Thursday, February 07, 2008

Politics of the sacrament

Psalm 23:4: Und ob ich schon wanderte im finstern Tal, fürchte ich kein Unglück; denn du bist bei mir, dein Stecken und dein Stab trösten mich.

Grant that the existence of a monotheistic "God" cannot be conclusively established via the assistance of that old broad Reason (as Luther himself granted, centuries before Kant sort of ditto'ed him). The only compelling evidence for the judeo-christian code then would seem to be the Old and New Testaments themselves (though conflicting evidence it is). Nowhere in the New Testament may one discover a clearly-stated injunction that Christians must participate in the Mass (as Luther pointed out rather forcefully as well): for that matter, there are no guidelines establishing a priestly caste, or many other sacraments (i.e. monastic orders) which the catholic church has insisted upon, for centuries. There was no Church, and no Mass, as it now exists probably until after Augustine (a great comedian, and not-so- holy as some catholics might think).

Luther, of course, was not a happy camper , and he more or less denounced the papal bureaucracy as anti-christ. A bit harsh, if not Prussian; the Reformation was an ugly baroque drama that needn't concern us overly much. (and we here at Contingencies are hardly suggesting that the protestants are always the good guys, or the rationalists). Yet the reformers' anti-sacramentalism should at least be pondered for a few nano-seconds, even in the here and now of the contemporary I-podopolis.

(We should object to the aged Luther's rants against the jews, however. Another interesting aspect of Lutheranism concerns Copernicus, and the rise of physical science, which the Church of Rome did everything to prevent. Lutheran mathematicians in fact eagerly acquired Copernicus' manuscript, studied it, and wrote in it. Brahe and Kepler were Lutherans. There was some opposition to Copernicus in Germany, but nothing like the catholic's opposition (evident in trial of Gallileo, etc.)

Humans are not awarded some spiritual notch for taking the Mass or going to confession regularly: that in fact is a type of strange dispensationalism that Luther rightly noted (as did the slightly more sinister figure of Calvin). Indeed the absurdity of the Mass (if not most sacraments) becomes apparent rather quickly.

Does Maria, say a cleaning lady who attends Mass regularly (now with her Ash Wednesday stamp on her forehead from Padre X) somehow transcend all the non-mass taking protestants (or jews, muslims, secularists, pagans, etc.) in the neighborhood simply by reason of being blessed by Padre X? Kein. Maria and her familia don't out-rank Kant or Issac Newton or Voltaire (instantiate any great western thinker) either in some putative heavenly abode, merely by reason of weekly or daily sacrament ingestion; nor should Lucky Luciano's be alloted some handicap via the Eucharist. Yet that is what catholic doctrine holds. Regardless of the beautiful symbolism of the catholic tradition, the catholics' insistence on Mass might rank as one of Western history's great oddities, and nearly hinduistic in terms of content.

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