Monday, August 19, 2013

My Sunday at a Russian Orthodox church

My girlfriend has been struggling for some time with the Catholic Church's current situation as a haven for banal liturgy, pedophilic clergy, and effeminacy (or so it would seem when one is frustrated). It's hard to blame her, as I sometimes feel embarrassed to be associated with the Roman church myself. The easy solution, you may think, is to recommend her to the local Latin Mass community, but her "brand" of medievalism shares Orthodoxy's consternation against the angel-on-a-pinhead-counting type of rationalization and legalism that has pervaded the Catholic world's intellectual circles since the age of scholasticism. True that these words don't mean anything to your average Catholic in the pew, but Latin Mass communities are practically built by eggheads whose idea of a good time is reading a commentary on Aquinas. Being an egghead herself, she does what most disaffected, liturgy-loving Catholics in her situation do: turn to the East.

This past Sunday morning, we visited a Russian Orthodox church in the outskirts of the city. "Tiny" would be an understatement, as it was established in a converted house well within a residential neighborhood. I don't think the congregation numbered above 20. And why the Russian church, as opposed to a larger Greek church in the city? Lauren is a bit of a Russophile and has some Russian ancestry. We both spent the summer reading Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov too, a tome chock-full of Russian Orthodox themes. I also knew that the celebrating priest was an expert on the Sarum Use of the Roman Rite (which I've blogged about extensively last year) with many articles about it on the web, so I wanted to see him in person.

Modern Medievalism and Orthodoxy

First, what does this have to do with the theme of "modern medievalism"? The answer is simple: as much as the Roman church embodies the word "medieval" as we think of it today, the Orthodox do a much better job of bringing medievalism to the modern world than we westerners do. Every Latin Mass is "compromised", if you will, by the newfangled Gregorian calendar and its artificial Easter dating. Most are celebrated in the trappings of Rococo barbarism branded as traditional because, in the literal sense, they were still fashionable in the 1950's. Baroque music is at least as likely to be heard as plainchant. If the Roman liturgy is truly older than that of Saint John Chrysostom, as certain apologists claim, it's only by accident on the part of westerners. The Orthodox, on the contrary, seem hellbent on giving their believers the impression that they've stepped into a time warp peering back to the apex of Byzantium's hold on the Christian world.

Now that I've set the story, I'll narrate to you my thoughts as I entered the church and pondered what made our eastern brethren different from us.

Attending Divine Liturgy, step by step

We were ten minutes late, but the Divine Liturgy being as long as it is, they were just getting started. A lot of regulars showed up much later than we did. I'm told that the Orthodox are not given to punctuality, and many come in and out of the church throughout the Liturgy without batting an eye; already one point in their favor, in my book. Ten minutes in, and the congregation was only a little more than half what it would become later in the day. Also of note: when we entered, I observed that women and men had segregated themselves into opposing sides of the church. I split off from Lauren after that, but when some families came in, they stayed together on what I understood to be the "men's side", so perhaps I made up that rule in my head entirely based off of a coincidence. Moving on....

Aside from what I perceived to be sex segregation, the first thing that struck me when I walked in was that the entire nave and sanctuary of the church, all in what was perhaps some guy's living room once upon a time, still looked "churchier" than most Catholic churches I've been to. Icons decked out all sides, and the sanctuary was sectioned off by an impressive iconostasis (considering the surroundings). These were definitely not a people who were concerned about offending their Protestant neighbors' sensibilities. They would probably not think whitewashing their walls or getting rid of their fine vestments would make them any more humble than they already are. (After all, they were worshipping in a house like the early Christians, or like underground Catholics in China. I doubt they need any more reminders about their position in society.)

After what felt like something six times longer than our fore-Mass (here I mean the preparatory prayers, Kyrie, Gloria), a lector in cassock stepped from the choir in the back to the center of the nave to chant the Epistle in English. Another gentleman stood beside him, following the English version immediately with a re-chanting in Russian. The church didn't have a deacon, so the priest chanted the Gospel. This was the first time I got a good look at him. He was a hieromonk (the word easterners use to describe a monastic priest), and appeared in the flesh as I imagined all priests should: clad in the finest vestments a church can afford, with a great beard and unclipped hair, just as virtually all our depictions of Christ have it. I've never bought the idea that a western priest should shave just because that was the fashion during the late Roman Empire. Do we want a priest to be an alter Christus, or a mock Roman senator? Another argument I've heard is that a priest with long hair and a big beard would scandalize people. (Who, your grandmother?) But then, why wear a cassock outside of the church? Indeed, why bother with the Roman collar at all? In the first world of the 21st century, a Roman collar is going to scandalize a lot more people than a beard if for no other reason than because the collar has become the universal sign of the pedophile.

Bishop Nikon
After the gospel, the priest gave his sermon. A kind middle-aged guy who knew I was visiting and helped me follow along in a service book invited me to sit on a bench resting against the wall. As there were no pews and only a couple other benches beside the one I was sitting on, everyone else sat on the floor, Woodstock-style while the priest spoke. He wanted to expound upon a sermon of Bishop Nikon (Rklitsky's) on the Transfiguration and passed out printouts of that sermon to everyone (the following day was to be the feast of the Transfiguration in the old Julian calendar, which this church observes). The priest was very engaging and personable without having to resort to lame jokes, as one Latin Mass priest I know does. For a moment, I imagined I was really there with Peter, James, and John as Jesus revealed His divine nature to them. Most of the time, I can't wait for a sermon to be over, but I was sad when this priest ran out of things to say. 

Following the sermon, the priest began the "Litany of Fervent Supplication", which corresponds to the prayers of the faithful in the Novus Ordo Mass. Latin Mass purists may get irritated when I say that I believe restoring the prayers of the faithful was one of the (very few) legitimate improvements of the Novus Ordo. I use the word "improvement" loosely because intercessions used to exist in the Roman liturgy (and continue to exist in the famous intercessions of Good Friday), but I can't go so far as to say "restoration" because I don't think the early medieval West had middle-aged women in pantsuits rasp the prayers out from the lectern. A handful of western churches, such as my Anglican Use parish, pray them in a sensible manner with a deacon, but it's a needle-in-haystack situation. (For further reference, I posted an example of the intercessions, or "bidding prayers", that existed in pre-Reformation England near the end of this article.)

