14 July 2008

"Antiquarianism" or "The Faith Once Delivered"...

Let's face it, Christianity has jumped leaps and bounds in two thousand years. I think that everyone will agree that not everything Christian that has evolved in the past two milennia have been good, holy, and positive... and we would be fools if we denied that Christianity has, indeed, evolved over time (or, for those with a negative view of evolution in this context, feel free to substitute develop and its myriad of permutations).

In reading about liturgical and theological discussions afoot in the world (particularlly the Western Christian world) today, the desire to return to the most ancient forms is often referred to in an unfavorable manner as antiquarianism. Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical letter "Mediator Dei" wrote: "The desire to restore everything indiscriminately to its ancient condition is neither wise nor praiseworthy. It would be wrong, for example, to want the altar restored to its ancient form of table; to want black eliminated from the liturgical colors, and pictures and statues excluded from our churches; to require crucifixes that do not represent the bitter sufferings of the divine Redeemer."
Pius XII's writing is, of course, concerned about the erosion of the doctrines and dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church in a time of great upheval and change in the life of the world and the Church. However, I have to ask (admittedly in a rhetorical fashion), "Why?"

What Pius XII (and others) are quick to call and condem as antiquarian was the faith that sustained our ancient brothers and sisters who, in spite of threat and pain of death, held fast to their faith - the faith that was 'once delivered' to the saints. If that faith could sustain three centuries worth of martyrs, than surely that faith can once again sustain us today. If that faith could hold relative unity in those trying years (for, to be truthful, the Church has known schism and heresy from nearly the beginning of her existence, but she has not known division on the order that we do today) then why not restore those basic expressions of the faith and invite all of our separated brethren together to celebrate and live in the grace of God's mercy and in the embrace of that ancient faith?

I, for one, would never deny that there are many things of beauty that flow from the post-Nicene Church. Many liturgical and hymnodic works of great spirit and fervor have flowed from the pens of writers of various centuries, and I certainly am not a Donatist - even the unworthy can be inspired by God... but why the hostility to a general restoration of the primitive Catholic faith?

Could it be because we fear stepping outside our personal comfort zones? Could it be because we fear that it would upset our place in the Church as we percieve it? Is it possible that we have allowed ourselves to become so comfortable in our faith that we have not stopped to consider the dogmas and practices that have been handed down to us in the light of the Scriptures and the practices of the martyrs...

Do we really want to maintain that God cares if our altar is a stone monolith or a wooden table, if we use black or white vestments for funerals, or if we recieve communion on the tongue or in the hand? Is God truly that petty? If he is, I fear we all have a lot to reform about ourselves... and quickly.

Myself, while I believe that God is a just judge, and that he has laid down a clear, concise, and precise moral code, I believe he has given us great freedom to worship and proclaim his glory in ways that meet the needs of the people we serve. We must remain united to the moral and spiritual truths of the Scriptures, and we must then find ways to speak those truths to today's people so that they may understand, by God's grace, the depths of God's love and his calling to them through the Spirit.

By definintion, however, that will require some level of reversion to more primitive (antiquated) practices. Difficult, yes. None of us who have grown up in any well-established Church tradition will ever be able to fully divest ourselves of what we learned in our formative years... but going back one hundred, or five hundred years... that too is antiquarianism. Today we see a move in the Latin Rite of the Roman Communion to return to the use of the so-called Tridentine Mass. Anglicans and Lutherans also are not immune to this tendency. This is nothing more than antiquarianism (it simply goes back to the 1950's instead of the 250's), and to condem a more ancient antiquarianism (i.e., a reversion to the ancient practices of the Church) is nothing more than a hypocritical barb tossed in the direction of those who would seek to find unity in the faith based on the ancient Church of the pre-Nicene era.

Reverting the Church back to its practice in 1950 (or even 1850) won't solve a darned thing, because the genesis of much of what we find objectionable in the life of the Church today has its roots in the post-Enlightenment world. If we are to revert, let us revert (in spirit if not in exact verbage - which we have only a smattering of) to the practices of our ancient Fathers and Martyrs... let them show us the way they followed to Christ, who is the source of the faith that was (and is!) once and for all times handed down to us.


Mar Michael Abportus July 14, 2008 at 12:04 PM  

Very Good, Fr. Rob, we definately need to return to the faith of our fathers, in principles of worship, and in conforming our lives to Biblical norms. Confregations in the early church fasted two days a week, and more if a guest came by. We think we are doing something good, if we eat fish on Fridays. We have much to learn from our fathers in witness of the faith.

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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