Skip to comments.Is the Church too Western?
Posted on 08/06/2008 12:29:17 PM PDT by Huber
If nationalism--whether in the East or the West--denies the right of the Church to exist as a universal autonomous spiritual society, it is a challenge to the law of God and the kingship of Christ. But this does not mean that the Church is essentially Western. On the contrary, the same principle that forbids us to make the Church a national organization also prevents us from identifying it with a particular civilization. The mission of the Church is essentially universal and it is common to all nations and races--to those of the East equally with those of the West.
We must however distinguish between this ideal universality and the practical limitations imposed by history on the circumstances of the Church's apostolate. By the nature of the case, the missionary is in some sense a stranger to the nation and the culture that he evangelizes. He comes from outside bringing a new doctrine and initiating men into a new society. But however supernatural is his mission, he is a human being who has been born and educated in some particular society and brings his own cultural traditions with him, and hencein some degree his native habits and prejudices. In this sense it is true the missionary tends to be too Western, so that it is his duty to divest himself of his natural prejudices and become assimilated to an alien environment and culture. As he must translate the Christian Gospel into a new language and speak with strange tongues, so too he mst learn to think in terms of an alien culture and accept its social standards and values.
Yet this is not the real point at issue. For when men talk, as they do today, about the Church's being too Western they are not thinking of this inevitable but accidental dependence of the missionary on his particular cultural background; they mean rather that the Church herself has become occidentalized: that her philosophy and theology, her liturgy and devotion have been so deeply influenced by fifteen hundred years of association with Western culture that she has become estranged from the Oriental world and no longer speaks to it in terms that the peoples of Asia can understand.
Before we consider what grounds there are for such an assertion it is necessary to determine what we mean by the word "Western." On the one hand there is our modern Western civilization, which has spread so rapidly through the world during the last century. This civilization is indubitably Western, since it owes its distinctive features to the revolutionary changes which originated in Northwestern Europe and North America during the last two centuries. On the other hand there is the ancient tradition of the Catholic Church, which may also be described as Western, in so far as it is the tradition of the Western Church and looks to Rome, the ancient metropolis of the West, as its center and head. Nevertheless it is also a universal tradition, since it first arose a the point where East and West met and it derived its inheritance from them both. And if we look at the Catholic tradition in detail we shall see how this duality runs through all the different aspects of its life.
The Church itself, though it bears a Greek name, Ecclesia, derived from the Greek civic assembly, and is ordered by the Roman spirit of authority and law, is the successor and heir of an Oriental people, set apart from all the peoples of the earth to be the bearer of a divine mission.
Similarly the mind of the Church, as expressed in the authoritative tradition of the teaching of the Fathers, is neither Eastern nor Western but universal. It is expressed in Western languages--in Greek and Latin--but it was in Africa and Asia rather than in Europe that it received its classical formulation. Greek theology was developed at Alexandria and Antioch and in Cappadocia, while Latin theology owes its terminology and its distinctive character to the African Fathers--Tertullian, Cryprian, and above all St. Augustine.
While these men wrote in Latin, it was not the Latin of the Romans; it was a new form of Christian Latin whichwas developed, mainly in Tunisia under strong Oriental influence.
And the same is true of the new Christian Latin poetry and of the Latin liturgy itself. No doubt the Roman rite which has outlived and absorbed the other Latin rites bears an indelible mark of the Roman spirit in its simplicity, its severity and its concision. But this does not mean that it is only adapted to the worship of modern Western man, or that its spirit is alien from that of the East. On the contrary it gives it a classical, universal and supertemporal character which is accentuated by its music, which is so remote from the modern West. For what has the Mass to do with Western culture? It is the eternal offering of an eternal priesthood--"without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, but like the Son of God, continuing a priest for ever" (Heb. 7:3)
It is impossible for us to understand the Church if we regard her as subject to the limitations of human culture. For she is essentially a supernatural organism which transcends human cultures and transforms them to her own ends. As Newman insisted, the Church is not a creed or a philosophy but an imperial power, a "counter kingdom" which occupies ground and claims to rule over those whom this world's governments had once ruled without rival. But if the Church is an objective social reality she is not bound to conform herself to cultural divisions. She can take whatever forms and institutions she needs from any culture and organizes them into a new unity which is the external expression of her spirit and the organ of her mission to the world. If this is the case, the question we have to ask is not whether the particular elements of this unity are derived from East or West -- but whether they are fit instruments of the Church's supernatural purpose. If so, they are entirely transcend the sphere of political nationalism and national culture.