Anyway, I smirked when the litany used charmingly old-fashioned phrases like "again we pray for our great lord and father, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill" and for "pious kings and right-believing queens" as though any still existed. After that, the priest said "as many as are catechumens, depart". The Eucharistic portion of the liturgy hadn't even started yet, but if I had gone to a Roman Mass, it would already be well into coffee hour by now. I had gotten a little tired of standing and contemplated taking the liturgy's cue to leave, but I then resolved to restrain by pathetically short westerner's attention span and see it through to the end. I also concluded that as a validly baptized Christian, I wasn't really a catechumen by Orthodox reckoning, just a schismatic. And so I stuck around.

A word on the music: one of Lauren's beefs with the western church, which I heartily agree with, is what some call the "low Mass mentality". Don't get me wrong, I like low Mass... in its proper context. But when it was developed in the later Middle Ages, it was supposed to allow a monastic priest to celebrate an additional Mass for his own and other intentions, beside the conventual solemn Mass that he and his brothers all attended. Later on, during the Church's great missionary age, the low Mass was very useful for priests stuck by themselves in strange lands without the resources to recreate Notre-Dame in the middle of Indian territory, or say in Ireland when priests were on the lam during the penal days. And even today, low Mass is great for weekdays when the pious faithful want to get in and get out for a boost of holiness before the start of the work day. I get it, truly. But at no point was the low Mass ever supposed to replace the solemn Sunday liturgy. Every Sunday is a feast, and a feast implies singing. Somewhere down the line, we in the west have supplanted "festivity" with "obligation", so it's no wonder we want to punch our timecards at church as quickly as possible and get back to football season. 

So I was struck that at this tiny Divine Liturgy I was observing, attended more sparsely than even some weekday low Masses, everything was still sung from beginning to end. I'll hasten to add that the Divine Liturgy would probably take a long time even if it ever occurred to a priest to just recite the entire thing in the spoken tone. The choir was a mix of men and women singing the responses and other liturgical texts in harmony, but by no means dragging them out. They went through the Nicene Creed much faster than it would take us westerners to chant Credo I or III. I don't know if the Divine Liturgy has anything analogous to our long, melismatic Proper chants like the Gradual, but I didn't hear anything like that here. In truth, I was disappointed that I didn't hear anything like the deep all-male Russian chants you might find on YouTube with the droning, but I'm told those sorts of choirs are rare outside of Russia itself. Or perhaps it's just beyond this tiny parish's resources. Either way, the choir here seemed to exist just to lead the congregational singing. In America, though the schola I belong to actively tries to foster as much congregational singing as possible, sung Latin Masses tend to be showpieces for the choir as the congregation listens in admiration. (I've actually heard the line, "if you were at a symphony, you wouldn't climb into the orchestra pit to perform with the musicians, would you?")  

An iconostasis
The priest withdrew behind the iconostasis for the anaphora/Eucharistic prayer, and for at least part of it, he closed an additional screen so that you couldn't see even the top of his head. My mind wandered for a while so I don't recall all the details, but I think the entire anaphora was sung aloud. There was no silent Canon as we have in the old Mass. Later, Lauren remarked to me that in the west, after the Counter-Reformation, we seem to have discarded visual veiling in favor of verbal veiling. We got rid of the rood screens to appease Protestant objections, but retained the silence, and the Latin language, to preserve a sense of mystery. The east, I would venture to guess, didn't see the need for a silent Canon or any problem with the common tongue because they already had the iconostasis. In my opinion, it'd be great for the Mass to make use of all of the above, but according to Cardinal Newman, you might as well celebrate Mass in the sacristy if no one can see the action. Apparently, most traditional Catholics agree with the sentiment, so rood screens won't make a comeback anytime soon.

Communion eastern-style
Naturally, just being a visitor, I refrained from Communion. Many people in attendance, who I assume are regulars, also refrained from receiving. I'm not sure if it's because this is normal for Orthodox churches the world over, or because the congregation is made up of "trads". (Nearly all the women also wore headcoverings like in trad Catholic churches, but not a mantilla in sight.) Again to the consternation of my friends who are 1962 purists, I admired the Divine Liturgy's use of both species and wished I could receive both in the context of the old Mass. The priest addressed the communicants by name, saying "the servant/handmaid of God, N., partaketh of the precious and holy Body and Blood of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, for remission of sins and for life everlasting." 

An aeon later, after the dismissal, the priest informally spoke to the congregation about things like Russian traditions regarding Communion, the vigil for the Transfiguration to be held that evening, and about the current attacks on Christian churches in the Middle East. Finally, he asked if anyone had any birthdays or name days coming up. One guy did, so the whole church sang "God Grant You Many Years" or something similar. When that was done, everyone dispersed to either the "parish hall" (another room in the house) or to receive a blessing from the priest. The guy who helped me follow along in the service book invited me to receive a blessing from the priest along with everyone else, but for the same reason I decided not to make signs of the cross Eastern-style, I decided not to go up for fear of mucking things up. 

The fellow who had a birthday was, I think, also the choir director. He warmly welcomed me to the church and asked if I was a musician. I don't know what prompted him to ask since I didn't even sing the congregational parts, but I said I was, and he responded along the lines of, "if I had known, I would've invited you to join us in sightreading some of the parts." To which I replied, "thanks, but I'm not Orthodox." He continued, saying, "that's okay, I wasn't Orthodox when I began singing here, either." He then invited me to stay and eat lunch with the other parishioners. I would've taken him up on it if I didn't feel so awkward, but instead, Lauren and I left.

