Friday, 13 January 2012

Evil Modern Theology Revisited

Seeing our refectory, I described it as 'incarnational'. It is recognisable as what it is, and what it is has the obvious ability to elevate the individual. The signs and symbols are accessible.

Modern theology moves this into a representational symbolism, which is not accessible, except to those in the know. If you like it is a kind of modern gnosticism. I know, of course, that symbolism has been used in Christian art and architecture for centuries, but only as something which gives an obvious picture an extra depth. In accord with classical Biblical interpretation, you should not just have hidden interpretation, or mystical interpretation, but also a plain meaning. One can go deeper if one has the time and the inclination, but one should also be able to stay on the surface.

The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck - full of symbolism but with an obvious and plain meaning.
A picture of the Annunciation can be filled with any number of hidden references that one is able to 'read' if one knows the key - symbols of virginity, of the presence of the Holy Spirit, of the crucifixion and death of the  Son who is about to exist in her womb... but if it is not recognisably the Annunciation, then these other symbols only have meaning for the smug club who understands such things.

This is what I hate, anything that transforms our religion into a smug club for those who have the time (and education) to 'read' the hidden things.

Incidently this is one of the reasons why the revision of the Lectionary was such a disaster in my opinion. Simply put, huge chunks of dislocated Old Testament Scripture were inserted into Holy Mass. If you happen to go to daily Mass you will hear them 30 times in your life, on Sundays perhaps 20 times or so. They will generally not be preached on, nor explained. If you are clever, and have the education and intelligence to go to Bible study groups, then you can have access to them. If you do not have the time nor the inclination (and there is no obligation to study the Bible after all) then it is a 'closed book'. It becomes hidden.

Please follow the link below
Getting back to the smug club. I came to this conclusion and this comparison having seen an installation of a religious image in a school in my British Diocese. Please look at the pictures here, or none of this will make any sense. I am not making any judgement on its merit as 'art' - or its meaningfulness for the children who are there at the moment. But it is not immediately accessible. It has no plain meaning. It is at best, in the theological terms that I have just outlined, a secret coded image which is meaningful for those in the club.

When the Rites of the Church are shrouded in mystery, then the symbols which explain and expand them must work on numerous levels, and these levels must be built one on top of the other. The base is a plain reading, a plain representation, something that everyone, be they four or ninety four, can access. When it becomes clever, then it stops being Catholic.

We are both clear and clever. We can be only clear, but we enter dangerous water if we are only clever. The modern Church (and I would also say modern liturgy) tends towards being too clever, becoming too smug.

The result of the Incarnation was that it was accessible (had a plain meaning) and was infinitely deep, far beyond our understanding. He was human with warmth, and recognisable.

Faith, practice, theology, architecture, art, liturgy must imitate God-made-man. God became man, then we went further into the mystery.
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