Thursday, January 28, 2021

The “Solomon of Naples” - A Jesuit Founder on the Sacred Liturgy: Guest Article by Fr Sam Conedera, SJ (Part 1)

We are very grateful to Fr Sam Conedera, a priest of the Society of Jesus and professor at St Louis University, for sharing with NLM this very interesting article about one of the founders of his order, Fr Alfsonso Salmerón (1515-85), and his theological work on the sacred liturgy. The article will be presented in three parts.

For a variety of reasons, Jesuit sources are not prominent on the pages of NLM. The founding members of the Society of Jesus, however, did see a connection between “the defense and propagation of the faith” to which they had committed themselves, and care for the sacred liturgy. The most abundant and eloquent testimony to this connection comes from Alfonso Salmerón, the youngest of the original ten Jesuits. Born in 1515 on the outskirts of Toledo, Salmerón attended the University of Alcalà before moving on to Paris, where almost immediately he was drawn into the circle of Ignatius of Loyola. His prodigious memory enabled his mastery of Scripture and the humanistic learning of his day, as well as the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, especially St. Thomas. Appointed papal theologian for all three convocations of the Council of Trent, he and his fellow Jesuit Diego Lainez exercised a strong influence over the conciliar proceedings, whilst simultaneously winning renown for their new order. Salmerón gave an electrifying homily to the council fathers on the feast of St. John the Evangelist in 1546, which in the following year became the first original text ever published by a Jesuit author. He spent most of his later life in Naples, where he served as provincial for eighteen years, overseeing the order’s growth, and preaching regularly in the city’s churches. Salmerón’s erudition won him the sobriquet “the Solomon of Naples” among the townsfolk, who upon his death in 1585 treated him as a saint, cutting off pieces of his clothing and hair to keep as relics.
In 1569, Salmerón was instructed by his superior general to assemble his preaching notes for publication. The aging theologian obeyed, assembling a massive commentary on the New Testament that was not printed until the turn of the seventeenth century. It is comprised of twelve volumes entitled Commentaries on the Gospel History and the Acts of the Apostles, and four volumes of Commentaries on the Letters of Blessed Paul and the Canonical Letters, which run to a total of nearly eight thousand folio pages. Despite representing the only major theological work published by a Jesuit founder, the Commentaries have never been seriously studied. They provide a wealth of information about the theological mindset of one of the earliest Jesuits, including his love of the sacred liturgy, the Eucharist, and the Latin language.
In his commentary on the Lord’s words “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men” (Matt. 6, 5), Salmerón makes the following observation about the posture of prayer:
The publican and the Pharisee prayed standing. Therefore, wherever this custom is maintained, as among the Greeks, it is not an offense. The Latin Church’s custom of kneeling, however, seems more commendable and more universal, and more consonant with devotion. This is the manner of prayer that Christ observed in the garden, where first he prayed on his knees, and then prostrate on the ground. Hence laziness or lack of devotion makes us often sit or stand during the sacrifice of the Mass (except at the Gospel). But the way to correct these practices or the scandal that results from them is uncertain.
These words exhibit several characteristic features of the Jesuit theologian’s approach to the sacred liturgy: the understanding of Scripture, tradition, and custom as a coherent unity, a recognition of legitimate plurality that gives preference to the Latin rite, insistence on upholding, rather than relaxing, ecclesiastical discipline, and attentiveness to man as a union of soul and body. As he says elsewhere, “Man indeed is not an angel, or a pure spirit, but a spirit joined to a body; therefore God, who gave both of these, demands fruit from both, as of a tree.” Salmerón occasionally theorizes about worship, saying that religious ceremonial has three aims: to bring Christians into one people and “into the house of one custom” (Ps. 67, 7), to adorn and protect divine worship, and to recall the Lord’s teaching.
Salmerón also sought to counter the Protestant attacks on the Catholic faith that had arisen in the sixteenth century, which gives his discussion of the liturgy a polemical cast. In his exegesis of “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4, 23), he rejects the claim that Christians have no need of churches or temples, or external cult, rites, and chant. “When the Lord said that true adorers would offer worship to God in spirit and truth, he in no way removed exterior and corporeal worship, but rather the shadowy and lying cult of the Law, and the superstitious Samaritan worship.” Christ, he says, would not make a promise to his true adorers and then take away the means of their adoration; “therefore spirit and truth must be joined to our worship with rites and ceremonies.” The Eucharist has its own cult, and the Jesuit theologian explains the significance of such gestures as the bowing of the head, the joining of hands, prostration, the striking of the breast, and the sign of the cross. The physical building of the church declares that Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit; the altar of immolation for the Eucharist reminds them to offer themselves as victims; images place the examples of the saints before their eyes; holy water is a reminder of what flowed from Christ’s side. The weak especially need the Church’s ceremonies, images, and songs to ascend the mountain of God.