The ride home

Lauren enjoyed the Liturgy quite a bit, and I had a very positive experience about it and the community myself. In fact, if you've read up to this point, you might be wondering if I've thought of "going Dox" by the end of it all. In a word, no. And although I mused that I unwittingly tossed Lauren headfirst into Patriarch Kirill's clutches by indulging her with this visit, she actually came through it more comfortable with her Catholic identity. Although our proverbial pilgrimage to Moscow affirmed in both us everything we disliked about western spirituality, there was still something missing. Lauren iterated the four marks of the Church (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) and said she believed the Orthodox came up short on the "catholic" part. After all, we visited a Russian Orthodox church, as distinct from a Greek or Serbian one. While it's true that the Roman Church also has eastern rites, and in the not-too-distant past also had ethnic Irish, Italian, Polish, and Korean parishes in America, these are all window dressing by comparison to the distinct ethnic character of the various Orthodox churches out there.

An Orthodox reading this will quickly object by saying that there's no ethnic requirement to joining the church. Indeed, I believe the priest at the church I visited was of Irish descent (just based on name and appearance; I didn't talk to him), and I'm led to believe that it's quite normal for Orthodox clergy in America to be of Anglo, Irish, German, or otherwise non-Eastern European origin. But still, just speaking personally as a non-Slav, I feel like even if I did have the urge to convert to Orthodoxy, I wouldn't feel completely integrated into the Orthodox world unless I went above and beyond, and became a cleric in the faith. Otherwise, I'd perpetually be a hanger-on, a token half-Anglo, half-Indonesian guy (if not the only half-Anglo, half-Indonesian guy in all of Orthodoxy). As a convert to the Roman church, while I do still feel like a bit of an outsider, this is more because I'm just a single person going to church without any family ties or little ones trailing behind me, rather than because of ethnicity. 

In spite of all the eye-rolling induced whenever I read about the latest media stunt or soundbite surrounding Pope Francis, or my general cynicism about anything related to Vatican politics, I have to admit that the bishop of Rome somehow still supports a unity and catholicity you just can't find anywhere else in Christianity. I can look at photos of Japanese people attending Mass in Nagasaki after the bombs fell and think it makes sense, but think it would be bizarre if it were a Divine Liturgy instead. I can be irritated as hell looking over photos of the Eucharist being tossed like candy at World Youth Day in Brazil, but still feel the event is somehow relevant to me because I'm Catholic. I can have absolutely nothing in common with the average pew-warmer at the Catholic parish down the street, but what happens at his Novus Ordo Mass still matters to me more than what happens at an aesthetically perfect solemn Mass at Saint Clement's Episcopal in downtown Philly (though they are more Tridentine than Puginesque, but I digress). Much as I'd like to ignore the daily doings of Francis, his office somehow ties the ordinary Joe Catholic pew-warmer's fate to mine more than that of the most zealous Anglo-Catholic medievalist.

A Western Orthodox world

If I could build my own church, it would look like the Sainte-Chapelle and have daily solemn Mass and Office in the Sarum Use with a rood screen, choir stalls in the sanctuary, Communion under both species, less scholasticism and legalism, and some odd combination of both married secular clergy and celibate canons; and somehow still have a very active role in social justice and ministering to the poor of the area. As a young male convert to Catholicism with just enough education to enjoy armchair pontificating and not enough to be wise and content with what I have, I have the bizarre daily temptation to re-imagine the Church as I want it to be. Lauren, being a more masculine thinker than most women (don't tell her I said that, but honestly, when was the last time you heard of a single young female who thought of converting to Orthodoxy because Catholicism is too effeminate?), sought solace in the East but came through with a reassurance of Catholicism's catholicity, despite itself.

My imaginary church will never exist under the auspices of Pope Francis or (probably) any of his successors in my lifetime. The closest it's ever come would be under the extremely niche communities of Anglo-Catholics (such as Saint Clement's, as I mentioned above) or in so-called Western Orthodox communities. The priest of the Russian Orthodox parish I visited is an expert on the Sarum Use and, I imagine, has celebrated it many times before if he doesn't now. These communities are havens for thinkers such as Lauren and myself, and I'm sure some of them even read my blog. 

This Western Orthodox bishop (?) is precisely what I imagine all western churchmen ought to look like

My last thought for this entry: if reincarnation were true, I'm pretty certain I would have been Henry VIII in a past life. No other historical figure so embodies the "if I could build my own church" sentence I wrote better than he. Contrary to popular belief, Henry didn't create the Church of England just because he was randy. Any other king in his position would have just taken Anne Boleyn as a mistress and carried on with life. But before Henry became king, he was a young man groomed for a career in the clergy while his older brother, Prince Arthur, was set to be king. Indeed, his father named his firstborn "Arthur" out of a belief that he, the first of a union between the feuding houses of York and Lancaster, would lead England to a new golden age just like the king of myth. Young Henry, some said, would serve the realm as Archbishop of Canterbury beside his elder brother. 

Henry VIII before he was fat
So when Arthur died and Henry became heir, it's no surprise that his background as a potential churchman shaped his approach to the kingship. Henry's piety led him to come to the Papal States' defense during the Italian Wars. With the aid of Saint Thomas More, he published the Defense of the Seven Sacraments against Luther and was named by the Pope a "defender of the faith". When the continuation of the Tudor line came into question, it wasn't enough for Henry to just take a mistress as any other king would have done. He had to have his union validated by the Church, and if the Church wouldn't acquiesce (and honestly, if Katherine weren't the Holy Roman Emperor's aunt, the annulment probably would have gone through), he would have to take matters into his own hands.

Still, for the average Englishman, nothing changed under Henry's Church of England at all. At most, he introduced the "for thine is the kingdom" doxology to the Lord's Prayer, but that was already in Eastern usage, not a Protestant innovation. Lutheranism was still condemned in Henry's church. So ironically, I don't see Henry VIII as a Protestant at all. He was instead, perhaps, the first Western Orthodox; for if every king had followed his example, the West would have broken into national churches while otherwise remaining completely apostolic. The Pope would have remained "patriarch of the west" but with no real power outside the see of Rome.

