Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Beheading of John the Baptist in Tradition and Legend

(Andrea Solario)
From the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia:
The honour paid so early and in so many places to the relics of St. John the Baptist, the zeal with which many churches have maintained at all times their ill-founded claims to some of his relics, the numberless churches, abbeys, towns, and religious families placed under his patronage, the frequency of his name among Christian people, all attest the antiquity and widespread diffusion of the devotion to the Precursor. The commemoration of his Nativity is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint.... The celebration of the Decollation [Beheading] of John the Baptist, on 29 August, enjoys almost the same antiquity. (Charles Souvay)
Becoming of one of the greatest saints, the recipient of protodulia, John’s feasts are ancient and multiple. In older martyrologies, the Conception of the Forerunner is feasted on September 24 (the 23rd in the East). His Nativity is of course celebrated nine months later at Midsummer, June 24. The Orthodox also have more Johannine feasts for the transferring of various relics.

St. Mark’s Gospel, strangely, has the longer account of St. John’s death:
Herod himself had sent and arrested John and put him in prison, in chains, for love of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married; because John had told Herod, “It is wrong for thee to take thy brother’s wife.” Herodias was always plotting against him, and would willingly have murdered him, but could not, because Herod was afraid of John, recognizing him for an upright and holy man; so that he kept him carefully, and followed his advice in many things, and was glad to listen to him.
And now came a fitting occasion, upon which Herod gave a birthday feast to his lords and officers, and to the chief men of Galilee. Herodias’ own daughter came in and danced, and gave such pleasure to Herod and his guests that the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever thou wilt, and thou shalt have it;” he even bound himself by an oath, “I will grant whatever request thou makest, though it were a half of my kingdom.” Thereupon she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” And she answered, “The head of John the Baptist.” With that, she hastened into the king’s presence and made her request; “My will is, she said, that thou shouldst give me the head of John the Baptist; give it me now, on a dish.” 
And the king was full of remorse, but out of respect to his oath and to those who sat with him at table, he would not disappoint her. So he sent one of his guard with orders that the head should be brought on a dish. This soldier cut off his head in the prison, and brought it on a dish, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard of it, they came and carried off his body, and laid it in a tomb. (Knox trans.)
(Gustave Moreau)
The Golden Legend speaks of the divine retribution wrought by the head of John the Baptist:
And in like wise as Herod was punished that beheaded Saint John, and Julian the apostate that burnt his bones, so was Herodias which counselled her daughter to demand the head of Saint John. And the maid that required it died right ungraciously and evil, and some say that Herodias was condemned in exile, but she was not, ne she died not there, but when she held the head between her hands she was much joyful, but by the will of God the head blew in her visage, and she died forthwith. This is said of some, but that which is said tofore, that she was sent in exile with Herod, and miserably ended her life, thus say saints in their chronicles and it is to be holden. And as her daughter went upon the water she was drowned anon, and it is said in another chronicle that the earth swallowed her in, all quick, and may be understood as of the Egyptians that were drowned in the Red Sea, so the earth devoured her.
There are multiple claimants to the relic of John’s skull, including San Silvestro in Rome (photographed above). The full collection of these skulls might fill a small closet shelf. The Legend again has many stories about the miraculous head throughout the ages. His bones were desecrated and burned by Julian the Apostate, but multiple pieces have survived to the modern day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Fr. Z is only now catching up on the fault of pew sitting Christianity. As a clairvoyant thinker, his Traddiness foresaw the problem of pews in examining Low Mass Culture and in reminiscing about Winchester Cathedral.

I notice in the comment section that many observe the great churches of Europe had chairs added, but never pews—no one wanted to drill into those cosmatesque floors! Many commentators are decrying the idea of not having a seat, but none in my quick scan seemed to say anything about the lack of kneelers. Of course before Irish piety was popularized everywhere the people only knelt for the prayers before the altar and the consecration, rising after the elevation of the chalice. I observed that at some old rite Masses in Italy this tradition is still followed. On kneeling days and at Requiem Masses, the people would kneel as far as the opening oration. Would that it return to those ways!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ergo Concluso in Contra Manicheus!

(Thomas von Aquin bei Ludwig dem Heiligen, by Niklaus Manuel)
Louis IX of France is known as a saint, a moral leader, an affectionate husband, a (less than successful) crusader, and a holy mentor to his son. It is not my purpose here to expound upon his life and saintliness, but rather to consider an odd incident late in his life. The fame of Tommaso d’Aquino’s theological genius had grown so great in Europe that he was known to dine occasionally with the king, who no doubt enjoyed speaking on matters of the Faith with the Angelic Doctor.

One day the two were lunching together, and Tommaso’s mind began to wander back to the Summa he was in the midst of writing. His dining companions apparently did not notice his mental withdrawal until he pounded his fist on the table and shouted out, “Ergo concluso in contra manicheus!” (With this I finish the Manicheans!)—for Thomas Aquinas had conceived of a new argument against the dualist heretics plaguing Europe.

Stunned, it only took King Louis and Thomas’ secretary Friar Reginald a few moments to find ink and paper so that the argument could be preserved for theological tracts and debates. Once written, the meal continued with new vigor and joy.

One could formulate an entire theology of feasting from this incident alone. The sharing of good food and sacred conversation is a joy known best to orthodox Christians. We rejoice in truth, and are driven to celebrate by enjoying the best the fruits of the earth. Is it any coincidence that Chartreuse, that most Catholic of drinks, was invented in Louis’ old realm?

As St. John the Golden-Mouthed once said, “Ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivitas” (Where love rejoices, there is festivity).

St. Louis of France, pray for us! (source)

Monday, August 24, 2015

St. Bartholomew in Scripture and Tradition

Today marks the yearly feast of St. Bartholomew on the Roman calendar, who is one of the Twelve Apostles as listed in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 10, Mark 3, Luke 6). Usually he is identified with St. Nathanael, who appears twice in St. John’s Gospel. When Christ told St. Philip to “follow me,” he immediately found Nathanael,
and told him, “We have discovered who it was Moses wrote of in his law, and the prophets too; it is Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” When Nathanael asked him, “Can anything that is good come from Nazareth?” Philip said, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, and said of him, “Here comes one who belongs to the true Israel; there is no falsehood in him.” “How dost thou know me?” Nathanael asked; and Jesus answered him, “I saw thee when thou wast under the fig-tree, before Philip called thee.” Then Nathanael answered him, “Thou, Master, art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel.” Jesus answered, “What, believe because I told thee that I saw thee under the fig-tree? Thou shalt see greater things than that. And he said to him, Believe me when I tell you this; you will see heaven opening, and the angels of God going up and coming down upon the Son of Man.” (John 1; Knox trans.)
Nathanael appears again after the Resurrection when Christ directs an apostolic fishing expedition to a catch of a hundred and fifty-three fish (John 21).

