Public Ritual

views updated Jun 08 2018

Public Ritual

The study of ritual performed in communal life encompasses the wealth of world history and cosmology. Yet, few linguistic or conceptual categories of analysis address fully the diversity of ritual as an enactment of belief in the divine, inclusive of the mythologies of magic, associated with the liminal moments of human experience. For modern societies, the historical celebration of ritual as a dramatic enactment of the numinous (sacred) reveals a persistent trait among world communities to transform human existence in order to experience sacred presence. To this end, the stylized adaptation of religion, foremost for the Western world, is predicated on a richly variegated model of ceremonial systems that are centered on the formalized invocation of symbols, discourse, and gestures. Combined, the sensory experience innate in ritual performance extends to the history of communities, institutions, and the rise of the premodern and the modern state. The enactment of ritual, both political and religious, also touches on the history of law and the rise of modern theories of government predicated on precepts of moral obligation and the duty of obedience to ordained rulership that have historically been enjoined on individual members of civic communities.

Since the nineteenth century, the subject of ritual has been the focus of a considerable corpus of historical, philosophical, ecclesiastical, economic, and legal research. In the latter third of the twentieth century, significant contributions were also achieved through the application of models of social and cultural anthropology that link the transmission of oral, written, and visual texts. The discipline of art history, specifically the study of iconology, has further refined the implications of the sacred within the emerging loci of secular, national histories. Among the luminaries who have contributed to twentieth-and twenty-first-century research on ritual are Émile Durkheim, Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz, Mircea Eliade, Natalie Zemon Davis, Catherine Bell, Michel Foucault, Marshall Sahlins, and Pierre Bourdieu. Each has approached the modern study of ritual with reference to the liminality of human experience; Foucault and Bourdieu have addressed concerns of communities to protect civic interests from nonconformist intrusion. A fourth contribution also informs the modern study of public ritual. The history of ritual violence, a trait of premodern communities, has effected the transformation in theories of resistance to authorized authority as well as the imposition of penal practices that now characterize the modern state. The ritualized forms of violence and murder that have been enacted against minorities in the twentieth century reveals the critical paradox of limning-out a theory of ritual as a codified form of social communication: ritual practices have promoted the consolidation of human resources without supporting a universal model of human rights predicated on notions of diversity and tolerance.

Historical Models in Premodern Europe

Basic to any study of ritual in Western culture is the understanding that its history is qualified through linguistic distinctions between ritual (derived from the study of liturgical rites, ritus ) and ceremony (derived from the stages of the celebration, caerimonia ). Thus, the modern etymological basis of ritual is rightly sited within the upheaval of the sixteenth century and the rise of Protestantism, yet its history from classical antiquity through modern culture is posited on the importance of public rituals enacted in early medieval communities. For example, the cultural performance of ritual at the close of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Christian West was predicated on the importance of liturgical rites that were performed by members of monastic communities in order to promote and to maintain the hierarchies of rulership that bound ecclesiastical and lay communities into a "body politic." The embodied celebration of ritual was, in turn, founded on an ethos celebrating the omnipresence of the sacred. The elaboration of the adventus novi episcopi (the ceremonial entry honoring the appointment of new bishops) established the eternal model for the reception of royalty in Western kingdoms. The rituals of Visigothic kingship included the sacral elements of unction, the ecclesiastical ritual of coronation, and the swearing of a royal oath to protect property. By the tenth century, the most frequently enacted rituals were religious processions staged to honor the holy feast days and the solemn celebrations of the Church liturgy, which drew the attendance of dignitaries of the royal and Church courts. A more political use of early ritual enactment soon extended to the reconciliation of communities after a king's subjects had suffered the trespass of war and violence. Both the frequency of war and the gravity of insurrection in the early Middle Ages influenced the protocol surrounding the presentation of royal regalia. Medieval rituals of lordship that were centered on restoring peace first incorporated the regalia of sword into the enactment of truce. Such ceremonies of peace then influenced the history of royal ritual. The incorporation of the sword of justice, spurs, and the enactment of the kiss of peace into the royal coronation ritual are testimony that the divine providence of ordained authority that was increasingly celebrated in terms of "natural" realities.