And therefore, every day in between brushing my teeth and flossing, I look into the mirror and ask myself, "have I become Henry VIII?" The answer remains no, and it's not just because I decided to lay off the enchiladas. No, friends. Lauren and I will remain where we are, loving the Roman church despite Her best efforts to eject medievalists to the dustbin of history. Apologies if I offended anyone in the process.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A look into the medieval parish church's vestry: on vestments

This article is written by request of a good friend (a seminarian) who wanted to read more about church vestments in the Middle Ages.

In truth, my title is misleading because from what little I've gleamed on such an obscure subject, medieval parish churches didn't have vestries (or sacristies); or at least, they were uncommon outside of cathedrals and abbeys. Perhaps the idea to partition a space to hold vestments and vessels didn't seem necessary until the Renaissance. At any rate, without a vestry, a priest dressed for holy rites within the sanctuary, or perhaps his vestments were laid upon a side altar as when a bishop vests.

Why have vestments?

Before we begin, it's worth asking: why should priests or their assistants wear any special kind of clothing in the first place? I've spent a long enough time in the evangelical faith to think a pastor's service dress was a power suit, perhaps also a cross lapel pin. If we to ask your average Catholic in the pew today why a priest wears vestments, I'd bet he wouldn't have really thought about it at all. "That's just the way it's done." It's true, insofar as that a priest is required by liturgical laws to wear vestments.

A more savvy sort of Catholic (the EWTN-watching kind who likes to read apologetic works) might say, "it's to obliterate the priest's personal identity because he acts not a man, but in the person of Christ Himself. The vestments are blessed and set apart for sacred services only, because the Mass is an otherworldly experience." Also not wrong, but that doesn't appear to have been the idea all along. Vestments arose from the street dress of the ancient Church, as fashions evolved but the clergy stubbornly insisted upon wearing the same old styles of clothing for liturgy. This would be like if Christ founded the Church in the 1920's, and a hundred years from now, only priests ever wore neckties and fedoras, but only at Mass, and only in very stylized or "Hollywood" forms.

The medieval liturgist might have said, "our clergy wear vestments because they were handed down to us from the clothing worn by the priests of the Old Testament, who in turn wore them by the express command of God in the law of Moses." This is a tall tale or at least a mistake because ancient Jewish and Christian vestments have only superficial similarities; and by the time the Church made use of vestments (after the end of Roman persecutions and the rise of Constantine, say) Jews and Christians had near zero cultural exchange. Indeed, it was more likely that a Christian would change his habits solely not appear like a Jew, and vice versa.

If we could synthesize all these strains of thought into a greater idea, then, I'd say that a priest wears vestments to: 1.) conform to the rule of the Church (liturgical law), 2.) symbolically erase his own identity by taking up the cloak of Christ, and 3.) emphasize continuity between the religion of the Old Testament and of the New. Each reason may seem questionable on its own, but together, they refute the idea held by cynical nonbelievers that vestments are worn for priests to vainly adorn themselves in rich fabric sewn by the blood, sweat, and tears of a peasant class kept in ignorant darkness by their ecclesiastic overlords. No, friends, it's just the opposite: the priest wears vestments as an act of obedience, to conform himself to the will of God. In theory, at least. This is true for the medieval priest just as much as for the modern one.

The alb

The alb (from the Latin word alba for "white") may not necessarily be the first thing a cleric reached for, but it's the foundation of all the other vestments and must be mentioned before all else. The big white gown evokes all sorts of negative emotions from the modern man: to the skeptic, it ranges from the uniform of fools being baptized in the river after a euphoria of preacher-induced excitement, down to the image of hundreds of robed believers drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid in the anticipation of a better world (even if, at such cult suicides as the one in 1978, no robes were actually involved). Traditional Catholics likewise often deride the alb simply because they see it worn on altar servers, perhaps with ugly sneakers peaking from the bottom, at their local temple of banality (your average Catholic parish) instead of the usual pre-Vatican II practice of wearing a surplice.

In my experience, it's a small matter to say the alb represents purity. It's another thing to stress that an all-white garment in the ancient or medieval world was a challenging thing to make, and even more difficult to maintain. Like teeth in the age before modern dentistry, clothes were most likely to range from shades of yellow to brown. The Roman citizen's toga candida ("bright toga") was only bright white because it was powdered in chalk, in order to draw attention to him while he sought political office; hence he was a candidate for office. Queen Victoria kickstarted the fashion of the white wedding dress, but at that time it was a garment fit for royalty precisely because of its purity, thus any cinematic depictions of medieval peasants or even lesser noblewomen marrying in a white dress are very unlikely.

The alb is also unique in that it's not a vestment for clerics alone, but the uniform of all Christians. Every Christian earns the alb in baptism. I don't know if the Church provided them or if believers had to bring their own, but at least since the time of Saint Augustine, who mentions the custom in a sermon, converts who were baptized on Easter were supposed to wear the albs until the following Sunday. This is why you'll see, in some missals, the Sunday after Easter called Dominica in albis depositis ("the Sunday in which the white is put away").

The alb's form in the Middle Ages was mostly the same as it was in Roman times, from the common tunic worn by men of the old Empire. Lacemaking techniques were very primitive before the Renaissance and unknown in ecclesiastic arts, so don't expect to find any medieval vestments resembling anything like the sheer "liturgerie" of the later centuries. Any decoration was made in the form of embroidery around the cuffs or head opening, or from the 13th century onward, in apparels. The first form, embroidery, can be seen below, dated to the 13th century:

Apparels are strips of fabric that are pinned to the alb's cuffs or the bottom, and can be exchanged with others. This is one very fine example from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, made between 1320 and 1340:

I can't post an image directly, but this model shows how apparels would be worn on the alb today.

Another apparel is shown on the back of this alb.