When it came time for the Blessed Virgin to die, the Twelve were miraculously brought to her deathbed,
And Bartholomew said: “I was in the Thebais proclaiming the word, and behold the Holy Spirit says to me, ‘The mother of your Lord is taking her departure; go, then, to salute her in Bethlehem.’ And, behold, a cloud of light having snatched me up, brought me to you.”
Eusebius notes that Bartholomew had preached in India and brought the Gospel of St. Matthew with him to the heathens there. Other traditional sources speak of his martyrdom in Armenia, how he was crucified, flayed, and finally beheaded, after having overthrown the devil-god Baldad (or Baldach) of that land. The Blessed Jacobus de Voragine tries to sort out the various traditions of his death thusly:
There be divers opinions of the manner of his passion. For the blessed Dorotheus saith that he was crucified, and saith also: “Bartholomew preached to men of India, and delivered to them the gospel after Matthew in their proper tongue.” He died in Alban, a city of great Armenia, crucified the head downward. Saint Theoderus saith that he was flayed, and it is read in many books that he was beheaded only. And this contrariety may be assoiled in this manner, that some say that he was crucified and was taken down ere he died, and for to have greater torment he was flayed and at the last beheaded.

No doubt St. Bartholomew received his vision of the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man before his death. Perhaps this happened during his martyrdom, just as St. Stephen beheld the Son of Man in the opened heavens while St. Paul was consenting to his stoning.

The translation of his relics is celebrated tomorrow in Rome and in the East, as His Traddiness has written about before. His primary feast day in the East is June 11.

St. Bartholomew, pray for us!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Waughful Novel: The Players of Brideshead Revisited

The Rad Trad: 

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," said Jacques in As You Like It. In Evelyn Waugh novels, all the men and women are players in his settings except for the protagonist. Waugh's protagonists are, with minor variation, dull witnesses to more interesting events and personas floating around his decadent restaurants, clubs, country homes, and ocean liners. Charles Ryder is no exception.

One must constantly keep in mind when reading Brideshead that the author is not attempting to advance "Rome-ish propaganda", although he admits that it is "steeped in theology.... [even if] theologians won't recognize it" (letter to AD Peters; May 20, 1944). He is not advocating a systemic view of human nature. He is examining how God's grace works in the lives of a dozen or so rather underwhelming individuals. With that in mind, Charles Ryder's passive outlook becomes a wholly understandable lens for the novel.

Ryder is not, despite the claims of some critics over the years, a social climber. He was "looking for love in those days," an enchanted and vivacious world apart from the well to do rearing he had with his dull father. The eccentricity of Sebastian Flyte mesmerizes him.

Charles views the Church as a relic from a past age of debatable value in modern Britain. While first he admittedly views the Catholic faith as a "foible," he later comes to see it as "nonsense" which impedes the happiness of most of the family: it causes Sebastian to drink, Julia to rebel, Bridey to become sanctimonious, and Lady Marchmain to embody suffering. One concludes that, aside from Sebastian's younger sister, there is not one happy Catholic in the novel and that Charles notices this. What Charles does not notice is that there are no happy non-Catholics either. The characters cannot be taxonomized in simple religious lines.

But since Charles is the least interesting, let us think about some of the more compelling characters.

Sebastian and his father, Lord Marchmain, are really two faces to the same person, something we learn from Lord Marchmain's mistress. Sebastian's father married Teresa, later Lady Marchmain, and converted to the Catholic faith. At some point, he melted down, lost his faith, went off to fight in the First World War, and never returned to England, where his wife continued to live and breath the air. She represented to loss of his "illusions of boyhood": God, love, innocence. Sebastian is similarly unable to let go of his own boyhood and innocence, carrying his teddy bear with him on the High Street in Oxford and visiting his childhood nanny on the weekend. Lady Marchmain wanted both men to grow up. Both instead turned to the drink, which dilutes the rage they feel for Teresa Marchmain while sober. 

And then there is Teresa Marchmain. She may be the most compelling and un-discussed character in the novel. Most secular readers side with Sebastian against her and most religious reader gloss over her. Was Cordelia right? Was she a saint? Or was she, in the words of our co-blogger, an overbearing matriarch? We are told less about Lady Marchmain than about any of the other family characters. Her presence is ubiquitous and we are left wondering how bitter she is over the loss of her three brothers in the war, but we cannot tell much about her character. Is she a conventional aristocrat who patronizes intellectual hangers-on like "green ass Samgrass" or is she genuinely intelligent? Is she a pious simpleton none the wiser for age, as exemplified by her measures to stop Sebastian's drinking? Or is she an adroit mother who has learned the lessons of her husband? Was Cordelia right about her or was Anthony Blanche?

And then we come to Anthony Blanche, the Virgil of Brideshead Revisited, the wise pagan with greater insight into human nature than many Catholics. Reading Eliot's Waste Land in his introductory scene, the reader quickly identifies Blanche as the seer of the novel, witnessing the gradual disillusionment of the vain, post-War generation. This cosmopolitan "dago" and aesthete is the only clear homosexual in the novel. Many accusations of a sexual relationship between Sebastian and Charles derive from the camped scenes between them in the first and second episodes of the BBC mini-series (although Waugh's own background doesn't improve matters). Blanche warns Charles about the allurement of the English aristocracy, its politeness, its charms, its cleverness, all of which mask a vapidity that "kills love, kills art", and nearly kills Charles. The aesthete is able to look at the world's players and understand the characters they play as well as the playwright. Blanche understands Sebastian, Lady Marchmain, and Charles perfectly, however incompletely. Charles only advances in the novel because he was unwise to ignore the advice Blanche gave him over Chartreuse, but Blanche's astute reading of the characters is still flawed by his lack of faith. He cannot understand Lady Marchmain's bitterness, Sebastian and his father's loss of innocence and yearning to have it back, or Charles's resistance to God, which, like his art, hides underneath his newly adopted English charm.

Then there is a more general question about a particularly family of players in this modern English tragedy, the Flyte family: does the aristocracy matter? Waugh himself sympathizes with them and laments their decline. They are the custodians and patrons of the arts. Charles's first serious aesthetic thought occurs when Sebastian reads from Clive Bell's Art. Brideshead Castle is a monument to baroque architecture and Marchmain House is London is the most beautiful house Charles has ever seen. Sebastian dissuades Charles from thinking too much about the period of the fountain or the architect behind the dome on the castle. What does it matter if it's pretty? The old money guard beauty for beauty's sake. It may not even matter within the context of the novel. The denouement of Brideshead suggests to this reader that the Flyte line has reached its ultimate generation.