Let us take the case of typical Catholic institution--a religious order for example; here the original institution of Christian monasticism was of purely Oriental origin and came into existence in the Egyptian desert in the fourth century. Almost immediately, however, the Church accepted this new way of life as an essential expression of the Christian spirit and spread it East and West from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf. And as it grew it adapted itself to the life of the different peoples amongst whom it came, though it remained fully conscious of its origins and of the continuity of its tradition.
It was, however in the West that this development of monasticism produced the most remarkable fruits. It was here, in the course of the Middle Ages, that there arose the idea of the religious Order as a specialized organ of the Church, dedicated to the performance of some particular spiritual task-- preaching or study or the care of the poor and the sick, or the redemption of captives. Since these Orders are specialized some of them are moreadapted to one culture than to another, and it may well be that an Order that has been founded to fulfill some special task in medieval Italy or modern America is "too Western" for *India or China. But this is not necessarily* the case. The essential principle of the Western religious Order has become part of the common tradition of the Church and is capable of being applied to the special circumstances of the East, no less than the West.
There is therefore no need to undo the work of the Christian past and to attempt to create a new type of oriental monasticism modeled on Hindu or Buddhist patterns, for East and West already coexist on the tradition of Christian monasticism, and the same tradition can bear new fruits wherever it is planted: The vital point is not the nationality or the cultural background of the founders but the timeless ideals of prayer and contemplation and the universal spirit of the apostolate for which they are founded.
This I think is the secret if the whole matter. The Church as a divine society possess an internal principle of life which is capable of assimilating the most diverse materials and imprinting her own image upon them. Inevitably in the course of history there are times when this spiritual energy is temporarily weakened or obscured, and then the Church tends to be judged as a human organization and identified with the faults and limitations of its members. But always the time comes when she renews her strength and once more puts forth her inherent divine energy in the conversion of new peoples and the transformation of old cultures. At no time can we expect this work to be unopposed, for the very fact that the Church represents something entirely different--the intervention of a supernatural principle and the coming of a divine kingdom--must inevitably arouse the fierce apposition of all those human societies and powers which claim absolute power over man and refuse to admit a superior or rival. One of the strongest and most aggressive of these forces in the modern world is nationalism, and here Christians cannot expect to avoid a conflict. But the conflict is not really one between East and West: it is the old conflict between the spiritual and temporal powers, which was formerly confined largely, to the Western world and has now emerged as a burning question in the East, largely owing to the introduction of the political ideologies of the West into Asia and Africa. But East or West, it is basically the same conflict, and alike in East and West the Church stands neither for East or West but for the universal spiritual society which is destined to embrace them both: "And the nation as shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it" (Apoc. 22:24).
Ping for discussion
I would agree that the church it too American. The American church has been shaped by Finney and a legalistic pietism.
But that is probably more provincial than what the author had in mind.
Also, it is way too "touchy feely." Too many folks go to have a good time rather than learn from God's Word, and worship Him.
Bottom line, if you took away all of the comfortableness (is that a word?), many churches in America would fall apart because they don't have any spiritual basis for dealing with adversity.
Heaven is a monarchy.
The Church?.. define “the Church”?..
Ping to read later
But this ain’t Heaven
The Church is often too Western...the East really has a better understanding of some things, and I say this as a Reformed Prot. The Church in your region is really more determined by your region than we think unfortunately.
"Historia Religiosa", written by Theodoret of Cyrrhus around 440 A.D. is our only source on St. Marouns biography. The author describes the life of hermits in Cyrrhus and vicinity. In chapter 16 the author mentions that St. Maroun was one of those hermits. He had a tremendous influence on his disciples(22).
