08/20/2018, 14.24
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Sinicization and Catholic sacred music

by Aurelio Porfiri

The five-year plan for the sinicization of sacred art and music is likely to result in non-Catholic cultural artwork. The antagonism between "Chinese" and "Western" is to great. Card. José da Costa Nunes, former bishop of Macao maintains that Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic art is universal, not Western. No Pope mentioned in the document. A comment by the composer Aurelio Porfiri.

Macau (AsiaNews) - I read the article by Father Bernardo Cervellera published on AsiaNews August 17 last entitled "A new prison for the Church in China: Sinicization" with great interest. This word has now become a passe-partout. The Brazilian thinker Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira called words like this, "talisman words": they can mean anything and are used in a vague way for propaganda purposes. It is not always clear what this sinicization must then consist of, if it is antagonistic in an exclusionary way towards other cultures and so on.

In the article cited above, Father Cervellera presents the document that will guide the five-year plan for the sinicization of the Catholic Church (and similar documents will certainly be available for other recognized religions). This five-year plan must be presented by the end of August to the Patriotic Association and the Council of Bishops.

This is an interesting document, on which I cannot dwell in detail, but which I want to comment briefly on with regards to what is said about sacred music and liturgy, this being a subject that touches me very closely.

First and foremost, I must state that no one has a problem with local inflections of sacred music or particular liturgical uses in different countries. The sacred music of an Italian composer will have differences from that of an American or Spanish, and so on. But all these differences are, however, acceptable under a general umbrella, which is the acceptance of some general characteristics that sacred music and liturgy must possess in every country. This is the universality of which Saint Pius X spoke of in his 1903 Motu Proprio, that wherever the music is composed, it must however have a Catholic character, that is universal.

Continuing with the talisman words, the "Second Vatican Council" is mentioned eight times and always to justify the inculturation / syncopation of the liturgy. But in reality the Council, precisely in the Sacrosanctum Concilium, clearly states that the regulation of the liturgy belongs to the Church, not to governmental bodies. No Pope is mentioned in the five-year plan.

There is the demand for paintings and sacred music with Chinese aesthetic elements. Of course, sometimes this has always been done taking into account that the technique and the vocabulary of these arts has been developed over the course of many centuries: you can certainly create new things but without disposing of those Catholic elements (which in the document are called "Western" ) that have forged these disciplines down through the centuries.

Unfortunately, in the document we perceive this "Chinese versus Western", such as when it is said for example that "not everything must be Westernized". Of course: but here we are not talking about importing a certain art or music because it is Western (although historically it was developed in the West), but because it is Catholic. It would be like saying that we must avoid the orientalization of Buddhism. But Buddhism has developed in that part of the world, and many elements of its vocabulary are affected by the culture in which it developed. How can we eradicate them without impoverishing Buddhism itself?

It is said that churches can have a "Chinese-Western, Traditional Chinese or Ethnic" style. But the Chinese, and with great joy, have prayed for centuries in beautiful Western style churches. Why should this no longer be allowed (alongside other possibilities) if they are not yet sinicized?

It is true that Cardinal Celso Costantini called for an artistic style consonant with the genius of every nation, but this was never to the detriment of the great Catholic tradition. Cardinal José da Costa Nunes, who was bishop of Macao for many years, was a follower of Cardinal Costantini for aesthetic theories but warned, in some of his writings on the subject, that Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic art and so on is universal, not Western, so it can be used at any latitude.

In a passage of the five-year plan it says: "In reference to the National Seminary of the Catholic Church in China, the" Chinese Catholic Music and Artistic Training Center "will be established, the Patriotic Association and the Council of Bishops will perform the main work for the compilation of a collection of hymns with Chinese Catholic characteristics ". In this and many other passages, the impression is given that the emphasis falls on "sinicization", not "catholicity". The urgency is not to make the Church more Catholic, or even more Chinese, but more sinicized (which is not the same thing).

Sacred music was brought by the missionaries, taught by the missionaries, propagated by the missionaries. They had already tried to include "Chinese characteristics" in some of their compositions, but this to bring the people closer to this music and not to remove the music itself from its deep and unavoidable root in the liturgical, musical and artistic tradition of the Catholic Church.

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