The amice

The amice (from the Latin amictus for "covering" or "dressing") is a rectangular cloth that the priest and his ministers put on before anything else. The idea is to completely cover any sign of the priest's street clothes, including the Roman collar; again, fitting with the idea of obliterating the priest's identity. But since medieval clergy didn't wear anything resembling collars as we know them today, the question of where the amice came from is trickier. A pre-Vatican II rubric had the priest wrap the amice around his head for a moment before pulling it back over the shoulders. The prayer he had to recite while putting it on called the amice "the helmet of salvation". Was this some vestige of when clerics used them as a hood to protect their ears against the cold, like the white hood you might see on a portrait of Dante? But again in the old rites, when a subdeacon was ordained, the bishop would say, "Receive the amice, by which is signified the discipline of the voice". Was it supposed to protect the throat? The Catholic Encyclopedia presents a whole host of theories: 

"Early liturgical writers, such, e.g. as Rabanus Maurus, were inclined to regard the amice as derived from the ephod of the Jewish priesthood, but modern authorities are unanimous in rejecting this theory. They trace the origin of the amice to some utilitarian purpose, though there is considerable difference of opinion whether it was in the beginning a neck cloth introduced for reasons of seemliness, to hide the bare throat; or again a kerchief which protected the richer vestment from the perspiration so apt in southern climates to stream from the face and neck, or perhaps a winter muffler protecting the throat of those who, in the interests of church music, had to take care of their voices. Something may be said in favour of each of these views, but no certain conclusion seems to be possible (see Braun, Die priesterlichen Gewänder, p. 5). The variant names, humerale (i.e. "shoulder cloth", Germ. Schultertuch), superhumerale anagologium, etc., by which it was known in early times do not help us much in tracing, its history."
We can take that as a sign that the Encyclopedia had no idea precisely where the amice came from, either, though the medieval belief that the vestment came from Old Testament times resurges once again. My own bet is that the amice protected the alb and other vestments from getting stained by sweat, and was a lot easier to launder. Anyone with experience in laundering vestments could probably back me up. Nonetheless, by the ninth century, it was considered an essential garment for the liturgy.

The medieval amice was the same as it is today, except that it, like the alb, was frequently apparelled. I was unable to find pictures of surviving examples from the era, but here are some reconstructed forms today:

Vesting Priest with Apparelled Amice by Charles Blamey. Remarkable that an artist would bother to paint this subject in the first place, and even more remarkable that this painting dates only to 1991. Blamey, however, was an altar server for Saint Pancras Old Church in London and liked to paint what he called "ecclesiastical" (as opposed to religious) art.

All these representations admittedly look silly until you see the apparelled amice in its final form, pulled back over the chasuble. Then it looks quite splendid.

The cincture

The cincture (from the Latin word cingulum for "girdle", also often just called a girdle) is a cord with knotted or tassled ends that the minister uses to keep his alb and stole together. Over time this has come to represent chastity, but cinctures were probably used from very early times onward for no other reason than to keep the priest from stepping on and tripping over his own alb. All medievals wore belts over their long tunics or dresses for the same reason.

The stole

The stole (from the Latin word stola for "garment", as in the Roman woman's counterpart to the toga) is the sash that deacons, priests, and bishops wear as a sign of their authority. Outside of the strictly liturgical context, even most Catholic priests today will put on the stole during confession to represent their authority to absolve sin. In older times, there was also the concept of a "preaching stole" for priests who gave sermons outside of Mass, or for priests at Mass who were visiting or simply attending in choir. Since it's hard enough these days for priests to get people to come even to Sunday Mass, and since visiting priests now pretty much always concelebrate rather than attend in choir (and thus are already wearing a stole under the chasuble), the idea of a "preaching stole" has now vanished from the Church. Ironically, it may live on in Protestant denominations which formerly condemned the stole as vain popery, but now see it as a useful symbol.

Deacons wear the stole diagonally across the chest. It seems that in the earlier Middle Ages, deacons wore the stole over the dalmatic, as Eastern deacons do today. From the later Middle Ages until Vatican II, priests wore the stole with the ends crossed one over the other. At other times, they wore it with the ends hanging straight down, as bishops do.

The stole seems to have been used in Rome since the sixth century, possibly earlier. Even then, it was conferred upon someone to show that he had entered the ranks of the clergy. In many places, particularly the Frankish lands, priests were supposed to wear the stole not just in the liturgy, but as part of daily dress (that may be why in the movie Becket, you see Thomas wearing the stole even over his usual robes). Indeed, it was the Franks who gave the stole its current name. Before, it was called the orarium, and the Eastern clergy know their form of it as the orarion even today. Later on, some medievals stated that it had a common origin with the Jewish prayer shawl, but as with other theories relating to vestments' origins in Judaism, this one isn't true, either.

Returning to Becket, we're very fortunate to have some of the saint's own vestments preserved at the cathedral of Sens, France. You can see how the stoles from his age were very long, narrow, and generally of uniform width except for a little widening out at the ends. No medieval stoles ever fattened out like spades at the ends as Rococo stoles do, however.

The photo also shows an alb with apparels as I described before, a maniple, and a conical chasuble which I'll bring up again in a bit. Photo courtesy of Genevra Kornbluth.

The maniple

The maniple (from the Latin word manipulum for "handful" or "bundle") is a strip of fabric, often made out of the same material as the stole, that hangs over the cleric's left forearm. This one will be strange to anyone not familiar with the traditional Latin Mass, because it's hardly ever seen outside of that context. After Vatican II, the maniple was no longer required by the rubrics for Mass, and with no practical purpose to justify it, that meant it was as good as abolished for the post-conciliar Church.

Saint Alphonsus Liguori, in language typical of the 18th century pious, wrote: 
"It is well known that the maniple was introduced for the purpose of wiping away the tears of devotion that flowed from the eyes of the priest; for in former times priests wept continually during the celebration of Mass."
I'm not so sure about that. The maniple was also referred to as the sudarium, which literally means a sweat cloth. The liturgical maniple, then, probably descended from ornamental handkerchiefs that upper-class people in Roman times used to wipe off their sweat. Before it took its current form as a strip of cloth around the forearm, it was folded and carried in-hand. One can easily imagine Cassius, the fat games announcer from Gladiator, using it to wipe his brow in between bouts. 

