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A fundamental error, which has countless consequences, is the notion that change is the sign of life. I spoke of this in detail in my books The Trojan Horse and Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith. But this error, this infatuation with the dynamic and this denial of the high value of the static, is so widespread, so responsible for the manifold nonsense in the liturgy — in all external forms — that I cannot do otherwise than briefly to point it out in this book as well. Here is the root of much of the devastation of the vineyard of the Lord. This infatuation with change as such is as silly and infantile as its consequences are irreverent and evil.
The claim that change is the sign of life is a mere slogan. It is correct that in the sphere of life — as distinguished from the sphere of mere matter — a growing, a changing, and a development are present. But in all this development there is an identity which is given side by side with the changing: the individual plant, the individual animal. Without this identity it would no longer be a living creature. Indeed, it would not even be a real thing.
But if it is a matter of spiritual realities such as works of art, then it is an unconditional requirement that they remain unchanged. If, as unfortunately happens sometimes today, one were to perform an opera in an altered form, whether by changing the original scenery, or having the singers appear in modern clothing, or arbitrarily abridging it, this would only be admissible if the artistic value of the piece were thereby heightened. But in general these “changes” are made for the sake of change and novelty.
Plato says, “Every change is an evil, if it does not consist in the abolition of something negative.” 35 The same goes for the changing of laws, classical forms of life, etc.
What concerns us here, however, is rather the infantile satisfaction which many people derive from change: the feeling of not being passive and inert. Now, the preservation of the good, and opposition to the rhythm of change, is a much greater achievement. To keep one's love for a person eternally youthful, above all to grow in one's love for Christ — which, however, also represents a stability, a holding fast — is a much greater sign of spiritual strength and life than becoming unfaithful.
Above all, we must not forget that the change present in growth, in which something new replaces something old, and the change which involves the destruction of something, are two completely different things.
But in our context what is above all decisive is whether we are dealing with growth in good, or in evil. The change which is contained in growth is a value when it is a change for the better, and a disvalue when for the worse.
Now there is also a growth in the sense of a transition from implicit to explicit — a growth toward detailed, clear formulation. This kind of growth is in opposition to change in the full sense. It is a movement which is radically opposed to the destruction of something and the substitution of something else in its place.
It is a movement in which identity, the absence of all change, is the conspicuous and decisive thing. That is the miracle of the Church throughout the 2000 years of her existence. Read Denzinger 36 and you will be overwhelmed by the growth in the elaboration of the true Revelation of Christ. It becomes more and more sealed off from all possible misinterpretations. And in this repudiation of all heresy, the authentic content of Christian Revelation becomes formulated in more and more detail, whereby we find a direct line of development from the earlier to the later formulations.
This absolute identity in the teaching of the Church, in which new dogmas are added to already existing ones, yet without eliminating them, or contradicting them in any way, is a magnificent proof of the divine institution of the Church as the guardian of the Revelation of Christ.
We have already spoken of the high value of stability, of not being changed, in Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith:
“It is an illusion deeply rooted in human nature that it is a sign of being awake and alive when one changes existing things. To leave things as they are is regarded as a sign of inertness and ossification, whereas one is thought to be doing something important in intervening and changing. This is particularly the illusion of those who occupy a certain office or official position. But this overlooks that the protection and preservation of good things is a great sign of being awake and alive and is often a far more difficult task than changing and intervening. But the decisive error — the illusion of seeing in change as such a sign of being awake and alive — comes from forgetting that the meaning and value of any change or preservation depends exclusively upon the things which are changed or preserved. If something is bad, then it should be changed if possible. If something is good and valuable, it is required of us that we strive to preserve it and keep it in existence.” 37
Truth is essentially unchangeable. But man is very changeable. The stability of all great and good things is a high value. Growth, in the sense of the increase of our love for God or for a friend or one's wife or husband, is a heightening and a deepening in which everything which was there before lives on and does not disappear.
But what is important to us here is the value of stability as opposed to change, 38 as far as it is a matter of something good and beautiful. As soon as a disvalue comes into question, then change — indeed the complete elimination of the disvalue — is a great value.
But let us now remain in the sphere of the good and the beautiful. The structure of the whole liturgical year and the Tridentine Mass was something great and wonderful. It was of greatest pastoral importance as a way of drawing us up from the whole mediocrity of everyday life, indeed from the finite and worldly sphere into the world of supernatural mystery, into the world of Christ.
Here the thought of a change and reform is meaningless. This is not only because we live in a time in which the talent for the formation of the liturgy is very weak, as we already mentioned, but also because this work has been entrusted to “experts,” and not to men who are filled with great reverence for that which has been handed down to us from earlier, glorious times — indeed entrusted to men who base their work on a false diagnosis of our time, on the myth of “modem man.”
But what we want to emphasize here is the value of stability, the value which lies in praying in the same way in which the saints and “homines religiosi” of the past prayed. Here the great community unfolds of which we have already spoken, for it is related to the past as well as to the present.
A dilettante changing for the sake of change is not only an infantile procedure, but leads also to a disastrous confusion in its pedagogical effects. 39
35. Laws, no. 797.
36. Heinrich Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, 34th revised edition (New York: Herder, 1967). There is also this reason why Denzinger is a highly edifying book: it shows the role which dogmatic questions have played in Christianity.
37. Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1971), xxxix.
38. The famous statement of Cardinal Newman is no contradiction of what we are saying: “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” This means that we often find ourselves in circumstances where a change is objectively called for and is thus a sign of life, not that a change for its own sake is a sign of life. Furthermore, Newman is here speaking of changes undertaken for the purpose of preserving; for, the preceding sentence is: “It (an idea in development) changes with them (its circumstances) in order to remain the same.”
39. We have spoken in detail of the value of tradition in The Trojan Horse in the City of God (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1967), esp. Ch. 28.