Re: Re: reorganisation and destruction of irish catholic churches

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Some time ago, Johnglas raised the question of the significance of the apsidal cathedra of the primitive Roman Basilica, surrounded by seating for the clergy. Of course, the idea is currently fashionable among certain incult liturgists. However, while recently reading Louis Bouyer’s little book, Liturgie et Architecture, Praxitele was much struck by Bouyer’s rather cogent position on this subject.

He sets out by saying taht the absidal cathedra is NOT in fact the PRIMITIVE disposition of the pre-Constantinian churches used by the Christian community in Rome. Rather, he maintains (and perhaps the excavation under San Crisogono may eventually provide archeological evidence) that in pre-Constintinian churches, following the tradition and influence of the Synagogue, the apsis was occupied by the altar. The cathedra for the bishop was placed in the nave – among the faithful and separating them into man on one side and women on the other.

Bouyer holds that with the “officialization” of Christianity, the Pope and subsequently the other bishops were granted the trappings of the civil dignitaries of the Empire. And thus, as the Roman Emperor sat in a chair at the head of the senate, or the magistrate in the apsis of the civil basilicas, so too the Pope placed his cathedra in the apsis and displaced the altar to the nave where it had originally been placed. This Bouyer regards as the beginning of what is now usually referred to as “triomphalism” – the accretion of items taken from civil life and with no foundation in primitive Christian practice.

Consequence of this practice: the separation and isolation of the clergy from the praying Christian community. For the first time, the religious authorities of the Church became visibly and evidently an authority “over the Church” (analogously to the civil authority) and outside of the Church, rather than an authoiity within the Church and bound to the Christian community. This separation was completely unknown in primitive Christianity. “l’Eveque étant devenu un grand seigneur, maintenant pourvu de tout le cérémonial et des insignes propres à son nouvel état, les ministres, au lieu d’etre primitivement les liens de sa solidarité avec le peuple tout entier, eurent tendence à devenir un déploiement de laquis, rehaussant sa propre dignité tout en le séparant du vulgum pecus. L’Eveque occupant maintenant une position quasi impériale, son clergé devient sa cour, qui l’écarte de la populace”.

From an historical perspcetive, so much, then, for the incult liturgists promotng the absidal cathedra arrangement in “modern” churches as a means of making a bishop or celebrant part of the “celebrating” community – an more so in promoting it as a symbol of teaching authority since, historically, this is the exact means that evacuated the prmitive “cathedra” or teacher’s chair of its primitive religious significance and “secularised” it something taken from civil officialdom representing political or judicial powe or authority. !!! Ironic that…

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