Saturday, March 18, 2006

Time Magazine on the Western Rite

A fascinating article from the annals of Time Magazine -- dated May 1, 1964. (You can read the original article here OR here.)

Eastern but Western

If, by chance, a Roman Catholic walked into Sunday worship at the Church of the Divine Wisdom in Mount Vernon, N.Y., he would feel right at home. The priest at the altar would be wearing alb, chasuble, maniple and stole, the familiar Eucharistic vestments of the Western church; the liturgy he celebrated, except for the use of English instead of Latin, would be almost identical with the Roman Mass. But the worshippers at the church are not Roman Catholics, or even High-Church Anglicans; they are members of the little-known Western Rite of the Orthodox Church.

Keeping the Mass. The Western Rite is an Orthodox attempt to restore the cultural balance of East and West that existed in their church before Rome —as the East believes — fell away into schism in 1054. In doctrine, Western Orthodox believers follow the bearded patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch and Moscow, but their way of worship is the Mass rather than the lengthy Divine Liturgies of the East. The Western Rite missal has been purged of Roman "heresies," such as supererogation, the belief that man can acquire grace through the merits of saints as well as through Christ's redemption. Communion is given in the form of bread and wine instead of bread alone. The Nicene Creed is recited without a major theological cause of the schism, the filioque clause, thereby adhering to Orthodox teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.

Founder of the Western Rite was the Rev. Joseph Overbeck, a scholarly German priest who converted to Orthodoxy in 1865. Overbeck had only a handful of followers, but he prepared a revision of the Roman missal and outlined a theological defense of the Western Rite idea that eventually convinced Orthodox church leaders. In 1926, the Orthodox Church of Poland accepted the allegiance of some Polish Catholics, who were allowed to keep the Mass and most of their liturgical customs. In the U.S., most of the Western Rite Orthodox belong to the Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese, which drew up rules in 1958 for a Christian who wanted to join the church.

More than Tribal. Western Orthodoxy has been slow to catch on: there are only 3,000 Western Rite Orthodox in about 50 scattered parishes around the world. Even many Eastern Orthodox regard their Western Rite brethren as second-class Christians. But the Rev. William Schneirla, a top-ranking Orthodox theologian from St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York, argues that the Western Rite "is in some respects the most important recent enterprise of Orthodoxy." It gives force to Orthodoxy's claim to be a truly ecumenical church rather than a "tribal religion" and provides "a new instrument for the reawakening missionary thrust of Orthodoxy." Others believe that the new church may help preserve the faith for future generations of U.S. Orthodox who find themselves unsympathetic to the Old World culture and mentality of their fathers.

If only the Church had listened to "Rev. William Schneirla" (that's "Father Paul" to us). His words are as true today as when they were spoken -- given the multicultural melting pot of society, more so. Aspiring tribal religions will not long endure in this culture, and they will certainly never enlighten many souls within it; only a transcendent and charitable expression of the Catholic faith delivered to all nations and cultures can do that.



Blogger Eric John said...

I wonder if someone could talk more about this:

"Roman 'heresies,' such as supererogation, the belief that man can acquire grace through the merits of saints as well as through Christ's redemption"

I'm not clear on the real Roman Catholic doctrine of supererogation (if, in fact, there even is one). The saints can't have merits apart from Christ's redemption. Thus, if the merits of St. Martin of Tours can help me get to heaven, it's really the work of Christ. Without Christ's redemption, St. Martin would be stuck in hades and I'd be out of luck.

I think there must be a division between the actual belief of saints having merits and the abuses of the Papacy (if there were any in this regard). Notice I'm a bit doubtful because I've been brought up on post-Reformation propaganda. So, perhaps someone can offer some enligtenment on this subject. And, as I am a bookworm, I'm always up for good literary suggestions. I need to read more about the Reformation period from disinterested parties. Thanks.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Andersen said...

Thanks for posting this, Ben! I've known that this Time article existed; I've just never gotten around to finding it.

On the whole "merits" issue: Father Turner was apparently of the impression that the Latin collects were somehow corrupted after the schism with talk of supererogation.

I don't believe that there is any evidence for this argument. The problem is that most of these collects, "merits" and all, are very much pre-schism and predate the doctrine of supererogation by centuries.

Clearly the ancient collects mean something else: "merits" in the sense of the eternal rewards bestowed upon the Saints by Christ himself.

Neale, in translating the first line of the hymn Sanctorum meritis, had "The triumphs of the Saints."

Also, a very knowledgeable priest told me something rather interesting about the Greek version of the Liturgy of Saint Peter (that is, the medieval Byzantinized version of the Roman Mass). The word merita in the collect Oramus te (in the beginning of the Mass) was rendered as praxis ("works" or "deeds").

So, whether it's "rewards" "triumphs" or "deeds," the word "merit" in the ancient collects does not mean supererogation.

So perhaps it's time for the WRV to leave behind the baseless practice of striking the word "merit" from the collects?

5:56 PM  
Blogger Eric John said...

Thanks for explaining that, Ben. Can either Ben or another explain the doctrine of supererogation?

9:20 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Andersen said...

Supererogation, as far as I understand it (maybe a knowledgeable RC can correct me), has to do with a treasury of merits in heaven, gained by each Saint over and above the merits which were necessary for his own salvation. These extra merits can somehow be applied to those of us who need them for our salvation here on earth.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Sorry for the late response, Eric John -- went down and would not allow me to add a comment or update the blog.

Subdn. Benjamin has laid out the doctrine of supererogation. In essence, the belief is that one needs a certain amount of "merit" (or perhaps a quantifiable amount of "grace"!) to enter Heaven. The Roman church believes certain saints accrued more merits than they needed (super-erogation). These lie in a deposit to which the RCC holds the key. She can then transfer these to others in order to alleviate temporal punishment for sin by means of an Indulgence...and thus began the Protestant Revolution. (I could be wrong, but this is how I understand it.)

Subdn. Benjamamin: "The problem is that most of these collects, 'merits' and all, are very much pre-schism and predate the doctrine of supererogation by centuries. Clearly the ancient collects mean something else."

I just had this discussion a week or so ago. You are absolutely correct about this: the term "merit" predates the heresy and needs to be re-examined (and perhaps reclaimed?) as part of the Western Orthodox heritage. Another uphill battle for the WRV? :)

3:55 AM  

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