Sunday, 24 January 2010
"Lex orandi, lex credendi", or should that be "Lex credendi, lex orandi"?
Lex orandi, lex credendi, the rule of praying establishes the rule of faith, or should that be Lex credendi, lex orandi, the rule of faith determines the rule of praying? That is the question.
No doubt both are true in different ways. There is no doubt that what/how one prays will soon come to determine what one believes, even if only by simple psychological laws. No doubt for that very reason the Church has regarded the liturgy as a vehicle for confessing and teaching the truths of the catholic faith once delivered to the saints, and has thus always been mindful that the liturgy be in accord with pure doctrine. That has not, however, prevented liturgical innovations from fostering false doctrines in the church; that's ecclesiastical life, I guess - as St Paul warned, factions and their errors are permitted to arise in the church so that the truth may stand out all the more clearly. The matter under discussion is not that of identifying liturgical abberrations, but whether the liturgy is subject to the Word of God, as Lutherans, Anglicans and the Reformed teach, or, is it the case that the liturgy, as Tradition, is itself the rule of faith, as some Orthodox and Roman Catholics contend?
This question has been the subject of some discussion over at David Schuetz's blog, Sentire Cum Ecclesia (see link in right hand column), under the post headed, Australian Lutherans Praying the Rosary, where David posted on Lutherans using an Anglican form of the Rosary, and suggested that they should just use the Roman form. I reponded that Lutherans could not pray the Rosary in good faith, in its Roman Catholic form anyway, because it was based on false doctrine and therefore constituted a false form of worship. In this case, I wrote, lex credendi, lex orandi. Even apart from this issue, this was the way the Church had always approached such issues, I said. I expected no disagreement on this principle, even if a resolution of the doctrinal issue of prayers to Mary was beyond us.
Imagine my surprise then when two interlocutors, including the blog owner, objected that a) the phrase could not be reversed in this way, and b) on the dogmatic level the liturgy did in fact determine dogma and doctrine. To do otherwise, it was implied, was to fail to take account of developments in the Liturgical Theology Movement and was to subject the worship of the church to the tyranny of dry doctrine.
Suspecting that there were deeper issues here that would resist resolution, I was happy to let the matter rest where it ended, until last night when I came across Pope Pius XII's Encyclical, Mediator Dei, while researching another topic entirely. And there, in a papal encyclical of all places, I could hardly believe my eyes to find the Pope of the day addressing the very matter that had been under discussion and saying what I had been saying. Since a Pope obviously carries more weight in the circle of my interlocutors than I do, I merely paste Pius XII's words here:
"On this subject We judge it Our duty to rectify an attitude with which you are doubtless familiar, Venerable Brethren. We refer to the error and fallacious reasoning of those who have claimed that the sacred liturgy is a kind of proving ground for the truths to be held of faith, meaning by this that the Church is obliged to declare such a doctrine sound when it is found to have produced fruits of piety and sanctity through the sacred rites of the liturgy, and to reject it otherwise. Hence the epigram, "Lex orandi, lex credendi" - the law for prayer is the law for faith.
47. But this is not what the Church teaches and enjoins. The worship she offers to God, all good and great, is a continuous profession of Catholic faith and a continuous exercise of hope and charity, as Augustine puts it tersely. "God is to be worshipped," he says, "by faith, hope and charity." In the sacred liturgy we profess the Catholic faith explicitly and openly, not only by the celebration of the mysteries, and by offering the holy sacrifice and administering the sacraments, but also by saying or singing the credo or Symbol of the faith - it is indeed the sign and badge, as it were, of the Christian - along with other texts, and likewise by the reading of holy scripture, written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The entire liturgy, therefore, has the Catholic faith for its content, inasmuch as it bears public witness to the faith of the Church.
48. For this reason, whenever there was question of defining a truth revealed by God, the Sovereign Pontiff and the Councils in their recourse to the "theological sources," as they are called, have not seldom drawn many an argument from this sacred science of the liturgy. For an example in point, Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, so argued when he proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Similarly during the discussion of a doubtful or controversial truth, the Church and the Holy Fathers have not failed to look to the age-old and age-honored sacred rites for enlightenment. Hence the well-known and venerable maxim, "Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi" - let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief. The sacred liturgy, consequently, does not decide or determine independently and of itself what is of Catholic faith. More properly, since the liturgy is also a profession of eternal truths, and subject, as such, to the supreme teaching authority of the Church, it can supply proofs and testimony, quite clearly, of no little value, towards the determination of a particular point of Christian doctrine. But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say, "Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi" - let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.
It's as if the words fell from Heaven itself into my lap!
Now, my interlocutors may object, "But the Pope supports praying the Rosary to Mary." Indeed he does (or did, in the case of Pius XII), but for present purposes that is beside the point, which is, as the Pope rightly teaches, that the liturgy does not decide what is to be believed independently of the teaching office of the church, to which the liturgy is in fact subject.
Of course, for a Lutheran, the teaching office of the church has no power or authority to require belief in what cannot be proven from holy scripture, so on that point we would digress from the Pope's position, but apart from that difference and what flows from it, I commend to my friends what the Pope has written (And it's not too often you'll see me write that!).