Tag Archives: sacraments

Interview 031—Eric Ybarra on the Challenge of Eastern Orthodoxy

Part I

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Part II

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Today we are joined by Eric Ybarra, a convert from Anglicanism to talk about the challenge presented by Eastern Orthodoxy. Eric lays out what exactly Eastern Orthodoxy is (Greek, Russian, Middle Eastern, etc.) and their many differences with the Catholic Church (contrary to popular belief, it is much more than simply the papacy and the filioque). Eric also offers us a penetrating analysis into the history of the Papacy in the first millennium and how the filioque is supported by Church Fathers.

Episode Notes

NB: Work in Progress. We will be adding reference links shortly.

Interview 028 – Fr. Chad Ripperger, PhD on Metaphysics, Evolution, Divorce and Remarraige


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ripperger_pipePrepare for the Exhortation by getting the right principles to judge it! Fr. Ripperger rejoins us for a serious conversation on Metaphysics, its importance, the Thomistic tradition in metaphysics and how the modern philosophy and evolution are opposed to the principles of metaphysics and are the main cause for divorce and remarriage. You’ll want to listen to this one twice.

 

 

Resources for Fr. Ripperger
Interview 008 – Exorcism and issues in Theology
The Metaphysics of Evolution
Introduction to the Science of Mental Health
The Morality of the Exterior Act

If you liked this, then consider supporting my translation de_romano_pontifice_vol2_frontwork, especially if you want sound Theology from a great doctor of the Church. St. Robert Bellarmine’s complete treatise on the Papacy is in English for the first time! Click here for more details.

Notes:
Metaphysics
Evolution—For the inability of evolution to stand the test as a scientific argument, see Interview 011 with Hugh Owen of the Kolbe Center
Gender identity disorder
Girl believes she is cat trapped in human body
One false doctrine makes a religion false

The god of surprises vs. the Tradition on Feet Washing

Just today, the Congregation of Divine Worship, at the command of Pope Francis, has decreed that women must be included in the Mandatum, that is the washing of the feet for Holy Thursday, effective this year. Thus, the god of surprises has come to visit us just in time for Septuagesima and the beginning of Lent.

There are lot’s of things to say, but the most important thing is to treat it dispassionately and in union with the Tradition. Pope Francis has said that those who resist change are closed to the working of the spirit, who cling to the way things have always been done are closed to the message of the Gospel. In spite of the twisting of the sense of Scripture in that particular discussion (my basis for which is the original Italian of Francis’ words, not some media report), let’s give him that for the moment. He posits a dichotomy of those who only want to do things the way things were, vs. those who want to apply new things. Thus we don’t receive a teaching and a praxis conditioned by the tradition of signs and symbols that lead us to Christ, to the teaching of the Gospel and the very person of Christ, but rather to the whims of this or that age. What is new and hip and inclusive in our age will be outmoded in the next age.

Moreover, the opposition is not comprised of those who say we must do everything as it has always been done, but that there is a reason why things have been done this way. Thus, the onus is on the Pope to explain why something in the traditional signs and symbols is somehow insufficient to express the reality of the Gospel. The problem is, he prescinds from this, and simply characterizes the opposition as a stick in the mud. It is one thing if he were to show how the traditional signs and symbols were insufficient for some reason, this is possible and the Church is in fact always in need of renewal. But can he show the use of men alone is somehow opposed to the expression of the Gospel?

The practice of washing the feet of men is supposed to express the relationship of Christ with his Apostles, not merely with the Christian community. Still, for all that, there is ample testimony of the Fathers that could be applied also to the community of the faithful, including examples where women’s feet were washed by the Bishop, just not during the Maundy Thursday liturgy. But then again, that might be too much the way things have always been done. The teaching of the Fathers on the question is well summarized by Cornelius á Lapide, in his commentary on the relevant passage of the Gospel (John XIII:6-10), which will suffice for our purposes here: [NB: My translation. There is a very good translation of this available from Loretto, but I do not have it at hand]

