Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Benedict and the Enlightenment

The Pope's recent trip to America has highlighted for me one of the key themes of his Pontificate which the academic press but not the local press (probably because they are too dumb!) has picked up on - the dialogue between the Church and the Enlightenment.

The Pope has referred to the impact of the enlightenment in all his encyclicals and in the Regensburg Address. The latter, is actually a critique of the Enlightenment rather than Islam. He goes to show that the ideals of religion is that of Reason, and religions and ideologies that use force are a travesty because they are not reasonable. God acts "reasonably" in the universe.

The Enlightenment was a child of Christianity, and I could not think of such a movement coming about in any part of the world apart from the Christian West, not even the Christian East. Its ideals of the rights of man (from the Gospels), scientific inquiry rather than superstition and dogma (from St Thomas Aquinas), and social and government structures based upon the mandate of the people rather than "divine right". The Church has responded in various ways to it ranging from dialogue in the 18th century (the late great Pope Benedict XIV), to condemnation in the 19th and 20th centuries (Bl Pius IX and St Pius X), and wholesale acceptance in the post Vatican II Church. The Enlightenment in the 20th century, as the Pope has pointed out, was something of a runaway train, and without the guidance of divine light, will lead to annihilation.

This was the theme of a lot of his talks in America which is a far more religious country that Australia. The Pope warns America that it is teetering on the edge. We are all of course the children of the Enlightenment, and could not live in a world of dictatorship by others and superstition.

The question is - who provides this divine light and the answer is of course through Jesus Christ through his Holy Church.

I thought that the beautiful layouts for the Papal liturgies embodied the best of the Church dialoguing with the Enlightenment. Some of the previous posts, have focussed on poor liturgies and church layouts which show nothing of this Divine Light. They have demonstrated what happens (as has happened in most of the Brisbane Archdiocese) where the focus is not longer on God but the Community as God. As Benedict says in Spirit of the Liturgy, when that happens, liturgy collapses. Church interiors become boring and dull and repel rather than attract people.

However, moving back exclusively to the Usus Antiquor, for me represents a turning away from the Enlightenment, and chooses to ignore it. This is why the Pope in his absolute brilliance calls it the Extraordinary Form. It is still important because the Usus Antiquor links us back to the early church and the apostles, and psychologically we need to be linked to where we have come from. The older form does this better than the Ordinary Form which sometimes is a bit like buying baroque furniture from CopperArt. It looks and feels authentic to the early church, but basically it isnt.

However, Benedict has introduced elements to it which although small, do make a big statement. The key thing is the Altar, with its centrally located cross and seven candlesticks, focussing, as Benedict says "on the Lord" not Pope as celebrity. The seven candles emphasise the Altar as the centrepiece as to why we are attending the liturgy. Although the Altar is still facing the congregation, there is a balance between "dialogue" and "worship". The other thing is the Papal Throne pointing to the importance of the Pope as Christ's vicar on Earth, but reflects back to the ancient Roman basilicas which have this layout. However the balance between Altar and Throne is restored. Architecturally we have seen the most poignant prototypes for liturgy in the 21st century.
The next thing is to reform how people behave in the liturgy.

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