Saturday, September 17, 2016

Searching for the Long Lonely Road to Pre-Tridentine Catholicism

One of the primary concerns of this blog, despite my religious affiliation, and dare I say one of the primary concerns of most of its readers, is the future of the Western or Latin Christian tradition, especially as said tradition is represented and passed on through the liturgy. 

This position does not see contemporary Roman Catholic Traditionalists as the guardians of the Latin tradition, and, in fact, it sees contemporary traditionalists as holding fast to propositions that do much to undermine the tradition. It takes a long view of the history of Western Christianity and determines that something of the heart of the tradition was lost in the post-Reformation/post-Tridentine landscape and that the processes of modernization and attrition date well before the sweeping reforms of Vatican II and Paul VI. This position also has an inherit critique of Roman ecclesiology, in so far as the attrition of the tradition was excelerated by the definition of a dogma which collapsed the tradition itself into the person and will of the Bishop of Rome. Rome, then, is not the answer to preserve the Latin tradition - indeed, it has been an agent of its attrition.

What then does one do? Where does one turn? 

These are honest questions and in a perfect world they would receive answers which were in of themselves action items. 

How one ought to proceed is largely dictated by one's own convictions. If one believes the Bishop of Rome is everything Pius IX proclaimed him to be, if one believes the Church of Christ IS the Roman Catholic Church, then, frankly, one ought to have the integrity to follow the Bishop of Rome in his dictates and decrees. We are now forty years past the introduction of the Pauline liturgy, and the postulations of so-called traditionalists haranging every aspect of post-Vatican II Catholicism while at at the same time professing an ultramontanist and exclusivist ecclesiology grows tiresome and reaks of both cognitive dissonance and absurdity. To this is to be added the tedious de facto ecclesiology of the SSPX which wants its ultramontanist and Roman exclusive ecclesiology while functionally emerging as the first examples of "Western Orthodoxy" in relationship. This is not mean as any sort of negative comment. However, it is only honest that should one want to maintain infallibility and papal centrism, then one should at least be consistent in practice and rhetoric.

Rome has full faith in the results of its program of liturgical reform. If one finds either the liturgy of the 1962 Missal or the Pauline liturgy lacking, or if one is searching for more of the ancient Latin liturgical ethos, then one must necessarily look elsewhere. This point needs restating - criticism of the "modern Roman liturgies" (the Pius X breviary, the Pian reforms of the Missal, and, finally, the Pauline liturgy) have at their heart a desire to resist modernity and the associated impacts it has made on systems of religion, theology, and spirituality. Resistance to modern liturgical forms is not, nor has it ever been, simply due to liturgics, or even ecclesiology (although ecclesiology plays a critical role in the critique of the Pauline liturgical reform). Rather, the resistance to modernity is at the heart of things, silently predicated on the Perennialist School's thought that the modern world has created a spiritual crisis by the mutation of values and symbols, creating counterfits of the same categories that eventually exhaust themselves until the inverse of truth and indeed God becomes the dominant cultural norm at the base of a new world view. If one is attached to the Western tradition, but finds no satisfaction in the early modern attempts at reformed liturgy as acceptable susbstitutes, one necessarily resists because one sees in these attempts the mutation of values and symbol, and the first sign posts of their total inversion. Incidently, this would go some length at explaining the cognitive dissonance of many of the liturgical and ecclesiological consequences of Roman Catholic Traditionalism - having adopted an essentially modern paradigm, Roman Traditionalism is often unable to follow through with either category, largely because much of meaning behind each category has been mutated to the point of obscuring the original concept.

So, where does one go? There are a myriad of ways one can follow individual observance, but what of corporate or communal association? There are options for both corporate and communal association but, truth be told, neither is without valid criticism or drawbacks.