“St. Bernard understands in this place as if it were a  sacrament, a symbol, a type, a figure, a mystical meaning as he explains a little after, on which we will say more soon.
Symbolicly, Origen and St. Jerome [epist. ad Damasus, de prima visione Isaiae] reckon that Christ washed the feet of the Apostles in order that he might prepare them to preach the Gospel, according to what is said: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, and that preaches peace: of him that shows forth good!’ [Isaiah LII:7; Rom. X:15].
Secondly, S. Ambrose, [de iis qui initiantur mysteriis, cap. vi] reckons that Christ in baptism washes away actual sins by washing the head, but here by washing the feet, he washed the remnant of original sin, that is, the motion of concupiscence, for in this washing of the feet, it is effected to have fortified them so that they would resist concupiscence.
Thirdly, St. Augustine and St. Bernard [de Cœna Domini] say: “By such feet we tread over the earth, the love of the earth is signified, filth and defects, which, while on earth, that is while we live among earthly affairs, just as the dust or mud on our feet it behooves us to wash by tears and penance, especially before holy communion.
Fourthly, St. Cyprian [de Cœna Domini] and St. Gregory [lib. ix epist. 39]: “Of the feet, which are the lowest and last part of man, the washing means not only that we must scrutinize our exterior works, but that we must descend even to the lowest and most intimate hidden corners of our conscience, and purge them from every secret stain and wicked intention through contrition, tears and groans.
From this washing of the feet by Christ, the custom of Milan, and several other churches, sprung up that the Bishop would wash those who were going to be baptized, and thereafter the priests and clerics in the font, who stood straight for this purpose outside the Church; thereafter the Bishop kissed the feet of those he washed, and they placed the outer part of the foot over the head of the bishop. St. Ambrose relates and defends this custom [lib. III de Sacram. cap. 1] and says that it was begun by St. Peter and Christ, wherefore he marvels that it is not kept in the Roman Church. Moreover, the Council of Toledo [XVII, cap. iii] ratifies that the Bishops and priests should wash the feet of the faithful at the Lord’s supper after the example of Christ, and commands the use which had ceased for a while to be recalled.
St. Ambrose relates the mystical nature of this washing [lib. De initiandis, cap. VI] saying: “Peter was clean, but ought to wash the sole [of the foot] : for he had the sin of the first man by succession, when the serpent supplanted it and persuaded error; therefore his sole is washed so that hereditary sins would be abolished.” He alludes to those words of God to the serpent concerning man: “Thou shall lie in wait for his heal,” [Genes. III:15]. The same Ambrose [lib. III de Sacram., cap. 1] says: “Because Adam was supplanted by the devil, and the poison flowing into him and over his feet, therefore you wash the feet so that in that part, in which the serpent lies in wait, shall come upon a greater sanctification, in which afterward he cannot supplant you. Therefore you wash the feet, so that you wash the poison of the serpent. Moreover, it will effect humility, so that you will not blush in the mystery, that we will not disdain obedience.”
Another reason was more literal, because formerly those to be baptized approached with naked feet, that they would conduct themselves with humility. For that reason, this nakedness of the feet is called humility by St. Augustine [lib. de Symbolo ad Catech., cap. 1]; because they will wash the filth that has been contracted on the feet. This custom began to spread from the Church of Milan to others, as is clear from St. Augustine.”

Now, we could go on at length with many more testimonies to the same thing. What we can see is that the objections of some, that the priest will kiss a woman’s foot at the mandatum, was not a problem for St. Ambrose and the fathers of other churches where this custom spread to. Then again, the culture was not as over-sexualized as it is today where you have foot fetishes and other things of immoderate men. I don’t know if such a thought would occur to most priests, but it may to some laity. So if Francis wanted to overturn the custom prevailing in all Churches of only washing men’s feet, he could appeal to this example in the Fathers, that such washings were done from the Lord’s example for the community (men and women) who were to be baptized, and then he might have some ground to stand on in terms of uniting this symbol at the liturgy with the example of antiquity. But then his notion of mercy, trumpeted so much at the last synod in regard to public adulterers, could be exposed to attack by the same example. Again from á Lapide, on John XIII:10:

