Sunday, December 04, 2011

Minor quirk or telling symptom

Visiting some of the Catholic blogs, where the culture war is fought out over things like the language of the liturgy, I recall an old wrinkle --among the number I now have!-- about words, onr that used to bother me and still does.

At the heart of the Catholic culture wars is a struggle over whether to interpret the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960's in major continuity with what went before (the generally conservative position) or as a discontinuous break with the past, a kind of catch-up with the Reformation and the inauguration of a new kind of Catholicism, what one old wag used to call "the Church Effervescent."

Back in the day*, I had my own mix of preferences about that. I was very much in favor of the new liturgy, but did not see why it had to mean the erasure of the old, especially its music and its sense of sacredness, both of which I missed. When it came to a choice between three a capella voices chanting in the style and language of Pope Gregory the Great or three women caterwauling lounge-act lovesongs to Jesus with guitars, it was a no brainer. Which I usually lost. But, of course, I also hoped that Christianity's strictures on same-sex love, inherited from Judaism, would change. That, too, I lost.

A groovy and reformed Call To Action Eucharist, with puppets and greyhaired ladies.


But part of establishing any new cultural regime is control of language. Our current PC masters have been astoundingly successful at that. Well, in the Church, there was also a kind of battle over words: interpreting old words in new words. For example, words like "Vespers" or "Compline", "Magnificat" or "Confiteor" were considered by the New Guard as distant and elitist. So they became "Evening Prayer" and "Night Prayer", "The Song of Mary" and the "I Confess".  Memorable only because so forgettable. The general linguistic tone seemed to be aimed at talking down to people as if they were uncultured eighth-graders.**

On the other hand, words which served the populist agenda became de rigueur (sic). It was groovy to speak of the "Eucharist" instead of "Mass", to describe what used to be called "converts" who were once "taking instruction" as "catechumens, participating in the rites of the Christian initiation of adults". While holding on to generics like "Evening Prayer", specialists signalled each other by speaking about "mystagogy" and "catechesis", "collegiality" and "inculturation".

As with all cultural wars, it was about using language to establish a new ruling class. But the Vatican and the conservatives outlasted and outmaneuvered the once-young-now-oldfogey Catholic Red Guard and the current re-translation project is aimed at re-establishing continuity over novelty. Though it appears petty on the surface, the howling and foot-stamping of the liberals over the re-translated Mass means that they get the message.

A Mass which St Gregory the Great would recognize, even in English. In Louisiana.

Nevertheless, it still astonishes (and offends) me how some of these groovy Catholics easily contemplate abandoning the Church over something like a translation. From the orthodox point of view, I am just as bad and worse, but in my own eyes, at least, I parted ways over an irreconcilable difference of substance, not style. It was a very costly decision for me, so when I see the threats to leave over participles and pronouns, I can't help but think that these folks' attachment was pretty thin to begin with. An indication of what liberal Catholicism's "exhausted project" can eventually produce.

Anglo-Saxons (and I include the Irish for cultural reasons only) like to pride ourselves on our directness and honesty; Italians, on the contrary, find such carelessness with information naive at best. So while the AS world, America especially, wants to get things out into the open in a transparent process, the Mediterraneans --rolling their eyes at the children***-- hold that saying one thing in public to protect an important project in private is mere common sense. The liberals are right to suspect that this is part of a roll-back of 60's enthusiasm and faux-Reformationism. The ancient Roman gene in Catholicism asserting itself.

This past year the Vatican made some changes to canon law. One was to increase penalties for clerical abuse of minors. The other was to strengthen the excommunications for those attempting female ordination. Both were announced... in the very same document. A very good example of Romanit√†.  While feminists shrieked --as they often do-- that this implied a moral equivalence between pederasts and womenpriests, the Vatican calmly explained through their teeth that this was mere coincidence, of course, and, despite the gravity of both issues,  no comparison was implied. Yeah, right. Tell me another one, Padre Guido.

Anyhow, that's my bit of post-Catholic catholicizing for the moment. I have to get ready for Vespers.


*One of the many lingo bits from Black English that so often become part of common speech.

**Real 8th graders have their own quite complex ways of speaking, always learning new phrases; if you read the comic books aimed at 12 year olds, you'd see a level of English higher than that enshrined in the now-defunct 1972 RC American liturgy.


*** I lived in Rome during the denoument of the Nixon presidency. I remember being quizzed by an incredulous old Italian priest if it were really true that the head of the whole country was being forced to resign in public disgrace just because he had (quite naturally) tried to discomfit his political enemies. He was head-shakingly astonished. I believe he muttered, as he walked away, "Pazzi anglosassoni!"

