Thursday, 13 December 2007

A Marvellous Tool

I've only skimmed the contents, but the new website the Congregation for Clergy has released is downright marvellous and I've not seen its equal online. Go have a look.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Some light bedside reading ...

PRESENTATION OF "PROCESSUS CONTRA TEMPLARIOS"

VATICAN CITY, OCT 25, 2007 (VIS) - At 11.30 a.m. this morning in the Vatican's Old Synod Hall, the presentation took place of the book "Processus Contra Templarios," the third volume of the Vatican Secret Archives' "Exemplaria Praetiosa" series, which is being issued in collaboration with the Scrinium publishing house.

The book contains facsimile copies of the original acts of the hearing against the Knights Templar (1308-1311) which are kept in the Vatican Secret Archives, while an accompanying volume contains a critical edition of the transcription of the acts (from Schottmuller's transcription of 1877). The new book has a print run of just 799 copies and has already been ordered by collectors, scholars and libraries from all over the world.

"Processus Contra Templarios" was presented by Archbishop Raffaele Farina S.D.B., archivist and librarian of Holy Roman Church; Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives; Barbara Frale and Marco Maiorino, officials of the Vatican Secret Archives; Franco Cardini, a professor of mediaeval history; Valerio Massimo Manfredi, an author and archaeologist; and Ferdinando Santoro, president of Scrinium."

ARCH/PROCESSUS CONTRA TEMPLARIOS/... VIS 071025 (190)

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Lesson #943 of the Inner Life

Do not overdramatize your sins.

Your soul is not Broadway, and besides, it's counterproductive.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Unsated

Lust is a fountain of thirst. Those who drink from it,
fill their mouths with sand and their stomachs
with the weight of a hungry inertia.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

... ἀγαπῶμεν ὅτι πρῶτος ἠγάπησεν ...

You know who and what I am.
You persist in loving me.

Of these, I live and breathe.

Monday, 17 September 2007

A Guess

Were Immanuel Kant devoutly Christian, the doctrine he would be most capable of expounding would be the hypostatic union.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Tracing the Silver Lines

Reading the St. John of the Cross' Spiritual Canticle in the bath tonight, the following stanza shone:
O spring like crystal!
If only, on your silvered-over faces,
you would suddenly form
the eyes I have desired,
which I bear sketched deep within my heart.
The words of the Mystical Doctor illustrate poignantly an analogous (mark that word!) experience that I have been having for many months now.
I struggle to pray. I do not mean the sudden blazes of prayer that no-one can resist, which strike unexpectedly in the most mundane of circumstances ... nor do I mean that my belief in the Apostolic Faith has in any way waned. What I mean is perhaps hard to explain, but I shall try.
If I utter His Name in the forced silence of my heart, the fingers of my soul trace carefully, lingeringly, the silver outline of a cross. But I cannot feel it; It is cold, but only in the absence of heat.
The days where the rhythm of the liturgical hours were as a second heartbeat have passed, and I beat upon the winds to return to it, but I have not. I dare not say I cannot.
I no longer want contemplation, or piety, or studiousness, or diligence, or knowledge of the truth. What I want is Christ. Just and simply, Christ. Whatever proceeds forth from him then, may be.
How I hate the piety of these words, and how I hate the saintly image they construct.

Christ, banish these illusions!
Be.
Let me be.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Musing on a Spring Morning

lente is winter volbring
die wereld se ysharte bloei
sagkens in die wind strelend
die smarte wat sing


(and translated)


spring is winter's fulfillment
the frozen hearts bleeding vibrant
lulled by the satin breeze:
sorrow's symphony

Thursday, 30 August 2007

b'midhbar

hear me holy pilgrims
you dusty mongrel lot perpetually
mumbling and grumbling while you
devour the bread of angels and
the portion of the orphan and widow

seek while there is still finding
knock while the bronze brazen
doors are locked and silent

for He loves
and all things fade

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Musica Dei Donum


The excellent South African online shop kalahari.net recently had a sale on Naxos CDs, the overwhelming majority of which sell at ±R14 (±$2). That includes double CDs. Of course, I forsook all fiscal reason and ordered, ordered, ordered ...
I have so many musical delights to absorb I shall be commenting about them for some time to come. A few preliminary notes:
  • Oliver Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time does not appeal to me. At all. I do, in fact, enjoy some serialist works: Pärt's Collage über B-A-C-H is curiously pleasant once you adjust yourself to the dissonances. There seems to be an art to listening to dissonances much like there is an art to listening to severely threaded polyphony. Yet my perseverance peters out quite quickly with Messiaen, and I fear not even the unique place of its composition (a Nazi concentration camp) can redeem it for me.


