"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fritz West on Anton Baumstark

Anton Baumstark (1872-1948)
Anybody who knows anything about the study of liturgy in the last sixty years and more knows the name of Anton Baumstark, who died in 1948. He was one of those brilliant polyglot Germans whose erudition and range of publication make the rest of us look like jejune slackers by comparison. He has exercised an enormous influence over all subsequent scholarship, especially in the Christian East through Baumstark's most influential and prolific "disciple," the great Robert Taft, now retired (but still, thankfully, publishing) from the Oriental Institute in Rome.

Baumstark's great work, On the Historical Development of the Liturgy (Liturgical Press, 2011), 256pp. was recently translated by Fritz West, who has previously published on Baumstark. Here is the publisher's blurb about the book:
Anton Baumstark's On the Historical Development of the Liturgy (1923) complements his classic work, Comparative Liturgy. Together they lay out his liturgical methodology. Comparative Liturgy presents his method; On the Historical Development of the Liturgy offers his model. This book was written for one audience and valued by another. Written to lead adherents of the nascent German liturgical movement to a deeper religious appreciation of Catholic worship, its methodology and scope have won the appreciation of liturgical specialists for nearly a century. In describing the organic growth of the liturgy, its shaping and distortion, Baumstark s reach extends from India to Ireland, Moscow to Axum, Carthage to Xi an. He discusses the influences of language, literature, doctrine, piety, politics, and culture. While his audacity can be breathtaking and his hypotheses grandiose, his approach is nevertheless stimulating. In this annotated edition, Fritz West provides the first English translation of this work by Anton Baumstark.
I asked West for an interview about his work, and here are his thoughts:

AD: Tell us about your own background.   

FW: I am a Protestant minister (now retired), ordained in the United Church of Christ, with a doctorate in liturgical studies from the University of Notre Dame.  My dissertation was entitled The Methodological Thought of Anton Baumstark in its Intellectual Milieu. I summarized the findings of my dissertation in The Comparative Liturgy of Anton Baumstark.

I have contributed to the study and practice of worship in the church through seminary teaching and organizational work as well as writing.  My published work generally falls into three categories: liturgical methodology, lectionary studies, and worship in the Reformed tradition.

AD: Tell us, if you would, a bit about the background of Anton Baumstark and why he remains so important today.  

FW: Anton Baumstark was a lay Roman Catholic scholar of Christian art, literature, and liturgy, who came from an intellectual German family with roots in Baden and strong political interests. As a young man, Baumstark entertained thoughts of entering the priesthood and/or a religious order.  Apart from specific findings, his major contribution to the field of liturgical studies lies in the area of methodology. Even as a university student of philology in the 1890’s, he showed an interest in method. Early in the twentieth century, under the influence and example of the art historian Josef Strzygowski (1862-1941), Baumstark conceived comparative liturgy, a method for the study of the liturgies of the Church, particularly focused on the East.  His method became more widely known twenty years later, when the liturgical apostolate of the Abbey of Maria Laach sought to shape an approach to the study of the liturgy appropriate to its nature.  Along with other methods the Abbey enthusiastically embraced comparative liturgy, which afforded Baumstark opportunities to publish both comparative liturgical studies and reflections on methodology, including Vom Geschichtlichen Werden der Liturgie, translated under the title On the Historical Development of the Liturgy.  Comparative liturgy is important yet today for being the first attempt to articulate a coherent methodology for the study of liturgical history and an inspiration for the Mateos School of Oriental Liturgiology.

One aspect of Baumstark’s biography continues to generate particular interest: his politics. From the defeat of Germany at end of World War I, he was involved in conservative nationalist German politics and in 1932 became active as a member of the National Socialist Party. This is of relevance to his intellectual biography in that both his methodology and his political thinking reflect an organic understanding of culture.  This line of thinking was widespread in the Germany of Baumstark’s day, found among both liberals and conservatives, in both scholarly and political circles.  In this framework  the identity of the individual was thought to derive from an organic relationship to the community.  While on the one hand this was used analytically as a sociological insight (e.g. Ferdinand Tönnies), it was also embraced by conservative Germans (völkisch thought) to further nationalistic and political ends. The former finds resonance in Baumstark’s understanding of the church at prayer, the latter in his treatment of the influence upon the liturgy of language and nation. While one despairs of finding a causal relationship between Baumstark’s political and methodological thought, they both stem from an organic understanding of culture with roots in nineteenth-century German romanticism.

AD: Your introduction notes that On the Historical Development of the Liturgy was "written for a segment of the German Roman Catholic reading public of the early twentieth century, those supportive of the German liturgical movement." How were you, a member of the United Church of Christ in twenty-first century America, first drawn to him? 

