Thursday, August 27, 2015

What impact on the liturgy?

We are probably all familiar in some way with the effects of rationalism and pietism upon the Christian faith.  That said, it is not always easy to identify practically how these pivotal movements in Christian history have affected what happens on Sunday morning.  Recently I was reading an article when a great brief summary statement jumped out at me.

The churches tend to make concessions to Rationalism by excluding silence and reducing the complexity of the ceremonial or completely eliminating parts of it from the liturgy.  On the other hand, the churches tended to make concessions to Pietism and Romanticism by promoting informality and spontaneity and minimizing formal liturgical formularies and prayers.  In this way the two great slave-drivers behind the liturgical reform have had their diverse impact upon the shape of the liturgy illustrated so that we understand more fully why we have the liturgy and the worship wars of today.

Rationalism cracks the whip and shouts: “No silence! Everything must be SAID and UNDERSTOOD! No complexity! Stop all that intricate symbolic stuff! Stop all that lugubrious chanting! Modern man has no patience, no time, no ability, no need for it! It promotes an aristocracy of clerics! Let the light of objective reason shine!” But then Romanticism [Pietism] sneaks in, elbows an unsuspecting Rationalism aside, and, with a voice all the more poisonous for seeming friendly: “Relax! Go with the flow! You are too formal, uptight, rigid, and cerebral! Let go of the rubrics, find your inner child, feel it in your bones, be yourself! Everything’s about YOU, your feelings, your neediness — this is your moment!” Each struggles for supremacy; in a weird sort of way, they are codependent and collaborative. They stop at nothing to eviscerate the tradition that precedes them, until all that is left is a disembodied reason of empty structures and a derationalized self-indulgent sentimentalism.  

There is no way to avoid the present tension between head and heart; we still are caught between rationalism and romanticism/pietism but the surprising reality of the future is that the newer generations are less naïvely optimistic about the power of human reason and and less convinced by the power of sincere feelings to lead us into an idyllic New Eden wherein our full human potential is realized and exploited.  The generations reaching adulthood and younger adults are more likely to search for that which is neither the expression of head or heart but what transcends both.  They are looking for mystery (not the unexplained but that which is beyond explanation -- the transcendent God who attaches Himself to earthly form and element and is present there with the fullness of His gifts and graces. 

I certainly know the tensions of those who plead for simple liturgy, plain ceremonial, and an appealing rationality in which things have explanation and are understandable and those who plead for the freedom of love, the spontaneity of the moment divorced from page or form.  But I continue to be impressed by those who come Sunday after Sunday seeking neither a rational lens for God and the universe nor a love affair with the moment but a true path to the transcendent through the means of grace.  This is what gives me hope that perhaps we can progress past those who want logical answers and those who want to explore their happy feelings.  God can work as He will in whatever circumstance the world finds itself.  This I do not doubt.  Yet, it is hopeful to think that there are still people looking beyond themselves for the eternal and the divine known only in Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent and in the Spirit who reveals Him.


Anonymous said...

It seems LCMS has more influenced by pietism and rationalism than we realize if one does a quick analysis of many services in our churches today. We see lots of happy classy worship, motivational speeches, and wholesale scuttling of the liturgy. Great post and thanks for the insights which help us to be discerning and vigilant in the LCMS, as we strive to remain faithful to Scripture and our Confessions that shape and guide our services.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! Thank you.

Recently, my wife and I have had occasion to visit a couple of RC masses, and I have to say, I have been shocked. I had no idea how "relaxed" the RCs have become. This past Sunday morning, we went to a mass in a very beautiful RC church building, with elaborate Stations of the Cross, and art work on the walls. It was a magnificent place. They had a really cool rock band, with a pounding bass drum beat, a mixed group of about 6 singers, and several guitars. The "hymns" were trite little ditties that said nothing and spoke only trivia. The service began when a very attractive blond woman went forward and welcomed everyone. The priest read the Gospel from the Epistle side of the altar where he also preached. He made the announcements from the Gospel side. When various and sundry crossed the center aisle, no one bowed or genuflected, except in one instance the priest did. When he passed behind the altar (it was out in the crossing, well away from the wall), he bowed to a completely bare altar. There was no cross, no crucifix, no Communion on the altar, just an empty table. Who/what was he bowing to? The congregation? The crucifix was up on the wall, over the proper place for the altar, but it was like God was in the back, out of the way, and all of the action was out in front between the priest, the rock band, and the congregation. There was absolutely nothing transcendent about the entire mass.

Fr. D+

Anonymous said...

Rationalism, i.e., Die Aufklärung, attacked the orthodox Lutherans through schools of philology at the German universities (and through movements of educational reform at the Evangelical gymnasia), an end-run around the orthodox schools of theology. Rationalism (the lodges, Napoleon, German philosophers, the University of Göttingen (Walther would not accept an honorary degree from them), among others, attacked Lutheran orthodoxy from the mid 17th century to the 20th century. Reason is the god. Lutheran worship spaces that were built by rationalist city councils or princes, have avoided content of a mystical and superstitious nature, according to the lights of Rationalism. Rationalists took out the mystical and the superstitious (i.e., miracles). Rationalism was very comfortable with images of Christ the teacher on the mount and the sufferer at Gethsemane, and avoided the bloody images of crucifixion. Rationalism removed the mystical, the miraculous, and the illogical from Christian worship aiming for the conversion of churches into lecture halls. On the other hand, it was the conventicles of the pietists that added silence (think Quakers).

William Tighe said...

It was the combined influence of Pietistic "simplicity" and Enlightenment "rationality," both sharing a common aversion to "ritualism" and "Catholic remnants" that resulted in the abolition of the use of Catholic eucharistic vestments in virtually every Lutheran territorial church in Germany in which their use had survived, and also of the surplice in the great majority of those churches as well. (They survived in the Scandinavian churches.)

The elevation of the consecrated elements during the Words of Institution had been abolished in most Lutheran territorial churches in Germany by 1660 (in Sweden it was abolished in 1593), but it was abolished in the 18th Century in the very few in which it had survived in that same 18th Century - the only exceptions (that I know of) being Schleswig-Holstein, where it survived until 1797 (and in Norway until 1814, on paper at least, although I have been told that it fell into disuse there in practice in the 18th Century as well; perhaps also in Iceland it survived, although this is only speculation on my part).