Enthusiasts for tradition

This week, Vice ran an important set of micro-interviews between Alyssa Girdwain and some young Roman Catholic priests: “We asked Millennial priests how they’re courting the least religious generation” (May 25). Being a Millennial and very nearly a priest, I was intrigued when it came through my Facebook feed, not least for its claim that vocations seem to be surging among the young. (Biretta tip to Fr. Jonathan Turtle, assistant curate at the Anglican Church of St. Mary and St. Martha, Toronto.)

I was most interested in how these young priests seem to understand liturgy and ministry. One notes a genuine sense of excitement about the opportunity of the present moment: with all the old certainties and hang-ups of previous generations swept away, there’s a lot of scope simply to start afresh. I was also intrigued by the statement of Fr. Conor Sullivan at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri:

These days, younger guys are typically more traditional. You’ll see young priests in their cassocks … and you’ll find that a great many of them like Latin in the liturgy and beautiful old art and architecture. Some critics of this new crop of seminarians and young priests have objected to me, “You young guys just want to take the church back in time, back before Vatican II.” I typically respond, “I’m not interested in going backward or forward. Just upwards, toward heaven.”

Add a few heavy beards or some more stylish glasses than most of these guys were sporting and you could make this the story of so many young, Catholic-minded, Anglican ordinands, clergy, and laity right now.


Or could you?

I thought this trend of a sort of young traditionalism was generally true until the past year or so. Now I have met a number of Church of England catholics — committed to the small “c” and to what is now the “old school” interpretation and reception of post-Vatican II movements within Anglicanism. Indeed, you find here enthusiasts for such delights as the now standard Mass versus populum, “contemporary” hymns and praise songs (i.e., of the period from 1960 to 1990), informal worship, and cassock albs.

How to account for this difference? My gut instinct is to say it’s the difference between converts and cradle Anglicans. Most of the Catholic-minded types I know in the States — real lovers of tradition — are converts to Anglicanism, either from atheism or from other Christian denominations. Or they have returned to the Church after many years away. Most of the “traditionalist” types I know in England come from similar stock, drawn to faith by liturgy, beauty, and tradition.

But many of the sort of liberal catholic enthusiasts I have met in England were born and bred in the C of E, living their way through the Alternative Service Book and the dawn of Common Worship, the fights about women’s ordination, and the worship wars, among other things. They associate all that traditionalist stuff with their grandparents.

There just might be some data to back up this anecdotal observation. See the Contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales survey released this week by the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, as well as this secondary analysis from the Theos think tank. Ninety-three percent of C of E members are cradle Anglicans; converts from atheism, other religions, or other denominations make up a very small percentage of the faithful. I don’t doubt it affects churchmanship.

Enthusiasts for beautiful music

I was in Birmingham this past week, and had the pleasure of taking in a performance by the Ex Cathedra Consort, one of the finest and most innovative early music ensembles in Britain. “In a Strange Land,” their program, was simply incredible, exploring “man’s personal search for heaven and earth in the world-changing and turbulent years of the 16th and 17th centuries,” with music in French, English, Spanish, Nahautl, Quechua, Latin, and Chiquitan.

It was my first time hearing some of the earliest church music composed in and for the New World, such as the “Symbolo Catholico Indiano” of 1598, a paraphrase of the Apostles’ Creed in Quechua. Even more evocative was “Hanac pacha cussicuinin,” thought to be the “oldest printed polyphony in the Americas (1631) … appear[ing] at the end of Juan de Peréz Bocanegra’s Ritual formulario.” The English translation in the program reads:

The bliss of heaven
I will worship you a thousandfold
Revered fruit of a mature tree
Long awaited by your people
Protection of spiritual strength
Heed my call.

May there be glory for the Lord
And for his Son likewise
And also for the Holy Ghost
May there be glory for all eternity
For the life of all sustenance
May there be delight. Amen.

These latter two pieces were set in the second half of the program, among the texts of Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla’s Mass Ego flos campi (ca. 1653), composed most probably for the choir of Puebla Cathedral where he was maestro de capilla. There was a real energy to the New World compositions (listen, e.g., to this recording of the “Credo,” after the first 20 seconds or so), something reflected also in Spanish music of the century before. Amid all the criticisms of colonial missionary activity in the New World, we sometimes forget the real vitality and cultural creativity of Spanish Catholicism in the 15th to 17th centuries. It was a reminder (and a lesson) for me regarding the possibilities of intercultural exchange at a period of missionary endeavor.

A lesson to remember for our own time, during a period of “new evangelization.” Who knows what new or refreshed art forms could emerge?

Enthusiasts for dissonance: Canadians?

