Tuesday, September 30
Move Over, Rio
St. Jerome - "The Scorpion"
Domenico Ghirlandaio, St. Jerome in His Study, 1480. A handsome Renaissance work, that, while filled with the era's distinct classical style, nonetheless retains in this instance the rich iconographic detail of earlier medieval works (though his lion appears to have gone missing in this instance). Formerly on the ponte or roodscreen of the church of the Ognissanti, Florence, it was balanced on the other side by a fresco of St. Augustine. (At least so I have been told). The two are now housed in separate chapels within the church. The scissors are a symbol of biblical exegesis. And yes, we know they did not have cardinals back then. We do not care. They had bishops and they had popes, and that's close enough for me.
Long before I rode the water-taxi to Regla, many wise men and women had already discerned how best to approach such luck. One of these sages was Saint Jerome, the man who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin in the fifth century. Legend had it Saint Jerome used to say, "Have mercy on me, Lord, I am a Dalmatian," [the saint was from Istria in Dalmatia] while he beat his breast with a stone, struggling to suppress his own will and make his soul ready for God's grace. What a wise man. He knew how deeply sin dwells in our own skin. My own worst instincts still lead me to turquoise water, tangerine sunsets, and the judge's seat. I, too, find myself clutching jagged chunks of granite, beating my breast, seeking redemption. But I have to make a slight alteration in Jerome's prayer--a small change that makes a world of difference:
Misere mei, Domine, Cubanus sum.
"Have mercy on me, O Lord, I am a Cuban."
"I like Jerome because he is proof that even grumpy old men can become saints and get into heaven. Apparently, there is room for all temperaments in God's kingdom. [...] In Rome he had a benefactor who later became his best friend, a woman named Paula. She followed him to Bethlehem, and financed his monastery and three convents. When she died, crusty, cantankerous old Jerome was said to be inconsolable." (Source).
And for the kiddies on this feast-day, some juvenile POD just for the occasion. (Source.)
Monday, September 29
Angels with Guns, and More, on Michaelmas
Historic Christianity has always believed in the valour of St. Michael riding in front of the Church Militant, and in an ultimate and absolute pleasure, not indirect or utilitarian, the intoxication of the Spirit, the wine of the blood of God.
Above: Archangel Michael of the Apocalypse, a traditional Orthodox iconographic typology. This one is more pleasantly lurid than usual.
Above: Harquebusier Archangel, Cuzco School, 1680. Museo Nacional De Arte La Paz, Bolivia. It's actually the archangel Asiel, representing the virtue of fear of God, one of the nebulous and shifting collection of four other named archangels besides Michael, Gabriel and Raphael that exists within the Christian (and more often Judaic) imagination. Uriel is another, more consistent member of this group, though since the 745 Council of Rome, has not received official veneration in the calendar. "Angels with guns," as they are sometimes colloquially known, occupy an interesting place in Andean Baroque religious painting, often coming in sets of seven, depicting each angel allied with a virtue and overcoming the opposite vice. (A modern variation on the theme can be found here.)
An Interesting Neo-Colonial Curiosity
These are some shots I took last winter of the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton down near the Battery on the extreme southern tip of Manhattan. It's an interesting curiosity as not only was it constructed in 1965, and thus represents the last, attenuated gasp of architectural normalcy within the archdiocese, but it's also a belated example of the inter- and post-war American Catholic fascination with Colonial classicism spearheaded by Cardinal Mundelein at the seminary named after him in Chicago.
While the idea of a distinctly American expression within liturgical art is certainly a laudable idea, the various experiments in the style tended to be somewhat of a mixed bag, and tended to work better as more Baroque and European classical elements were added to the mix. (In this case, the rather unusual Baroque oval plan of the nave). It is also interesting that as this style came into use, a more distinctly modern and quite uniquely American expression of liturgical art had blossomed in the form of the Gothic revivalism of Cram and Goodhue and their Catholic alter-ego Charles Maginnis.
There are a few other examples of this style in New York, the most successful interior being Corpus Christi, with its winged high altar with equal touches of medieval and Baroque, and the best exterior the pleasantly massive, simple facade of Our Lady of Victory on Wall Street, which blends Colonial with the outline of what might be called Minimalist Gesù Baroque. But that is a subject for another post.
Friday, September 26
Oh, There's No Way This Could Go Wrong
"Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind."
Cf. Father Brown in "The Mistake of the Machine":
Flambeau and his friend the priest were sitting in the Temple Gardens about sunset; and their neighbourhood or some such accidental influence had turned their talk to matters of legal process. From the problem of the licence in cross-examination, their talk strayed to Roman and mediaeval torture, to the examining magistrate in France and the Third Degree in America.Also, while we're at it, here's some vintage jokes from Johnny Carson's/Carnac the Magnificent's mind-reading routine.
"I've been reading," said Flambeau, "of this new psychometric method they talk about so much, especially in America. You know what I mean; they put a pulsometer on a man's wrist and judge by how his heart goes at the pronunciation of certain words. What do you think of it?"
"I think it very interesting," replied Father Brown; "it reminds me of that interesting idea in the Dark Ages that blood would flow from a corpse if the murderer touched it."
"Do you really mean," demanded his friend, "that you think the two methods equally valuable?"
"I think them equally valueless," replied Brown. "Blood flows, fast or slow, in dead folk or living, for so many more million reasons than we can ever know. Blood will have to flow very funnily; blood will have to flow up the Matterhorn, before I will take it as a sign that I am to shed it."
"The method," remarked the other, "has been guaranteed by some of the greatest American men of science."
"What sentimentalists men of science are!" exclaimed Father Brown, "and how much more sentimental must American men of science be! Who but a Yankee would think of proving anything from heart-throbs? Why, they must be as sentimental as a man who thinks a woman is in love with him if she blushes. That's a test from the circulation of the blood, discovered by the immortal Harvey; and a jolly rotten test, too."
"But surely," insisted Flambeau, "it might point pretty straight at something or other."
