30 June 2011

Royal duty versus celebrity

Father Raymond de Souza writes in advance of the visit of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Canada: Lifestyles of the noto-rich-and-famous.
Queen Elizabeth II has visited New York City three times, which is the same number of trips she has made to Moose Jaw [Saskatchewan]. She has gone where her duty takes her. . . .

It is necessary that, on occasion, the Royals visit Hollywood and Fifth Avenue, but the occasions must be rare. The world of new money and fleeting celebrity is corrosive to the dignity and tradition that a monarchy sustains, and which sustains it in turn. The purpose of a Royal visit is not to chase after the people whom the world celebrates, but rather to bring the spotlight to those people and places which are not especially famous or powerful, but deserving all the same. Princes do not need wealth or fame, and it is unbecoming for them to lust after it.

Wise words indeed. I hope the future king and queen have read Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution and an early edition of Robert MacGregor Dawson's Government of Canada, which should definitely be part of their political education.

26 June 2011

Chanting the psalms, daily prayer

An acquaintance recently called to my attention two paragraphs from the Second Helvetic Confession, one of the confessional standards of the Swiss and Hungarian Reformed Churches, as well as of the Presbyterian Church (USA):
Of the Prayers of the Church, of Singing, and of Canonical Hours

SINGING. Likewise moderation is to be exercised where singing is used in a meeting for worship. That song which they call the Gregorian Chant has many foolish things in it; hence it is rightly rejected by many of our churches. If there are churches which have a true and proper sermon but no singing, they ought not to be condemned. For all churches do not have the advantage of singing. And it is well known from testimonies of antiquity that the custom of singing is very old in the Eastern Churches whereas it was late when it was at length accepted in the West.

CANONICAL HOURS. Antiquity knew nothing of canonical hours, that is, prayers arranged for certain hours of the day, and sung or recited by the Papists, as can be proved from their breviaries and by many arguments. But they also have not a few absurdities, of which I say nothing else; accordingly they are rightly omitted by churches which substitute in their place things that are beneficial for the whole Church of God.

There are a number of things erroneously rejected by many of the Reformers, whose knowledge of antiquity was not always accurate, including the sursum corda in the Lord's Supper and the sign of the cross. In this case the authors of the Confession appear to have been unaware that chanting the Psalms in the course of daily prayer has ancient roots in the church, extending back into biblical times. See, for example, Psalm 119:164: "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances." Also Daniel 6:10: "[Daniel] got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God. . . ." And Acts 10:9: "Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour." Following scripture, the Rule of St. Benedict prescribed (or, perhaps better, codified) seven daily prayer offices for use in the monasteries:
As the Prophet saith: "Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee" (Ps 118[119]:164), this sacred sevenfold number will be fulfilled by us in this wise if we perform the duties of our service at the time of Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Complin; because it was of these day hours that he hath said: "Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee" (Ps 118[119]:164). For the same Prophet saith of the night watches: "At midnight I arose to confess to Thee" (Ps 118[119]:62). At these times, therefore, let us offer praise to our Creator "for the judgments of His justice;" namely, at Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Complin; and let us rise at night to praise Him (cf Ps 118[119]:164, 62).

Although St. Benedict intended these daily prayer offices for monastic communities, it seems evident that they were much more widespread in the early church. The Muslim practice of praying five times daily, which many westerners regard as strange, obviously has roots in earlier Jewish and Christian usage.

The Reformers recovered so many ancient things lost to the mediaeval church, especially the doctrines of grace. Yet, given what we know now of the ancient church and its liturgical practices, it is difficult not to conclude that in some instances they were too quick to discard usages that ought to have been retained.

02 June 2011

The Geneva Bible's influence

This passage from Marilynne Robinson’s The Death of Adam makes me wonder whether we should have celebrated the 450th anniversary of the Geneva Bible last year in preference to observing the 400th of the King James Version this year:

“The Geneva Bible, first published in 1560, was a very great influence on political thought in England and America. It was the Bible of Shakespeare and Milton, the Bible one hears referred to sometimes as the ‘breeches’ Bible, because its Adam and Eve, unlike the Adam and Eve of the King James Bible, did not have the presence of mind to fashion their fig leaves into ‘aprons.’ The implication is that it was a crude or naive translation, but in fact it is largely identical with the King James Bible, which was published in 1611. . . . The great difference is that the copious interpretive notes that fill the margins of the Geneva Bible are gone from the King’s Authorized Version. . . . Printing of this Bible in England was forbidden, and it was gradually driven out of circulation in England and America by the King James Version, which basks in the legend that it is a masterpiece created by a committee, and enjoys the reputation of having been the great watershed of English-language literature” (The Death of Adam, p. 197).

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