Sunday, 20 January 2013

New Lamps For Old

Today I saw this headline "Pope Benedict XVI posts first tweet in Latin" and it caught my attention rather more than I expected.  In one way it doesn't concern me at all as 1) I'm not a Roman Catholic and 2) I don't speak Latin but it caught my attention because I had recently been involved in a couple of on-line discussions which centred around old v new in Christianity.  Now this, unfortunately, has been going on in the Church at least as long ago as the Council of Jerusalem (50AD?) and it remains so to this day; what new thing should we be doing and what old things have passed their sell by date?

As I pondered this a verse sprang to mind:

"In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams."

In particular the bit about young men having visions and old men dreaming dreams seemed to be relevant. Why that way round?  Why not young men dreaming and old men of visions?  Of course young men (and women) are renowned for being full of ideas and plans as they set out on life so it is easy to see why they are people of 'vision' but where do the old men's dreams come into it?

To look at this I want to go back to the Pope Tweeting in Latin.  As I have already said this, to me, is irrelevant as I don't follow the Pope and my knowledge of Latin is limited to bits used in English and the words used in church music; not that I often know what I'm singing about.  So my first reaction was that this  is just an old man hanging onto an outdated tradition (Latin - not Tweeting) for the sake of it.  However I think I can see some reasons why preserving Latin in the Roman Catholic Church may be useful; it gives a worldwide church a common language, it encourages it's priests and bishops to wrestle with ancient texts written in Latin and, at times, it is just so much more beautiful than English.  This old man's dream of holding onto Latin may, in fact, be sensible so it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand and run over by 'progress.'

There are a lot of great things that have been handed down to today's church from our forefathers that we need to value and preserve so that they are still there to delight and enlighten future generations.  Liturgies, sacraments and music spring to mind.  There is also a lot of cultural baggage that we hang onto even though it    is no longer anything to do with the Church's mission to the world; if it ever was in the first place.  From my own experience the protestant church in the UK does, at times, appear to think that Victoria is still on the throne and not Elizabeth II.

As with so many things it is all about a question of balance and for this we need the Holy Spirit to lead us with Her wisdom.  The impetuousness of youth does, at times, need tempering by the steady voice of experience but equally the old man dreaming dreams needs to be reminded that sitting back in a comfy chair just because it's comfortable doesn't get much done either.

New lamps for old?  Sometimes.  If you have an old lamp that no longer works properly you need to replace it to shed new light on your situation.  However the story of Aladdin should warn us that sometimes an old lamp is something extremely valuable that should not be thrown away.


Danica Newton said...

Hugh, I love this. This issue (old vs new) has been rattling around uncomfortably in my mind lately, as well. I really like the way you articulated the need for keeping some of the old and also embracing some of the new.

Still Breathing said...

Thank you Dancia, In some ways it's what I've thought for a while but events in the last few days sharpened my thinking and the Pope gave me a hook on which to hang my thoughts.