"There's a disadvantage in a stick pointing straight," answered the other. "What is it? Why, the other end of the stick always points the opposite way. It depends whether you get hold of the stick by the right end. I saw the thing done once and I've never believed in it since."
(Carnac holds the sealed envelope up to his turban)
CARNAC: Sis boom bah.
ED McMAHON: Sis boom bah.
(Carnac rips the envelope open and removes the card)
CARNAC: (reading) Describe the sound made when a sheep explodes.
(Carnac holds the sealed envelope up to his turban)
CARNAC: AWACS missile.
ED McMAHON: AWACS missile.
(Carnac rips the envelope open and removes the card)
CARNAC: (reading) What is Fulton Sheen holding in the new Madame Tussaud's exhibit?.
(Try sounding it out if you don't get it.)
Thursday, September 25
Baroque Rood Screen
Sint Jakobskirche, Antwerp (1491-1656). Via Flickr.
They exist. Consider my mind blown.
From The Onion: "Audio Guide Clearly Hates Degas."
Wednesday, September 24
From the Martyrology of the Holy Whapping
Conditions grew so desperate that Friar Spezia della Zucca, Arbucco's oldest confidant and a former itinerant bartender and amateur alchemist, was sent to work at a local hostelry, where his ill-thought-out attempt to weed out drunkenness by introducing green tea and elaborately-mixed fruit drinks, resulted in the order's ejection and their subsequent flight to the mountain village of Tazo in Umbria. (It seems Italy's first snow-cone was a largely unsuccessful spinoff of all this research.)
At Tazo, the order slowly grew, and adopted a quasi-monastic existence, bottling a special iced cordial, called, perhaps as an homage to the order's secondary patron Onumphrius, "la spremuta nuda." They by now consisted of the legendary Venti, the Holy Twenty Monks of Tazo. In 1679, the Frapuchin constitutions received papal approbation and a new habit, consisting of a green scapular over a black tunic, was imposed. Black scapulars were restricted to the maestri, the heads of local congregations. Around this time, the curious insignia of the order, a double-tailed mermaid, was adopted, purportedly as a symbolic representation of Christ's two natures, though its original significance remains somewhat obscure. It was around this time that Brother Biscotto invented the pedal-operated ice blender, which was later replaced with a large and complicated steam-powered apparatus designed by the English Brother Melusinus, the convert son of Earl Grey, who had studied under Robert Boyle earlier in life.
However, history would change for the order in 1683, when two Frapuchin friars, the Germans Schultz and Behar, accompanied St. Marco d'Aviano as chaplains during the Ottoman siege of Vienna. St. Marco's discovery of coffee is, of course, well-known, but what is not known is the role of the Frapuchins in this momentous event. Originally, the coffee-beans discovered afterwards in the Ottoman camp were mistaken for horse-feed, leading to some very nervous, very high-strung Polish calvary ponies and a number of unfortunate injuries among the hussar corps. However, Schultz and Behar being poor mendicants from a borderline order, ended up purchasing a sack of the worthless stuff for their dinner one evening and started gnawing on some of the dried beans out of desperation. Then, they started to feel a bit creative and a bit antsy and brewed it up into a stew. One thing led to another and by daybreak they had not only said all three nocturnes but Matins, Lauds, Prime, Sext and Terce with a speed and tone, eyewitnesses reported, that sounded "a bit like Alvin and the Chipmunks, no pun intended."
The two of them then brought the beans back to Tazo, where Brother Biscotto and Brother Spezia della Zucca developed them into a rich, milky iced concoction that was an instant hit. The chocolate sprinkles and syrup added to some variations of the drink are said to have been the result of a vision of St. Teresa of Avila, though other, less reliable, accounts said she wanted him to stir caramel into it, clearly a confusion between the confection and the name of her order. The bevanda frappucina soon took Italy by storm; St. Marco, uncharacteristically jealous of this success, realized he'd missed a golden opportunity and applied his superior Capuchin marketing skills to put a hot variety of the new drink in every tavern from Croatia to Brittany, in spite of the drink's Frapuchin origins.
Arbucco died around a decade later, having already retired to the order's daughter house of Grandiventi in 1701, shortly after the invention of the first vanila iced coffee by his successor as prior, the esteemed pioneer mixologist Friar Mochus. His last words were a loud cry of "Lord, Thou art the only lasting caffeine buzz!" from his deathbed. He had been granted a mystical vision shortly beforehand, after which he had declared, quietly, that all he had achieved was mere milk-froth by comparison. He was canonized in 1767, and is the patron saint of animated internet graphics for reasons too estoeric to ponder. His order, while still small, has foundations as far abroad as Turkey and the island of Java. He is represented in art holding a steam-operated blender and dressed in the black and green Frapuchin colors.
Arbucco is relatively unknown outside Italy, but, under an Anglicized variant of his name is venerated widely in the American Pacific Northwest; popular devotion is centered on his shrine in downtown Seattle, St. Arbuck's Basilica.
Tuesday, September 23
"Do we all holy rites; Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum."
Due to the generosity of a liturgy-loving Notre Dame alumnus and the talents of on-campus photographer Matt Cashore, we can now present to you a set of professional photographs of the first sung Tridentine mass on campus for nearly four decades.
This is also a good opportunity to report some equally wonderful news. After a year of Low Masses, the continued support for the Extraordinary Form as well as the significant turnout for last Sunday's sung mass for the Feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross, it has been determined that every other Sunday, the Tridentine mass will be a sung liturgy. This is particularly exciting as I assumed that the sung mass would only be done every now and then on campus, as a special event.
This is quite heartening and illustrates that, after much gracious support from campus ministry and the hard work of a determined group of students, the ancient Roman mass is slowly but surely becoming an integral part of university liturgical life. Once again, we see the fruits of the Motu Proprio continue to ripen before our eyes.
Photo credit: Matt Cashore/Notre Dame.
