Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Totemism and the Monks of Aix-le-Chapelle

Easter Island Totem StatuesIt’s already been said that the American Orthodox Church is Eastern; She was founded by Eastern saints, sent by Eastern Churches, and the liturgies were translated into the local language, just as had done St. Cyril to the Slavs. But when there really was a Western Church, we were not East and West but One. Culture was not worshipped and exalted to a point that it became the source of division. We’ve been down this path already. The first time the Eastern and Western monks were really not at home with each others’ rites, was in Jerusalem, when monks who had visited the court of Charlemagne brought home the filioque innovation. And as the depth of the heresy came to be debated, culture meanwhile came to be exalted, and spun out on its own. It isn’t hard to contend that the WRV is, in pattern, form, and substance a template from that first tragic beginning of schism. No one has yet called it a Western Rite Schism, but give it time; the imported ideology that surrounds it, from traditions that have fragmentation as their sine qua non, is liable to see that day.

In fact, the very sign of schism not as a formality, but as a matter of general policy (i.e. Protestantism and its federations of groups all in informal schism with one another) is when God is totemized into a cultural expression of ourselves. Durkheim described the process of totemism, whereby we externalize our own cultural expressions, until gradually in the expressionism of whatever iconography we use (statues, totem poles, romanesque painting…) we get a God who is a collection of our own cultural values. Protestant minister and sociologist Tony Campolo uses the examples of a black church, in which they took down the Irish Sunday school teacher’s picture of Jesus and put up a new picture, in which Jesus was a black man. Not far away was a Chinese Catholic Church and in the stained glass windows, Jesus was Chinese! Campolo points out that what we had done to kick this off was thinking Jesus was a westerner like us, a white man. He contends that we too are guilty of the process of totemism elaborated in a more sophisticated way by social anthropologists like Durkheim. We reproduce God, says Campolo as the Apostle warns, in our own image, not content to fashion ourselves in His image. His conclusion? We must repent – we cannot know God as God is, unless we repent. One cannot miss the mocking similarity between much of what is being done in the name of WR ‘missionary work’ and the process of totemism, and it begs the original question that the eminent writers who have been quoted all over this site have been asking, along w. Campolo: What is it that we are really calling people to convert to?


January 25, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite Questions | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Fr., if you could use TUD, I’d prefer that. It’s an acronym, and God knows how it refers specifically to me. I will say that I think he will not turn away a prayer for TUD – by your prayers save me.

    Comment by tuD | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  2. The Lord.

    We are, happily, in agreement. In fact, having re-read the original post, I see that I committed a very significant misreading of what you said. In your statement

    “…the WRV is, in pattern, form, and substance a template from that first tragic beginning of schism…”

    I misread “WRV” as “WR.” I thought you were alluding to an argument (which I’ve heard made), that the Mass was rewritten by the Franks – which is about the flimsiest theory ever crafted.

    I see now what your point actually was; that when the Franks tampered with the Creed, for the first time East and West criticized an element of the other’s liturgy – and that opened the doors to criticism on all sorts of other, non-issues.

    Thanks also for the clarification that “totemization” would refer to making culture the first issue, and not merely an issue. I’m of the same mind.

    Also – if you’re comfortable saying, what’s your name? Or, what’s your nickname? Should I address you by your handle (tuD)? Anyhow, happy Lord’s Day! I love Hypopante, and was very glad to have a fantastic Liturgy this morning with about thirty pilgrims to the monastery. I’m unfortunately on the New Calendar – to all others on it, a Blessed Feast!

    Comment by fatheraugustine | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  3. Bless, Father,
    Template: I just meant that the result of the filioque (when the Byzantines first heard it sang) was that Eastern and Western Christians no longer felt at home with each other’s rites. The point of contention effectively became a particular liturgical innovation, but also the attitude toward liturgics that generated it, and therefore the overall attitude of Faith prior to that. As a result, then, each side seized upon cultural differences and indeed on mere differences (no having our penchant for confusing everything w. culture) and looked upon each other w. fear, suspicion, etc. and the resulting rift, over time, resulted in grievous loss.

