Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Scandal of Particularity

There was a post on Vox Nova recently that dealt with the selection of new Cardinals, who do not seem as diverse/international a group as has been usual in the recent past. This turned into a discussion of the tension between the local and the universal, the particular and the general, in the "Roman" Catholic Church (though, of course, as I've discussed before, that's really not Her proper name, though it does capture something of this "paradox"), and just what sort of "balance" is desirable in this regard.

I've discussed this before in regards to the question of local rites and the seeming "imperialism" of the globalized Roman Rite becoming the "default" rite for places even outside that geographical patriarchate (and, in turn, the ironic result of Novus Ordo being stripped of much of its specifically Roman urban particularities and quirky historical accretions for the sake of becoming this one-size-fits-all bland "United Nations Liturgy," constructed as if in a theoretical vacuum of timelessness and non-contingency; the over-extension of the local to the universal ended up with something like localizing a universal rather than universalizing a local.)

I also have my own thoughts on the question of how to "balance" the local and universal in the College of Cardinals. That's not really the point of this post, but it really doesn't deserve a post of its own either so I'll just quickly summarize: currently, the College of Cardinals has cardinal-bishops who are the ordinaries of the suburbicarian sees of Rome, cardinal-priests who are the pastors (technically) of parishes around Rome (originally just the 25 tituli), and cardinal-deacons who are assigned to various parishes with diaconal titles now too (different from the presbyteral titles, and originally representing the 7 diaconia districts of Rome).

Rather than making random "important" Sees around the world cardinalatial by having their bishops be the titular pastors or deacons of parishes in Rome, I'd be inclined to keep the local cast by really having seven deacons of Rome again, and the 25 pastors of restored tituli. However, I'd also be inclined to have the college on a sort of "continuum" from local to more universal just like the Pope's own roles. So I wouldn't stop at the bishops of the suburbicarian sees. I'd also have archiepiscopal cardinals, who would be the archbishops of Italy (of which the Pope is Primate). I'd have primatial cardinals, the primates of all the Latin Rite nations (of which the Pope is Patriarch). And all the Patriarchs would be cardinals too automatically. Basically, the Pope's direct and immediate "suffragans" in any of his various roles, the various "concentric cirlces" of his office.

But, that's an aside. What this post was really about, per the title, is the idea of the "scandal of particularity." This is a phrase/idea that a friend introduced me too that I find quite useful. I was going to try to describe it myself, but a Dominic Holtz, O.P. described it well enough on the Vox Nova post so I'll just quote him so that readers can understand what is meant by this term:
I am not sure that tension is the best way to talk about the Romanitas of Roman Catholicism. I suspect the more fundamental worry here is the so-called “scandal of particularity.” It is tempting to imagine that something, to be universally valid, is only universal to the extent that it is free from the particularities of time, place, experience, culture, etc. The attractive idea is a kind of free-floating truth which then can embed itself in anyone, anywhere, anywhen.

The Incarnation, I think, indeed the whole of salvation history from the election of Abraham through the story of the people of Israel, through Jesus and the Church, is a history of particularities. We do not get to know God better by abstracting what was particular of the experience of Israel, or of the first-century Mediterranean, or for that matter of the very concrete, particular life of Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee and (briefly) Jerusalem. God apparently speaks his Word once for all to his saints not in universalized ways, but through very particular people and places, and we appropriate these not by bypassing their particularity, but by letting the full and robust specificity of that moment enter into the equally robust particularity of our own, which God has prepared so to receive it.

This means that, e.g. the eastern Mediterranean, Hellenic and Hellenized culture which stamps the early Church and the Fathers is an intended and enduring feature of the life of the Church. It also means that Rome is not merely where the Vicar of Christ happens to be, but where God in his providence means for us to encounter the charism of Peter in its particularity. What we will see as the permanent and abiding contributions of west Africa or east Asia remain to be seen, but they will undoubtedly be there.
I think Ratzinger said something like this in Spirit of the Liturgy about how, say, the matter of the sacraments (wheat bread, grape wine, olive oil) cannot be "localized" (say, rice bread in Asia or something like that), nor should the liturgical calendar be flipped to fit the seasons (Easter in Southern Hemisphere Springtime, for example), because they refer to the first century Levant and Hellenic culture in the Roman Empire. Christ is not some "colorless flame" of generic abstract ideas. No, God entered into the contingencies of history, a specific time, a specific place, a specific human life. This is the real scandal of Christianity.


