Thursday, 18 September 2014

Use and Enjoyment

St. Augustine
I am reading St. Augustine's On Christian Doctrine for the first time. A question that this reading often raises in my mind is whether there is any legitimate sense in which one may love something other than God for its own sake. Charity, as Augustine defines it, is - and I paraphrase - a love of God, neighbor, and anything else, for the sake of God; whereas cupidity, a vice to be condemned, is the love of neighbor and any other object for the sake of something other than God, say for its own sake. For Augustine, unless all other loves are channeled into the one love with which God Himself is love, they are vain, useless, perhaps even harmful. From this notion Augustine draws a distinction between those things which are to be enjoyed - which by his account really includes God alone - and those things which are to be used for the sake of attain That which is to be enjoyed. Enjoyment is the love of a thing for its own sake. Use is the employment, and sometimes love, of a thing, not for its own sake but for the sake of that attaining that which is to be enjoyed.

By this account, there is no legitimate sort of friendship in which the friends love each other purely for their own sake, for no man is to be enjoyed. Men are only to be used. At first this may sound degrading, but I think Augustine means it in a higher sense. The use of men by no means excludes the love of them, but that love must be for the sake of God, and not for the sake of the men themselves. In one place, Augustine does say that in this sort of love, namely charity, one is in fact simply loving God through these men. Love does not terminate simply in these men themselves. Again, however, this doesn't seem to me to necessarily imply that men are to be compared simply to transparent and hence rather unnoticed objects through which one sees the sole object of one's love. Rather, this love, charity, does give rise to some form of action that does benefit the men themselves. Nonetheless, it is ultimately not for their sake, but for the sake of God.

Augustine hints at a similar treatment of non-personal objects of love, such as the arts - music, astronomy, and so forth. He does not explicitly treat the arts within the context of the love of God, but within that of the study of scripture. Only those arts may be used, says he, which can contribute to the betterment of one's understanding of scripture, and only in the extent that they can so contribute. He concedes, of course, the use of arts for non-scriptural purposes if they pertain to the practical necessities of human life. But such arts, it seems by his account, are not to be enjoyed, i.e. loved for their own sake. They are always to be directed to the study of scripture, which is itself of course directed to the love of God for His own sake. 

Being an ardent musician and student of the liberal arts, I was naturally led to wonder about these principles. In classical academic and artistic circles one frequently hears of the fine arts and liberal arts being praised as things which have speculative, rather than practical, value. The distinction between speculative and practical value corresponds nicely with Augustine's distinction between enjoyment and use - only, the speculative value of the fine and liberal arts is precisely such that they are viewed as enjoyable for their own sakes, where Augustine would seem to say not so (at least in this particular work; Augustine does have words of high praise for music elsewhere).

I wonder likewise about the question of friendship, or the enjoyment (or use) of man. Is Augustine's conception of the love of man overly cold, inhuman, or harsh?

It is difficult for me (at the moment) to deny what Augustine says, when I think about it rationally. I wonder whether it is necessarily the case that a love of things for their own sake necessarily detracts from the degree of love which one must have for God, or is it possible to have a full love for God and other things simultaneously? Is it as if the will of man has a defined quantity of power which cannot be directed at more than one object unless it is divided, such that one part is directed to God and another to man? Or is there some sense of various "levels" at which one may love different things for their own sake? 

I have not yet done an in-depth study of the nature of the will - I have only the basics of the Thomistic conception - so perhaps these questions will be answered when I do that study. Nonetheless it is interesting to think about...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Liturgy, Revelation, and Tradition

The liturgy is the primary font or source of our knowledge of revelation. It takes precedence, I would argue, even over the extraordinary and infallible pronouncements of the popes or ecumenical councils, for it is the ordinary, normal context wherein Christian worshipers encounter the divine realities in such a way as to participate in them contemplatively and prayerfully. Encyclicals and councils serve the primarily didactic purpose of informing the intellect of the individual truths of faith – a necessary thing, in the Christian life. But the liturgy does this and more. The liturgy is where this formation of the intellect bears its fruit in the living out of faith. The liturgy is faith in practice. It is where Christians receive revelation, believe in it, and act upon that belief by directly worshiping their Creator. 