Critics of the aristocracy are embodied in the middling tomfool of an office, Mr. Hooper, whose modern mind for "business" and "efficiency" at the sake of heritage and ornament reflect that of a changing Britain. In the chapel, towards the end of the final scene, Charles reflects on the house:
"The builders did not know the uses to which their work would descend; they made a new house with the stones of the old castle; year by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended it; year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to ripeness; until, in sudden frost, came the age of Hooper; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
Athwart his arrant sympathy for the aristocracy, Waugh has difficulty justifying them in the exchange between Lady Marchmain and Charles on whether the rich can enter heaven. Aristocrats provided soldiers for the king and regional administration in exchange for royal endowment in past ages. Modern aristocrats make no such contribution; instead they live off what accumulated wealth has not been spent by the previous generation. The Flytes are no different. Their wine stores were emptying out when Charles first visited Brideshead in the 1920s. If I am ever invited, I hope they kept a bottle of Chateau Peyraguey, although it might need to breath before it is drinkable....

Beneath their icy exteriors, the players of the Brideshead drama are individuals cooperating with God, resisting Him, or ignoring Him amidst their own personal strife. Some are clouded, some clairvoyant; some are clear people, some ambiguous. One is tempted to say that these characters are meant for a gradual conversion, not an immediate and shocking conversion like that of St. Paul, but then again St. Paul was only thrown off of his horse by the light. He was not baptized until several days later and would not begin preaching for some time after that. St. Paul did not convert in a day and Sebastian neither lost not regained his faith in an instance.


Yes, I have listened to the ravings of thy pride against me, and now a ring for thy nose, a twitch of the bridle in thy mouth, and back thou goest by the way thou didst come." –Isaias

"God save me from long-faced saints!" –Teresa of Avila

A standalone novel could be written about every character that Charles follows around inBrideshead. Maybe not every character deserves a novel, but there is enough history and personality in each of them to fill one, should Waugh have chosen to do so. Waugh was not writing a psychological novel primarily, but a novel about the inner workings of grace. Here is how he attempted to describe its meaning to a movie studio:

1. The novel deals with what is theologically termed, "the operation of Grace", that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself;

2. Grace is not confined to the happy, prosperous and conventionally virtuous. There is no stereotyped religious habit of life, as may be seen from the vastly dissimilar characters of the canonised saints. God has a separate plan for each individual by which he or she may find salvation. The story of Brideshead Revisited seeks to show the working of several such plans in the lives of a single family;

3. The Roman Catholic Church has the unique power of keeping remote control on human souls which have once been part of her. GK Chesterton has compared this to the fisherman's line, which allows the fish the illusion of free play in the water, and yet has him by the hook; in his own time the fisherman by a "twitch upon the thread" draws the fish to land.

In other words, how is the grace that leads to salvation embodied among the different character types found within the same family? Does the narrative of Brideshead Revisited succeed in dramatizing this "fisherman's line" of the Holy Ghost? All other artistic perfections or imperfections must be judged as secondary to this standard, it seems.

Let us put Charles aside. Not being a part of the family, he is not strictly within the parameters of Waugh's intent. He is an outsider, a narrative conceit to allow the reader a way in to the otherwise restricted world of the Flyte family. That he himself partakes in the workings of grace by the novel's end is incidental, although not wholly unimportant.

Lady Marchmain does not receive the twitch upon the thread, but attempts to twitch the thread of her own children. She is much like the older brother of the Prodigal Brother who had never fallen away, but also without any of the obvious bitterness of the brother. Is she heavy-handed in her threading? Charles does not have the proper perspective to see clearly one way or the other.

Cordelia Flyte is a counterpoint to her mother, but is also her doppelganger. While Lady Marchmain seems to be dragging along the grief of her brothers' deaths and her husband's abandonment, Cordelia is more sanguine and happy to be working hard for the spiritual good of others. Her faults are minor, mainly consisting of her tweaking Julia's hapless fiancé, and she never requires any serious twitch upon her thread.

Brideshead might be the closest figure to the Prodigal's older brother, although he does not despise his siblings once they make a return to the Faith. He is a being without much imagination or liveliness, too phlegmatic to be either a great saint or a great sinner. His condemnation of Julia's affair is made without any real hatred or love, just as a matter of fact. One actually wishes to see Bridey's thread twitched, if only to force him out of his torpor. Perhaps his clearly disastrous marriage plans could lay the groundwork for a proper twitching, but this is never seen in the novel.

So much for the Catholics who remained faithful to the Church. What of those who have fallen away, and upon whom the Church exercises a kind of "remote control"?

Of these, Julia Flyte is the most successful example of a caught fish. The narration exposits her faithful period, her falling away, her turning back, and her life of penance. She is downright Magdalenic. In terms of spiritual drama, Julia's is the only complete story. Her disastrous marriage to Rex Mottram is largely a means to her spiritual ends. As for Rex, he is so caught up in his own superficial world of business, that even the near prospect of conversion finds no purchase in the rocky soil of his soul.

Lord Marchmain is the second-clearest example of a thread-twitching. While we learn little of his younger years and of the falling out with his wife, his fallen away state and his deathbed conversion are both portrayed with clarity and intensity. The Holy Ghost blows strongly through his and his daughter's souls.

Sebastian Flyte is the fly in the story's ointment. Perpetually childishly melancholic, Sebastian wallows in self-loathing when he is not loathing his mother and brother. He takes the burden of religion upon himself bitterly, hating it with every step he walks. He tries to be very sinful, but since he cannot do so cheerfully, he returns to the Faith repeatedly much in the same way he returns to the bottle. He is addicted to the Faith, and despises his inability to be rid of it. There is some inner turmoil that we can never quite discern in Sebastian, some spiritual drama that we cannot see but desperately wish we could.

But what bothers me about Sebastian is the romanticizing of his story arc and of his character. He is very much like the tortured souls drawn by the Romantic poets and their novelistic imitators. Charles is overcome with nostalgia to think of those Arcadian days with Sebastian and his teddy bear, encouraging the reader to overlook his moral offenses. Even Cordelia gets a little soft in the head when she imagines what is surely the most romantically Catholic death possible for a deadbeat drunk:

Then one morning, after one of his drinking bouts, he'll be picked up at the gate dying, and show by a mere flicker of the eyelid that he is conscious when they give him the last sacraments. It's not such a bad way of getting through one's life.... No one is ever holy without suffering. It’s taken that form with him.... I've seen so much suffering in the last few years; there's so much coming for everybody soon. It's the spring of love.

