RS 150 Reading Introductions

3/5:

I'm going to try to use these reading introductions in the next several sessions to direct the focus of our discussion. Let me pose questions for you to think about as you read and reflect.

Before I begin, White's article comes last on the syllabus for today, but it is about the most practical. Feel free to begin with it, if you like.

Today's theme is the intersection between liturgy and formal theology. We study one to learn about the other, because "the law of prayer is the law of belief" (lex orandi lex credendi). If you really grasp this seemingly obvious point, it will revolutionize the way you study formal theology, as well as the way you participate in worship.

Kilmartin's article is a fairly abstract exercise in drawing out the linkages between theology and the study of liturgy. You might want to read the conclusion first (pp 108-109), since it says most of what the article says. First, theology seeks to understand the faith that is being expressed when Christians gather to worship. "Since the mystery of salvation is one, and not many, the one and the same mystery is realized in all forms of the liturgy of the Church" (108). Thus even very different acts of worship, if they arise from the same mystery (remember that word?), should yield similar – make that essentially identical – theological meanings. That is a project worth testing. Briefly, imaginatively, choose two seemingly different worship experiences you have had. Do they express the same faith? If not, then what makes you think they are products of the same universal Church?

To prove your point, you will probably find yourself appealing to the second prong of Kilmartin's analysis: theology seeks to show how the common faith of the Church finds expression in diverse worship practices. "The reduction of the theology of liturgy to the one divine plan of God is the aim of this theology" (108).

By the way, here is one way to fruits-test the kinds of histories and proposals that have been so irritating the class lately. If alternative language for God really doesn't matter, then it shouldn't realize a different mystery or another divine plan than traditional language. The same goes for accommodations to local cultures, whether they belong to the past Holy Tradition of a church, or the present environment of a Church's surrounding culture. Perhaps as you do your thought experiment, you should choose experiences across these kinds of divides. The point is that liturgical issues don't have to stay at the level of "taste" or mere "opinion"; they can and must be tested according to the universal faith of the one true Church.

Where Kilmartin is abstract, Wainwright (PS 110ff) is concrete. He takes you through actual liturgical texts to see what they say about the faith of the churches that practice them. I hope you find these passages helpful as you think about your short papers. A question perhaps to ask yourself as you read is: Are Wainwright's examples demonstrating Kilmartin's argument?

If you prefer a different exercise, you may be interested in knowing that Wainwright was my adviser at Duke. So in a way he is the inspiration for this course. Does reading this article help explain why I have offered it?

White's article (ch 24) is more practical still. After a slow start for four pages, White begins to offer very helpful, very practical advice not just for teachers but also for students of liturgy (and in this class, everyone is both). You should definitely look closely here as you think about your shorter and longer papers. This may give you an odd feeling that you are looking over my shoulder into the design of your own course; but those of you who are worship leaders, pastors-in-training, or simply faithful churchgoers should understand that you are teachers of those around you in the ways of Christian worship. Your students may be suite mates, friends, children, small groups – who knows. At least read White to learn from my pedagogical mistakes.


2/21:

Remember these? If I can't even squeeze out an introduction to you during four-day, I'm beyond hope.

There is a lot of reading for Thursday's session on the Black Church (in Deane Chapel). Darnisha Taylor will be joining us. Read Maynard-Reid first – and afterward, think of lending your copy to one of the music students. The history is fascinating and very enlightening: I can see many of the customs of my Pentecostal church rooted in the larger African-American tradition. I can also see many of the controversies over worship practices as framed by misunderstanding (and occasionally prejudice) between white and black worshipping communities. Finally, I can see many Africanisms moving into mainstream evangelical spirituality, where I welcome them wholeheartedly.

After Maynard-Reid's accessible chapters, the two brief chapters in Vogel might seem difficult. But they aren't really. Guardini, another liturgical heavyweight, wants to show worship as 'play': an activity both seemingly purposeless and gravely purposeful. It's hard to believe that he's describing Latin masses in Europe; his comments seem more appropriate here in the African-American tradition. That is a puzzle you would do well to ponder. The second reading is a wonderful meditation on the 'sacramentality' of preaching in the African-American tradition. It will reinforce and deepen some of Maynard-Reid's insights.


1/25:

Ahh, methodology. I can hear your screams from here.

Background: Alexander Schmemann is a theological giant in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. His work, The Eucharist, is a monument of sacramental theology.

Aidan Kavanaugh is also a heavyweight in the field of liturgical theology and, surreally, a Texan ex-Baptist whose Christian name is "Aidan." (You can bet that August 31, St. Aidan's feast day, came and went at his Baptist church without a lot of hoopla. No wonder he eventually became a Catholic.)

