"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).

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Biblical Images and Liturgy

In his often very droll and always very enlightening Christianity in the West 1400-1700, the late John Bossy noted that the motto of the Reformation really should have been in principio erat sermo. The Reformation's focus on (fetish for?) written texts like Scripture and their homiletical exposition often came, as we know, at the expense of the other senses, including the eyes, leading to outbreaks of iconoclasm ("stripping of the altars") not just in Calvin's Geneva or Knox's Scotland but in England and elsewhere.

But over the last quarter-century, many Protestant scholars have begun to re-examine Christian history and even to ransack it for things missing in their own traditions today. Thus we have, e.g., as I've often noted on here, a huge new interest in icons and iconography as well as patristic and sacramental theology.

Now a new book comes along, building on such Orthodox scholars as the late Alexander Schmemann, to repair some of the gaps in Protestant approaches to Scripture and liturgy: Gordon Lathrop, Saving Images: The Presence of the Bible in Christian Liturgy  (Fortress, 2017), 224 pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
The Protestant Reformation emphasized the centrality of Scripture to Christian life; the twentieth-century liturgical movement emphasized the Bible’s place at the heart of liturgy. But we have not yet explored the place of the Bible as the subject of critical exegesis in contemporary liturgy, argues Gordon W. Lathrop. He seeks to remedy that lack because it is critical historical scholarship that has shown us the grounding of the text in the life of the assembly and the role of intertextuality in its creation. “Saving” and revitalizing images of the past are at the heart of Scripture and are the work of the gathered community. Lathrop finds patterns in biblical narratives that suggest revising our models of the “shape” of liturgy (after Dix and Schmemann) and our understanding of baptism, preaching, Eucharist, and congregational prayer. He lifts up the visual imagery at the Dura Europos house church and elsewhere as a corrective to the supersessionist impulse in much Christian typology. He identifies the liturgical imperative as seriousness about the present rather than an effort to dwell in an imagined past. Saving Images is a call for a new, reconceived biblical-liturgical movement that takes seriously both biblical scholarship and the mystery at the heart of worship.

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