“Mark, here Christ alludes to those who wash themselves in a bath, who go out from it with their whole body being cleansed, but because they tread upon the earth with their naked feet, therefore they might say the feet, for that reason alone are washed afterward. Mark secondly, Christ speaks anagogically [that is, in regard to man’s final state] that by his custom they rise from corporal washing to a spiritual one, in other words, one who is washed is done so spiritually through baptism, in which I have washed you, O Apostles, or one who is washed through contrition and penance, here is wholly clean in soul, but still needs that he wash only his feet, that is the affects of the soul, again by reason of earthly things, in which they live, are stained by contagion and contract light filth that they must often purge through contrition, castigation of the body and like virtues (of which this my washing is a symbol), and especially before the Sacred Liturgy and reception of the Eucharist. Thus St. Augustine, Bede, and especially St. Bernard [serm. In Cœna Domini] say: “He who is washed, needs nothing but that he should wash the feet. He is washed, who does not have grave sins, whose head, that is intention, and hand, that is the operation and good life, is clean; but the feet, which are the affections of the soul, while we step in this dust, from the whole cannot be of the world, which at some time tread in vanity, lust or curiosity, it rather more behooves the soul that it should fall even now. For we all offend in many things. But no man scorns or slights. For it is impossible to be saved by those, it is impossible that I have washed except through Christ Jesus, and by Christ.”

Whereas, directly contradicting what Christ said, that he who divorces his wife and marries another (Matt. XIX) commits adultery, can that be said to be a light matter? Not a grave sin?

Nevertheless, picking up in the next paragraph with Lapide, we see the relationship of Christ with the Apostles:

“Therefore, Christ, in this washing of the feet of Peter and the Apostles cleanses sins, especially venial ones, because through that and only through His forgiveness does he goad their minds, and admonished them by making internal washing through contrition in their souls, through which venial sins are expiated.
For this reason, priests in the OT washed their feet and hands before the sacrifice, as I have already said. Likewise, many heathen did the same thing, as Brissonius recalls [lib. I De Formulis Roman., pag. 4]. Formerly the Jews did the same thing, as is clear from Mark VII:4, and they still do the same thing today.
Next, St. Augustine [epist. 108 ad Seleucianum] from “qui lotus est“, probably gathers that Peter and the Apostles were baptized before the Eucharist, then because no man has the capacity for the Eucharist unless he has been baptized, for after His death he baptized no man, it is certain that they were all either immediately or mediately baptized by Christ. Then, the “washing” would probably have been the washing done in baptism.”

Thus, the relationship expressed in the washing of the feet of the Apostles by Christ, is not just of a hierarchical relationship, though that is properly one aspect, but one of the intimate communion that his Apostles, as priests conformed to Christ’s very person, share with him in spite of their human nature. They are washed as preparation for becoming priests of the new and eternal covenant, of which baptism is necessary, that is being put to death to the world, and born anew in Christ Jesus. The mandatum, as preserved and passed down in the sacred liturgy of Maundy Thursday, is intended to preserve this identification of Bishops and Priests as other Christs, being cleansed from sin and made unto him, whereas the early Church (as seen in St. Ambrose, St. Augustine and the Bishops of other Churches, as Lapide mentions) also sought to incorporate the symbol of the Bishop conformed to Christ, the suffering servant who is nonetheless God, in the rite of baptism.

As a side note, Catholics should take note that the practice of blessing themselves with Holy Water when they come into Church derives from this ancient practice, which is why the modern practice in many modern churches of removing the holy water during Lent an replacing it with sand is all the more inexplicable.

Now, as I noted, Pope Francis could overturn this particular tradition in the mandatum under the desire to emulate the Baptism of the faithful, but if that were the case he should give very clear reasons as to why the old symbol were inefficient to this, or why the expression of the priesthood as perfectly conformed to Christ as servants no longer satisfies and should be expressive of who we are today. In fact, the very purpose of liturgical symbols is to remind men of changing fashions what the symbols represent and call them back to the gospel—both clergy and laity—not to correspond to changing fashions. What Pope Francis has done, is to destroy a symbol without any particular reasoning or purpose apart from what seems inclusive for today. And therein lies the very problem. A protestant friend of mine very aptly encapsulated the faulty reasoning of this initiative in the following satire:

“I hereby propose that a reasonably accurate modern equivalent of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet would be Jesus doing their dishes. Harder to fit into the Maundy Thursday service, though.”