FW: I first became interested in the comparative liturgy of Anton Baumstark when exploring the broader question of the use of linguistic models for the study of the liturgy.  Specifically, I wanted to explore the possibility of using structural linguistics to define and analyze the “liturgical tradition” underlying (my own) Free Church worship.  By studying similar transfers of method from the study of language to that of liturgy, that of comparative liturgy from comparative grammar and semiological analyses from structural linguistics, I hoped to better understand this move theoretically.

AD: Baumstark, of course, has been greatly influential in Orthodox and Catholic liturgical studies, but I am less familiar with his influence on your own tradition in particular, and on Protestant liturgical scholarship more widely. Tell us a bit about that if you would. 

FW: The comparative liturgy of Anton Baumstark is of use in studying liturgical traditions marked by the continuous use of liturgical texts.  This is not the case for Protestant worship of the Free Church in which structure is central, while text is occasional and variable.  For this reason, scholars of these traditions, including my own, have disregarded comparative liturgy almost entirely. On the other hand, Baumstark’s method has had appeal and application in the Anglican tradition. See David H. Tripp, "Comparative Method in Liturgical Study," Modern Churchman, n.s. 13(1970): 188-197 and more recently Hans-Jürgen Feulner, “The Anglican Use Within the Western Liturgical Tradition: Importance and Ecumenical Relevance from the Perspective of Comparative Liturgy.” 

AD: Robert Taft's foreword notes that Baumstark's German was "not always pellucid." How onerous was your task as translator? 

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Winkler once joked that Germans would welcome my translation, for they could then finally understand what Baumstark was trying to say.  Baumstark’s “akademisches Deutsch,” prolix and turgid, can be daunting.  He uses long sentences, containing elaborate participial clauses, nestling semantic units within semantic units in a linguistic version of a Russian doll. His Latinate style, favoring nouns and nominal phrases, including neologisms such as “das Sichauswirken,” is laborious to unpack. Some passages, such as the final paragraph of the book, are simply opaque. After producing a rough translation, I went through the German and English four more times, twice with readers fluent in German, working with me sentence by sentence.  At the point when I had not only translated the work but largely internalized it, I was able to massage it into readable English, referring to the German original only on occasion.  The process of translation stretched over twelve years, eight while serving as pastor of a congregation.

AD: Taft's foreword notes, as he has done in many places over the years, that Baumstark was a pioneer in comparative liturgiology, a method that has solved problems in liturgical history better than other methods. Explain, if you would, the significance of that approach as a scholarly method. 

FW: As a scholarly method comparative liturgy is significant for studying liturgies or aspects of them in terms of the liturgy, the parts in terms of the whole. For this move he used the organic model, asserting that the liturgy is an organism and that in two ways: ontologically and structurally.  For Baumstark the liturgy was ontologically an organism that grows.  He also thought it to be structurally organic in that it contains structurally analogous units, notably liturgical and heortological.  The significance of the move that regards the parts in light of the whole becomes clear when contrasted to standard historiography.  That is a method that builds a synthesis of what is known directly upon two kinds of sources, primary and secondary.  Here one works not with a whole containing parts, but with pieces of evidence that are material in so far as they pertain to the historical phenomenon under study, be it the French Revolution or Andrew Jackson. These two approaches are distinguished by the warrants they use to reach conclusions.  Standard historiography uses purely referential warrants; its conclusions refer directly to the available evidence and go no further. If there is no evidence, there can be no reference; gaps in the evidence necessarily result in gaps of knowledge.  By contrast the warrants used in the organological approach are  inferential.  Understanding the parts in terms of the whole, it ventures to infer what the whole implies when direct evidence is scant or lacking.  In actual practice, Baumstark used both referential and inferential reasoning, supplementing the former with the latter.
Paleontology offered the model for this latter approach.  Here the whole is animal life, an organic realm, whose genetic regularity is visibly evident in the structure of animals, shaped to insure survival. Georges Curvier (1769-1832), the father of comparative anatomy and paleontology, thought himself able to construct the whole of the animal from but a part or evidence thereof (e.g., a fossil). If the various systems of every organism function together for survival, then physical evidence from any single system within it would imply the whole. This kind of inferential reasoning captivated scholars of culture increasingly over the course of the nineteenth century. The comparative sciences of culture applied it to realms of culture, most successfully that of language.  A language family is a structurally organic whole. Comparative grammar also held that language families were ontologically organic, that is, that they grew like organisms according to laws. Emulating paleontology, comparative grammar set reconstruction as a goal, notably that of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) by comparing immediate linguistic descendants: Sanskrit, Latin, and Classical Greek.
Baumstark makes the same move in regards to the liturgy.  He saw it as a unity, both as an organism that grew and as a whole containing analogous structures.  He held it was governed by laws, as evident in the regularity of liturgical development.  In this framework, he dared to venture reconstruction. He thought it possible to fill in gaps in the evidence for the liturgy by supplementing the referential reasoning of standard historiography with the inferential reasoning of the organological approach. Notably he thought the comparative method could be used to infer (no longer extant) earlier liturgical forms from (still extant) later ones. With Baumstark, however, one must handle the move from theory to practice with care.  In his historical writings Baumstark was renowned for drawing conclusions that overreached his evidence and his laws point to this extravagance. While Baumstark does articulate laws, one is hard put to find instances where he applies them directly to solve a problem in liturgical history. Their force is as much metaphorical as descriptive.  They express his conviction that the liturgy—as a whole exhibiting regular development in stable structures—is amenable to inferential reasoning. All this notwithstanding, the central contribution of comparative liturgy remains: it assigned a methodological role to the whole of the liturgy.