  • The great tragedy of my musical life is that I have not been introduced to the organ works of Healley Willan. I listened to his Prelude & Fugue in C minor on the way to work this week. At one stage I feared for my speakers, but dared not adjust the volume. The usual cadre of pamphlet distributors fled before the blaze of full organ, and I swooned in sheer delight when the fugue plunged into the bass registers in the conclusion.


  • If the Introduction to Bach: Brandenburg Concerto's (sic) 4 & 5 is indicative of the series, then these audio guides of Naxos are truly exquisite, and my recommendation is warm, immediate and exuberant. The same goes for the Discover series, of which I obtained the Early Music version, whose accompanying booklet is superb, though the CD would be worth it solely on the basis of Léonin's Viderunt Omnes. The ethereal sound of that atavistic plainchant-based polyphony ... ah!


  • "Early music" continues to intrigue and fascinate me, and the CD "From Byzantium to Andalusia" is no exception. Two particular jewels are the startlingly Arabic Kyrie from Lebanon and the evocative hymn to Mary: Stella Splendens in Monte. The prior has as its everpresent base the Greek invocations one might expect, but its stanza's include Arabic which I cannot translate. I can only make out the words peace, Messiah, Mary, God. Mmm. Most of the tracks on this CD are fourteenth century and earlier, and a sizable proportion have a feel or style generally (though often erroneously) thought to be "Arabic" or "Middle-Eastern".


  • O Franz Josef! O Haydn! Forgive my doubt of your prowess! Your Die Schöpfung is glorious in so many ways I know not how to praise it enough. You surpassed even Händel, who inspired you to the oratorio.

Bad but Good!


I finished The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey & Song quite a while back. I have not enjoyed a book to such a degree for a very long time, and I can without the slightest tinge of deception say that I laughed out loud at least every second page.


The humour is exquisite, the history interesting, the theology enthusiastic and refreshing, and the anecdotes delightful. If someone asks me soon what I enjoy most about the Faith, I'll give them this book; It epitomizes the unaffected, delightful way Catholics (should) view life and faith. Yes, that does include the section which gives the variant version of that saccharine ditty "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" as "Jesus Wants Me For A Hailstone ... To Smite The Heathen and Heretic".


A delight on so many levels, and I am glad I decided, rather impulsively, to buy it after reading The Curt Jester's review (Alright, the cover clinched it even before I started reading ... ). My sole deprecation would be to note that almost all the recipes given in the book are rather high-brow and unlikely to be used.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

An Ever-Surprising Truth



I am amazed repeatedly.





Neither Confession nor the approach to it gets any easier.





At all.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Caveat!


While at a Catholic bookshop in Kensington, run by the Daughters of St. Paul, I came across a Thomas Merton "Book of Hours" which was essentially poetic pieces of work snippered into sections corresponding to the sections of the Breviary. I think he would have been appalled to see his creations supplant the Psalms in any person's life of prayer.

Do not mistake the target of my ire ... Thomas Merton's writings are as balm to my soul. But supplanting the Scriptural rhythm of the hours wholly with devotional writings, however great, is to me a profound mistake.


Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Uh oh. Not good.

Yet another parishioner asked me after Mass whether I am studying for the priesthood.

"Encore" is a terrible word for the spirit

How often are we not confronted with a sense of frustration when we feel the plethora of brimming reality before us in an "existential moment", and yet cannot pierce it, cannot absorb it, cannot bring it to fruition in the midst of our being?

Yet beware: It is more futile still to attempt to capture it by means of recalling your past experiences of it. Every moment is new, and you will dissipate yourself if you attempt to encircle each moment with that which came before it.

"For we have sinned, and grown old and our Father is younger than we." - GK Chesterton.

Monday, 30 July 2007

I thought I'd be Jerome...







You’re
St. Melito of Sardis!

You have a great love of history and liturgy. You’re attached to the traditions of the ancients, yet you recognize that the old world — great as it was — is passing away. You are loyal to the customs of your family, though you do not hesitate to call family members to account for their sins.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!



Wednesday, 18 July 2007

How Long, O Lord

how long, o lord, how long
the months silence-bereft have stretched
their non-attentive branches to heaven
like the shy-whispered curses of children.

