Monday, October 12, 2009

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961: Part 6.2 - The Age of Revolutions

In Part 6.1, we looked at the changes in attitude toward the Divine Office beginning in the 16th century. We now continue that consideration looking at the effects of the age of the revolutions.

For terms and their definitions, please see the associated Glossary which accompanies this compendium.

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

by Gregory DiPippo
for publication on the New Liturgical Movement

Part 6.2 - The Age of Revolutions

During the crisis of the early 16th century, the Society of Jesus was one of the first great institutions to emerge within the Catholic Church; during the crisis of the later 18th century, it was one of the first to be destroyed, but most certainly not the last. It is far beyond the scope of this study to give anything like a detailed history of the so-called Enlightenment, and the great revolutions in European society which followed shortly upon it. It must suffice to note certain factors that would be of particular importance to the religious institutions of the time.

The middle of the 18th century saw a great change in the intellectual and spiritual climate in the Catholic courts of Europe, especially those of the Bourbon family and their allies, whose scions ruled over much of Europe, and vast territories in the American possessions of the Spanish crown. The anti-Christian ideas of the Enlightenment were heavily cultivated within these courts by men such as the Marquis de Pombal, foreign minister of Portugal, and the Prince von Kaunitz in the Hapsburg court at Vienna. They and the kings they served aimed at the imposition of ‘enlightened’ ideas through an absolute and despotic rule, in which the will of the sovereign, or of his deputies, (Pombal was at times more the master of King José I than his servant), became the only law of the land. Any such rule that recognizes no law or custom other than itself has always been the enemy of the Christian faith; the monarchs of that period knew that they must subject the Church completely to the will of the State, or be ultimately overthrown by it. They also recognized that the Jesuits were in many ways the strongest bulwark the Church had to defend itself from their impositions.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that the Bourbon monarchies were the principal driving force behind the suppression of the Society of Jesus. At the time of their total abolition by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, the Jesuits had already been driven out of Portugal, France, Spain (including the American territories), the kingdom of Naples, the duchy of Parma and the Austrian Empire; the Pope’s action was essentially limited in effect to the territory of the Papal States. The Society continued to exist, however, for a brief time in Prussia, at the good pleasure of its Lutheran sovereign, and in Russia, whose German queen, Catherine, a convert to the Orthodox Church, desired to maintain the Society as teachers of her Polish subjects. In these lands, the Papal bull of suppression was simply not put into effect.

The Jesuits were far from being the only victims of the ‘enlightened’ persecution. The Austrian Emperor Joseph II was perhaps more determined than any other European monarch of the period not merely to establish complete control of the Church, but to micro-manage it as well. Even details such as the number of candles permitted on the altars were subject to government regulations, for which absurdity Joseph was famously nicknamed “our cousin the sacristan” by the king of France. Much more sadly for the Church, Joseph had an almost morbid detestation of monks and contemplatives generally, whom he regarded as useless and parasitic, and of confraternities, considered hotbeds of ‘superstitious’ practices by the enlightened. Therefore, hundreds of monasteries, canonical institutions and confraternities were suppressed, their possessions dispersed, and their property confiscated. Much of the newly stolen property was to be redistributed into a ‘religion fund’, which would pay for the establishment of new parishes; these were often staffed by dispossessed monks, who now became state-salaried parish priests, working, in many cases, in the confiscated buildings their communities had previously owned for centuries.

The actions of Emperor Joseph are an extreme example of the ancien régime’s treatment of the Church, but his state-controlled Church was still able to function within the prescribed limits. Pope Pius VI went to Vienna in 1782 to seek an accommodation with the obdurate Emperor, and failed. Unable to do anything else, he accepted the situation, knowing, as every Pope does, that this too would pass. Joseph’s unpopular and unsuccessful reforms in matters of religion and in many other fields left an Empire wracked with internal dissension for his successor, Leopold II. His actions were, however, hardly the worst that the Age of Enlightenment had to throw at the Church.

