2 December 2015

Browsing in Byzantium: Liturgical Greek (2)

The Good Friday texts we examined in my first post may have seemed bizarrely antijudaic. One could cite a dozen others: there are many texts, along the lines of our Western Improperia, which recount the goodness of God to the Jewish People and, in the voice of the Lord, ask "Why have you treated me thus?". There are repeated cries "Alla dos autois Kyrie kata ta erga auton" [But give to them Lord according to the works of them]. What are we to say?

Much Byzantine hymnody (a subject in which I am but an amateur) appears to my eye to be in quite a different genre of poetry from nearly everything with which we are familiar in our terse and objective and austere Roman Rite (although I think I could possibly find parallels in some Gallican texts). It is as if we are taken back in time to the raw events on the streets of Roman Jerusalem; immersed in the passions, the cries, the agonies, the terrors, the emotionalism of it all; and that we respond in terms of our instinctive human reactions to the immediacy of these events. Naturally, we resent the actions of the leaders of the Jewish people and of the mob on Good Friday. As participants in those hours of the Lord's Passion, we express ourselves vividly, helplessly, and without nuanced reservations. It does not follow that we, in our day jobs as twenty first century Christians, should be thought to direct these same animosities against our contemporaries of Jewish faith or origin in the world of today. As Nostra aetate wisely reminds us, "True, authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead did press for the death of Christ; but what happened in His Passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today"

 There were 'Godkillers' around, because Christ is God and someone killed Him ... the Nicene Creed makes each of these statements a compulsory belief for Catholics; but the killers included Romans as well as Jews. And they include me, whenever I fall into sin, as the Catechism of the Council of Trent pointed out. Clearly Jews who were not in Jerusalem cannot realistically be held to share in the guilt of a Deicide in which they did not share any more (or any less) than I can. Not even all those then physically in Jerusalem share that guilt; one such person whom we know to have been in the Holy City and even in the midst of that Mob was a thoroughly Jewish woman with the name of Mary whom the Catholic Church has formally defined to have been free from all sin and guilt. She stood beside the Cross as Co-Redemptrix. Ergo ... if anyone shall say that all Jews in every age, or all Jews alive at the time of the Lord's Passion, or all Jews in Jerusalem at that time, are guilty of His Death except in the same mode that all sinners are guilty, Jew and Gentile without distinction: anathema sit.

However ... I can understand an argument that, when all is said and done, the sort of texts we have been studying might lend themselves to the encouragement of a practical culture of antijudaism.  And even, that this, historically, has happened. Pogroms ...

I have always followed a personal rule of not lecturing Byzantines on how they should worship; but today I will go as near to doing that as to say: Were the authorities of the Latin Church to attempt to include the sort of Byzantine poetry we have been examining into liturgical forms offered for use  on Good Friday in the Latin Church, I would resist such Byzantinisation as robustly as I resist the Byzantinising incorporation of Epicleses of the Holy Spirit into "Latin Rite" Eucharistic Prayers.

I'm quite a "Purity of Rite" chap!

(One final piece of this follows, and then I will consider any possible Comments.)

6 comments:

UnanimousConsent said...

Ok, so what happened re your Nostra Aetate posts, which by the way, were fantastic.?

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I must have pressed the wrong button when preparing them to appear next year. That is still the intention! I am not very technological. Thank you for your appreciative words. If I live, you will get them some time in January.

William said...

I'm relieved to hear that we shan't have to wait until 2055, which was the date under which they briefly appeared. While impressed by the extent of your forward planning, I wasn't sure I'd last long enough to see them "properly" published.

UnanimousConsent said...

Funny. I thought the 2055 date was an ironic implication of how people might look at Nostra Aetate forty years from now. :-)

Marc Puckett said...

If there are any additional 'technological' mishaps, I point out that the Nostra Aetate posts are safely stored in my feed reader, at Dropbox, and at Evernote.

Stephen said...

Hear, hear! The rites and their respective contexts should NOT be thought to be improvable by mixing them, willy nilly or not. The liturgy of the Church in New Rome was forged in persecution, scarcity, want and concern - Nero's or Dioceltian's troops are at the door, ready to stab and slaughter and rape and kidnap. Protect the precious relics and Holy Mysteries! Whereas those of the East had time on their hands, the protection of the state (for the most part), leisure time, peace and plenty - so we have to make the litanies longer, as people aren't at subsistence level but are doing pretty damn well all things considered, so we have to work that much harder to enter with some level of respect and purification to approach the Sacred Mysteries.