Monday, July 28, 2014

CIVILISATION Remade: "Challenging questions about contemporary pieties"

Earlier this month, I posted about the Kenneth Clark exhibition at Tate Britain, and about the BBC's plans to "remake" the series. I noted the problems some people have with Clark's appearance and manner and said:

What Stourton describes as distractions now I find essential to the series. It was "A Personal View" so the person, Sir Kenneth Clark had to be himself--he did not have to look like a television personality; he had to have ideas and views to present. I like the static camera and the slow pans from Clark to the background and the great close ups of the artwork, so steady and patient--the camera is giving me a chance to see what Clark sees, to learn how to look at the art, see the beauty, and appreciate the civilization that created it.

The BBC is going to "remake" the series with another art critic who will have his or her own "Personal View"--I doubt the critic would dare have such a "conservative" view of civilization or even to concentrate on western civilization. It will have to be multi-cultural and the pace will have to be fast, with quick cuts and angles. The presenter will have to be photogenic with perfect teeth (Sir Kenneth's are horrible, one can tell). I can't imagine a remake of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation: A Personal View that could replace it in my library of books, DVDs, or memories. As Clark says at the end of the series, I may be hopeful about the new version, but not joyous.

Now, History Today comments on the BBC's plans and brings up the same issues:

How often has Lord Hall paused to regret announcing that the BBC intends to remake Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation? The notion becomes more fraught with difficulty at every turn. Set aside the question as to whether a modern Civilisation is a good idea and still Hall’s problems, or rather those of his commissioning editors, multiply.

First shown in 1969 in 12 episodes, Civilisation focused exclusively on western Europe. It is inconceivable that today’s BBC could make a series that excluded the cultures of the Far East, India, Africa and Central and South America. So is one that paid little attention to women. Or indeed one that started, as Clark’s did, with the disarming statement: ‘What is civilisation? I don’t know … but I think I can recognise it when I see it.’

Early attacks on Clark were instigated by his ideological opposite John Berger and they hit home. The way that Clark has been wilfully misinterpreted is, however, also a measure of changed times and contemporary pieties. His omission of other cultures was not because he thought them inferior but because, as he admitted, he didn’t know much about them. He did not ‘suppose that anyone could be so obtuse as to think I had forgotten about the great civilisations of the pre-Christian era and the east’, but people did. It is worth noting that he hardly mentioned Spain – Velázquez, Goya et al – in the series because he thought the country’s contribution to culture too slight: ‘One asks what Spain has done to enlarge the human mind and pull mankind a few steps up the hill.’ It is also forgotten that the series had the all-important subtitle; ‘A personal view by Kenneth Clark’.

And then there's the issue of who will host the show:

Hall’s greatest problem though is who should play the Clark role. Immediately after the BBC announcement, the retiring novelist Kathy Lette unhelpfully whipped up a petition signed by the likes of Helena Kennedy, Shami Chakrabarti, Tracy Chevalier and Sandi Toksvig instructing Hall not to plump for a man. Mary Beard is their poster girl, though what attributes she would bring to a discussion of 19th-century Paris or pre-Columbian Peru was not made clear. Among other widely tipped names Neil MacGregor and Simon Schama stand out. Pick a woman and Hall will be accused of pandering to feminists, pick MacGregor and he will be demonstrating patrician tendencies; pick Schama and it will show a lack of imagination. And why no black or Indian presenter?

Could the presenter at least wear tweed in a few of the episodes?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27, 1914: One Last Day of Peace

In 1914, today was a day of peace in Europe before war began--it was a Thursday--and the next day, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. On Saturday, July 29, Austria started bombing Belgrade, and Russia mobilized against Austria. The day after that, Austria and Russia started mobilizing against each other. On July 31, Germany issued an ultimatum to Russia and another one to France--step by step, day by day, the great powers of Europe moved closer and closer to waging war against one another.