While it is not impossible to imagine this kind of final repentance for a drunk like Sebastian, there is nothing morally attractive in his life before that point. Cordelia and Charles both want to be sentimental about their brother. One could posit that this is a reaction to Lady Marchmain's harsher approach to her youngest son, in the hopes that soft touches might be more efficacious than the occasional slap.

More distressingly, there is nothing in Cordelia's imaginative death scene to suppose that it will be correct. Sebastian might simply die in a bar fight, or gripping a bottle in a ditch far away from the monastery and its priests, cursing his mother's name. We never quite see what first drove Sebastian to his inner turmoil, we only see a little bit into his head through Charles, and we do not know how he finally dies. He is the greatest spiritual enigma of the novel, the one on whom the "twitch of the thread" has the effect of causing discordances. His soul has no melody or harmony, only a tonal whirlwind. He is the story's great loose end, the narrative thread that makes the novel ultimately unsatisfying to me.

Does the failure of Sebastian's story to conclude ruin the entire novel? Not completely, since there are many other characters worth exploring; Julia especially. I think that he is dropped from the narrative in part because of Charles' questionable "ladder of ascent" from Sebastian, to Julia, to God. Once Sebastian has served his purpose in Charles' recollections, he becomes far less central in his heart.

(This theory or practice of ascent from lower creatures to higher creatures, and from them to the divine, has more to do with pagan contemplative theory than with Christian charity. It ruined Petrarch and it almost ruined Dante. The command to love one's neighbor is not obliterated by the movement away from sinful creaturely loves.)

Perhaps I am alone in my discontent. Perhaps I want another novel about Sebastian where we learn the sources of his discontent and see him through to the resolution of some kind of choice. Throughout Brideshead he is like the damned souls of the indecisive in the Inferno, blowing here and there in the wind: "Accents of anger, words of agony, / And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands, / Made up a tumult that goes whirling on / For ever in that air for ever black, / Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes." I find myself wishing for Sebastian to choose finally for Heaven or Hell, for there is a kind of peace even in choosing damnation.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Josephology Part 12 Addendum

"Since this was a period of chaos, it was a period when pastors and teachers were anxiously looking for ways to order and stabilize the situation: if the heretics are attacking the Virgin Mary, we must intensify our Marian devotions and theology; if they are denying the Real Presence...."

J's observation above reminded me of this statuary next to the altar of St. Ignatius at Chiesa Gesù in Rome, showing the Virgin burning the protestant heretics with the Cross and Holy Eucharist. While agreeing with the sentiments, I wasn't quite sure what to make of its execution....

The images are my own.

Josephology Part 12: Burning the Hagiographies

“Can I at least hang on to my first editions of Harry Potter?”

[This article offers some historical background helpful to understanding the context of our 10th entry in this series, concerning Francisco Suárez.]

Try to imagine an Ecumenical Council going wrong. Imagine a Council making some recommendations for reforms that get hijacked and blown completely out of proportion by an influential school of theologians, so much so that the actual changes basically tear down all the bastions of what existed before and replace them with things mostly fabricated from scratch.

Now imagine that I am talking about the Council of Trent.

During the twenty-fifth session of the Tridentine Council, in December 1563, the Council Fathers wrote a decree “On the Invocation, Veneration, and Relics of Saints, and on Sacred Images.” It is relevant enough to the discussion at hand that I will quote it at some length, with some emphases added.
And the bishops shall carefully teach this—that, by means of the histories of the mysteries of our Redemption, portrayed by paintings or other representations, the people is instructed, and confirmed in (the habit of) remembering, and continually revolving in mind the articles of faith....
And if any abuses have crept in amongst these holy and salutary observances, the holy Synod ardently desires that they be utterly abolished; in such wise that no images, (suggestive) of false doctrine, and furnishing occasion of dangerous error to the uneducated, be set up. And if at times, when expedient for the unlettered people; it happen that the facts and narratives of sacred Scripture are portrayed and represented; the people shall be taught, that not thereby is the Divinity represented, as though it could be seen by the eyes of the body, or be portrayed by colours or figures.
Moreover, in the invocation of saints, the veneration of relics, and the sacred use of images, every superstition shall be removed, all filthy lucre be abolished; finally, all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust; nor the celebration of the saints, and the visitation of relics be by any perverted into revellings and drunkenness; as if festivals are celebrated to the honour of the saints by luxury and wantonness.
In fine, let so great care and diligence be used herein by bishops, as that there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous, seeing that holiness becometh the house of God.
And that these things may be the more faithfully observed, the holy Synod ordains, that no one be allowed to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image, in any place, or church, howsoever exempted, except that image have been approved of by the bishop: also, that no new miracles are to be acknowledged, or new relics recognised, unless the said bishop has taken cognizance and approved thereof; who, as soon as he has obtained some certain information in regard to these matters, shall, after having taken the advice of theologians, and of other pious men, act therein as he shall judge to be consonant with truth and piety.
Émile Mâle
The Council’s guidelines are reasonable enough: regarding the cults of the saints, remove clear excesses (moral and liturgical) and errors (theological and historical), so that the saints’ celebrations may be in keeping with proper Christian piety. In the face of the Protestant epidemic, the Catholic clergy were on the defensive, and especially needed to strengthen the faith of the laity against heretical attacks. The emerging art forms began to reflect this reactionary approach. As the great French art historian Émile Mâle wrote,
An art conceived during the tragic years when the papacy saw large portions of Christendom break away could no longer, like medieval art, express repose in faith. Art was committed; was obliged to struggle, to affirm and to refute. It became the auxiliary of the Counter Reformation, one of the aspects of apologetics, defending what the Protestants attacked—the Virgin, the saints, the papacy, images, sacraments, works, and prayers for the dead. It developed themes which in the past had been only sketched; and it expressed sentiments and forms of devotion which were entirely new. (Religious Art from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth Century, p. 198)
Since this was a period of chaos, it was a period when pastors and teachers were anxiously looking for ways to order and stabilize the situation: if the heretics are attacking the Virgin Mary, we must intensify our Marian devotions and theology; if they are denying the Real Presence, we must elevate and centralize the tabernacles in our churches; if they are preaching that the Bible is the only guide for religion, we must ensure that all Catholic Bibles have sufficient and orthodox notations; and if they are mocking the cults of the saints as ahistorical and unscriptural, we must carefully scrutinize every line of every hagiography to ensure its accuracy.

Unsurprisingly, these reactions often spiraled into overreactions, and the scrupulosity about the hagiographies grew so compulsive that in 1572 Pius V was inspired to strike the feasts and services of such a popular saint as Joachim from both the breviary and the calendar, due to fears of his ahistoricity! Working supposedly within the Spirit of the Council, books on the proper making of religious images abounded, as did the number of rules to which artists and hagiographers were suddenly subjected. Churchmen such as Federico Borromeo, Gabriele Paleotti, Andrea Gilio da Fabriano, and Johannes Molanus all had their say—and sway. These men condemned as sinful all hints of frivolity, luxury, rudeness, and scenes without clear scriptural foundation in sacred art. Strict precision was to be the standard from this time forward, and gone was the playful liveliness and inventiveness of the Medieval spirit.