Could it be that Pope Francis is the one doing things the way they have always been done—since 1965?

Why no synod coverage?

From a reader:

“I am somewhat alarmed that you haven’t had any discussion or podcast on the Synod, or on Pope Francis in general. Why is your voice conspicuously absent?”

Even socially people ask me what I think about the synod. My answer: Nothing.

There is a reason for this. Firstly, why am I not covering the synod? Apart from the fact that I am too busy with work and my children, in general I am just not interested in what is little more than a media circus. In the first place, there are many groups with correspondents in Rome, or providing coverage from such people. There is precious little that I can add. You’ve seen Cardinal Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, and they have given scathing commentary on the instrumentum laboris for this Synod. What can I add to it? I’m not there, I don’t have access to sources who know what is going on, and others are doing a good job.

More importantly, I am resisting the trend in the blogosphere and traddom of becoming an “authentic commentator.” In all reality, I am just a guy with opinions, and largely so are others, no matter how correct they may be. I know of people who are losing the faith over this, or less importantly but no less destructively, sleep, increasing stress, becoming angry. There is simply no reason for this. In a just sense, I do get angry over what manifest heretics like Cardinal Kasper are trying to do to the Church. But I do not let it disturb my faith. St. Paul tells us: “Irascimini, et nolite peccare: sol non occidat super iracundiam vestram.” (Be angry and do not sin: Let not the sun set on your anger.) The first part is a quote from Psalm 4, which we sing every night in Compline in the Benedictine breviary. St. Paul is acknowledging that we can be angry, but we need to be in control of it, or we should not be disturbed. St. Thomas observes that anger is a perfection that helps you overcome difficult things, but is disordered after the fall so that it lashes out in all directions, rather than being directed at difficult things.

The fact is, there is nothing I can do to change the Synod but pray. More importantly, however, there is nothing the Synod can do to change the faith.

Firstly, a Synod does not have doctrinal authority, unless the Pope should elevate its status to that of a local Council and promulgate it as part of the ordinary magisterium. Even if Pope Francis were to do this, there is nothing he can do to eviscerate the tradition on marriage, namely what the Church has always and everywhere believed. This is documented in the Fathers, the Medievals, the Schoolmen, the Manuals, and ecumenical Councils (preeminently Trent). The Pope is not able to change these teachings, or abridge them.

Secondly, the Pope cannot affect the moral effect of Catholic teaching, whatever comes out of the Synod in the way of praxis, or the practical effects of his change to Canon law.

Thirdly, as has been revealed in other places, the outcome has already been decided. There has long been a plan to force the Kasperite thesis through. So while others are melting down over the goings on at present, I am already planning the response to the inevitable change in “praxis” that is somehow divorced from “teaching”, which itself is a novelty and frankly impossible state of things. That is to adhere to the Tradition, and treating novelty the same way the Church fathers treated it: as if it were heresy to be avoided. I will adhere to the Fathers, the Schoolmen and the Manuals, and work on translations of what is not already in English, time allowing. The fact is, the ramming through of what is being prepared will probably cause a schism, if not more widespread confusion. The task at hand, is not to let the sun set on our anger, but to prepare and advocate the course of real reform. This is the Traditional Catholic response. In the 15th century, reforming theologians and canonists advocated reforms that would not be realized until the mid-16th century. This means they died and others picked up their torch, and also died, until after the Council of Trent when reforms began to be realized. Will it take 150 more years? Salva nos Domine! Nevertheless, we need to be planting seeds with prayer, not merely reacting. We need to lay down the challenge with truth, and continue to do so while Christ works in His Church.

