Will the iPad replace the Codex?

Here is a story on Busted Halo that got me thinking: Will the iPad (or other ebook of some sort) ever replace the Codex in the liturgy?

I expect not. In religion you end up with the technology that you had when your rituals got started. The Jews never updated their liturgical ritual when the Codex was invented. They still use the Scroll, and have invested it with immense ritual significance. We have done the same with the book, carrying it in in procession, enthroning it on the reading desk, right up to blessing people with Gospel book in pontifical liturgies.

All this is possible because the book itself is an object of veneration, not simply a medium to convey information. Words are things – in classical Hebrew the word for “thing” is the same as the word for “word”. The holy words inscribed in the scroll or the book make the book itself holy. The iPad or the ebook on the other hand – like the computer – is as capable of conveying words of blasphemy and sacrilege as it is the word of God. The sacredness of the object is accordingly to vulnerable to violation.

Not that technology has not made its way into our liturgies. As we all know, the hymnbook has virtually given way to the powerpoint projector. But such objects have not gained a ritual place in our liturgy. They are more like the light bulbs in the ceiligs above our heads, which have more or less – except for on the altar – replaced candles. And the candles have survived on the altar and else where in our liturgy precisely because they HAVE been invested with a ritual significance that the overhead lighting never was.

So, while iPhones etc may be very useful for praying dailing prayer, I don’t think we are ever likely to see the “Gospel iPad” being brought in at the opening Procession!

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37 responses to “Will the iPad replace the Codex?

  1. Peregrinus

    Interesting.

    Of course, the early Christians did start with the scroll. The codex form was around almost from the very beginning, but it didn’t achieve numerical parity with the scroll until about 300 AD, and didn’t wholly supplant it until the sixth century.

    Similarly the dominant form of lighting in the Mediterranean world in the first century was not candles but oil lamps. (And we still think of Eastern churches as being characterised by lamps, not candles.)

    And the familiar liturgical vestments have nothing to do with what first-century Christians wore, but owe a great deal to the formal dress of the Byzantine court of a somewhat later era.

    So perhaps it would be fairer to say that we end up with the technology we had not when our traditions started, but when they crystallised.

    • I know that the Codex as a form was older than Christianity, but my information (my sources are always hazey – I read it somewhere, okay?) is that the Christians adopted the Codex with exactly the same enthusiasm that the Mac crowd adopted the iPhone because it suited their way of reading the Scriptures – ie. not sequentially, but in lectionary style reading in Church and proof-texting from all over the Scriptures in their scholarship. The scroll continued on in legal and philosophical academies, but the Codex won out because of the Christian Church. That’s my understanding, anyway

  2. A good point, P.

    I was reminded of the ancient use of Exultet scrolls for the Paschal Proclamation – as they were sung from, the unrolling scroll, thrown down over the ambo, displayed interesting pictures, such as the harvesting of beeswax and the industry of the bees…

  3. Yes, things crystallize at a certain point, in ritual as in chemistry…

    chasubles… neck ruffs… Geneva gowns… suits…

    – each of these items of dress dates the period in which the respective denomination fixed its standard of religious costume; I of course refer to Catholics, Danish Lutherans, Dutch Calvinists, and Sydney Anglicans by these examples.

  4. Didn’t Luther somewhere tell the Elector of Saxony (who wanted to preserve lots of bells and smells and ceremonial niceties) that his priests could wear three chasubles, one over the other, so long as the Gospel be preached?

    I have a great liking for adiaphora… and I tend to agree with Melanchthon’s dictum: In a time of confession, nothing is an adiaphoron.

    Indeed, that sentence seems to me very Catholic indeed: alas! the vital lesson, that orthodoxy requires orthopraxy, has been notoriously neglected of late, with all the bad consequences attendant thereon… let’s not get sidetracked onto the genre of bitching about modern times though.

