Monday, April 25, 2016

Report on the Second Annual Catholic Culture Conference

Last year I wrote: "The Catholic Culture Conference was a great success in my view, with excellent presenters, a great venue, and wonderful fellowship during the lunch and breaks. Our local chapter of the American Chesterton Society made some good contacts and we hope to gain new members and/or guests at our monthly meetings." I can repeat those comments this year too, after the second annual Catholic Culture Conference, with the addition that I am happy with how my presentation was received Saturday afternoon. Dusty Gates announced that there will be a third annual Catholic Culture Conference next year (that's 2017!--2020 is in sight!) on April 28 and 29, with Monsignor Stuart Sweatland, the President of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas as the keynote speaker--with the specific topic to be announced.

Professor Anthony Esolen gave three talks: one Friday night and two Saturday morning and then headed back to Providence, RI after lunch. Poetry was one of his themes, and he cited a poem of G.K. Chesterton's Friday night, "The Holy of Holies":

‘ELDER father, though thine eyes
Shine with hoary mysteries,
Canst thou tell what in the heart
Of a cowslip blossom lies?

‘Smaller than all lives that be,
Secret as the deepest sea,
Stands a little house of seeds,
Like an elfin’s granary.

‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
Tell me what is in the heart
Of the smallest of the seeds.’

‘God Almighty, and with Him
Cherubim and Seraphim,
Filling all eternity—
Adonai Elohim.’

In his second lecture, he emphasized the fact that in Dante's Divine Comedy, poetry is not mentioned in the Inferno, and is replaced by prayer and song in the Paradiso, but is included in the Purgatorio. He highlighted these aspects (from the foreword of another translation) of Dante's journey through Purgatory and toward Heaven:

Of the three sections of the poem, only Purgatory happens on the earth, as our lives do, with our feet on the ground, crossing a beach, climbing a mountain. All three parts of the poem are images of our lives, of our life, but there is an intimacy peculiar to the Purgatorio. Here the times of day recur with all the sensations and associations that the hours bring with them, the hours of the world we are living in as we read the poem. Tenderness, affection, poignancy, the enchantment of music, the feeling of the evanescence of the moment in a context beyond time, occur in the Purgatorio as they do in few other places in the poem. And hope, as it is experienced nowhere else in the poem, for there is none in Hell, and Paradise is fulfilment itself. Hope is central to the Purgatorio and is there from the moment we stand on the shore at the foot of the mountain, before the stars fade. To the very top of the mountain hope is mixed with pain, which brings it still closer to the living present. . . .

The Purgatorio is the section of the poem in which poets, poetry, and music recur with fond vividness and intimacy. The meetings between poets — Virgil's with his fellow Mantuan Sordello, over twelve hundred years after Virgil's own life on earth; his meeting with the Roman poet Statius; Dante's with Guido Guinizzelli and with Arnaut Daniel and the singer Casella — are cherished and moving moments. It is worth noting something about the current of poetic tradition that Dante had come to in his youth.

And in his third lecture, Esolen described the three dementias of our current day: fatal errors in category, premise, and logic.

The Spiritual Life Center will probably post video or audio recordings of these presentations. 

I also attended Dusty Gates' presentation on St. George, in which he explored some themes from the Inklings and G.K. Chesterton on true myths, traditions, and fairyland. Matthew Umbarger of Newman University described how rabbis read scripture and interpreted it with a great deal of imagination and creativity to delve deeper into its mysteries--midrash. He gave us an example of Christian midrash, the Gospel of Nicodemus, which depicts the Harrowing of Hell, when Jesus freed the dead from Sheol:

1 And as Satan the prince, and Hell, spoke this together, suddenly there came a voice as of thunder and a spiritual cry: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. When Hell heard that he said unto Satan the prince: Depart from me and go out of mine abode: if thou be a mighty man of war, fight thou against the King of glory. But what hast thou to do with him? And Hell cast Satan forth out of his dwelling. Then said Hell unto his wicked ministers: Shut ye the hard gates of brass and put on them the bars of iron and withstand stoutly, lest we that hold captivity be taken captive.

2 But when all the multitude of the saints heard it, they spake with a voice of rebuking unto Hell: Open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And David cried out, saying: Did I not when I was alive upon earth, foretell unto you: Let them give thanks unto the Lord, even his mercies and his wonders unto the children of men; who hath broken the gates of brass and smitten the bars of iron in sunder? he hath taken them out of the way of their iniquity. And thereafter in like manner Esaias said: Did not I when I was alive upon earth foretell unto you: The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall rise again, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice, for the dew which cometh of the Lord is their healing? And again I said: O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

3 When they heard that of Esaias, all the saints said unto Hell: Open thy gates: now shalt thou be overcome and weak and without strength. And there came a great voice as of thunder, saying: Remove, O princes, your gates, and be ye lift up ye doors of hell, and the King of glory shall come in. And when Hell saw that they so cried out twice, he said, as if he knew it not: Who is the King of glory? And David answered Hell and said: The words of this cry do I know, for by his spirit I prophesied the same; and now I say unto thee that which I said before: The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, he is the King of glory. And: The Lord looked down from heaven that he might hear the groanings of them that are in fetters and deliver the children of them that have been slain. And now, O thou most foul and stinking Hell, open thy gates, that the King of glory may come in. And as David spake thus unto Hell, the Lord of majesty appeared in the form of a man and lightened the eternal darkness and brake the bonds that could not be loosed: and the succour of his everlasting might visited us that sat in the deep darkness of our transgressions and in the shadow of death of our sins.

It's apocryphal, of course, but it's the background of  one of the York Mystery Plays and the great reading in the Office for Holy Saturday!


  1. This sounds great. If any audio or video of the conference are made available, I hope you'll write a post to let us know. Thanks.

    1. Here is a link to the SLC Youtube channel: