Christus Sol Invictus

25 04 2008

On Time, Orientation, Liturgical Rationalism, and the Traditionalist Movement

The lotus also demonstrates the workings of Sympathy. Its petals are closed before the appearance of the sun’s rays, but it gradually opens them as the sun begins to rise, unfolding them as it reaches its zenith and curling them up again as it descends. What then is the difference between the human manner of hymning the sun, by opening and closing the mouth and lips, and that of the lotus by opening and closing its petals? For those are its lips and that is its natural hymn.

-Proclus Diadochus, On the Hieratic Art

AG and I recently attended an Eritrean Catholic liturgy here in Berkeley. It was a rather bizarre experience since we were the only non-Eritreans there, and it was held in a spare assembly hall at St. Joseph the Worker Church here in Berkeley. It was, of course, entirely in their vernacular, with only a few words in English at the end for the benefit of their two guests that Sunday. (I don’t think it was in G’eez, which is the traditional liturgical language in that part of the world.) We felt very much welcomed nonetheless, and the people there were quite friendly.

The Mass itself was according to the Ethiopian rite, with some rather stark “latinizations”. The liturgy was done versus populum, but that is no surprise since I have seen that before in the “Uniate” liturgies. The bread they used was unleavened, and there was a rosary at the end (which we didn’t stay for). Other than that, the text itself, of which the priest was kind enough to give us a translation, was completely traditional. And though we were “lost” for most of the service, there were two moments that stood out for me. One was when the priest blessed the four cardinal directions with the Gospel and the cross. The other was when I read in the service book the command, “Turn towards the east” that is chanted right before the anaphora. These two gestures made me wonder about our own sense of direction in worship and the lack of a sense of time that we Western Christians now have when we pray collectively.

Most traditional Roman Catholics who defend the old rite of the Mass have very little idea why the traditional position of prayer in the Mass is facing east. At best, they can say that we pray towards the rising sun as a “symbol” of Christ. Now, that word, “symbol” in our contemporary religious vocabulary is highly problematic. “Symbol” in our vocabulary necessarily means, “not real”, “false”, or “ineffective”. According to the ancient philosophical tradition, however, just as the sun gives life to all things material, so Christ sheds light on our souls. Christ will return as the sun comes up every morning. As Marsilio Ficino eloquently puts it in his Book of the Sun:

Certainly whoever does not view the Sun in the world as the image and minister of God, has certainly never reflected upon the night, nor looked upon the rising Sun; nor has he thought how extraordinary this is, nor how suddenly those things which were thought to be dead return to life.

Prayer ad orientem is not just some quaint tradition that we follow because some authority dictated that this is the way things are to be done. It has everything to do with who we are ontologically. It has deep roots in our minds and our hearts, and if we no longer feel that this is the case, it is because we are in the process of uprooting ourselves from the very soil of our humanity.

(Footnote: If the traditionalist cause is to get anywhere in the Catholic Church, it cannot do so by appealing to one authority over another, that is, previous Popes over current Popes. It has to prove that the order before Vatican II was more human and philosophically sound than what came after it. While it was not perfect, at least it does not indulge and accentuate all of the wost aspects of modern man, as many of the aspects of the post-Vatican II church seem to do.)

In reading the book, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanellaby D.P. Walker, I encountered this rather interesting quote about the role of time in worship. In discussing Tommaso Campanella’s defense of Renaissance astrology, Walker writes that Campanella asked whether prayers should be said at astrologically favorable times:

In favor of the answer yes we have these points: first, Solomon’s recommendation in the Book of Wisdom to pray at sunrise, which is supported by the facts that the sun, rising always with Mercury and Venus, disposes the soul to contemplation… and that the altars are at the east at the end of churches. Secondly, David said: “Seven times a day do I praise thee”, and there are seven canonical hours; these, the Astrologers think, are allotted to the seven planets, like the days of the week, the ages of the world, etc.