These two theologians are here to stress the profound ties between liturgy and theology. The reason I brought them up at this point in the class is that it is in the Patristic era that these ties are already so well appreciated and so thoroughly exploited. The Eastern Orthodox "Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom" actually seems to have little if anything historically to do with John Chrysostom, though it does date to the late Patristic era. To this day it is the usual form of Eastern Orthodox worship. So the Divine Liturgy gives us a vivid illustration and application of the theological convictions displayed in Kavanaugh and especially Schmemann. Both are firmly grounded in the first eight hundred years or so of Christian worship.

Kavanaugh is better written, more explicitly structured, and thus doesn't seem to need a lot of commentary. I hope you find his discussion of canonicity in terms of worship interesting. Kavanaugh will also give you a nice framework for interpreting the Divine Liturgy (and vice versa).

Regarding the hypertext version of the Divine Liturgy: You can learn the meaning of many unfamiliar terms by clicking on them. Cool!

A handy summary of Schmemann's methodology is fond at the bottom of 58 and top of 59: "Historical liturgics establishes the structures [of Christian worship] and their development, liturgical theology discovers their meaning: such is the general methodological principle of the task."

By the way, it is worth asking whether a particular view of the theological significance of history is sneaking through the back door and dominating the discipline. I think it is. I also don't think it's coincidental that this view of the theological significance of history is profoundly compatible with Orthodox (and Catholic) theology. How would, say, a Pentecostal respond who is convinced that for centuries Christian worship was corrupt?

You can see just that sensibility being manifested by Schmemann's rejection of "the inadequacy and evil effects of scholastic theology." Orthodox are forever condemning the West (Catholic and Protestant) for this or that. The criticism itself shows you that liturgical theology and liturgical history are never theologically neutral. Why reject private liturgy (say, "praying in secret") as legitimate liturgy? Because it conflicts with Orthodox theology, that's why. The field of study is theologically determined.

I don't think this circularity is necessarily a problem. Ask yourself the question: Must the field of liturgical study be theologically determined?


1/17:

The three selections from Primary Sources of Liturgical Theology look more intimidating than they really are. There will be the usual liturgical jargon that's unfamiliar to many of you, but a little googling will take care of many of them.

All three concentrate on the Christological center of Christian worship (hence the title for the day). This is the point I want to hammer on Thursday: Christian worship is Christ-shaped, Spirit-powered, and church-practiced. In the worshipping Church, God acts and we act. Actually, God acts then we act. And what we all act is the Good News of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection for our sake.

That's the message of Casel's "Mystery and Liturgy." The title is a handy summary, but only if you know what he means by "mystery." It helps to know that the Greek word for "sacrament" is mysterion. A sacramental event is an act in which Christ works through human means (for instance, in speaking through a preached sermon, or in forgiving sins through the repentance of a submerged new believer). A helpful summary of Casel's argument is at the top of page 31. Casel is a Catholic – in fact, a Catholic who was deeply influential in helping revive Catholic worship in the decades before Vatican II. But I don't see how anything he says contradicts Protestant theology (at least in its sacramental forms). Even if the liturgical lingo is alienating and grating to you, as you work it through, be asking yourself: "Isn't this really what my church believes? Or if it isn't, couldn't my church believe and practice these convictions and, in the process, move closer to what we are and want to be, rather than farther from it?"

The second reading, Hoon's "Liturgical Action in Light of the Word" is only three pages long! Yeah, baby! In it Hoon demonstrates that you don't have to be Catholic to write like one. Get over it, read the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples on their way to Emmaus in Luke 24, and appreciate Hoon's contention that Christ's presence to those disciples "in the breaking of the bread" is paradigmatic for Christ's presence to the worshipping Church.

Some of you Baptists might be getting frustrated that we're hearing from so many sacramentalists and Catholics. Well, we're covering the first couple centuries of Christian worship. I've supplied the link to a text that has been dated anywhere from 60-117 AD – in other words, well inside the era when the New Testament was still being written. Read the Didache, asking yourself, "Does this sound more like a nondenominational or Baptist Church, or more like a Catholic Mass?" (By the way, I'm not expecting that to be so easy to answer.)

More importantly, let's try to take some time to examine the Didache as the invaluable historical text that it is, OK?

The third article in Vogel is, I think, the best. I'd like you to devote your closest attention to it. Taft's "What Does Liturgy Do?" is concise and profound. Its theses really nail the topic of Thursday's discussion: How the story of Jesus, the work of Jesus, the presence of Jesus, and the Church Jesus interact in the act of gathered worship. Taft is an "Eastern [or Byzantine] Rite Catholic," which means he is Roman Catholic but worships in a tradition whose liturgy is more like the Eastern Orthodox than the Western European Catholic. (These folks cut a special deal with Rome a long time ago.) But again, couldn't his claims apply to an evangelical Protestant Church?