We can see this in St. John Fisher, who was himself a reforming bishop, and did his utmost to be a true shepherd of his flock. When refuting a Lutheran, Velenus, he made the following remarks:

Perhaps some may say, “Nowhere else is the life of Christians more contrary to Christ than in Rome, and that, too, even among the prelates of the Church, whose conversation is diametrically opposed to the life of Christ. Christ lived poverty; they fly from poverty so far that their only study is to keep up riches. Christ shunned the glory of this world; they will do and suffer everything for glory. Christ afflicted himself by frequent fasts and continual prayers; they neither fast nor pray, but give themselves up to luxury and lust.
They are the greatest scandal to all who live sincere Christian lives, since their morals are so contrary to the doctrine of Christ, that through them the name of Christ is blasphemed throughout the world.” This is perhaps what an adversary might object. But all this merely confirms what I am proving. For since the Sees of other Apostles are everywhere occupied by infidels, and this one only, which belonged to Peter, yet remains under Christian rule, though for so many crimes and such unspeakable wickedness, it has deserved like the rest to be destroyed, what must we conclude but that Christ is most faithful to his promises since he keeps them in favour of his greatest enemies, however grievous and many may be their insults to him?
Convulsio calumniarum Ulrichi Minhoniensis quibus petrum numquam Romae
1522

Fisher was martyred by the tyrant Henry VIII, not knowing what reform would befall the Church. This is the path for the true reformer, to stay united to truth, passed on by Christ to His apostles, which they passed on to their successors, even to us. God’s providence cannot leave the Church without a remedy.

[The Quote was taken from “St. John Fisher: Humanist, Reformer, Martyr“, a reprint of EE Reynolds’ in depth historical treatment of the saint, now back in print from Mediatrix Press.

See also another helpful discussion in this vein from Boniface at Unam Sanctam.

End of the Reform of the Reform

CaravaggioEcceHomoThe family split in the Matt family, which formed the two different conservative newspapers, the Wanderer and the Remnant respectively, is perhaps a microcosm of conservative movements in the Church here in the United States (in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, it is similar but different in many respects, e.g. European traditionalists I have known find the American Traditionalist obsession with women wearing skirts and veils puzzling. Thus not all issues are the same. So what I am going to say here is only intended with reference to the situation in this country).

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Vermeer: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary

Jan Vermeer, Self Portrait

Jan Vermeer, Self Portrait

I have mostly covered art in Italy, and for good reason, Italy is seemingly unbeatable. Yet, there is another art tradition, whose Renaissance predates Italy’s, that might be the sole rival in classic European oil painting, and that is the Netherlands.

Previously, I talked a little about Rubens (here), but today we are going a little more north. While Rembrandt was trying to retrench himself in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter, another artist was making his mark on Dutch history.

Jan Vermeer is a curious artist. Dutch, but Catholic, of moderate impact in the art market, yet remembered for his characterizations of Dutch life. In the case of Rubens we could say he is distinct from Rembrandt by his southern Flemish style, or his adherence to the Catholic faith, his vibrant colors, as opposed to Rembrandt van Rijn’s darker views, personal rather than mythological subjects, etc. But ultimately the difference between Rubens and Rembrandt is that Rubens gave the clients what they wanted, Rembrandt painted what he saw, the light of truth without the social graces to touch it up, and increasingly he displeased clients, most famously in his revolt of Claudius Silvius, originally destined for Amsterdam’s town hall. That same difference can be placed between Rembrandt and Vermeer. Vermeer knew how to paint to please his clients.

Interestingly, if we look back to what we said about artists previously, we noted that:
a) artists were craftsmen, who sometimes arose to a more noble bearing working for royalty, particularly in the 17th century
b) other artists where highly charged with political or philosophical ideas and made social and political commentary, as well as ending up in court frequently and are thus celebrated by modern art, albeit only in so much as they start the road to the collage of insanity that sells for millions in London, Paris and New York.

Therefore more has been written on Rembrandt than perhaps any other artist, even more than some who have made big come-backs recently such as Caravaggio or Tiziano. So while Vermeer’s art doesn’t hit the top, it is still fascinating for the techniques he uses with his brushes to capture the idea of what he is getting across. Obscure after his death (there were bigger things to worry about for a while, as we shall see), he was rediscovered in the 19th century and ranked among the masters of the Dutch Golden Age.