Time in liturgical prayer is also something that has been greatly diminshed in the Roman Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council abolished the seven canonical hours and replaced it with an arbitrary system based on the supposed convenience of the clergy who were to say the “Liturgy of Hours”. More significant, however, was the abolition by Pius XII of a set time for Mass: always in the morning and never after the noon hour. This reform was instituted in order to allow more participation by the faithful in the liturgy, particularly in a socio-economic order that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Eucharistic fast was also all but abolished since people would need to “fuel up” spiritually on Holy Communion at all hours of the day or night, and they couldn’t be bothered to abstain from food in this “busy lifestyle”.

It is because of “reforms” like these that I think that Vatican II was not a defeat for traditional Catholic theology, but rather the triumph of some of its major premises. For if Holy Communion bestows sanctifying grace upon a worthy reception, then it can do this at five in the morning or five in the afternoon, at high noon or midnight, on a full or empty stomach. Here in Berkeley, there is a Sunday Mass at ten o’clock at night for the college students. Human beings, however, are not cars, and the Eucharist is not spiritual gasoline. Empty or radically alter the “symbolism” (that problematic word again) behind the sacraments and it is possible that they might become all but ineffective. This is true because they do not work in absolute separation from the body and spirit of man, but are tightly bound to it. In the end, more “grace” might be obtained by following the flow of tradition and our nature. It is commendable that this continues to be the attitude of the Eastern Churches which still celebrate the canonical hours and reserve the Eucharistic liturgy to the morning while fasting.

It is also significant that the Roman Catholic traditionalist movement also lacks a sense of liturgical time and direction in many places. For many of them, it seems that the old liturgy is something to be obeyed through the positivistic premise that all that came before Vatican II was good and all that came after it bad. Thus, “traditional Masses” often take place in the afternoon or in the evening, and at “convenient times” when all can be there. (Once in the SSPX seminary during one of our pilgrimages to Lujan, we were told that in spite of the fact that we had to serve one or two private Masses for visiting priests in the morning, we couldn’t receive Holy Communion until the Solemn Hign Mass in the late afternoon in Lujan because it was “more solemn”. That was one of the hardest acts of obedience I had to do in my entire religious life.)  Mass cannot trump or replace the other stations in the daily cycles of worship. While I am not going to underestimate the pastoral difficulties that the traditionalist movement often faces, I will say that it wouldn’t kill some congregations to learn to sing Vespers and Compline in place of having evening Masses. It is a traditional idea that has never been tried, but it is very common still in the Eastern Churches. What we must return to is not Latin, the smells ‘n bells, but rather the idea that worship is not a toy or hobby for us to play with, but rather a cycle of existence that is to be obeyed.

When I walk home from work each day, I often see that many of the flowers have already folded in their petals with the advent of the growing western shadow. It is quite sad because I never see them when they are completely open anymore since I leave home too early. Our own sense of time and belonging in this universe is not radically different from those flowers or the lotus that the Successor of the Divine Plato speaks of at the beginning of this essay. It is our duty like them to sing and praise the rising sun, Christ the Sun of Righteousness. We too must open and close the petals of our own minds in a timely and devout manner. That is the real, radical traditionalism.



9 responses

27 04 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mariano (aka my Internet stalker) and everyone,

You jump to too many conclusions that simply are not the case. Do you even know who I am? I don’t know you from Adam, so why do all of you jump to conclusions that simply aren’t the case? Am I using tarot cards? Have I spoken of crystal balls? Just because I mention “white magic” in passing all of a sudden I am a warlock, a curandero, and a breaker of the First Commandment? Y’all need to stop trippin’.

You read, you comment, but you don’t know me. So don’t hand out advice to me, since I have done none of the things you suspect me of doing. The hyper-rationalism and veneration of scientism that many of you are implying is certainly suprising to me. All I have to say is, if you have the urge to give me advice or warnings about my immortal soul, at least have the decency to READ MY STUFF MORE CLOSELY! I especially direct you to this article on my old blog. And then comment if you feel you must.

27 04 2008

I would like to hear from Daniel Mitzui from the Lion Cardinal art blog as the Rennaisannce also brought in many non Christian elements and some of these may be them.

