Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Swallowing Orthodox propaganda: Hull's flawed The Banished Heart

I mentioned a few weeks back that I was reading Australian linguist Geoffrey Hull's book The Banished Heart Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church in its 2010 edition, which includes some observations on the current  papacy.

A problematic storyline

I'm still less than half way through it (though I've skimmed ahead, as well as read the final couple of chapters) but I thought I would post on what I've read so far, lest I might have encouraged anyone to acquire a copy!

This is one of those books that has been recommended to me several times over the years by traddies.  And there seems to be more than a few positive reviews of it around by reputable authors.

But while it is quite an entertaining read, with lots of useful material in it, I personally think it is quite dangerously wrong in places, and in any case not a helpful perspective for traditionalists to adopt.

Let me explain a little why.

Where Hull has it right

The strength of the book, it seems to me, is its narrative of the post-Vatican II revolution, often using the words of the revolutionaries themselves, and sketching of some of the 'trial runs' for liturgical wreckovation in the Reformation and Jansenist liturgical projects.  It is a far more engaging narrative than other versions of the same story I've read.

And it is interesting too, to see highlighted that many of the ideas used by the revolutionaries of the post-Vatican II era did come from within the Church's own history and culture. 

I'm not convinced that is really a terribly new insight though: in fact Hull seems to be building on the line developed by Servais Pinckaers OP in his The Sources of Christian Ethics (1985), which pretty much damns all development in moral theology since the development of Nominalism in the fourteenth century, and in particular shares Hull's disdain for the manualist tradition of recent centuries.

Regardless, practically all heresies and heteropraxis in the past has similarly originated from within.  Heresy is typically an idea pushed a step or two too far, whereas orthodoxy and orthopraxis typically sits in the moderate bound between the extremes.

The (Eastern) Orthodox view of the world?

The real problem with the book though, from my perspective at least, is that Hull seems to have uncritically swallowed a lot of Eastern Orthodox propaganda on everything that is wrong in the Catholic Church, particularly in relation to the theology of the papacy, the nature of tradition, and the function of liturgy.

Now bear in mind that I haven't read the whole book thoroughly as yet, so my comments may need to be tempered or amended in the light of what he says in later chapters.

But in the chapters I've read so far, at least, the prism he views things through seems to be not Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox. 

Now I certainly agree that Eastern Orthodox views can sometimes provide a useful counter-balance for the Western Church.  I can certainly agree that the Western Church has not always treated the Eastern Catholic rites well.  And I can certainly agree that there is much to learn from them. 

The hard reality, though, is that centuries of schism have led to hardening of Orthodox positions into outright heresy in more than a few areas, and I don't think Hull has adequately taken that into account.

And even in areas where the different perspectives between East and West don't amount to outright error, I cannot see that attacking the Western patrimony, as Hull repeatedly does, is particularly helpful to the traditionalist cause!

The split between East and West?

In the second half of the book (which I've only skimmed as yet) I gather he sees Trent and the Counter-Reformation as an over-reaction to Protestantism that resulted in a shift in the view of the Pope from 'custodian' to 'arbiter', and explains the widespread acceptance of the Vatican II reforms in the light of that.

But in the chapters I have read in the first half of the book, he sets the scene for how this could happen, pointing to the schism between East and West as the real origin of the problem.

I beg to differ.

The 'value' of liturgy?

Hull's central thesis seems to be that the West really went astray when the Catholic Church failed to give proper weight to the importance of pure worship, with reason displacing the emphasis on the mystical, a development he attributes primarily to the break with the East.

Firstly I think he is quite wrong on the point of divergence between East and West on liturgy, and the reasons for it.

He quotes Pope Gregory I, for example, as an example of the mystical perspective, and understanding of liturgy as 'theologica prima' that was later lost. 

Yet the West early developed a a theology around the intercessory value of the liturgy, and of the liturgy as a channel of specific graces, very early on indeed, ideas developed by the 'speculative theology' that Hull so despises in favour of the implicit knowledge gained from contemplation.

In particular, Hull argues that the Novus Ordo Mass could only have been constructed in the wake of Pope Pius XII's argument that the dictum lex orandi, lex credendi worked both ways; yet Western Popes have been deliberately shaping the liturgy and devotions to teach the faith for centuries.

Indeed, to Pope Gregory the Great can also be attributed the introduction of the 'Gregorian' of masses for the dead, the custom of saying thirty consecutive masses for the release of the dead from purgatory and the origins of 'speculative theology', as well as a policy of 'inculturation', or of deliberately Christianizing pagan practices as a missionary tool.

