By Lorenz Jäger
(Fe-medienverlags GmbH, Kisslegg, 1st edition, 2013)
The distinguished German scholar, author and journalist Lorenz Jäger has provided us with a sequel to his 2010 collection of essays “Essential Things.” (He is indeed a busy man – between the publication dates of these two works Jäger also published another collection of essays and an autobiography) Like its predecessor, “Pious Exercises” collects succinct essays on matters spiritual that have mainly appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. This new book arranges the essays according to the structure of the Nicene/Apostles’ Creed.
The starting point of these essays is scripture, liturgy or even some current development in pop culture. From this basis, Jäger develops reflections that are profoundly Catholic, but stated in a way accessible to a much broader, “Christian” readership. Jäger speaks to all his countrymen, not just that tiny minority that consults the Catholic media. That is entirely beneficial, for the clear, concrete prose of Jäger avoids the vacuous, sanctimonious cant of “official” German Catholicism. Moreover, despite all his evident learning, Jäger also steers clear of the pretentious excesses encountered in the “culture” sections of German newspapers. Jäger also generally avoids intra-Catholic debates and ecclesiastical politics – he seeks to address issues more permanent and fundamental.
These “Pious Exercises,“ however, are by no means mere exhortations, a random assemblage of spiritual platitudes. The reader discovers at every turn unexpected insights, new juxtapositions of scripture or liturgy with the phenomena of contemporary life. And Jäger does not at all shrink back from the controversial, even the outrageous.
In “Where Mitt Romney Prays and Celebrates” (liturgically, that is – SC) Jäger tell us how he found the Book of Mormon in a dresser in his room at the Marriott hotel in Stamford (He was visiting Stamford CT to speak at a conference of our St Hugh of Cluny Society!). That was courtesy of the Marriott family, of course. His perusal of that work – and its strange illustrations – sets the stage for a series of interrelated reflections upon both the doctrine of American “exceptionalism” presupposed by the Mormon faith and the bizarre aesthetics of that religion. Regarding Mormon “temples”:
“One thinks of imaginary castles in Disney’s films of fairy tales, only transposed subtly into the eerie and the forbidding – just as if H.P. Lovecraft or H. R. Giger (the artist responsible for the design of Alien – SC) had dabbled in the works of the Brothers Grimm as source material. Or as if Peter Jackson had let himself be inspired (by these temples) for his bizarre, streamlined towers in his filming of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.” (at p. 154)
After these not very complementary reflections upon Mormonism and its artistic achievements, Jäger examines the candidacy of Mitt Romney and his repeated utterances in favor of that same American “exceptionalism” found in the Book of Mormon: the identification of the United States and salvation history. Jäger thereby demonstrates that doctrines are important, that the faith of Mitt Romney is indeed a cause of concern – for the curious tenets of the Mormon faith produce highly dubious fruit both in art and politics.
The essay on Mitt Romney and Mormonism is found in the section of “Pious Exercises” entitled ”And in the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” In this part of his book Jäger deals more than is his wont with specific issues and crises of contemporary Catholicism. So we learn that the current almost hysterical debate over celibacy in the ”German Catholic Church” was prefigured in the 19th century by the “German Catholic” movement, which led straight out of the Church to a liberal masonic religion. In “The Figure and Reason” Jäger contrasts the role of Reason in the Orthodox and Catholic churches starting of course not from theory but from the Orthodox prayer book. Our author has reservations about this role of reason in the West – for didn’t it offer a chink in the armor through which abuses could pour into the Church to a much greater extent – especially liturgically – than in the East?
Finally there is the wonderful, poetic essay on the role of candles. Here Jäger unites reflections on Hegel, Advent, the end of the calendar year and the function of candles in the liturgy: is not the lighting of a candle at the consecration returning to the Catholic Church? Hegel saw the gothic cathedral, by filtering out and transforming the daylight, as creating an interior “other day” of contemplation by the light of candles; is not Christ that “other day” – that comes to us at the end of Advent – and preeminently at each Mass?
There are obviously rare treasures in “Pious Exercises” and I would wholeheartedly recommend this volume. Like its predecessor, however, “Pious Exercises” has not yet found an English translator. By now there is a whole world of literature – in German, French and Italian – that would be of great value to the friends of Tradition in the English-speaking world yet remains untranslated. Perhaps one day the enterprising publisher will be found…