One such option is Western Rite Orthodoxy, however, the movement is plagued by a number of problems, the most persistent of which is the seemingly perpetual inconsistent perspective of the various Orthodox churches to the concept of Western Rite Orthodoxy. Antioch tolerates the Western Rite, although the movement itself is plagued by disorganization, a lack of interest by ex-Catholics, and a the distinct ineptitude of Orthodox hierarchs in relation to Western liturgical history and praxis. This last point needs some explaination. While certainly Orthodox scholars are generally speaking aware of the Western liturgical tradition, Orthodoxy, contra Rome, has not opened up the floodgates and allowed scholarly findings to influence the liturgics of Orthodoxy. Typically, when any case is made for doing as much, the response is along the lines of, "granted, but Rome did it and look how well that turned out." The most pressing issue Western Rite Orthodoxy has to content with is to what degree their liturgical books represent the Western Tradition, versus being a contemporary fabrication, largely through the artificial integration of distinctly Byzantine elements. To this end, what I have seen of Antioch's Western Rite books appears to retain more continuity with the actual liturgy of the Western Church.

Another option is to pivot towards those groups in the Anglican Church that are more determined to hold to the Western Tradition. For full disclosure, I know little to nothing about how these groups operate and what their composition looks like other than what is discernible based upon their web presence. My limited knowledge suggests the Anglican Catholic Church is the largest of such bodies.

To my understanding, The American Missal published by Lancelot Andrews Press, may be utilized in both ACC and Western Rite Orthodox churches. Previous glances at this missal have been brief, although its contents are certainly appealing.

Both of the aforementioned options are negatively impacted by geographic proximity - most people interested in such avenues will find relatively few churches - those that exist being often an impractical distance away to participate in any meaningful parish or communal life. In such instances, there is the argument to be made for moving to a mainly Orthodox church. This has its advantages and disadvantages. So far as aesthetics and ethos are concerned, one will find a certain experiential affinity between the two liturgical traditions. However, one has to be content with keeping one's appreciation of Western liturgical praxis or devotions as a largely private praxis. The Orthodox Church has no interest in integrating Western traditions. Where one will find many reasons as to why, in the United States the more practical rationale is the interest of self preservation. The Orthodox Church is a small body in the American context - it has enough to do to preserve its own tradition, it does not have the bandwidth to pick up the pieces of the Western tradition. Thus, one cannot join the Orthodox Church with the intention that one will find a "safe house" for one's devotion to traditional Western Christianity. One will be eventually be disappointed. One cannot survive and thrive in the Orthodox Church without adopting its liturgical praxis as one's own. Now, this is reasonable - one cannot integrate oneself into any religious body with the intention of jettisoning its praxis. When one enters any religious body, one does so, or ought to do so, with the full expectation and intention to adopt its prayer and praxis - at least that is the tradition. Any intention to impose one's desires on the body, or to obtain them by subterfuge, is, I would argue, in total violation of Tradition, both in the precise Christian sense and in the larger Perennialist sense, in favor of a distinctly modernist spirit which in its final stages reduces such notions as religion and tradition to essentially products for the consumer process before finally discarding them all together.

In other words, if you're going to go Orthodox, you've got to go Orthodox.

This is not to mean that one cannot retain an appreciation for the Western Tradition, nor does it mean one will not lament its near absolute degradation. In point of fact, I genuinely believe Orthodoxy will help offer perspective on the Tradition. In my case, Orthodoxy helped lift the blinders when it came to "the traditional Latin Mass" as opposed to pre-Tridentine Catholicism. The Tradition is best exemplified in pre-Tridentine Catholicism, which, sadly, has been consistently overlooked. The original liturgical movement was an early modern Roman Catholic phenomenon, the majority of which was concerned with early modern Roman Catholicism. The pretenses to a "new liturgical movement" maintained essentially the same agenda - whatever scholarly output there was, it was largely geared towards re-instituting early modern Roman Catholicism, save for Alcuin Read's passing mention that Pius X's reform of the Roman Breviary should have been based upon the Breviarium Monasticum.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that if one's goal is to re-discover pre-Tridentine Catholicism, one faces an uphill and frequently lonely battle - the options are few and the interest is scant. The greatest obstacle is contemporary Roman Catholicism - whatever movement would reach in a pre-Tridentine direction would be handicapped by the need to resolve cognitive dissonance and find evidence of early modern Roman Catholicism in the pre-Tridentine, pre-Reformation Western Church. In which case, the core problems that led to destabilization of the largest body representing the Western Tradition will persist.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Allan KJV 53 Longprimer Black Limited Edition

For those of you looking for unparalleled excellence in bible publication, take notice that R. L. Allan will open up pre-orders for the limited edition Black KJV Longprimer.