The video above, from the Catholic News Services, emphasizes the efforts of Pope Benedict XV, elected in September of 1914 after the death of Pope Pius X, to negotiate peace at the beginning of the war--a Christmas truce in 1914--and a just peace at the end of the war. He was consistently ignored, as this EWTN page notes:

He was elected to succeed Pius X, probably because of his diplomatic experience. As father to all Catholics, Benedict XV favored neither side in the war. But his policy of neutrality was misinterpreted by both sides, each regarding him as siding with the other. He pressed for a Christmas truce in 1914 to ward off the “suicide of Europe,” but was ignored. In 1917, he tried to broker a peace plan, but his efforts were unsuccessful. He was able, however, to arrange the exchange of disabled prisoners through neutral countries, and to have the sick and wounded sent to neutral countries for treatment and recuperation. Through his intercession, deported Belgians were allowed to return home, and he donated money to relieve those suffering the effects of the war throughout Europe. After the war, in 1919, he asked for a Vatican role in the Paris Peace Conference, but was turned down. He pleaded with the victorious Allies to lift the blockade against Germany, because of the suffering it caused to women and children, and he took up a Church-wide collection to buy food. For human solidarity, he favored the founding of the League of Nations, though the Vatican itself was excluded from membership.

In his November 1, 1914 encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (Appealing for Peace), he reached out to the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and Other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See to remind themselves and their communities of their Christian brotherhood: 

Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from Heaven for the very purpose of restoring amongst men the Kingdom of Peace, which the envy of the devil had destroyed, and it was His will that it should rest on no other foundation than that of brotherly love. These are His own oft-repeated words: "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another (John 14:34); "This is my commandment that you love one another" (John 15:12); "These things I command you, that you love one another" (John 15:17); as though His one office and purpose was to bring men to mutual love. He used every kind of argument to bring about that effect. He bids us all look up to Heaven: "For one is your Father who is in Heaven" (Matt. 23:9); He teaches all men, without distinction of nationality or of language, or of ideas, to pray in the words: "Our Father, who are in Heaven" (Matt. 6:9); nay, more, He tells us that our Heavenly Father in distributing the blessings of nature makes no distinction of our deserts: "Who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). He bids us be brothers one to another, and calls us His brethren: "All you are brethren" (Matt. 23:8); "that He might be the first-born amongst many brethren" (Rom. 7:29). In order the more to stimulate us to brotherly love, even towards those whom our natural pride despises, it is His will that we should recognize the dignity of His own very self in the meanest of men: "As long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me" (Matt. 15:40}. At the close of His life did He not most earnestly beg of His Father, that as many as should believe in Him should all be one in the bond of charity? "As thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee" (John 22:21). And finally, as He was hanging from the cross, He poured out His blood over us all, whence being as it were compacted and fitly joined together in one body, we should love one another, with a love like that which one member bears to another in the same body.

He discussed the various evils of the day (besides the war) and how they contributed to the unrest that led to the war, including atheism, greed, racial hatred, contempt of laws and authority, etc. He urges the bishops and the patriarchs and bishops to be unified, charitable to each other, and to pray:

It remains for Us, Venerable Brethren, since in God's hands are the wills of princes and of those who are able to put an end to the suffering and destruction of which We have spoken, to raise Our voice in supplication to God, and in the name of the whole human race, to cry out: "Grant, O Lord, peace, in our day." May He who said of himself: "I am the Lord . . . I make peace" (Isaias 41:6-7) appeased by our prayers, quickly still the storm in which civil society and religious society are being tossed; and may the Blessed Virgin, who brought forth "the Prince of Peace," be propitious towards us; and may she take under her maternal care and protection Our own humble person, Our Pontificate, the Church and the souls of all men, redeemed by the divine blood of her Son.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chesterton Anticipated "The Catholic Herald"!

Francis Campbell, writing for The Catholic Herald, comments on the plan to honor Mahatma Gandhi with a statue in Parliament Square. He says it's a good idea, but that it highlights another mission statue: in honor of Daniel O'Connell

It is time for the Government to recognise the debt of gratitude we owe to Daniel O’Connell: the London-trained lawyer who went on to lead the Irish through a time of great turbulence and who could lay claim to be the inspiration for non-violent civil rights movements. Indeed, Gandhi himself looked to figures in 19th-century Irish history for inspiration, O’Connell among them. A statue of O’Connell would honour his legacy and send out a powerful message about democratic pluralism, inclusion and non-violence.

