It's a fictional streetscape we wander, here, a metropolis whose buildings, boulevards, and back alleys are in a constant state of flux. This is every place, and yet, no place at all - a city of dreams and a dream of a city.

Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Monday, January 03, 2011

On Illich and empty liturgy

A lengthy and thoughtful consideration of Illich, with a strong focus on his thoughts about how "the long complex process by which liturgical actions animated by grace and trust are replaced by mechanical techniques fostered by mistrust, fear and the desire for assured and assuring measures of one’s sanctity," has been published on the Web by a man named Tom Cheetham.

The paper, called "The Break with the World," is available via Cheetham's blog and Scribd.

We won't try to summarize the paper, as we've not yet read it thoroughly. It does seem to analyze Illich in light of a certain Henry Corbin, a 20th-century philosopher and theologian with an Islamic mystical bent, and Aidan Kavanaugh, a contemporary theologian. The following extracts provide a flavor of what Cheetham, who has written extensively about Corbin, is up to:

Much of Illich’s life was devoted to analyzing and revealing the community-destroying and life-denying nature of the institutions of the modern world. And in the extremities of contemporary life dominated by technologies controlled, or more often let loose, by human agency, too many of us are finally victims of what Illich calls “the break with the world.” What used to be Creation is conceived instrumentally, organized and manipulated by human, or inhuman hands. The world of the person, of flesh and sacrament is gone.
It was Illich’s profound claim that “the most ominous expression of secularization in the West was not the death of nature (although this was related), nor a misnamed materialism, nor sexual ‘freedom,’ but the decline of liturgy, the routinization and emptying out of religious ritual in the churches.” This remarkable assertion can have real meaning for us only if we properly understand the intimate relations among the spiritual rebirth of the individual, liturgical acts of worship, and the communities in which they occur.
Illich speaks to us from a place which is truly a mysterion, truly beyond understanding. The demonic night and our vocation to glory are inseparable. We must accept our vocation to glory, not in spite of, but because of Guernica, Leipzig, Bergen-Belsen, Los Alamos and all the rest. This is Illich’s message.

Cheetham means to write Dresden, not Leipzig, we're pretty sure, and he also writes briefly about Illich here: "Readers of my work will know that I think Ivan Illich was, like Henry Corbin, one of the great religious thinkers of the 20th century. And also like Corbin, Illich's work is relatively little known. I have tried in some of my writing to suggest some common themes the two shared - in spite of profound differences in their personalities and their theologies. Illich's thought is provocative and deeply important."

Cheetham describes Corbin, a name that is new to us, as "a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. ... He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought and his work has provided much of the intellectual foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam."

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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.