The details are as follows:
Preorders open 4pm Friday 23rd September, £160.
Black highland goatskin exterior with SILVER blocking, RED leather liner, RED UNDER SILVER page edges (world first?!), silver gilt lines inside, SILVER/RED/SILVER ribbons.
75 copies only, blocked 'ALLAN LIMITED EDITION' on inside back cover.
Due to the high percentage of previous limited editions that were immediately flipped at inflated prices, Allan has set a 1 copy per household limit on this edition.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Post-Traditionalist Aftermath

Today I had the chance to walk the campus of a small conservative-to-traditional leaning liberal arts Catholic college in the North Eastern United States. In recent years this same college gained some notoriety for playing host to various liturgical forums of conservative-to-traditional kind, although my impression is that such events have lessened since the tenure of the present papacy has taken hold.

My initial impression was that the campus was more underdeveloped than I thought it would be. Converted from a farm over thirty years ago, the road ways and parking are still lacking pavement, and the buildings and general grounds show their age - well weathered walkways and stairs laid well before the establishment of the college in some stage between being reclaimed by the earth, or having their structure give way. The library catalogue appeared to be managed by the old card system, and what is visible of the collection would not be mistaken as scholarly essentials. Some of the entries are just plain confounding. One does not expect to see Malachi Martin as a entry in any college library literary collection, but there you have it. The incongruity is potentially resolved when one considers the ideological leanings of the college and the likelihood that a number of personal collections from people of a similar persuasion under gird the library's selection.

The campus chapel has to be commended for the use of icons (allegedly painted by a former faculty member) in lieu of the typical late romantic and pre-modern productions/prints that typically find flavor in Traditionalists communities. The liturgical books in service include the English Novus Ordo (the standard issue chapel edition published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company), The Edmund Campion Missal, the Adoremus Hymanl, the latest edition of the Roman lectionary, and the Anglo-Irish set of the contemporary Divine Office. The latest edition of the 1962 Missale Romanum published, I believe, jointly by the FSSP and the Society of John Cantius was present as well. After spending a few minutes flipping through it, I can safely say that the interested reader would to well to avoid the volume one account of the failure of contemporary book production to match the quality of sixty or so year ago. The cover feels synthetic and although the reproduction of the text is crystal clear, the paper quality is does not compare to the genuine article from the time. In the same area, though laid inside a class cabinet, was the latest chapel edition of the Pauline Missale Romanum, which despite being bound in imitation leather does a nice job at keeping parody with the larger altar edition published by the Vatican. It is a hefty volume, running the same thickness as many of the 1962 altar editions. Regardless of one's perspective on the modern Roman liturgy, the book is very well made - if you feel so inclined to make the investment, I suspect its durability will return on the initial price tag.

The combination of the liturgical resources, the scholarly materials, and the very insular nature of the student body (pointed out to me as either coming from the conservative-to-traditional wing - with the exception of one Orthodox student - and a high number of home schooled products), demonstrated just how marginalized the pursuit of the Latin Tradition has become in the Roman Church. Although the number of titles in the library that can hardly be passed off as anything other that traditionalist conspiracy theory was confounding, liturgical speaking, what this college offers would be mainstream in a healthier. Of course, this college is in the position of trying to make due with a less than ideal situation, trying to find the Western tradition in the midst modern liturgical observance. The very modernity of its liturgical solutions ought to mean the college has a very mainstream praxis - yet somehow even this method finds itself at the fringe of Roman observance.

There has always been a price to pay for groups in communion with Rome that try to have some pretense towards traditional observance. I suppose what is so striking in this instance is that you have a college which does not see itself as "traditionalist"  (in the taboo sense of the term) and is pursuing every avenue of rediscovering the sacred proposed during the previous two papacy, with active encouragement from Cardinal and then Pope Ratzinger. The end result is a college community that is intentionally insulated, hardly accredited, formed not with any objective to separate from Rome (thought one wonders what the tangible benefits are of remaining attached), but as a reaction to general disorientation and ideological reorganization that resulted from the papacies of John XXIII and Paul VI. Again, in a healthier church, much of what the college does would be mainstream - and its "eccentricities" would likely be absent in virtue of the community not being a reactionary response marginalized by the larger body. However, in a church that suddenly overly qualified or outright rejected elements that once substantiated core parts of its self perception, and filled the void with contemporary secular propositions, the observance seems, at best, out of place. The real sting here is that this is a situation manufactured by the hierarchy this academic community looks to for leadership and indeed divine proclamation, in virtue of the relatively recent dogma of infallibility. One cannot say the marginalization of liturgical observance recalling the Western tradition or a classical education was the result of an organic growth away from either approach. Rather, it was the deliberate decisions of ecclesiastical leadership that brought this situation to fruition.