Certainly, Christians ought to worship even outside the liturgical context, and the knowledge of the faith provided by encyclicals and documents and textbooks can serve as an aid to this purpose. But such sources are not immediately directed to this purpose; their immediate purpose is simply the formation of the intellect. Through them, the intellect acquires knowledge and understanding of what the truths of faith mean. But the liturgy, more than this, is immediately directed to the purpose of the worship and adoration of God, inwardly and outwardly, with the fullness of one’s being. In the act of reading an encyclical one is not necessarily worshiping God, here and now, except in a remote sense; one is simply reading. But in the liturgical act, one is worshiping God, here and now. 

Revelation must consist, not in the work of man in coming to know God, but in the work of God revealing Himself to man. Man of his own power is unable to know God except in a very imperfect way, by natural reason. But in the supernatural realm, it is God who must reveal Himself, or else man will not be able to respond at the supernatural level necessary for his sanctification, and ultimately, salvation. It is certain that God has revealed Himself through the writings and preaching of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, as represented in the documents of the Old and New Testaments of Scripture. Indeed, after the death of the last of the Apostles, Catholic dogma holds that there is no new revelation - that God ceased to reveal truths about Himself. From that time forward, there was a fixed deposit of revelation, to be guarded and passed on by the hands of the Church. But in some sense, the action of the Church is a continual re-presentation of the body of revelation, and so revelation as an action - whose content does not continue to grow - is a continual process. This process is the repeated revelation of the same truths which were first revealed before the death of St. John.

This action of repeating revelation must also be the work of God and not of man, except insofar as man participates in the work of God as a secondary cause or instrument. This is done in several ways. Probably the first way that is likely to come to mind for modern thinkers is the study of the science of sacred theology. This is the systematic approach to revelation, which takes the truths of the deposit of faith and organizes them so as to see their connections, implications, and consequences for the life of the Christian soul. A second way is in the action of the hierarchical Church, represented in the writings of the popes and ecumenical councils. This often relies greatly on the systematical approach of individual theologians. Both of these media through which revelation is communicated are in an obvious sense the work of men, insofar as it is men who are theologians and men who are popes and men who write for ecumenical councils. But in another, deeper and more important sense, these media are the work of God, insofar as the men involved conform themselves to some prior standard which can be known with certainty to be established by God - this standard is called the rule of faith. The rule of faith is represented by scripture and tradition and whatever in the Church has been established infallibly. Ultimately, all of these must be reduced to the second, namely tradition, for in the history of the Church tradition came prior to the scriptures and to extraordinary pronouncements, and these themselves were absorbed into the tradition. Catholics were believing and practicing their belief before there was a New Testament, and before the first ex cathedra declaration or ecumenical council. This shows that the New Testament and the teachings of the Church hierarchy had to be founded on none other than tradition.

No less can be said for the sacred liturgy. The liturgy too is a medium through which revelation is communicated. Indeed, as stated before, it is the definitive and primary context where in this communication and reception of revelation occurs for Christians, precisely because it is the central act of Christian worship. Worship is the principal act of religion; all other acts are vain unless directed to the act of worship. Thus, all those actions which are immediately directed to worship, as they are in the sacred liturgy, cannot be anything else but the most important and primary aspects of the Christian life. This is pre-eminently true of the liturgical act of revelation. All the more, therefore, must it be true that this act must be carried out in conformity to the prior standard of tradition.

In the study of scientific theology, as well as in the dogmatic pronouncements of the hierarchical Church, the tradition is best and most efficaciously expressed when not only are the basic truths accurately represented, but they are also represented in a manner that is continuous with the way that tradition itself has represented them. In an encyclical the Pope might state a truth of the faith, without error, but in a manner that differs from how it was expressed before, and in departing from the traditional manner of expression he might risk the loss of certain spiritual and theological emphases originally intended for the edification of the faithful. which originally contributed much to the spiritual edification of the faithful. Christian piety and understanding is often formed by these seemingly external, but very subtle and potent emphases which surround a particular doctrine. This kind of piety results in the growth of certain  traditions which continue to feed the piety of future generations. It would be a crime to rid the faithful of such traditions, even if nothing explicitly false is said concerning the central doctrine around which they all revolved. It is a particular technique of neo-Modernist theologians, as described by Pius XII in Humani Generis, to hack away so relentlessly at such traditions that the central doctrines themselves are subtly attacked or obscured.

A similar thing occurs in those reforms which do away with liturgical traditions. While a liturgy may easily be concocted which is orthodox in its explicit verbal content but departs from ritual traditions, such a liturgy would risk obscuring the many subtle but powerful messages previously conveyed through the rites which formed around the expression of the articles of faith. The traditional understanding of the faith is likely to be lost, and the act of worship itself will thereby be altered. This risk is present even when changes are made in seemingly small and unimportant aspects of the liturgical rite. Traditionally, the depth of liturgical symbolism was interpreted to extend to far more than just the texts, but also to their order and arrangement, and the ritual actions connected to their recitation, the structure and layout of the liturgy as a whole and all its parts, and all of this on many layers permeating the whole. Seemingly small changes thus have the potential to do real and significant damage to the clarity of tradition and its expression of the faith. (This is not always the case, of course: it is certainly possible to introduce changes that further clarify and enhance the liturgical expression. Such changes are by their nature in harmony with tradition. Some changes, though perhaps intrinsically harmless, nonetheless have no real justification.)

For both theology and liturgy, such a departure from tradition would most often represent a departure from the work of God Himself. God works not merely in the giving of individual doctrinal propositions, but also in the growth and formation of the Church’s understanding of sacred doctrine, the piety of Christians in connection with the truths of faith, and the consequent acts of worship and adoration, especially in the liturgy. 

History itself testifies in some way to this superhuman activity of God in tradition. It is impossible to take any individual or group of individuals at any period of history and say truly that he, or they, invented the liturgy. The liturgy, from the human point of view, was formed from the work of centuries of Christians over time. As such, it was not formed by the conscious creative effort of men. Conscious creativity is only ever the work of men in a given time. The work of ages conditions, limits, and regulates the creative work of man. In the history of the liturgy, human creativity was thus always subordinate to the greater whole which had formed, not at any given time, but through the ages of history, and thus independently of human creativity. Certainly, men contributed to the liturgical development, but they did not create the liturgy: each contributor only ever worked within the conditions set by past liturgical history. So the question arises, what – or Who – is responsible for the creation of the liturgy as a whole? It can only be God.

In this respect, the liturgy and its history can be compared to history itself, in general. At first sight, with a view of the particular events of history, it may seem that men are indeed the creators of history. But this view is inaccurate precisely because it is only of each particular event that men are the authors or creators. If history as a whole is understood to be more than just a series of such events, but a coherent whole progressing towards defined ends, history begins to appear largely independent of the work of man. Man, for all his creative genius, could never have planned out or fashioned how history progressed. From the point of view of man, history just happened. Absolutely speaking, it was authored by none other than God Himself. 

