Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Quick Fix to Correct the Rite?


Fr. Alexander Schmemann: Assuming the wrong idea of a fundamental Eastern versus Western liturgical dualism, Dr. Sopko is inescapably led to a wrong answer to the question, essential from the Orthodox point of view, of what makes a Western rite Orthodox? For him, as indeed for many proponents of the Western rite, all it takes is a few deletions and a few additions, e.g., “striking the filioque” and “strengthening of the epiclesis.” This answer implies, on the one hand, that there exists a unified and homogeneous reality identifiable as the Western rite, and, on the other hand, that, except for two or three “heretical” ingredients or omissions, this rite is ipso facto Orthodox. Both presuppositions are wrong.

Indeed, one does not have to be an “authority on the West” in order to know that the liturgical development in the West was shaped to a degree unknown in the East, by the various theologies, the succession of which, as well as the clashes of which with one another, constitute the Western religious history. Scholasticism, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, etc., all have resulted in sometimes radical liturgical metamorphoses, all have had a decisive impact on worship. Therefore one should speak today not of the Western rite, but of Western rites, deeply, if not radically differing from one another, yet all reflecting, in one way or another, the Western theological tragedy and fragmentation. This does not mean that all these rites are “heretical” and are simply to be condemned. It only means that from an Orthodox point of view, their evaluation in terms merely of “deletions” and “additions” is, to say the least, inadequate and cannot resolve the tensions mentioned above. And even if in the past this method had a semblance of justification, the acute liturgical crisis that encompasses today virtually all Western confessions, makes it obsolete and irrelevant. For the irony of our present situation is that while some Western Christians come to Orthodoxy in order to salvage the rite they cherish (Book of Common Prayer, Tridentine Mass, etc.) from liturgical reforms they abhor, some of these reforms, at least in abstracto, are closer to the structures and the spirit of the early Western Rite and thus to the Orthodox liturgical tradition, than the later rites — those precisely that the Orthodox Church is supposed to “sanction” and to “adopt.”

All this will probably appear as another example of Eastern “arrogance” and emotional anti-Westernism. I count on Dr. Sopko to help me dispel this unfortunate impression. In having honored me by attending my lectures, he certainly knows how critical I am of our own liturgical situation, how many defects and deviations I wish to see corrected in our liturgical life. It is true, however, that this criticism itself is rooted primarily in my deep conviction that the Eastern liturgical tradition is alone today in having preserved, in spite of all historical “deficiencies,” the fullness of the Church’s lex orandi and constitutes therefore the criterion for all liturgical “evaluations.” Yet the true cleavage today is not between the “East” and the “West.” It is between those who seek in the liturgy the essential food of their Christian life and those for whom it is a matter of “attachment” or “allergy.” The Orthodox Church is full of people “allergic” to this or to that. Some are allergic to English and some to Church Slavonic. In some, liturgy is identified with Hellenism and for some others with Russia. And all these tensions which probably are also inevitable cannot and will not be solved except by an ever deepened interest — not in “liturgies” per se, not in “rites,” but in the Orthodox faith these rites reveal and communicate. Whatever the future of the Western rite, it depends, I am sure, on the thirst and hunger for the fullness of the Orthodox faith and on nothing else. Dogmatically, ecclesiologically — and I said this some twenty years ago on these very pages — Orthodoxy has no objection to the Western Rite as such. To have such an objection would mean the loss by the Orthodox Church of her claims to universality. The question therefore is not whether a rite is Eastern or Western. Neither Easternism or Westernism are important in themselves. The only question is whether a rite adequately embodies, manifests and communicates the eternal and unchanging Truth, — is Orthodox in the deepest sense of this word. – [ full article ] (St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 4/1980, pp. 266-269)

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December 28, 2007 Posted by | -- Anglican, -- Phyletism, Western Rite -- Tridentine Mass, Western Rite Liturgics, Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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