Giotto: Sacrilegious!
A perfect example can be found in the older theme of the Swooning of the Virgin, which appeared as early as the twelfth century. This heartfelt depiction of the most terrible Sorrow of Mary was condemned heartlessly by the counter-reformers. Believing that the Theotokos should display only a restrained grief upon beholding the death of her Son, these iconoclasts argued that depictions of the Virgin collapsing or fainting at the foot of the Cross were immoral and degrading to the true honor of Mary, who was perfect in every way. Borromeo, Paleotti, Molanus, and even St. Peter Canisius joined forces in protecting the faithful from such a dangerous image.

Cranach the Elder: Wimpy!
Also condemned by Molanus were common depictions of the Final Judgment, which he thought were too merciful. He opined that,
We may not think that at that day the Virgin Mary will kneel for us before the Judge, baring her breast to intercede for sinners. Nor may we think that John the Baptist will fall upon his knees to beg mercy for mankind in the way the painters show. Rather, the blessed Virgin and St. John shall sit beside the supreme Judge as assessors. The mercy which is extended now will have no place then. There will only be strict justice at that day. (source)
Molanus’ Treatise on Sacred Images was severe and influential, wiping out centuries-worth of iconography and hagiography with single strokes. Some examples:

  • He denounced the Golden Legend, popular among clergy and laity alike, as ahistorical and completely untrustworthy. He named it a legend of lead.
  • He demanded that St. Peter be painted bald, much contrary to artistic tradition, and confusingly similar to St. Paul.
  • Moses must no longer be painted with horns but with rays of light emanating from his head, due to a mistranslation.
  • St. Luke’s reputation as an iconographer could not be clearly traced earlier than the sixth century, so it must be expunged.
  • St. George was no longer allowed to fight a dragon.
  • Protestants believed Jesus to have blood brothers from Mary, so St. James must not be painted to bear a striking resemblance to Our Lord.
  • The Unicorn Hunt, a symbol of the Annunciation, was too fanciful and confusing to be depicted.
  • The Death of the Virgin must never be portrayed, for she died without suffering, and certainly without some legendary reunion of the Twelve Apostles.
  • Last, but certainly not least, St. Joseph must be painted as a young man, someone virile enough to journey with his family to Egypt, to support them with manual labor, and to most virtuously restrain his carnal desires.

This new purification of artistic doctrine would only be halfway successful. Catholic piety is conservative by nature, and resents change imposed from above, especially when it intends to destroy something widely loved. Older iconographic traditions and hagiographies died hard, but some still survive in small pockets to this day. The newly approved artistic themes (exaltations of the Virgin, the glory of the papacy, the Eucharist, monastic mysticism, and saints performing charitable works) were too didactic for the laity to affectionately love. New devotions were created to fill these gaps, particularly those of the Christ Child, the Holy Family, St. Joseph, the Guardian Angels, and the Sacred Heart (which was a devotion already known, but more widely disseminated by the Counter Reformation). These new devotions lacked the imagination and delightful frivolity of earlier cults.

The commissioned painters of religious art, restrained in their choice of subject matter, channeled their creativity by way of effulgence and abundance during the Baroque period. This “doing more with less” approach would eventually sputter out into a “doing less with less” reality when the paucity of subject matter eventually took its toll. The final degradation into a culture of holy cards and plaster statues would be the impetus for the modern revolt of minimalistic and anti-symbolist religious art we are suffering from today.

Next time, I will examine the roots of later Josephite devotion in the Counter Reformation period, and show how his new blank slate was exploited as a propaganda tool by contemporary moralists.

(For further reading: Émile Mâle on the Death of Medieval Art.)

St. Joseph, collector of weird animals (everybody needs a hobby), pray for us!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Rad Trad Reviews: Chartreuse

If a visitor to le Grande Chartreuse in France knew nothing of the traditional silence practiced by the Carthusian order and was ignorant of the spirituality of St. Bruno, he would certainly be forgiven if he assumed the meditative quiet kept by the monks was a quality imparted to them by a strange green liqueur produced domestically.

Originally produced in 1605 as a remedy, Chartreuse quickly gained favor throughout Europe as both a digestif and a post-dessert liqueur. Production of the genuine article ceased when the French government banned religious orders in 1901. St. Bruno's sons only returned to France in 1929 and the Grande Chartreuse was not again inhabited until the Vichy regime. A gin-based Prohibition martini, the "Last Word," popularized Chartreuse briefly in America. When the drink died in America and when the aristocracy died in Europe, Chartreuse's presence faded into the shadows of stale bars and one-off restaurants. It is enjoying a minor revival in popularity thanks to attention from the Wall Street Journal and a few Seattle barmen who use the green potable in their concoctions. Avid readers may have noticed Anthony Blanche drinking it with Charles Ryder over dinner in Brideshead Revisited or found Agatha Christie's petite Belgian detective with a glass in the evening. It is not cocktails or books that interest the Rad Trad, however, but Chartreuse itself. 

The label on the back recommends the drink be served cold, even "on the rocks." Liqueurs, not unlike mature whiskeys, have a simple formula: alcohol by volume equals flavor. The monks of the Grande Chartreuse, if only the three monks who actually know disparate pieces of the recipe, bottle Chartreuse at 57.5% ABV. Icing a drink that strong is not a mortal sin, but it should be. When the Rad Trad tried Chartreuse he put it and a wine glass in the ice box for a few hours, went to lunch, read a book, and then opened the bottle.

Upon pouring, one finds chilled Chartreuse a viscous liquid with the consistency of a soft syrup. To the nose, the cold substance emits a soft and vaguely sweet aroma, not too strong. Chartreuse, like a fine wine or an aged cigar, transitions in flavors and scents both as the drink sits in the glass and as it tunnels down the throat. Immediately on the palate, the tongue detects a sweet licorice, peppermint, and pure black and white pepper notes. Chartreuse is spicy without being harsh. It is sweet without tasting too much like candy. It is a blast of flavor, but never overwhelming; it is always perfectly proportioned. Let is roll back on the tongue and slowly trickle down the little red lane. The sweetness vanishes as the drink departs the taste buds, leaving behind an intense finish of pepper, mint, and a hint of cinnamon.

Is the Rad Trad bloviating his description of Chartreuse's initial taste? Hardly. 130 alpine herbs are macerated twice over to create this liqueur, the second of which gives the drink its distinct green color.

