We deny to claim "any Superiority to ourself
to defyne, decyde, or determyn any Article or Poynt
of the Christian Fayth and Relligion,
or to chang any Ancient Ceremony of the Church
from the Forme before received and observed
by the Catholick and Apostolick Church."

Norman Simplicity

Norman Simplicity
Click image for original | © Vitrearum (Allan Barton)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Never allow yourself to become too familiar with holy things."

Morning coffee and blogs -- what could be more delightful? Those of us, now of a passing generation, who remember such things as 'maiden aunts' fondly (while recalling that their one-sidedness was both their virtue and their undoing, at the same time) get, nonetheless, to enjoy passages, such as the following, amidst the devouring ruins:

What a long time ago it seems ... when our beloved Pope Emeritus began to write about Liturgy. Do you remember the reaction which followed? It was as if a gang of yobs had broken into a meeting of deeply religious and proper Maiden Aunts, and had started shouting very naughty words. The pursed lips ... the frozen atmosphere of disapproval ... that was how the liturgical establishment responded. "But he's not a liturgist!!!" they cried, if ever they ventured to unpurse their frigid lips. They meant that he was not one of them; had attended none of their conventions; had written no little articles in their house journals; had rampaged through no diocese laying waste the sanctuaries; had hurled no reliquaries, no baroque vestments, upon bonfires; had destroyed no traditions of sacred chant.

Destruction, to my mind, follows directly from the degradation of 'over-handling'. There are things we ought not to presume to touch, to dabble with, to become too familiar with: familiarity breeds contempt.

Anyway, the point of Father's entry is to draw our attention to the following, remarkable words (I quote in fuller detail, with my emphases):

5. The Church in the West does not need to disown the specific path she has followed since about the thirteenth century. But she must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church. The Western Church does not need to subject herself to all the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the East, coming to some kind of conclusion in 1551 at the Council of Moscow, the Council of the Hundred Canons. Nevertheless, she should regard the fundamental lines of this theology of the image in the Church as normative for her. There must, of course, be no rigid norms. Freshly received intuitions and the ever-new experiences of piety must find a place in the Church. But still there is a difference between sacred art (which is related to the liturgy and belongs to the ecclesial sphere) and religious art in general. There cannot be completely free expression in sacred art. Forms of art that deny the logos of things and imprison man within what appears to the senses are incompatible with the Church's understanding of the image. No sacred art can come from an isolated subjectivity. No, it presupposes that there is a subject who has been inwardly formed by the Church and opened up to the "we". Only thus does art make the Church's common faith visible and speak again to the believing heart. The freedom of art, which is also necessary in the more narrowly circumscribed realm of sacred art, is not a matter of do-as-you-please. It unfolds according to the measure indicated by the first four points in these concluding reflections, which are an attempt to sum up what is constant in the iconographic tradition of faith. Without faith there is no art commensurate with the liturgy. Sacred art stands beneath the imperative stated in the second epistle to the Corinthians. Gazing at the Lord, we are "changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (3:18) [133-134].

Rather than engage in fruitless polemics -- Gothic (English) vs. Baroque (Roman) -- we ought to consider the possibility that we discard nothing while simultaneously seeking something that transcends it all. (Practically speaking, the style of the vestments ought to conform to the style of the space. End of story.) We all have our prejudices -- and this is a good thing. Further, it would be absurd to try and overleap history and vain to imagine that we might repudiate the treasures of (and human experiences encoded in) the Romantic, the Baroque, the Renaissance, the Gothic, etc. But could we contemplate a space where the following elements interpenetrate (and mutually enrich) each other?

  • the Norman (the North)
  • the Romanesque (the West)
  • the Byzantine (the East)

There are, after all, a few remnants

... and a few places.

Is this a modern monstrosity or a possible model?

(Note that the following is a better representation of the actual coloration.)

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