The Way of Beauty Yeast in the dough

On her TV program, “Martha Bakes,” the talented Ms. Stewart cannot contain her delight when she makes a yeast dough. She swoons: “Look at the sheen—so soft and shiny! The aroma is bee-you-tee-ful, and the fragrance gratifies all the senses!” Her exuberance is preceded by meticulous instructions: proofing active yeast, blending it into the flour mixture, and letting it rise to double the size.  The yeast dough serves as the basis for baking a variety of baked goods from breads to sticky buns and sugar buns to monkey bread.  “Soo pretty, soo delicious,”she concludes, proudly gazing at her culinary works of art.

It’s a wonderful phenomenon—yeast.  It permeates the lifeless flour and causes it to grow. The power of yeast is felt in the brewing of beer and in the making of wine.  The yeast plant is a fungus that grows with no particular limits to its borders. Only if the yeast is alive and active will it interact with the dough so that it will rise. 

Recently, our Holy Father spoke of the Church as leaven. He is not the first to do so, nor will he be the last. In the Matthean parable (13:33), the reign of God is like yeast which a woman took and kneaded into three measures of flour. Eventually the entire mass of dough began to rise. The image of yeast was a favorite in the Early Church, because everyone understood the inner dynamism and power of yeast with its limitless ability to make things grow, even in small beginnings with “three measures of flour.” They grasped the comparison—that the yeast referred to the Church as an unlimited and growing reality, “destined ultimately to be present everywhere and to affect everything, though by no means to convert everything into itself” (Walter Ong, “Yeast,” America Magazine, April 7, 1990).

The word catholic (from the Greek kath, through or throughout and holos, whole) finds its Latin counterpart in the word universal (from the Latin unus versus [ad] alios, literally, one turned toward others, the many). A full understanding of the word catholic implies not uniformity but a dynamic openness to all peoples and cultures with their different ways of expressing their belief, both Catholic and otherwise. Thus by definition, the Catholic Church is catholic in scope. 

The word universal suggests using “a compass to make a circle around a central point.  It is an inclusive concept in the sense that the circle includes everything within it.  But by the same token, it also excludes everything outside it” (Ibid).  While “universal connotes a subtle note of negativity, katholicos does not. Accordingly, the Church is not universal but catholic in “the sense that it has always been in one place or another growing, spreading into new dough, in accord with the parable of the yeast” (Ibid).  Like yeast, the Church enters other cultures and is inculturated wherever it finds itself—today and tomorrow, nourished by Christ through his Body.

Yeast from Other Cultures

Other cultures also have a yeast that can permeate the Church to make it grow. The Church learned much from pagan rhetoric. Thomas Aquinas interpreted Aristotle.  In our own day, Catholic teaching has benefited not only from the personalist philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand and Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J. but also from that of Martin Buber.

The Catholic Church does not destroy other cultures, but it interpenetrates them, and not only on its own terms, but interactively.

The Oriental Churches

During the Second Vatican Council, the Churches of the Christian East, both Catholic and Orthodox, served as leaven regarding several pivotal decisions in the Latin Church, thereby enriching it.  The latter made available the possibility of receiving the Eucharist under both species of bread and wine, a practice that is typical in liturgies of the Christian East. The Latin Church restored the Order of the permanent male diaconate, a decision that has renewed the ministerial dimension of laymen both during the Liturgy and in other lay ministries.  After all, ordained male deacons were an integral part of the Early Church as were ordained women deacons who also served in ministries of prayer, teaching, pastoral care, and social concern. The Oriental Churches champion the role of deaconesses, some of whom are Orthodox theologians (Kyriaki Karidoyanes FitzGerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church). 

The Eastern Catholic Churches, whose heritage is closely identified with the Orthodox Churches, are still grappling with their individual identities because, for years, they have suffered from what is known as Latinization. This term connotes “the modification of Eastern liturgies, customs, and modes of thought by undiscriminating adoption of foreign practices and submission to foreign influences [which] mostly come from the West” (Donald Attwater, The Christian Churches of the East, 1: 27).

Latinization is rooted in the belief that the Latin Church is better than the Eastern. Many instances of Latinization have impeded the proper celebration of Eastern liturgical rites according to their sacred and longstanding customs. Latinization in liturgy and its art forms have occurred since the sixteenth century. Some examples of Latin influence include the removal of icon screens to insure architectural conformity of the Eastern Catholic Churches to the Latin Church. Some Eastern Catholic Churches have replaced the sung liturgy with the recited liturgy, a drastic change weakening the exalted atmosphere intended for the Byzantine service. Moreover, the use of pre-cut particles of bread instead of breaking the bread dilutes the meaning of the scripture verse: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10: 17).

The most significant of all Latinizations concerns clerical celibacy, a twentieth-century phenomenon. As Eastern clergy from East and Central Europe immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century, the North American Latin Church would not accept the legitimate prevailing tradition of married priests in the Christian East. 

In 1929, the Vatican decreed in “Cum Data Fuerit”, (“When it shall have been given”) that the secular clergy of the Byzantine Ruthenian Rite, desiring to come to the United States had to be celibate.  The following excerpt is taken from the decree: “The priests who wish to come to the United States and stay there, must be celibates” (Art. 12).  Associations of the faithful of the Greek Ruthenian Rite shall be under the vigilance of the [the local Roman Catholic] bishops” (Art. 37). 

Roman Catholic bishops in this country directed married priests to return to their native lands despite the needs of newly-settled immigrants in the United States. In places other than North America, secular priests of the Eastern Churches retained their tradition of a married clergy. While papal encyclicals guaranteed the preservation of the legitimate Rites and established way of life in Eastern Catholic Churches, a satisfactory resolution of this issue has not been found. Several years ago, I had the occasion of speaking to an elderly married priest of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite.  He referred to himself as "the last of the Mohicans."

Despite such problems, the Christian East is slowly regaining its lost heritage.  Through education, Oriental Christians do not feel culturally inferior or pressured into imitating Roman Catholics for the sake of acceptance. Theological and liturgical identities have emerged stronger than before, thus enabling Eastern Catholics to reclaim their rightful heritage. The contributions of the Oriental Churches enrich the Catholic Church as a whole. Both yeast and dough work for the good of human beings. This approach is catholic.

Can Yeast Be a Corruptive Influence?

More in The Way of Beauty

The image of yeast is not always used in a favorable sense. In 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, St. Paul mentions what all Jews understood:  At the Paschal festival time, they were to destroy all yeasted products because leaven was a metaphor for the corruptive influence of evil that is, for puffing up the self, leaving no room for God. Proofing the yeast in warm water will yield bubbles around the surface, and the yeast will become puffed up if it does not interact with the flour dough—white, whole wheat, or rye. The puffed up yeast will die. In this sense, the Latin Church cannot afford to be puffed up with such pride and righteousness as though it has all the answers for the good of the entire Catholic Church.

Two important questions may be asked.  First, how can Western (Latin) Catholics learn to appreciate diversity within the whole Church without surrendering their own identity? Second, how can we become one in heart and in spirit, that is, how can diversity lead to unanimity?

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