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, September 21, 2007

More Reflections on Indigenous Cultures

What most worries daykeepers about people from Europe, and specifically about missionaries, is that they confuse the Earth, whose divinity is equal to that of the celestial God, with the devil. As daykeepers put it, "He who makes an enemy of the Earth makes an enemy of his own body."...

At one end of the Popol Vuh the gods are preoccupied with the difficult task of making humans, and at the other human are preoccupied with the equally difficult task of finding the traces of divine movements in their own deeds...

In theory, if we who presently claim to be human were to forget our efforts to find traces of divine movements in our own actions, our fate should be something like that of the wooden people in the Popol Vuh. For them, the forgotten force of divinity reasserted itself by inhabiting their own tools and utensils, which rose up against them and drove them from their homes. Today they are swinging through the trees.

-Dennis Tedlock, from his introduction to the Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life

Some thoughts:

1. It's a pity that the Maya sage mentioned above does not realize that the Christian God is both Lord of Heaven and Earth, but perhaps that is the Christians' fault. Christianity was imposed on them as the religion of the conqueror and the religion of the Other. As I mentioned in this post, however, our ties to the Earth may be more than we care to acknowledge. We may be living (and thinking) unnaturally and therefore, un-humanly. Of course, please don't ask me to elaborate, since it's just a question.

2. The Popol Vuh was originally transmitted as a book of hieroglyphs that were "performed"/interpreted by "daykeepers": older sages who knew the meanings of the signs. Only with the Spanish conquest was it finally written down phonetically. Sacred texts in the ancient world always passed through someone who was older and wiser; reading was always communal. One can reason then that this is the nature of all sacred texts according to how we human beings act. To argue the text against the community is thus a very new and strange phenomenon.

3. The Quiche Maya in Guatemala are described as still practicing their pre-Columbian devotions to their gods. However, they often begin even these rites with a Pater Noster or Ave Maria. This type of syncretism should of course be discouraged, but what type of syncretism do we moderns take part in that is imperceptible to our eyes? How many times do we pray before the altar of secularism, pluralism, and universal skepticism? Maybe the Maya do not perceive the contradictions in their religious practices. Then again, maybe we do far worse. We tend to not, in many cases, see the hand of God in all creation. Maybe in that sense, our society is de-evolving.


At 4:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew (know?) a Chinese Catholic priest who stated that Jesus being a Jew was incidental and not inherently necessary and that Jesus could of been Chinese (possibly/theoretically)--now I know that the Church seems to clearly state that the Jews had a unique covenant and they are necessary etc--and certainly Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI call the Jews our elder spiritual brothers or cousins and that we are spiritual semites.
BUT this Catholic Chinese (in America now) priest raises some interesting questions.

There is no doubt that Catholic philosophy, theology etc is heavily influenced if not combined with Greek and other concepts from the ancient world (primarily but not exclusively Plato and later Aristotles). It is clear that the Early Church Fathers read, knew, were influenced by and borrowed concepts and terminology from the "Ancient" (as in Ancient Greek, Roman and Meditteranean "world""s")
Since theology necessarily uses concepts to describe "things" that are beyond words--the words give meaning or the concepts are really analogies or metaphors that can be confused by the meaning of the language and/or the culture.

So, is it theoretically possible, that Jesus could of been born in China and that Confucian or Buddhist concepts and terminology could of been used for the Incarnation, Messiah, Vicarious atonement etc. That certain dress, customs, architecture, art etc could be used.

While I certainly have an affinity for the Traditional approach and prefer the Tridentine Mass and also recognize the genius of St. Teresa in Ecstasy by Bernini or Michaelangelo's Pieta or the natural healing of Gregorian Chant or the power of Mozart---there can be modern and different cultural expressions of Christ and Catholicism besides the great European ones. Catholicism is dynamic and is not set in a particular century. Moreover, many of the great artists were or may have been gay, and hedonists and involved in less than pious activities--so their art--while I believe talent from God may or may not be the highest reflection of their interior lives.