St. Maroun consecrated the temple for divine christian worship. The pattern of his life had a great influence on his disciples who followed suit and were "as plants of wisdom in the region of Cyrrhus"(23)
St. Marouns sainthood became known throughout the Empire. St. John Chrysostom sent him a letter around 405 A.D. expressing his great love and respect and asked St. Maroun to pray for him.
St. Maroun died around 410 A.D. and willed to be buried in St. Zabinas tomb in Kita in the region of Cyrrhus. However, his will was not executed because people from different villages wanted to have him buried in their towns. Theodorets description of St. Marouns burial place<.4) points to the populous town of Barad in the proximity of Kfarnabo. A huge church was built in that town around the beginning of the fifth century A.D. (25).
The Syriac Maronite Church is an integration of three traditions:
Antioch: A center of commerce and communication in West Syria of Greek and Syriac influence. It gave the Maronite Church its biblical theology and use of the literal sense of scripture.
Edessa: A prominent city, where St. Ephrem lived, in ancient Mesopotamia of semitic culture and Syriac poetry. Both influenced the prayer and hymnody of the Maronite Church.
Mount Lebanon: A region in the Middle East of Lebanese culture and tradition. It provided a haven for the Maronite monastic life, worship and traditions begun by Maron.
The Maronites living in the countryside near Antioch resisted extensive Greek influence and retained the Syriac culture and language of Edessa. Thus the theology, spirituality and liturgy developed according to biblical themes rather than philosophical thought.
Maron, a priest and hermit, known to John Chrysostom, walked the land once traveled by Peter and Paul. On the banks of the Orontes River, Father Maron converted an old pagan temple into a church. He spent his life teaching about the faith and ministering to many people with the gift of healing and counsel. Over 800 monks later followed in his footsteps. These early followers of the lifestyle and way of Maron were known as MARONITES.
Their history reveals great sacrifices of their lives and possessions for their religious convictions and freedom. They defended the Council of Chalcedon (taught Christ is God and man, and Mary is Mother of God). Maronites came to Mount Lebanon and later elected John Maron as their first patriarch in 687. By this, the Maronite Community became established as an organized church and Lebanon became the third geographical center of influence for Maron's family of faith.
From its monastic origins to today the Maronite Community of faith includes several religious orders of monks and sisters whose important ministries to the Church provide continued nourishment, growth and maturity. Maronites are Catholics of many nations and diverse cultures. Presently, the Mother Church is in Lebanon and daughter communities exist in ever nation of the world. Often the sons and daughters of Maron are referred to as Beit Maroun, (the house of Maron).
God is Mystery: The Maronite mind has always been in awe of this mysteriousness of God and presumes a great distance between Creator and creation. However, the distance is bridged by God's self revelation.
"We are able only to say God is, but to research how he is, the door is closed." Narsai
The reason is the inner life of God is a divine mystery beyond limited human knowledge and understanding. Two things account for this: 1)the Jewish Christian origins of the Maronite Church, and 2) its familiarity with the scriptures.
Yet, the process leads to mystical union with God- for the more one loves God, the more one encounters God. The search for God then leads to wonder, communion and prayer. "When one tries to describe the mystery of God in words, e can only stammer." Ephrem
Prayer is the process of "being" in the presence of God Who is always present to all creation. To encounter creation and humankind is to meet and embrace God.
The early Syriac writers drew upon the semitic biblical idea of HEART as the center of spiritual life. The Greek writers relied upon a more philosophical idea of HEART as the center of intellectual life.
The Maronite tradition sees the HEART as the focal point for all life. The heart is the place for the deepest communication with and presence of God. To live is to pray, and to pray is to live in the awarneness and experience of all creation as made in the image of God.
Prayer of the heart means light, clarity and inner vision. The heart becomes the altar for prayer-offering. The Spirit overshadows, accepts and transforms the prayer. Note well the link between the overshadowing of the Spirit at the altar of prayer and the altar of Eucharist. To pray from the heart (center) is to be continuously filled with a remembrance of God, here and now, by the Spirit's infusion.
Thus prayer is the state of lovingly remembering God so that the person experiences His presence and communion. It is the gift of inner vision which sees all created things as transparent- God-touched, transformed and divinized.
While one is unable to know God himself, he can know God who manifests himself through nature, humanity and scripture. St. Paul Writes: "Since the creation of the world, invisible realities have become visible, recognized through the things God has made" (Rom 1:20).
