27 March 2022

Popes, Liturgy and Authority (1): PRINTING?

Apologies: I begin with the assertion of a fairly self-evident truth which I have asserted before; but which seems so counter-intuitive to a modern Catholic that many find it hard to assimilate:

No Pope did, because no Pope could, issue world-wide or general mandates regarding Liturgy before the invention of printing (in the middle of the 1400s).

I suppose that a fanatical uebersuperpapalist could argue that, nevertheless, the power to do so was tacitly incorporated in the Lord's mandate to S Peter, designed to lurk there unrecognised until, a millennium anda half later, the technological moment arrived for it to spring into action ... but, frankly, that is a theological fantasy-world whose sci-fi games I feel little interest in playing.

But there were people who had views about Liturgy and Uniformity ... it's just that they weren't popes! The Emperor Charlemagne was one of them. He wanted to establish in his imperium Romanum redivivum the authentic Rite of the Urbs. Here is the description of Dom Gregory Dix of how he embarked upon this policy.

"Charlemagne therefore applied to the Pope Hadrian I, for an authentic copy ... as early as 781. The Pope was a busy man, and irritatingly uninterested in the great project of securing perfect uniformity throughout the West to the rite of his own see. No book arrived, and Charlemagne was forced to repeat his request. At last, somewhere between 785 and 793 the long-awaited copy came. After all this delay the book the Pope had sent turned out to be unusable as it stood for Charlemagne's purpose. Not only had the text been carelessly copied, but the book itself must have seemed to the emperor strangely defective. ...  It is perhaps regrettable that history records no expression of Charlemagne's opinion of the Pope or his book when the latter was presented to him after getting on for ten years of expectation."

Yes!! Pope Hadrian was "irritatingly uninterested in the great project of securing perfect conformity to the rite of his own see"! 

I don't think he used to stamp around ranting about unicus usus!

To be continued. 


Evangeline said...

That is really thought-provoking! To imagine all the differences between then and now, in terms of communication and even the role of popes, it's something we just don't think about. Just imagine the difference between the papacy of those times and now, Francis, and the impact of that on Catholicism and the world. I don't know but imagine there was a lot more uniformity in Catholicism than now? It's really interesting to consider what God intended the papacy to be, and what He might think of the current occupant. But that leads to, if God does not endorse what He sees, why does it go on interminably. That's a depressing path.

Oliver Nicholson said...

Of course you are right about printing, but one might note the enthusiasm Bede shows for the teaching of Roman-style chant both to the Northumbrians (last chapter of HE II, following the death of King Edwin) and then to England at large by the companions of Theodore of Tarsus (HE IV).

J.S. Ahmad said...

Magister Johannes, I know you're familiar with Pickstock's "After Writing" but you may be interested in one of her sources on the relationship between communications technology and the way in which thought is structured: Walter Ong's "Orality and Literacy." Arguably the RCC's liturgical moments track developments in communication:

Manuscript -- Traditional ritual plurality
Printing -- the Tridentine Missal (centralization and standardization of traditional forms)
Radio/Television -- The Novus Ordo (hyper-centralization and linearization)
Internet (which is arguably a reversion to Manuscript-like communication) -- Hopefully a return to traditional ritual plurality

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Mediator Dei was the first Papal Encyclical devoted solely to liturgy - in 1947.

One does not have to agree with every assertion made against Roman centralisation by Fr Robert Taft, S.J. (He was a big fan of The Synodal process of Pope Francs) but I think more'n'more soi disant trads are intellectually turning around and beginning to head in your intellectual direction.

One must remember that it was Pope Plus XII that bequeathed unto us Bugnini and all of his blandishments.

J.S. Ahmad said...


Apropos of my earlier comment, this is a lecture by Ong where he summarizes a number of the major themes in "Orality and Literacy".

An American said...

The Chinese seem to have figured printing out by the 9th c.; movable (metal) type was understood in Korea by the 12th c. (Korean is alphabetic).

John Patrick said...

"movable (metal) type was understood in Korea by the 12th c. (Korean is alphabetic)."

Although Hangul the Korean alphabet was not introduced until the 14th century and did not have widespread adoption for some time. Even to this day Koreans still use Chinese characters in many situations.