The feeling of nostalgia was most palpable. Years ago my associations were part of a similar circle and we were convinced such a community - be it academic or religious - would aid in the recovery of the Western tradition and arrest the decline of Roman Church. Times change very quickly. It became apparent that the more measured approach of the Western Province of the Dominicans was probably the only viable approach forward (though it meant an exclusively Latin liturgy was out of the question) and I've long since left the Roman Church. The romantic hopes that an intentional community dedicated to liturgical preservation (even if it must be with the Pauline liturgy) could be founded and persist with steady growth. In reality, such a movement seems likely to be weighed down by rumors of conspiracy and the insular nature of its participants - in truth, I believe such a movement could, would, and should serve as an oasis for the serious seeker, as opposed to a promise of security for those who otherwise feel they have none of it. If one is to be honest, the movement rediscover the Latin tradition and recover the sacred was too limited in its horizons - it saw a religion in ideological turmoil and turned its concerns inward, complementing itself with pious platitudes about how it was focused on the more important work. Had it shored up its liturgical praxis earlier and engaged outward, it could have established itself as legitimate option in the contemporary milieu.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

To Boldly Go...HD 164595

It seems that at least a handful of times per year the news cycle circulates with news stories related to either the discovery possible Earth like planets, or some form of measured astronomical observation hinting at a discovery of the ever allusive signs of intelligent life beaming through vast depths of space.

It is the later that are more interesting. The discovery of possible Earth like planets seems routine and is, truthfully, expected. It is the more tantalizing prospect of discovering an intelligently produced signal or other measurable indicator intentionally transmitted that fires the imagination. Although this story still hasn't topped the normal media channels, the account of SETI's investigation into a signal coming from HD 164595 has as much, if not more, steam behind it than any other similar story.

Centauri Dreams provides a more detailed presentation of what we know so far:
The signal was received on May 15, 2015, 18:01:15.65 (sidereal time), at a wavelength of 2.7 cm. The estimated amplitude of the signal is 750 mJy.
No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization. If it were a narrow beam signal focused on our Solar System, it would be of a power available to a Kardashev Type I civilization. The possibility of noise of one form or another cannot be ruled out, and researchers in Paris led by Jean Schneider are considering the possible microlensing of a background source by HD164595. But the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target.

The significance here is two fold: 1) thus far, it is measurable/detectable and 2) there is at least one legitimate research telescope station advocating for further study of the target.  Yes, it could be other things, but SETI is notoriously conservative about raising any possibility of a given signal warranting attention. Add that this data has apparently been studied for just about a year and half before the story broke, and one suspects that the signal detected is outside of the ordinary and otherwise expected.

Of course, measurable signal or no, the daunting mathematics behind several possibilities aligning at once is nearly indomitable. The universe is a vast place and for this to be the "real thing" one has to have several variables line up: 1) there is other life in the universe; 2) there is other intelligent life in the universe; 3) there is another civilization in the universe that has mastered at least our level of technology and is transmitting signals into space; 4) the signals of the advanced civilization were directed to our corner of the universe; 5) all other possible sources of the signal have been investigated and cannot be a reasonable source.

But what if everything aligns? What if this is it?

To be clear, I believe that given the enormity of the universe and the mechanics of creation, it is more than probable that other intelligent life exists in the universe and, like us, has at least a passive interest in searching out other civilizations in the hope of proving it is not alone.

Furthermore, I believe it is inevitable that we will at some point confirm the existence, at one time or another, of said civilization.