History

Lapis L'Azuli This stone, coming from Afghanistan, would be hammered down and purified into a blue pigment, and provides for the rich color blue in western art from the 14th century onwards.

Lapis L’Azuli
This stone, coming from Afghanistan, would be hammered down and purified into a blue pigment, and provides for the rich color blue in western art from the 14th century onwards.

It is not known precisely when Vermeer was born, but we do know he was baptized in the year 1632, into the Dutch Reformed Church in the city of Delft. This suggests he was already a few years old, between 8-10 by the Calvinist practices of the time. His father was part of the St. Luke’s guild and operated an art dealing business. It is certain that Vermeer was schooled in art, for, though there is no record of his having been abroad, nevertheless in later life he was one of two men in Delft who was considered an authority to identify Italian paintings. It is not known, however, at what point he took up active painting, but he appreciated bright colors, expensive pigments like lapis lazuli, and as a member of the St. Luke’s guild himself, he was influenced by the Antwerp school of art (Rubens, Caravaggio, etc.). It is perhaps Rubens’ influence that accounts for Vermeer’s use of bright colors, and the influence of Caravaggio’s works that accounts for Vermeer’s use of light and shadow. Yet, like Rubens, Vermeer takes what he found useful from other artists without becoming slavishly devoted to that style, like the networks of Caravaggisti. What Vermeer does well is the sacredness of ordinary things, which is fully within the Dutch spirit.

Holland’s art market at that time was an anomaly when considered in the context of the west of Europe. Normally painting was the provenance of the wealthy, and the trend was for artists to be increasingly noble, or at least seek knighthoods and honors. Baglione, the great rival of Caravaggio, was awarded a golden chain for his talents and was highly respected in his time (except of course, by Caravaggio). Bernini was made a Papal Knight, while his rival Borromini was made a knight of the Holy Cross. Valesquez was knighted by Philip IV of Spain, as was Rubens, who was also knighted by Charles I of England. Rubens’ pupil and later colleague, Van Dyck, was knighted by Charles I, and Jan Breughal, the son of Peter Breughal, received a title of nobility. The trend was nobility, the clients of artists were nobility, the Church, and though there was great competition for artwork, the majority of works were meant for the public to see in a set place, like a Church, to be the focal point of the community, centered around religion.

The problem of the nascent Dutch Republic is that it had no public religion. The great Churches were defaced, and they did not want art in their Churches, because that was to them idolatry. But, of every day things? Thus the Dutch began a celebration of their culture, which was at its height as a world power, and whose navy easily outnumbered Spain, France and England’s navy combined. The order of the day was to celebrate Dutch culture, but the problem was the number of artists far exceeded the demand, so figures like Frans Hals, or Rembrandt had their boom moments when people could not get enough of them, and their bust moments when people had seen enough. So what about Vermeer?

The Jesuit Church on Oude Langendiijk, Delft

The Jesuit Church on Oude Langendiijk, Delft

Vermeer married a Catholic girl in Delft named Catarina Bolnes in 1653. Her mother Maria Thins required of Vermeer that he become Catholic in order to marry her, and he did so. It is not entirely clear if at first he converted out of conviction or for the girl, but what is certainly clear is that once he had done so he became quite serious, and his art shows this in many ways. His new mother-in law was also considerably wealthier than Vermeer, allowing him the freedom to paint in exchange for a little work in her business. It is often thought that Vermeer painted for the schuilkerk, or secret Church, which was not far from his home in Delft and was run by the Jesuits. Much is made of the Dutch Republic’s famous ‘religious toleration”, but in point of fact it was a sporadic and uneven, depending upon the province. So while Haarlem offered full religious toleration, Amsterdam and Delft were more restrictive. The Mass was illegal in Amsterdam, for example, until the 19th century, but tolerated since a majority of the city’s population was Catholic well into the 17th century. Thus one famous schuilkerk was the Ons’ Lieve Herr op Solder (Our Lord in the attic), which served Catholics for 200 years. Delft was no different.