The oldest surviving example I know, the maniple of Saint Cuthbert on display at Durham Cathedral, is of the folded handkerchief kind. Predatng the Norman Conquest, it was a gift from Queen Aethelflaed to the bishop of Winchester. 

The world's finest sweat rag ever made depicts Saint Sixtus II. I'm not sure how Sixtus feels about that.

A 14th century German maniple at the Victoria & Albert Museum. By this time, the maniple has been worn as a band around the forearm.

Considering the maniple's aristocratic origins, I can see why the maniple, which in its earliest days was used even by acolytes, gradually became restricted to subdeacons and higher. What I still don't know is how the maniple came to be used strictly for Mass and no other liturgical function.

The tunicle and dalmatic

The tunicle (from the Latin word tunicula for "little tunic") and the dalmatic (literally "Dalmatian", as in a robe made of Dalmatian wool) are the outer vestments for the subdeacon and deacon respectively. I group them together because in traditional Latin Mass communities today, they're basically interchangeable garments. This is because the medievals wanted the subdeacon and deacon to appear more symmetrical when assisting the priest. In theory, the subdeacon's tunicle is supposed to appear shorter and plainer, but I can't say I've ever seen any meaningful distinction in practice.

The tunicle, in Roman times, was a fine gown to be worn around the villa like a lounge suit. Subdeacons were already wearing tunicles by the time of Pope Gregory the Great, who wrote in a letter that he abolished the custom and had them wearing chasubles as before. (For those of you who are really in-the-know, you may remember that subdeacons and deacons wore folded chasubles during Advent and Lent until 1960. Perhaps this was an attempt to honor Gregory's rule halfway.) But that likewise was overturned, and subdeacons were wearing tunicles again until Vatican II, when the order was abolished entirely.

The dalmatic likewise was a garment worn by the late Roman aristocracy, only even more richly adorned. Deacons began wearing them in Rome as an honorific at the time of Pope Sylvester I, who was contemporary to Emperor Constantine. Both the tunicle and the dalmatic have luxurious, festive origins which help to explain why they were put away during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, as I mentioned before. The noble connotations remain today in the secular world because the British monarch still wears a dalmatic during the coronation rite.

In the early Middle Ages, dalmatics reached nearly to the floor and were always white. In the succeeding centuries, the length shortened a bit and colors were introduced at the same time that the system of prescribed colors for the chasuble came into play. 

In this famous mosaic of Emperor Justinian, I believe those two on the right of Bishop Maximianus are deacons in white dalmatics. They don't wear the chasuble (which was very cumbersome in early medieval times) as the bishop does because the deacons, being the bishop's servants, need their hands free to work.

A southern German dalmatic dating to c.1260, part of a set called the Göss Vestments. By this time the sleeves are shorter, but the sides are not yet cut with high slits like the Baroque dalmatics.

This dalmatic was a gift from the Byzantine emperor to Pope Eugene IV in the 15th century. It's the only medieval vestment left in the treasury of Saint Peter's Basilica. Sad. Perhaps the gentlemen in the Vatican thought "LOL, where's the lace?"

Left: how the dalmatic should look on a person.

The chasuble

Though this article could go on for nearly twice the length by just talking about copes and episcopal vestments, I'd like to end here with the priest's outer vestment, the chasuble. Called in Latin the casula ("little house"), it descends from a much humbler garment than the tunicle or dalmatic, despite the priest being higher in rank. The chasuble's ancestor in Roman times was a traveling poncho, serving the same purpose as the modern trenchcoat. The chasuble "housed" its wearer completely because the fabric extended from the neck all the way down to the ankle in the shape of a cone; in other words, basically a cope that's sewn shut in the middle.

Many details about the chasuble's evolution can be found elsewhere in plenty, so it suffices to say here that the medieval chasuble was very bulky, encumbering vestment that virtually required the deacon's and subdeacon's assistance to help the priest move around. This is why in the Latin Mass, the deacon and subdeacon are required to hold up the edges of the priest's chasuble when he ascends the altar steps, moves from side to side while incensing, or when he elevates the Eucharist. Without their help in lifting the material, it would have very difficult, if not impossible, for an elderly priest to elevate the Chalice without making an unholy mess.

All these inconveniences caused liturgical "fashion" to cut down the chasuble's length, inch by inch, until eventually, in the 18th century, we were left with the absurdity known as the fiddleback. Such chasubles are like the sleeveless t-shirt, or perhaps the g-string of vestments, and makes the gesture of the deacon pinching the sides of the priest's chasuble pointless, if not ridiculous. That is not to say that a priest's chasuble must be of the full conical form, but the vestment should at least be long and voluminous enough to suggest nobility, dignity, gravitas. The Gothic style attempts to do that while still allowing the priest some mobility. The fiddleback style does none.

The Wolfgangskasel (chasuble of Saint Wolfgang) dates c.1050. It's currently displayed in Regensburg. One of the oldest surviving chasubles out there, but much of the fabric is also reconstructed.

The chasuble of Bishop Bernulf, c.1150.

Another view of Saint Thomas Becket's chasuble at Sens.

An illustration by Augustus Welby Pugin of chasubles and copes as depicted on real effigies (such as on tombs). These are mostly from the later Middle Ages or the Renaissance.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

God's Advocates: The Ascent of the Dominican Order

As some of you may know, I didn't get accepted to graduate school, so I'm contemplating a change of career. But in all the confusion, I forgot to share with you one of my writing samples, an essay on the history of the Dominican Order. It was one of several topics I had to choose from for a midterm paper for a particular class, and I could only cite from a preset list of sources. So if that's why I neglected to cite from your favorite seminal work on the Order, now you know. Enjoy!

