Continuity and Change
I’ve lived in South Bend, Indiana for over a decade now, and for most of that time, we stayed on eastern standard time all year round. We never changed to daylight savings time. We stayed the same. But everyone changed around us. In the winter time, we were on New York time. But not in the summer. New York sprung forward in daylight saving time–we did not. In the summer, Chicago sprung forward to meet us. The net effect: In the winter, we were on New York time, in the summer, we were on Chicago time.
Not changing meant changing a lot–all the time. Our television schedules changed dramatically–in the summer, prime time was 7 p.m.-10 p.m, not 8 p.m. – 11 p.m. Restaurant reservations in nearby Michigan had to be recalibrated –they were on eastern time, and sprang forward. Friends and family members got used to us being on “Chicago time,” we went back to “New York time.”
The only way an institution, a community, or a person can not change is if everything around them doesn’t change. If that’s not possible, then the question beomes, how to evaluate the change that comes from not changing versus the change that comes from changing.
I think this applies to the Church as well. Take Latin. The Church made Latin its official language in a situation where most people understood it–and had a reason to understand it, given the Roman Empire. Jerome didn’t produce the Vulgate to make the scripture more esoteric–he did it in order to make it more accessible.
Over centuries that changed. Only highly educated people read Latin, and only real afficionados speak it. The Church
can could decide that it will would continue to use Latin exclusively, in every aspect of its life and existence. But unless it had a way to ensure that Latin is the common language of the people –spoken by tax collectors and prostitutes, as my friend Reginald Foster is wont to say, it can’t couldn’t keep its use of Latin from becoming esoteric and academic. It can’t couldn’t keep Latin, and keep things natural.
So you’re faced with the prospect of deciding which change is worse. You keep the language the same, but lose the immediate connection of the people with the language. Or you change the language, and , keep the connection –with living people, but not with the past. Or you muddle through and compromise.
In thinking about O’Malley’s book, one of the things that the first part impressed upon me was the change foisted upon the Church whether it wanted it or not. Modernity–was here to stay whether or not the Church went along with it. The loss of the papal states, the increasing commitment to democracy, the liberal values of freedom of the press, freedom of speech. What a sea change in political culture during the “long nineteenth century” –as O’Malley calls it. And what a change for the context in which the Church proclaimed the Gosepl.
Finally, my part of Indiana changed. We now go to daylight savings time. In some ways, the change allows us to stay the same–at least in important things, like restaurant reservations and phone calls and television schedules.