Monday, September 22
The Mass, on Its Own Terms
The more I'm exposed to traditional liturgy (both the Novus Ordo done in a traditional way, and more specifically the Tridentine mass), the more I'm willing to simply take it on its own terms, and at its own pace. To demand a prima facie, positivistic account of it robs it of much of its existential potency. Certainly, there is room for a more critical approach in liturgy, but understanding the mass at a deeper level, and the Tridentine mass in particular, requires immersion rather than clinical exterior analysis. There is much that is arrestingly mysterious, numinously weird, or just plain odd when you let it all wash over you, and you feel all the better for the experience.
Last Sunday evening, a week ago, my parish held a Solemn High Mass of the Extraordinary Form to mark one year of Summorum Pontificium. There were over twenty servers and ministers packed into the dark, gilded sanctuary of Our Saviour's; I sat amongst them, feeling wonderfully lost in a sea of attendant acolytes. I had been to mass already that morning, and felt less of an imperative to follow, exactingly, every last little word. The Church has never demanded of us such a strict interpretation of active participation--indeed, probably most medieval peasants couldn't hear a word of a Low Mass said in a mysterious tongue beyond ranks of choirstalls and an enormous wood screen. But it is hard to shake the habits formed of a short lifetime of middle-of-the-road Novus Ordo massgoing, so it is always a comfort for me to get my obligation out of the way and simply enjoy a second showing of the liturgy on its own peculiar terms, to throw oneself into it and demand no explanations, but let it explain itself in its own good time.
So there I was, in cassock and surplice, one of a long line of servers tucked to one side of the altar. Color and shade were everywhere--the darkened void of the church nave, the dull gilt-bronze of the Pompeiian baldachin, the apostles, the sea-green underside of the altar canopy with its masklike Deco tetramorphs, the priest and ministers in cherry red covered in tarnished-gold neo-Baroque arabesques. Everything seemed significant, and inexplicably moving, as if I was seeing reality again for the first time. I passed mentally from the homeliness of an MC's cassock closed at the neck with a safety-pin, or, much later, when chalice and cruets were kissed and handed back and forth, as if the lovable figure of the priest, the other Christ, was to be ceremoniously, discretely smothered in ritualized osculae. That was a moment that seemed, if perhaps in slow motion, as affecting and real as any unscripted embrace, and accomplished by the simple mechanisms of rubrics, rather than the specialized talent of an actor.
The mass is not a long succession of disjointed readings and olla poladrida songs; it is one long song, as creation is. It is a play, with no author and many authors stretched out across space and time, that demands not realism or even real talent from its performers, save for the ability to follow careful directions. And yet it is more sublimely and messily evocative of the life of Our Lord than any gorily realistic Passion-play. The subdeacon, hiding himself like a child behind his humeral veil, may have an obscure if practical purpose; but, however childlike and strange he looks, peeping above his shroud, he is a figure of angelic smallness in the presence of the Godhead. He is the mighty seraph, reduced to holy fear before the Eternal Father.
What we see in the solemn liturgy is the collision of a thousand providential accidents; it could never have been created this way on purpose, save through the quiet creativity of the Divine. At times, to get it, you simply must step back and think all of mankind's collective creativity has been focusing on this one point now, and that God wants me to see these bright colors, these dark shadows, these tones and interlaced chants, the billow of incense, the tidy rightness of six candlesticks and a cross under a peacock-colored vault. There is room for improvement, or criticism, or mutual enrichment, but to demand all these right away, without tuning yourself to the deeper music of these mysteries first, risks missing the point.
The old mass--and the Ordinary Form well-done, to a lesser extent--shapes you on a conscious and unconscious level. You cannot demand immediate results, but it permeates you slowly and gradually, until you step out into the muggy evening and realize your clothes reek of the pleasantly Levantine odor of incense, and eternity. In time, you realize it is sufficient to simply hand oneself over to God and let Him show you what little detail in the greater scheme of things He wants you to see amid the gracious bows, genuflections and fluttering, mandarin-like deacons and subdeacons in their tunicles.
What seem like ceremonial niceties or extraneous filler can in time be overlaid with a whole Rorschach-like collection of meanings that in turn lead to other meditations, ad infinitum. The altar is incensed by the priest, and he is reminded of the sacrifice he must offer as Christ's other self; he hands the smoking censer to the deacon and the subdeacon, and receives incense himself, remembering the dignified and terrifying burden he bears.
And then the servers and clergy, for they, too, have some share in the duties and honors, if, especially in the case of the simple layman in cassock, it is perhaps only a temporary, honorary, emergency sort of honor. And then, at last, the laity, whose own dignity has not been forgotten here. Enough of this, and long-dormant synapses start to fire and reconnect in your brain, and the world becomes a very different--and far more interesting--place. The Pax--two ordinary old men in stiff, complicated robes, embracing. So immersed in this foretaste of heaven are you this strange scene seems normal, and you wonder, did Peter and Paul look this way when they clasped arms?
Even those odd, long, strange pauses--the silence of the Canon when the organ is ordered to stay silent; the stillness that follows when priest and attendants sit down during an over-long Credo and wait and listen; the numinous, waiting urgency that always seems to reign in the pews as the congregation watches the priest whisper and mime his way through the Canon--take on a new and mystical meaning, whether intentional or not. "And there was silence for half-an-hour in heaven." The mass's authors, if we can even speak of the mass having an author, may have not intended it to be read that way, but it does not matter. God is the play's ultimate author, and embraces every possible permutation of meaning in this masterwork.
We rounded out the evening by veneration of a tiny splinter of the Holy Cross, the servers approaching the coped priest by twos, genuflecting, kissing, and exiting into the sacristy. Ten or so servers and seminarians, all lined up along one wall, waited for the priest to return and dismiss them, without so much as a word. Not fear, or forced solemnity, but because it was the only natural response. We were finally dismissed by one of the Masters of Ceremony, as the priest had taken the relic to the rail, accompanied by two taperers, and the faithful, side-by-side, took their turns to kiss the silver cross that held a splinter that (momentarily) had killed God. I unvested and stepped back out into the nave as a civilian, and watched the laity at their devotions from the other side of the rail. A young couple smiled and nudged each other sweetly as they waited their turn, reverent but wholly at ease. I stepped from the arctic air-conditioning of the church narthex into the close early-fall evening heat. The monolithic front of Grand Central Station looked slightly pink in the sunset light, and I felt at peace.