The high altar of the Jesuit order’s first church in Naples, known as the “Gesù Vecchio” (literally, “the old (church of) Jesus”; this is the church where Salmerón served during his years in the city, although its appearance is very different from what it would have been in his time. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Max_2010, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Salmerón’s historical consciousness is on display throughout the Commentaries, not least in his treatment of the liturgy, particularly the contested issue of stability and change. An inability to agree on the apostolic origin of particular Church practices, including liturgical ones, resulted in a rather general statement about tradition in Trent’s decree on the canonical Scriptures. This ambivalence is also evident in the Commentaries. On the one hand, Salmerón is wont to treat certain practices of his day as reaching back to the beginnings of Christianity. He attributes to apostolic tradition the Greek custom of the priest elevating his eyes and showing the chalice to the people, and the Latin practice of making the sign of cross over the chalice. He cites Thomas, Innocent III, and the Council of Florence for the view that all the Roman Church’s words of consecration pertain to the substance of the sacrament, for they have been received from apostolic tradition. Paul and Barnabas, he claims, were ordained during the celebration of Mass, as the custom of the Church and apostolic tradition teaches. He thinks that the “lineaments” of the Mass can be found already in Paul’s letters, and claims the status of apostolic tradition for the practice of holding funeral banquets in memory of the dead.
On the other hand, he shows awareness of liturgical development over time, saying that ceremonies are subject to variation, as seen in the customs of particular religious orders. He observes that the Roman Canon was formed as apostles and apostolic men gradually added to it. In commenting on Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians concerning Church discipline, he says that at this early date, public worship did not yet include such things as antiphonal chanting in choir, nor specific ministers assigned to the Gospel and the Epistle. The appearance of the angels to the shepherds at Christ’s birth (Luke 2, 9 sqq.) leads to a treatment of the historical origins of the Gloria. Although Erasmus claims that Pope Telesphorus (d. ca. 137) interpolated the angels’ hymn, what in fact happened, according to Salmerón, was that this same pontiff took the hymn from the Liturgy of St. James and from Book VII of the Apostolic Constitutions. The Jesuit theologian also draws on his knowledge of the changing customs at Rome, where he resided for several years. The church of St. Mark, he says, was originally dedicated to Pope Mark, but over time it became associated with Mark the Evangelist. Formerly the Chair of Peter at Antioch was celebrated in Rome, and then it was changed to the Chair of Peter at Rome, until Paul IV separated these celebrations. Salmeron speaks approvingly of how Gregory VII and Pius V restored the Divine Office to its pristine form, indicating his awareness that public worship may sometimes need renewal.
Salmerón’s liturgical interest is particularly evident in his Mariology. He was a vehement advocate of the Immaculate Conception, and drew on the evidence of worship to make his case. He notes that the Roman Church celebrates the feast under the name “Sanctae Conceptionis”, as do the bishops and nearly all the religious orders, and appeals to the Council of Trent’s renewal of Grave nimis, which granted annual celebration and indulgences for the feast. The praise of Mary found in the liturgies of Basil and Chrysostom is cited in support of the Immaculate Conception. The Church’s worship is key to understanding her doctrine, even prior to the definitions of ecclesiastical authority; it would be a kind of idolatry, he thinks, to erect altars and found confraternities in honor of the Immaculate Conception if the teaching were false.
A monumental column erected in Naples in honor of the Immaculate Conception in 1746, and next to it, the incomplete façade of the second Jesuit church of Naples, known as the “Gesù Nuovo” (literally, “the new Jesus”), in contrast to the “Gesù Vecchio” shown above. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0)
In his commentary on Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, Salmerón cites liturgical sources that begin with the word ave, such as Ave maris stella, Ave Regina coelorum, and Ave Domina angelorum. He likes the idea, taken from the text of the Regina pacis (Funda nos in pace / Mutans Evae nomen), that the name Eva has been turned around into the greeting Ave, which articulates how the Blessed Virgin reversed the course of events that Eve had set in motion. He sees a parallel between the angel’s greeting to Mary and the priest’s greeting to the people at Mass (in re divina). Salmerón observes that the Syrians have a liturgical greeting to Mary, and that the Liturgy of St. Basil includes a prayer to Mary after the offering of the sacrifice, which shows that this custom of greeting the Blessed Virgin is very ancient. In a similar vein, the Jesuit theologian correlates the words of the Hail Mary to her feasts. “Ave” corresponds to her Immaculate Conception, “Maria” to her Nativity, “gratia plena” to her Presentation, “Dominus tecum” to the Annunciation, “Benedicta tu in mulieribus” to the Visitation, “Et benedictus fructus ventris tui” to Christmas, “Sancta Maria virgo Mater Dei” to the Purification, “Ora pro nobis peccatoribus” to her Assumption, and “Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae” to Christ’s passion. There is something almost childlike in this otherwise grave and learned man’s delight in making these associations.
Salmerón is attentive to the importance of musical forms in the liturgy. Observing that music is used to arouse various emotions, he says that the Church can use it to arouse piety and devotion, and increase prayer in the spirit. Aware that music moves the hearer in different ways, he distinguishes the movement of the Holy Spirit from the “pythonic” movement people experience in their gut (venter). He defends the Church’s music not only against Protestants, but also against Cajetan (Tommaso de Vio), who said that it would be better for the Church to celebrate the Mass and Office without music, so that the words could be better understood. He retorts that this strategy works when it comes to teaching doctrine to the people, but does not apply to the Divine Office and public prayers. He accepts the use of the organ in church, apparently on the grounds that the verb psallere means singing together with musical instruments.
This is but a sampling of Alfonso Salmerón’s discussion of liturgy in his Commentaries, which may offer an unexpected picture of Jesuit thought. Future installments of this series will explore his views on the Holy Eucharist and the Latin language.

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