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Dr. David Mosley has a wonderful little reflection over at his blog, Letters from the Edge of Elfland. The view of our time concerning the Middle Ages is skewed largely by prejudice and ignorance. There is also, understandably, a great failure of people today to interpret things medieval as the medievals did. This leads to greater misconceptions and general aversion to the Middle Ages. We interpret them through our lens rather than their lens and, hence, make assumptions which simply are not true. This is aggravated by common prejudice that the Middles Ages are the Dark Ages, a prejudice which biases people today against all things medieval. We quite readily believe what we hear about Medieval times if it is negative. As I learn more and more of these misconceptions, I am progressively seeing the beauty of this period. However, as this beauty becomes clearer, a disturbing thought seeps ever deeper into my mind concerning our own period: it is dark. The reflection linked above gives a good example of a misconception concerning Medieval thought and by extension an opportunity to contrast it with today’s thought.

The common narrative concerning our knowledge of the cosmos and man’s place in it is that of man being thrown down from the heights of glory. It is thought that man held himself in the place of honor because he had a geocentric view of the cosmos. Everything was oriented towards him for we were at the center of all things, and it was upon earth alone that life existed, of which man was the pinnacle. Then we found out we weren’t at the center of the universe. Then we found out our sun is not at the center of the universe. As scientific knowledge of the universe grew our place in it became less and less significant. Today it is not at all uncommon to hear that we are insignificant little specks in a vast and infinite universe that cares nothing for us at all. However, this thought is from a materialist perspective. Medievals were not materialists, and it is wrong to interpret them through such a lens.

Medieval Cosmos - French

Medieval man was a religious man. Specifically, he was Christian. This means he affirmed both the material and the spiritual, therefore his conception of life and his perspective of the cosmos affirmed both as well. While it was believed that the earth was at the center of the physical creation, it was also believed that the true center of all creation, physical and spiritual – its ground, source, and sustainer – is God. And while the Medievals knew full well that the physical light of day came from the Sun and the physical light of night came from the moon, they also believed that the true Light and Illuminator of all the cosmos is God. The medievals may have believed that the earth was at the center of the physical universe, but as Dr. Mosley points out this also meant they were furthest from God; they were at the bottom of the order of creation leading up to the heavenly realm. Of all the realms of the cosmos, it was the earth which was darkest and most corruptible. Our location was one of the reasons used to explain why there are such horrible people and wickedness throughout the world. Contrary to the materialist modern view, religious medieval man had a healthy understanding of his place in the cosmos: he wasn’t insignificant; he was called to glory, but was not there yet, could be easily corrupted, and could not of his own means attain that glory. There is an inherent humility in this perspective.

Medieval Cosmos - English

Ironically, it is modern man who is guilty of what they accuse medievals of having done. It is common to hear today that we are insignificant specks in a vast universe. There really isn’t anything special about us. There are most likely more advanced civilizations in the universe and in our own galaxy. It isn’t unusual to hear the hypothesis that we aren’t even the first advanced civilization in our solar system. On the surface, it appears that this thought of man being so very little has soaked into our social consciousness. And, yet, it is also quite common to be presented with a conception of man that is not insignificant at all. We have a manifest destiny to go forth from our planet, to explore, settle, and find other life and civilizations. It is not uncommon in television shows such as Dr. Who and Star Trek for man to be put forth as truly unique and special among all the species of the universe – to see man as rising above the others or beating the odds against a vastly superior alien species, or triumph in defiance of the gods of ancient mythology. (I am very much a fan of these shows, especially Dr. Who). Often times the weakness of man is mixed with this (Star Trek is a great example). In these cases, a seeming weakness is either seen ultimately as a strength or there is the secular hope of man eventually evolving or advancing past the weakness.

Like the medievals, modern man knows he is called to glory, that he is not there yet, and that he is easily corruptible. Unlike the medievals, modern man believes he can get there on his own and that his glory is his own (meaning either for himself particularly or man in common). The key here is that glory is not given nor participated in, but what we make. There is an inherent pride in this perspective. Theocentric medievals are today accused of being anthropocentric and self-referential. That, however, comes with pride, not humility.