Friday, September 19
Johann Tetzel Makes His Comic Strip Debut
(Admittedly, his old slogan might have been catchier)
And Why Am I Posting This?
It's Talk Like a Pirate Day, but I Feel Like Talking Like a Ruritanian Princeling
From Richard Cohen. By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions, 2002:
Amid the many terrible lines to which the genre [swashbuckling movies] gave birth, there is one glorious exception. It comes during one of the finest of all film duels, between Ronald Coleman as Rudolf Rassendyll and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as Rupert of Hentzau in the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda. As the two men fight in one continuous take, around murky dungeons, up and down winding staircases, and through the shadowy main hall of the castle, they spar verbally with equal expertise:
Rupert:Touché, Rassyendyl. I cannot get used to fighting with furniture; where did you learn it?*This is, of course, incorrect, as every schoolboy knows. Princess Flavia, The Love Interest, was, as all members of the House of Elphburg, a natural redhead. --MGA
Rudolf:: That all goes with the old school tie.
Rupert: Well, then, here's your last fencing lesson. Look out for your head. Why don't you stand your ground and fight?
Rudolf: "He who fights and runs away"--remember?
Rupert: I see. You want to let the drawbridge down. I've just killed a man for trying that.
Rudolf: An unarmed man, of course.
Rupert: Of course.... You English are a stubborn lot.
Rudolf: Well, "England expects that every man..."--remember?
Rupert: Your golden-haired goddess will look well in black, Rassendyll.* I'll console her for you...kiss away her tears. What, no quotation?
Rudolf: Yes, a barking dog never bites.
Rupert: Aargh! You'd be a sensation in a circus. I can't understand it. Where did you learn such roller-skating?
Rudolf: Coldstream Guards, my boy. Come on, now, when does the fencing lesson begin?
Rupert: Stand still and fight, you coward.
Rudolf: Bad-tempered fellow, aren't you, underneath all the charm?
Rupert: Why don't you let me kill you quietly?
Rudolf: Oh, a little noise adds a touch of cheer. You notice I'm getting you closer to the drawbirdge rope?
Rupert: You're so fond of rope, it's a pity to have to finish you off with steel. What did they teach you on the playing fields of Eton? Puss in the corner?
Rudolf: Oh, chiefly not throwing knives at other people's backs.
Thursday, September 18
The Angry Subdeacon is Back
In all seriousness, Google is evil
Internet giants Google and Microsoft have pulled adverts for sex selection products and other services considered illegal in India after being threatened with legal action, activists said Thursday.
That is, products which allow parents to identify if their child is a girl in order to abort it.
India's Supreme Court had last month asked the two companies plus Yahoo to respond to a complaint that they were illegally advertising do-it-yourself kits and expensive genetic techniques to find out an unborn baby's gender.
Fortunately, once they realize what they were doing, they were horrified, right?
Google said it will "review the petition carefully."
Activists said the products -- which have not been scientifically proven to be accurate or safe -- damage efforts to stem mass abortions of girls because of a traditional preference for boys in India.
"In India, we do not allow ads for the promotion of pre-natal gender determination or pre-conception sex selection. We take local laws extremely seriously," the company said in a statement.
Well, perhaps Google just has a very strong "if you give us the money, we'll advertise it" policy?
In a similar legal row in Britain, Google agreed this week to change its policy on abortion-related advertisements by religious groups after a pro-life Christian group challenged the company in court for refusing its advert.
Classicism on a Budget: It Can Be Done
But even more can be cut from both program and design if the architect is clever. The DC-based classical firm then known as Franck, Lohsen and McCrery (currently Franck and Lohsen) did a handsome combined parish center and 600-seat church for Pope John XXIII Catholic Church at Canal Winchester, Ohio, intended as the future parish hall in a larger master-plan, on a miniscule budget of $2.5 million. While the church proper is quietly fused into the larger complex, rather than standing out above it, as the building is intended to be a social hall in the future, this typology is more logical here than in the more permanent context of the standard suburban parish. Note that while simple, the whole is executed with a fairly elevated canonical classical vocabulary, with Doric pilasters and well-formed moldings. As the parish grows, the campus will presumably expand organically.
In the mean time, rather than settling for a stop-gap gymn-church or a gigantic center that may well turn out to be a monetary black hole, they have a beautiful church to worship in. Compare this to the $11-$14 million that could easily be spent on a monster parish church with attached center in the modern manner. Money is part of the problem, but a lack of vision, planning and design is the real missing puzzle-piece.
Wednesday, September 17
Continuing the Greek Fathers-as-Marx Brothers Meme
So then, would St. Athanasius be the Harpo Marx (most likely to swat an opponent); St. John Chrysostom the Groucho (most likely to say things that get oft repeated) and St. Basil the Chico (most musically gifted)?(Waggles eyebrows, cigar) I couldn't have said it better myself.
Solemn High Mass, Feast of the Holy Cross
Hell is Other Existentialists
Boy: ...And then the Devil says, "why aren't they burning?" And the other guy says, "They're from Seattle, they're too wet to burn."
Mother: (somewhat distracted, not really sounding amused). Oh! Haha. (She said "haha," but didn't actually laugh per se.)
Speaking, for once, more seriously, this brings to mind the old debate on whether or not hell-fire (the poena sensus) is material or not; many theologians have tended to view it as indeed corporeal (though, naturally, differing from ordinary earthly fire for obvious reasons), while other orthodox authorities speak of it as spiritual, incorporeal, or metaphorical in nature. (This is not to say that you're any better off in this setup.) I believe there was some discussion of this at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, coming from different perspectives of East and West. In either case, as the Catholic Encyclopedia reminds us, there are considerable grey areas, and both opinions have been held by theologians without censure by higher authority.