I have no daughters of this starving Jerusalem
to weep for their infants, numb and fruitful
only in complacent barrenness.

Therefore, grant me
a living heart from the fathomless abyss
of silent silence, ringing out in praise,

...yet
let not even my senses know the gift,
for the greater gift is you.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

A Responsa from the Holy Office

I can hardly avoid little outbursts of glee when I read this new document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

DOCUMENT REGARDING CERTAIN ASPECTS OF CHURCH DOCTRINE

VATICAN CITY, JUL 10, 2007 (VIS) - Made public today was a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: "Responses to some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church." It is dated June 29, Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, and bears the signatures of Cardinal William Joseph Levada and Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B., respectively prefect and secretary of the congregation.

The document has been published in Latin, Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. The complete English-language version is given below:

"Introduction

"The Second Vatican Council, with its Dogmatic Constitution 'Lumen gentium,' and its Decrees on ecumenism ('Unitatis redintegratio') and the Oriental Churches ('Orientalium Ecclesiarum'), has contributed in a decisive way to the renewal of Catholic ecclesiology. The Supreme Pontiffs have also contributed to this renewal by offering their own insights and orientations for praxis: Paul VI in his Encyclical Letter 'Ecclesiam suam' (1964) and John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter 'Ut unum sint' (1995).

"The consequent duty of theologians to expound with greater clarity the diverse aspects of ecclesiology has resulted in a flowering of writing in this field. In fact it has become evident that this theme is a most fruitful one which, however, has also at times required clarification by way of precise definition and correction, for instance in the declaration 'Mysterium Ecclesiae' (1973), the Letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church 'Communionis notio' (1992), and the declaration 'Dominus Iesus' (2000), all published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"The vastness of the subject matter and the novelty of many of the themes involved continue to provoke theological reflection. Among the many new contributions to the field, some are not immune from erroneous interpretation which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt. A number of these interpretations have been referred to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Given the universality of Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the Magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate.

"Responses to the Questions

"First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?

"Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

"This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council. Paul VI affirmed it and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: 'There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation.' The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention.

"Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

"Response: Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church and instituted it as a 'visible and spiritual community', that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. 'This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. ... This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him'.

"In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution 'Lumen Gentium' 'subsistence' means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

"It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word 'subsists' can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the 'one' Church); and this 'one' Church subsists in the Catholic Church.

"Third Question: Why was the expression 'subsists in' adopted instead of the simple word 'is'?

"Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth' which are found outside her structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity.'

"'It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.'

"Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term 'Church' in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?

"Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. 'Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all - because of the apostolic succession - the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds,' they merit the title of 'particular or local Churches,' and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches.

'It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature.' However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches.

"On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realized in history.

"Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of 'Church' with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

"Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense.

"The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ratified and confirmed these Responses, adopted in the Plenary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their publication."

The Responses are accompanied by a commentary which explains: "In this document the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is responding to a number of questions concerning the overall vision of the Church which emerged from the dogmatic and ecumenical teachings of the Second Vatican Council. ... The Council 'of the Church on the Church'."

"This new document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which essentially summarizes the teaching of the Council and the post-conciliar Magisterium, constitutes a clear reaffirmation of Catholic doctrine on the Church. Apart from dealing with certain unacceptable ideas which have unfortunately spread around the Catholic world, it offers valuable indications for the future of ecumenical dialogue. This dialogue remains one of the priorities of the Catholic Church. ... However, if such dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith."

"Catholic ecumenism might seem, at first sight, somewhat paradoxical. The Second Vatican Council II used the phrase 'subsistit in' in order to try to harmonize two doctrinal affirmations: on the one hand, that despite all the divisions between Christians the Church of Christ continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand that numerous elements of sanctification and truth do exist outwith the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church whether in the particular Churches or in the ecclesial Communities that are not fully in communion with the Catholic Church."

"Although the Catholic Church has the fullness of the means of salvation, 'nevertheless, the divisions among Christians prevent the Church from effecting the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her.' The fullness of the Catholic Church, therefore, already exists, but still has to grow in the brethren who are not yet in full communion with it and also in its own members who are sinners."

CDF/CHURCH DOCTRINE/AMATO:LEVADA VIS 070710 (1600)

You can find the complete English version here, and a link to a complete Latin version here.

This document comes at an excellent and necessary time.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Gasp!

Quickly! Head over to the Charterhouse of St. Hugh's bookshop. You can buy the DVD Into Great Silence there!

Mesités

When an unavoidable duty or circumstance of unpleasant quality crosses my path, I respond with irritation, anger, and a defensive reaction. That is, I act as any child does when faced with the iron wall of parental indifference: by throwing a tantrum.

Now to be sure, my reason rightly judges that these actions are futile and remove neither unseasonable circumstance nor irksome duty; My fruitless anger divorces passion from reason.

Little wonder then my life is so rudderless when the storms come.
Christ,
Mediator,
Mercy.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Back!

I've returned from a quick but wondrous vacation in Cape Town with a dear friend, and should get back to more regular blogging once I can finish a badly procrastinated Latin assignment.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Piercing My Inmost with Fire

"I need to be led by you. I need my heart to be moved by you.
I need my soul to be made clean by your prayer. I need my will to be made strong by you.
I need the world to be saved and changed by you.
I need you for all those who suffer, who are in prison, in danger, in sorrow.
I need you for all the crazy people. I need your healing hand to work always in my life.
I need you to make me, as you made your Son, a healer, a comforter, a savior.
I need you to name the dead.
I need you to help the dying cross their particular rivers.
I need you for myself whether I live or die.
I need to be your monk and your son.

It is necessary. Amen."
- Thomas Merton

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Divertissimenti

Society seems almost completely geared to make life a perpetual diversion from the central realities, an evasion which if not laborious must certainly be entertaining. Work, play, hobbies, friends, these all become not avenues towards an integrated and coherent discovery of life and the soul, but a continual paraphrase of "Eat! Drink! Tomorrow we die!".

Those who dedicate the center of their lives, then, to the pursuit of Reality, must seem either useless or heroic. I think it is in this sense that the monastic life is called prophetic, because it "speaks for" reality by means of visible elements that the divertissimenti cannot wholly silence.

In this context it is not difficult to understand the relative success of Die Grosse Stille.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus?

If that traditional saying makes your theological skin crawl, read this excellent post at The Shrine of the Holy Whapping.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Sheol

I walk among the graves
of your soul, weeping,
wetting your epitaphs,
so eloquent, with
the tears of a harlot.

I utter to them the
words you would not hear,
for my harshness would
cloak their worth,
and I lisp as I speak.

Cold earth, cold morning.
Breathless dawn, tired.

I trespass unwillingly,
since I am found here,
having ears to hear,
but no hands to touch,
an impotent oracle
and arrogant!

Perhaps my only boon
to this place of slumber
is the tears that wet
the graves of your fathers
long slain by the illusions
holding sway
beating the land into
submission.

Cold earth, cold morning.
Breathless dawn, tired.

I meet you amidst the dead
and you flee from
my face, silent rebuke,
and just. For I am
uninvited, foreign.

My speech is to you
alien. Ill-understood
and loud. Yet we have
come so far, you and I
though our paths never
would touch, except by
fragrant similarity.

Cold earth, cold morning.
Breathless dawn, tired.

Make a draught, my eyes,
of silver mercy, and pour
it out amidst my sins.
Entreat Him to relent,
and have mercy, for
there is no eye open
to mourn for the dead,
not even mine, for I
friend
am blind.

There is Hope in Zimbabwe

And you can find a depiction of it here.

I was disturbed this morning to find that the priest did not recite St. Francis' Prayer for Peace after the General Intercessions, as our bishops have instructed, so as to entreat Almighty God for the catastrophe of our northern neighbours.

Rex Tremendae Maiestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva nos.

Good Lord deliver us ...

... from the Devil, the Plague and THIS.

Monday, 9 April 2007

All Your Waves & Your Torrents Have Washed Over Me

The solemn mysteries that pass by and through us during the Sacred Triduum are of such magnitude, such inexpressibly profundity, that one is tempted, on Easter Sunday, to feel as if you had not quite absorbed it all.
But you have. It is in the water scattered upon you, it is in the essential memory of the chrism-cross on your brow, it resides in the unreachable recesses of your soul where the Presence dwells Eucharistically. You have all of Eastertide to rejoice it, and all the Ordinary Year to ruminate on it.
Duc in altum!

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Nolite obdurare...


Holiness, to the unprepared
heart breathes fire so
luminous that the very
sky would break and
shatter. Thus fear
accompanies desire.

