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The Heresy of Formlessness

The Heresy of Formlessness

The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy

By Martin Mosebach

218 pp

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About the Book

First published in 2003, The Heresy of Formlessness is already a modern classic, unique for its melding of poetic shimmer and keen observation. Martin Mosebach offers up a compelling defense of the traditional Roman Rite and a searing critique of the postconciliar liturgical reform through which ancient rites were profaned by tone-deaf modernizers. For Mosebach, the only coherent solution to this crisis is a wholehearted return to the old Latin liturgy in its tightly-woven symbolic texture of prayer and chant, gesture and ceremonial—the rich heritage of its “mystic benedictions” (Trent). Long out of print, this revised and expanded edition will be the more welcome for its six new chapters and foreword by eminent moral philosopher Robert Spaemann.


“Martin Mosebach has identified the central issue of the debate about liturgical reform, which is really a debate about the nature and mission of the Church. This issue is not an argument or factual claim, but an insidious cultural habit of mind which encourages the thought that the outward form of a thing is incidental to its inner meaning and value, and that when a form reflects its contents it must lack authenticity: it must be a fake. But this idea is incompatible with all symbolism, all ritual, and all but the most degraded art. Mosebach’s opposition to this habit of mind is indispensable, and his account of the power of the liturgy is luminous. The Heresy of Formlessness is one of the most important books on the liturgy to be published in the last half-century, and among those certainly the most accessible. I recommend it to everyone.”


Chairman, Latin Mass Society of England & Wales 

“From the day of its initial publication, Martin Mosebach’s The Heresy of Formlessness has remained the preeminent apologia for the cause of the Traditional Mass. Written with the skill of a great novelist, Heresy makes the case for Tradition based on colorfully- and precisely-described facts and experiences—and always with reference to the author’s profound knowledge of both Western and Eastern liturgies. To those who already love the Traditional Mass—as well as those who just want to find out what it’s all about—I can only say ‘buy this book!’”


President, Society of St. Hugh of Cluny

The Heresy of Formlessness is the greatest book ever written on liturgical form. The source and summit of the Church’s life is a sacrifice and a sacrament, and therefore also a work of art. Here one of the foremost literary artists of our time shows how the supernatural depths of the liturgy are present in its external artistic form.”


O.Cist., Vice-Rector, Leopoldinum, Heiligenkreuz

“‘Tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the fire.’ In describing how he did not discover the beauty and wealth of the faith until he experienced the solemn vetus ordo liturgy, Martin Mosebach speaks from the heart of the generation that came of age after 1960. He shows how important are profound music, majestic rites, and inspired architecture and painting for true service to God. For him, the liturgy is the ‘faith-language’ of the Church. Words and phrases may alter slowly to convey and deepen the lasting content over time, but the grammar does not change—for arbitrarily changed grammar silences prior meaning in language. Mosebach’s work undertakes to give Tradition back its voice.”


Chairman, Pro Missa Tridentina

The Heresy of Formlessness exposes how the mentality that considered Form as a distraction from the truths of the faith provoked a widespread suppression of inherited Tradition, leaving a void filled by new expressions lacking spiritual content, and often ridiculous. In contrast to this path of decadence, Martin Mosebach offers us a text replete with remarkable examples and concrete experiences—helping us discover through our own senses and reasoning the beauty of the liturgical forms, leading us to a better understanding of the Divine Mystery of the Incarnation and sacrifice of Christ.”


President, Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce

“One of the deepest and most insightful books ever written on the Roman liturgy, The Heresy of Formlessness has lost nothing of its relevance since its first publication; on the contrary, Mosebach’s diagnosis proves ever more therapeutic as the disease progresses. The note sounded is, however, not one of despair but of faith in the power of tradition to reassert itself even in hostile times.”


author of Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness

“A landmark assessment of the liturgical debacle of our time from the unusual perspective of a novelist of the first rank. Martin Mosebach’s insights will surprise traditionalists, even as they infuriate the dogged defenders of the collapse of the liturgy.”


author of Liberty, the God That Failed

“Modern western pluralism thrives on formlessness and sees in any attempt to establish forms and norms with claims to transcendent and universal significance a dagger aimed at its heart. It elevates endless searching and flux above civilization and culture-building of all kinds. Martin Mosebach, in his extraordinarily readable and inimitable manner, clearly demonstrates how such evangelical formlessness in the liturgy can never assure the proper worship of God. He shows us how form and beauty—here, as in every aspect of life—are not aesthetic ‘extras’ in establishing man’s correct relationship to his Creator, but an essential element in identifying and maintaining that relationship.”


author of Black Legends and the Light of the World 

About the Author

Martin Mosebach, born in Frankfurt am Main, studied law, and has published eleven novels, many short stories, essays, poems, scripts for dramas, opera libretti, theater pieces, and radio plays. He is actively engaged in dialogue on contemporary issues through contributions to daily papers & magazines. Apart from many other awards, he was honored in 2007 with Germany’s foremost literary award, the “Georg-Büchner-Preis,” in 2013 with the “Literature-Award of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation,” and in 2015 with the “Goethe-Award of the City of Frankfurt am Main.” His most recent books include The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy (Angelico, 2018), and The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs (Plough, 2019).

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