Hunwicke, I can't help but notice all the little signs you are giving toward those authors who should be considered part of the Anglican patrimony. As an American Roman Catholic (oh the identity crisis one has in this "melting pot"), I would greatly enjoy seeing a list, perhaps annotated, of what you see to be the core of the Anglican patrimony.

Perhaps such a list may help those seeking to better understand what is distinctly Anglican about the Ordinariate. And how they can save the Romans from the fire we seem hellbent on throwing ourselves into.

William Tighe said...

Pope Paul VI strikes me more and more as having been the Pope Honorius I of the Twentieth Century -- a pope who knew and asserted the truth in the controversies of the day (think of WO and contraception in Paul VI's case), but who tried to avoid controversy, dispute and "bad publicity," and who consequently made matters worse rather than better (think of how Paul VI undercut and frustrated the determined attempts of Cardinal O'Boyle to discipline [and condemn, if necessary] those clergy in his diocese, including faculty members at the Catholic University of America, who produced, signed and publicized statements of dissent on the morrow of the appearance of Humanae Vitae).

Scott said...

By "Lionel Thornton," do you mean "Martin Thornton"? He of Christian Proficiency, etc.?

BJA said...

Yes, thank you, Father Hunwicke, for this very important post. I'm sure you're familiar with J. M. Neale and R. F. Littledale's 4 volume Commentary on the Psalms ... pure patrimonial gold.

BJA said...

I should have listed the entire delightfully long-winded 19th century title: A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Mediaeval Writers; and from the Various Office-Books and Hymns of the Roman, Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Gallican, Greek, Coptic, Armenian and Syriac Rites.

The Flying Dutchman said...

Ps 110(109):6 springs to mind:

Iudicabit in nationibus: cumulantur cadavera,
conquassabit capita in terra spatiosa.

Woody said...

Along the same lines, Philip Jenkins has a very interesting article in the current number of "Chronicles" magazine on the textual omissions from the Revised Common Lectionary. Fr. H, if he chooses to peruse the RCL, would have more edifying things to say about this, I'm sure, but what struck me about the general tone of Jenkins's article was that the omitted texts (evidently having to do with divinely-sanctioned slaughter and the like) are among those that would most directly pose the question of collective responsibility.

Raising again the issue of the penetration of liberalism into the Church.

Albertus said...

I follow the old Rite, so that the untraditional and antitraditional modern Roman Rite and its books matter little to me. What does matter, is why Pope Paul VI - or any Pope - is qualified as ''deceived and misguided'', as if the Pope (in this case Paul VI) could not and did not himself deceive and misguide others. Why must one always write and speak as if the Pope had no personal responsibility and accountability for his words, writings and deeds? I have heard for so many years now ''if only the pope knew what is going on in the Church..." Well, it seems to me, that if the Pope is not accountable, is not responsible, is ignorant of all that is going on, why is such an ''infallibly ignorant'' office even needed? esp. in the highly exagerated form as we have known it since 1870? At least let us put the blame where it belongs: by the Boss. Otherwise what we shall continue to have is a dysfunctional Church, with a big white elephant in the room that no oneis willing to acknowledge.

Stuart said...

I believe that 'white elephant' and 'elephant in the room' are in fact two completely separate idioms (or, with a nod to the Hellenists, idiomata).

But now the skeleton has got out of the bag, and we're finally prepared to deal with the cat in the Papal closet, the question remains: is a bear Catholic?

Little Black Sambo said...

Ah, that's the fly in the woodpile.

Bernard Brandt said...

Dear Fr. Hunwicke (Father, bless!):

As one Eastern (Russian) Catholic, I very much appreciate this posting, and the majority of what you have to say in your footnote at the end of it.

More particularly, I agree with you that the Acathist Hymn is of great value to both East and West. But if you want a real scriptural and typological tour de force, may I recommend the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (also served during Great and Holy Lent)?

While I am partial to the translation of the Canon made by Bishop Kallistos and Mother Mary in their Lenten Triodion, one can also find the complete text in more modern English, and with a beautiful Carpatho-Rusyn musical setting as well, at this website:


But I must take issue with the last sentence of that footnote. I fear that you have committed a false dichotomy, when you say that we must return to our own traditions, and not those of the East. Part of the genius of the Roman tradition (as can be found from the last lines of the Regula Benedicti to many of the writings of his late Holiness, Pope Saint Ioannes Paulus Magnus) is its ability to find and to make good use of the spiritual treasures of the Christian East. The same might be said about the Anglican Patrimony which the Ordinariate offers to the modern Roman West.