    This is, admittedly, a particular historiographical view of the Schism but, taking it as a given for a moment: the next time that East/West felt uncomfortable in each other’s rites is when converts came to us saying they shouldn’t have to be “Byzantine”, adopt “Eastern culture”, or give up their own “cultural” norms. And likewise, this very attitude – the exaltation of culture on the one hand and rites on the other and their mutual confusion, became itself a compounded/synthesized area of concern. It seems to be, at times, the considering of Orthodoxy itself as *last* or at least as (Orthodoxy if WR) or (Orthodoxy and WR) or (Western Rite Orthodoxy) vs. ORTHODOXY. We say with the saints, do we not: “Save me at any cost.” This approach of coming w. demands, insistences, or even a party line, a historiographical agenda, and a liturgical mandate, strikes us as foreign to the ORTHODOX ethos of any world.

    In short, one can’t help but see the parallel w. that tragic time of Charlemagne.

    Totemization: I’m saying that there’s a distinction between keeping the Faith with a cultural flavor, and exalting culture to an absolute category of reference, to which the Faith is subservient or must be conformed. One is evangelicalism (of the Orthodox variety), and the other is totemism. Take this example:

    In the culture, these days, if you try to challenge a particular aesthetic, a particular art format for instance, you will get vehement resistance in some quarters (not as widely as in the 90s), because you ‘can’t judge culture!’. Culture is seen as an absolute. It’s elevated to a point that, in form at least, it’s like the pre-existent matter of the universe to the gnostics. It’s the given stuff you have to accept, before you can proceed to being Christian. It’s prior to the Faith, in the order of mental operations. We reject this as Christians. There is nothing logically prior to the Faith, nothing absolute over against which to judge its perfection, and indeed it is the Faith that transforms the kingdoms of this world into the Kingdom of our God, redeeming them, deifying them. Too often, as in many many things, I see the culture given precedent, as a kind of Baal. Baal is still everywhere.

    I do not argue that there’s a relationship btw culture and the Faith, merely what the order of the relationship is. and your initial comment on the WHY page, seems to indicate that your own concerns could be summed up in the same way. I could rewrite your text on my template, and we’d be expressing the same concerns.

    As I re-read your last paragraph, I’m reminded that you thought this might be what I meant, and you’ve said it better. I’m thinking a lot about Baal lately, father. What do you say when you see his emblem in places that are considered sacred cows? If you’ll forgive the pun. Ah well. Prayer. The Lord.

    Comment by tuD | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  4. I would like to hear more explanation of something you said:

    “It isn’t hard to contend that the WRV is, in pattern, form, and substance a template from that first tragic beginning of schism.”

    I think it would be tremendously difficult to really contend for this – unless I’m misunderstanding you. For example, I have many different recensions of the Western liturgy from before the Schism. One of these is from a source predating Charlemagne. An handful of the others are from the Churches that were importing books to the Franks (not being influenced by the Franks). The evidence for the Roman liturgy’s “template” predating Charlemagne is incontrovertible. Have I understood you correctly, as stating that the Western Rite’s forms took their Genesis from Charlemagne’s court?

    I’ll set aside, for the time being, that the Filioque is a complicated issue; it has an Orthodox interpretation, and that is how it was read in the West for quite some time (although nobody disputes the arrogance of inserting it into the Creed).

    Last, regarding “totemization.” If you are saying that preferring or wanting a certain ethnic “dressing” for the faith is, ipso facto, totemization – well, I’d disagree. On those grounds, all Orthodox Churches are mere “totemizations” of their traditions – whether that be Greek, Russian, Romanian, etc.

    If, on the other hand, you are saying that an emphasis of the cultural dressing over (or amost to the exclusion of) the Faith itself is a totemization – then, I’d agree with you. When we evangelize WR people by appealing to their desire to preserve their worship forms first and foremost, we are comitting a grave and horrible sin. When we don’t spend the proper time catechizing the priest (for Pete’s sake, we should insist that they go to an Orthodox seminary or spend some quality time in a monastery), we err horribly. When we put these converts in a position, where we’ve essentially doomed them to remaining Episcopalian sans the Filioque – well, yes, that’s certainly “totemization,” and God save us all from it. May Saint Constantine (son of a Breton, Crowned at York, Reigning in Constantinople) put an end to it.

    Comment by fatheraugustine | February 2, 2008 | Reply

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