30 May 2011

Can my eating slake your hunger? (1) Bossy and Pickstock

Martin Luther notoriously, and polemically, asserted "As you massmongers cannot be baptised nor believe for someone else, similarly you are unable to receive the Sacrament for someone else. As every man is baptised for himself, so he has to eat and drink for himself. Can my eating slake your hunger? No more can your eating of this Sacrament do me good". Two late twentieth century writers effectively turned the question in Luther's rant back on itself and returned to Luther a positive answer: indeed - my eating can slake your hunger. The first was John Bossy, whose Christianity in the West 1400-1700 (1985) charted the breakdown, towards the end of the Middle Ages, of a corporate conception of society which Bossy had examined in terms of kinship patterns and economics as well as religion. The second writer was Catherine Pickstock, a Cambridge member of an Anglican group called Radical Orthodoxy, who titled a major section of her After Writing (1998) with Luther's question.

Pickstock's book is not often found to be easy going. She has a donnish weakness for neologisms and an assumption that any potential reader will be happy to work hard to understand her sometimes contorted jargon means. But her book deserves to be rescued from its ... frankly, not entirely undeserved ... obscurity, for several reasons. One such reason is her importance in the establishment, in the 1990s, of the reaction against the assumptions and presuppositions of the post-Conciliar liturgical 'reforms'. When Fr Aidan Nichols wrote his Looking at Liturgy in 1996 (and, goodness me, how well that volume has worn: dust it down and reread it), he was able to incorporate a discussion of Pickstock's work because he had read parts of it, in its earlier guise as a Cambridge thesis submitted for the degree of Ph.D.. By her study of 'liturgical stammering' and 'repeated beginnings', she demonstrated the essentially 'oral' generic nature of liturgical language, vindicating it against 'Enlightenment' fashions for 'linear clarity' and for the avoidance of what Vatican II question-beggingly called "unnecessary repetitions" (how can an ecumenical Council have been so oblivious that this is contemptuous of the ancient and venerable Byzantine Rite which so unashamedly re-echoes - again and again - its call "Again and again let us pray to the Lord" .... Kyrie eleison ...  ?).

But it is, in particular, her emphasis on the corporate quality of Christianity that I desire to consider; that your eating does slake my thirst. Every man is not an island.

This piece will be concluded with an examination a Purgatorian Archconfraternity.


Dr. Adam DeVille said...

I am delighted to see you discussing Pickstock. I read her book immediately after it came out and I have long wondered why she has not garnered more critical attention. To my mind, her criticisms of the post-conciliar revisions are very damning in some respects, and the relative silence that has greeted them has often made me wonder whether people preferred to ignore rather than answer her because to do the latter would result in what Alasdair MacIntyre calls an 'epistemological crisis.'

William Tighe said...

It may be, Dr. DeVille, that some are disinclined to peruse her works because of her known stances in favor of women's ordination and homosexual pseudogamy -- stances seemingly common to the "radical orthodoxy" coterie (cf. John Millbank).

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

Oh! This I was not aware of. Thanks for mentioning it.

William Tighe said...

Not that this is an adequate justification, Dr. DeVille, for ignoring her work, as I would be the first to admit -- but those Catholics who admire her works (and those of Dr. Millbank) are frequently not aware of their views on WO and SS, either. (I recall a photograph of Dr. Millbank being given communion by a Ukrainian Catholic bishop at a conference in Ukraine a year or two ago that circulated rather widely on the Internet ...)

I am a member of a Ukrainian Catholic parish, btw.

Sadie Vacantist said...

William Tighe is correct. His invocation of MacIntyre is also interesting. There seems to be a strata within British academic circles (and its diaspora) aware of the crisis within the Enlightenment project but nothing seems to be coming of it. Milbank's "radicals" are based at Nottingham and they continue to publish academic tomes which, as MacIntyre himself concedes, nobody reads. Perhaps its the blog format (sic) that can best distil the movement's ideas.

In summary they look neither radical nor orthodox nor even accessible. Hopefully Father H will get bored with them and move on.

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

This is very interesting. I confess to not having kept up with the RO crowd for a while now. I read Pickstock, as mentioned, and a bit of Milbank, but have not followed either closely since about 2006. When I did read them, one of the great unanswered questions I had was: where's the ecclesiology?

William Tighe said...

"When I did read them, one of the great unanswered questions I had was: where's the ecclesiology?"

Yes, well, I think it was Rusty Reno who once wrote of RR as making a virtue of the incoherences of Anglican ecclesiology, especially in the case of those starting from an Anglo-Catholic stance. I have a distinct recollection from five years ago, or more, of either David Hart of Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon telling me that he (I forget which one it was) was going to address that question in a forthcoming article, but I don't think it ever appeared.

Nixon is Lord said...

When my mother died, I didn't pray for her. Neither when my father died. I don't know what else I could do for then other than do my best to be a good son to them while they were alive. Now they are beyond where I can help them.
They are not god: they don't know what I'm thinking or saying; they don't have the ability to follow me all over the world; they have no power of their own.
And if god knows everything already, why would he be more likely to do something I want just because they also asked it? this makes god sound like a corrupt ward boss in the Roaring 20s.