"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).

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Philosophy of Liturgy

There are not, as far as I know, many philosophers who look at liturgy through their own discipline. Among recent works that attempt something like this, there is of course the invaluable and provocative study of Catherine Pickstock of Cambridge, who re-reads Latin liturgy through Platonic and later philosophy in her tour de force, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy and then her more recent work, which engages Kierkegaard (and others) on related but broader questions: Repetition and Identity

When After Writing came out in 1997, I wrote to Pickstock (whom I also asked to be my thesis director for the Cambridge Ph.D.) to ask if she had given any thought to developing or applying her thesis (which argues for the centrality of repetition in liturgy, and laments the elimination of "useless repetitions"--as the fatuous fathers of Vatican II idiotically phrased it--to Latin liturgy) in a Byzantine or other Eastern Christian context. She responded that she had not, but could readily see how her work would fit with such an application, which I then went on to develop in an article I published in 2002.

Now, it seems, we have a full-blown philosophical analysis of Eastern Christian liturgy:  Terence Cuneo Ritualized Faith: Essays on the Philosophy of Liturgy (Oxford UP, 2016), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Central to the lives of the religiously committed are not simply religious convictions but also religious practices. The religiously committed, for example, regularly assemble to engage in religious rites, including corporate liturgical worship. Although the participation in liturgy is central to the religious lives of many, few philosophers have given it attention. In this collection of essays, Terence Cuneo turns his attention to liturgy, contending that the topic proves itself to be philosophically rich and rewarding. Taking the liturgical practices of Eastern Christianity as its focal point, Ritualized Faith examines issues such as what the ethical importance of ritualized religious activities might be, what it is to immerse oneself in such activities, and what the significance of liturgical singing and iconography are. In doing so, Cuneo makes sense of these liturgical practices and indicates why they deserve a place in the religiously committed life.

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