The Little Flower


I am struck again at how the sanctity of St. Thérèse started, not with great renunciations (though she had these), nor lofty contemplation (though this she was given), nor a determined life of penance (though this she lived), but in the simple, wholly unnoticed and seemingly inconsequential little obediences and self-denials of her way of life.

I imperil my soul if I think these only proper to those under vows.

Lord, in Your Will is our peace.

Awake, My Soul!

Often the only recourse when all else has gone, is to persist in believing that you are the object of the Infinite, Eternal and All-Knowing Love of God. To hold in the seemingly hidden corners of your heart that somehow if only He knew your true depths He would not be so foolish: that is the crack through which despairs flows in its dull and numbing grey trickle.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

(Sigh of Delight)


This morning I attended the Inaugural Academic Mass at Holy Trinity Braamfontein, which the Papal Nuncio for Southern Africa, His Excellency the Reverend Archbishop James Green celebrated.


Glory of glories, delight of delights, joy of joys. A reprieve from the perpetual liturgical abuses of my home parish. A chanted Pater! No swarm of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion! No handholding and pseudo-Orans waving! Chanting of all the right sections! Bowing at the et incarnatus est! Breastbeating at the mea culpa! Silences observed! The Roman Canon!


This Wednesday they are celebrating Ash Wednesday with a solemn Mass, completely in Latin according to the Novus Ordo. Oh My Lord & God, thou art too gracious for words. What glorious gifts. Would that all parishes had such respect for the Divine Mysteries!

Imprisoned in Ourselves

A perennial peril for those who are of peculiar temperament or skill lies in the perceptions that grow about them in social circles. A bright young child, for instance, gains a reputation as being intelligent. Or an eclectic visionary gains a reputation as being exotic or eccentric.

This is fine and well, in as much as this reflects truth and leads not to haughtiness. It is, however, often the case that this social perception becomes a role. The person is expected to act in a certain manner and fashion, hence the peril: I must act in such a way, because I must sustain this aura of prowess, of 'specialness', of 'otherness'. Such thoughts are, of course, not conscious, but they eventually come to a dim light as one progresses in prayer, especially silent recollection.

This is hypocrisy, and we must face and slay it in ourselves if we are to become whole.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Recurrent Thought on The Fountain

The twice repeated image of Tom, as the Spanish conquistador in the first chronological strand of the film, kneeling before a monstrance in which is placed some of the Queen's hair ... has returned to me twice today. Why was this done? Certainly, it must be symbolic, for such a reality would be unthinkable. Does it convey the sense that in the first strands he places her in too exalted a place in his life and devotion? And that in the second strand, he clings to her with too great a possession? In the last he yields and 'loses her', thus regaining All?

An exquisite film.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Death is the Road to Awe

I watched The Fountain today, having had to drive out to a mall with a Cinema Nouveau "art film" cinema in it, since the film was not showing on the normal circuits.

I now know why, and for the same reason it has been trashed in every single local review I have read: It is an extended musing on death. There is no plot to drive it (indeed, the elements of plot that give framework to the musing are only such as to sustain it, no more), and the three separate strands cannot be connected concretely. The other main character, Izzi Creo* lives only in the second contemporary strand, even though her existence expands into the two adjacent threads through the medium of her literary creation "The Fountain". The first strand is set, I presume, in sixteenth century Spain **, while the third is set in some distant future.

I think the key to understanding the film lies in understanding the main characters as archetypal. Its theme, as I have said, is death. The wife's cancer sounds the bell of inevitable mortality, and this inevitability is mirrored across the other two strands in her corresponding existence as the Spanish Queen in the first, and as the Tree of Life incarnation in the third. As queen she is opposed by the mythical figure of the Grand Inquisitor, a cruel and overstylized figure painted with deliberate exaggeration, who will have her executed for attempting to seek an eternal existence in the earthly sense. I should note here, for those who still hold to such propagandist views, that the Grand Inquisitor was not a dictatorial post (indeed, he could be curbed or overriden by the Suprema, the supreme inquisitorial council) and that the Spanish Inquisition was not as catastrophic a punitive body as is commonly believed. Though it was not without cruelty, it must be remembered that its punishments were not incongruous with secular equivalents (indeed its prisons were often better maintained on the whole - so much so that long-serving prisoners, even priests, have "faked" heresy so that they would be transferred to inquisitorial prisons!), and that executions were fairly normal punishments in the secular sphere. I am no historical white-washer: the anti-Semitism and flawed judicial form of the Inquisition is to me scandal and grief, no matter how much it can be explained as giving expression to the "Spanish temper". But we must place the Holy Office in Spain in its historical context and rid ourselves of the propaganda we have been fed about its supposedly epochal evils. Nonetheless, I do not believe the film wishes to inculcate consciously this image in the minds of the viewers, since the figure of the Grand Inquisitor is so obviously enlarged beyond all proportion (notice how he has already supposedly siezed three-quarters of Spain, and will now move against the Crown). This leads me to think that the Inquisitor becomes a symbol of religion and truth corrupted and skewed to dominate and oppress. In any case, from a Catholic perspective, the Inquisitor's insistence that the body is the "prison of the soul" is an old Gnostic heresy long condemned.