A pale shade of apple green in natural sunlight.
As the drink warms in the glass the pepper dissipates slightly while the herbaceous notes intensifies on the nose: fennel, anise, mint, cinnamon, vanilla. While less sweet warm than cold upon drinking, Chartreuse leaves a sweeter finish as it nears room temperature. After a few sips a sticky, syrupy sheen develops on the tongue and roof of the mouth which makes talking pleasantly difficult when drinking Chartreuse. Your mind wants your mouth to imitate the monks in their silence and to have another go. Breathing after a drink of Chartreuse reactivates the peppermint and pepper notes from the beginning, creating a pleasurable warmth in the mouth. It is an aesthetic experience to be sure.

I have one complaint about this delicious delicacy. Chartreuse lies, and it lies very well. Although a 115 proof drink, one never tastes an alcoholic burn or feels the least hint of intoxication after drinking two wine glasses of Chartreuse. After the second glass, one stands up and is greeted by an unexpected bought of vertigo, which is far removed from tipsiness or drunkenness. Someone who gluttonously imbibes several servings of Chartreuse without pause is far more likely to nap dreaming blissful dreams than to descend into a smashed stupor.

The Absinthe Drinker
by Viktor Oliva
One might say that Chartreuse is everything absinthe wants to be. I had the displeasure opportunity to taste absinthe last weekend. I am of the opinion that if something costing $70 a bottle is tasteless when taken straight, it is not worth buying. Absinthe is liquid licorice with the sugar missing (perhaps the bohemians should have spent less money on opium so they could afford to distill a drink properly). Despite the anise and fennel scent, it lacks any herbal flavors when consumed. On a hunch, I took a match to this 62% ABV creature and let it burn for a moment before snuffing it and tasting again. "It's much smoother now, less bitterness, too," I told my host. "Is it because you've burned out the alcohol?" he asked. "No," I responded. "I think the chemicals and sulfur in the match improved the flavor." I didn't even get to see the Green Lady.

Chartreuse needs no matches, no chemicals, no water, no sugar. It is perfect as the monks made it.

Chartreuse can be had for about $60 a bottle plus taxes Stateside. If news of Chartreuse's quality ever reached garrulous ears, I would expect a price increase. As is, Chartreuse is very affordable as a one time purchase for good occasions. It will be worth the money if you savor every sip, if you do not swallow it immediately, but instead let it dance on your tongue from front to back, let it roll under your tongue, sit, and trickle down your pipes. It sounds mad to drop $60 on a drink that is not wine, but this is worth it.

An entirely orthodox drink.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Divine Liturgy of the Dormition

REPOST: Liturgical Theology & the Assumption

Liturgical theology is, according to Aidan Kavanagh, not a theological examination of the liturgy, but theology done by means of the liturgy. Liturgy is the theologia prima of the Church. When someone asks a Catholic how to learn more about the faith, the believer never directs the inquirer to obtain a copy of Denzinger. Invariably, the believer tells the non-Catholic to go to Mass (and hopefully at a carefully selected location). With this in mind, let us [very succinctly] consider what the Church told and taught us about the Assumption of the Mother of God today.

Apse of St. Mary Major with mosaic of Mary as Queen of Heaven,
crowned by and reigning with Christ.
source: Rad Trad's collection
Mattins—or the "vigil," as Dobszay insisted on calling the first major hour—consists of nine psalms and readings divided evenly into three nocturnes. Contrary to the eccentric and rich local traditions of northern Europe, which created special texts for Marian feasts, the Roman rite retains a primitive and sparse text. The psalms and hymns for the feast are typical of any Marian feast prior to the 1860s when Pius IX issued a unique liturgy for the Immaculate Conception. Where the Assumption stands alone is in the Mattins lessons and the text of the Mass. According to Dom Gueranger: 
"the Lord Pope went to St Mary Major, where, surrounded by his court, he celebrated First Vespers. At the beginning of the night the Matins with nine lessons were chanted in the same church.
"Meanwhile an ever-growing crowd gathers on the piazza of the Lateran, awaiting the Pontiff's return.... Around the picture of the Saviour, within the sanctuary, stand twelve bearers who form its perpetual guard, all members of the most illustrious families, and near them are the representatives of the senate and of the Roman people.
"But the signal is given that the papal retinue is redescending the Esquiline. Instantly lighted torches glitter on all sides, either held in the hand, or carried on the brancards of the corporations. Assisted by the deacons, the Cardinals raise on their shoulders the holy image, which advances under a canopy, escorted in perfect order by the immense multitude. Along the illuminated and decorated streets, amid the singing of the psalms and the sound of instruments, the procession reaches the ancient Triumphal Way, winds round the Coliseum, and, passing through the arches of Constantine and Titus, halts for a first Station on the Via Sacra, before the church called St Mary Minor.... In this church, while the second Matins with three lessons are being chanted in honor of the Mother, some priests wash, with scented water in a silver basin, the feet of the her Son, our Lord, and then sprinkle the people with the water thus sanctified. Then the venerable picture sets out once more, crosses the Forum amidst acclamations.... it at least enters the piazza of St Mary Major. Then the delight and the appluse of the crowd are redoubled; all, men and women, great and little, as we read in a document of 1462 (archivio della Compagnia di Sancta Sanctorum), forgetting the fatigue of a whole night spent without sleep, cease not till morning to visit and venerate our Lord and Mary. In this glorious basilica, adorned as a bridge, the glorious Office of Lauds celebrates the meeting of the Son and the Mother and their union for all eternity." (The Liturgical Year, August 15)
All rungs of Roman society paused regular life and joined Christ and Mary in the divine life for a night and an octave, celebrating Mary joining her Son in eternity and anticipating their own union with Christ in eternity. Mary was the first of what Christ wants all Christians to become by the Sacraments, albeit in a lesser degree.

The first three lessons are extracted from chapter 1 of the Song of Songs:
1 Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine,2 Smelling sweet of the best ointments. thy name is as oil poured out: therefore young maidens have loved thee.3 Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments. The king hath brought me into his storerooms: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, remembering thy breasts more than wine: the righteous love thee.4 I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon.5 Do not consider me that I am brown, because the sun hath altered my colour: the sons of my mother have fought against me, they have made me the keeper in the vineyards: my vineyard I have not kept.6 Show me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest in the midday, lest I begin to wander after the flocks of thy companions.7 If thou know not thyself, O fairest among women, go forth, and follow after the steps of the flocks, and feed thy kids beside the tents of the shepherds.8 To my company of horsemen, in Pharao's chariots, have I likened thee, O my love.9 Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtledove's, thy neck as jewels.10 We will make thee chains of gold, inlaid with silver.11 While the king was at his repose, my spikenard sent forth the odour thereof.12 A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, he shall abide between my breasts.13 A cluster of cypress my love is to me, in the vineyards of Engaddi.14 Behold thou art fair, O my love, behold thou art fair, thy eyes are as those of doves.15 Behold thou art fair, my beloved, and comely. Our bed is flourishing.16 The beams of our houses are of cedar, our rafters of cypress trees.