Update: a few minutes after I posted this, a friend of mine remarked, "just in time for the feast of St. Dominic". Lo and behold, I check and find out out that today, in the pre-Vatican II calendar, is indeed the feast day of Saint Dominic. I have to confess that apart from my chosen patrons, I don't really keep on top of saints' days so there is no way I posted this essay on purpose, even subconsciously. Truly, I just couldn't think of anything better to post today. This is either providential or extremely coincidental.

God’s Advocates: The Ascent of the Dominican Order

            On the eve of the 13th century, it seemed that Christendom was a house divided against itself.  The eastern churches had already long since severed communion with Rome.  Meanwhile, the flames of Cathar heresy were spreading across southern France, the so-called eldest daughter of the Church, with alarming speed.  The classic monastic orders were accused of standing idly in solitude as their communities were falling into the hands of heretics, living in violation of their vows of poverty and chastity, or both.  Who, in those turbulent times, would stand in defense of the Catholic Church against the teachings of the Cathars and those others who accused the Church of straying from the gospel’s narrow path?  Among these few, Dominic of Osma and his Order of Preachers arose to take up the cause of orthodoxy.  The Dominican friars would go on to enjoy great prestige in the urban and intellectual life of Europe for the rest of the medieval era.  This essay will examine the personal experiences of the Order’s founder, a treatise by a Dominican Master on the formation of Preachers, and other accounts of the Order’s activities to demonstrate why the Dominicans were one of the most popular and successful orders of the age: because they were the most adept of all the religious orders at fulfilling the Church’s need for educated, articulate defenders.  Unlike the cloistered monks, the Dominicans actively engaged the laypeople of the cities throughout western Europe, bringing the message of the established Church to them in a way they could understand.

