The 14th to the 16th Century (continued)
By Chorbishop Seely Beggiani
Pontifical Mission of 1580
In 1580 Pope Gregory XIII sent the Jesuits John Baptist Eliano and John Baptist Bruno to Lebanon as his legates. They brought with them many religious articles including a number of books. Because of the need for printed books for Syriac speaking Christians, the Holy Father had established a Syriac printing press in Rome. Among the books that were published and brought by the legates was a catechism printed in karshuni [Arabic written in Syriac letters], which had been composed by Fr. Bruno and translated by Fr Eliano. It was modeled after the one composed by Peter Canisius after the Council of Trent, and it advocated many of the sacramental practices of the Roman Church. Other publications included a book on the decrees of the Council of Trent, a book on the heresies of the Jacobites and the Nestorians, and translations of the Imitation of Christ and the prayers of the Latin Mass.
The Papal legates also brought with them 300 chalices, vestments, molds for making hosts, vessels for the Holy Oils, rosaries and pious images. Cardinal Caraffa, the Cardinal-Protector of the Maronites, recommended that the legates introduce the rosary first in the monasteries, and later they were to found contraternities in different localities. It is probable that the gifts of molds for hosts hastened the use of unleavened bread among the Maronites.
The legates were advised that their highest priority was to hold a synod at which the new catechism was to be accepted, and salutary decrees in confrmity with the Council of Trent were to be passed for the purity of faith and the improvement of discipline.
The Maronite Synod of 1580
On August 15, 1580 at Qannoubin, the Patriarchal residence in the Valley of the Saints, the Maronite synod opened with the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Patriarch Michael el-Ruzzi in the presence of the papal legates, bishops, and a crowd of 2,200 notables, ecclesiastics, and faithful. The catechism brought by Eliano and Bruno was adopted by the assembly. The synod went on to affirm the teachings of the Council of Trent. They also accepted the addition of the filioque [the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son] to the Nicene Creed. The addition of the phrase “Who was crucified . . .” to the Trisagion was outlawed.
The Synod accepted the use of both the Latin and Eastern formulas for Baptism. It advised that while it was customary to use triple immersion in Baptism, in necessity, a single immersion or infusion suffices (in fact, the practice of infusion slowly gained acceptance). The Synod declared that the Bishop was the minister of Confirmation and that it was most appropriate that this sacrament be given to those who have reached the age of reason. We might note that it was about this time that Maronite rituals began to have rubrics inserted reserving Confirmation to the Bishop.
The synodal chapter dealing with the Eucharist cited the text for the consecration of the Eucharist from the Roman Missal. The synod stated that while it was permissible to give Communion to infants, it was in no way necessary for salvation. Since there is the danger of irreverence, “we discern that there is merit in following the custom of the Roman Church”. In 1577 the distribution of Communion to infants was a universal practice in Lebanon. While Pope Gregory XIII exhorted the Patriarch against this practice, he did not formally forbid it. Although the Synod of 1580 speaks against it, the practice did not stop for several decades. The synod also recommended the Roman formulas for sacramental absolution and for Extreme Unction.
All in attendance publicly approved the declarations of the Synod. The papal legates asked and received permission from the Patriarch to tour the country and promulgate the decrees of the Synod. The legates also took this opportunity to distribute the catechism they had brought with them. Schools were founded for children, and we are told that Fr. Eliano began to teach the Latin language at Qannoubin. It was also at this time that Fr. Eliano was able to send four more students from among the Maronites to study in Rome.
The Maronite College in Rome
Perhaps one of the most important results of the Papal legations to Lebanon in 1578 and 1580 was the founding of the Maronite College in Rome. Patriarch Michael el-Ruzzi had asked Pope Pius V in 1568 to establish a house in Rome as a school for Maronite students to learn theology so that on their return they would better serve the Maronites. However, at first, students were not sent. The two students who came in 1579 were put in the school for Neophytes in Rome. Four more students came in 1581 and joined the others. Eight more were sent in 1583, and four came from Aleppo in 1584. On February 9, 1582, Pope Gregory XIII erected a guest house in Rome for the Maronites and set aside 200 ducats as a pension for its support. In 1584, due to the urging of Cardinal Caraffa, Pope Gregory XIII converted the guest house into the Maronite College, exclusively for Maronite seminarians and for the priest faculty that would care for them. Later that year Pope Gregory XIII added to the yearly income of the College, as did Pope Sixtus V. Cardinal Caraffa left his entire fortune to the College.
The impact and importance of the Maronite College cannot be underestimated. Students of the College were responsible for the spreading of knowledge in Europe about the East including its language, history, religions and institutions. From the College were graduated scholars whose works have been precious aids to European Orientalists. Besides returning to their country with many elements of Western culture, the Maronite alumni were of benefit to their compatriots by starting a renewal of intellectual activity in Lebanon. This movement reached its fullness with Patriarch Stephen Douaihi and the Assemanis. From Rome many alumni were attracted to France at the beginning of the 17th century and introduced Oriental studies there, thus spreading knowledge about Eastern Churches and cultures.
With the establishment of the Maronite College, Rome was in a position to learn more accurately the customs and traditions of the Maronites. On the other hand, a great number of patriarchs and bishops of the succeeding centuries were graduates of the Maronite College, and therefore attuned to the mind of Rome.
