Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pick and Choose

Not your usual post about "cafeteria Catholicism."

Is it possible for a Latin to identify exclusively with certain parts of his ecclesial tradition and not with others. For example, stained-glassed windows may have a place as a form of sacred art but Gothic architecture, while grandiose and conveying the scene of God's transcendent glory, may nonetheless be lacking in other ways, especially with respect to being a fitting place for the celebration of the Eucharist if the building is too big. In that case the problem may be more of scale than of architecture. But Gothic even on a small scale, even wooden neo-gothic temples, may still be less than ideal, especially if coupled with sculpture or carvings done in the Gothic style.

Perhaps I could be convinced otherwise.

But back to my original query: if I were my Latin, what is my ecclesial heritage? Is it an all or nothing affair? Do I need to acknowledge all styles of sacred architecture as being part of my heritage, or can I pick and choose? What if I identify more with classical, mediterranean Christianity of the early Church and the Church Fathers and less with medieval Latin Christianity (or Baroque and beyond)?

Because of the papacy, Latin Catholics are used to seeing Western Christendom as having a single ecclesial culture or tradition. Let's identify two components to this (there are others, such as liturgical customs and rites, other practices, saints that receive special honor):
1. artistic expressions of that tradition (architecture, painting, sculpture, music)
2. theological expressions of the tradition

I wouldn't consider the Latin Fathers peculiar to a specific ecclesial tradition; all of the Fathers of the Church constitute a common patrimony for the Church Universal, even if certain Fathers are emphasized by some traditions more than others. (Though some Latin Fathers may be favored over others in a theological tradition or school.)

It seems to me that it is legitimate for a Latin Christian to identify with certain styles of artistic expression more than others, specially if we take into consideration the national origins of those styles. Latin theological traditions may seem to be more "international" in character since historically they were expressed in Latin. But it was legitimate even back then for Latins to favor one theological tradition over another. No one could truly claim that a medieval Latin monk was less "Latin" (much less Catholic) than a mendicant for preferring monastic theology to scholastic theology. Rather than a Latin monoculture, should we instead think of there being a legitimate diversity within Latin (or Western) [Catholic] Christianity? If there can be not only a legitimate pluralism in theological expressions and schools but a legitimate preference, why not with respect to artistic expressions?

One need not pretend that other artistic styles or traditions do not exist, but I think one can properly maintain that they don't have as central a place in one's received ecclesial tradition or identity than those that are preferred. But is it possible for a Latin Christian to have an ecclesial tradition or identity alone, or whether a Latin ecclesial tradition is specific to a community or local Church, and not to individuals. If the latter is true, then only a community or local Church could have an ecclesial tradition, while an individual believer can have only a preference. Moreover, since the Latin Churches have become more centralized around Rome and the number of liturgical rites in use has been reduced to one, the Roman (for the most part), can any local Church really claim that it continues to bear an ecclesial tradition, one that is historically proper to it?