Posts Tagged ‘Jesuit Father Robert Taft’

Of Liturgy and Life: Jesuit Scholar Reflects on his 46 Years in Rome

In a sitting room where lace doilies top every table, Jesuit Father Robert F. Taft’s gray sweater and wooden cane add to the impression that he’s a refined retired professor.

But then he shared what he believes is the line his former students quote most: “There are two things you do not do alone: liturgy and sex.”

The world renowned liturgical scholar was interviewed Dec. 13 as he prepared to return to the United States after more than 46 years in Rome.

Students and friends share his pithy quotes with relish and his graduate summer school students at the University of Notre Dame even published a collection of them several years ago.

“They’re totally spontaneous. It’s not like I sit in my room before class thinking, ‘What wisecrack can I throw at them today?’ It just happens,” he said.

Father Taft, who said he’s “on the top of the heap” when it comes to knowledge of the Byzantine liturgy, officially retired as a professor at Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute in 2002. He was scheduled to move to the Jesuit retirement center in Weston, Mass., just after Christmas and will celebrate his 80th birthday Jan. 9.

With more than 800 titles already to his credit, the Rhode Island native, who was ordained in the Byzantine rite in 1963, still has one big writing project left: completing the sixth and final volume of his history of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used by both Eastern Catholics and Orthodox.

Packing interrupted work on the book, he said, but the slow progress also is due to less energy and more time devoted to prayer.

“One of the advantages of getting old is that what the Byzantine liturgy refers to as the ‘dread tribunal of Christ’ that you’re going to stand before puts the fear of God into you, and so you move to pray more,” he said. “That already has had an influence on my spiritual life.”

In addition to teaching, Father Taft served for decades as an adviser to the Vatican, writing more than 90 reports, draft documents and expert opinions on matters related to the Eastern churches.

“It’s better to be part of the process than to stand on the sideline and criticize, although I criticize, too,” he said. “My attitude has always been I’d rather have myself writing these decisions than have someone dumber than me doing it.”

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Jesuits Work to Preserve Precious Library Collection

Jesuit Father Robert Taft holds a rare book in the library of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Jesuit Father Robert Taft holds a rare book in the library of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Jesuit’s Pontifical Oriental Institute has the best general collection in the world on Eastern Christianity, including an extremely rare 1581 edition of the Ostrog Bible – the first complete Bible printed in Slavic. “For the Slavic churches, this is the Gutenberg” Bible, said U.S. Jesuit Father Robert Taft, former prefect of the library and former vice rector of the institute.

However, the Bible and other items in the library’s oldest and most valuable collections are in a serious state of degradation. Rome’s temperatures swings and ordinary wear and tear have taken their toll on volumes that are hundreds of years old.

“Everybody knows that that the only way to preserve material like this is to have a standard uniform temperature with humidity control and climate control throughout the entire year,” Fr. Taft said.

The institute and library are funded by the Vatican, but the portion they receive is only enough to increase their holdings and keep the place running.

The institute’s rector, U.S. Jesuit Father James McCann, said he is looking for outside funding for its preservation efforts. Georgetown University hopes to provide a grant to the library that would pay for a digitizing machine plus a year’s stipend for one person to do the scanning, Fr. McCann added.

While digitizing the collections will save on further wear and tear, funding must still be found for repairing the degraded volumes. McCann said he also wants to look for potential donors outside the church, such as “people who love books or specialists who recognize the value of these materials.”

A climate-controlled system for the library and its collections could cost a quarter of a million dollars, said McCann. Not only would it protect the books from heat and humidity, he said, the library would be able to stay open year round instead of having to close in late summer because of the stifling temperature.

Because the institute attracts religious and lay students and experts from many Christian traditions, it plays a key role in the future of ecumenism, McCann said.

The oriental institute “is not an archival library or a museum library. Our things aren’t here to be oohed and aahed over; they’re here to be put into somebody’s hands and used,” said Taft.

For the full story, visit Catholic News Service.