Some of these verses are very sensual and even sexual. Let no one say that the medievals were prudish on matters of intimacy! These verses can be applied both as the Church's acclamation to the Virgin, joyfully exclaiming her maternal nurturing of us Christians working out our salvation in fear and trembling. These words can also, with some care and reservation, be interpreted as a dialogue between Mary and her Creator. The first verse "Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth: for thy breasts are better than wine" speaks to Mary on a level of intimacy that no man ever knew, but Christ did. He nursed from her, yes, but He, in the Father, also created her in accordance with His divine plan for mankind. The image of the breast conjures immature sexual ideas today, but previous peoples instantly affiliated it with nurturing and familial ties: the affection of the husband, the nurturing of the children—two kinds of love, the second generated from the first, which reflects the Divine Love. At this level of power and privacy did Mary know God, of course without the sexual element. Should the dialogue interpretation continue, Mary is both removed from conventions "I am black, but I am beautiful" and presented as close with God on the level of bride in the King's chamber, as the versicle before the third nocturne says.

The readings in the second nocturne come from St. John of Damascus' second treatise on the Dormition of the Mother of God. These readings replaced the writings of St. Dionysius of the [pseudo] Areopagite —which would have been the lessons read at St Mary Minor—with the Tridentine reforms. St. John explains the typology of the Virgin, her prefigurement in the Ark of the Covenant, which housed the old promise between God and mankind, and its fulfillment in her, who housed the new and eternal promise between God and mankind. And like Christ, she did not refuse death, but embraced it as a path to life away from the death wrought by Adam:
"From her true life had flowed for all men, and how should she taste of death? But she yielded obedience to the law established by Him to Whom she had given birth, and, as the daughter of the old Adam, underwent the old sentence, which even her Son, Who is the very Life Itself, had not refused; but, as the Mother of the living God, she was worthily taken by Him unto Himself."
In the treatise from which the above passage in extracted, the Damascene saint goes on to teach that Mary's body could only be assumed into heaven because its use by Christ consecrated it as a thing of heaven. The treatise goes on to recount the entire event of the Dormition and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which ran the course of three days:
"An ancient tradition has been handed down to us, that, at the time of the glorious falling-asleep of the blessed Virgin, all the Apostles, who were wandering throughout the world preaching salvation to the Gentiles, were caught up aloft in the twinkling of an eye, and met together in Jerusalem. And when they were all there, a vision of Angels appeared to them, and the chant of the heavenly powers was heard; and so with divine glory she gave up her soul into the hands of God. But her body, which bore God in an effable manner, being lifted up amid the hymns of Angels and Apostles was laid in a tomb in Gethsemane. There for three whole days the angelic song was heard.
"But after three days, the chant of the Angels ceased, and the Apostles who were present (for Thomas, the only one who had been absent, came after the third day, and wished to adore the body which had borne God) opened the tomb; but they could by no means find her sacred body in any part of it. But when they only found those garments in which she had been buried, and were filled with indescribable fragrance which emanated from them, they closed the tomb. Amazed at this wonderful mystery they could only think that he, who had been pleased to take flesh from the Virgin Mary, to be made man, and to be born though he was God the Word, and the Lord of glory, he who had preserved her virginity without stain after childbirth, should also have been pleased to honor her pure body after her death, keeping it incorrupt, and translating it into Heaven before the general resurrection." 
The best sermon this writer ever heard preached about the Assumption, or "Dormition" given the setting, was that of a Melkite deacon. Paraphrasing and condensing ten minutes into a few sentences, "Heaven and earth were not vast enough to hold Gods' glory, but Mary's womb was. Christ received His Divine nature when He was begotten of the Father in eternity. He received His human nature when He was conceived and born of Mary in time. When her earthly course was run, Mary died and her body was taken into heaven by the One Who created her because it was inconceivable that the womb which ore God-made-Man could decay in the ground. But this does not separate Mary from mankind. God became united to mankind through her. Mary was the first. We will never know God as closely as she did on earth, except perhaps when we receive Holy Communion, but we can pray to know Him in eternity because of her."

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico
At the third nocturne we arrive at the Gospel of the day, also used in the Mass of the day. The pericope, Luke 10:38-42, is the same Gospel story applied in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in the Greek tradition for this feast, adding verses 11:27-28. The last verses used in the Byzantine liturgy highlight the entire point of the Gospel for this day: "And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." Is any depiction in pre-modern art more popular than that of the Annunciation? Mary became special because she bore Christ. She is a powerful intercessor with Him, indeed the most powerful intercessor with Him precisely for this reason. But also for this reason Mary is not a lone, solitary figure of power. She matters because wherever she is, Christ is nearby. Practically every depiction of the Virgin before the vulgar kitsche artwork of the 19th century showed Mary and our Lord Jesus together. In the various pieta paintings and sculptures, the great paintings depicting the Crucifixion and Norman rood screens recounting the same event, and first millennium holy images—Eastern and Western alike—Mary is with her Son. So let us agree with the woman in the crowd: blessed is the womb that bore the Lord! And then let us turn our attention from Mary to Christ by hearing the word of God and by keeping it.

Culminating with the Mass, the Introit invites us to enter into the heavenly abode of joy, elevated from the earthly joy and instruction in Mattins and Lauds, as well as the rites local to the diocese of Rome described by Gueranger above. In the Mass God's presence begins as a mystic one and elevates into a literal presence that can be seen and touched, a presence similar to the one Mary knew as Christ's mother. The collect of the Mass is among the best in the Roman tradition:
"Forgive, O Lord, we beseech thee, the sins of thy servants: that we who by our own deeds are unable to please thee, may be saved by the intercession of the Mother of thy Son our Lord."
This collect, as Fr. Hunwicke has stated, is the theology of Mary East and West. What words could better express our Lady's place in the plan of salvation? The Mass became the integral part of the Assumption liturgy and, in time, many stunning settings of the Mass were written by the great polyphonic and choral composers. Palestrina's setting of the Ordinary of Mass is a personal favorite. The below sequence of videos has both the proper chants and Palestrina's setting concatenated, as for a Mass.