I used to be perplexed by the idea of a materially fiery hell. But then, as Hell is a place as Heaven is a place (if, of course, a place outside time, space and the universe), and that the damned will have their bodies back just as the just will, and that bodily delight will have some (unfathomable) role in the joys of heaven, surely bodily pain will have an equal (if thoroughly unpleasant) role in hell. Why should it not be material, then? This real fire may be very little like our own earthly fire; the only thing that we know for sure is that it is corporeal. (And even then, the Church tolerates other positions, at least as of 1913). It is best not to think about it too much, lest we make Hell more seductively interesting than it actually is. (It is interesting how the Devil is often a figure of fun in society today, a bit like Count Chocula. There is no reason we ought to be afraid of him, as, of course, the Devil is an ass, but he's also not Mr. Excitement, nor fodder for jokes either.) Hell may not be the dramatic, fiery, Boschian pain we imagine; it may be something infinitely worse. I'm quite sure of it. The Devil can only mock God's creation, never create. We are too kind in making him as seductively interesting as he pretends to be. I am quite certain Hell's real color is institutional beige rather than vivid red, too bright and glorious a color to be appropriate for the dullest, most excruciatingly soul-crushing place in existence. (Think Dunder-Mifflin, without the whimsy.) The ultimate pain of Hell is ultimate disunion with God--the most severe loneliness imaginable. Think about that for a while.
Moral of the story: next time you're tempted to commit mortal sin, consider whether your few minutes of fun are worth the price of of dragging yourself down to Confession next Saturday to get cleaned up. As in judo, sloth may sometimes work to your own advantage. (And if the answer is "yes, it's worth it," go read John 18:12-27 and pray to St. Peter that God give you some commonsense.)
"The Other Guy"
"St. Gregory Nazianzen, widely known as the Zeppo Marx of the Four Greek Doctors..."
Okay, if that's too silly (and it's not a slam; Zeppo had a very distinct and useful function, he just doesn't get much talked about, much like St. Gregory), just use the numbering that renders them the Three Greek Doctors and call him José Carreras.
Now, you may return to arguing about whether or not to lift the tail of the priest's chasuble at the elevation.
Tuesday, September 16
The Ottaviani Pizza Intervention and the Famous Ray's Indult - A Footnote of the Post-Conciliar Epoch
...Certainly it may seem hard to believe, but for a brief period in 1967, it looked as if Traditional Roman Pizza would vanish forever from the Vatican cafeteria. On one momentous day in October of that year, Paul VI's special commission on the Holy See's food services (informally nicknamed "Dominus Pizza") introduced an American innovation called "Chicago Deep Dish" to the Sistine dining room in the Apostolic Palace, explaining that it would be fine-tuned ad experimentum in order to permanently replace the old-fashioned, thin-crust traditional Italian pizza, made according to recipes developed organically, and in continuous use since the eighteenth century. After some initial, somewhat diffident tasting, utter chaos broke out, with blistering dicastery reports and editorials in L'Osservatore Romano thundering back and forth.
Progressives thundered against the thin, insubstantial, flimsy crust of the antiquated Italian pizza, with its insufficient quantities of dough (as well as the unchanging one-year topping cycle), while traditionalists fulminated against the Americanized Novus Ordo Pizzae. One early article by anti-Deep Dish critic Michael Davies even went so far as to claim the Novus Ordo Pizzae was, in fact, not a pizza at all, but a dish called a "raised pie"--suspiciously associated not with Italy, but with the Protestant nation of England. Cardinal Siri pleaded with Paul VI to return to the old pizza, citing a line in the Aeneid which described a thin-crusted ancestor of the Italian variety. Deep Dish supporters countered that the new pizza was, in fact, an organic improvement on the old, containing both more choices and a larger dosage of nutrients than before, and reminded the traditionalists that cheese was in fact a late Neapolitan addition dating back to the second half of the nineteenth century, and tomato sauce was known no earlier than the seventeenth century.
It was then gleefully pointed out that Chicago pizza could then not be an ancient restoration, as had been claimed by Dominus Pizza committeeman Josef Jungmann, who, as Siri remarked, wasn't even Italian. Furthermore, all that cheese was a quantitative rather than qualitative improvement, was often gross and disgusting, and would lead to a decline in the number of personal mini-pizzas put out by the cafeteria. The variable toppings just confused everyone and, rather than eliminating repetitions, unnecessarily prolongued the ordering process. (It also encouraged the chefs to engage in odd ad-libbed topping combinations, like salmon, raisins and tapioca, in one infamous instance). Jungmann, spluttering, responded, if you just made a little bit of an effort, used good ingredients, and thought logically, like a German, the Novus Ordo Pizzae could be as tasty and elegant as the traditional form of pizza... He would have continued, had the then-Fr. Ratzinger suggested he try some of this lovely calzone, in an attempt to mollify both sides.
Tempers grew frayed; the schismatic Spaniard "Pope Gregory XVII" (Clemente Domínguez y Gómez) denounced all cheese as a Masonic plot--it having been introduced onto Pizza Margherita in honor of the colors of the Italian flag. He subsequently invented a monstrosity called pizza palmariana, composed of cocoa powder, anchovies, and cream of wheat, and waited for the eschaton to immanentize.
It was at this point (January 1968) than Cardinal Ottaviani authored his famous Pizza Intervention, a text now lost to history due to large marinara stains that rendered it all but illegible, the result of a three-way food-fight with Yves Congar and the young Piero Marini. Nonetheless, some of the basic substance of his argument can be reconstructed based on journal entries, articles in L'Osservatore Romano, and Annibale Bugnini's shopping-lists.
