The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Friday, May 18, 2007

Unreformed Catholicism

Some Random Notes in Search of a Notion

From late medieval France:

A widow had only one child whom she tenderly loved. On hearing that this son had been taken [in war] by the enemy, chained and put in prison, she burst into tears, and addressing herself to the Virgin, to whom she was especially devoted, she asked with obstinacy for the release of her son; but when she saw at last that her prayers remained unanswered, she went to the church where there was a sculptured image of Mary, and there, before the image, she said: “Holy Virgin, I have begged you to deliver my son, and you have not been willing to help an unhappy mother! I’ve implored your patronage for my son, and you have refused it! Very good! Just as my son has been taken away from me, so I am going to take away yours, and keep him as a hostage!” Saying this, she approached, took the statue of the child on the Virgin’s breast, carried it home, wrapped it in a spotless linen, and locked it up in a box, happy to have such a hostage for her son’s return. Now, the following night, the Virgin appeared to the young man, opened the prison doors, and said: “Tell your mother, my child, to return me my son now that I have returned hers!” The young man came back home to his mother and told her of his miraculous deliverance; and she, overjoyed, hastened to go with the little Jesus to the Virgin saying to her: “I thank you, heavenly lady, for restoring me my child, and in return I restore yours.”

-cited by Paul J. Vanderwood in Juan Soldado: Rapist, Murderer, Martyr, Saint

The same thing happened in my family as I wrote here.

What relationship does the Gospel have with culture and human frailty? Is it to restore the pristine purity of the Gospel so over laden with human traditions, exaggerations, and superstitions? Or is the notion of reform merely hubris?

What does it mean to worship God “in spirit and in truth”? Does the Gospel mean that we have to strip human nature as much as possible of its humanity, its longing for beauty and comfort? Or does the Gospel sanctify the tendencies of the Gentiles to have an all-too-human religion?

A voice said to him, "Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat." But Peter said, "Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean." The voice spoke to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you are not to call profane."

Perhaps one of the most absurd statements one can make is: “It all started to go wrong when…” Fill in the blank: the end of the Patristic Church, the insertion of the Filioque into the Creed, scholasticism, the Council of Trent, etc. Any answer other than, “when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise” might just be a bit hard to prove.

We believe that a crucified Jewish carpenter rose from the dead. Some Lourdes water won’t kill you.

-AG , in this comment

Disbelieve nothing amazing concerning the gods or divine dogmas. (The third Pythagorean symbol)

Commentary by Iamblichus: ...[T]his dogma sufficently venerates and unfolds the transcendency of the Gods, affording us a viaticum, and recalls to our memory that we ought not to estimate divine power by our judgment. But it is likely that some things should appear difficult and impossible to us, in consequence of our corporeal subsistence, and from our association with generation and corruption; from our having a momentary existence; from being subject to a variety of diseases; from the smallness of our habitation.... This symbol in a particular manner introduces the knowledge of the Gods, as beings who are able to affect all things.... so that the precept, disbelieve nothing, is equivalent to participate in and acquire those things through which you will not disbelieve; that is to say, acquire disciplines and scientific demonstrations.

-from The Exhortation to Philosophy

The more it looks like Voodoo, the more Catholic it really is.

-Pseudo-Iamblichus, after he downed a few shots of tequila

So how are we to take the actions of the woman who kidnapped the Christ-child? Should we shrug it off as superstition, or view it as divine condescension to human frailty?


At 10:42 PM, Blogger Levi said...

I've been thinking about this very thing a lot lately. I remember as protestant envisioning this ideal perfect church. When I look back on it...I think I was looking for perfect Christians. That is what led me toward the Catholic faith. Realizing that I had never looked for the Church, but for people...people who didn't exist.

When I discovered the NT Church as the bible portrays her; it was and is a Church with problems. And in spite of these problems the Holy Spirit worked amazing wonders. It preserved it. It was never the ideal I was seeking it to be reformed into. Instead of recognizing the Church for what it is I had created my own.

In saying all that...It's no more superstitious than Second Century Christians who worshiped before a makeshift altar, set up on a Martyrs' grave, inside a catacomb. Everyone is always trying to point out where it went wrong early on. Maybe it didn't.

Maybe, something went wrong when people started worrying about distraught mothers asking the Mother of all believers for some help, and stopped worrying about the distraught mothers. If we can't turn to the saints on earth, than I suppose we have no choice but to turn to the saints in heaven.

Just my 2 cents.

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

A very valuable two cents.

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Archistrategos said...

So how are we to take the actions of the woman who kidnapped the Christ-child? Should we shrug it off as superstition, or view it as divine condescension to human frailty?

That story reminds me of an anecdote from one of my relatives. Now, this relative happened to be barren, so she prayed countless novenas to St. Claire, St. Paschal and the Virgin of Salambao to give her a child, but sadly, to no avail. So she decided to follow a local custom and prayed before an empty kettle. Since those three saints weren't capable of giving her a child, she might as well risk everything and pin all her hopes on that kettle.

Some months later, she found out that she was pregnant, and on December 8th, no less. So she threw the empty kettle and replaced it with an image of the Immaculate Conception.

I think it is a beautiful story.

At 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am reminded of several things: first, C.S. Lewis' comments about authentic religions being both earthy and lofty (my words, not his) With regard to Christianity, Lewis speaks of the loftiness of its ethics and spirituality and the earthiness of its sacramentality, which invites us to eat the flesh and drink the blood of that crucified Jewish carpenter.

I am also reminded of Jacob wrestling with God...

The bottom line: the woman DID get her child back.

All that to say that maybe no notion is necessary, but if one must be given, it can only be the notion of love, the "harsh and dreadful love" of a "jealous God", the ardency of whose desire for us is infinite.

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