 

 

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Over at Bensonian there is a post from little more than a year ago on one’s personal canon and life author.  I thought it a fun exercise and decided to put my own together. The following list did not have a lot of thought go into it. It is made more from memory, impressions, and awareness of what I seem to go back to. My personal canon in no particular order:

  1. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. The Ballad of the White Horse by G.K. Chesterton
  3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  5. The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Card. Ratzinger
  6. Flannery O’Connor, short stories
  7. Hugh of St. Victor, works
  8. Five Theological Orations, St. Gregory of Nazianzus
  9. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
  10. Ezra-Nehemiah

My life author is Cormac McCarthy.

And you?

 

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Luminous Darkness

st-symeon-the-new-theologian“The same undefiled flesh which He accepted from the pure loins of Mary, the all-pure Theotokos, and with which He was given birth in the body, He gives to us as food.

And when we eat of it, when we eat worthily of His flesh, each one of use receives within himself the entirety of God made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, son of God and son of the immaculate Virgin Mary . . .

He is present in the body bodilessly, mingled with our essence and nature, and deifying us who share His body, who are become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone . . . This is the mystery all full of holy terror which I hesitate even to write, and tremble in recounting.

Thus, while from His immaculate mother He borrowed her immaculate flesh, and gave her in return His own divinity – o…

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Great post! I highly encourage anyone here to read it. I am not by any means a pacifist; I believe that one is just in defending themselves even if that defense extends to violence, and I believe that our police officers and soldiers provide a true good and do well in the just execution of their services. However, it is very easy (all too easy!) to root these beliefs in the wisdom of the world; and when one does this it puts them in opposition to God and His Revelation. So often the answer is both/and, but to truly find freedom in that answer and find rest in the mystery one must allow themselves to be challenged by God’s word and the witness of the saints. It is not an easy question nor is there an easy answer.

Dominus mihi adjutor

This post will upset some people, most of them from a particular socio-cultural-ecclesial context. However, before they give vent to the full fury of their outrage it is asked that they read this post carefully, and then read it again. Disagreement is expected and constructive argument encouraged. Abuse or vitriol will get short shrift. There is an issue to engage with here, and it is not to be camouflage for arguments ad hominem.

You will recall the atrocities committed against the Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday in Egypt. What may not be so clear in our memory is the Copts’ response.

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Eucharist - Real Presence

There is no greater presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ than the Holy Eucharist. This is because in the mystery of the Eucharist Jesus is not present in another, but rather is the Other. He is not merely present in the Eucharist, but indeed the Eucharist is Him. To look upon and receive the Eucharist is not to look upon and receive a representation of Jesus Christ, but to look upon and receive Him. There is nothing greater in all creation than this mystery.

Holy Orders - In Persona Christi

After the Eucharist, Christ is must fully present in His priests. While the Logos is in all by virtue of all being made in the image and likeness of God, and while He more intimately dwells in Christians by virtue of the reception of His Spirit, divinity, and life in Baptism, He most intimately dwells in His priests through the sacrament of Holy Orders. The priest is not simply a representative of Jesus Christ. When he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he does not do so merely as an ambassador or emissary. No, the priest acts in persona Christi. Christ is present in the priest in such a way that it is He who offers Himself at the altar.

Adoration of the Lamb - Jan van Eyck

In matrimony, Jesus is uniquely present in the husband and wife, who become an icon of the marriage of Jesus to the Church. This marriage is cosmic, bringing together God and man, as well as the Uncreated and created. It is a marriage that entails the whole of creation. Christ’s sacramental presence in the married couple is such that they become a visible image of the mystical union, the wedding feast of the Lamb, a love of mutual submission, sacrifice, and glory.

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How often we hear we need to think outside the box. In order to find creative solutions, in order to meet challenges, we need to think outside the box. This is often illustrated with the following puzzle.

Nine dots puzzle

The goal is to connect all nine dots by only drawing four lines. From the illustration above, we see that there is more than one possible solution – though they are similar – and none of the solutions include making a box. Therein, lies the rub. There is no box. How can one think outside the box when there is no box to think outside of in the first place?