Ottaviani based his principal argument on the breakdown of hierarchy that he saw inherent in the unlimited and promiscuous mixing of toppings, especially now that they had become enmeshed with the cheese rather than resting on top of it. He was somewhat aided by the fact that, despite the theoretically unlimited possibilities posed by the roster of ingredients, Sistine chefs had now taken to buying only one or two of them and took the easiest option out of laziness. It is important to recall that Traditional Roman Pizza had considerable variety, though it came in graded levels of importance, with ingredients matched by artistic and gustatory compatibility:
1. The Solemn Pontifical Pizza, or the Quattro Stagioni, included a whole kaleidoscope of additions--asparagus, prosciutto, artichokes, olives, speck, even a fried egg on Greater Doubles in the calendar.
2. The Pizza Solemnis, with prosciutto, oregano, and mushrooms.
3. The Pizza Cantata, with mozzarella, stracchino, fontina and gorgonzola cheeses.
4. The Low Pizza, or Pizza Recitata, the most familiar to cafeteria-dwellers, which was just mozzerella and tomatoes.
5. The Pizza of the Pre-Sanctified, or Pizza Bianca, only eaten on Good Friday. (Its popularity was due to its dry nature, because of the difficulty of getting tomato sauce out of moire silk.)
Ottaviani also argued that the inversion of tomato sauce and cheese in the Novus Ordo Pizza was also suspect, damaging the very concept of pizza. Several commissioners, however, pointed out that he had been eating Chicago pizzas of inferior quality, and despite the rearrangement, the pizza's integrity remained whole, so long as good ingredients were used. The "concelebrated pizza," also ran against the longstanding, possibly even apostolic principle that "two many cooks spoil the broth," though Reinhold, citing Aquinas, pointed out several Eastern Rite precedents in regard to stew preparation. (It is to be noted, to the credit of Dominus, that around this time the project to construct a freestanding pizza oven and stage kitchen was shelved because the chimney blocked any view of the diners. The subsequent extra-legal development of versus populum barbecue pits cannot be blamed on their influence and is outside the scope of this book.)
Some cardinals began to start installing ovens in their own private apartments, and a few determined laymen began to frequent illicit pizzerias set up by the increasingly belligerent Society of San Marzano. Paul VI seemed increasingly unable to reign in the situation, distracted by weightier matters such as Humanae Vitae and seemed content to let the various protagonists thrash it all amongst themselves, until one day he himself decided to try one of the new Chicago pizzas, and, while he found it tasty, was startled by the approach of Fr. Ratzinger, and spilled the tomato-sauce topping all over his front. "Ah, now you see the point of the cheese!" cried Ottaviani. (Legend has it this is what happened to the infamous papal white suit Paul VI designed for himself, and why it subsequently vanished.) It turned out Fr. Ratzinger had brought a communique signed by all the pizza chefs of New York demanding an indult for the preservation of the Traditional Roman Pizza, including, the Pope gasped, none other than Ray Bono. He paused. "Famous Ray! I must sign this!" And so he did.
Several days later, the Vatican realized it had a bigger crisis on its hands when news came that Jesuits at Georgetown had celebrated a "pizza mass," and not only that, they had announced the development of a dangerously liberal recipe calling for something only whispered about until now: stuffed crust...
Monday, September 15
Will the Real St. Elvis Please Stand Up? (And With That, I've Exhausted All My Pop Cultural References for the Evening)
Joachim took a wife named Anna, who had a sister named Hismeria. This Hismeria was the mother of Elizabeth and Eliud, and Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist. Eliud was the father of Eminen [WHAT? HUH? Wait, it's a real name? Oh, never mind, Eminen...never mind...], and Eminen the father of Saint Servatius, whose body is in the town of Maastricht on the Meuse...By the way, there actually is a St. Elvis (or Ailbe), who is said to have come from Ireland to baptise St. David. (And a St. Napoleon, too; stained glass here). They should not be confused, respectively, with the Twenty-Four Hour Church of Elvis, or the megolomaniacal French emperor of the same name. More at this link from an intriguingly weird post at Laudator Temporis Acti, which also includes lengthy digressions on The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius, some scatology, Elvoid cultists, and Vespasian's last words.
Things you just don't expect to see...
Strange Maps for Your Edification and Amusement
(Silk opera-hat tip to Cusack).
Yet Further Tridentine Tidings from Notre Dame
We had a standing-room only crowd of at least 93 people who braved the rain (I think that was just communicants), Fr. [Tom] Blantz sang and offered the Mass very well, and the N[otre] D[ame] Gregorian Schola sang excellently. [This is a relatively new entity, an 8-man schola connected with the University's Jacques Maritain Center.] All in all, it seems Our Lady was smiling on her school this weekend--crush Michigan on Saturday, a Missa Cantata on Sunday, what more could one want?While I'm not sure how many people the beautiful Alumni Hall Chapel can hold, 93 people must have been a rather tight fit at the very least, which is extremely heartening. That this level of enthusiasm and curiosity still exists even after one year since Summorum Pontificium is particularly exciting. The event has not been ignored in the broader university context--even a professional photographer was engaged by an alumnus to cover the event. More information on this event will be published here as it becomes available.
My Recent Facebook Status
"Matthew thinks a good nickname for St. Peter Martyr would be 'The Pincushion of Northern Lombardy.'"
Saturday, September 13
Albrecht Dürer, Albrecht Dürer, Riding Through the Glen
It all started with an Indian rhinoceros. My fascination with Albrecht Dürer goes back to a little story I read in one of my first-grade exercise books about the engraver's wildly inaccurate and imaginative rendering of a tame rhino picked up by the Portuguese fidalgo Afonso de Albuquerque. The German never actually saw the animal and relied mostly on written descriptions. The thing had died off the Italian coast in a shipwreck sometime afterward. Yet, as I later discovered when the rhinoceros and his woodcut doppelgänger made an appearance on a yellowing old nature program, Dürer wasn't too far off the mark in depicting the strange, armored, lumbering tank of an animal; the only major slipup were the scales he covered its legs with, and an inexplicable extra horn on the animal's plate-articulated neck. (Watching World of Survival was a big part of my after-school ritual; for the full total regression effect you need a Cuban grandmother, guava paste, and crackers. And a fax machine going full-tilt printing out dispatches from elderly exiles in Miami, but that's another story.)