AD: Taft takes some pains to insist that even if not all of Baumstark's factual conclusions are today accepted, nonetheless that does not impair the validity of his comparative methods and the "laws" derived therefrom. If Baumstark were writing today, what do you think he would write differently?

FW: It is impossible to know how Baumstark would write differently if he were alive today. A “what if” question such as this lies beyond the scope of history.  We can, however, relate Baumstark’s method to the “climate of opinion” found in his day and that in play today.  How did the comparative method and his “laws” look then?  How do contemporary scholars handle similar issues today?

First, the comparison. Baumstark was shaped by the positivist climate of opinion that prevailed around the turn of the twentieth century, which transferred models and understandings of the natural sciences whole hog into the social sciences.  In the study of cultural phenomena this approach claimed the certainty (understood to be) within the epistemological grasp of the physical and life sciences.  Notably these sciences were thought to employ laws with predictive powers equal to those at work in the physical world.  Things lie differently today. No longer do natural and social scientists think that they are studying the “Ding an sich (thing-in-itself).” Rather they construct models to organize what they know and help them explore what they don’t.  Furthermore, both natural and social scientists handle models with circumspection, regarding them as heuristic devices to organize data into coherent patterns. Every model is true only insofar as and so long as it stands the test. Just as the necessity to subject models to testing is a tacit recognition of their conditional status, the same holds true for laws. Rather than being regarded as ironclad predictors, laws are now understood to describe behavior with a high degree of probability.  This probability may be so high as to appear to be without exception, as the Law of Gravity once did … until the work of Albert Einstein demonstrated that it pertains only under certain conditions.

Practitioners of the Mateos School of Oriental Liturgiology, who self-consciously trace their method to Baumstark’s comparative liturgy, subsist in today’s climate of opinion.  Robert F. Taft, SJ, its leading practitioner, speaks of models, hypotheses, and heuristic devices.  For this reason, he rejects Baumstark’s ontological claim that the liturgy is an organism, while affirming the methodological claim that it is structurally organic.  He further observes that these structures exhibit regular development; sometimes this regularity is apparent in—or between—the structures (“the soft points in the liturgy”), sometimes in developmental patterns (variety to uniformity). Taft wrestles with the term “law,” not in the positivist sense found in Baumstark, but rather as observable developmental regularities found repeatedly (although not without exception) in the history of the liturgy. With his understanding of the liturgy as a structural unity, along with his recognition of developmental regularity, he allows for the use of inferential reasoning in the analysis of historical data.   However—once again—he does so only heuristically, to venture hypotheses of what might have been.  To determine whether the hypothesis stands—whether it is the case in fact—can only be done through referential reasoning.

The difference, then, between Baumstark’s day and our own lies in “the climate of opinion,” notably in regard to the use of models and the understanding of “laws.”   Whereas Baumstark claimed the liturgy to be an organism ontologically, scholars of the Matos School of Oriental Liturgiology use it as a model for understanding the liturgy. Whereas for Baumstark laws inexorably led to conclusions he claimed to be sure, members of the Mateos School use them to describe tendencies and likelihoods apparent in the history of the liturgy.

AD: Taft also defends Baumstark's use of the metaphor of "laws" against many modern academics who remain suspicious of such terms. In general do you think that modern historiography has gone too far in its suspicions of "meta" theories and generalizable observations?  

FW: It has become commonplace to observe that the writing of history is now oriented to the particular and away from the general.  Historians focus on narrower and narrower questions; they are loath to write general histories, much less project “meta” theories.  Several factors contribute to this.  The post-modernist tenor of the times is suspicious of generalizations and theory. Beyond that the sheer quantity of historical data now available makes it daunting for an historian to move with confidence from the particular to the general.  Finally, the multiplication of methods allows the same data to be seen in various ways, rendering quaint the surety once gained by a single-minded approach.