Anyone who read my first “Gathering the fruit” two weeks ago will know I am something of an enthusiast for early music. There, I found myself interested by Robert Heaney’s idea of a “catholicity from below” involving “narrative and counter-narrative,” and I proposed the use of a musical paradigm to avoid an oppositional model. I underlined the significance of exchanges and dissonance in early and choral music: “difference, play, unique progressions, and returns to the original theme” are key, and as a singer, one must “attend” properly to such moments.

For that reason, I was intrigued to read through part of a recent report of the Anglican Church of Canada, This Holy Estate, which was written to propose a change to the church’s marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage. The commission asked to create this report was supposed to determine, among other things, whether changing the canon would be “in harmony with the Solemn Declaration [of 1893].”

The Declaration identified how the Anglican Church of Canada is in Communion with the Church of England. Among its most important statements is that the Anglican Church of Canada is

determined by the help of God to hold and maintain the Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of Christ as the Lord hath commanded in His Holy Word, and as the Church of England hath received and set forth the same in “The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the Use of the Church of England; together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches; and the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests and Deacons;” and in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion; and to transmit the same unimpaired to our posterity. (emphasis added)

BCP, Psalter, Ordinal, 39 Articles: these were and are to provide the space within which the Canadian church shapes its life, doctrine, and practices. So it is no surprise that This Holy Estate asks whether allowing same-sex marriage is even theoretically possible by a church that affirms this declaration. It would appear to stand directly against the doctrine of marriage in its authoritative documents.

But the report goes on, exploring a metaphorical understanding of “harmony.”

To be in harmony implies a concordance or fitting together such as that based on rules of tonality in musical theory rather than an identical correspondence. However, the definition of “harmony” remains the question. Although there can be tensions and dissonances in harmonic progressions, perpetual dissonances are not termed “harmonious.” What level of dissonance and tension is acceptable within a continued harmony with the Solemn Declaration? (This Holy Estate 3.2)

Given what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, this passage drew my eye, or ear. It is notable that the report asserts that various developments of the past century were not considered “dissonant”: revision of the Book of Common Prayer and the writing of the Book of Alternative Services, the ordination of women, the allowance of divorce and remarriage, and reception of Communion without confirmation.

Two things are worthy of brief comment. First, I have no doubt that some considered these latter developments “dissonant” and perhaps even argued that they contravened the Solemn Declaration. Second, I don’t think the musical metaphor really works here.

I said before that dissonance is an acceptable, exciting, necessary, and even wonderful part of beautiful music. The same might be said of doctrine: tensions, question, contradiction, and exploration are all key, if the church’s public teaching is to avoid becoming stale, rote repetition.

This Holy Estate’s idea of “dissonance and tension” is somewhat different. It describes “harmonic progression” and “tonality in musical theory,” without quite exploring either idea. One could not imagine the Church’s doctrine as a kind of continual chord progression. In most music, harmonies develop from measure to measure within an established key: there is a root, a tonic that helps provide the harmonic shape of a piece and harmonious developments and melodies. A piece doesn’t just go off the rails.

Chord progression also does not simply move upwards, abandoning the root. This is true even if a piece changes key one or more times. A proper modulation into a new key must be executed elegantly, usually around a pivot chord or set of chords to prevent a jarring shift. Even in this change, a musical piece does not abandon tonality, although dissonance and tension may be present. Moreover, pieces often return to an original chord again and again, even if they have gone through many changes.

I hope the challenge of using musical metaphors comes through. It wouldn’t be easy to ally the concept of “progressive politics,” for instance, to an idea of chord progression.

If the development of doctrine and church practice were anything like the performance of a piece of music, we could not imagine that shifts (“harmonic progression”) would happen abruptly or lazily, unless the execution of change were meant to be disastrous, jarring, or upsetting.

One also does not introduce dissonance to no end. Throughout the Ex Cathedra Consort performance I mentioned above, I was thinking about how dissonance in those polyphonic texts is used to draw attention to sorrowful or poignant words, phrases, and emotions — things like sin, or the redemptive death of Christ, or the soul’s yearning for love or peace.

What then does it say to introduce the concept of “dissonance” when speaking of a proposed development of marital doctrine? Is “dissonance,” prolonged or otherwise, the only way to characterize attempts to graft same-sex marriage into the Church’s teaching and practices?

Dr. Zachary Guiliano is an associate editor at The Living Church, and an ordinand in the Diocese of Ely. His other posts are here.

The featured image of Ex Cathedra comes via Spitalfields. Photo credit: Neil Pugh.  

About The Author

The Rev. Dr. Zachary Guiliano is chaplain and career development research fellow at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. 

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.