Monday, April 22, 2019

WM 121: Part Two: Notre Dame & the TR

I have posted WM 121: NASB 2020, Notre Dame & the TR (listen here).

This episode has two parts.

The first part is a review of some of the upcoming changes to the New American Standard Bible (NASB), coming in 2020. See my notes for Part One here.

The second part is a suggested analogy between the fire/reconstruction of Notre Dame and the TR. Below are my notes for Part Two:

This article is an attempt to draw an analogy between the destruction and proposed restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the traditional text of Scripture.

One of the biggest news stories this week was, for course, the fire that destroyed a substantial part of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (on Monday, April 15, 2019). The source of the fire is still unexplained, though online rumors have run rampant about the possibility that it might have intentional act of arson or terrorism. Over the last year there have apparently been hundreds of acts of vandalism against French churches and Christian religious objects. One would have to be particularly dull not to be suspicious of the fact that the fire occurred during the so-called “holy week” leading up to Easter Sunday.

It is hard not to see symbolic significance in the damage done to this church, which had long been an icon of the Christian and RC heritage of France. I wonder how many poems will be written that memorialize this fire as a reflection of demographic, political, and religious changes in France and the West as it enters a post-modern and post-Christian era.

In a much-discussed online Rolling Stone article, posted the day after the fire and titled “How Should France Rebuild Notre Dame?”, EJ Dickson notes that the fire did not end up doing as much damage as some initially feared. He cites Jeffrey Hamburger, a Harvard art historian:

The fact that the building did not collapse — a concern in the hours immediately following the blaze — serves as a “powerful testimony to the skill of medieval builders,” Hamburger says. He credits the survival of the structure to the building’s iconic rib vaulting and flying buttresses, which prevented collapse. “It’s worth remembering why they went through the trouble building it this way — it wasn’t for aesthetic reasons, it was for fire-proofing,” Hamburger says. “In a way, what we have here is proof of concept.”

After noting the building’s role in French history and the fact that it serves as the “Point Zero” or supposed center of the city of Paris, the article offered this startling observation:

But for some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. “The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,” says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University.

The article also discusses the very difficult question of how the reconstruction of the cathedral should proceed. The cathedral began to be built in 1160 and was completed a hundred years later in 1260. It was built on a site that had previously held not only a fourth century Christian church but also on a site where a Roman temple to Jupiter was once situated. Over the years various additions and renovations were added, including a spire (now destroyed by the fire), in the nineteenth century.

With regard to reconstruction, the question arises as to which church should be reconstructed. The original completed in 1260? The church as it stood in April 2019? Should, for example, the spire be restored or left out? Should it be modernized with contemporary innovations and features? There is also the realization that no exact reproduction can be achieved in our day. We simply do not have the skilled workmen and artisans today who completed the original work by hand using pre-modern methods. We cannot do today what was done then.

Here is another quote from the conclusion of the RS article:

Although Macron and donors like Pinault have emphasized that the cathedral should be rebuilt as close to the original as possible, some architectural historians like Brigniani [an architecture professor at the City College of New York] believe that would be complicated, given the many stages of the cathedral’s evolution. “The question becomes, which Notre Dame are you actually rebuilding?” he says. Harwood [architecture professor at the University of Toronto], too, believes that it would be a mistake to try to recreate the edifice as it once stood, as LeDuc did more than 150 years ago. Any rebuilding should be a reflection not of an old France, or the France that never was — a non-secular, white European France — but a reflection of the France of today, a France that is currently in the making. “The idea that you can recreate the building is naive. It is to repeat past errors, category errors of thought, and one has to imagine that if anything is done to the building it has to be an expression of what we want — the Catholics of France, the French people — want. What is an expression of who we are now? What does it represent, who is it for?” he says.
Hamburger, however, dismisses this idea as “preposterous.” Now that the full extent of the damage is being reckoned with — and is less than many initially feared — he sees no reason to not try to rebuild and preserve one of the few remaining wonders of medieval architecture. “It’s not as if in rebuilding the church one is necessarily building a monument to the glorification of medieval catholicism and aristocracy. It’s simply the case that the building has witnessed the entire history of France as a modern nation,” he says. “[You] can’t just erase history. It’s there, and it has to be dealt with critically.”

So, why this reflection on Notre Dame de Paris? Certainly it is intriguing on many levels. What it brought to my mind, given the general interest of this podcast in the text and translation of Scripture, are the parallels that might be suggested between Notre Dame and the traditional text of Scripture (the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the OT and the Greek TR of the NT).

The traditional text of Scripture is not a physical edifice, like Notre Dame, but it is a priceless literary artifact that reflects the history and heritage of Christianity in both the West and the East. One might say that Notre Dame was there for some nine-hundred years, and the traditional text only represents a printed tradition of some five-hundred years. Even if we granted only a five-hundred-year span for the traditional text, that would be significant, but, in fact, we might just as well cogently argue that its legacy extends even further back. The Masoretic text goes back to Ezra and the TR reflects a predominant, organic ecclesiastical consensus largely present in the Byzantine tradition and confirmed by the Protestant orthodox in the Reformation and post-Reformation eras that, we might argue, goes back to the apostles. So, in fact, while Notre Dame has only a nine-hundred-year history, the traditional text has stood for over two thousand years.

To continue the analogy, we were told that this text had been severely damaged through blazing corruptions and errors in transmission from some unknown sources. In hindsight, however, many now fear that the damage might have been done from inside out by post-Enlightenment scholars who saw the traditional text as a monument of a bygone era, whose significance was eclipsed by modern “advances.” Such scholars likely saw the traditional text as the historian in the RS article says that some modern Parisians saw the Notre Dame, as “a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution … that arguably never existed in the first place.” Many, no doubt, saw and stillsee the toppling of the traditional text as a “liberation.”

Despite claims of its total collapse under what can only be described as the withering claims of modern criticism, further examination shows that the structure actually stands up still quite well, a testimony to the “proof of concept” not only of the inspired writers but also of the providentially guided tradents of the text. It still serves quite well as a “Point Zero” for finding the true center for Christian faith and practice.

While some would still suggest undertaking radical reconstruction to get back to the as yet undefined and elusive original, others suggest that the moment to be seized for making supposed modern updates and improvements. To borrow again from a scholar in the article, one might observe, “The question becomes, which [text of Christian Scripture] are you actually rebuilding?” The traditionalist, however, rightly recognizes that such an undertaking is fraught with difficulties and unintended consequences. For starters, we simply do not have the artisans and skilled laborers to undertake such a task. We cannot do now what a previous generation so expertly did under divine providence. Our attempts to tinker with and improve might be devastating for its preservation for future generations.

Of course, this analogy breaks down. Notre Dame has been severely damaged, and it will need to be repaired. The traditional text, however, though under intense assault, has not yet been consigned to the flames. To both the chagrin and wonder of many, it still stands as a monument to God’s immediate inspiration of his Word and his providential preservation of it. It does not need repair or replacement, but appreciation and admiration.


No comments: