Toward or Away From The Secular

That is the Question.

In last night’s post, I proposed that the movement away from the liturgical calendar was a motion towards the secular. There were two comments, as I had cross-posted that at the two blogs on which I’m active, and got one from each.

Mr Trabue asks for clarification:

I know you said “arguably,” but I was wondering how exactly you see a move away from a liturgical calendar as being in any way a move towards secularization?

While Kyle points to Zwingli (and do visit as the whole comment is worthwhile)

It has to do with the puritan movement in England, but I forget exactly the argument. I think there was something to do with a radical misapplication of the principle of sola scriptura, so you’ll need to ask Zwingli. If they banned musical instruments because they weren’t mentioned in the New Testament (though actually they are), can you wonder that they also eliminated scheduled holidays?

[…]My personality is such that I’d rather every day were the same – I hate keeping track of dates. But I’ve sort of resigned myself to celebrating holidays, since everyone around me insists on doing it. If I ignore them for no good reason, what am I communicating? But it seems to me that, if we’re going to start celebrating holidays, we might as well celebrate all of them. I suppose we will eventually.

My attempted clarification and further remarks can be found below the fold.

Part of that discarding the liturigical calendar is a motion to the secular is technical. That is secular derives from saeculum (A saeculum is a length of time roughly equal to the potential lifetime of a person or the equivalent of the complete renewal of a human population. The term was first used by the Etruscans. …). In that sense, because as noted in the prior post there are two aspects of the liturgical calendar that give it a sense of motion away from the marking of time which characterizes the secular. First, liturgical holidays as distinguished from most secular ones, like commemorations of events like the July 4th or the Superbowl are ennumerated. They specifically mark the saecula. Secondly the liturgical holidays themselves, just as the Sunday liturgy itself are all acts which connnect in symbol, in mind, and intent with both all the other events of the same sort and as well with the the eternal and original event that they mark.

Zwingli and the iconoclastic reformers in general were in fact striving for more secular life for their worship communities but less (iconoclasm itself is something I’ll defer to a later post). However in broad strokes, specifically they were moving against simple external piety and for an internal deeper spirituality. However, in doing so they failed in that object. Catholicity (or Orthodoxy) encompasses and validates a broad range of spiritual expression. Protestant spiritual expression encompasses at least as large a range but … within any given Protestant communion the range is far narrower.

I’ve used the term “crutches for crippled Christians” as a generic term for a lot of Orthodox (and likely Catholic) praxis, such as incense, icon, remembering and venerating saints, crossing oneself, prostration, and  so on.  To quote part of the comment from Kyle not included in the above, “He [St. Paull] said these things in reference to celebrating Jewish holidays, but surely they can apply to liturgical time as well. Religious holidays are not in themselves either salvific or condemning, but could have either effect depending …” which is exactly the point. Liturgical calendars help many to connect with the Eternal aspect of the Church. One could say the same about so many other things, some are helped some are not.  Keeping to the liturgical calendar or not is not salvific nor a condemnation. It can on the other hand be a helpful crutch for some. The Reformers reacted to a notion that for many the crutch became the “thing.” However, in my experience, this is not a modern accusation that holds water. Iconic and pious elements are not seen by any to be salvific.

An example, the are taught when Orthodox crossing themselvs to hold the fingers of your right hand, with thumb pressed to index and pointer with the two remaining fingers down. This is, as the instruction goes, to remind oneself of the Trinity (the three digits together) together with the dual nature of Christ as both God and Man (the other two fingers) in one gesture which sweeps in a cross in three motions (Trinity again). This gesture and its formation is not savific. It is praxis, intentional action recapitulating and reinforcing in the practitioner theological expression and symbol. A lot of theological construction can be assigned to that simple motion. Those same theological constructions, are also brought consciously or unconsciously to mind as one repeats that motion, a self reinforcing action. One is not condemned if one doesn’t “cross oneself” at the correct time, nor is one saved by dutifully crossing oneself at every “important” moment or mention of Trinity in liturgy.

This is in that sense, an argument against the Zwinglian iconoclasm and minimalism. It works for some, especially those who can run without “crutches.” But for many more it helps them understand in deeper ways what the Church teaches and represents. To argue against the use of the liturgical cycle (or any of the other “crutches” noted above) requires one, in a basic sense, to argue that they do in practice actually lead people away from the Light via idolization. They were instituted and practiced because it was felt that they did the reverse. Arguably as well, especially in the modern era, they do not become the object of worship.

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