A popular refrain I hear from fellow Protestants is that “meaningless rituals”, gestures, “smells and bells”, or vain repetitions (a Scriptural phrase) won’t help find favor with God. While I am certain that ritual can (and does) degenerate into “those of darkness” who are fascinated with the dead (Rene Guenon) and their debased conclaves or practices, the pre-existent Logos of the universe that created the world through its pattern entails that relationships between and among “things” exist, even at the lowest level. Anyway, if vain repetitions include all things which repeat themselves, then why do we always prefer beautiful pictures or soothing colors for certain environments, as opposed to the opposite? As Millinerd pointed out, what happens when you “lose the Faith” in a church that used to be a drive-through? Will you be reminded by the stained glass on the wall? The spires? The ringing old church bell? Or the grease stains under the carpet? “Cultural Christianity” is the nave or ante-chamber of the Church – the paintings on the walls of these early Churches were the Greek Philosophers like Heraclitus. It is Justin the Martyr, not Hippolytus, who should guide our thinking here.
The absolute consensus among anyone interested in Tradition is that some patterns are more significant (or more elevated) than others. Some Ideas are more fruitful than others. Some people are better than others, at least in the sense (and no one can disagree with this) that they are truer to their real Self. But what happens when you forget there is a higher Self that is more real? You turn to Revolution. And you hate your patrimony. The worldview of those who reject liturgy per se actually leads to real “vain repetitions”: One damn thing after the other.
The Logos exists, both “in here” and “out there”. It was pursued in olden days all over the face of the earth. Here is Strabo (St. Clement mentions the Hyloboi also):
As for the Garmanes, he [Megasthenes, Indica fragment 41 Schwanbeck] says that the most honourable of them are named Hylobii and that they live in forests, subsisting on leaves and wild fruits, clothed with the bark of trees, and abstaining from wine and the delights of love; and that they communicate with the kings, who through messengers inquire about the causes of things and through the Hylobii worship and supplicate the Divinity.Here is an example of how various rites and rituals from within a single Tradition coalesce. If one takes the Four Corners of the Earth from the Taoist exercises (Dragon for the east, Tiger for the south, Eagle for the West, and Bear for the North), and matches them to the eight directional exercises, we see that the archery exercise matches the Bear’s stolid pose, the light-scanning exercise goes with the eastern Dragon, the waist spin goes with the southern Tiger, and the adoring wave goes towards the western Eagle.
We can cross-match this against Druidry, and assign the place of yellow or light with the East and the dragon, the place of fire-orange-pink-gold with the Spirit in the south, the place of the limpid and pure water elements that are blue in the West, and the green quarter with the North, from which came life out of the ice.
Further matching this with the Christian tradition, we associate the East with the Father or primal Ur-Spring/archetype, the South with the descending fire of the Holy Spirit’s charisma, the West with water and the elements used in service of the Son/Logos, and the North with the symbol of the green Earth, or the “Amen”, the union of the three higher elements. Is this purely arbitrary? We think not. Even if it was thrown in dispute, it would only be to find a more faithful representation, much as one artist is “greater” than another.
The watches of the day, as well as the organs of the body, could also be related within this scheme. Indeed, when people reject “old Custom”, do they even know anything about what is being thrown out? Who knows, in the Christian West, or even better practices, the Emberdays? While better arrangements than this one occuring to me certainly should exist (I hope someone out there has studied this far more deeply), this configuration suggested itself naturally to my mind while I practiced the exercises, without any mental work. In other words, they arrange themselves this way – symbols teach us themselves, while we do the “work”, because they exist already, independently, and at a higher plain. This pre-existence implies that liturgy, far from being vain repetition, made up or arbitrary, is either given for use, existent as help, or revealed, with even a little attention or effort. I agree with Cologero that “mulligan stew” has no charm, so this exercise is not intended to convince everyone (as Simone Weil rightly warned against) that all religions/Traditions are just various and equal routes to the same path. We already can see vividly where that Idea leads. It is as fruitless as the idea that anyone outside your constellation of thoughts is doomed to Hell inevitably. A Tradition is not arbitrary when you are “called” to it; hence, Christianity has some impact on virtually everyone in the modern West, even if they prefer this not to be the case.
The purer and nobler the supplicant, the better the liturgy. This is what gave the Church its liturgy for thousands of years, and is not “pagan” – it is there, because the Logos is there. The strategy of the Catholic Church (and also the Orthodox, to some degree) was to baptize the natural cultures and human climates they came across, purify it, exalt it, and let Nature be subsumed (and preserved) within Super-Nature. They did not posit an endlessly devouring circle of hermeneutic suspicion, where “Idolatry” became the greatest sin. Actually, the greatest sin is to worship nothing at all, because that would imply that one’s natural state was the highest possible sphere of actualized Existence, and this would imply that the fallen self (or at least the non-perfected self) was the goal of all Creation. Isn’t this exactly what “salvation by faith” among the modern Protestants has come to mean?
I have sketched a very simple symbolic pattern which demonstrates that Taoism, Druidry, and Christianity have a deep resonance at the level of abstract symbolic in the physical world and its connection to the Logos or Pattern. Christianity itself cannot really extricate itself from its decline without re-emphasizing the teachings surrounding the Logos – only this will give a legitimate “common basis” for discussion, practice, and commonality, while also rightly showing Christians how to transcend even that in the fullness of the teachings of the Logos mystery (the preparations, Incarnation, and Second Coming, then Recapitulation).
Vain repetitions? Nothing is more vain than individuals who expect to ignore the Logos, over and over again, and still find cheap grace with a God that they imagine in a vacuum. When the Logos repeats a pattern, it is not vain – nor is it vain when man can see this pattern, and align himself with it, including in the arena of gesture and invocation. All depends upon the discernment of the Spirits.
What the Christian Church needs is not just Reformation and Revival, but Renaissance as well, patterned only upon the Logos, and not upon Luther, Charles Finney, or even Leonardo, who are by definition incomplete at best.
Whatever one can say about the Middle Ages (which we may be living in fairly soon as a purgatory for our arrogance), it was certainly more cheerful even in its high dudgeons, to illustrate which, we close with a story:
The emperor knowing that the bishop, being occupied in a great variety of secular business, was now and then guilty of a barbarism, both in speaking and in reading Latin, with the help of his chaplain effaced the syllable fa from the words famulis and famulabus, which form part of a collect in the service for the defunct, in the missal; and then called on the bishop to say a mass for the souls of his father and mother. Meinwerc, therefore, being unexpectedly called on to perform the service, and hastening to do it, read on as he found written, mulis and mulabus, but, perceiving the mistake, he repeated the words correctly. After mass, the emperor said, in a sarcastic manner, to the bishop, ‘I asked you to say mass for my father and mother, not for my male and female mules.’ But he replied, ‘By the mother of our Lord, you have been at your old tricks, and have made a fool of me again; and now, in no common way, but in the service of our God. This he who is my Judge has declared that he will avenge; for that which is done to him he will not pass by unpunished.’ Thereupon, he immediately convened the canons in the chapter-house of the cathedral, ordered the emperor’s chaplain, who had been a party to the trick, to be most severely flogged; and then, having dressed him in new clothes, sent him back to the emperor to tell him what had happened.