Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Errors of Fr. Fortescue’s “The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy” (Part 2)

In the previous article in this series, I discussed the influence of evolutionary theory on the intellectual climate of the 19th century, in reference to the liturgical writings of Fr Adrian Fortescue. Of course, I did not say that solely because he lived in a period in which certain ideas held sway, we can be sure that the forma mentis of that period must have influenced him and his writings on the liturgy. Correlation is not causation. Therefore, I propose in this article to give two examples which I think convincingly demonstrate that he was influenced by the dominant evolutionary mindset of his time. I have chosen these two partly because they pertain to matters in which historically erroneous scholarship was particularly important in the post-Conciliar reform, and partly because these errors are now generally recognized to be in fact errors.
Fr Fortescue in cope among the servers at his church, St Hugh’s, in Letchworth, England. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
The first is the matter of the epiclesis, to which he devotes a special appendix. He correctly notes that that it is “not primitive”, unattested before the mid-4th century (St Cyril of Jerusalem). He also notes that although its standard position is immediately after the consecration, there are many examples of prayers that similarly invoke the Holy Spirit in other places in various liturgies: in the Coptic liturgy of St Mark at the beginning, in the ancient rite of Jerusalem, at the Great Entrance, etc. He furthermore points out that some secrets of the so-called Leonine Sacramentary are “true Invocations”. (E.g. the secret of the 30th “daily Mass” placed in the month of July: “Send, o Lord, we ask, the Holy Spirit, that He may make these our present gifts Thy sacrament, and purify our hearts to receive it.” [1])
However, he runs his ship aground when he tackles the question of the formal epiclesis in the Roman Rite. “It is, I think, certain that the Roman rite too once had an Epiklesis of the Holy Ghost. Apart from the fact that otherwise it would be unique in Christendom, we have direct evidence of it.” Note that his first argument is that the Roman Rite must have had an epiclesis, because it would be unique among Christian rites if it didn’t. This can only be justified by broadly, perhaps even unconsciously, accepting the notion that all liturgies start from a common source, that which he describes in his first chapter as the substantial liturgical uniformity of the early Church. But in point of fact, every rite has features unique to itself, and one of the most distinctive features of the Roman is that it is the only one that has only one Eucharistic prayer. This being the case, it is easy to suppose that that Eucharistic prayer should itself have unique characteristics, such as, for example, the absence of a formal epiclesis.
He then adduces what he calls “direct evidence” of it in the Roman Rite, two citations of Pope St Gelasius I (492-96). The first of these says that “the sacraments of the body and blood of the Lord pass over into the divine substance, the Holy Spirit working this.” Fortescue understates the case when he writes that this one is “perhaps less certain” as evidence of the epiclesis. There is no reason to assume that this refers to a prayer at all, much less one that was part of the Canon.
The second is closer to the mark (although also not without significant problems), and of it he says that it “leaves surely no doubt that Gelasius knew the Epiklesis. ‘How shall the heavenly Spirit, being invoked, come to the consecration of the divine mystery, if the priest who prays him to be present is condemned as being full of evil deeds?’ (literally, “criminous actions”) We may then surely conclude that in the Vth century Rome had an Invocation of the Holy Ghost.”
An illuminated folio of a sacramentary made ca. 870 for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald, grandson of Charlemagne, which shows him between the putative papal authors of the two version of the Roman Sacramentary, Ss Gelasius I and Gregory the Great. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
This is cited to a collection of “Authentic Letters of the Roman Pontiffs” made by a German scholar, A. Thiel [2], which includes the Latin version of this text, and the footnote acknowledges that it is a fragment. But since so much is being hung on this one, very thin thread, this would have been the place to mention a few other pertinent facts. The first is that the full fragment consists of only one other sentence before this. “The sacrosanct religion which holds the Catholic discipline, demands for itself such great reverence that no one may dare to come to it without a pure conscience.” [3] The full context is lacking, and the connection between the two sentences is not wholly clear.
Far more importantly, this fragment is preserved as part of a collection of disciplinary canons. However, there is a considerable amount of such material that passes under Gelasius’ name, but is not authentically his. The introductory note under which this same text appears in Migne’s Patrologia Latina (LIX 141 B) states that there is no Pope apart from Ss Leo the Great and Gregory the Great under whose name there circulate more such decrees, but the editor makes it clear that he does not intend to take a position on the authenticity of any given one of them by including them with Gelasius’ works.
Furthermore, this statement is prima facie dangerously close to the Donatist heresy which St Augustine so strenuously opposed, and which the See of Rome also thoroughly rejected. [4] The so-called Gelasian Decree, which is not his, but is certainly Roman and not much later than his time, condemns Donatus by name. We may therefore reasonably surmise that the canon may not be authentically Gelasian, and hence, not a witness to the liturgy of Rome at all.
