(Studia Liturgica 24 (1994) 178-200)
My first assignment for the session 2 unit on Worship and Liturgy takes it’s cue from this article by French Theologian and Roman Catholic Priest Paul DeClerck. Lex orandi lex credendi is a latin phrase that has framed the theological questions of liturgy since the 5th century: “the law of faith [is] the law of belief.” DeClerck notes that this works really differently in a time of change such as our present. In a time of stability it makes sense to say, ‘see how the church prays, and you will know what it believes.’ But in our time, “is it not in terms of certain new or renewed ideas that one intends to revise practices or texts which no longer, or badly correspond to them?” My present experiences of church worship seem to circle around the theme: ‘see how the church prays, and you will know how disconnected what they believe and how they behave really are!’ (Let alone how disconnected from everyday life and the ‘outside’ world.)
So DeClerck raises the question, how do we understand the relationship between theology (what we believe) and liturgy, or worship, in it’s broadest sense? Do we work out good doctrine and then re-write the prayer book? Do we research the historical witness of the church through it’s liturgies and re-write our doctrine? His answer is subtle. When the lex orandi lex credendi rule is applied too tightly from one end, it tends to be redressed too tightly from the other end. He illustrates by showing how Pope Pius XII did a complete backflip on a centuries old understanding of the adage in a 1950 encyclical which, from the middle ages to the twentieth century, was interpreted as “the rule of prayer determines the rule of belief” (or liturgy is a source of authority for the construction of theology). Pius XII was reacting against the kind of modernist definition of religion discussed here recently in relation to Schleiermacher. George Tyrrell was an English Roman Catholic arguing for an understanding of the christian liturgy as “begotten by a mysterious, abiding contact of the human soul with God; and the Creed is but the record of the gradual unravelling of the meaning of that experience through the collective spiritual labour of the Church, guided by the Spirit of Christ, into all truth.” Well, if that’s what your polemical partner is saying, the redress is to argue that no, Holy Mother Church is the keeper of the keys to all conceptions of god and She will determine therefore how and what we pray! (Sorry, please forgive my gen-X, anti-establishmentarianism.)
So, strangely, I am back to a familiar reddresstheology theme – we are emerging from a time in history where the pendulum swung one way too far (Enlightenment Humanism) then, I think, another way too far (Authoritarian Response from Inherited Church) so that what we need to do now is stop, take a deep breath, and find the middle ground. This is actually the exercise in liminal rationality that I wrote about in the liminality essay. The task is critique and where possible integration, where not possible, a willingness to leave uncertain, integrating each of the snippets of wisdom available to us on their own merits.
The importance of non-dichotomous thinking is really well demonstrated by deClerck in this law of prayer:law of belief maxim. He splendidly employs the language of this adage as an ‘avatar’ to describe the (Riceourian) way in which these words act as a kind of symbol. For non-science fiction and gaming fans, you will probably need to do what I did and grab a dictionary!