If initially the celebration of royal ritual was performed to burnish regal authority, early commentators on such ceremonial enactments recognized how the symbolic enactment of the sacred promoted an ideology of power that ultimately lasted throughout the Middle Ages. Texts that recorded the liturgy of raising prayers and the celebration of Mass were central features in the corpus of historical scholarship that examined the liturgy of coronation rituals. In general, the records of such rites underscore the intrinsic association of regnum and sacerdotium based on the exaltation of Judeo-Christian models of kingship within a rapidly changing dynastic basis of medieval territories of power. In general, the multivalent history of the early medieval rituals of royal advent attests to the primacy of symbolic dramatization in the history of world culture. For anthropologist Clifford Geertz and modern scholars, the past dynamics of social order are linked to two sources, charisma and the authority vested in a ruler's body. To this end, throughout the history of medieval and early modern Europe, religion provided a Christological basis that promoted ritual associations of the sacred and profane.

A parallel corollary, the consolidation of sovereign prerogative over civic resources, also requires the same cultural frame in order to define the rites of constitutive power and the (mystical) ceremonial attributes of bodily actions. Evidence supporting Geertz's observations extend throughout the Middle Ages, when both royal and Church officials began to shape commentary on Church liturgy into a discourse that promoted the viability of a "political theology" predicated on ritual and the construction of holiness. The writings of men in orders, canon lawyers, and later royal publicists promoted the celebration of royal advent enacted through dramatic parallels drawn between the Majesty of Christological kingship and the Dignitas of the king's body on display, vested with royal regalia and the insignia of spiritual authority. The annual rites commemorating Christ's Birth and Passion were incorporated into the history of dynastic states. Failures derived from dynastic or territorial ambitions were atoned through recourse to rites of royal penance and the solemn display of relics in public processions. Imagery of coronation ceremonies was recorded in texts that enhanced the parallels of the lives of kings with the lives of the Biblical kings of the Old Testament. As contemporary culture articulated the spiritual basis of royal authority in terms of obligations and prerogatives of office, the resources of community life visualized the extended nature of this kingship with recourse to the sculpture that framed church portals. To summarize, members of civic communities who sought salvation through ritual enactment of Christ's Majesty increasingly honored the thaumaturgical elements of royal Majesty as they crossed the liminal space of sanctity.

By the twelfth century, the history of royal advent had achieved an element of codification that proved essential to the emerging theory of political theology now associated with the celebration of late-medieval ritual and ceremonial traditions. First, the historical understanding of the sacred rites of unction and coronation was articulated through the invocation of the gravitas of anointing medieval rulers. With recourse to historical texts, commentators grafted the legacy of eleventh-and twelfth-century Capetian ceremonial onto the stemma of the early-medieval royal dynasties of the Merovingian and Carolingian rulership. The transmission of one legend became the impresa of French ritual practice, and ultimately influenced the history of other national rituals of advent. The search for mystical provenance led to a premise of divine communication: the origins of Christian kingship were traced to the conversion of Constantine the Great and the baptism of the Frankish king, Clovis. The royal legend was familiarized in texts and the subsequent performance of the French ritual of consecration with holy oil increasingly celebrated the sacramental basis of political power achieved through hereditary rulership. Thus, the ritual elements of elevation and investiture that had once dramatized the elective principle of monarchy were effaced in the course of the High and Late Middle Ages in order to stress the primacy of royal power in a fully hereditary monarchy. The history of enthronement was addressed with recourse to ceremonial elevation, the display of royal insignia, and the incorporation of heraldic and dynastic emblems in the historical accounts of the Capetian dynasty. Jurists and publicists who wrote extensively on behalf of royal prerogative promoted royal authority over matters of church and state. Artists captured the primacy of such argument by depicting royal enthronement in manuscripts, liturgical texts, and coinage. In each medium, the representation of royalty was achieved through the dramatization of divine presence that extended to new participants, foremost the increasing large cadre of officials who promoted royal interests and the rise of civic communities that were steadily brought under an invigorated model of royal prerogative.