Saint Dominic as painted by Fra Angelico, also a Dominican

            The Order’s roots begin with its namesake, Dominic of Osma, then a humble religious priest.  In 1205, he accompanied the bishop of Osma to visit Pope Innocent III in Rome.  Along the way, the two journeyed through southern France, the stronghold of the Cathar sect.  There, they met the Cistercian legates sent by the Pope to dispel the heresy and diagnosed just why the Cathars were so successful in leading the people of the region astray: “its clergy had grown amoral and overrich.  And they told the pope that ‘in order to shut the mouths of the wicked, the clergy must follow the Divine Master’s example in the way they acted and the way they taught, stand humbly in the sight of God, go on foot, spurn gold and silver; in short, they must imitate the Apostles’ way of life in everything they did.’”[1]
            The clergy, in short, had grown lax with centuries of privilege and patronage.  Their demands for alms and obedience fell on deaf ears when they were put in competition with the “perfect” of the Cathars: the purest of the sect’s ranks, who refused money and possessions, abstained completely from sex, and subsisted on a very strict diet.  While those rules may not seem different from the vows which professed monks must observe, the Cathars taught a radically different doctrine.  Like the Manicheans a millennium before, the Cathars preached a dualistic reality where a God of light and a God of darkness were equally matched in a great battle for the fate of the world.  Where the Catholic God was the creator of all material things, the Cathar was expected to shun them because they were a product of the evil deity.  The inherent evil of possessions gave the Cathar “perfect” a special incentive to live out the ascetic ideal; in doing so, their example put the Catholic clergy, even the most strictly observant religious of their time, to shame.  The “perfect”, furthermore, gave their weaker brethren only one condition for achieving salvation: “all they needed to do, in order to impregnate them with the coveted Spirit, was to stretch out their hands over them before they died.”[2]  It was a lot less to ask for than the Catholic clergy, who expected alms, penances, pilgrimages, and confession to men far less impressive than the Cathar leaders.
Left: Pope Innocent III excommunicating the Cathars (also called Albigensians). Right: The Albigensian Crusade.
            A call to the true spirit of poverty, then, was the prescription which Dominic brought to his pontiff in Rome.  Innocent gave Dominic his blessing and sent him back to the Cathar lands.  The people of Languedoc saw Dominic and his bishop return on foot, clad in simple garb, as poor as their opposition.  The two sides engaged in one dispute after another, but victory for the Cathars would not come so easily this time, for Dominic was a man of letters.  He knew Occitan, the language of the region.  He carefully prepared his arguments ahead of time, in writing.  In the “tournaments” arranged by the nobles and townsmen, he matched the Cathars’ objections point by point, and in the eyes of his judges, stood victorious.  This initial victory, won through the double-edged sword of poverty and reason, would shape the methods of Dominic’s followers for centuries to come.[3] 
            Dominic cemented his work in Languedoc by founding a convent adhering to the strict rule of St. Augustine, competing directly with the Cathar houses for women.  From there, he attended the Fourth Lateran Council which, despite its attempts to reign in the creation of new religious orders, authorized him to form the Order of Preachers.  The Dominican friars were a new force to be reckoned with: they did not seclude themselves behind walls, but worked in the towns and freely mingled with the laity.  Their rule, based on that of Augustine, stipulated, “We shall receive no property nor income of any kind.”[4]  It was a stark departure from the way monasteries supported themselves, which typically involved the collecting of tithes from tenants on their lands, just as feudal lords did.  The Dominicans’ rule even dispensed them from praying the hours of the Divine Office, which all other religious were obliged to observe, when they had a mission to perform among the people. 
The very name of the Order says much about their cause: to win the hearts and minds of the laity through the use of argument.  Humbert of Romans, fifth Master of the Order, penned a manual “On the Formation of Preachers” which illustrates how a friar would translate his method of argumentation from the university lecture hall to the pulpit.
Now there are some preachers whose preparatory study is either all devoted to subtleties... or, at other times, it is exclusively devoted to looking for novelties, their intention, like that of the Athenians, being always to find something new to say... But a good preacher's concern is rather to study what is useful.[5]
Humbert of Romans, fifth Master of the Order
Humbert repeatedly warns the aspiring preacher against overburdening his argument, whether it is by citing an endless list of authorities, citing multiple sources which all say the same thing, or ascribing too many meanings to a single word.  These faults are not likely to be committed by a simple-minded priest who has only a cursory knowledge of Scripture and no exposure to the early Fathers.  They are cautions for friars who were formed in the Dominican intellectual tradition, disputed theology in Dominican centers like the University of Paris, and were armed with the maxims of their intellectual heavyweights such as Albertus Magnus or Thomas Aquinas.  All the weapons of scholasticism would be useless if they all reached over the heads of an ordinary audience.  Humbert says, “A short act of worship encourages devotion, but one that is too long just sends people to sleep.  So concise preaching is useful, but it becomes useless if it goes on too long.”  He then goes on to warn the preacher of using one tactic exclusively, whether it is an argument, an anecdote, or an authority.  It is better to make moderate use of all three at once, then “The hook of preaching has a strong triple line attached to it, and that is a line which no fish can easily break.”[6]  Humbert’s language reminds his reader that the friar, for all his erudition, must stay true to what the gospel calls him to be: a fisher of men.
            All the Order’s talent still would not have assured their preeminence in the life of Christendom if it were not for the support they enjoyed from Rome.  Pope Innocent’s entire legacy was based on the assertion of papal primacy.[7]  To assert his influence over the kings of Europe, he first had to establish firm control over the bishops.  Powerful though the papacy was, it was still a tall order in a world of decentralized authority, where bishops reigned supreme within their dioceses.  The Lateran Council charged bishops with the duty of stamping out heresy by any means necessary, and threatened those who failed to contain the threat with deposition.[8] 
However, a more reliable solution for the Pope was to sidestep the bishops entirely.  The Dominicans, among other mendicant orders, were exempt from the local bishop’s authority in a number of ways.  The Council, for instance, forbade anyone “without the authority of the Apostolic See or of the Catholic bishop of the locality” from preaching, whether publicly or privately, under pain of excommunication.[9]  Even a priest in good standing could not simply go to the next town and preach without that bishop’s permission.  The Dominicans, to the contrary, held Rome’s trust and were authorized to go preach wherever they desired.  With no restrictions on where they could work or build monasteries, the Dominicans established themselves all over Europe, especially at intellectual centers from Bologna, to Montpellier (in the heart of the formerly Cathar stronghold in Languedoc), to as far as Oxford, where they were nicknamed the Blackfriars after their distinctive black cloaks.[10]  The papacy, in turn, used its close relationship with the Order to tighten its hold on the universities.  With loyal Dominicans at the forefront of so many schools, the papacy could ensure the dissemination of orthodox teaching everywhere; under the Order’s auspices, Catharism was doomed to extinction.
Santa Maria Novella, the chief Dominican church in Florence
Dominicans continued to play a large part in the history of the Church long after the Cathars had been eradicated.  If the Renaissance first emerged from the city of Florence in the course of the 14th century, the Blackfriars can proudly claim to have been among its architects.  Gene Brucker asserts that the Dominicans were “the most active and distinguished” religious order of that era.[11]  Where other orders in the city, such as the Camaldolese, suffered from poor education, family allegiances, and moral laxity, the popes could rely on the Dominicans to produce capable administrators and irreproachable spiritual leaders.  From Florence alone, the Order could boast of one canonized saint and three blesseds, including the renowned artist Fra Angelico.  Brucker adds, “A more significant index of distinction is the number of Florentine Dominicans who became bishops.  Twelve held sees between 1360 and 1430, and another (Leonardo Dati) was elected general of the order.”[12]  The most remarkable of these prelates was Fra Antonino Pieruzzi, elevated to the Archbishop of Florence’s throne in 1446.  A man of education and piety, he demanded that the priests of his diocese actually carry out their spiritual responsibilities.  When words failed, he had no qualms with imprisoning or even torturing priests who were lax in their duties.  At the same time, Antonino was not unbending to the realities of his city: merchants were children of God just as much as knights and peasants, and they could carry out their trade honorably.  “Just prices” were subject to the unseen forces of the market.[13]  He was later to be proclaimed a saint.
From the Order’s humble origins under Dominic to the flowering of the Renaissance in Italy, the Dominicans’ dual application of education and poverty gave them the edge needed to win the respect of both the Church’s hierarchy and the faithful at large.  Like the Jesuits of the Counter Reformation period, the Dominicans of the Middle Ages served as the Pope’s own shock troops in a war against heresy.  They produced a legion of saints and achieved a foothold in institutions of higher learning across the Catholic world and defined its mode of thought for centuries to come.  Nowhere is their legacy more felt than in the canonization of Thomas Aquinas and his Summa Theologiae as the definitive treatise on Catholic theology.  When the Council of Trent was finally convened to answer the challenges of Protestantism, two books were laid upon the altar: the Bible, and the Summa.  Surely, no Dominican could ask for a greater proof of his order’s contribution to the intellectual treasury of his church.

Works Cited
Brucker, Gene A.  Renaissance Florence.  New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1969.
Duby, Georges.  The Age of the Cathedrals: Art and Society, 980-1420.  Translated by Eleanor
Levieux and Barbara Thompson.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.
Hollister, C. Warren, Joe W. Leedom, Marc A. Meyer, and David S. Spear, ed.  Medieval
Europe: A Short Sourcebook, Fourth Edition.  McGraw-Hill Humanities: 2001.

[1] Georges Duby, The Age of the Cathedrals: Art and Society, 980-1420, trans. Eleanor Levieux and Barbara Thompson (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1981), 139.
[2] Ibid., 133.
[3] Ibid., 139.
[4] Ibid., 140.
[5] Humbert of Romans, “On the Formation of Preachers,” in Medieval Europe: A Short Sourcebook, Fourth Edition, ed. C. Warren Hollister et al. (McGraw-Hill Humanities, 2001), 247.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Duby, 137.
[8] “A Canon from the Fourth Lateran Council”, in Medieval Europe: A Short Sourcebook, 255.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Duby, 141.
[11] Gene A. Brucker, Renaissance Florence (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1969), 199.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., 201.