Nearly 170 years after his death, there is no statue of O’Connell erected anywhere in London, let alone Parliament Square. Yet few figures in the 19th or 20th centuries changed the course of Britain’s parliamentary democracy, and influenced the health and vitality of its democracy and pluralism, as much as he did.

O’Connell’s greatest contribution was in the area of religious pluralism. He fought for and won the right for Catholics to take their seats in Parliament. Choosing politics over force, he achieved Catholic emancipation through the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act in 1829, which also annulled the remaining Penal Laws and the Test Act, and helped to pave the way for the restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Wales, and Scotland. O’Connell’s 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act is also credited with helping to secure the passing of the Jews Relief Act of 1858.

O’Connell’s absence from his rightful place in Parliament Square is all the more grating given that Robert Peel, who initially opposed Catholic emancipation, is honoured there. It was a lonely campaign for O’Connell, and Peel was ultimately persuaded not on any grounds of enlightened principle, but simply by fear that failure to repeal prejudicial laws would trigger further rebellion in Ireland. Why should the former stand proud just minutes from our seat of power, and the latter be overlooked?

Campbell is exactly correct in his argument, but G.K. Chesterton anticipated him about 85 years ago, when he wrote about the differences between how the Catholic Church and the modern state responds to past injustices. To quote my own blogpost:

. . . in an article titled "The Early Bird in History", Chesterton notes "there's a common and current charge against the Catholic Church, that she is, as the phrase goes, always behind the times."
Not that there's anything wrong with that, he says, when you consider the times, but then he notes at least one instance in which the Catholic Church was far ahead of anyone else and in ways that no other institution had caught up with (in 1929, at least). He examines the rehabilitation of St. Joan of Arc. Chesterton notes that her canonization may have taken centuries, but her rehabilitation did not. The Church investigated, acknowledged the injustice, and cleared her name during the lifetime of her family-- of her mother. 

Then Chesterton considers some other cases: Did Edward III repent of the brutal execution of William Wallace by Edward I? Did Elizabeth I rehabilitate Sir Thomas More, acknowledge the error of his trial, conviction, and execution as a traitor? Of course they did not. 
He acknowledges that in the 19th century the English did "make a romance about Wallace" and finally start thinking of St. Joan of Arc with more favor and recognition of their own tawdry role. (Shakespeare's depiction of Joan, he notes, features "insular insults".)
Chesterton has two more historical parallels: have the English honored Daniel O'Connell, the catalyst of Catholic Emancipation within one hundred years of that great milestone (1829-1929)? Have they accepted Robert Emmet of Ireland as well as they've accepted George Washington of the United States of America? No--in 1929, they had not. Thus, Chesterton demonstrates that the Catholic Church was not so far behind the times as "people" say, and in fact, the secular world is really far behind in the process of acknowledging past injustices.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sadness and Confusion in the Sixties

This is a sad book. Reading about Evelyn Waugh's confusion and sorrow as he witnessed changes in the Mass during and after the Second Vatican Council is heartbreaking. Reading it now, seven years after Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, is still heartbreaking, because Waugh demonstrates how so many Catholics suffered so much sadness, confusion, anger and pain. With a foreword by Joseph Pearce, an introduction by Alcuin Reed, and an afterword by Clare Asquith, the Countess of Oxford, the one thing the book does not do is clarify the historical context. Waugh died before the promulgation of the Missal of Pope Paul VI--what he endured was the confusing period when the Mass seemed almost a laboratory. Waugh laments, for example, the sudden change when he was no longer to genuflect during the Credo when the Incarnation was proclaimed--he was forbidden, in fact, to genuflect, with no explanation. The translation from Latin to English was in process, but the vernacular was introduced anyway. This review of the edition from The New Oxford Review makes that context more clear:

The first liturgical changes remarked upon by Waugh were the revisions of the Easter vigil in 1951 and the abbreviated new rite of Holy Week in 1955, with its changes, omissions, and “endless blank periods,” which left him “resentful of the new liturgy.” Other changes included the dialogue Masses of the 1950s, which were never made obligatory until the introduction of the vernacular in the 1960s, accompanied by persistent confusion occasioned by conflicting statements from Rome. “Repeatedly standing up and saying ‘And with you’ detracts from [the] intimate association” of uniting oneself to the action of the priest, he complained in 1965. Waugh lived through the Second Vatican Council, which nearly undid him.

One wag suggested that Waugh suffered “Death by Novus Ordo,” though the jest is more clever than accurate. Pope Paul VI’s New Mass was not promulgated until 1969; Waugh died three years earlier, about an hour after attending a private Latin Mass on Easter Sunday celebrated by his friend, Fr. Caraman. Yet, if the liturgy were understood as a “permanent workshop” of innovation — as it was by Fr. Joseph Gelineau, S.J., whom the chief architect of the new Mass, Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, described as “one of the great masters of the international liturgical world” — it would be accurate to say that Waugh’s bitter trial was an effect of the accelerating and seemingly interminable experiments in what he called “the new liturgy,” which he endured in the decade until his death the year after the Council ended.

Waugh certainly appreciated the connection between the Church's worship and the Church's teaching--he predicted that Catholics would become confused about doctrine: the Eucharist, the priesthood, the Incarnation because of the changes and confusion he was experiencing at Mass. He and Cardinal Heenan corresponded about the changes that were occurring and Heenan tried to console Waugh that in the end, it wouldn't be that bad and that surely some provision would be made for the Mass in Latin according to the Tridentine Rite would still be available. Cardinal Heenan did petition Rome for such permission and Paul VI granted it--the so-called "Agatha Christie" Indult, which was limited and restrictive indeed.

Again, it's wonderful that with Summorum Pontificum, what Pope Benedict XVI called the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Liturgy of the Roman Rite is more freely available, when a group of dedicated laity gather and request it, provide for it, prepare for it, and support it. But reading A Bitter Trial--and that title comes from Waugh's comment that attending Mass had become a bitter trial to him, testing his faith, hope, and charity--it's a sorrowful mystery that Catholic laity had to suffer such a trial in the first place.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Preparing for Disaster: Apollo 11

This is fascinating: President Nixon was prepared if Apollo 11 failed and the astronauts didn't make it home from the Moon. tells the story.

The entire world was captivated by NASA's Apollo 11 moon landing 45 years ago this week, but at the time, the mission's success was far from certain. In fact, then President Richard Nixon even had a speech ready should Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin die on the moon.

In preparation for possible catastrophe, presidential speechwriter William Safire prepared a statement for President Nixon. Although the speech remained undelivered, given the success of
Apollo 11, its existence underscores some of the concerns regarding the hazards of space travel.
"All involved knew that the risks of an accident on any flight to the moon, especially the first attempt, were high," historian John Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University, told via email. "Once Armstrong and Aldrin landed, there was particular attention [paid] to the possibility that they might not be able to launch from the moon's surface." . . .
If the lunar module failed to launch from the surface, death for the two stranded astronauts could come from either slow starvation or from what Safire termed "deliberately 'closed down communications,' the euphemism for suicide."

The tragic situation would require Nixon to first contact the widows to express his condolences before addressing the nation in the prepared speech.

According to Roger Bruns' 2001 book "Almost History" (Hyperion, 2000), the closing words of the speech echoed British poet Rupert Brooke's words on World War I, a salute to the fallen whose bodies were left on foreign soil. Brooke's poem, "The Soldier," includes the words "there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England," while Nixon states "there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind."

As it mourned the lost astronauts, the speech also spoke to the idea that others would follow in their footsteps, visiting the lunar surface and returning home to Earth.

Public communications would then be closed down, and a clergyman would commend the astronauts' souls to the deep, much like a naval burial at sea.

You can see the typed text of the prepared speech here.

Here's the poem by Rupert Brooke, "The Soldier" that Safire's speech alluded to:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Literary Criticism: Plato vs. Aristotle

From The Wall Street Journal, Barton Swaim reviews James Seaton's Literary Criticism from Plato to Postmodernism:

James Seaton, in his short but deeply perceptive book "Literary Criticism From Plato to Postmodernism," contends that the theorists who dominate literature departments can trace their intellectual heritage to a surprising source: Plato. This is surprising because literary theorists usually consider Plato the father of "logocentrism"—supposedly a "Western" tendency to see words as fixed to unchanging ideals rather than as arbitrary symbols. Yet Mr. Seaton argues that the academics who dominate literature departments today—disciples of a dizzying array of "postmodernist" philosophies, from New Historicism to feminist theory—are Platonists to the core. Plato sought to align human life and government strictly to the ideals of reason and justice; postmodern theorists, writes Mr. Seaton, "seek a society in which theoretical reason will rule, unconstrained by the customs or 'prejudices' of the past conveyed so seductively by novels, plays, and poems."