Lastly, the feast is an octave. This blog has discussed in other posts the concept of the eighth day and the theology of the Resurrection. Christ rose on the eighth day after He entered Jerusalem and He appeared to the Apostles on the eighth day after that, one octave after another. Moreover, the Resurrection constitutes the eighth day of the week, the new day of Creation, or re-creation. Mary's tomb, like her Son's was found empty. While the myrrh-bearing women and the Apostles Peter and John only found a few burial garments in Christ's tomb, Mary's tomb was found full of flowers and sweet scents. Christ's Resurrection brought mystery only clarified with the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Mary's Assumption was clear and a fruit of Christ's Resurrection. 

Unfortunately, this historic and gladsome liturgy was altered in 1950 after Pius XII's definition of the Assumption—wherein he says nothing new and clears up none of the controversy stemming from the chirpy immortalist crowd, even if the accompanying letter did in fact say she died. The Office readings were altered severely: the first reading is now taken from Genesis chapter 3 and the next two readings from Corinthians (the same passage used in the Requiem Mass). The Pope's encyclical Munificentissimus Deus replaces one of the lessons from St. John of Damascus. The hymns are new and utterly ghastly. And the Mass is entirely new. The Introit is no longer an invitation to joy, but instead an excerpt from Revelation chapter 12. The collect is banal beyond belief and the Gospel is the account of the Annunciation heard at practically every Marian feast now other than the Immaculate Conception. Of all the changes to the feast in 1950, the insertion of Genesis chapter 3 at Mattins and the new Introit of Mass stand out most. Far from according to a "hermeneutic of continuity" with the previous liturgy, these texts exude the images of plaster statues and devotional lithographs so common in the 19th and early 20th century. Who has not seen a plaster statue of the Virgin, clothed in blue, perhaps with a bulbous baroque crown rimmed in twelve stars, standing on a blue globe and crushing the head of a green snake? The problem that arises from this depiction of Mary as crushing sin and standing above the moon, crowned with stars is not so much what it says as much as what it fails to say. The Mary of these images, pieces of art, and, to some extent, devotions is an aggrandized Mary not entirely dependent on Christ for her importance. There is nothing wrong with these texts doctrinally, but they replace other texts that were more coherent, beautiful, and holistically reflective of the Church's understanding of our Lady. The octave was stripped in 1955.

As with Holy Week, the same people who created the Pauline liturgy restored a few small portions of what they vitiated in the 1950s. The old Gaudeamus omnes Introit is made available as an option. The Mass as a whole is just as bad as the Pian Mass though. The readings are respectively Revelation 12 and the 1951-1969 Mattins readings from Corinthians; the Gospel is again the Annunciation. Mattins The Office of Readings gives Ephesians 1:16-2:10 and again Pius XII's encyclical as the lessons. The mystical understanding of Mary in union with Christ, representing the Church, and the link between the God-Man and mankind is obscured or forgotten. Who can deny that even the most pious of Roman Catholics—far better people than the Rad Trad—only know of Mary through the kitsch statue or as the object of the line "Hail, full of grace"? Again, there is nothing strictly heterodox about this folkish interpretation, but it comes at the cost of the stronger, traditional interpretation of the feast.

On a happy note I know of at least one priest who celebrated the old Mass and kept the old Office for August 15 and the octave! This feast, like so many of the most ancient feasts in the Roman rite, brings the faithful deep into the mens of the Church and her theology of the mysteries of God.

Gaudeamus omnes in Domino!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Holy Smoke

According to one anecdote, two American journalists visited GK Chesterton in one day. At the beginning of the first interview, the portly journalist opened his box of cigars, took one out, lit it, drew on it, and offered another to his counterpart. "No," he replied. "I will not have such a filthy habit." Chesterton repeated his hospitality during the second journalist's visit. This time the journalist sheepishly said, "I see we both share this habit."

Am I a smoker? Perhaps, but not quite. I enjoy a few cigars a month, usually after the Sunday liturgy and breakfast. "J" has a similar routine with his pipe. A cigar enjoyed properly is not unlike wine: the producer perfects growing and nurtures a crop; the fruits of labor are fermented and stored for years; the assembly is a handed down art rather than a science; and one enjoys it for the flavors, not the chemical effect. Cigar crafting is a special skill handed down from one roller to another. Before the revolution, the great cigar makers of Cuba were run by families in a fashion similar to the esteemed vintners of France. One does not inhale cigar smoke. A draw populates the mouth with a waft of rich smoke that should drift out like incense from a thurible, leaving behind a progressively simpler array of tastes on the palate. A cigar is also a social event, a reason for friends to gather round with a drink and revel in committing the two great sins against the Baptist religion.... Which is why the puritanical American outlook on all smoking is annoying.

The occasional cigar smoker and pipe smoker (defined statistically as someone who smokes less than once a day) is constantly lumped with those chemical addicted fiends, dragging everyone ounce of burning tar into their decaying lungs at $6 a pack. The cigarette smokers. No, they are not bad people, but cigarettes, unlike other manners of smoking, do actually cause addiction, and because of they way they are consumed, they are highly correlated with a great many ailments. To most Americans, it is all the same filthy habit. By syllogy, the alcoholism of a lush getting smashed on $10 a bottle "vodka" necessarily condemns those who would have Chateau Rayas.

This attitude has found its way into the hearts of many American Catholics. Go to "Catholic Answers Forum" (no, don't.... ever) and ask about smoking. Some will say it is suicide incarnate and hence a mortal sin. Others will insist that since Ss. Pius X and John Bosco were tobacco users, that it was not sinful then, before the health effects of smoking were known, but that it is a sin now. 

Snuff was popular among wealthy clergy. Benedict XIII, Benedict XIV Lambertini, and Pius IX all enjoyed a hint of nasal stimulation. Snuff became so popular that papal edicts against the presence of snuff boxes on the altar were needed. Recent John XXIII and Benedict XVI were cigarette smokers. Pius X and XI liked cigars, although Pius X had a stronger penchant for cigarettes (one account of him in the sacristy, atop the sedia gestatoria with tiara and all, has him puffing furiously before Mass with a deacon holding an ash tray for him). Smoking was allowed during Mass at St. Peter's basilica to avoid the migration of men in and out of the temple. Then came American Catholicism.

Some compassion is due to cigarette smokers. The government attempts to tax their behavior and redirect it towards healthier activities. But cigarette smoking—most common among blue collar, lower income Americans—is usually an addiction, which effectively punishes people for their poverty. The behavior is inelastic relative to the taxation, and Uncle Sam knows it.

Still, to those who would damn we cigar and pipe puffers, either with the cigarette crowd or on our own, I say that we have Tolkien, Waugh, Belloc, Chesterton, Pius X, Russell Kirk, and Bill Buckley on our side. The puritans are blowing a distinctly different sort of smoke out a distinctly different place.