The students of the College were instrumental in printing liturgical books in Syriac. The first was a Book of Offices for the Dead and was published in Rome in 1585 with the financial help of Pope Gregory XIII. In 1592, George Amira, a student of the Maronite College and later a Patriarch, produced a Missal in Syriac at the Medici Press in Rome. In the back of the Missal was the life of St. Maron taken from the Syriac account of Theodoret as well as prayers for the blessing of holy water. At first, the use of this Missal was forbidden by the Maronite Patriarch Sergius el-Ruzzi because the one who had been assigned the final examination of the Missal, a Fr. Thomas Terracina O.P., replaced the traditional words of Eucharistic institution of the various Maronite anaphoras with those of the Roman Missal. He had also altered the meaning of the words of the Epiclesis [the calling down of the Holy Spirit in oblation]. All of this had been done without the knowledge of the Pope or the Patriarch. Although the Patriarch eventually agreed to the use of the Missal out of necessity, this Missal was not accepted everywhere, since the Synod of 1736 had to suppress the use of arbitrary consecratory formulas.
Pontifical Mission of 1596
In 1596 Pope Clement VIII decided to send another mission to the Maronites. The Jesuits Jerome Dandini and Fabius Bruno were chosen. They were to affect any reforms they deemed appropriate, to see to it that the Maronite students who returned from Rome were properly used, and to choose more good students to be sent to Rome.
After meeting with the Patriarch, Fr. Dandini traveled throughout Lebanon and leaves an extensive description of the customs of people. He discovered that the people are pious and have a simple and ardent faith. They highly respect their priests and when they meet a cleric they kiss his hand and ask for his blessing. The women are held in high regard, and there is no scandal among them. Dandini describes the celebration of the Maronite Divine Liturgy noting that the laity have a great part in the chanting. The laity are given the Eucharist under both species.
Dandini goes on to observe that the priests and people alike assemble to recite the Divine Office. Secular and religious gather at midnight for Matins, and there is always a large number of lay people present. During the Lenten fast the Maronites eat nothing until a few hours before sunset. They abstain on Wednesdays and Fridays from meat and dairy products. They also fast twenty days before Christmas and fifteen days before the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul and the Assumption. He notes that the Maronites do not have holy water at the entrances of their churches.
The Synods of 1596
At the urging of the Papal legates, a Maronite Synod was held in September of 1596. The doctrinal and liturgical decrees of the Synod were a reiteration of those of 1580. In addition, the Synod called for the use of only unleavened bread in the Divine Liturgy. It advocated the use of the Roman formulas for the sacraments. Nevertheless, this prescription was not put into practice universally, and the synod of 1736 gave the option of using either the Roman or the Eastern formulas. The Synod called for the exclusive use of the Missal printed in Rome in 1592; however, as we have noted, this Missal gained only very slow acceptance. The synod introduced the holy days and feasts of the Roman calendar, including Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi.
While the Synod of 1596 again called for the Bishop to be the minister of Confirmation, the Maronite scholar Abraham el-Haqlani observes that some priests still confirmed infants as late as 1654. Many of the ancient rituals still presented the rite of Confirmation in conjunction with Baptism, and these rituals continued to be used in a number of churches. The same can be said regarding giving Communion to infants which continued at least until the middle of the 17th century. A second synod was held in November, 1596 to approve six canons dealing with discipline and practice which were to be added to the previous synod. They included a declaration that it was not necessary for secular priests to be married, since celibacy is a more perfect state. The synod also called upon the Bishops to live in their dioceses rather than be grouped together at the Patriarchate. However, this injunction was not implemented until after the synod of 1736.
The Process of Latinization
The actions of the Papal legates and the Synods of 1580 and 1596 give us graphic examples of the attempted Latinization of Maronite liturgical practices. As we have seen, elements of Latinization can be traced back to the time of the Crusades. However, at that time the practices were superficial, limited to such secondary points as the wearing of ring and miter by prelates, the manner of making the sign of the cross, the use of bells, unleavened bread, and Western altar furnishings. Even these changes did not become universal. With the Synods of 1580 and 1596 we see an attempt to give canonical and ritual legitimization to a systematic process of Latinization. This does not mean that there was an intentional policy on the part of the Roman Church to Latinize another tradition. Rather, we should recall that in this period after the Protestant Reformation in Europe and the holding of the Council of Trent, there was a desire to ensure ritual correctness seemingly through uniformity of practice.
Although conferring the three sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist at the same time was the ancient tradition of Christian Initiation in both the Western and Eastern Churches, as time went on the Roman Church had introduced the practice of conferring Confirmation by the bishop and the Holy Eucharist only after the age of reason. The Churches of the East had continued the ancient practice. It would seem that the Papal legates felt that the Roman practice should be favored and supersede the Maronite practice as a better way of conferring the sacraments. In the same way, preference was given to the Roman sacramental formulas as a better way to ensure ritual correctness. Ironically, the Maronite College of Rome also had a decisive influence on the Latinization of Maronite practice. Its students were anxious to follow the idea of their teachers and the customs of the center of Christendom.
On the other hand, the Maronites were anxious to show their fidelity to the Roman Church and their gratitude for its support and concern. Even so, decades and sometimes centuries passed before these Latinizations went into practice. And there were certain proposals that the Maronites actively resisted. It should also be noted that most of the Latinizations dealt with externals, and the essence of the Maronite tradition remained unaffected.
(Reprinted with permission.)