A similar situation had long been brewing in France, the birthplace of the Enlightenment; in 1768, a royal commission of King Louis XV had closed more than 1000 religious communities of various sorts. Despite this ominous event, when the Revolution began in 1789, the clergy were among the most enthusiastic proponents of reforms within the French state that all agreed were necessary. In less than three years, it had spiraled out of control into the Great Terror, and in barely more than ten, into the tyranny of Napoleon. In February of 1790, the National Assembly suppressed all monastic vows, and ordered the dispersion of the surviving religious communities; in July, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy suppressed, among other things, all canonries and all secular and regular chapters, leaving France with only parish clergy and their bishops, controlled and paid by the State. Where the Emperor Joseph’s failed project of the ‘religion fund’ had at least been intended to finance a reorganization of religious institutions, a great deal of the money from the Revolutionary confiscations was dumped directly into the state’s war-chests, laying down a pattern that would be repeated throughout Europe in the course of the following century.

As the revolution descended into complete anarchy and madness, it could hardly help but try to export itself; in 1794, the ecclesiastical principality of Liège, already boiling with revolutionary fervor, was overrun by France. The Cathedral of Saint Lambert was completely destroyed; the original basilica built to house his relics had been in fact the very beginning of the city of Liège. A partial suppression of the religious orders in the next year was followed by a total suppression two years later, including the collegiate church of Saint Martin, where the feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated for the first time in 1246. The ancient medieval liturgical usage of Liège, faithfully maintained up to that point, also disappeared in the wreckage. A similar fate was inflicted on the three Electoral Sees of the Holy Roman Empire, Cologne, Trier and Mainz.

To give just one example of the fate of a specific religious order in these times: for the Premonstratensian Canons, founded by Saint Norbert in 1120, the choral singing of the Divine Office is, of course, one of the principal duties and glories of their order. Even after heavy losses in the Protestant Reformation, (including the Cathedral of Magdeburg, the see once held by their founder) and the Turkish invasion of Hungary, where many of their monasteries were destroyed, they still numbered 240 houses in 1778. Under Joseph II, who wanted all of the religious in his domains to do ‘useful’ things, (as determined by himself) they were largely forced to abandon their choral duties, and into parish work and teaching positions; many Austrian houses were closed, but a few reopened under Joseph’s successor. After the general suppression of the French Revolution, the entire order numbered 27 houses; fifteen of these were in Spain , and were closed during the revolution of 1833, by which time, new houses were being founded elsewhere.

This is a very, very partial list of the woes of the Catholic Church in the age of revolutions. Similar tales could be told about Germany and Italy, and even the reign of St. Pius X, (the first Pope to reign entirely within the 20th century) saw serious problems with the French government over the administration of ecclesiastical properties.

Here we must consider the impact of all of this on the public prayer life of the Church. For the closing of each religious house of whatever sort means one less place where the clergy and the lay faithful can attend a public and sung celebration of Solemn Mass and the Divine Office. In most places, all or nearly all such houses were closed, numbering in the hundreds or thousands. Well before the fruits of revolution ripened into two World Wars in less than thirty years, and the destruction of much of Europe between them, the average Catholic, whether cleric or lay, had come to know the Divine Office not as the sung, public prayer of the Church, offered daily to the glory of God and the sanctification of all the Church’s members, but as a private, pious exercise of the clergy, read by each cleric alone from a book.

In preparation for the First Vatican Council, the Church’s response to the revolutionary age, many proposals were submitted by the bishops from all parts of the world regarding the liturgy, and particularly the reform of the Breviary. Several of these proposals were aimed at lightening the ‘burden’ of reading the Office; almost nothing was said about restoring it to its proper place as the regularly sung prayer of the Church. No action was taken in liturgical matters at the Council, which was interrupted by the collapse of French support for the Papal State and the imminent Italian invasion. Typical of the times, with the taking of Rome in 1870, the services of the Papal Chapel were almost completely suspended even within the walls of the Vatican, and never effectively resumed.

[To be continued in 6.3]

-- Copyright (c) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

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To read previous installments in this series, see: Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

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