The liturgy is similar. The main difference is that it has a different set of immediate defined ends or goals than history in general has. Also, because it is not identical to history per se, it is possible for men to create liturgies, or some semblance of liturgies. Nonetheless the analogy holds insofar as it is the liturgy of tradition that developed independently of human creativity. And because the liturgy has the worship of God and the communication of revelation among is direct purposes, it is all the more necessary, in a moral sense, for the liturgy to be allowed to continue to grow naturally, rather than created by human genius. From the point of view of Christians, the liturgy must be allowed to just happen, just as history happens, and just as revelation happens. Liturgy, history, and revelation are not created by men. Almost the reverse is true: it is men whose lives, both worldly and spiritual, are formed and conditioned by the liturgy, by history, and by revelation. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

On the Divine Office

I recently acquired a copy of the Monastic Diurnal from Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma. The Diurnal is essentially a book containing all the day hours - hence the name - of the Office, which means everything except Matins. I have been doing my best to make use of this handy book on a regular basis, daily. I try to pray Lauds and Vespers every day (there are days when my schedule prevents Lauds at the normal hour), and usually am able to do the other minor hours as well. After only a few days, the Office is proving to be a very rich source for my devotional life, although I think it will take some time to genuinely and personally appreciate its depth and beauty. One has to become fully immersed in it, and I have not had that experience quite yet. Nonetheless, I do sense it is the ideal context wherein to meditate upon the Psalms. It would of course be even better were I to be able to sing the Office in choir, but alas that opportunity does not exist for me... It do try, when I can, to sing certain parts that are more familiar to me.

It seems to me that a very significant but often overlooked part of the current liturgical crisis is the loss of regular praying - or singing, rather - of the Divine Office. Probably the vast majority of Catholics do not even know what it is, and that includes traditional Catholics. This latter fact is particularly saddening for me. I know many traditional Catholic people, but hardly ever have I sensed among them any substantial appreciation for this important part of their liturgical heritage; often they appear to be largely ignorant of its existence.

Historically, this is due to the decline over the last few centuries of the appreciation of the liturgy and its spirit. Especially after the Council of Trent, in the Counter-Reformation era, Catholics in the Church ceased to fully understand the liturgy and appreciate the depth of its traditions. A kind of minimalism crept into the Church, according to which it was necessary simply to attend Sunday Mass - which, at some point, was no longer sung - and pray any private devotions which suited one's fancy, out of the plethora of such devotions which arose at that time. The Divine Office was no longer sung in public, but was reduced to a book of private devotional reading for priests, or something sung by cloistered religious. In large part, this was due to the immense influence of the otherwise praiseworthy Society of Jesus, which was the first order not bound by the obligatory praying of the Office.

Again, I say that this is a serious problem. The Divine Office is an immensely important part of the liturgical heritage and tradition of Catholics. Its development in history is closely interwoven with that of the Mass, and their respective liturgies mutually complement each other and together present a spirituality that is ideal for the life of every Christian, and not just for the priest in his private sphere, or the monk in the cloister. The liturgy is the prayer of the whole Church, not just of priests, even if priests have a leading and special role to play in the carrying out of liturgical functions. To live fully as a Catholic means much more than going to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and praying the rosary and Sacred Heart devotions in one's spare time. It also means - traditionally at least - immersing oneself in the prayer of the Church, to participate in the universal work of salvation that Christ carries out through the Church and her liturgy. The Divine Office forms a very large bulk of this liturgy, and hence not one easily negotiable.

In practice, these principles should be applied by the regular, sung celebration of the Office within the parish, and the encouraged attendance of the laity (as far as their situations allow). It used to be the case that liturgical celebrations were principally centered in the Cathedrals, which had the means, facilities, and singers to celebrate the Office publicly on a daily basis. In the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon for the laity to be present at such celebrations, to absorb the spiritual effect of the Psalmody sung throughout the day, and to be fed nourished by the spiritual atmosphere created by the celebration of the liturgy within the beautiful spaces of the great Churches of that era. It was the richness of the liturgical tradition carried out in practice. The liturgy thus served as the fount and primary context of the spiritual lives of the faithful, and their worship of God in faith. This sense of the liturgy was lost after the Council of Trent.

It is my belief that the liturgy in all of its parts is crucial for determining and guiding the formation of faith in the souls of Catholics. The Divine Office is hardly less important in this respect than the Mass. I will be doing my part, for the time being, to structure my spiritual life around the Office. But it is my hope and prayer that the Church as a whole will do likewise.