As I got older, the rhinoceros kept popping in and out of my life. I copied it by hand at some point; and eventually I was given Dürer's Complete Woodcuts for Christmas. I still have the book around, and refer to it frequently, though the binding's since split right between The Martyrdom of St. Katherine and St. John Before the Latin Gate, which is unfortunate as they're two of my favorites. I started trying, by turns wobbly and fuzzy, to imitate Dürer's style, though seldom his exact subject matter. I wanted to create more Dürers, or at least the first draft equivalents thereof.
I remember one somewhat sketchy attempt to render Don Quixote's combat with the knight of the moon in a highly Germanic manner, spliced together from various Albrechtian tropes. Dürer, in his breadth of subjects and rich tangles of secondary detail seemed not so much a master to be followed as the producer of the best book of clip art ever. But then, in the true Germanic fashion, his work is so stuffed-full of things--turbans, gem-set brooches, fantastically ugly pontiffs and bull-necked bishops, little pugs, half-classical nudes--sometimes even to the detriment of the big picture, it's hard not to love him for it. Eventually I started to develop my own style, but I always go back to visit when I need help with drapery.
I discovered today that the Museum of Biblical Art, a shiny outgrowth of some bland non-denominational denominational organization based on the West Side, was doing a show of the great man's engravings and woodcuts. I went, humming the Monty Python Fliegender Zirkus Dürer song, a blatant ripoff of the old Robin Hood theme--Oh Albrecht, Albrecht Dürer, Du reitest durch die Länder... And spent the afternoon squinting up close at dozens of tiny, delicate engravings set in gigantic archival mats. There was a level of refinement I'd missed out on before when I stuck to his woodcuts. I'd have to get a thinner pen now. Much of it was religious, but, being a good businessman, he also did genre scenes of peasants, mythological figures, nudes, even a pleasantly mythopoeic scene of a satyr and nymph and their child.
And all of this transposed into something simultaneously medieval and classical at the same time. (This is no more apparent than in The Monstrous Sow of Landser, an extraordinarily weird print of a pig with two bodies and one head, which combines both the tabloid-ish medieval sense of the mirabilis crossbred with polished Renaissance voyeurism.) They are quietly and elegantly hybrid, full of the last hints of medieval wonder and dynamism and the full brunt of Renaissance gravitas. We have left behind the clumsy charm of charioteer Mars as an armored knight sitting in an incongruous haywain but not yet reached the sterile archaeology of the neoclassic.
It's easy to reduce Dürer to a collection of images without much sense of the man. We find his more conventional work in Catholic missalettes and Protestant kitsch, and it is easy to lump him in with the quirky, cluttered, devotional world of Van Eyck and the Flemish masters. But he was more allied to Italy than he was Flanders, and despite his charmingly-envisioned recreations of scenes from the Golden Legend, he had a strong Protestant streak towards the end. Indeed, set against the gemütlichkeit of pre-Reformation Germany, his out-of-context Renaissance man act can seem almost psychopathically grandiloquent--the self-portrait as a dandyfied Christ figure seems rather ill-advised in retrospect. He also didn't seem to get along too well with Mrs. Dürer. (They never had kids, and he never seemed to be around much.)
Yet, it is sometimes possible to separate the work from the worker, so long as you know what to watch out for. Dürer's Italian humanist leanings, while perhaps giving him an ego the size of Schleswig, nonetheless considerably livened up his work, and offer much to learn in terms of bringing out that tricky third dimension. His engravings and woodcuts blur into the medieval to the uneducated eye, and indeed he stayed, for quite some time, far closer to the intricately-detailed (even at times, cluttered) medieval iconographic tradition tan his southern forbears, and when he broke with it tended to be subtler, and with a more ideological than artistic charge. You have to read the symbols carefully; a Last Supper from his earliest days will be a straightforward if visually innovative composition, fully-imagined but thoroughly plugged into the medieval mainstream. Later versions might look the same until you notice the paschal lamb is missing, or the platter and bread relegated to the floor. But no artist is perfect, and the brilliance of his technique, and the mingled iconographic brilliance and purity of his early years still stand.
As I was rounding out my time at the exhibit, I passed back by the plates from Dürer's action-thriller take on the Apocalypse. An old man with a pocket Bible was pointing at verses and asking the youngish lady next to her to read them aloud, like a scriptural tourist. "And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand," she read. And with a bit of consultation, they found Famine in the great woodcut swirl before them. And standing there, I could not decide if this was a post-modern scene, the result of America's endemic millenarian fascination with the Rapture, or something else, more elemental, more medieval--the universal, Golden Legend familiarity of the sacred in action--the universe I know and understand. Perhaps, given Dürer, it's both.
Thursday, September 11
Wednesday, September 10
A Word a Day
Toronto blessing. PRONUNCIATION:(tuh-RON-toh BLES-ing). MEANING: noun: A form of religious rapture marked by outbreaks of mass fainting, laughter, shaking, weeping, fainting, speaking in tongues, etc.
ETYMOLOGY: After Toronto, Canada, where the phenomenon was experienced in a church in Jan 1994.
USAGE:"[The movie Pan's Labyrinth] was received in awestruck rapture by the world's press, and left me feeling a little like a Roman Catholic prelate at a pentecostal ceremony, smiling with thin politeness while all around congregants were getting a Toronto Blessing full in the face."Peter Bradshaw; Hellboy II: The Golden Army; The Guardian (London, UK); Aug 15, 2008.
Darn, Now My Cover is Blown
Tuesday, September 9
Some Wodehouse for Your Edification: "We Scripture Knowledge Sharks Stick Together"
But the beard bloke's aim now seemed to be to rush the ceremonies a bit. He hustled R.V. Smethurst off stage rather like a chucker-out in a pub regretfully ejecting an old and respected customer, and starting paging G.G. Simmons. A moment later the latter was up and coming, and conceive my emotion when it was announced that the subject on which he had clicked was Scripture knowledge. One of us, I mean to say.
