Thursday, August 28, 2003

Happy feast day of the Assumption to those using the Julian church calendar and of St Augustine of Hippo to those using the traditional Roman Rite or the Book of Common Prayer (a black-letter feast today).

What can I say about the Assumption? When I was at a 'Catholic' college a secularized acquaintance (Catholic schools: 'you'll value the values' — if you're on your way to being a secular person) mocked it saying it was irrelevant. ¿Qué? The hope of everlasting life, both body and soul, shown as something all mankind can hope for someday, irrelevant? Rubbish. That this sign would first be shown through the Mother of God (made possible, of course, by the Resurrection of her Son) makes sense.

The western baptismal creed, called the Apostles', says, 'I believe in... the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting'.

Blessed be her glorious Assumption.

I'm not sure how much of the story is required belief, though. As described in the Byzantine Rite liturgical prayers, the story obviously parallels Easter, but with details like the apostles being brought to the tomb on clouds.

Another Latin word, Dormition ('falling asleep', Russian успение), is often used for it among the Eastern Orthodox, because the older tradition (500s?) was simply to celebrate Mary's death — the story about her body being raised to heaven was spread later. The icon for the feast, which figures prominently in my icon corner at home (the description is about a year out of date), shows the Eastern tradition that says she died but becomes very vague and symbolic when it comes to her assumption. But, though it never was dogmatized in a council, Eastern Orthodox do believe in it.

The new iconoclasts have theology degrees
by Sandro Magister

Amid lots of other good stuff, finally a statement about the hypocrites who make fun of western Catholic religious images, and demand Calvinist-plain meetinghouses as churches, yet claim to looooooove icons:

Western fashion for Russian icons, to which everyone or almost everyone succumbs, is symptomatic of this problem. It accompanies the theological decrepitude of the persons and communities that display them. One pretends to compensate for the iconophobia reserved for the world of visible Catholicism (note the elimination of devotional images and the near complete reduction of great church art to something like a museum collection) with the ‘pure’ sentiment of the sacred icons. But this is entirely a 20th century sentiment, absolutely distant from the sacramental theology and the ‘religio’ of icons in the Orthodox world, which, if anything, is much closer to our realistic devotion for statues and Marian images, or the Sacred Heart, or the saints. I say ‘20th century’ because setting Greek or Russian icons against the sacred art of Renaissance Italy is a typical Western fruit of the avant garde’s primitivistic and anti-Renaissance hostility, apart from being a polemical use of Burkhardt’s theories about the anti-Christian character of modernity.

Grazie, Signore Magister! Yes, it's PC posturing and not at all related to the actual traditional practice of using icons (more on that on this page — scroll down). But among the sincere and orthodox in the West, too, one sees that (as friend Brendan Ross puts it) 'icons are hip right now'. Of course that can be a good thing, but the Catholic prohibition of mixing and matching rites to protect the Eastern Rites seems justified by the well-intended misuse of icons as described in this piece by Archimandrite Serge (Keleher).

A bone fragment of St Augustine is in a reliquary on the wall of my icon corner.

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