Plato actually expressed two contradictory views of imaginative writing, as Mr. Seaton explains. The Plato of "The Republic" distrusted poets because, of course, they lied. Homer said things happened that didn't happen. The Plato of the "Symposium," by contrast, allowed that poets can be and often are inspired by the gods. What else can explain their seemingly magical power to delight and inveigle? This idea was picked up by the Neoplatonists, particularly the third-century Greek philosopher Plotinus, and much later was employed by Philip Sidney (1554-1586) and other Renaissance writers to defend poetry on the grounds that it offered some form of metaphysical knowledge. In more indirect ways, the Romantic poets of the 19th century ( Wordsworth and Shelley especially) and the more strident proponents of literary modernism ( Pound, Joyce, Woolf ) embraced the notion that imaginative writing could get us closer to some higher or truer reality.

Aristotle to the rescue!--

The second half of Mr. Seaton's book deals with what he calls the "humanistic alternative" of Aristotle, who rejected Plato's thought on poetry. In the "Poetics," Aristotle formulated what proved to be immensely influential definitions of poetic devices, but "the significance of the 'Poetics' for the humanistic tradition," writes Mr. Seaton, "does not derive from the universal applicability of the 'rules' it supposedly establishes but rather in the approach to literature it exemplifies." That humanistic approach, he argues, "turns to works of literature for insight into human life, not for authoritative knowledge about ultimate reality."

The humanist critic, in other words, takes literature for what it is: neither divine revelation nor an intrinsically worthless "text" that merely expresses cultural biases or furthers oppressive social arrangements. The humanist critic begins with the literary work, not with political or philosophical views; he doesn't mistake art for life or aesthetic criteria for political ones; and he explains to literate, engaged people (not merely to specialists) how important works of literature illuminate moral and political questions. Mr. Seaton examines the criticism of (among others) Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Henry James, Lionel Trilling, Edmund Wilson and Cleanth Brooks—in each case distinguishing what these great critics did with poems and books from what their academic successors do with them now.

More about the book, including a sample and the table of contents, from Cambridge University Press:

This book offers a history of literary criticism from Plato to the present, arguing that this history can best be seen as a dialogue among three traditions – the Platonic, Neoplatonic, and the humanistic, originated by Aristotle. There are many histories of literary criticism, but this is the first to clarify our understanding of the many seemingly incommensurable approaches employed over the centuries by reference to the three traditions. Making its case by careful analyses of individual critics, the book argues for the relevance of the humanistic tradition in the twenty-first century and beyond.
  • Provides a brief, readable overview of the history of literary criticism in the West, with substantial sections on Plato, Neoplatonism, Aristotle, Neoclassicism, the Romantics, the New Critics, and postmodernism 
  • Illustrates the continuing significance of critics often overlooked by the contemporary academy, including figures such as Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, and Ralph Ellison 
  • Argues the case for humanistic literary criticism in contrast to the cultural studies dominant today
Table of contents:

1. Plato and Neoplatonism
2. Romanticism and modernism
3. Theory and cultural studies
4. Aristotle and the humanistic tradition
5. Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling
6. Democracy, popular culture, and Ralph Ellison
7. Literary criticism, the humanities, and liberal education.

Looks fascinating; when I received my MA, fortunately for me, those gender, Marxist, imperialist etc, interpretative styles weren't "forced" upon us. We could read and interpret literature based upon language, structure, and authorial intent. Since the MA and the MFA students interacted so much, I think that had an effect on the way we read and responded to literature. I enjoyed explicating the meaning within the text, not imposing a meaning outside the text.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Blessed John Henry Newman in Fiction

Ignatius Press has a sale on this summer as always and I bought two books last week: Meriol Trevor's Shadows and Light: A Novel and Evelyn Waugh's A Bitter Trial, which I'll read and review soon. Meriol Trevor wrote a great two part biography of John Henry Cardinal Newman, so she had great preparation for this novel, which Ignatius reissued in 2012. I added it to my reading list then.