By the late thirteenth century, the articulation of the sacred in rituals enacted to dramatize obedience to ordained authority served to define communal practices inherent in the administration of law and justice. And, to exactly the opposite effect, the celebration of ceremonies and rituals that elevated the doctrine of political theology into a nascent form of constitutional thought were also enacted to manifest the "natural" realities of sacred rites and public ceremonies. Few scholars have influenced modern scholarship on the essence of ritual symbolism in the late medieval and early modern state as fully as Ernst H. Kantorowicz (18951963). In his seminal work, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology, Kantorowicz schematized the interplay of ritual, symbolism, politics, and law that flourished from the late Middle Ages well into the seventeenth century. Ultimately, Kantorowicz posited an integrated model of power that incorporated the full history of antiquity with that of Byzantium and the Western world. Central to the argument is the history of Roman law precepts addressing questions of majesty and authority; the development of laws of community, ius commune, were treated as empirical models of an ethos supporting civic authority within an integral community of divine providence. The model was antique and universal, but its application favored the northern monarchies of France, England, and the comital states of Burgundy.

As charted by Kantorowicz, in the course of the fourteenth century, as the Capetian royal house began to falter and the Valois dynasty was elevated to the throne, the drama of royal bodily metaphor achieved the status of public law pertaining to royal succession and the inalienability of royal domain. One effect of this emerging constitutionalism was to promote anew the fully hereditary title of the Valois to the crown of France. A second was to encourage representational models of kingship. The image of the sovereign as embodiment of both qualities of Majestas and Dignitas is one of the most striking features of late medieval kingship in both France and England. For France, modern scholars have elucidated how the pictorial traditions of representation were adapted to exceptional effect in the coronation book of Charles V of France and Jeanne of Bourbon. Executed at the king's request in 1364, the fully illuminated manuscript records the image of majesty with the presentation of the king and queen's authority during the royal ceremonial of coronation and their joint enthronement that concluded the ritual.

Although modern historians celebrate the articulation of Majesty through image, the constitutional implications of the subsequent ritual enactments staged during the reigns of Charles VI and Charles VII revived the drama of protecting the sempiternal basis of the crown of France within the context of war and trespass. Neither the French nor English monarchy exhibited the necessary vigor to assert dynastic preeminence and power. Yet, the effect on the French rite of royal coronation was to mark a liminal stage in articulating the abstract legal precepts of the early modern state. On the one hand, the rite of 1364 fully articulates the conscious and voluntary submission to the symbolic presentation of a king's body. Yet, the later inclusion of two oaths of office that bound successive kings to protect the full resources of the Church and the property of the royal domain produced the fictional ritual of royal marriage of the king to the kingdom. From this remarkable articulation of the duty of office, Kantorowicz was one of the first scholars to expand the constitutional meaning of ritual symbolism within the cognitive grammar of symbolic ritual. For both France and England, the subsequent elucidation of the legal fiction of the corporate soul influenced the tenor and protocol of ceremonial festivities, foremost by focusing on the presence of the "royal" body in politico-legal culture.

Following Kantorowicz's research, modern scholars have found considerable evidence attesting to a shared belief among contemporaries of late medieval Europe regarding the sempiternal nature of ordained rulership. The gravities of the Hundred Years War did little to efface belief in the mystical corpus of the realm, the body politic, and did much to promote the understanding of the king's authority as "living law," (Vivat lex ). Royal piety attested to the sanctity of office and royal prerogative increasingly framed the duties and obligations imposed on subjects. The public display of the king's body was increasingly framed by extensive preparations that bound civic communities and the officials of the royal court who were charged with overseeing the enactment of power that was predicated on ideology and the control of social groups.

The symbols and rites associated with royal authority in the northern monarchiesforemost the crown, rite of unction, and the presentation of the scepterwere common attributes of other kingdoms. Variations in the rituals, however, reveal an issue innate in the classification of ritual. The development of a "functionalist" approach to celebrations of royal prerogative encourages the association of repetition with the emergence of new models of power. Yet, the English and French models cast a long shadow over the history of ritual celebrations of advent in other communities. Before the reign of Alfonso XI in 1312, Spanish kings rarely resorted to the full ritual of unction, coronation, and investiture. Yet, his dramatic gesture of self-coronation did not inspire subsequent kings who ruled over the regions of Spain and the Netherlands to repeat the gesture. Both Philip II and Philip IV were adamant promoters of royal prerogative and vigilant defenders of the primacy of Catholic ritual, yet the ritual of Habsburg advent is rarely celebrated within the model posited by Kantorowicz. Moreover, the perception that sites of power are defined through repeated enactment of ritual and secular ceremonies honoring the king's authority detracts from a full appreciation of the gravity of imperial authority in the late Middle Ages. For example, Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia established Prague as the center of empire but he remained a pivotal figure in the formation of French dynastic interests in the early fourteenth century. A second imperial figure, Frederick III, promoted a Christological depiction of Habsburg rule that marked the recovery of the vitality of German kingship. His magisterial enthronement in Rome in 1452 has not been studied as an impresa of ordained ritual; yet the liturgy, the drama of enactment by the presence of Pope Pius II as officiant and the vision of ordained rule shared with the Empress Eleanor of Portugal touch directly on the character of Renaissance rulership: the coronation accounts emphasize the imposition of a humanistic model of kingship that scholars now associate with the monarchies of Renaissance France and England.