27 04 2008

Sheperd, I am glad I am not a little sheep in your flock.

I would be lost, caught, killed, cooked and eaten.

I could see a possible argument that Chi (Qi, Ki in Japanese, Prahna in Hindoo teachings, and energy as a possible definition in English) could be a force like Electicity and through breath (like yogic breathing and some have compared yoga at least in externals to Heychstachism) and movements (like certain martial arts specifically Baqua, Tai Chi and Chi Gong exercises)
However, they could also be occultic energies (like “pushing” someone without touching or touching lightly although it appears to be physics principles in the famous 1 inch punch that Bruce Lee made famous) and dangerous and demonic. But this is a more current and certainly systematic ancient and still practiced breathing and movement for healing and getting access to and in touch with and utilizing either a) a force inherent in the body b) a force in nature c) a force as in the force from Star Wars movie d) a force like electicity that is not mutally exclusive with Christian philosophy and cosmology (to support that I have met Traditional Catholics who practice Tai Chi and an Evangelical Christian Korean Master of traditional Chinese Martial Arts including acupuncture) e) can be explained through physics f) fraud g) demonic.

It is a convenient defense to say that the anglo-protestant post reformation American Catholics are overly purtianical and that Latin American Catholics practice witchcraft and are still conservative and devout Catholics and that certain saints may have practiced astrology (which was closer to astronomy in that day and there was more mixture)
But much of this is pagan and witchcraft and is only Catholic in externals. It is a syncretic Catholicism with a pre-Christian pagan inner substance.
It is not relying on Providence and trusting in God but trusting in astrology, tarot cards, gypsy con artist readers etc. Many a poor Hispanic family has been ripped off because of a lack of trust of God and a looking to glimpses of the future and good luck not through God and prayer but through customs and practices and physical things (yes I believe in relics and the incarnation but there still is a border to be crossed to idolatory read St. Gregory of Nyssa).

Many Catholic priests in Haiti who are from the culture lament the belief in Voudun and the dangers superstitions and other problems. In Miami many conservative Cubans invoke not Catholic saints but residual Yoruba dieties in the form of Catholic externals (like Santa Barbara) but are actually orishas and curses on others. Yes, Protestants who incorrectly focus on the Old Testament will cite passages of praying for death of leaders or praying for revenge even in the beauty of the Psalms–but the curses, love potions and other magic common on the Afro-Caribean hispanic peoples and also the Indian/White Mexicans and even the whitest of Spanish descendants in South Florida, or the light skinn creoles and mulattos of Louisiana. These practices on the whole are not healthy psychologically and are dangerous spiritually.

Many an old mission priest will speak of the supernatural (or maybe preternatural according to Aquinas) events and the existence of demonic forces in more primitive areas, and more supernatural events (telekenesis, esp, dreams with precognitive etc) especially demonic possession especially in lands that are not Christians that are not baptized or even with ancient powerful pagan cultures that are Christian. Ancient Missionaries destroyed the old ways of Europe very completely whether by peaceful conversion or force. But even priests today will talk about (as in Africa and India) supernatural events, and demonic forces because of the strong pagan elements (have you seen the demonic visage of the death goddess Kalli?)
These priests (Catholic and not anglo protestant post reformation puritans who don’t read Ficino or understand relics and the incarnation) will instruct recent converts to not use the divination ways of reading leaves, reading palms, crystal balls, or whatever forms they use as they are not of God and calling upon spirits is condemned and sorcery is condemned in the Old and New Testament. The Catechism in all its forms and reductions is clear on this. You can put it in all the psuedo logical and academic words you want but it is not positive nor part of Catholicism and dangerous to the soul.

27 04 2008
The Shepherd

It is useful to point out that not to long ago the Church gave a great deal of leeway in terms of practicing magic. Things like invoking demons were condemned of course but venerable figures like St. Albert the Great, praised astrology to the high heavens( haha, heavens get it,hmmm) and received no condemnation from the establishment. The attitude and definitions of magic were much different then, when Christians think of magic now they automatically think Satan, demons and the like, but people in the middle ages and renaissance thought of magic as something totally different. They thought of it as a neutral universal force like electricity which could be used for good or evil. Yeah, its dangerous but so are a lot of things.