Genesis indicates that the hidden God revealed Himself through His creating word. Since God spoke it into being, creation is a great symbol of the Creator.
God said: "Let there be light, and there was light." Then Jesus proclaimed: "I am the Light of the world."
Creation: Everything bears the imprint of the hidden God. Man/Woman is the image of God who gradually reveals Himself in the world he creates.
Humanity: God inspired rulers to act on His behalf; chose prophets to interpret the meaning of His deeds and guided authors to record His words.
Scripture: God's progressive revealing of Himself sets the stage for His fullest self-communication in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
God imprints upon nature and in scripture symbols and figures which manifest His son. Thus the purpose of the created universe is to reveal Christ and to prepare humankind for His coming in the flesh and in glory.
This spirituality teaches that the "image of Adam" was not destroyed but deformed by sin and is recreated in a new splendor by Jesus the Savior.
Antioch's school of theology stressed the humanity of Christ. This is best seen in the Maronite liturgical texts which focus on the humanity of the Son of God who experienced the human condition - even death.
"In the beginning, You formed us from the earth in Your image and gave us the joy of paradise. When we transgressed Your command, You did not reject us, but called us back by the law, as a merciful Father. You guided us by the prophets. When the time was fulfilled You sent Your son into the world that He might renew Your image. He became man by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. He accomplished all things for the salvation of the human race" (Anaphora of James, the Apostle).
The world is improving with time and it moves from incompleteness to completeness. The interaction between God and humans in Christ is to prepare and teach them for their divine vocation- the kingdom.
Jesus, in His birth, death and resurrection transforms, divinizes and completes humanity.
"You have united Your divinity with our humanity. You have joined Your Imortality with our mortality. You have taken what is ours and given us what is Yours for our life and salvation" (Maronite Liturgy).
The Maronite liturgical texts paraphrase and explain the scriptures through the scriptures. The Old Testament is read and interpreted in light of the New Testament. Old Testament images offer types (patterns) of the promised Messiah such as:
Ephrem taught: "When you look, the symbol of Christ is present. Where you read, you find His types"
The monastic spirit of the Maronite Church opens the door to a life of simplicity a vision of hope and an attitude of readiness. The human vocation is to become like God, but sin interrupts this call. Conversion and purification invite a person to renewal, new life and intimacy with God. Thus, human beings become what God intends for them-Children and heirs of the kingdom.
For a Maronite Christian the spiritual journey to the kingdom is described in terms of Birth from three wombs which the Holy Spirit energizes with Life.
Life: birth from mother's womb
Baptism: Spiritual birth from womb of baptism
Death: life's passage through tomb
The Maronite Liturgy is called Service of the Holy Mysteries and derives from the Syriac :.ministering at the altar". Liturgy, Qourbono and other words are used.
The entire liturgy (prayers, gestures, music, art, and architecture) reflects from beginning to end, glory to God for His loving mercy and the call of the worshipper to forgiveness and rebirth.
The attitude of the Maronite worshiper is unworthiness of and readiness for the second coming of the Lord Jesus. "Blessed is he who has come and will come in the name of the Lord" (Maronite Liturgy).
The believer is likened to a ship opening its sails to the Holy Spirit and making its maiden voyage home to the harbor of safety.
The Holy Spirit is the principal minister in the liturgy. He is the beginning, the end and the perfection of all things.
The Service of the Holy Mysteries develops three themes: 1) humanity's creation in God's image; 2)deep awareness of God's mercy toward sinful people; 3) joyful praise of the Trinity.
The tone of the service is simple and direct in the monastic spirit of its founder, St. Maron. A balance is achieved between the hiddenness and presence of God in Jesus.
The worshiper becomes involves in a human-divine drama which unfolds before and within him and makes once a sharer in the Kingdom. The Mysteries/Sacraments become the meeting point for the believer and God.
The communal aspect of worship is emphasized by the fact that the community is absorbed in a continuous dialogue with the celebrant who mediates on behalf of Christ the High Priest, and the deacon who serves an instructing and coordinating role.
“Is the Church too Western?”
Of course it is! :)