    • Sorry, I quoted Matthias Flacius Illyricus, not Melanchthon; and, of course, he intended to use his quotation against Catholicism, whereas I use it in favour of traditional Catholic practices.

      • Well, yes, it was used against Catholicism, or rather against a kind of Lutheranism (Melanchthon’s kind) that was prepared to compromise during the Augsburg Interim, which was an agreement between the Emperor and the Lutheran Princes after the Smalcald War for the sake of unity so they could all go off and fight the Turk together. For instance, the Interim required the use of vestments and candles and all the seven sacraments, but allowed married priests, the use of the vernacular and the chalice to the laity. So a lot of the Protestants thought they got a fairly good deal. Flacius was the first “über-Lutheran” (a fitting patron for the Missouri Synod), insisting that because the faith was at stake, even “adiaphora” ceased to be “adiaphora”.

        I think what you are refering to, Joshua, about having some sympathy with this point of view, is simple pig-headed-ness in the face of blatant dissidence. In Catholic circles, it amounts to chosing all the options that emphasise Catholic identity and doing them as ostentatiously as possible just to stick it up the nose of those who most oppose these things.

        There may have been a little of that in old Flacius too, for that matter!

        • Yes, you put it quite well – although, I am rather like St Paul (!) in that in person I am lowly, but while absent am tough in what I write.

          I am too shy and retiring to be pigheaded enough: unlike some traddies, I wouldn’t kneel for communion if at a Mass when no one else does, for fear of appearing strange, even though I far prefer to do so, and think it very bad that it’s become so rare…

          I like the Traditional Mass not least because I think it conserves things that ought not to have been abandoned – such as reverence, and worship toward the East – and whose abandonment I fear has eviscerated people’s Faith in all manner of ways, expected and unexpected.

          For this reason, I adapt and try to use that axiom, that Nihil est adiaphoron in casu confessionis – though I don’t live up to it!

          I miss my old parish, where we had every adiaphoron!!!

          • Better is each adiaphoron
            Than a church with all mod. con.’s –
            Better to keep holding on
            Than be a rightwing neo-con. –
            Ne’er was tradition ever wrong
            In the truths it’s handed on:
            Nothing’s an adiaphoron
            If in the Faith you would stay strong.

            (Terrible verse I know!)

  5. PM

    I agree, though the iPad could be a convenient alternative to lugging the three-volume office about as one travels.

  6. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Oh for the cat’s sake.

    Scrolls and books are also as capable of containing words of blasphemy and sacrilege as the word of God.

    All the more reason to stop this theologised-over pagan veneration of books and scrolls in themselves, and focus on the words therein.

    Still, if some clown arthritically stumbling up the aisle holding a book over his punkin head must be part of some sort of “opening procession” then why not cough up more new rite, Opening Procession Option B, with an iPad or Kindle, hell yes.

    • Christine

      Still, if some clown arthritically stumbling up the aisle holding a book over his punkin head must be part of some sort of “opening procession” then why not cough up more new rite, Opening Procession Option B, with an iPad or Kindle, hell yes.

      Picking myself up from the floor 🙂

      Well, I’m just fine with the reverence that Jews show their scrolls and I’ll up and kiss the Gospel book but I ain’t gonna kiss no iPad or Kindle!

      Christine

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        I keep forgetting, I’m from another planet. The only parades during Mass were an altar boy, like say me, moving the book from the Epistle side to the Gospel side, and once in a while the Asparagus me before, other than Holy Saturday. Now it’s damn near an art form to get in there without some usher nabbing you to shlep the “gifts” up.

        BTW Asparagus me makes a fine side dish with Eggs benedictus, a Lutheran pastor told me. (No, nobody who posts here.)

        At one time, the tabernacle with the eternal light and the living presence in it were held to be the Messianic light and shewbread in the Temple and the scroll in the ark at synagogue. Now, with a Protestant place of assembly or whatever in RCC churches, you damn near have to bring binoculars to find wherever they put him. Hell, last “Catholic” church I was in, and that was only because someone died, he wasn’t even in the church but some room in something that looked like a mini-Kaaba.