Ritual and State-Building in Europe

Following the research of Kantorowicz, twenty-first-century scholars, foremost scholars of French ritual, have proposed a model of ritual that draws inspiration from antique sources. The effect of the scholarship on ceremonial has invigorated the association of classical and modern use of allegory and mythology in burnishing the royal prerogative of the heirs of Charles V of France. By the late fifteenth century, the history of royal presentations of majesty was predicated on the performance of four rituals associated with the king's advent: celebration of the royal coronation rite; the staging of an elaborate post-coronation entry ceremony into the city of Paris; the sporadic attendance of the kings of France within the chambers of judicial institutions (the lits de justice ); and the orchestration of emotions associated with a king's death and the drama of the royal funeral ceremony. For each ritual, the medieval origins of the ceremony have been noted. The continuity in ritual enactment reveals a new tenor in kingship expressed through elaborate protocol, processional order, and the hierarchy of rulership; these qualities became defining characteristics of the modern, "absolute" ritual of Louis XIV's court that treated ritual as performance theater. The full resources of the crown of France were evoked through constitutional metaphor of the "king's two bodies," yet ritual performance underlined the gravitas of the physical presence of a king's body amidst the collected members of the body politic. Both the festivities and participants increasingly eulogized the glory and prowess of hereditary monarchy at the juncture in history when ritual became a pejorative term for many communities who fought the resources of the crown and church in order to defend the Protestant faith.

Although the model of "state" ceremonial is grounded in study of Kantorowicz's seminal work and Geertz's research, the theory introduces critical elements of an antinominalism that limit the empirical and normative elements of ritual study. First, the public presentations of majesty in Renaissance and Reformation Europe also included adventitious ceremonies. For example, both civic and religious processions were staged throughout each realm to honor the presence of members of the royal family or the arrival of royal officials. The celebrations of royal births and marriages, as well as military and diplomatic victories, encouraged the invocation of ceremonial and rituals that paralleled the protocol of "state" ceremonial. The pageantry and orchestration of a processional order predicated on office and privilege reveals a vested interest in ceremonial robes and emblems of office. Yet, while the articulation of "state" ceremonial is defined through the pursuit of order among hierarchies of elites, the records of many of the adventitious celebrations demonstrate considerable dispute among contemporary office-holders regarding the past history of ritual, protocol, the privileges of office; even the history of gift-exchange was rigorously debated. Second, the model of "state" ceremonial is wholly royal and excludes the presence of royal women at critical moments of dynastic change. The result has been a celebration of royal prerogative that has been encoded in legal metaphors of power as a "canon of law" based on the promotion of misogyny. Yet, the full records of state and adventitious celebrations staged to honor the queens of France reveal a profuse culture of affective topoi based on the emotional elements of kinship and community evident in discourse and gesture that both acknowledged and celebrated the queens' authority within communities throughout the realm. Thus, if the model of "state" ceremonial is exclusively royal, the combined study of ritual and ceremonial suggests a fully gendered model that is at odds with social and political history of early modern monarchies and the rise of nation-states. The confluence of religion and political aspirations is especially striking in study of the acts of regicide enacted against Louis XVI of France and Charles I of England. The history of festivals during the French Revolution offers insight into the transformation of state-building based on the incorporation of republican models of citizenship that has transformed the process of government in Western communities.