The puzzle is nine dots and it is only solvable by recognizing that reality. Here we come to a very important point: In order to solve a problem we shouldn’t think outside the box; we should think within the larger reality in which the problem is present. If, analogously, the larger reality is a box then, in order to solve the problem, one must think inside the box. Not to do this is to break the system itself. In this the problem is not solved, it is destroyed.

 

Tic-tac-toe

A solution has not been found. Rather, the reality of the game has been changed.

 

 

Fish bowls

Rather than finding a solution, the system is left altogether for another.

 

More often than not, it is not the case that the system itself is the problem, but that the system has a problem within it that needs to be solved. This requires keeping the system intact and so thinking inside the box, which is more difficult, requiring much more creative thinking than the supposed outside of the box.

 

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A beautiful story and testament of love.

Blog of the Courtier

No matter how much you know about great art, there is always something new to discover. Recently I’ve become interested in the work of a Swedish painter, Alexander Roslin (1718-1793). During his lifetime he was arguably the most fashionable portrait painter in Paris, but today he is not as well-known as he ought to be. Today I want to draw your attention to a charming portrait of his wife, who was also a popular but now largely forgotten artist. The painting is not only a charming piece in its own right, but I think it captures something of the love which the two of them felt for each other, in a way which was very unusual for the time.

Roslin was born in Malmö, the city in Sweden now famous as a major international business and design center, but in 1718 not much more than a tiny provincial town of…

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Early in his pilgrimage through Hell, Dante (the character) is given a warning. It is a warning he does not heed and consequently a lesson he does not learn. If commentary on canto V of Inferno is any indication, it is also a lesson that we, the audience, have not learned and the consequences of this lesson-not-learned are reverberating throughout both the city of the world and of God.

Making his way from the first circle to the second, Dante and Virgil must pass by Minos, the infernal judge who determines which circle of Hell (and, consequently, which infernal punishment) the condemned will eternally suffer. He is Satan’s sorting hat.

 

Minos, infernal judge - Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s “Minos”

 

Minos gives a warning to Dante: “O thou! who to this residence of woe approachest!… Look how thou enter here; beware in whom thou place thy trust. Let not the entrance broad deceive thee to thy harm.” Being that the place is Hell, this warning of Minos seems rather obvious. But the road to Hell is very wide and turns where it will to our delight. It takes every advantage it may to play upon our mind and our heart, to sway our thoughts, our emotions, and our will. It blinds us so that we only see ourselves, and, in the swaying of our being to its infernal end, we justify ourselves.

Like all things, Minos’s warning has a context. That context is the canto in which he speaks, Canto V. After receiving this warning from Minos (and dismissing it), Dante and Virgil continue to the second circle of Hell: those who gave themselves to lust. Immediately, Dante is put to the test concerning the warning he received. Entering into Hell proper (as opposed to Limbo), he first meets Francesca and Paolo being swept in a perpetual tempest, never to have any rest. They are uncontrollably carried away in this evil storm just as they were carried away by their lust. Before meeting Francesca and Paolo, Dante describes what he saw and heard. Among what he heard were “blasphemies ‘gainst the good Power in Heaven” from the souls being endlessly tossed. He said that their reason was swayed by lust. They blasphemy the One who is Truth. As Virgil points out specific people, Dante becomes filled with pity. Heroes of old such as Achilles, Paris, and Tristan are identified as those “whom love bereaved of life”. These great men and women of old were undone by lust. It is telling though that Dante does not say that lust bereaved them of life, but rather love, and before he speaks to any of these poor souls he already pities them and is drawn in pity to them.

Dante now calls out in “strong affection” to a man and woman he sees clinging to one another in their hell. His strong affection moves them to break free temporarily from the tempest and speak with him. As they come, Dante describes them as doves with strong wings returning home to their “sweet nest”. He is swept up in the pathos of what he sees and portrays them as something they are not, innocent. When they come to him Francesca tells him their tale of woe, and he is so moved by what he hears and sees that “through compassion fainting… [he] fell to the ground.”

paolo-and-francesca 1

paolo and francesca 2

Francesca was married to Gianciotto and caught by him in an affair with his more handsome brother, Paolo. In his rage, Gianciotto killed them both. It is easy to sympathize with Francesca. She was young, her marriage was arranged, and she was married to a man who was not pleasing to look upon nor (one may infer) treated her well. With Paolo, she was able to form true affection through mutual interest and time spent together. Theirs is a sad and pitiable story. But sadness and pity do not change what is, and it is in this that Dante (the character) fell into the trap of which he had been warned.