The questions of these writers' compatibilities with evangelical Protestantism aren't really the most important ones for our discussion. The most important questions we should be asking are whether they help us understand Christian worship in the first couple of centuries (and in the next few too). I'm only asking about evangelical Protesant compatibility to try to defuse some of the natural defensiveness that might make it difficult for some of you to appreciate what these people are trying to say. As this is a "theological history" class, let's engage first in theological history, and try to hold off on deciding who's right and wrong.

Thanks for your hard work, friends. I hope it's paying off already. We'll meet in Voskuyl Thursday. Justin Baker has a quick appraisal of Thomas' presentation, then I'll address one of the two objections I skipped on the first day of class, then we'll go on with that day's presentation and peer review.


1/15:

The chapter from The Study of Liturgy (which I put on reserve Friday afternoon) could describe the agenda for an entire semester. In it D.H. Tripp offers a shopping list of 41 considerations on the relationship between worship and pastoral service. We can't really discuss this on Tuesday, because we'll be combining forces with Music and meeting in Deane Chapel. But you can go ahead and summarize it, however briefly. I wanted you to be able to look it over early in the course, while the practical "payoff" of studying Christian worship might still be unclear. We could easily spend one class session on each one of these claims. So the article serves as a nice preview. In April you might want to look at it again as a review, to see how much we have covered and whether the course has delivered on its promises.

The language is a little churchy, but at least it is decipherable. Get used to looking up unfamiliar terms. Like every field, liturgy has a jargon, and learning the jargon goes hand in hand with learning the discipline.

White's chapter on worship in the NT era should strike you as more straightforward and accessible. Ahhhh. This is the material we and the Music folks are reading together, so the presentation should concentrate on it. The Music class also will be reading a parallel historical chapter from Hustad's Jubilate II concentrating more on music (which for us is merely recommended). Dr. Brothers and I (and perhaps our presenter) will be familiar with that chapter, in case questions on it might come up from Music students.


1/10:

Maynard-Reid is a nice gentle way to begin our course. He is concerned to show that worship through the ages has been "culturally relevant." Let's put it a little differently: Worship through the ages has always been cultural. It has always sought to proclaim the gospel in terms of the life-settings of its worshippers (either by adapting the presentation, or by reforming the lives of the worshippers!). I have assigned the chapter as a quick introduction to the historical variety and continuity of Christian worship, as a grand historical tour of what we will be studying. We will be looking much more closely at each of the eras Maynard-Reid describes. But not today.

Maynard-Reid is concerned to highlight the role of culture and cultural change in shaping Christian worship. In the context of his book, this sets the stage for his treatments of African-American, Hispanic, and Caribbean worship practices. That argument is not yet of first importance for us. However, it does provoke a question – whether the culture or the gospel has been in the driver's seat during both times of change and times of stability. What is their relationship? What should their relationship be?

At the other end of the accessibility spectrum is our second reading. Hoffman's essay, "A Holistic View of Liturgy," shows us what you get when you cross a sociologist and a theologian. The answer isn't very funny, is it? I probably shouldn't have assigned this text until after the add/drop deadline.

But step back, take a breath, and look again. Parts of it actually do make sense. Indeed, it contains many wonderful points. The first paragraph sets out his project: To use the way people pray as a window into who they are (78). If you can survive this little essay, you could well come away with knowledge of how worship communicates character. Why couldn't he say it this clearly? I don't know. Maybe his professors in grad school didn't care as much as I do about how well their students write.

Next, like a surgeon, Hoffman lays out his instruments, and these have names every bit as esoteric as the things on a surgical tray. "Philology", "form-criticism", "history" (OK, that one is familiar) – let's translate them to "study of literature," "mastery of literary devices," and "other historical information" – these are the tools of his trade (79). Of course, you used these things in Old Testament and New Testament, and probably English and Civ, to learn how to read the writings of other cultures. Whatever surgery he's undertaking, it's apparently not brain surgery. At least not yet. (But it sure sounds intimidating when he wraps it in all that technical language, eh?)

Likewise with the smokescreen of his invocation of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. In fact, if you understand the Uncertainty Principle, you will recognize that Hoffman apparently doesn't understand it. He's talking about something we RS types call a "hermeneutical circle," where what you learn about one aspect of something then lends new insight on something else, which in turn sheds new insight back on the first aspect. That's not the Uncertainty Principle. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite. He should stick to sociology and drop the pop physics.

