Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ad Orientem - not just a liturgical rubric

From Daniel Greeson's blog, The Way of a Pilgrim
“Orthodoxy is summoned to witness. Now more than ever the Christian West stands before divergent prospects, a living question addressed also to the Orthodox world… The ‘old polemical theology’ has long ago lost its inner connection with any reality. Such theology was an academic discipline, and was always elaborated according to the same western ‘textbooks.’ A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new ‘polemical theology.’ But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now… The Orthodox theologian must also offer his own testimony to this world — a testimony arising from the inner memory of the Church — and resolve the question with his historical findings.” - Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology II, pp. 302-304
We've all witnessed how easy it is these days for "conservative" and "liberal" Catholics to be more attached to their secular ideological bedpartners than to Catholicism. It's telling that the term "Catholicism" is becoming ever more difficult to utter without any modifiers. Even among "traditionalist" Catholics, the tendency to read Catholicism with all the polemical imbalance of a hyper-Tridentine mindset/aesthetic continues to distort our ancient faith as much as it defends against the invasive heresies du jour.

But let us admit that the travesty of the Episcopal Church USA is just a canary in the coal mine that is Western Christianity (whose mother is the Church of Rome), that the liturgical and spiritual chaos arising in the aftermath of Vatican II shares a common pathology with the nihilistic mockeries of Christianity in modern aesthetics and rationality. Amidst the confusion of what is truly Catholic (not just in terms of propositional faith and morals but phronema), I'm becoming more convinced that Orthodoxy's the only thing left that can help us find our way back to the Church of the Martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul - truly Western, truly Apostolic.

So "ad orientem" is not just a sound rubric for our Masses, but consistent with the lex orandi, lex credendi principle, it signifies the only future and hope for contemporary Catholic theology. The familiar Catholic megaphone needs to also be a satellite dish pointed east, tuned to the long-lost voices of the Fathers (besides selective bits of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas). Along with Fr. Florovsky's commendation of Orthodoxy's witness, it remains up to Catholics to figure out how to reconcile our doctrinal and liturgical "developments" since the Carolingian era (pace Newman) with the mind of the Apostolic Churches. It's the only way V2's aggiornamento and novus habitus mentis can be interpreted without dissolving into the nothingness of the modern world.

Liberals love to talk about "active participation" of the laity; listening to the Eastern Churches would be a new, constructive start, especially seeing how stalled discourse between left and right currently stands. It's the only ecumenism that matters today.