The shift in attitudes came about during the reformation when magic accumulated the negativity it carries today and honestly it is a bit irrational. If I did a regression analysis to determine where to invest my money, no Christian would so much as give me a second glance. But if I use astrology or Tarot cards all of a sudden I’m endangering my soul. If I wanted to clear a delapitated building to build some storage containers and paid some guy to bulldoze it, that’s fine. But if I made a talisman and a freak bolt of lightning burns it to the ground I’m going straight to hell. Some of the people in Latin American, Carribean countries practice forms of religion that look indistinguishable from witchcraft but talk with them five minutes and you realize they’re some of the most hardcore Catholics you’ll ever meet. Hell, many evangelicals and other prostestants think everything commonly accepted by Catholics:rosaries,novenas, holy water, are all pagan/magical accretions, and the thing is they are not totally wrong.

Magic is fundamentally an attitude towards the world. One that may be much healthier in the long run then the anti-magic attitude held by society right now.

26 04 2008

It sounds dangerous and unchristian.

Your interests sound like pantheism.

It is not unconstructive to obviously point out that you are dabbling in paganism, esoetericism, occultism, heresy, and even demonism. This is bad.
Astrology is condemned in the Torah and the Catholic Catechism both the universal and the Council of Trent and further reductions like the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism. Pantheism is also condemned specifically by St. Pius X (whose name you used to honor) in the Syllabus of Errors. Certainly invoking demons, or even planetary energies or especially demons or even angels (as we pray and do not invoke and Christianity is not a religion of esoetericism nor invokation) This is spiritually dangerous. Period.

26 04 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Finally, a constructive question.

First of all, if I post a link to a book on this blog, it doesn’t mean that I believe in all of its contents. People should be mature enough to pursue questions for themselves if they are so interested in them before hurling accusations.

“Daimon” in the original Greeks sense could refer to any spirit of a certain rank in the divine celestial hierarchy, whether it does good or evil. Indeed, an angel in this sense would be considered a “daimon”, and Dionysius lifted the ins and outs of this “daimonic” theology wholesale in his work on the celestial hierarchies. More specifically, it was thought that planetary daimons bestowed the gifts of the divine, and each person was assigned his own personal daimon, a foreshadowing of our guardian angels.

Demonic magic, in this sense, could be just a very racey way of saying “praying to angels”, although in Renaissance magic, some questionable neo-pagan ceremonies were used to draw down the gifts that these planetary angels carried (sort of like benevolent or malevolent rays shooting out of the planets). Ficino himself spoke of the dangers of invoking planetary angels directly precisely because he thought that while it was perfectly possible that one would be invoking good angelic influence, it was far more likely that any astrological prediction or cure would be the result of demonic treachery in the modern sense. Other less orthodox practicioners such as Cornelius Agrippa were far less reticent in showing this side of white magic, and openly practiced this rather dangerous esoteric art.

In the end, the only thing that influences me here is the idea that the cosmos is animated, in the sense of there being an “anima mundi” or soul of the world. For Ficino, the universe was a living thing, a macrocosm that directly reflected man’s microcosm. Thus, just as love can entice a man towards certain things, so love can entice the universe to bestow its natural gifts. Here we are speaking of “natural magic” and not “demonic”. But this footnote has gone on for long enough. I will leave it to you to investigate this further if you are so interested.

26 04 2008

What is demonic magik?

25 04 2008
The Shepherd

The interesting thing about the Traditionalist movement is that in an attempt to resurrect/continue Catholic tradition they often ,in effect, end up creating that “tradition”.

25 04 2008


This raises the question of whether or not the “transcendence” of natural time and the diurnal cycle brought about by technology, especially the harnessing of electricity, is appropriate, and if so, to what extent. We obviously were created/evolved to live in rhythm with this cycle. And yet, [because we have eaten of a certain tree?], we have been able to move beyond it. But at what price? Maybe the Amish have a point.

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