Francesca and Paolo may not have been malicious in what they did and they may be pitiable, but none of that rights the wrong they committed. It is not truly about the wrong committed though; it is that they died unrepentant. Remember, they, with all the other souls ceaselessly driven by that devilish wind, “blasphemy ‘gainst the good Power in Heaven.” They blasphemy against the Truth. They do not call God friend (line 90) and they do not pray for Dante’s peace (line 91). Thrice Francesca invokes love: “Love, that in a gentle heart is quickly learnt… Love, that denial takes from none beloved… Love brought us to one death.” (102-105; emphasis mine) Her thrice invocation of love is a blasphemy in and of itself. By “love” she really means lust and by it thrice insults the Holy Trinity, Who is Love. Their story is a lie, told with enough twisted truth as to elicit pity from their hearer. And Dante was ready to lend his heart before ever he heard their tale.

Michelangelo foreshadows this in his representation of Minos shown above. He depicts not only Minos but also points to Francesca and Paolo through the mutilation of Minos’s genitals, the organ of lust, by the serpent. In Francesca and Paolo, we see “the entrance broad.” We also see ones in whom Dante has placed his trust. He trusts them through the lending of his ear and the sympathy of his heart.

The sins of the flesh produce great heartache and elicit great sympathy from people. We often find pitiable (and rightly so) people who find themselves in difficult situations because of the swaying of their heart toward lust. One reason we find these circumstances so pitiable is because lust is not what truly underlies them; there is more that underlies the lust such as sadness, pain, and fear. Yet these do not excuse a pitiable situation. And people in those situations should be encouraged to rise heroically to the universal call of holiness, rather than given allowance out of pity.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality.” When we look at the world and its progression now for generations, when we look at the issue currently sending shockwaves through the Roman Church – that being the possibility of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried – can we really doubt that Chesterton was right? We need to learn what Dante did not and heed, better than he, Minos’s warning.

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Donne Devotions

All Along the Watchtower

DSCN0800Morwenstowe Church.

In my possession there is a little book entitled “Donne’s Devotions.” He was Dean of St Paul’s  Cathedral, and was born in 1572 and died in 1631. One of his most important poems was “Batter my heart three person’d God.” It’s well known.

But it is his little book of devotions that has most influenced me. It’s been with me for years. I found it in a second hand bookshop in Canterbury. My copy was published in 1841, so it’s quite old and has had to have a little repair work done on it from time to time. The last renovation was two days ago on 6th March. The front cover had departed from the main body of the book. Naturally a few hours after gluing the cover to the rest I read a few pages.

One of the most familiar quotations in the book comes from…

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I’m not a big fan of laws. They’re necessary, but if we come to depend on them above all else for the right functioning of society and the relations of peoples in society then those laws will become blind, heartless, and tyrannical. This because laws are exterior to man. For a true right functioning of society, for man to be truly good it is the heart which must be focused on, not laws. We have an interior law, a law that does not come from without, but rather from within; it is the law of the heart. It is a law that is not imposed upon us. No, it is a law that springs forth from our heart’s deepest longings and points us to true happiness. For instance, we do not need laws to tell us that murder is wrong. We know that murder is wrong and that it will not bring us happiness. Only the fool deludes himself that something such as murder can make one fulfilled. The problem isn’t the fool, however; it is all of us, for we are all bear the weight of sin. All of our hearts are covered with the filth and vileness of sin. Laws do not change this; laws keep the consequences of such a reality in check. Only grace can change the condition of the human heart. Only grace can enable man to not only see and love the law written upon his heart, but to also act upon that law in freedom and joy. Imagine what such a society would be like! What would happen in our society if Christians truly lived and promoted the life of grace, instead of getting bogged down in the politics and laws of it all? What a thing that would be.

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