30 December 2018

The Priority of Dogma

Ever since I became old enough to understand such things, I have been impressed by the annual Gospel of the main Mass of Christmass Day: the Prologue of S John's Gospel.

The world has largely eliminated the Dogma of the Birth of God as a human being ... I gather that, for some commercial interests, the Octave of Christmass is now renamed 'Boxing Week'.

But even where the Christ has not been entirely removed from the Christmass, the celebration is often reduced to the schmalzy. Mary and Joseph; shepherds and (undoubtedly hygenic) animals ... Don't get me wrong: I'm all for the iconography of the Infancy Narratives. But I like it best when it is expressed on a traditional Byzantine icon, with two words bracketing the head of the Mother: METER and THEOU. My only suggestion would be the wild idea that, in Anglophone countries, icons should be vernacular: MOTHER OF GOD.

And let's flog for all it's worth the beautiful Byzantine theme of the Mother PLATYTERA TOU KOSMOU: Mary's womb is broader, wider than the entire created order (a concept nicely taken up in C S Lewis's The Last Battle and applied to the Stable). The Johannine Prologue expresses the Dogma of the Incarnation, the Fleshing of God. Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb. I am left cold by the assurance that 'Mother and Baby' imagery expresses a more universal, a more than narrowly Christian, object of appeal.

And I rather like the ancient Roman Mass for this Sunday within the Octave of Christmass. Unlike the appeal made today in the Novus Ordo to the Holy Family, with the risks of sentimentality, we have for our Introit that superb passage from the Book of Wisdom While all things were in quiet silence, and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne.

Indeed, I commend the Book of Wisdom to readers. Like modern New York, ancient Alexandria was the largest Jewish city in the world, and the Jewish community there was powerful, wealthy, and powerfully intellectual. This is the city of Philo as well as of Callimachus; it is where the Book of Wisdom was almost certainly written, and in sophisticated Greek. It prepared the way for understanding the Incarnation by exploring complexities hidden within the plainer monotheism of other Judaisms. The rabbinic 'Massoretic Canon', of course, does not contain Wisdom, but we are privileged to be part of a broader expression of our Jewish identity.

On a related subject: enjoy those first three verses of chapter 4 of S Paul's Letter to the Galatians in today's Mass, because they are neatly expurgated from the Novus Ordo. Indeed, the NO efficiently protects its victims from the entire brilliant sweep of S Paul's teaching in Chapter 3 of Galatians, as well as from its continuation in 4:21 ff., which is the Epistle of Laetare Sunday.

So traddy Catholics will be happily returning to the glorious concept of the Heavenly Jerusalem in the middle of Lent. But Bergoglian Catholics, poor nervous and gloomy poppets, will be protected from it, preserved in their safe fluffy twilight of threatened innocence. What a dangerous fellow S Paul was/is!

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