Rituals Sacred and Profane

The contractual nature of public ritual in Western culture is critical to interpreting the symbolism of political rights within modern communities of world culture. For example, the gesture of gift-exchange is one measure of how rituals revitalize society by shared gestures of affection and devotion. A second example, the ritual invocation of violence touches directly on the history of power. Feud and vengeance, combined with factional struggles in cities, territorial, and modern-nation states in Renaissance Italy, has supported the belief shared by scholars that the importance of ritual in political systems is its ability to foster the resolution of conflict. For the history of the Protestant Reformation, communities in the monarchies of northern Europe engaged in destructive elements of ritual and violence in order to discredit the authority of ordained rule predicated in the history of Catholic liturgy. The horrors of the Wars of Religion offer full testimony of the brutality inflicted throughout communities based on legitimate and historical practices that supported royal authority. Yet, the crisis of representation posed by a divided polity of Protestant and Catholic adherents ultimately produced rituals of reconciliation. In France, communities petitioned the queen regent of France, Catherine de Médicis (15191589), to uphold the sacred basis of royal authority. The shared language of devotion between the widowed queen and her subjects suggests that the sustained perception of transcendental experience ultimately supported the promulgation of the first modern notions of toleration. The subsequent promotion of Henri IV's authority as king in the late sixteenth century was achieved in two stages. First, the award of amnesty and gifts to the king's political rivals that took place in a ceremonial seating that captured the essence of the symbolism of the Last Supper; second, his conversion to Catholicism and the celebration of a royal rite of coronation enacted the drama of mystical revival of the royal body and the body politic. In Switzerland and Imperial German cities, the violence of the Reformation was addressed through the ritual of stallung (peace-bidding), which dramatized the connotations of the performance of Penance with the symbolism of the Last Judgment. Finally, in England, ritual use of royal healing, combined with elaborate pageantry and ceremonial associations between king, queen, and nobility, the ruler and the ruled, remained a potent force in royal courts of Sweden, Poland, and Russia in premodern Europe. The adaptation of rites of advent was a potent source of political renovation for Western Europe during the twentieth century. The confluence of ritual, pomp, and power as an ideology is also evident in the articulation of the doctrine of "manifest destiny" that has guided the diplomatic relations of both the United States and Britain.

Study of ritual also offers broader cultural implications throughout world communities. By the seventeenth century, ceremony was adapted by Spanish, English, and French inhabitants of colonial North America to legitimize claim to new lands and political power over native inhabitants. The ceremonial history of African and Caribbean communities, for example in Dahomey and Jamaica, reveals how political elites either created or usurped power over local communities and resources. The myths and symbols of ritual based on precepts of theology were also part of the politico-religious culture of the Incan rulers in pre-modern communities, Islamic communities in world culture, and the history of imperial authority in Japan and China into the twentieth-and twenty-first centuries. The modern use of ritual extends to the political drama of the Russian Revolution, the rise of ideologies of fascism, nazism, and communism. Rituals and the public display of symbols of authority in modern China underscores how fully aspects of political power based on representation of human and divine decree have been adapted by communities to invent national and world mythologies of divine providence associated with the social construction of twentieth-and twenty-first century visions of hegemony. Of particular interest is the adaptation of ritual, foremost parades, to include the construction of national identity in Singapore, throughout communities in North America, as well as Sino-Soviet regimes of the late twentieth century. The general significance of parades as models of ritual and cultural anthropology has recently included study of both minority and gay and lesbian culture in world communities.

If the cumulative effect of this cycle of ritual performance was to promote a gradual secularization of society predicated on modern notions of state and conscience, one question remains open for the study of ritual within the political discourse of human rights: to what extent has the modern study of medieval ritual promoted a rebirth of violence associated with the rise of the modern state and the legal construct of racial slavery? Both events are predicated on the dichotomy of embodied rights and powers. Both systems of government have been historically grounded in royal legal fictions based on Christological notions of ordained authority. If, as scholars assert, the life of ritual and religion shifts continually between the two phases of maintaining and regenerating world systems of belief based on sacrifice, the model of cultural anthropology may need to question belief that the dynamic of ceremonial performance can be codified into a search for a universal system of just law necessary for the promulgation of human rights based on a model of theological ethics.

See also Authority ; Monarchy ; Theater and Performance ; Tradition .


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Elizabeth McCartney

Public Ritual

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