But even if it is from Gelasius, Fortescue himself has stated earlier in the same appendix of his book that invocations of the Holy Spirit are found in various parts of the liturgy in different rites. There is nothing about the wording of this canon which positively requires that the prayer that the Spirit be present come immediately after the Consecration, and cannot refer rather to some other part of the consecratory rite, e.g., some kind of private prayer of preparation. [5]
The appendix on the epiclesis concludes with a supposition that it was then removed from the Roman Canon “because of the growing Western insistence on the words of institution as the Consecration form”, and therefore a later invocation of the Holy Spirit seemed “unnecessary and misleading.” The most obvious problem with this statement is that it has never seemed so to the Eastern churches, which have the epiclesis after the words of institution. Fortescue cites various Fathers who emphasize the importance of the words of institution, but he cites nothing to indicate that anyone between Gelasius and Gregory the Great thought that their importance was compromised by the presence of the putative epiclesis. (It is Gregory to whom the removal of the epiclesis was often attributed in Fortescue’s own time, as he notes.)
The relevant portion of the Canon in the Gellone Sacramentary, ca 780 AD. 
But most importantly, this theory flies in the face of all the witnesses to the actual text of the Roman Canon, none of which has any evidence of the supposedly lost epiclesis. The theory therefore requires us to believe that when someone, presumably a Pope, decided to remove the epiclesis from the Canon, it somehow managed to disappear from every single manuscript of the Canon in exactly the same way, leaving no trace of itself, no trace of the decree that expunged it, and no trace of the ideas leading up to the decree.
Of course, I am far from the first person to observe these difficulties with the theory, which is why it is now generally abandoned. Fr Hunwicke cites the late Fr Robert Taft SJ to this effect: “The decidedly Christological stamp of the old Roman Canon is a sign of great antiquity. This eucharistic prayer, obviously formulated before the impact of the late fourth century pneumatological resolution at Constantinople I (381 AD) reflects a primitive euchological theology much older than almost any extant eastern anaphora… The old Roman Canon of the Mass has a weak pneumatology not because it is defective but because it is old, so old that it was composed before the divine personhood of the Holy Spirit became a problem to be resolved.”
The second question is that of the Old Testament reading before the Epistle which supposedly dropped out of the Roman Rite. Fortescue covers this topic in the sixth chapter of his first part, on “The Lessons.”
He begins with St Justin Martyr’s First Apology, noting that he says nothing about either the number or order of the readings. “(T)hese were then reduced to three, Prophetia, Epistola, Evangelium. … Since the VIIth century there have been normally only two, the prophetic lesson having dropped out.” (p. 257) Speaking of the original order of things, he says, “The Gradual was sung after the Prophecy, the Alleluia before the Gospel.” (p. 267)
The reason why I attribute this hypothesis to a forma mentis molded by evolutionary theory is that in Fortescue’s time, many scholars believed that the Ambrosian Rite was an archaic form of the Roman Rite. Fortescue himself certainly knew this, since he cites the work of the two principal proponents of this idea, Ceriani and Magistretti. And the Ambrosian is the only rite that actually attests to the putative original Roman order of readings and chants: Prophecy, Gradual, Epistle, Alleluia, Gospel.
But elsewhere, Fortescue explicitly rejects Ceriani and Magistretti’s idea, stating that “The Gallican, Ambrosian and Mozarabic liturgies are really independent, with no more connection with Rome than there is always between any Christian services.” This means that for him, the Ambrosian Rite is not itself the missing link that connects Justin Martyr to the earliest Roman lectionaries. These two ideas together can only make sense, on the author’s own terms, if he is taking for granted that an original common form (the “substantial liturgical uniformity” of the early Church posited by his first chapter) began to evolve, stopping at an intermediate stage in Milan, but continuing to evolve at Rome.
Once again, the problem with this is simply that there is no evidence in any liturgical book of the Roman Rite, or in the writings of any Roman Church Father, that any of this ever happened. Fortescue and others posit a similar evolution for the Byzantine Rite, with a similar lack of either patristic or liturgical evidence. While it is prima facie difficult to believe that such a feature could totally vanish from the rite of one patriarchal see, leaving no trace of itself behind, it is absurd to posit that this could happen in two such rites. This theory is therefore now also largely abandoned.
To sum up, then: in both cases, Fortescue is assuming gradual changes that lead from an earlier common form to later diversified ones, even though he has no evidence of the intermediate stage that the theory itself requires (the “missing links”), and cannot really demonstrate any motive or agent for the putative change. This is exactly the problem that evolutionary theory has been wrestling with in the field of biology since the days of Darwin.
[1] In Mohlberg’s critical edition, 578: “Mitte, Domine, quaesumus, Spiritum Sanctum, qui et haec munera praesentia nostra tuum nobis efficiat sacramentum, et ad hoc percipiendum nostra corda purificet.”
[2] Epistolae Romanorum Pontificum genuinae (Braunsberg, 1868)
[3] “Sacrosancta religio, quæ catholicam tenet disciplinam, tantam sibi reverentiam vindicat, ut ad eam quilibet nisi pura conscientia non audeat pervenire.”
[4] In Gratian’s Decretalia, the great collection of canons which formed the basis of medieval ecclesiastical law from the 11th century on, this canon appears under the header, “Non adest Spiritus sanctus sacramentis, que per criminosos ministrantur – the Holy Spirit is not present to sacraments which are administered by the criminous.”
[5] There is a further difficulty that in the Latin text of this canon has the word “et” added after “priest”: “the priest, and he who prays (the Spirit) to be present.” Prima facie, this means that someone other than the priest prays for the Spirit to be present, a problem with Fr Fortescue solves by treating the “et” as a mistaken addition.

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