Friday, February 05, 2021

The “Solomon of Naples” - A Jesuit Founder on the Sacred Liturgy: Guest Article by Fr Sam Conedera, SJ (Part 2)

This is the second part of an article by Fr Sam Conedera, a priest of the Society of Jesus and professor at St Louis University, on the liturgical theology of one of the founders of his order, Fr Alfonso Salmerón (1515-85). Click here to see the first part; our thanks once again to Fr Conedera for sharing this with us.

Fr Alfonso Salmerón SJ; engraving by Luis Fernández Noseret. 
The second installment of this series on the Jesuit founder Alfonso Salmerón deals with his treatment of the Holy Eucharist, which drew more of his attention than any other mystery of faith. Whereas the Commentaries treat general liturgical questions fairly briefly or in passing, the Eucharist receives about four hundred fifty pages of sustained discussion. Salmerón treats the Eucharist as a mystery on par with the Trinity and the Incarnation, calling it the sign of God’s greatest power. The Eucharist fulfills prophecies and types of the Old Testament, such as the great banquet of Isaiah 25, the angels’ praise and worship of God of Isaiah 9, and the sacrifice offered from the rising of the sun to its setting of Malachi 1. Comparing the Lord’s relationship with the Church to human courtship, he says that
Christ, planning to unite himself to the Church, drove forth the negotiations of the marriage that was to take place in the Incarnation by sending angels and prophets, first to the patriarchs and priests, and then to elders of Abraham’s family, as if to the parents of the human race. When he had obtained consent, he sent to her most magnificent and precious gifts, by which he could effectively win her love and incline her heart toward him. Among these, the most divine gift of the Holy Eucharist has the first place, as a sign that he has already given himself by the taking on of flesh, and then by the suffering of death, and as a most certain pledge, that he will give himself to his bride to enjoy fully in glory.
One consequence of the Eucharist’s greatness is that no sacrament is celebrated with more internal reverence or adornment of splendor. Salmerón attends to the details of these adornments and brings out their symbolic significance. Church bells summon the people to the sacrifice and the Word of God, “as once silver trumpets in the hands of the priests roused up the faithful to war” (cf. Num. 10). He comments on each of the priest’s vestments, which serve to commemorate the reproach Christ suffered in his passion, and encourage the people’s devotion. The amice renews the memory of faith and prepares the mind for sacrifice; the alb recalls purity of life; the cincture, chastity; the stole, patience; the maniple, obedience; the chasuble, the operation of charity on behalf of all sins.
The Miracles of St Ignatius of Loyola, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1615-20. in the Jesuit church in Genoa, Italy.
When he treats of the fruits and benefits of assisting at Mass, Salmerón lays emphasis on both hearing its teaching and prayers, and seeing the sacrifice and its ceremonies. This leads to a condensed commentary on the Mass, which offers literal and allegorical explanations of each of the parts. To take one example, the Canon, he says that the sacred silence before the consecration corresponds to the Lord’s five days in Jerusalem before the passion; the consecration and elevation, to His being lifted upon the cross; the silence after the consecration, to His words “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Salmerón’s opposition to heresy reaches new levels where the Eucharist is concerned. He announces, at the beginning of his treatise on the Lord’s Supper, his intent to “slaughter” the opinions of heretics, and calls them out by name: Luther’s denial of transubstantiation opened the way for Karlstadt, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and others, whom Salmerón likens to “Judas and (his fellow) traitors.” Aside from issuing condemnations, he has a good grasp of the various Eucharistic teachings of different Protestant sects and how they developed. He highlights the failed attempt at the Colloquy of Regensberg (1541) to arrive at a settlement of the disputed questions. In his view, the only possibility of reconciliation lies in the profession of Catholic teaching, and he dedicates his energy to expounding this and refuting the various Protestant positions.
The Eucharist was a contested issue not only between Protestants, and between Protestants and Catholics, but among Catholics as well. Disagreements on this subject were a problem at the Council of Trent, which identified three ways of receiving the Eucharist: sacramentally only (without benefit to the soul), spiritually only (in desire, without consumption of the species), and sacramentally and spiritually together. During the conciliar debates, however, Salmerón objected to the idea of spiritual reception alone, claiming that what Christ clearly commanded in John 6 was spiritual and sacramental reception together. As he later explained in the Commentaries, his concern was that the consensus position among “all the more recent heretics” was a purely spiritual reception that excluded the sacrament.
Salmerón traces this view back to certain Catholic authors, “who are few and new,” who in response to the Hussite controversy in Bohemia had begun to advocate purely spiritual eating of the Eucharist. Salmerón saw this allegedly novel position as a potential threat to the Real Presence, as well as a basis for reception under both species. Although he did not succeed in getting the conciliar text changed, he gives long and careful attention to John 6 in the Commentaries, explaining the different kinds of reception of the Eucharist, and promoting the “spiritual and sacramental” reception commanded by Jesus. He brings forth in support of his position extraordinarily rich and lengthy catenas of the Fathers and Doctors, as well as the Church’s custom (consuetudo) of reading John 6 on the feast of Corpus Christi.
Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred, sculptural group by Pierre le Gros the Younger (1695-99); part of the tomb of St Ignatius in the church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Rome.
The sustained attention he gives to reception under both species is perhaps a surprising aspect of Salmerón’s Eucharistic thought. The Commentaries contain three distinct treatises on the topic, which all together run to nearly thirty pages and explore the historical evidence for the practice. Although he concedes that in previous times, the chalice was licitly granted to the laity, and that this remains a legitimate practice among the Greeks, he nevertheless maintains that it is no longer fitting in the Latin Church. In addition to the danger of spillage, granting the chalice would harm ecclesial unity. It would be left to the people to decide which rite they wanted, and many Catholics would choose the older rite, leading to confusion and civil disturbances. But the argument that Salmerón emphasizes most is that the Church does not change her rites or relax her discipline to accommodate those who do not wish to observe them. Since the request for the chalice has come from northern provinces where there is schism, rebellion, and ignorance, he says it has become a marker among Catholics for friendliness to heretics and opposition to one’s fathers, superiors, and brothers.
In view of his reverence for the Eucharist, it is not surprising that Salmerón castigates unworthy reception in the strongest terms, calling it the gravest of sins, and comparing perpetrators to Uzzah, who died from touching the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6). The Jesuit theologian dedicates about seventeen pages to how one should prepare to receive Communion, which includes contrition and sacramental Confession; “for it is shameful to place the virginal and most pure flesh and body in a heart dirtier than the Augean stables.” He observes approvingly that during the Octave of Corpus Christi, the Church reads 1 Cor. 11, which contains Paul’s warnings against unworthy reception. Communion must be preceded by the words “Domine non sum dignus”, and reception should be attended by joyful leaping in one’s heart, like David before the Ark.
King David Dances before the Ark, by Peter van Lint, ca. 1650
One might reasonably ask if Salmerón’s fellow founders of the Society of Jesus shared his zeal for the Eucharist. One difficulty in answering this question is that none of them left behind a source quite like the Commentaries. It does seem that Salmerón was generally more attentive to liturgical details than his companions. At the same time, Diego Lainez, St Ignatius’s successor as superior general, worked closely with Salmerón at the Council of Trent, where the two were of one mind about the Eucharist; Ignatius was known to weep uncontrollably when he celebrated Mass and the Divine Office; and Peter Faber saw the renewal of liturgical life, especially the Mass and processions, as crucial for the cause of the faith in Germany. It seems, therefore, that the Jesuit founders largely shared the wisdom of “the Solomon of Naples.”

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