It remains to be seen if this signal if the harbinger of what one can only suspect would be paradigm shifting moment. It is not the prospect of discovering intelligent life itself that takes us to precipice of a new epoch. Rather, it is the prospect of coming face to face with life that is equal to or greater than our own which provides for both anticipation and anxiety.

Invariably, I would ask the question, if we can demonstrate a high civilization exists, what is the probability that at some point in humanity's distant past we had some form of interaction with a civilization more advanced than our own? What does such a civilization mean for our philosophies and religions?

I suspect our conception of God would go through some form of re-emphasis. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we could anticipate a pivot to the Wisdom literature and perhaps later Apocalyptic texts, filled as they are with abundant symbolism and cosmic imagery.

The more immediate question is clear: is this really it? I suspect, when all is said and done, the odds favor this being another "big wow" moment, a one of anomaly that is never repeated, but otherwise suggests an artificially occurring signal. And that is most disappointing. Where post-modern humanity (in the West) has determined that there is no reference point or subject of reality other than itself, perhaps the indication of the existence of an intelligence greater than our own is capable of realigning the collective philosophical view.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Well bound, beautiful, blissfully readable, and criminally underrated

In 2007 Crossway published the Single Column Reference Bible. This was still some time before the single column format gained some traction. As such, it was a bit of an oddity. In 2011, Crossway canceled this same edition. The reference line went off in a different direction and the single column format was primed for the Legacy Heritage, and now the Reader's Bible.

Sometime after the moratorium on the edition, Crossway's ESV SCR has become something of a "sleeper hit." It has a devoted following of readers or would-be readers most all of whom want to see Crossway bring this edition back into print. In truth, it is perhaps more highly regarded now than it was upon initial release.

In 2013 the prestigious R. L. Allan released their goatskin bound edition of the ESV SCR. The reviews were uniformly positive. You can find a great video review here:

You can also consult Mark Bertrand's review.

Since then, nothing. Crossway has no plans to produce another edition of the SCR. Schuyler has no plans, although it might be something they consider doing down the road. The prestigious R.L. Allan announced plans for a reformatted version of the ESV SCR in February 2015 via social media. Since then, progress has been apparently slow. No new updates have been forthcoming in the past year and a half and it was slated for launch in February of this year.

R.L. Allan will eventually get a new binding of the ESV SCR ready for shipment. Until then, one is struck by dirth of available copies. It is hard not to think that one of the better designed reading Bibles has somehow fallen by the wayside. For those fortunate enough to have Crossway's original edition, hold onto them - it doesn't look like we'll see a new run too soon.

Which brings me to the ESV Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible I recently reviewed. Crossway makes great product in-house, although its cowhide volumes tend to go under the radar compared to the Jongbloed produced volumes offered by Schuyler, Allan, and Cambridge, and Allan's in-house editions, now bound by Ludlow. The Verse-By-Verse Reference Bible is on its way to becoming the new "sleeper hit." It has laid low and relatively unnoticed, save for a handful of reviews upon its initial release. Reader's, however, are beginning to catch up to this otherwise under acclaimed edition and there is more talk about it those circles that are typically in the know.

If you've never really spent time with the ESV and you're looking for a well made Bible that you can keep coming back to, take a closer look at the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible. This is going to be another one of those releases by Crossway that slips under the radar for so long, and by the time it is picked up, it will already be gone. Just watch the secondary market soar on this one after it is taken out of print.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fair Warning - Religious Re-engineering in Progress

In a recent article Rod Dreher writes:

When people say that if the Left has its way, there will be no Benedict Option places left to retreat to, I agree. That does not mean they will succeed, at least not at first, but it’s just a matter of time. This means that we will need the Benedict Option more than ever. The Ben Op is not about escapism; it’s about building the institutions and adopting the practices required for the church to be resilient, and even to thrive, under harsh conditions. The church will be under unprecedented pressure, legally and socially, to capitulate. But it will be possible to resist, though not without paying a high cost.

The article touches upon some stark realities that, one way or another, are going to make themselves apparent in the succeeding years.