Indeed, the distinction in perspective between East and West arguably goes back further, reflected in the very origins of the monastic tradition in the West, for whereas those early Eastern monks sat listening to the psalms as they did their basketweaving, St Martin of Tours insisted on a clear separation between times of manual work and times of liturgy.  And St Benedict followed St Martin, explicitly cutting back the amount of psalmody the monk should expect to get through in the course of a day, and insisting that the Church be kept for worship and nothing else.

My point is just that Western and Eastern perspectives on the liturgy, though they have common roots and a common core of beliefs, diverged very early indeed.

Culture, platonism and antiquarianism

In my view, judging modern developments through the lens of Eastern views is a mistake, not lest because its logical conclusion is actually the antiquarianist mentality that Hull explicitly rejects.  From a traditionalist perspective, concepts such as 'organic development' proposed by Alcuin Reid amongst others is potentially at least much more helpful to the traditionalist cause.

Similarly, Hull's rejection of the value of speculative theology and any knowledge gained through dialectical engagement is, I think, particularly unhelpful (as is his consequent rather nasty attacks on convert clergy). 

A good case can be made, I think, that in many ways Eastern theological development was effectively arrested by the great Schism.  Speculative theology in the East had been the cause of endless heresies and schisms of various durations long before that final break.  But once the break occurred, the lack of any means of resolving theological debates led to a closing down of debate altogether, and after the fall of Constantinople, Orthodox theology fell into a rather sterile scholasticism.

In the West by contrast, the role of the papacy allowed the recovery of classical culture in the twelfth century and then at the time of the Renaissance to lead  to the development  of a balance between faith and reason that is, I think, far from being problematic, one of the triumphs of the Western Church.

And if the balance has perhaps swung too far in favour of reason at times, then the work of theologians such as Tracey Rowland, in her Culture and the Thomist Tradition, and doing much to provide a basis to correct this.

The nature of tradition and the role of the papacy

The biggest problems I have with this book though, relate to the treatment of the nature of tradition, and the role of the papacy, and I'll say more about those issues in a future post.

8 comments:

Tancred said...

This is actually one of my pet peeves. People look for sanctuary anywhere, and often leave what they are familiar to attempt to make a home in an exotic locale to find they're confronted with some of the same problems they left behind.

N. Whitmont said...

I've not read the Geoffrey Hull book in question, though I've read some magazine articles that he has written. Perhaps Dr Hull overestimates the extent to which Eastern Orthodoxy is willing to tolerate (let alone to welcome) Western "fellow-travellers".

My impression of Eastern Orthodoxy - I fear this can sometimes be said of Eastern-Rite Catholicism also, in certain cases - is that in practice it's pretty much a display of pride in the Slav mindset. Heaven help you if you're not a Slav.

Therese said...

Another v. interesting post, Kate! This may not be 100% relevant as I’ve only read this book in its first edition but I got the impression that the author’s line on the Papacy was basically that of the Society of St Pius X. I also read an article by Dr Hull in a theological journal (around 2000 I think) where he discusses Eastern Orthodoxy and says that here we are dealing with an arrested dogmatic tradition combined with a “material Catholicism” outside the Catholic Church, which I think was the position of the declaration on the Eastern Churches at Vatican II. His thought is pretty complex but I guess his main point (if I have understood it right) is that in Catholicism we have a thriving dogmatic tradition (= formal Catholicism) but many are now less than Catholic in a material sense because even the theological conservatives have strayed down the path of what Hull terms ‘heteropraxis’ (though it should be noted that Modernists use this term to mean something like politically incorrect morality). I look forward to your further thoughts but he seems to be saying that orthopraxis is the material side of religion and dogmatic orthodoxy is the formal part (a kind of Aristotelian distinction). So the schismatic Easterners are strong on traditional orthopraxis while we are now sadly weak on this while otherwise preserving the main marks of the Catholic Church. Quite a paradox really. I’d be interested to see what the new edition says if I can track it down.

Kate Edwards said...

Therese - First, thaks for commenting, my never sure whether these kinds of posts where I'm working through my own thinking are of interst to others!

I think you are probably right about him coming out somewhere within the SSPX spectrum, though his views would logically, I think, take one more towards the sede end of the segment than that with any prospect of reconciling!).

