The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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Thoughts for the Feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Canisius | 18 March, 2006 15:32

Dom Gueranger's opening thoughts for the feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (V,410-415) contain a number of very interesting ideas. They cohere into a kind of argument for why the Church still celebrates the feast of St. Cyril, whose greatest claim to fame is his series of lectures to catechumens. (As an aside, Cyril was not declared a Doctor of the Church until 1883, some years after Dom Gueranger died.) I do not have the time to sit down and work out the coherence of these various points and summarize the argument, but I'll just mention, blog-style, some of what struck me:

1. Dom Gueranger clearly sees governmental neutrality with regard to religion as a bad thing. He calls it the "hypocritical neutrality of laws", and says that it is equivalent to (or worse than) paganism.
     This is an issue that means a lot to people I know. Some people I greatly respect would agree heartily with Gueranger, and say we should have a Catholic monarchy, while other people I greatly respect would maintain vehemently that the government should not have a religious commitment. I am not wise enough to arbitrate this dispute, but I can say where it came from: the Fall. Had Adam not fallen, he would have never have died and so would have been the natural patriarch of all the world, and at the same time he would have transmitted supernatural grace to all his descendents. It would be as though all were born baptized, members of the Church. There would not be this separation between grace and nature that today results in tension between Church and state.

2. Dom Gueranger argues that since only the Church has a clear view of the single of all man's life, then only she is able to organize all fields of knowledge into a coherent whole. Only the Church, he says, could concievably have created the university, and so all universities are in away Catholic by right. State-run schools can call themselves universities, but cannot actually be what the name claims because they cannot unite the various fields of knowledge around a single end.
     Just from those premises alone there does not appear to be any reason why a Protestant ecclesial community could not erect a true university, but the fact of the matter seems to be that they don't, at least not in the sense that Gueranger has in mind. The only places I can think of where knowledge is actually treated in that synthetic way are Catholic--OK, so I can really only think of one such institution, but what I really mean is that the thinkers who most successfully unite all knowledge into a single edifice in their own thought appear to me to be Catholics. That's an interesting phenomenon.

3. Dom Gueranger argues for a two-way duty regarding the education of the baptized: the baptized have a right to education about their faith, so that the Church has a solemn duty to instruct them; on the other hand, the Church is obliged to give the grace of Baptism only to those whom she judges likely to receive such instruction, lest the sacrament be wasted and result only in a greater evil. This is connected in his mind with point #2, that the Church in a way holds the keys to knowledge.

4. Building on point #3, Dom Gueranger says that infant Baptism could not become a common practice in the Church until the Christianity had established itself suffciently in the world to guarantee that infants would be rightly educated. So when we read about the ancient custom of waiting until adulthood for Baptism, this--Gueranger says--is a temporary phase due to the fact that Christianity has not sufficiently taken root in the society.
     I have always read before that this custom was connected with the severe penitential discipline of the early Church. That is, given that one could wait an entire year or more for the sacrament of reconciliation, which would then be given in a public and humiliating manner, many folks preferred simply to put off Baptism and then let that sacrament wipe away not only all sin but all punishment (i.e., penance) do to sin. This is an interesting new take I hadn't thought about before.
     It connects in a way to my own thoughts about the differences between Protestants and Catholics. In general (and I realize it is dangerous to generalize about so diverse a phenomenon as Protestantism), Protestants conceive of Christianity as a matter for each individual while Catholics think of Christ as founding a society. If your faith is a matter for each individual, then each individual should take it on himself at adulthood; if your faith is what introduces you to a society, then you should receive it during infancy when you in fact become a member of that society.

5. Dom Gueranger argues that the Church foresees a day when it may be necessary to return to the ancient practice of putting Baptism off until adulthood because of the breakdown of Christianity in society. In this day, a education common to Christians and to non-Christians will appear more and more impossible.
     This is quite an apocalyptic scenario. The break-down in society would have to be fairly severe before the Church would divide parent from child by denying the sacrament to the infant! And today we see a factor that Gueranger did not envision: as faith in the sacraments diminish, people come to see them simply as expressions of communal unity and so become vehement and outraged when any level of sacramental participation is denied, no matter what the reason. We see this for example in the many cases of celiac children who cannot receive the host: the families are angry because the Church won't let them receive a rice wafer, not caring at all that receiveing a rice wafer would not be receiving communion! With political pressure like that, I suspect that the Church would be even slower to deny Baptism. Nonetheless, it does happen some, and it may become more prevalent--who knows?
     In practice, it does not appear that Catholics will ever stop attending secular universities. However, it does appear true that Catholic education has to spend more and more time un-doing what the secular education has done, even in non-religious areas, and this has in fact led to a bigger push for schools that are Catholic from the get-go (like Ave Maria University). It will be interesting to see whether these new efforts can succeed in integrating the various fields of knowledge in that distinctively Catholic way that Gueranger describes.


Comment Icon Cyril

Philip | 20/03/2006, 01:38

(1) I wonder what it was that got St Cyril declared a Doctor of the Church after so long a time? Maybe some kind of olive branch being offered to the Orthodox?

(2) As far as the issue of Church-State relations, I thought there were more than 2 possibilities, i.e. Catholic Monarch or secular neutrality. In any case, I would favor what the Church teaches on the subject, if I could figure out what that was.

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