The Painting

Jan_Vermeer_Christ_in_the_House_of_Martha_and_MaryChrist in the House of Martha and Mary was painted in 1655-56, shortly after he was married. It is one of the earliest works to survive, and it is his only painting that is overtly on a religious theme. (In the future we’ll look at some other ones that recall biblical themes). The circumstances of the painting are not known, but it is thought to have been commissioned for a Church, possibly the schuilkerk in Delft. It is now in the National Gallery in Edinburg, Scotland.

Tintoretto_christ-in-the-house-of-martha-and-mary

Christ in the house of Martha and Mary -TintorettoThe thrust here shows Martha rebuking Mary, as opposed to Vermeer’s image of the two working together.

One of the things we see is the placement of the characters. We have the conforming of the biblical narrative, with Christ seated and Mary Magdalene at his feet, but what is unique about this piece is Martha’s placement. Older images of this scene show Martha a pace or two back, calling out for Mary Magdalene to do something. This takes a different approach, and Vermeer shows off his theological sophistication.

Martha is not here voicing her complaint about Mary’s seeming inaction, when in fact she is in contemplation of Christ. Instead Martha is assisting and contributing to Mary’s action. The placement of Martha next to Mary and Our Lord is meant to show the unity of Faith and Works, with Mary representing the former and Margaret the latter. The reason older artists treating this scene, particularly in the Italian renaissance, would not have considered it important to include Martha and Mary together was that the reformation hadn’t happened, or else wasn’t an issue (or you took the other view, such as in anti-papal Venice). Tintoretto’s Martha rebukes Mary, while Vermeer, a Catholic living in a country where Catholicism is against the law, and the official view of the majority of those in government, as well as in Delft, a Calvinist town has the false notion of faith and works to contend with. The Dutch cultural scene emphasizes work, but outside of its context of faith. Vermeer draws a complete union between the two, as culminating in the blessed Sacrament.

Jan_Vermeer_Christ_in_the_House_of_Martha_and_Mary_detailLook at that loaf of bread. This is not just the fruit of windmills grinding flour, this is a symbol of the Eucharist, as the fruit of faith and works. Notice the lines of symmetry, a technique from Italian baroque painting that Vermeer employs several times. If we follow diagonally from the bottom left, we arrive at Christ’s hand, which is in many ways the key to the painting, since it occupies the central place if we draw a diagonal line from any side. Yet here should begin from the left, for in doing so we come not merely to Christ’s hand, but even more to his index finger and thumb. Immediately above the these two fingers we find the bread. These are also a priest’s consecration fingers, and so the Eucharistic symbolism could not be more clear.  By faith and good works we live a life by which we can partake of the Eucharist, which is the fruit of a work, united to faith, effected by Christ acting in the person of the priest.

While our Lord is depicted in traditional Holy Land attire, Martha and Mary are dressed like Dutch maidens, one who could be expected to embroider in the parlor, and the other working in the kitchen. It is a device to merge the ancient with the modern into one fabric, that Christ is relevant today, or, we might say contrary to certain churchman, the Gospel is relevant today. It might also be a criticism of others who name their home “St. Martha’s” to emphasize works over faith, as certain people today do, though we won’t name them. Thus, a commentary on faith and works is set perfectly in the context of Dutch art of the golden age.

Epilogue

Vermeer had limited success and seems to have been happy to work for a limited number of clients. In 1672 he went mad, and his life went down hill, until he at last died in 1675, leaving his wife and children with debts. Immediately he was more or less forgotten, until the 19th century when he was rediscovered. Part of the reason for this, and why he went mad in 1672, is because that year was the catastrophic year for the Dutch Republic, which was a world-wide empire. The French and English signed the treaty of Dover (although it was secret in England), by which Charles II promised to help Louis XIV at sea, and convert to Catholicism, while Louis supplied him a subsidy and invaded the Dutch Provinces. William of Orange ordered all of the dykes and levies broken, so that the ocean would flood the countryside and halt the advance of the Dutch troops. It did that, but at a cost. Fortunes and livelihoods were ruined, Vermeer’s savings were wiped out, and even his mother-in-law was going down financially, as were many people all over the country. Thus in the aftermath in 1675, the Dutch had forgotten about many more recent painters, as they were trying to survive the tragedy.

