Monday, April 02, 2018

Announcing Liturgy Outside Liturgy: The Liturgical Theology of Fr. Alexander Schmemann by David Fagerberg

Chorabooks has just released what looks like a fascinating book, pertinent to readers of NLM.


David W. Fagerberg, Liturgy outside Liturgy. The Liturgical Theology of Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
Hong Kong: Chorabooks, 2018.
Paperback $ 24.60            ISBN 9789887851547
EBook (Kindle) $ 9.83     ISBN 9789887851509
EBook (Epub) Euro 6.99  ISBN 9789887851585

Available immediately in all the Amazon stores in Kindle and paperback format, and in more than 100 online stores in Epub format (Feltrinelli, Rizzoli, Mondadori, hoepli, Book Republic, Libreria universitaria, San Paolo store, Il fatto quotidiano, Il giardino dei libri, Google play, Ibooks store, Kobobooks, Tolino, Casa del libro, Bajalibros, Nookstore, Weltbild, El corte inglés, Barnes and Nobles, etc.)


"Does liturgy only matter to members of the Jesus Club when they get together to kill a Sunday morning? Is liturgy basically nothing more than temple etiquette, inessential to the mundane world? Should liturgy matter outside the Church?"

This is an important question that David W. Fagerberg, Theology Professor at Notre Dame University asks himself and us. And to answer this question, he is presenting the thought of Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983), who was a leading theologian in the Orthodox Church in America and one of the foremost thinkers in liturgical theology. The material is based on careful scholarship, but presented in such a way that the common reader will also benefit from the many powerful insights that can be found in it.

Schmemann made powerful statements to make readers think seriously. For example, about the world he says, “We seem to forget that in the New Testament and in the whole Christian tradition the ‘world’ is the object of two apparently contradicting attitudes: an emphatic acceptance, a yes, but also an equally emphatic rejection, a no.” And about the relationship of theology and the Church he writes, “[Theology] today constitutes within the Church a self-centered world, virtually isolated from the Church’s life. It lives in itself and by itself in tranquil academic quarters, well defended against profane intrusions and curiosities by a highly technical language. Theologians avoid discussing the trivial reality of the Church’s life, and do not even dream about influencing it in any way. In turn the Church, i.e., the bishops, priests and laity, are supremely indifferent to the writings of the theologians, even when they do not regard them with open suspicion. … Theology simply fails to reach anybody but professionals, to provoke anything but esoteric controversies in academic periodicals.”

Against the dangers of a liturgy that is auto referential, Fagerberg observes that “Liturgical reform should not, therefore, be self-serving; liturgical reform is a matter of empowering the Church’s leitourgia, which is the work of a few on behalf of the many.” He summarizes the conclusion his book in this way: “Let me conclude with a glance back over all three investigations: should liturgy matter, where is theology done, and does liturgy enter our life? In these three questions we were only following Schmemann’s own definition of the goal of liturgical theology, which is to overcome the fateful divorce between theology, liturgy, and piety. This breakup deprived liturgy of its proper understanding, theology of its living source, and piety of its living content. … The liturgical cult does not exist for itself, but for the sake of the world, for the sake of understanding and transforming the world.”

This book is not only for academic theologians, but also for all those who love the liturgy and are willing to be challenged with a fresh perspective on this fundamental topic for our Christian life.


David W. Fagerberg is a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, USA). Fagerberg’s area of study is liturgical theology: its definition and methodology, and how the Church’s lex orandi (law of prayer) is the foundation for her lex credendi  (law of belief). Lately he has been working on how liturgy, theology, and asceticism interrelate. He also has interests in sacramental theology, Eastern Orthodoxy, linguistic philosophy, scholasticism, G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis. He is the author of several books, including Consecrating the World: On Mundane Liturgical Theology (Angelico Press, 2016).

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Reading the sentence quoted above, "The liturgical cult does not exist for itself, but for the sake of the world, for the sake of understanding and transforming the world,” one might feel a slight misgiving. Apart from the obvious sense in which this is true, namely, that liturgy is not a club activity, like a game, could it not be dangerous to say that the cultus of God is for understanding and transforming the world? This may sound like a Marxist redirection of worship away from the divine towards the mundane and immanent? Do not the Orthodox rightly say that liturgy is doxology, the acknowledgment and praise of God in His greatness and for Himself -- which then spills over (or can and should spill over) into the rest of our lives?

But we have to understand the sense in which Fagerberg -- and Schmemann and Kavanaugh, if I construe them rightly -- understand this world-liturgy dialectic. This trio of authors has to be understood as offering a creative, redemptive response to religion's headlong rush into the arms of Marxism. When the whole world was deserting "organized religion" and "dogmas" as "irrelevant" to the world-changing processes going on, they argued that the liturgy was "the world done right." When the denominations were being suburbanized, taken away from the center of life in the city, they proposed bringing liturgy "back to the city." Against the psychologists who said religion was "abnormal," they said liturgy was the only way to be "normal." So, the world-transforming aspect should be understood as a corrective of Marxism, which thinks that the world can be understood and transformed by human action alone. Liturgy is the real revolution, if you will, and the real psycho-therapy, precisely because it is not reducible to horizontal political and economic relationships or psychological categories, but is inherently from above and ordered beyond itself.

Christ came as an epiphany in order to transform the world for the Father's glory, which is revealed in and through creation, embodied in man rescued from sin and death. As the extension of the Incarnation, the sacred liturgy participates in this mission, for the life of the world, to hasten it on its reditus to the Creator. The liturgy is therefore meant to be the axis of human culture, the pole star around which the constellation of all human endeavors circles, the vital center of civilization. It is a fleshly, sensible regime of worship proportioned, like the Incarnation, to man's bodily nature, given to us to draw our attention and devotion to God, granting us a dramatic vision of the universe gathered in worship of its Final End. This vision allows us to coordinate all our activity toward our End, thus fulfilling our role as high priests in bringing all things to God.

From what I have read over the years, it seems that Fr. Schmemann, whatever his limitations from a traditional Catholic perspective, is well positioned to help us work through these points, with a combination of mystical penetration and no-nonsense critique. I am therefore happy to see this new book by Fagerberg and look forward to digging into it.

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