Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Importance of Liturgy

I was recently reading excerpts from a book titled, "God is Big. Real Big!" by Peter Dresser. The man can't write for jellybeans, but I have to explain the context of my discovery. I was reading about the recent controversy in Australia over the South Brisbane church of St. Mary's and their having been threatened with excommunication by the archbishop-down-under. Personally, I'm quite happy to see people being informed that there are actions and beliefs that do, in fact, make you non-Catholic (such as using invalid baptismal formulae for dubious reasons). Those wonderful folks have a liking for this Fr. Dresser (I believe he is the associate pastor) and his ingeniously titled book which is supposed to make Catholicism, no joke, appetible for "educated Catholics" (I, speaking as a Catholic with a college degree, do not find anything that appeals to my "education" by condescending to me with platitudes about how "big" God is, as if He were some giant stuffed teddy bear).

Nevertheless, there was an important point in his book that I don't think Fr. Dresser understood quite well enough, and I will quote what he said:
"Praxis > Orthopraxis > Orthodoxy"

Of course, for Fr. Dresser, this means that he can do whatever he wants because his own actions don't need to be informed by any other standard. However, there is a deeper and more important, very Catholic, truth to be gleaned from that formulation. One word: liturgy.

There is a liturgical principle that "lex orandi, lex credendi" - the law of prayer is the law of belief. The liturgy is a cosmically important act which brings heaven down to earth and, almost more importantly, earth to heaven. The rites and significant actions performed symbolize and accomplish this very deed. They also speak to what the community believes. But is it a transference from belief to liturgy?

It think Fr. Dresser, amazingly, is on to something quite important - much like Caiaphas, but who's counting? Liturgy began not in creedal statements which became enmeshed in ritual, but in the praxis of Jesus Christ Himself. Even older, in the Jewish Law, the ceremonial precepts gave structure to life that arose out of the revealed words of God. While one shouldn't give precedence to praxis over doctrina, it is amazingly the case that both are indispensably linked. It is the same case as the sacramental principle of the Incarnate Word. As human beings, we encounter God through material media, through actions and ritual, and God Himself used these to encounter us when He took flesh.

The liturgy in the Catholic Church arose from the primal praxis of the apostolic community, who in turn received these rituals and practices from Christ. We already find a rich liturgical life in Acts of the Apostles, where the Apostles and their communities prays at fixed times and communally worship on Sundays. It is interesting to note that Scripture arose from liturgical usage; the Gospels were liturgical books to be read at communal worship, making Jesus present through the memoirs of the apostles.

The early Church Fathers had no qualms in refuting heretics by citing the ancient liturgies, where the words spoken at the Eucharist or other sacraments rebuked their errors. The earliest creeds we have for the Church began as statements of faith professed in the sacrament of baptism. The Eucharistic liturgy was the summit of early Christian life and worship, and we find similar statements in all of the earliest manuscripts. The secrets of the sacraments were jealously guarded so as to not profane what was most sacred.

But praxis went hand-in-hand with ortho-praxis and ortho-doxy. The praxis that took precedence was the praxis of Jesus, not the praxis of Joe Bagofdonuts. This remains the "rule" of the Church, leading to orth-praxis as it was passed on in apostolic succession as Tradition. Ortho-doxy was always tied to the praxis as the end or goal of that praxis - the enjoyment of eternal life with God. Praxis always contains a statement about the intent and content of its project, and the liturgy is no exemption.

This gives great meaning to the motto of Fr. Zuhlsdorf over at What Does the Prayer Really Say?:
Save the Liturgy, Save the World!

Could "energy" be the principle whose existence was intrinsic?

Could energy be the principle whose existence was intrinsic?

If we were to assume the conclusion of our opponents, that energy is an eternal entity, being eternal could not be a sufficient reason for this to be considered intrinsically existing.

If we wanted to admit only material principles, there would be at least three eternal principles: matter, energy, and space. Energy alone would not suffice.

The material principle in things could not suffice as a necessarily existent entity, as matter only exists as informed, being essentially potentiality to receive existence as a particular thing. The function of space is not clear. The reason to gravitate toward energy as the "efficient" principle of activity of matter in a void is necessary to some extent - why else would matter be moving instead of motionless?

"Energy," however, is a distinctly blurry concept in contemporary physics. It indicates any ability to do work, or activity in a material body. Derived from "energia," it can be related as a physical instantiation of the metaphysical "actuality."

Could energy itself be considered the principle which exists intrinsically and necessarily?

There are two issues: first, energy is an abstraction of many particular entities which possess energetic states. Energy is always found in a particular formed entity and as a state in a particular entity. In other words, it is not an existential explanation, per se. It requires a subject which has both formal and material characteristic before it can be an activity therein. As a consequence, energetic states are received and transmitted - they are not entities themselves if we were to refer to "energy" as the activity of a material body.

Second, this is a misplaced understanding of physical energy as an expression of actuality. Actuality as a metaphysical principle indicates existence in general, whereas physical actuality or activity is a subset of this general category. In a certain sense, "energy" would satisfy as a principle of actuality of material bodies, but it cannot satisfy for the existence of actuality as a whole - it can satisfy for their ability to do physical work, but does not account for their existence.

The most obvious way to illustrate this would be to consider again this question from the standpoint of the essence-existence argument:

If one were to suppose that this entity, "energy," was this necessary being whose essence was to exist, we would have to pluralize it only via three ways:
Formal differences, material differences, and reception in different instantiations

The first two are inadequate, as whatever would be a necessary being would be unable to be differentiated in those ways - it would have to retain the same essence without formal differentiation. In reality, energetic states inhere in formally different subjects as well as materially different ones. There is also no single, univocal sort of energetic state that could be said to be this unitary subject. Reception in different matter might seem to be the differentiation proper to this, as we might say that "energy" would constitute the various energy states. But again, then this would not be "energy" but various energetic subjects having received energy.

As a consequence, one might be tempted to see energy as received into various subjects from one subject of energy which is nothing other than pure actuality (in the existential, rather than physical sense). This would be precisely the way in which it would be possible to pluralize this "energy."

We would first have to abandon notions of physical energy and move to the level of existential actuality. Whether such an absolute subject of existential actuality exists, however, has not yet been proven. Given this distinction that is necessary between subjects which are formally constituted and yet receive "energy" or actuality from another, it becomes obvious that the energy states they have are not effect of "themselves" or what they are, but are instead "accidental" to their constitution. This leads one to posit that there need be an absolute subject of actuality, whose essence is "to exist" as pure act, in order to account for the extrinsic reception of the act of existing in various subjects. This would be to require the existence of God, understood as the necessarily existent being whose essence is nothing other than to exist. Only with this being the case could any entity - physical or otherwise - exist.