The United States faces eventual demographic and socio-economic dominance of a relatively un-churched generation. The ultimate consequence, to our own civic disadvantage, is a generation that has no capacity for understanding how much church related services have filled in the social void create by ineffective secular institutions to address real problems. An ideological shift has created a feverish expectation to abolish tax exempt status for religious bodies whose doctrine and practice conflicts with secular norms, all the while forgetting to calculate how such a change would entirely recast the ability of these same religions to provide social relief to the displaced or disadvantaged. Furthermore, in an example of both cruelty and irony, these same ideological interest spend little effort developing secular agencies that could aid the same groups assisted by the social mission of many churches.

The attempt at religious re-engineering, however, is not something far off. It has been in vogue among Western churches for decades. Whereas Dreher posits universal persecution via economic penalties, I suspect the actual exercise will be substantially more insidious. In both Western and Orthodox Christianity, one has seen the emergence of church bodies or groups that actively participate in the religious re-engineering of their respective churches. Any observer of religious change has noted the direction of the Episcopal Church and the surfacing of clergy, groups, and hierarchs in the Roman Church demonstrating a clear intention to assimilate to the ideological shift among cultural elites in the West. Perhaps lesser known is the degree to which some segments of the Orthodox Church are pulled in the same direction - though, for better or worse, the power and pull of the Russian Church appears to be a substantial weight against it.

It is with these instances in mind that I would disagree with Dreher or other voices expecting some systematic cultural persecution of Christianity in the West. The aim, I would argue, is not persecution, but dissent, schism, or, more accurately, religious re-engineering - to cultivate a large enough mass in a given denomination that either corporately break away from the the traditional ecclesiological structure, or alternatively transform the ecclesiological structure as one favoring assimilation and marginalize groups that retain the traditional teaching. The end result is the same - the minority will be anathematized. This process, mind you, will be done willingly, even enthusiastically, which ever shape it takes - there is no need for a persecution when the majority are ready to re-categorize moral theology and praxis to complement the aims of the state.

Ultimately, the scenario we face goes back to Christianity's seemingly perpetual struggle to identify the proper relationship with the state. The historical Jesus may well have been an apocalyptic prophet in late Second Temple Judaism. Whatever the real details of his life and the movement that grew around him, by the time the New Testament is finished where are left with a somewhat conflicting perspective of the proper relationship the Church should have with political power. The Gospel of John and the Apocalypse offer a more sectarian response, where as the Pauline material is occasionally more nuanced in its approach. At the close of Apostolic era, we are left with a young religion that has preserved various memories of its founder's relationship to political authority and the culture at large. The incoherence on this point leads to various responses to both persecution and increasing cultural relevance found in both Gnosticism and Monasticism.

Gnosticism, I would argue, is guided by a principle of anarchism. Whereas contemporary reactions to Gnostic literature focus on the apparent devaluation of matter, in texts such as the Hypostasis of Archons, it is arguable that some currents of Gnosticism were influenced by a worldview common in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature (and even carried over into Monasticism) that interpreted the political powers of the world as physical embodiments of celestial, angelic, or demonic powers. Christian Gnosticism takes this concept to its limits and reads all political, social and even ecclesiological institutions through this hermeneutic.

Monasticism was a retreat from the increasing social and cultural institutionalization of the early hierarchy. Oftentimes rejecting both their own social standing and the rise of the clergy, monasticism sought to disengage from worldly influence and its early exemplars drew inspiration from the Gospels where retreat or flight from the world constituted part of the memory of Jesus' preaching. The temptation in the desert (with Satan's unchallenged claim to owning all of the kingdoms of the earth) and the instructions to give up all one has and follow Jesus providing the core Scriptural nexus behind monasticism.

Both Monasticism and Gnosticism were critiques of the increasing proximity between early Christianity and society. Gnosticism was condemned, and Monastics, though tolerated, has always been watched with one weary eye, always subject to the authority of a hierarchy that doesn't live the monastic life, save for the Orthodox tradition of drawing the bishops from the monasteries. In both cases, the rejection of "the world" was often accompanied by an implicit rejection of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