      • matthias

        Yes especially if at the time one kisses the ipod it short circuits -they ‘ll get a whole new spiritual experience.

    • Yes, of course, scrolls and books can be used for blasphemy as well as praise, but the point I was making was that you could control what went into a book or onto a scroll in a way that you can’t control what goes on an ebook. Once printed, except for school boy scribble, the c0ntents of the book are set in place.

      Really, PE, sometimes you are just contrary for the sake of being contrary.

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

        You think forgery and tampering with texts or textual variation started with ebooks? Judas Digital Priest. I say parade up the aisle with an iPad over your punkin head, and in 500 years there will be rules (there’s always rules when it’s the RCC) about how thick the gold plating must be to reflect the value of the contents. Hell, make it 150 years.

        • Peregrinus

          I think you miss the point. A Gospel Book which had been altered or had text excised would be corrupted, damaged, not a true book. It would not be what a book should be. The whole point of a book is that it is a permanent, immutable record of a specific text. Sure, a book can be damaged or corrupted, but that doesn’t deprive it of its sign-value.

          But an iPad or Kindle is fundamentally different; it’s supposed to be malleable and mutable. There’s nothing inherently improper, dishonest or untrue about removing a text from an iPad and replacing it with a different text. That’s what it’s for.

          The book of the Gospels is venerable not because of the pages or the ink or the binding, but because of the Gospel – the living word of which the book is a particular, dedicated, concrete image. That’s not a function an iPad can ever fill in quite the same way, because an iPad isn’t supposed to be a dedicated, concrete image of anything.

          Having a separate Gospel book for liturgical purposes may be a particularly Catholic thing, but i think other Christian denominations would have a similar instinct about a Bible – would you employee the pages of an old bible to line the guinea pig’s cage? – or indeed about the Cross. Two pieces of timber and a spot of glue can be employed for a variety of mundane purposes, but when they are formed into a concrete symbol of the sacrifice of Christ they acquire a significance, and a venerability not because of what they are themselves, but because of what they image.

          We’re incarnational, Terry. We like concrete images of eternal realities. We think they’re important.

          • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

            Strikes me as more low-tech than incarnational. An iPad or Kindle can simply do within one device what it takes several devices aka bindings to do. And to get all into the device be it a binding or an iPad strikes me as more idolatry than incarnational.

  7. Christine

    The only parades during Mass were an altar boy, like say me, moving the book from the Epistle side to the Gospel side

    But, but . . . as my husband would say, that’s what they paid y’all for!

    Christine

    • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

      I ain’t complaining. I can move that book from one side to another both fast enough as to not allow the priest time to pass gas, or long enough for Notker himself to write a bloody Gradual for it.

  8. Well, I’m sure it won’t be long before an iPad or a Netbook is used in the pulpit as an alternative to a sermon manuscript or notes, linked to Powerpoint, of course, for illustrations. It’s probably already been done.

    • Ah, well, that’s a different matter, ain’t it? Shouldn’t the pulpit simply be fitted out with one of those things that news readers use?

  9. Lance Eccles

    Nothing like overhead projections for taking your attention away from the trivial stuff happening on the altar, so that you can concentrate on the important stuff up on the wall.

    • Yes, that is the worst consequence of the power point projector. And it is about to get worse: as the new translation is introduced, we will need every word on the screen, so we will be diverted even from the bits that we now know off by heart and in which we can still concentrate on what’s going on on the altar. I’m not complaining. I’m just warning you.

    • matthias

      Only problem is when they fail-as happened at my church the other week-right in the middle of the sermln where the Text was being displayed .
      Reminded me o the joke ‘where was Moses when the lights went out ” “in the dark”

  10. Tom

    What happened to Christianity as an Oral Tradition? We learnt the Creed by heart, we learnt all the responses to the Priest by heart, we learnt all the prayers of the Mass by heart, why can’t we learn a few songs?

