Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Catholic Sociobiology: Liturgical Theology with Schmemann, Kavanagh, and Fagerberg

by David Pence

Human beings are meant to live in an interpersonal communal body. Just as God is three Persons in one God, we are meant to be many persons in one Body. After our first parents scattered us from this communion by sin, Christ entered into history to reincorporate humanity into the Divine life of the Trinity. As surely as Christ commanded us to love God and love our neighbor, He ordered us to enter into the sacramental and liturgical life of the Apostolic Body which He constituted in the Church, the Liturgy, and the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we do not just learn about our ultimate purpose, we live it.

The next two weeks we will respond to Christ’s command by selecting quotations from four different men who have all written books called Liturgical Theology. We start with David Fagerberg, Notre Dame professor, giving a talk remembering his introduction to Liturgical Theology when studying the seminal works of Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann.

"I first met the works of Father Alexander through Fr. Aidan Kavanagh who would become my thesis director. Aidan was on leave when I arrived at Yale, so I begged him for a directed readings course. He agreed on the condition that we read everything we could by Schmemann, for he was just finishing the Hale Seabury lectures that would become his book On Liturgical Theology. So in those first weeks of my first semester studying under him we went through most of Schmemann’s material together, and I tell people that I spent the rest of my graduate studies trying to get the number of the bus that hit me.

"I had come as a systematician with scalpel in hand ready to dissect a liturgical cadaver to see the makeup of its internal organs, and Kavanagh introduced me to a thinker for whom liturgy was life. Kill it in order to study it, and one would not be able to watch liturgy at work. So, wrestling with Fr. Alexander’s concept of liturgical theology changed everything for me and I’m grateful to be able to express my thanks to the man I never met by standing at a podium in this institution [St Vladimir's Seminary] to which he was so devoted."

What is 'upending' about Liturgical Theology will be the realization that God acts on earth today, not conjured by our faith but present in the liturgical actions of the Church.

"Before there can be a faith that is believed, there must be a Presence that confronts. It was a Presence, not faith, that drew Moses to the burning bush, and what happened there was a revelation, not a seminar. It was a Presence, not a faith which drew the disciples to Jesus and what happened then was not an educational program but a revelation that he was the long-awaited Anointed One. Their lives, like the life of Moses, were changed radically by that encounter with a Presence that upended all their ordinary expectations.”
Aidan Kavanagh
On Liturgical Theology: The Hale Memorial Lectures of Seabury-Western ...

Professor Fagerberg

From Fagerberg’s lecture  quoting Schmemann:

"It is indeed the original sin of the entire Western ideological development that it made text the only 'loci theologici,' the extrinsic authorities of theology, disconnecting theology from its living source, liturgy and spirituality."

"Pascha, Holy Week, essentially bright days such as are needed, and truly that is all that is needed. I’m convinced that if people would only really hear Holy Week, Pascha, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the Dormition, there would be no need for theology. All of theology is here. All that is needed for one’s spirit, mind, and soul. How could people spend centuries discussing justification and redemption? It’s all in these services. Not only is it revealed, it simply flows in one’s heart and mind."

"The goal of liturgical theology, is as its very name indicates, is to overcome the fateful divorce between theology, liturgy, and piety, a divorce which we have already tried to show elsewhere has had disastrous consequences for theology as well as for liturgy and piety. To understand liturgy from inside, to discover and experience that epiphany of God, world, and life which the Liturgy contains and communicates. To relate this vision and this power to our own existence to all our problems, such is the purpose of liturgical theology."

"The theology that is being taught has estranged itself from the Church, and from that experience, it’s become self-sufficient and wants above all to be a science—science about God, about Christ, about eternal life—and therefore it has become unnecessary chatter. Theology is a knowledge that must be imprinted in the mind of the theologian by God, the way baby ducklings are imprinted on a mother duck, so that the theologian will pursue God."

"Liturgy is not the religion of Adam; it is the cult of the New Adam, and the Holy Spirit will pass everything through the hypostatic union [ed.note: the union of human and divine natures in the person of Christ] before it is of any use in liturgy. Sacrifice, temple, priesthood, assembly—they are all different for having gone through Christ. Ecclesiology is Christology liturgically stretching forth in the Holy Spirit to its fullest length across history. Theology is not thinking with an earthly mind about heavenly subjects; it is thinking in communion with the mind of Christ about all things earthly and heavenly."

David Fagerberg may be the most respected teacher of liturgical theology with the passing of Fr. Schmemann. His most recent book is Consecrating the World: On Mundane Liturgical Theology.

Fagerberg defines mundane liturgy by quoting his teacher Kavanagh "to do the world as the world was meant to be done." There is some original mission of man in the world and, formed by the encounter with the Trinity in the liturgy, we are meant to carry out that task.

"A smile must be made with two lips, and the joy Schmemann is talking about cannot be made with world alone or cult alone. Schmemann’s emphasis upon leitourgia, meaning the work of a few on behalf of the many, comes clear at last. The Church itself is a leitourgia, a ministry, a calling to act in this world after the fashion of Christ, to bear witness, testimony to him and his kingdom. The Church as leitourgia is the presence of the kingdom in the midst of history so that history can find its meaning."

Fagerberg concluded his talk on Schmemann:
"Christianity in general, and Orthodoxy in particular, are now undergoing a real test to determine what will enable them to remain alive in the world of today. I hesitate to come forward with my feeling—it sounds arrogant—that I have an answer. In everything that I preach, or teach, or write, I want this answer to appear, hopefully to shine through. It is simply a vision of life, and what comes from that vision is the light, the transparency, the referral of everything to the 'Other,' the eschatological character of life itself and all that is in it. The source of that eschatological light, the lifting up of all life, is the sacrament of the Eucharist.

"What has Christianity lost so that the world nurtured by Christianity has recoiled from it and started to pass judgment over the Christian faith? Christianity has lost joy. Not natural joy, not joy-optimism, not joy from an earthly happiness, but the divine joy, about which Christ told us that 'no one will take your joy from you' (John 16). This must be joy on God’s terms, not ours, so Christianity must not sell its birthright for a bowl full of temporary relevance. Adapting eschatological joy to the passing moods of the ages, either in our theology or our liturgies, will not gain credibility for Christianity. It is a false strategy to commit to the unending task of rewriting the content for each new context."

from Rembrandt's 'Moses with the Ten Commandments' 

That joy is ours in the liturgical experience of the presence of the Triune God on earth as it is in heaven. Like Moses after seeing God on the mountaintop, we should leave the liturgy with faces radiant with our joy and reflective of His glory. If that isn’t happening, then maybe we are looking for theology too much in the texts and too little in the Mass. 'Lex orandi, lex credence.'

Full set of essays  on Catholic Sociobiology linked here.

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