Easter in Moscow

I’ve always wanted to see the Easter Liturgy in Moscow. First, because of Maurice Baring’s wonderful description in The Puppet Show of Memory, but also because I have a friend who was actually converted by it. He had been raised a complete atheist and knew practically nothing about religion. But then one Holy Saturday he was stuck in Moscow on account of the trains not running or something. He resigned himself to walking through the streets all night, but then found a church, went in, stayed the whole night there, and was converted.

Now I find that the Patriarchate has posted youtube clips of pretty much the whole service (part 1 above). First comes Matins, with the procession around the outside of the Church described by Baring. My favorite part though starts at about the 38 minute mark when first the patriarch and then one after another the other bishops and priests enter the sanctuary and then come out again and shout “Хрїстóсъ воскрéсе!” (Christ is Risen!) and the whole church responds “Воистину воскресе!” (He is risen indeed!). I guess it represents the apostles repeatedly checking the grave and proclaiming the Resurrection to one another.

The Prince and the State in the Third Millennium

His Serene Highness Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein, was in these parts a few weeks ago giving a lecture at the International Theological Institute in Trumau. The basic idea of the lecture (which was based on His Highness’s book, The State in the Third Millenium, and is pretty well summarized in the interview embedded above) was that the state in the third millennium should be a service company providing certain useful goods to its citizens. His Highness explained that he was lead to this rather prosaic vision by the problem of religious freedom as it is understood today. The traditional legitimation of the monarchy had of course been Divine Right, but once Enlightenment style religious pluralism become accepted as the norm, such a legitimation became problematic. The Prince went in search of another model, and, living in Liechtenstein, it was perhaps not altogether surprising that he came up with a pretty boring shop-keeperish, paleo-capitalist, democratic legitimation: one which sees the ruling family as a sort of old and trusted family business (as Aelianus put it in the Q&A). The purpose of his book is to propose his model as the model for the state in the third millennium.

There are numerous objections that one could raise against His Highness’s model. If there is one thing that Marxist economics has shown, it is that the internal contradictions of capitalism are such that stability in one place can only be bought at the price of instability in another place. The stable prosperity of Liechtenstein and Switzerland can only be maintained because other places pay the price for their usury. Sometime I shall explore that theme in more detail (it basically follows from what Chesterton says about the capitalist wanting the same man to be rich and poor at the same time), but now I want to focus on another objection.

The most obvious objection is that this model is too boring. In the Q&A I asked His Highness what he thought of the future of a rival model: the model which Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has developed in Russia. I quoted a Russian friend of mine who says that he doesn’t care about the lack of civil rights or any of that kind of stuff; what he cares about is that under Putin Russia is again trying to assert her power. He cares about the glory of Russia. This is the sort of timocratic vision of a state that one can rally armies around. And that is why I don’t think a paleo-capitalist, cuckoo-clock democratic model of the state is really going to be the wave of the future. I rather tend to agree with Slavoj Žižek’s oft repeated prediction that the state in the third millennium is likely to follow the late-capitalist authoritarian model of Putin and Berlusconi.

His Serene Highness gave an interesting reply. He said that man is a strange creature. On the one hand he is an individualist who looks out for his private interest, but on the other hand he also has a “herd instinct”, which leads him to seek group-inclusion and to massacre those who are not part of his group. The herd instinct (said His Serene Highness) is best satisfied by the communal satisfactions of religion, but when religion is weak it finds an outlet in destructive ideologies such as nationalism.

This is a rather pessimistic view of man: divided between selfish greed and irrational mob ecstasy. St. Thomas would argue that there is another side of man that is the proper principle of political community: his ability to participate in common goods. The common good, properly speaking, appeals both to man’s natural love of his own fulfillment–since it is the good of those who participate in it–but also to his communal nature–for it is a good superior to his own singular good. But, as I have argued before, to be ordered to the common good in the proper sense it is necessary that a political community order its common good explicitly to God. Thus we see that it follows from the acceptance of the  “enlightened” separation of Church and state that the only models of the state left are Prince Hans-Adam’s boring model, Vladimir Putin’s oppressive one, or some mixture of the two.