G.G. Simmons was an unpleasant, perky-looking stripling, mostly front teeth and spectacles, but I gave him a big hand. We Scripture-knowledge sharks stick together.
Gussie, I was sorry to see, didn't like him. There was in his manner, as he regarded G.G. Simmons, none of the chumminess which had marked it during his interview with P.K. Purvis or, in a somewhat lesser degree, with R.V. Smethurst. He was cold and distant.
"Well, G.G. Simmons."
"Sir, yes, sir."
"What do you mean--sir, yes, sir? Dashed silly thing to say. So you've won the Scripture-knowledge prize, have you?"
"Sir, yes, sir."
"Yes," said Gussie, "you look just the sort of little tick who would. And yet," he said, pausing and eyeing the child keenly, "how are we to know that this has all been open and above board? Let me test you, G.G. Simmons. What was What's-His-Name--the chap who begat Thingummy? Can you answer me that, Simmons?"
"Sir, no, sir."
Gussie turned to the bearded bloke.
"Fishy," he said. "Very fishy. This boy appears to be totally lacking in Scripture knowledge." The bearded bloke passed a hand across his forehead.
"I can assure you, Mr. Fink-Nottle, that every care was taken to ensure a correct marking and that Simmons outdistanced his competitors by a wide margin."
"Well, if you say so," said Gussie doubtfully. "All right, G.G. Simmons, take your prize."
"Sir, thank you, sir."
"But let me tell you that there's nothing to stick on side about in winning a prize for Scripture knowledge. Bertie Wooster----"
I don't know when I've had a nastier shock. I had been going on the assumption that, now that they had stopped him making his speech, Gussie's fangs had been drawn, as you might say. To duck my head down and resume my edging toward the door was with me the work of a moment.
"Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids' school we were at together, and you know what he's like. But, of course, Bertie frankly cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such things were common. If that man's pockets, as he entered the examination-room, were not stuffed to bursting-point with lists of the kings of Judah----"
~P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves, 1934.
A Beautiful Medieval Hymn to St. Katherine of Alexandria
A doubly-interesting image of the saint's Mystical Marriage, first, in that it shows an adult Christ rather than the Child Jesus, and secondly, juxtaposes it against the similar experience of Catherine of Alexandria, though there with the more usual Christ-Child.
Ex illustri nata prosapia, Catherina,
candens ut lilium, et nobilis,
dono mundicie, crystalina gemma,
lux virginum, sponsa Christi, lux in ecclesia, rosa rubens propter martirium.
Virgo fulgens et nobilissima,
et devincens falsa sophismata,
bona docens et viri nescia,
fit residens in Dei gloria.
Sponsa Christi, lux in ecclesia,
rosa rubens propter martirium.
Virgo vernans, sed viri nescia,
pellens a te viri consorcium,
te rogamus, ut tua gracia roget illum,
cuius imperium sine fine regnat in secula,
quod det nobis celi palacium.
Ex illustri nata prosapia, Catherina,
candens ut lilium.
Born from illustrious stock, Katherine,
shining like a lily, noble too with the gift of purity, crystalline jewel,
light of virgins, bride of Christ, light in the church, a red rose through your martyrdom.
A glittering virgin and very noble,
conquering false arguments,
teaching the good and not knowing a man, becomes resident in the glory of God.
Bride of Christ, light in the church,
a red rose through your martyrdom.
A virgin blossoming but not knowing a man, driving from you the intimacy of a man:
we ask you that, in your grace, you may ask him whose power reigns without end through the ages, to grant us the palace of heaven.
Born from illustrious stock, Katherine,
shining like a lily.
Further Tridentine Tidings from the University of Notre Dame
Friends at our alma mater, Notre Dame (well, duh), inform me that the weekly Tridentine Low Mass instituted in the wake of Summorum Pontificium has been moved to the more convenient time of 9:00 AM; furthermore, this Sunday, September 14, the mass will be a sung mass, the first at Notre Dame in nearly four decades. This is a historic occasion, and if you're a student at Notre Dame, a local, or an alum within driving distance, it's worth your time to come out and show your support. It will be held, as usual, at the beautiful chapel of Alumni Hall dorm, in the heart of campus. (Sadly, I won't be there, as New York City does not qualify as 'within driving distance,' and there aren't any subway connections.)
The first Low Mass last year absolutely packed the chapel, and even got written up in the alumni magazine. Campus Ministry has been very helpful and accomodating to requests for the Extraordinary Form on campus (as well as featuring it prominently on their website), and will be even more responsive if events like this draw a crowd. So, show up! Notre Dame has been a barometer of the growing resurgence of orthodoxy among the young, and as with events like the Eucharistic Processions of the past four or so years, people across the country will notice and follow its lead.
Sung Mass for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Sunday, September 14, 2008, 9:00 AM
Alumni Hall Chapel (St. Charles Borromeo), University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana (map).
NB: Please let us not turn the comments here into a referendum on Notre Dame. It is sufficient to say that things have greatly changed for the better on campus since the '80s and '90s without getting into particular faculty and programs. It's all be said before, pro and con.
Monday, September 8
Another Caption Contest!
Tragically, the proposal for a joint Vatican-Swiss navy proved not to have a long shelf-life.
(Photo shamelessly filched from Hallowed Ground.)
That Would Be An Œcumenical Matter
Wednesday, September 3
Thomas Aquinas Chapel Cornerstone Laid
Some photos of the in-progress interior are also reproduced below. It is a striking interior based principally on Florentine precedents, but intended to also recall the Mission architecture of southern California.
More info, and other photos, can be found at Mr. Stroik's website, and at Creative Minority Report.
Tuesday, September 2
Eight Wonderfully Distinctive Churches
Dome-tip to the American Papist, with whom I concur on the favorite: