In Part I of this case study of sorts, I wrote a bit about the theological complexity of debates over religious identity, as illustrated by the (very) minor fracas over whether it be somehow wrong to reinter the bones of Richard III in an Anglican rather than a Catholic ceremony. In Part II, I asked how historians might look at the question of whether Richard was a “Catholic” in our sense of the word, or even whether they would reject the question as too vague or even meaningless.
I’ve suggested that theologians and historians will look at these sorts of problems through different lenses. But do they also have something to say to each other? This is a much larger question than I can try to tackle in a blog. But I’ve been thinking a good deal about the problem of religion and history in my study of the jurisprudence of Jewish law (which I hope to discuss later this month), so let me at least throw out one tiny observation here, focusing again on Richard III.
First a distinction — between history and historical consciousness. Historical consciousness is the distinctly modern conviction that history is not just a chronicle of events. The past is actually a very different place than the present, and those differences are deeply bound up in specific context and assumptions and world views. History is important to intelligent thinking about current religious belief and practice, but historical consciousness necessarily frustrates any effort to easy easy, straightforward, conclusions from that history.
So back to Richard III. Assume for a moment that the authorities did decide to hand the King over for a Catholic funeral service. Some Catholics of a “traditionalist” bent — the supporters of the traditional Latin Mass (one version of which Pope Benedict XVI dubbed the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) — have argued that it’s not good enough for Richard III to be given a Catholic service. As a pre-Vatican II Catholic (by many centuries), he should merit a traditional Latin requiem mass. And, as an anointed King, he really deserves the special traditional service for the burial of a King. That is, after all, what he would expect and want if he had a say in the matter.
The problem here is obvious, though. Continue reading