This is excellent historical fiction--since Trevor knows Newman's life so very well--with the requisite mix of fictional and historical figures. The protagonist, Clem (Clemency) is the daughter of a rather jaded Anglican clergyman. She knows Mary Newman and thus meets John Henry, Jemima, Harriet, and Mrs. Newman--she keeps hoping she'll meet Frank because he looks so handsome in his portrait!

When her father dies, Clem movies in with her relatives to help take care of their daughter. She meets one of their cousins, suspected as ne'er-do-well rich dandy, Augustine--and he guesses her secret and offers her an escape from her hopeless predicament. As Clem and Augustine grow closer together, John Henry Newman begins to move further away from his life and career in Oxford. Trevor's plot brings Newman and Clem together often enough for us to see his progress in the Oxford Movement--from Keble's "National Apostacy" sermon to Newman's life in Littlemore after Tract 90 raises such a controversy--as he moves closer to joining the Catholic Church.

Clem moves closer to becoming a Catholic herself through her marriage to Augustine and her travels in Europe: in fact, it is the anti-Catholic bigotry she encounters in England that drives her to defend the Church (and her husband's Catholic faith). She discovers more and more how misunderstood her husband is: his family has never known his drive and will, but Clem at last sees his charity, faithfulness, and loyalty.

The novel continues through great historical upheavals like the loss of the Papal States, the Restoration of the Hierarchy and anti-Catholic riots, the growth of industry and transportation--and the unfolding of Newman's life as a Catholic, enduring so many failures, including the Achilli trial, the Irish University, the Rambler crisis, reaching its high point with the Apologia pro Vita Sua and the Cardinalate. Clem and Augustine live in Birmingham, so they see his struggles and help him as much as they can, defending him from attacks and misunderstandings. Leonie Caldecott in her foreword notes that Trevor tried as often as she could to use Newman's own words from letters and other writings, for Newman's dialogue--this adds verisimilitude to the novel.

This a wonderfully readable book--with strong supporting characters and a warm and interesting protagonist. I highly recommend it as good historical fiction and a good introduction to the life of Blessed John Henry Newman.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Spanish Mozart, ReDISCovered

Among our collection of CDs. my husband found a disc of string quartets by the Basque composer Juan Arriaga--the Spanish Mozart, so called because he was born on the same date as Mozart (January 27), was a child prodigy, and died too young (19!; ten days before his twentieth birthday). As I recall, I bought it at Wichita's east side Border's bookstore (cheap). ClassicsToday reviewed the performance:

Sadly, it doesn’t take much room to sketch out the short life of little-known Basque composer Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio Arriaga y Balzola. He was born in 1806, wrote an octet at age 11, composed his first opera when he was 13, entered the Paris Conservatory at age 15, and had the three works heard here published when he was 18. He died in 1826 at age 20.

The promise that he showed as a composer did not go completely unnoticed during his lifetime (Bellini championed his music), but very little of his music endures in the modern era. Aside from these quartets and a symphony recorded by Charles Mackerras for Hyperion, his work is largely lost to the sands of time. But these lovely quartets, given fresh and impassioned readings by the New Vlach Quartet, should make us aware of what he could have achieved if only he had lived longer. They are sparkling, emotionally mature, and beautifully shaped works that fully explore the nuances of each voice within the quartet. (The balance of sound is spread equally between the four players as well, and Avenira has done a fine job of creating a vibrant atmosphere.) Bravo to the New Vlach Quartet, and to Avenira, for this release. This is truly a treat, and I can only wish there could be more.

We have found the music and the performances of these quartets to be melodic, playful, charming, and beautiful. Arriaga was born in Bilboa on January 27, 1806 and went to study in Paris when he was 16 years old. He composed these quartets that same year and they were published in 1824. Perhaps Arriaga studied too hard at the Paris Conservatoire because he became ill -- exhaustion and tuberculosis or some other lung problem causing his death. He was buried (like Mozart) in an unmarked grave, but in the Montmartre cemetery.