Who Am I said...

My question becomes the following, how does one distinguish between that which is an unchanging constant, and that which is able to adapt within a local context. Often times it would appear that individuals equivocate between both, without distinction.

Curiously, this brings up another set of questions pertaining to Ritual Tradition as embodied in something like Liturgical art. Given that there are indeed established canons for that which is appropriate from within a Liturgical setting, how then does one explain particulars across T/traditions who are bound by the same canons ? What of reunion between The Churches ? The Church/Rome came to define itself within itself/by itself following 1054 AD. How then does one bridge the gap between say scholasticism,and patristic theology concerning our distinct nuance in theological terms ? Does that dictate that patristic theology no longer serves a purpose, and that The Church as a whole will inevitably (after reunion ?) be forced to adopt the scholastic model ? Just curious.

Who Am I said...

Furthermore, this brings up another set of questions. Namely in that we shouldn't concern ourselves or worry about what may have been (an the repercussions of those actions, for better or worse), but remain content with the way things are. How then does say a Traditionalist(or one who is sympathetic to Traditionalism) reconcile that with what most protest as innovation from within VII ?

The Pope in part gets to that within Jesus of Nazareth, where he speaks to Ecclesiocentrism, Christocentrism, and regnocentrism. The latter seeking to place man as the sole focus of progress within the world. However recognizing the problems with the latter two (Christocentrism properly understood IS Ecclesiocentris.), what does one make of Ecclesiocentrism ? What is The Church within The Catholic understanding of the term ? One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic ? Fine, but how does that communicate in relation to what in theory are complementary models, but applied appear to be in conflict with one another ? Look at how after centuries it was declared that The Oriental Churches weren't monophysites. They profess the same orthodox belief, but employed a distinct discourse for that particular teaching. I wouldn't say this was for the sake of PR, but a legitimate question we need to ask ourselves.

As hard a pill as it is to swallow at times, it would appear that The Church DOES NOT need the other Ritual Churches to continue. After all, The Papacy is defined as the defining character of being in union with The Catholic Church, right ? Perhaps that is part of the reason why The Orthodox take issue with Papal Infallibility being elevated to the level of dogma in the same way as belief in The Trinity. True, PI is misunderstood by both sides, and is implicit within The Early Church, but you've got to admit that it essentially communicates that the other Churches aren't necessary, and are merely quaint oddities from within The Church.

Who Am I said...

"What we will see as the permanent and abiding contributions of west Africa or east Asia remain to be seen, but they will undoubtedly be there."

This latter portion perplexes me. How would it be so, when that possibility is excluded by the very claim being made concerning the scandal of particularity ?

Furthermore, one would have to take The Church as a collective WHOLE, in the context of that particularity. Christ while calling to Himself ALL mortal flesh, did so within a particular people. He is a Jew, and died as such. Should that not in part figure into the discussion as well ? Has not that always been a thorn in the side of The Gentile Christian ? Not that there exists Gentile, or Jew, but that while Christ could have been incarnate amongst The Greeks, The Romans,or every other classical civilization, He chose to do so amongst The Hebrew people. What is all the more curious, is that all throughout The OT, we hear a CONSTANT rejection of the gentile world, it's philosophies etc., yet somehow The Church has as part of it's foundation those very discourses for which The Faith is to be taught. Would that then not also be true of every other gentile philosophy the world over ? That the particular definitions came about in councils is a given, but it is nothing to boast over either. For it was not for the glory of those nations/people (After all, if we were to do THAT, then we would have no claim in Christ, right ?), but for the sake of The Church.

The Gospel's actually speak out AGAINST boasting in that particularity. If anything, it should be a humbling effort, and nothing more.