"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).

Monday, September 14, 2015

Louis Bouyer's Memoirs (I)

As I have noted several times on here in the past, I am an inveterate and unapologetic reader of diaries, the blunter the better. In this absurd and ghastly age, where offense and outrage are now manufactured in ever finer gradations by brutish bourgeois brats sniveling about "micro-aggressions" and claiming to find "racism," "trans-phobia," and "misogyny" (etc., etc., etc.) under every fig leaf, it seems that private diaries are increasingly the only place where one may speak frankly without being hounded to death by mobs of juveniles whom a better age would have brought up to shut up if not to grow up.

In recent years, we have seen the publication of the diaries and memoirs of a number of prominent Catholic and Orthodox scholars of the last century, as I noted at the link. Now we have another set freshly translated into English just this year: The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After (Angelico Press, 2015), 272pp.

I read these with great interest, and to my surprise there was a lot more here than I expected. By that I mean two things: first, the bulk of the text is devoted to his early life, including his Protestant period; Vatican II and its liturgically disastrous aftermath are only treated relatively briefly towards the end. Bouyer seems to have known just about everybody of prominence in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox circles, and he is not at all shy about name-dropping.

Second, I had forgotten--if I ever knew--just how prolific Bouyer was. I had of course read some of his works, including The Church of God: Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit. And for a time, Bouyer's historical works, including Orthodox Spirituality and Protestant and Anglican SpiritualityThe Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, and in particular his Introduction to Spirituality seemed to be on every Roman Catholic theology and seminary curriculum and you couldn't escape them even if you wanted to.

His study of the founder of the Oratory and the "apostle of Rome," St Philip Neri: A Portrait was a valuable little book when I was myself exploring a vocation with the Oratorians--though I have to confess that as far as biographies of Neri are concerned, I preferred Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy by the German Paul Türks. It was translated by the priest-scholar Daniel Utrecht of the Toronto Oratory, who introduced me to the book in the late 90s when I spent several wonderful weeks at the Toronto Oratory, which I have elsewhere described as a rare and shining jewel in the Catholic Church in Canada.

When I was working on a very early draft of the dissertation which became Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, I had a chapter that at one point included a lengthy discussion of the founder of the modern Oratory in the Anglophone world, John Henry Newman, about whom Bouyer wrote such studies as Newman: His Life and Spirituality that I found valuable if a bit dated (it came out in 1958). Since the late 50s, Newman scholarship has of course exploded and there are so many books on him now that I cannot possibly describe them all here. (Start with Ian Ker's absolutely splendid and unrivaled John Henry Newman: A Biography if you are at a loss for where to begin.)

Perhaps more than any other work--and the above are only the ones I have read, and only a fraction of what Bouyer wrote--I found his Life and Liturgy a useful book in bridging the gap between, well, liturgy and life. It's one thing to read pious phrases from the Fathers about the home being a "domestic Church," but it's another to see someone think through some of the implications of what that means. Bouyer was the first to help me do that, but there were other books that helped to bridge that gap, including, on the Orthodox side, Lev Gillet's  Year of Grace of the Lord; on the Catholic side, Joseph Ratzinger's valuable early little study, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgyand then, for greater history and deeper philosophy and anthropology, Catherine Pickstock's After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy, a book I still regard as the most important and damning, but neglected, work of liturgical criticism in English of what happened to the Latin liturgy after Vatican II. The fact that her criticism of the structural defects in the new Mass has never been adequately answered so far as I have seen says to me that all the defenders of Latin liturgical reform are quite simply incapable of answering it and thus have conceded the correctness of her views here, with which I am entirely in agreement.

On the question of liturgical reform, I forget where I first read an oft-cited quotation attributed to Bouyer who apparently already within just a year or two of the new Pauline missal (the "Novus Ordo") had concluded that "we must speak plainly: there is practically no liturgy worthy of the name today in the Catholic Church." That struck me as a touch polemical at the time and perhaps just a tad too sweeping a generalization.

But, having now read The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After, I see that blunt and sweeping criticisms are Bouyer's stock in trade. And, of course, Bouyer's blunt assessment would also be seconded by others, most notably Ratzinger in his Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977. Late in the book, Bouyer reflects on his first encounters with Ratzinger at the council, and praises the German's "clearness of views, his wide knowledge, his intellectual courage as well as his penetrating judgment....[and] his humor, which was so full of kindness; he was, however, nobody's fool" (p.226).

I will give further examples of Bouyer's blunt analysis, and discuss the early chapters in more detail, in subsequent entries.

To be continued. 

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