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

1. Our duplicity in such apparent openness outmanoeuvred the Italians' simplistic duplicity for world rule. They could not learn from their Machiavelli what he try'd to teach them: a mafioso can win this or that street fight, but it's the set of appearances call'd Boy Scouts, Moral Rearmament, the League of Women Voters, the Peace Corps, who dominate the world.

2. Christianity's opposition to or rather "strictures on" same-sex love may have been inherited not only from Judaism but also from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. ... But the decisive consideration may have been "class": if Christianity was to grow in the moral element of society, it could not seem to enthuse for anything fancy, which included Ouranian love. Paul was not especially successful in Athens (Acts 17), unless by offering the 'cultural elite' the hint that they could find the boredom-relief they needed by following and superintending the innovations of the vulgus in religiosity. Ordinary vulgar paganism had totally burnt out if we may believe an altar to the unknown God in Athens. The previous chapter on pagan worship in collision with Paul's ministry shows that the pagan devotees had abandon'd religion and began to be worry'd by Paul's intrusion only when their livelihood became endanger'd. ...

P.S. Utterly low class 'same sex' things occur: Xenophon's Symposium allows that vulgar Aphrodite includes this. But you can expect zilch from it as a vehicle for social change or whatnot, no more than you can get any renewal impetus from hetero pornography appetites -- except by repression or sublimation. ... Our idealists can't even get low-class gay men, marry'd [sc to women] or not, to recognize that the label MSM on health warnings applies to them, let alone "gay" or "LGBT."

When it comes to "social change," then, the necessary class is the middle-class. Aristos contributed a few exceptional geniuses to Christianity. Peasants and proles contributed a few geniuses too, but always this contribution involved ascending up to middle-class ways.

The era of desublimation isn't ultimately any different. The activism for same-sex marriage and ordination etc has been thoroughly middle-class and reformist. The "sex positive" activism has also been absurdly ponderous and moralizing. I mean, Cripes, what sort of an alienation from sensuality is imply'd when "sex positive" occurs to you as a motto. Gay Pride parades are enjoy'd by one sort of person, while a totally other sort of person does journalism insisting that we mustn't be judgemental, in middle-class obedience to an ancient critic of hypocritial pharisees. (If you aren't totally perfect, you mayn't condemn anyone except white male republican creationist fundamentalists.)

Even when the same person both enjoys a desublimation gay pride parade and writes reformist idealizing journalism (that it's simply shocking that the mayor of Toronto wouldn't attend and affirm the gay pride parade this summer!), he does so in a different compartment of his psyche -- the middle-class compartment.

And why should we expect anything different? Desublimation was devised by an academic as an agenda for journalistic-ecclesiastical labouring in our civilization, not as a way really to have polymorphous sexfun.

If you need to have an academic tell you to be sex positive, you wouldn't know a good time if it knock'd you out cold, bound your hands and feet and toss'd you in a small tool shed to perish. (if I may use a line from Roz Chast).

Anonymous said...

P.S. Machiavelli observed that Italy was dominated by prelates who look'd like prelates but thought and acted like mafiosi.

The Anglo-Saxons drew the conclusion: think like a mafiosi but look like a Methodist. And who dominated India and Africa etc? The Italians or the naive Anglo-Saxons?

Admittedly, this appearance system can work only if "society" and "church" continue to seem to believe in morality, to work for social change etc. But church and society are still committed to this. ...

After WW2, Eleanor Roosevelt was just the right personage and pretense to follow the slaughter, the bombings, the ruin (including the halt of the lofity internationalist red army in their advance, in order to permit the Nazis to deal properly with the Warsaw uprising). What were Church and Society to say? »Let's put an honest Pope Alexander 6 type of guy in charge of the new Europe?« ... Another try at Christian Democracy: Conrad Adenauer -- devoted Catholic, progressive etc etc, more or less openly mock'd eastern Germany as "Asia." ... Recently the Nobel committee gave their idealism-onward prize according to their liking of the slogan "Hope We Can Believe In," rather than hurtful "neo-conservative" honesty about power. ...

Anonymous said...

Our cruelty instincts are more sublime too. Italians would never put their head of state on trial and inquisition him about his sexual doings. That sort of thing takes guts and tremendous acting skills. Kenneth Starr deserved an Oscar, surely. ... Ultimately, the Russians never had a chance against us. How could the spectating Gods prefer their clumsy antics to ours? ... If we do destroy our system and China replaces us in 'hegemony,' the globalized world will be a lot more boring.

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