What makes the idea of Christianity becoming counter-cultural so imperative is not the prospect of a religion fleeing from the world. In fact, flight from the world or dealing with some form of bureaucratic persecution is not much of an issue. As mentioned above, any sober reading of the current context indicates that the majority of hierarchy and laity are more than ready to assimilate with secular society, or blur the lines such that any call for distinction is considered arcane, obscure, and utterly esoteric. No, the ultimate purpose of a counter-cultural response, or a Benedict Option, is to retain some well springs of the Tradition where the Church at large has grown as arid, sterilized, and homogenized as contemporary Western society. It is to provide some center of clear moral reasoning and spiritual understanding (Wisdom, in the Biblical sense), where the mainline institutions, beacons and guideposts for such matters have become befuddled with the allure of the contemporary age. It is to accept marginalization and rejection by people, groups, and institutions that in another age would have been properly considered part of one's own religion. It is also, I would argue, to reach out to others who would not traditionally belong to one's ecclesiastical affiliation but in the spirit of belief strive to retain the same religion that, on a corporate level, has been obscured.

The ominous shadow cast on the horizon is that of religious re-engineering and it will do something no historic persecution has succeeded at it - the majority of Christianity will be willingly compromised.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Crossway ESV Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible, Top Grain Cowhide (Review)

Verse-by-verse Bibles are quintessential to the Western Christian Tradition. When the thought of the sacred page is evoked, the verse-by-verse is seeming the archetypal layout that comes to mind. This is perhaps good reason. The verse-by-verse layout has established its predominance for use in preaching, praying, and otherwise liturgical use, It is so much to be preferred that Weber followed the format for the critical reconstruction of the Vulgate (minus punctuation).

The verse-by-verse format lends itself to a different experience. As mentioned above, preaching, prayer, liturgical, it has an entirely different feel than paragraph formatted layouts. It is a layout that pushes the reader towards a more deliberate and perhaps even somewhat delicate experience of scripture. It is less about textual comprehension or reading for the purpose of doctrine. It is more in the ever allusive direction of the experiential encounter with the Logos through the sacred page. In light of the purpose, it seems only appropriate that one should find a Bible bound to fulfill such a noble purpose.

Towards this end, Crossway's Verse-by-Verse in black top grain cowhide is something of a feat. This is a solid volume that immediately strikes the reader with its appropriate heft (this Bible has substance) and the culmination of its specs. This a well designed Bible, the appreciation of which only grows with regular use - after weeks, it genuinely dawns on you just how well it was made.

Truth to be told, I have a soft spot for top grain cowhide. When done right, top grain cowhide pulls off a certain look that alludes calf skin or goatskin.

The raised hubs are a fine example of this. Crossway's cowhide editions have consistently have thick raised hubs - if you're going to do raised hubs, this is how you should do them. In general leather manufacturing, cowhide is known to be smoother and more resistant to breakdown under tension (tensile strength). As such, there is "work-horse" quality to cowhide and it gives you a Bible that is both in the upper tier of leather options and sturdy for daily use and travel. In other words, put this in your satchel or bag and go without reservations - the Verse-by-Verse is meant to be used, and seen.

The top grain cowhide is complemented by leather lining - I believe this is Cromwell bonded leather. As result, the flexibility of the cover is superb - you should have no concern that inside cover will crack and it you should expect it to remain flexible.

The binding is edge lined, adding more resilience and decreasing the stress put on the book block from opening the cover.

The font is a very readable 9 point Lexicon and is enhanced by the opacity of the paper.  Crossway's decision in favor of 36 GSM Apple Thinopaque paper is a genuine boon for the reader. Needless to say, the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible brings back all of the fond memories of first reading through the Legacy's gorgeous paper. There is a similar, though not identical, look and feel to the paper.

When considering the paper used for the book block, one begins to appreciate just how well built the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible is. The paper, sewn book block, and cowhide all come together to create volume with the right amount of heft and substance. Holding it in one's hand, the volume convincingly conveys the sense that this is a Bible built to last. Like any well made sacred book should, the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible conveys presence.

Crossway has provided two black satin ribbons with the Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible. Crossway prefers something more subtle and understated compared to the more luxurious ribbons out there, even in the Heirloom line. Here is no exception, although many readers will find the opacity of the paper to be worth the trade-off, especially with the attractive price point on the Verse-by-Verse.

The ESV Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible is a job well done by Crossway, who continues to impress the reader with the breadth of its line. Crossway is gradually changing expectations in Bible publishing and is able to deliver publication line that runs the full spectrum of price points and features.

You can get this for a great price at - perhaps the best price you'll find on this one.