As far as I can tell, this long, long paragraph boils down to two meaningful sentences: "In the act of prayer, a people acts out the world as it sees it; and then scatter to shape their lives according to that vision. So it is not enough just to preserve the texts of those prayers; we need to know how those texts, when used in worship, affected those who prayed them" (paraphrased from 79).

After all the noise has been cleared away, I think that emerges as a pretty helpful point. All Hoffman is saying is that you can learn more about people who pray by looking not just at what they pray, but also at how the praying changes them.

In fact, when put this simply, it looks so obvious that we wonder why we had to pay forty bucks for it. But think about how many Christians (especially people in our own churches) are convinced that naked biblical texts – say, of the Psalms – reveal all that's important, all by themselves. "All I need is Jesus, and the Gideons, and me." Tell these fellow worshippers how important the Westmont faculty think historical and social and rhetorical context are to understanding how these texts have worked God's will over the centuries, and they'll get suspicious and worry that Westmont's too liberal and tell you that you really should have gone to Master's College, where they just teach Bible.

But, Hoffman helps us ask, don't we learn more about the Bible as we learn more about the people who use it in worship, and not just vice versa? Well, don't we? Don't an Augustine and a Luther and a Wesley throw light on the psalms that changed their lives? Don't our new Westmont president and our new campus pastor? And isn't that what you're hoping for your life? That people would see the Word of God written into your life and shouting its mercies out of it?

Back (with a thud) to our reading, where Hoffman now draws together his argument (79). When you take the study of a text and combine it with the study of its communal practice (or, to use a dirty word here at Westmont, its "ritual"), you get what he calls its "liturgical field."

Now he offers an example: havdalah, which is the ceremony that marks the end of the Jewish Sabbath. (How did I know that? I looked it up in my old collegiate dictionary.) Here he floats again into the academic stratosphere, then returns with a sentence that says all that really needed to be said: "Saturday night may be just the middle of a weekend for others, but for Jews enwrapt in (and enraptured by) havdalah, it is the guarantee that they very world is passing from a state of holy to one of profane" (80). In other words: When analyzing the Jewish prayer that closes the Sabbath, it really helps to watch how Jews who pray it aren't just marking the passage of time, but are returning to the common ("profane") world in which they live six-sevenths of their lives, after the nourishing rest of the holy Seventh Day. The prayer doesn't just sit there in a book in a rabbi's study. It lives, in the worlds of those who practice it, of whose whose weekly rituals (we all have them) includes it.

Hey, that's pretty much what I said in class to answer Jake Reid's question about Sunday or Monday being the first day of the week! For lots of people, Sunday is a day to sleep in, sober up, and watch sports. For the children of God, it is a feast of the New Creation begun at Jesus' tomb. Why? Because we're in Church on Sunday mornings, that's why. (Maybe I could get published in one of these volumes, if only I could stop using all these small words.)

Is this reading beginning to make sense? I hope so. I'm being tough on the guy because I think this article could be much more effective if only it were much simpler. And frankly I'm (1) outraged that academic writing makes it this difficult for you folks to know what the hell we pencilnecks are talking about, and (2) embarrassed that too often my own writing is inexcusably complex. Immorally complex. "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us." And as we mend our ways.

Following the refreshingly clear asterisks on page 80 is a whole paragraph that should make sense. And it's an important one. Remember what he's saying here as you read texts that belong to other worlds – the Didache, old Orthodox and Catholic and Lutheran liturgies, and heck, the Psalms of ancient Israel. Hoffman is showing why a Tremper Longman or a Bill Nelson breathes life into biblical material in ways that I, who lack their deep knowledge of ancient Israel, cannot. And he's warning us that without historical and cultural context, the Catholic liturgy will be just as impenetrable to us as the Song of Songs is to a typical casual reader at Border's. It takes hard work to perceive the life in these texts. (But wow, the life we find when we do the work!)

Next, Hoffman plunders the Sociology Department and brings over a very important insight. Religious communities, like all human communities, love to throw up boundaries – not just to distinguish themselves from radical alternatives, but especially to distinguish themselves from close neighbors. I would never make cheap shots at Catholics the way I just made a cheap shot at Master's College.

(And by the way, after an outburst like that, how much would you really trust a service analysis from me of a Master's chapel service, or a service at the church of MC's pope, John MacArthur? The bottom of 80 and the whole of 81 also suggest that we "objective" analysts are censors too.)