But back to the film. The mirrored incarnation of Izzi in third strand of the future is at threat simply because the Tree of Life, through whom she then lives, is dying. A beautiful ring links all three strands. In the first strand, it is given by the Queen to the conquistador, who fails to place it upon his finger when he "discovers Eden" as he was royally commanded. In the second strand, the main character loses the ring (which functions here as a wedding ring) and does not recover it. In the third strand, it is recovered and used, resulting in the consummation of death and rebirth. I believe that the ring symbolizes the acceptance of death. In the first, it is given but lost because of an avarice of life. Both queen and conquistador cling to this life, and in doing so lose the path to the Life that requires death. In the second, it is lost in the struggle to conquer death. While in the first strand, an acquiring greed wishes conquer death, in the second, technological prowess and ingenuity attempts to thwart it. Both fail, of course. In the third, consummating, strand, however, the main character realizes all this and passes into the acceptance of death. He recovers the ring, and through the medium of it, accepts his own death and the death of his wife Izzi. In so doing, he passes into the existence beyond death he could not possess without dying: life eternal.

The film is intensely religious, overtly so in the meditative lotus position of the character in the final strand and the quotation from Genesis at the introduction, and I must admit that it can be given a reincarnationist slant. However, I do not think it does, for the theme of the film is consummation in death: "Death is the Road to Awe". But of course, we do not feel awe passively, it is a response to something, or better, Someone. If death is the "road to awe", then it is not inimical to the film to extrapolate from it that the encounter in death with Reality is the ulimate event of all human life, and it will define our existence. This, of course, now comes within the concrete orbit of Christian eschatology, especially as speculatively put forward in the works of Ladislaus Boros. I do not think this necessarily far-fetched since the Mayan mythic figure of the "First Father" who sacrifices himself to bring forth the world, can be clarified as Christ who in His sacrificial death and resurrection as the Final Adam, raised the First Adam to Life Everlasting. These are all deeply personal reflections prodded into being by the film, and I suspect each person will upon reflection have another take on it. I am sure it can be given different slants, and I shall not therefore pontificate on its objective content. But go watch it, I urge you! It is splendidly done visually, and the music is extraordinarily fitting (worth buying the soundtrack for).

As I watched the final, sensually stunning scene of consummation-in-death, I reflected: The End will be more glorious than this, and I am not yet willing to sacrifice even a mere moment of self-comfort to pursue it.

Update: I have found another reviewer online who also sees in this film profound spiritual elements. He even sees in the eating of the tree in the last strand a Eucharistic element. Amazing!

* - Can I in happy naïveté imagine this to be the first person singular creare?
** - I do this on the basis of the existence of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, though of course it continued well into the eighteenth. Nonetheless, its overstylized portrayal lead me to postulate the sixteenth.

The Inquisition and Propaganda

I finished Henry Kamen's The Spanish Inquisition: An (sic) Historical Revision a while ago. It was an exquisite, scholarly, painstakingly detailed and researched work on the Spanish Inquisition. I cannot adequately summarize the work without running to great length, but suffice to say that the stereotypical portrayals are enormously wrong. A few points from the book:

  • Excepting Castile, the Inquisition did not directly affect most of the Spanish population, especially those in rural areas.
  • The inquisitorial prisons were on the whole better than secular equivalents in Spain.
  • It almost completely avoided the witch-burning craze when this swept across England and France.
  • The Crown deliberately opposed papal control of the Inquisition, especially when the Papacy moved to curb both its power and excesses.
  • Except when it interfered in secular matters, it was supported, with reserve, by the Spanish people.
  • Proportionally, very few Protestants were punished by the Inquisition.
  • After the first twenty years, executions were not commonplace, and in the whole of its existence as little as 2% or 3% of those punished, were punished capitally. This is less than the secular proportion.
  • In sections of its history, other countries (esp. the Netherlands) executed more people than Spain.

