The Splendour of Noble Simplicity?

From Robert Mickens’ excellent column in the Tablet, “Letter from Rome” comes the following story this week. –ed.

The systematic reinterpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council began in Rome well before the Council Fathers even headed back to their dioceses around the world. And it continues to this day.

One of the more recent examples came last month when Mgr Guido Marini, the 46-year-old master of papal liturgical ceremonies, gave a lecture at the Opus Dei-run Holy Cross University here in town.

In an apparent effort to justify the return of lavish pre-conciliar liturgical costumes and furnishings that has marked his tenure, the Genoa native gave a new reading to an old Vatican II document.

“The mysterious and real presence of Christ in the liturgy”, he said, “requires of the liturgical language the splendour of noble simplicity, according to the diction of Vatican Council II.” The splendour of noble simplicity? “I spoke of the splendour of noble simplicity because that’s the complete expression used by the Council Fathers,” he said.

Actually, it is not. “Ritus nobili simplicitate fulgeant” is the complete expression found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 34). It means, “Let the rites radiate a noble simplicity”.

Some English translations say the rites “should be distinguished by a noble simplicity”. That’s because fulgeant is a subjunctive verb.

How could one of the Vatican’s chief advocates for more Latin in the liturgy make such an elementary mistake? Sacrosanctum Concilium (no. 124) says “noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display” should be the mark of “sacred vestments and ornaments”. However, Mgr Marini did not appear to quote that part of the document in his lecture.

16 comments

  1. Oh gotcha, Marini! Sheesh – polyester tie dye is neither simple nor noble. Heck, it’s not even bio-degradable.

  2. This is hardly a fair criticism. The Italian version says “I riti splendano per nobile semplicità”, and someone’s going to criticize him for referring to “splendor”? Indeed the definitions of fulgeo include “flash, glitter, gleam,” implying “be resplendent.” Would Mr. Mickens have been satisfied if Msgr. Marini had spoken of “glittering noble simplicity”? Burlap and felt don’t glitter, do they?

      1. Sure, I know. If a historian says “Jefferson wrote about separating church and state” must we reply “Actually, he did not. He wrote about the *separation* of church and state. Some historian you are!”

  3. Alas, this is a very poor attempt to play gotcha. If we are going to fight against the reinterpretation of Vatican II we need to go for the serious, structural issues, not for such trivia and dubia.

    1. We’re not (well, I’m not) “fight[ing] against the reinterpretation of Vatican II” Joe – we’re (I’m) working to implement the Council’s directives, many of which have never been tried, thanks mostly to obstruction from the curia these past 50+ years. Such a blatant (and, it would appear, deliberate) misquoting of a conciliar document by the man responsible for Papal liturgy (with clearly very baroque tastes which evoke anything but “noble simplicity”) might be dubious but it’s not trivial.

      1. Chris writes about “(the Council’s directives” many of which have never been tried, thanks mostly to obstruction from the curia these past 50+ years…”

        Agreed, SC #36 comes to mind.

        The premise of Mr. Micken’s article seems unfounded. He writes about “lavish pre-conciliar liturgical costumes and furnishings” without showing (at least not in this posted version of his article) what he considers to be “pre-conciliar costume/furnishing”. This is important because the council did not give any directives in this area. In other words, this is much ado about nothing.
        Re. “noble simplicity” – it is important to understand the context and history of the phrase in our liturgical tradition, for example the contrast between the Roman and Eastern practice of liturgy. Fr. Anthony Symondson, S.J. has written on this topic. We musn’t forget that SC also references the sacred arts being characterized by a “noble beauty.”

  4. Daniel McKernan :
    Chris writes about “(the Council’s directives” many of which have never been tried, thanks mostly to obstruction from the curia these past 50+ years…”
    Agreed, SC #36 comes to mind.
    The premise of Mr. Micken’s article seems unfounded. He writes about “lavish pre-conciliar liturgical costumes and furnishings” without showing (at least not in this posted version of his article) what he considers to be “pre-conciliar costume/furnishing”. This is important because the council did not give any directives in this area. In other words, this is much ado about nothing.Re. “noble simplicity” – it is important to understand the context and history of the phrase in our liturgical tradition, for example the contrast between the Roman and Eastern practice of liturgy. Fr. Anthony Symondson, S.J. has written on this topic. We musn’t forget that SC also references the sacred arts being characterized by a “noble beauty.”

    Ah Fr Anthony Symondson SJ – there’s an objective writer on art, architecture and the baroque in general. An ex-Anglo-Catholic Jesuit . . . in fact, I’m surprised he didn’t get a job on Vox Clara!

  5. The author seems to lose the point he is trying to make as he is trying to make it. To say that “The spledor of noble simplicity” is somehow a gross, wild and completely off-base paraphrasing of “radiate a noble simplicity” is an example of grasping at straws to make a point.

    Sure, there are lots of questions about what this particular term means, or even refers to – is it about HOW we celebrate the liturgy, or was it referring to HOW the books should be revised? Is “simplicity” synonomous with “baseness” or “deprivation”, or was the intention a kind of beauty and elegance that expresses the realities of the Church minus the various cultural accretions, whatever those may be. Keep in mind that although “simplicity”, it is a noble simplicity…. so what does that mean? I think it probably doesn’t mean minimalism or the kind of iconoclasm that ensued.

    1. I agree that it’s not “a gross, wild and completely off-base paraphrasing.” Still, it is a shift of emphasis, and it’s a distortion. “Splendor” has a set of connotations, and I don’t think that’s what the Council fathers meant. If to splendor were a verb in English, I suppose one could render the phrase, “let the rites splendor with noble simplicity.” I take that to mean that the noble simplicity should be really striking and apparent. Using “splendor” as a noun subtlety imports preconciliar connotations for the liturgical aesthetic.

      The tackiness and tastlessnes of many of our attempts at noble simplicity is another issue and I won’t address it.

      awr

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