One way that he is not like Mozart is in his surviving output, which as the review above notes, is small. Mozart had already written three operas by the time he was 14 and by age 20 had written his five violin concertos, several symphonies, his church sonatas, piano concertos, etc. It is very sad that Arriaga did not have the opportunity to compose more music--these three works certainly show that he had much to give. More about Arriaga here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blessed John Henry Newman's Prayer for a Happy Death

Every Sunday is an Easter celebration--the Paschal Mystery is re-presented on the Altars in every Catholic church throughout the world. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Our Savior is made real to us again and we receive His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion---yet we fear death. Death came to Stratford Caldecott this week, and he was preparing for it--death came to the passengers on the Malaysian jet shot down in eastern Ukraine, and only God knows how those men, women, and children were prepared for it.

Blessed John Henry Newman composed this prayer for a happy death:

O my Lord and Saviour, support me in my last hour by the strong arms of Thy sacraments, and the fragrance of Thy consolations. Let Thy absolving words be said over me, and the holy oil sign and seal me; and let Thine own body be my food, and Thy blood my sprinkling; and let Thy Mother Mary come to me, and my angel whisper peace to me, and Thy glorious saints and my own dear patrons smile on me, that in and through them all I may die as I desire to live, in Thy Church, in Thy faith, and in Thy love. Amen.
My Jesus, mercy.

Father Zuhlsdorf posted on our need to prepare for death in the aftermath of Malaysia Flight 17, offering other advice and considerations, including this prayer for deliverance from an unprovided  death:

Hear us, O God of our salvation! and issue not the decree for the completion of our days before Thou forgivest us our sins; and because penance avails not in hell, and there is no room there for amendment, therefore do we humbly pray and beseech Thee here on earth, that, giving us time to pray for pardon, Thou wouldst grant us also forgiveness of our sins. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Take away, merciful Lord, all errors from Thy faithful people, avert from them the sudden destruction of the wasting pestilence; that those whose wanderings Thou dost justly chastise, Thou wouldst vouchsafe in Thy tender pity to cherish when corrected. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Antiphon: Sin no longer, O my soul! Think upon the sudden change from sin to endless woe. There, in hell, penance is not accepted, and tears profit not. Turn, then, whilst thou hast time; cry out and say: Have mercy upon me, O my God!

Antiphon: In the midst of life we are in death: whom, then, O Lord, shall we seek to be our helper, save Thee, O Lord! although Thou art indeed angry with us because of sins? O Holy Lord, holy and strong, holy and merciful Saviour! deliver us not ever to a bitter death.

V. – Lest, overtaken by the day of death, we seek time for penance, and be not able to find it.
R. – Hearken! O Lord! and have mercy on us; for we have sinned against Thee.

We beseech Thee, Almighty God, receive in Thy fatherly pity Thy people flying to Thee from Thine anger; that they who fear to be chastised by the rod of Thy Majesty in the suddenness of death, may be made worthy to rejoice in Thy gracious pardon. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
We beseech Thee, Almighty God, graciously to incline Thine ear to the assembly of Thy Church, and let Thy mercy prevent Thine anger in our behalf; for if Thou shouldst mark iniquities, no creature shall be able to stand before Thee: but in that marvellous charity, through which Thou didst create us, pardon us sinners, and destroy not the work of Thine own hands by sudden death. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God! in Whose sight every heart trembles and every conscience is awed; show forth Thy mercy upon us Thy suppliants, that we, who trust not in the excellence of our own merit, may never know Thy judgments in the suddenness of our death, but may receive Thy pardon. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Most merciful Lord Jesus! by Thine agony and bloody sweat, and by Thy death, deliver me, I beseech Thee, from a sudden and unprovided death. O most gentle Lord Jesus! by Thy cruel and ignominious scourging and crowning with thorns, by Thy cross and most bitter Passion, and by Thy goodness, I humbly pray Thee, let me not die unprepared and pass from this life without the Holy Sacraments. Jesus, my best Beloved, my Lord! by all Thy labours and sorrows, by Thy precious Blood, and by Thy most holy Wounds, and by those last words spoken on the cross by Thee: “Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me?? – “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” and again: “Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum,” – “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” most ardently I pray Thee, save me from a sudden death. Thy hands, O Redeemer! have wholly made and formed me: ah! suffer not death to take me unawares; give me, I beseech Thee, time for penance; vouchsafe that I may pass from this life happily in Thy grace, that I may love Thee with my whole heart, and praise and bless Thee forever and ever.

Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Glory Be To The Father…

St. Joseph, patron of a happy death, pray for us. AMEN!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

G.K. Chesterton's "The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic"

Our Wichita chapter of the American Chesterton Society is reading The Thing: Why I am a Catholic from Volume III of the Ignatius Press editions of G.K. Chesterton's Collected Works. As the publisher describes the volume, it is:
A collection of five powerful essays by Chesterton in defense of Catholicism and the Catholic Church. Unique because most of his writings do not deal specifically with religion or the Catholic Church. However, here he directly addresses the teachings of the Church and objections to them. It also includes his inspiring and moving commentary on the Stations of the Cross, along with the drawings of the stations he used for his meditations. Another essay explains why he converted to Catholicism.
As with all of his writings, these are just as germane today as they were in his time. Today's reader can revel in the same delight GKC's contemporaries felt, for he always presented the Church's best face to an antagonistic and indifferent world. The introduction and footnotes are written by another convert and author, James J. Thompson, Jr.
Last night we discussed chapters 20, 21, and 22--and in August we look forward to discussing chapters 23, 24, and 25--meeting on Friday, August 22 at Eighth Day Books, since August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. As Dale Ahlquist describes the collection of essays in The Thing, Chesterton is writing to a Catholic audience:
The essays in this collection were originally written for Catholic publications and are somewhat different from his other journalism because here Chesterton is writing for a specifically Catholic audience. And yet his vigorous defense of the Catholic faith seems to invite all comers. But as for addressing Catholics, there is one passage that is strikingly relevant to modern Catholics who seem intent on “reforming” things in the Church, whether it be the liturgy, the moral teachings, or the fundamental doctrines of the faith: “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them,” says Chesterton, there are two kinds of reformers. “Let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’”

The modern reformer is especially guilty of trying to do away with things he does not understand rather than trying to understand them. Reformers throughout history have done away with elements of the Catholic Church only to find that they soon need to replace them. But the replacement is always an inferior version, as psychotherapy, for instance, has proved to be a disastrous replacement for the Confessional. And so Chesterton defends the Catholic things that both Catholics and non-Catholics may not understand. They may be simple things, but as Chesterton says, “The mind must be enlarged to see the simple things — or even to see the self-evident things.” One of Chesterton’s greatest gifts is to explain to us what we already know but have never been able to explain.

Chesterton says that all the revolts against the Church, from even before the Reformation until now, tell the same strange story. Every great heretic has always exhibited three remarkable characteristics in combination. First, he picks out some mystical idea from the Church’s balance of mystical ideas. Second, he uses that one mystical idea against all the other mystical ideas. Third, he seems generally to have no notion that his own favorite mystical idea is a mystical idea, as mysterious or dubious or dogmatic as any of the Church’s other mystical ideas that he rejects. Thus Calvinists are obsessed only with the Sovereignty of God, Lutherans with the Grace of God, Methodists with the sin of man, Baptists with the Bible, Quakers with simplicity. The list goes on, it even includes religious and political movements outside of Christianity. Muslims are obsessed with the Oneness of God, Communists with the equality of men, Feminists with the equality of men and women, Materialists with creation apart from the Creator, Spiritualists with the rejection of materialism, and so on. In every case, these sects have taken one of the Church’s mystical ideas and exalted it above the rest, even against the rest. They have lost all the moderating and balancing measures of the Thing, the Catholic Faith.

The chapters we discussed last night included a comparison between Bunyan's allegory in Pilgrim's Progress and Dante's in The Divine Comedy; the Protestant superstition of Anti-Catholicism, and the common but mistaken notion that Catholics have no intellectual freedom in the Church: "On Two Allegories", "The Protestant Superstition", and "On Courage and Independence", respectively. If you are in Wichita, come next month to our discussion of "The Nordic Hindoo", "A Spiritualist Looks Back" and "The Roots of Sanity". Refreshments are served!