We will look more at Vermeer in the future.

What is the 2nd Confiteor?

The 2nd Confiteor

The 2nd Confiteor

In Traditional circles there is a lot of debate that swirls around the so-called “2nd confiteor”, which is said immediately after the priest receives communion in the missals preceding 1962. It was removed with the 2nd revising of the rubrics in 1961 (published in 1962), which became what we call today as the “1962 Missal”. There have been a lot of debates over whether it should be done since it is part of the “perennial tradition”, (which actually its not, but we’ll get to that), while others say it is not in the rubrics, so it shouldn’t be done.

Amongst Traditionalist groups, the SSPX has always maintained it, so far as I know. The FSSP actually has permission to use it, on the basis of using the earlier publication of rubrics in 1961, which in consequence would not allow them to use the second revision, which inserted St. Joseph into the Canon. Except for special permission which they possess. I’ve been told that the Institute of Christ the king uses both, but I’ve never been to their Masses and I don’t know their situation. Diocesan clergy who say the Traditional Mass, so far as I know, vary in terms of who does it and who doesn’t, but strictly on the level of permissions they can do the second confiteor, or they can use St. Joseph in the canon, but not both. On the level of tradition they should, and we shall see why.

Some argue that the second confiteor should be removed because it is redundant. We already said it after all, we’re sorry! Really! On the other hand, those who argue it should be said, say that it is used to remit any venial sins one might have committed during the Mass, as well as imperfections. This is true, but only to a point.

The reality is, that at most Masses throughout the year, prior to the time of St. Pius X, would not have had a second confiteor at all. The historic practice of the Latin church was always to administer communion outside of Mass. This means that after the priest received communion, the deacon and subdeacon would prepare the ablutions and move the missal and chalice veil, just as a server does at a private low Mass where he does not receive communion. This had a number of advantages. If you felt you were not in a state to receive communion, you could duck out with a number of other people, and you didn’t have the specter of the old ladies staring you down, wondering “What did you do!”, so there wasn’t a perceived “pressure” to receive. In terms of the smoothness of Mass itself there are some benefits. After Mass, the priest would come out in a surplice with a stole, and distribute Holy Communion from the tabernacle, beginning with the confiteor, misereatur, and indulgentiam, and then the Ecce Agnus Dei, then as normal. Thus, the rite the Church used for the reception of Communion outside of Mass included the confiteor, both as a testament to true devotion and sorrow for sins in the communicant, and to make reparation for their venial sins. On two days of the year, however, the communion rite took place during Mass, namely Maundy Thursday and Corpus Christi. On those days, communion would take place just as it does at solemn Masses today.

What St. Pius X directed, was for communion to take place during Mass as a definitive practice, and the older practice an exception to the rule. This brought into being the practices that Catholics are familiar with today, of the second confiteor, being sung by the deacon, or said by the server outside of Solemn Mass. The reason is, no one left Mass early, and if Communion took place during Mass on a regular basis, it would aid the people in exercising the practice of more frequent Communion.

The problem today then, is not the second confiteor, far too much attention goes to that subject, it is people receiving communion who do not first go to confession, even in Traditionalist circles. We have, largely, the opposite problem that St. Pius X tried to address, which was Jansenism, we have instead, the problem of a false concept of mercy, by which men imagine God will forgive them, and they’re good people, so why not receive communion. While St. Pius X’s goals were laudable, at the same time, they were for a different culture. Today we have the scandalous problem of sacrilegious communions. Thus, what should be considered, is whether or not to move communion once again outside of Mass, combined with increasing confessions and preaching Missions, or conferences, or whatever you like on good preparation for the reception of Holy Communion. This would seem a more fitting discussion on rubrical fights over whether the second confiteor should or should not be said.

Update: I had to correct the earlier article after being advised by a priest in the know that the FSSP actually does have permission to do both, where formerly I had written they do not.