Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hegel and Liturgeists

Thanks to a well-read and quick Ignatius editor, we have a few more bits and bytes to add regarding the Liturgeist-led Revolution in the Mass. He visits with Fr. J. Robinson, author of the book The Mass and Modernity. Fr. Robinson's thesis is that there has been significant philosophical impact on the Revolution.

We use the term Revolution for a reason, as you will see; and it is no co-incidence that Benedict XVI uses the concept of 'a hermeneutic of rupture [or dis-continuity]' when discussing the Revolution--which is a creature NOT of the Council, but of its not-too-faithful servants.

An introduction to Fr. Robinson, in his own words:

My own experience as a priest is, I know, not typical, but it did help me to understand what I wanted to write about. I have a doctorate in philosophy from a secular university, and I have taught at the Universities of Edinburgh and McGill, and given seminars at Oxford and Fordham. I also have some training in the civil law of Quebec. Then, when I was first ordained I was Cardinal Leger’s English-speaking secretary in Montreal. After the Cardinal left Montreal I went back to teaching and was for a time Chairman of the Philosophy Department of McGill University. During these years I worked with the Brothers of the Good Shepherd, wrote a book on Hegel and worked towards the founding of an Oratory of St Philip Neri in Canada. For much of this time I lived in an English-speaking parish in Montreal and learned a good deal about parish life.

Then for the last twenty-five years the Oratory has been in charge of two parishes in Toronto, and I have had the over-all direction of the liturgical life in both places. Perhaps this adds up to "jack of all trades and master of none," but it was the matrix for the development of The Mass and Modernity.

...What I have tried to do in my book is to step outside this ecclesiastical framework and examine how the Enlightenment and Enlightenment-era philosophers, especially Kant, Hegel and their successors changed how people in the West understand and perceive God, man, society, religion, community, and much more. Then I trace the effect of those changes, noting how the worship of God is often radically skewed, even to the point where God is barely acknowledged.

Recall that Hegel spoke of 'the Dialectic,' which presumes opposite views...

...theology nowadays, at least the theology that seems most influential at the local level, does not seem to be a very creative discipline. It is in fact heavily dependent on themes marked out by the philosophers; and, moreover, these themes are often treated by using principles of rationality that have little to do with Catholic tradition. Perhaps that is a bit too sweeping, but it does seem to me that a good deal of modern Catholic theological writing is really philosophy of religion.

In the classical view, Philosophy was the servant of Theology--not the converse.

(Question): Your chapter on the Enlightenment contains a quote by Peter Gay that states the Enlightenment can be summed up in two words: criticism and power. How do those two things relate to the Mass and how many Catholics understand worship today?

To put it bluntly: criticism is about the dismantling of tradition, the refusal to accept the past of Catholicism as in anyway normative in either faith or morals. And power is about reorganizing the remnants of Catholic worship in an autocratic way, by means of a rationality that owes precious little to what I call the givens of Catholicism. What do I mean by the givens of Catholicism? I mean those elements in our faith and worship that we don’t make up, that we don’t create, that are not – or should not be – at the mercy of liturgical commissions, or under the influence of seminars on how to make the Mass more relevant.


You write that modernity cannot be understood without appreciating the "pervasive influence of Hegel and Marx."

I don’t try to trace a direct connection between what Hegel and Marx wrote and what the liturgists actually read. What I say is that when someone like me is criticized for being "out of touch", or told that "no one believes that stuff anymore", or that we must have to have a "man-centered (or "person-centered") understanding of worship, of the sacraments, of the Christian Community" — we are under the long shadow of the Hegel-Marx syndrome.

The worthwhile nugget is the bit about "man-centered" worship. That is, in fact, a Revolution. Were it not that Hegel and Marx had been around, the Liturgeists would have to invent them.

On the "Modernist/Post-Modernist" split:

I think the thrust of the attitudes and concepts that we associate with postmodernism is towards "liberation" – especially liberation from the necessity of making judgments. Postmodernists are not required to reject or accept anything at all; they are at home with everything from the Nicene Creed to hard pornography, from kitsch to high culture. This, they believe, is their escape from the harsh, scientific, masculine, sort of thinking of Modernism. The postmodernists seem to think that they are living beyond value, beyond right and wrong, beyond truth and falsehood.

Post-Modernism more or less affirms the theory of the Dialectic.

Unfortunately, it affirms the Dialectic without going through the trouble of demonstrating the falsity of the "truth-claims" of Tradition. In that way, Post-Modernism is extraordinarily lazy, at best.

Furthermore, I believe postmodernism is used by the self-anointed inheritors of the Enlightenment as one more tool to destroy the authority of tradition, and to wreck the partnership (of which Edmund Burke spoke) between the dead, the living, and yet unborn, and which is the only real guarantee of a freedom not based on the ukases of Sociology Departments and High Court Judges.


What are the most overt ways that a proper understanding of worship been undermined and even attacked in recent decades?

Saying Mass facing the people is the biggest single failing in most places today. I think it is more important even than the questions of language or music — vital as those both are

...This practice has also emphasized the congregation in a deadly way, so that the community and its concerns have begun to take the place of the sober Catholic presentation of the fallen nature of man, of suffering, of death, and of judgment. This focus on the congregation has in its turn prevented the splendor of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord from shining through the liturgy.

Fr. Robinson is not an optimistic sort of fellow--he thinks that B-16 is in "an impossible situation" given the state of catechetics within the Church today.

Perhaps he's right, but then, Rome's crops grow in fields saturated with the blood of martyrs.

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