Nonetheless, if the book has dispelled the bloody and evil aura so often pervading the traditional "Inquisition", it has certainly brought home the inherent injustice of some of its judicial aspects (secret witnesses and testimony, usage of sheer hearsay), and the way in which it focused the racialism of sixteenth century Spain, rather than abolishing it. While we can argue that its effects were not on a whole nearly as catastrophic as has been supposed, it remains wholly true that to converso communities (Muslim & Jewish converts, often forced to convert due to economic/social pressure and inevitabilities) it was indeed catastrophic and abominable, and rightly did John Paul the Great apologize publicly for the faults of the Church during that time, for we failed both Jew and Muslim, neglecting to let the Light of Christ transform the narrow cruelty of human sectarianism.

Is This Even a Dialogue?

I read Belief or Nonbelief? a while ago. While the entirety of the booklet was most enjoyable and instructive, it was far too short, of no engaging substance, and not nearly reciprocal enough to merit the title of "dialogue". Nonetheless, I enjoyed it, if only for Umberto Eco's sake. His marvellous prose is always exquisite, and his erudition delightful. His final defense of the possibility of wholly secular morality seems to me, however, to be flawed. Beautiful and noble, but flawed. Morality is not possible without some transcendent or religious backing. An expediency approximating morality, certainly, but not morality in the whole of its sense.

Speaking of Eco, I really should read The Island of the Day Before. Bought it in hardcover ages ago ...


L'Athéisme est morte!

Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism is very well written and thought-provoking, and I think it well underscores what I have long guessed: the challenge of the world is no longer that it does not believe in any Deity, but that it believes in any deity, or believes without allowing that belief to alter its course. McGrath shows convincingly that atheism in its full form (as opposed to mere agnostic indifference) is no longer a viable cultural force, and the increase in pitch and volume in its contemporary adherents only underscore this fact.

Which makes one think: if the first century largely came to disbelieve in the "old gods" and gave itself up to a myriad of spiritualities without objective center, and that was indeed the kairos moment at which the preaching of the Gospel would be most fruitful, then can we not have hope for this age of the world also? For today we have passed beyond unquestioned atheism into a relativistic plethora of spiritualities. Perhaps the ground is being cleared for a renewal of faith. Perhaps it has already begun.

Postcriptum: Another startling aspect of the book, but personally so, since I am a convert to the Faith, lies in this passage:
"To suggest a link between Protestantism and atheism might, at first sight, seem improbable, perhaps even bizarre. How could a movement so dedicated to the propagation of the Christian faith conceivably be said to have encouraged the rise of atheism? In making this suggestion, I am drawing together the number of scholarly studies of the origins and development of Protestantism, which indicate that there is a significant link between the movement and the emergence of atheism. Given the importance of this suggestion, however uncomfortable it may be for Protestants (among whom I unabashedly number myself), it is essential to explore its foundations ..."
McGrath then continues to describe, later in the same chapter, how Protestantism carries within it "imaginative failure", and a "disconnection from the sacred". He concretizes many of my tentative ideas.

But all of this begs the question. If Protestantism is the Gospel pure , without the Roman idolatry, then it follows that God wishes His Church to follow teachings which bring about a "disconnection from the sacred" and "imaginative failure" ... clearly false. Yet why then do you remain Protestant, professor McGrath? What reflects so alarmingly in the waters of the Tiber that you will not cross them?

Monday, 8 January 2007

Can you hear me ...

... sighing in a wistfulness dangerously close to envy?

Hail, Lamb of God, Hail!


O Medicine of Immortality!

Were it not for Thy Succour on the Journey,
how long ago would I not have perished?

With Thy Ever-Present Help,
how can I not come to the End of All Things?

Gould & Goldberg


There is something contradictory about it, I know, but I like the fact that Glenn Gould hums to himself during his extraordinary 1981 performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations.

This idiosyncrasy of Gould's must have cost the sound engineers much travail. I am glad that they did not excise it more aggressively; It might have removed some of the brilliance of that exquisite fingering of his.

Indirect

our spirits awake the twin seductions
of despair devouring the horizons of the soul
of hope deaf to the cries of the dead

both are illusions and twixt them lie
the mirror of self which no man can wholly behold

but regard, brethren, the futility
of reflection without
Light.