Hoffman uses Jewish movements to illustrate his point, but guess what: Christians have been throwing up boundary markers in church from the beginning. Nor is this necessarily a bad thing: "Jesus is Lord" is a boundary marker. From among those who worship the God of Israel, it distinguishes those who worship Jesus as the God of Israel. Most of us think that's a pretty important boundary! So, he says, we can study a community's worship rituals to see how it excludes and even disses its rivals, especially "close cousins" (81). And that gives us clues to the character of that worshipping community. Did you know that Eastern Orthodox church services still regularly condemn Arius, Nestorius, Apollinarius, and other figures from the fourth and fifth centuries? What does that tell you about Eastern Orthodox worship, doctrine, and life?

Then Hoffman concludes that worship functions for identification as powerfully, if not more powerfully, than for distinction (82). To pray the same prayer (or for Christians to teach the same Bible, sing the same songs, or confess the same creed) is to unite communities over space and time into something larger – say, the universal Church. The worship language that does this he calls "sacred myth." (You probably know by now that he doesn't mean by this that it's not true.) He makes the further point that this identifying language doesn't have to be entire songs or creeds; little symbols and allusions are enough. Think of how Paul uses "our fathers" in 1 Cor. 10 when writing to a bunch of Gentile Christians. One little phrase is a window into a whole mythological world. He calls this "normal exegetical mythologizing." Catchy. I like to think that I could do better, but at 1 a.m., I can't.

Whatever the label, this is another insight worth the "price" of the article. How do both the striking and the subtle symbols and images of our worship texts and rituals unite and divide communities? Look for clues at your next church service or Westmont chapel and you'll see what Hoffman is talking about.

Worship language's identifying function is powerful enough to assist in the conversion of its practitioners (82-83). To agree that "Jesus is Lord" is to convert, to gain an identity and (perhaps) lose others, to join a community and (perhaps) leave others. And it is, isn't it?

Finally Hoffman summarizes the three aspects of his "liturgical field": cultural backdrop, master image, and synecdochal vocabulary (83). Those aren't exactly helpful terms, but they do tip us off to the fact that he has tried to identify three things we should care about. Describe those in your own words, and as far as I'm concerned, your summaries will rock.

The rest of the article is what at Duke we called a "theory swamp." Don't bother reading past the last sentence I mentioned from 83. It'll just frustrate you out of the hard-won gains of the previous pages. Stuff like this is why the rest of the world has stopped listening to academics in the humanities and social sciences, and why nowadays we mainly just talk to – or at – each other.

However, Hoffman's very last sentence is a decent summary of the whole: "The holistic study of liturgy" which he's been advocating in these pages "may begin with the text but must eventually go beyond it – to the people, to their meanings, to their assumed constructs, and to their ritualized patterns that make their world uniquely their own" (86).

This is a frustrating article, even for me. And parts of it just aren't worth it, even for me. But parts of it really are. My job on Thursday, I guess, is to help you appreciate its worth.


1/8:

In our second reading, from Dalmais, right off the bat you will run into words being used in very strange ways, when you recognize them at all.

Welcome to my world.

Invest the time to understand them, and you will be rewarded, both in this age and in the age to come. Here are a few leads:

  • As you have probably learned in Old Testament, in worship the word "cult" refers to the worship of something, and "cultic" is an adjective meaning "pertaining to worship." I belong to the "cult of Jesus," since I worship Jesus of Nazareth as Lord. (Geez – I'm a theolater and a member of a cult.)
  • "Liturgy" means "the communal work of worshipping."
  • The "collective psyche" refers to the "mind of the crowd" – the corporate identity of those gathered together. Go to a basketball game in Murchison Gym and you will find yourself a part of a collective psyche.
  • The "inalienable values of the person"! A "vehicle of values"? "Relations with a world that the senses cannot directly grasp?" Eeek! If you know me well enough, you know that this kind of modernism drives me crazy. Oh well. The poor guy was born in 1914 – a little early to be a postmodernist. This essay is shot through with modern assumptions which I would like you to reject, or better yet, never learn in the first place. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, then great. You're probably in the second camp.) Nevertheless, this unhelpful language still serves one useful purpose, reminding us that the study of liturgy is no less inculturated than liturgy itself.

Reading these pieces feels like cutting through a jungle with a table knife. Take heart that (1) they're not that long, (2) many of our readings are easier, and (3) you will get much better at reading them. Before you give up on Dalmais, look at the subheads and use them to help you interpret the copy under them: "The liturgy as social act," "the liturgy as symbolic action," "the liturgy as sacral action," "the liturgical assembly as celebration and feast," and "the liturgy as act of the Church." What does he mean by these? Remember, you don't need to write up this chapter. This part is just for fun.