I'm not sure yet about the distinction you suggest - my impression, particularly from the final chapters on the current and most recent papacies is that he is pretty firmly in the Orthodox camp. Certainly, the ecclesiology and views on the papacy he articulates is firmly in the rather hardline side of the Orthodox spectrum as far as I can gather. But I'm still working my way through so maybe the material vs formal distinction you see in his earlier work is still there!

And indeed I do plan saying more on the book shortly!

Michael said...

This may be of interest to you and your readers. I was present at an Orientale Lumen conference at ACU Melbourne some years back when Professor Hull (a very good speaker) gave an address about Summorum Pontificum. From what I remember and was told by people taught by him (and the poor man was at first heckled by a pair of modernist nuns who had to be silenced by the moderator!), he is just a mainstream traditionalist who goes to the Latin Mass and some Eastern rite from some family connection, is sympathetic to the SSPX but they don't like him because he does not fit into the "let's revive the 1950s" camp. My impression from this paper he gave was that he is a doctrinally orthodox Catholic but critical of things in our history that are open to question (like the abuse of power in imposing the new liturgy that all traditionalists insist on), so the idea that his theology is Eastern Orthodox somehow doesn't ring true. I haven't read his book but many people have spoken about it and this is the first time Ive heard anybody say that it is Orthodox motivation. I did however read a review he wrote in "Christian Order" (two years ago?) about a book written by a notorious sedevacantist (Fr Cekada) and he was definitely very firmly opposed to sedevacantism.

Therese said...

Michael's comment inspired me to browse through my (1995) copy of "the Banished Heart" and re-read a few key sections. I think there may be a misunderstanding about where the author is "coming from". When I studied theology I remember learning that there are two main modes of ecclesiology, the "juridical model" favored by the Roman Church which has tended towards centralization, and the "communion model" favored by the Eastern churches. Both are orthodox and mutually complementary, so long as you don't deny the Pope's universal primacy of jurisdiction. For cultural reasons, the East has made juridical considerations secondary (that's why their theology can seem "wooly" to us) whilst the West has made communion considerations secondary (which is why liturgy has got sidelined). Also, the theology of the Eastern Catholic churches favors the "communion model", so you can't say it's purely Eastern Orthodox or even heterodox. I know that Eastern Catholic theologians get very annoyed when expected to see everything through a Roman theological lens exclusively. We have to beware of equating the Roman theological tradition with Catholic theology in the widest sense. The problem with the Orthodox is that they deny the Holy Father's primacy as defined by Vatican I (but going back to much earlier orthodox teaching). I admit I haven't been able to re-read the whole book in a few hours but I'd be very surprised if Dr Hull denies any binding dogma of faith, unless there is some major difference in the second edition. Meantime no more comment from me until I put my money where my mouth is and read the second edition. All the best!

Kate Edwards said...

I should make it clear that when I say I think he is swallowing Orthodox propaganda, I'm not really talking about the theological issues primarily, but more the particular spin on historical events. I'll say more about that in a post today!

Secondly, I am not suggesting that he outright advocates heretical positions - in fact he is mostly fairly careful to say that he doesn't. But I do think the positions he advocates logically lead in a direction that is erroneous.

And on a number of theological issues, his opinions do, I think, run directly counter to the weight of (ordinary) magisterial and theological opinion. But I'll say more on this anon.

In terms of ecclesiology, on the communio vs judicial model, he certainly does attempt to articulate these two approaches and I agree in principle they can both be made to work. Does Hull articulate them in a way that achieves that though? I'm not entirely convinced. He actually seems to take the Kaspar position in the Kaspar vs Ratzinger debate on a CDF document articulating a view on the local vs universal church which the current Pope has subsequently given more weight to. But this is a big and difficult topic, so I'll write a separate post on it so we can tease out what Hull is really saying on this!

But may be I am misinterpreting him...

Collin Michael Nunis said...

Tancred: I don't think that a Latin looking to the Eastern Catholic Churches amounts to "making a home in an exotic locale" only to find themselves confronted with some of the same problems they left behind. The grass is never greener on the other side.

N. Whitmont: Eastern Catholicism, if you must, is not confined to the Slavic people. I am a Melkite Catholic, and I am not of Middle Eastern descent.

Therese: How is it possible that the Eastern model of "the Words of Institution + the Epiclesis" in transforming bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (as an example of Eastern theology held by Eastern Catholics) can be considered "wooly" theology? And how is this a fruit of the "communion model" of church?

Apologies for this confronting question, but I would love to hear your thoughts. :)