Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Banished Heart

Geoffrey Hull's argument in The Banished Heart (expanded and refined from the 1995 edition) is a complex one, with a vast apparatus that is difficult to summarize. The book jacket says the following, just to intrigue the reader: "he present mainstream Catholic Church, with its modernistic and secular aura, grew directly from the official conservatism of the Church as it was before the Council."

How so? I'm reading it now, so I can provide more information later, but my quick summary is as follows. Long before the Second Vatican Council, and developing even from the time of Trent and after, two forces came alive within the conservative camp: rationalism and imperialism. Imperialism is the assumption that the center must always dictate to the outer edges what should take place in liturgy, and hence any deviation from the appointed rubrics and style must bear the burden of proving its orthodoxy. The rationalist assumption is related: it presumes that everything that takes place in liturgy must have some reason for happening that can be explained by virtue of argumentation hence comprehended from the point of view of logic or history or theology. Lacking such a basis, practices come under grave suspicion.

When you transfer these two proclivities to a secular time, in a world of pop media and intellectual hubris, you set up a disaster-in-waiting for any liturgical structure of ancient origin. The imperialist assumption guarantees that whatever happens occurs universally. There can be no local experimentation with reform. Reform is an all-or-nothing, everywhere-or-nowhere proposition. The rationalist assumption is also a special problem for a liturgy that developed over many generations and hundreds of years, something that cannot be comprehended by a single intellectual, committee, or even one generation.

Hull's argument is that it as the conservatives at Vatican II who carried around the baggage of both points of view, without understanding the dangers that lurked therein. Once the process of reform was opened up, there was no longer any possibility that it could be contain to one region or affect just one part of the liturgy. The entire structure went through upheaval all over the world. Professor Hull recounts this history by way of showing how it came to be that the Council documents would say one thing while the practice ten years later came to be precisely the opposite.

It is a provocative argument, one that he argues with great erudition and understanding. Even if you initially do not accept the thesis and even if you resist the thesis to the end, you can certainly learn from the detailed history he present here. It's my own view that the book can do great good in helping conservatives and traditionalists question their own assumptions about what went wrong and why. Incidentally, he seems very optimistic about the manner in which the current Pope is undertaking reform: with liberality and with studied attention to the need for the Roman Rite to always remain connected with the micro-culture in which it exists.
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