Per Evangelica Dicta

How are we to understand the silent prayer after the Gospel at Mass: “Per evangelica dicta, deleantur nostra delicta: By the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out”? How does the reading of the Gospel blot out our sins? The brilliant German novelist Martin Mosebach in one of the essays in his rather idiosyncratic book on the Liturgy uses this prayer as an argument for having the Gospel read in Latin: the reading of the Gospel is much more than proclamation; in it Christ becomes present, and it thus as the character of a sacramental an efficacious, sin-forgiving blessing. (Häresie der Formlosigkeit, 2nd. ed. 135) I have no problem with reading the Gospel in Latin, but I think that Mosebach’s argument tends to muddle the distinction between sacramental and sacrament a bit. We say a sacrament is efficacious “ex opere operato,” from the work done, but a sacramental “ex opere operantis,” from the work of the doer. Mosebach seems to be wanting the sacramental to work like a sacrament: as if it were irrelevant whether one understood the words of the Gospel for them to have their effect. In the case of a sacrament this is clear; Ronald Knox famously remarked, on being asked to use the vernacular for a Baptism, “the baby doesn’t understand English and the Devil knows Latin.” But in the case of a sacramental this is not at all clear.

Although the subtitle of Mosebach’s book is “On the Roman Liturgy and its Enemy” its spirit is rather Byzantine than Roman. I think this is manifest in many parts of the book, but perhaps nowhere so clearly as in the place just cited. For Byzantine theology does not distinguish between sacraments and sacramentals. There is an old Russian story which gives gives a kind of exaggerated version of what Mosebach seems to be thinking: A monk gives a drunkard a copy of the Gospel in Church Slavonic, and advises him to read it whenever he wants a drink, but the man assures the monk that he does not understand Church Slavonic and the book can be of no use to him.

But the monk went on to assure me that in the very words of the Gospel there lay a gracious power, for in them was written what God himself has spoken. ‘It does not matter very much if at first you do not understand. […] If you do not understand the Word of God, the devils understand what you are reading and tremble […] St. John Chrysostom writes that even a room in which a copy of the Gospels is kept holds the spirits of darkness at bay and becomes an unpromising field for their wiles.’

Now, I don’t want to deny that there might be something to all this, Chrysostom  is a strong authority, but it is hardly likely that this typically Byzantine enthusiasm is what the Roman Liturgy is referring to with “per evangelica dicta…” The Roman tradition places great emphasis on attention to the liturgically proclaimed word, “ut mens nostra concordet voci nostrae” (Regula Benedicti XIX,7). Even one of the most Byzantine-spirited Latin theologians, the “Origen of the 20th century,” H. U. von Balthasar, is very Roman when it comes to this question. Like Origen himself Balthasar occasionally makes a really good point:

It is essential to listen [to the word] obediently and with full attention, not least as a means of purification and preparation for holy communion (“You are made clean by the word which I have spoken to you” [Jn 15:3]; “Per evangelica dicta deleantur nostra delicta”). This attention is therefore necessary as a liturgical act, i.e., an act pertaining to the worship of the whole Church. Consequently it is wrong to isolate this act, which can only be a personal act, and as such makes ready for the sacramental act of holy communion, and to sacramentalize it, ascribing to it a kind of ex opere operato effect which is totally foreign.

The contact which we have with the Word in the Gospel is a preparation for the union which we will have with Him in through the Sacrament, which is itself a foretaste of the union which we will have with Him in the Beatific Vision.

The contact with him in the Gospel is the contact of faith. Blessed Columba Marmion’s Christ the Life of the Soul is largely concerned with how the contact that we have with Christ through faith is the foundation of the spiritual life and our adoption as sons. Thus when the Gospel is proclaimed in we come into real contact with the Light of the world, who reveals to us our sin and blots it out on condition that we believe:

For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God. (Jn 3:16-21)