Robert F. Taft, SJ.
Paul Bradshaw
According to Baumstark and Taft, however, the character of liturgical history mitigates this orientation toward the particular. For them both the liturgy is an internally coherent whole, similar to the way that a language is marked by analogous structures and generated by grammar.  The difference in the organic models used by Baumstark and Taft notwithstanding, this move to conceptualize the liturgy as a coherent whole allows them both to dare higher levels of generality. The ongoing (cordial) difference between Robert F. Taft and Paul Bradshaw turns in part on their historiographical orientation.  Taft works with the liturgy as an historical unity; Bradshaw works from liturgical data toward a historical synthesis.  Bradshaw reflects the post-modern temper of our times; Taft paints with a broader stroke.

AD: Baumstark's first law of liturgical development, of course, is that liturgies go from diversity to uniformity. But could it be said, do you think, that perhaps the reforms to the Latin liturgy following Vatican II reversed that law--that the Roman Church went from increasing uniformity following Trent to an explosion of diversity, at least in practical terms, following Vatican II and the reformed Missale Romanum of 1970?  

FW: The conciliar reforms of the Second Vatican Council are analogous to those of Trent: a conscious attempt to conserve the Roman tradition.  Like Trent, Vatican II produced liturgical books (each with its Latin editio typica) to be used throughout the Roman Church and interpreted by a central authority.  True, editio typica are now translated into various languages, for use in the liturgy and to be inculturated in various settings, but that does not modify the uniformity of the Roman Rite.  It simply becomes more nearly analogous to its eastern sister.  Although the Byzantine Rite is celebrated in different cultures and languages, it is—as Baumstark himself observed—no less uniform as a rite.

AD: If Baumstark were alive today, what do you think he would make of the attempt, since the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, to have the so-called ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite exist alongside one another? Would he see it as a violation of his understanding of "organic" development, an artificial wrenching of the process of liturgical development first one way and then another? 

FW: The organic development of the liturgy—“quietly and stealthily”—was interrupted in the 16th century, when the conscious exercise of will interrupted (in the case of the Protestants) and curbed (in the case of the Roman Catholics) the organic growth of the liturgy.  In terms of organic development, there is no difference between the liturgies produced by Trent and Vatican II.  Both are conscious attempts (which are, by definition, antithetical to organic growth) to conserve the Roman liturgical tradition, subsequently maintained by a centralized liturgical administrative authority.  Neither stands fully in organic continuity with that which preceded it.

One might see an analogy between the celebration of the Tridentine Missal and the persistence of various older liturgies in a limited orbit: the Mozarabic Rite in Toledo, Spain; the Ambrosian Rite in Milan, Italy, and a few surrounding dioceses; the Liturgy of St. James on the island of Zakynthos, Greece and Jerusalem, Israel.  Each of these liturgies, however, is the direct product of organic development and their celebration, the preservation of an ancient form.  The Tridentine Missal on the other hand is a conscious product and discontinuous with ancient practice.  Only the Mass of the Roman Church prior to Trent, the Mass of the late Middle Ages, could make such a claim.

AD: Taft recently retired to Boston at the age of 80, though he is still actively publishing. In addition to your own work, who today is continuing to draw on and be influenced by Baumstark? Are there up and coming younger liturgists or theologians we should watch out for? 

Hans-Jürgen Feulner
Sr. Vassa
Robert F. Taft represents the Mateos School of Oriental Liturgiology, which consciously traces its method back to Anton Baumstark and Juan Mateos. Gabriele Winkler, who had Taft for her Doktorvater, is a well-known representative of this school. Though now retired from the University of Tübingen, she continues to pursue her scholarly interest in the Armenian liturgy.  A student of Winkler’s, Hans-Jürgen Feulner is Professor for Liturgical Studies and Theology of the Sacraments at the Catholic Faculty of the University of Vienna and the Director of the Institute for Liturgical Studies at the University of Vienna. Having worked comparatively with liturgies of the East, Feulner is now turning those insights to modern liturgical forms, in particular those of the Anglican Communion. His assistant in Vienna, Sister Vassa (Barbara) Larin, also trained by Taft, has undertaken a study of the Byzantine Liturgy of the Word, building on the work of Juan Mateos. In this way the Mateos School of Oriental Liturgiology (and through it the legacy of Anton Baumstark) continues to exercise its influence.

AD: Sum up for us the significance of this book and its lasting relevance for us today. 
FW: Baumstark’s work challenges us to think about the methodology of the liturgy.  Specifically, it moves us to consider 1) whether the liturgy is a coherent entity, and, if so, 2) whether one can ascribe methodological import to that entity. Colloquially we use “the liturgy” as a substantive noun (sometimes written as “the Liturgy” or even “The Liturgy”); we speak of the worship of the church (or certain strains of it) as a whole.  Is this merely a manner of speech?  Or does it refer to something real or essential?  And, if so, does it provide a context for studying liturgy? Baumstark and the Mateos School share this methodological move; others reject it.  Let the reader judge.

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