  11. Christine

    What happened to Christianity as an Oral Tradition? We learnt the Creed by heart, we learnt all the responses to the Priest by heart, we learnt all the prayers of the Mass by heart, why can’t we learn a few songs?

    A hearty “Amen” to that Tom!

    Christine

  12. matthias

    I think that the creeds are not learnt by heart in the Bapto/Pento/Church of Christ traditions ,because they are perceived as being
    1/too formalistic
    2/ Not from the heart
    3/ Smacks of Romanism/anglicanism /High Churchy stuff
    4/ Leaves out the Holy Spirit. (Although i would have thought reciting the Creed prayerfully an din good order would instil a sense of the holy Ghost)
    The result :

    1/Informal services that may seem matey,happy clappy chappy one and all-can be like Bedlam,especially when asked to greet your neighbour-give me the Sign of Peace any day
    2 /A serious lack of ignorance of the Creeds,and thus Christian doctrine is undermined not to mention the loss of oral tradition and history.
    3/ a minister/pastor can act as afree agent

  13. Paul

    Speaking of Apple:
    I see that Apple is cleaning up its app store and removing explicit material that can be downloaded to the iPhone and iTouch, and as from next month, the new iPad:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/apples-war-on-porn-is-just-getting-started-2010-2

    The obvious conclusion is that Apple want to make sure that when they release the new iPad next month, it doesn’t get publicity for being a porn device. They clearly also believe that most of the population don’t want the porn, so commercial reality makes them clean it up.

    Three cheers.

  14. Christine

    You raise some good points, Matthias. I once heard a comment from someone who wanted to become Catholic that “I want to become Catholic because Catholics always know what’s coming next in the liturgy.”

    Far from being “rote” or “dry” liturgy provides the sense of “space” that happens at a family reunion where everyone knows that they belong and “fit in.”

    I suspect the Holy Spirit does have something to do with it!

    It doesn’t take long before the Creed and the prayers become rooted in the heart as well as the mind.

    Christine

  15. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    The liturgy is really the gift of tongues, as it were, to the Body of Christ the Church.

    Most especially in the Creed as a liturgical event.

    I say *I* believe because I believe. No-one can say it for me, nor does hanging around a group that believes constitute my confession of belief.

    Which is also true of all the others who say *I* believe, whether present there with me, or in other congregations, or in the past, or in the future.

    And this belief, this grace, this gift of God, which I am no more able to produce in myself by any action whatsoever than I can wake myself from the dead, creates not a collection of individuals but a single body so bound by this grace that it too speaks as an individual, credo, I believe.

    Which is why, until the recent tinkering of miserable revisionists, the church changed the original wording of the creed as a conciliar statement “we” for liturgical use to the singular “I” expressing both my individual belief and the belief of a body of believers so bound by this unmerited gift of God that it too speaks in the singular, a “we” far more a we than the miserable revisionists can express in their miserable revisionism.

  16. Christine

    Which is why, until the recent tinkering of miserable revisionists, the church changed the original wording of the creed as a conciliar statement “we” for liturgical use to the singular “I” expressing both my individual belief and the belief of a body of believers so bound by this unmerited gift of God that it too speaks in the singular, a “we” far more a we than the miserable revisionists can express in their miserable revisionism.

    Ah, but in the new Mass translations the “we” is going back to “I” — the old is new again, break out a Te Deum!

    Christine

  17. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Given that these self-proclaimed successors to the Apostles in their zeal and care for souls allowed a straightforward and crucial liturgical text to be so poorly translated in the first place then allowed it to stand for decades, there is no cause for celebration but only yet another sign of the pathetic charade the RCC is of the catholic church, and since Vatican II, the Catholic Church.

  18. Christine

    I’d be much more perturbed if they hadn’t corrected it at all 🙂