There is also great Modern liturgical and sacred Music and other traditions (long standing historical unbroken traditions of the "East" in both Churches in union with Rome "forever" like the Maronites or the later so called "Uniate" Churches or the Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox (the Christological debates notwithstanding) that have certain musical, artistic, architectural, liturgical ways older than the Mass of Pius V, just as legitimate, and less Baroque and less artistic talent as viewed by some)

But going to our land of the Americas--could a Traditionalist say (at an altar facing East) Mass with a beautifully done American Indian (or Native American or whatever is preferred) Mother and Child?
or an Eskimo (which I have seen on the Holy Cards Blog linked off of Hallowed Ground) Mary Mother of God.
What about a Catholic Church, again beautifully done, with symbols of Eagles (the Psalms but also Mexican), or Jaguars, or Corn (an analogy to the Bread of Life), or designs one would see on Aztec or Toltec or Mayan temples?
Certainly the Aztecs were human sacrificing on a religion that could of been or probably was demonic. But the civilization also had high culture and even in the Spanish texts, even among the soldiers who saw Constantinople, they said that Tenochtitlan was the greatest city they ever saw (I think Bernal Diaz's La Conquista de Mexico or was it the Breve Historia de la Conquista de Mexico or the Cartas de Relaciones de Hernan Cortez?--I forget but I do have them somewhere) Aqueducts or similiar systems better than the current ones in Europe, better irrigation, better hygiene.
Now many flaws--no wheel, no alphabet(but there were hieroglyphs), no metal but some in Michoacan had iron which is why the Aztecs did not conquer los Tarascos but not gunpowder.
The USA has abortion killing more than the human sacrifice of the MesoAmericans--and not all Indian Tribes (Native/Indigeneous--Indian for description) used human sacrifice. Not all were as brutal as the Aztecs--just as not all white people had Slavery like the Confederacy not too much less than 150 years ago for some within memory of live ancestors or at least memory of knowing someone in that era rather--not all Whites or Europeans were part of Stalin or Hitler etc.

Could a Catholic Church have symbolism of the Sun and Moon with meanings that had meanings (and still do) to the descendants of Mayans, Aztecs, Toltecs, Apaches, Yaquis, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Tarascans, Tarahumaras--or paintings of deer, or statues of jaguars surrounding saints--or dark skinned Jesus--or Indian looking angels etc.
Wasn't Our Lady of Guadalupe's real name something else--a Nauhtl phrase forgotten?
(Some say the dark color was put on later?)

Isn't "Traditional" Catholicism a syncretic mix of the European customs of the pagans of the day and Christianity (not that is bad) with Christmas Trees from Germanic barbarians (who had no written language) or marriage rings or customs from Roman Pagans or words from Greek Philosophers. Wasn't ad orientem altars the pagan way of worship also? Worshippers of the Sun?
Weren't colors and vestments borrowed from the colors of Roman Emporers and popular piety borrowed from peasant customs of the woodland peoples of Germany and France etc--the customs of the people of Clovis not far removed from paganism. The Italian eye or the Ronnie James Dio hard rock sign the bull fertility sign or curse.
Weren't (and I think they are great) the Italian processions at one time processions of pagan Gods--doesn't Saint Rocco with Trident look like Neptune or a Sea God--but it is not all bad--at least not until we leave Europe.

Could an East Indian give a Pope an Indian Blessing or is it a curse from Shiva? (as we hear from Traditionalists and is all over Blogs)

Could Mexican Indians dress in pre-Columbian dress and Blow conches and burn a different type of incense for the Pope and internally believe in the Trinity, that Christ died for their sins, and that Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Theotokos and not the pagan Tonantzin--or does everyone have to be in a Western suit and tie or did time freeze in the High Mid Ages or the only good art is in the Rennaissance or no Music besides some Classical and Gregorian Chant or no good nor new writings in English since the Oxford Age--or some mythological 1950's Catholicism that also is against socialized medicine (as on the blog), or for the Iraq war (same blog but older posts), and is conservative in politics as necessity of theology or by extension??

Egypt and Ethiopia have indigeneous and organic Christian cultures (albeit most not in union with Rome)--and certainly Christian and agreeing with the Nicene Creed (although not fully recognizing the Council of Chalcedon)--but that aside could other African--Black Africans develop Catholic culture with ORGANIC and INDIGENEOUS roots in architecture, art, liturgy, methods of prayer, spirituality, literature, poetry etc.--Weren't their examples (Congo?) that racism stopped. (What country had the Catholic African King Alfonso?--the Portuguese messed it up and didn't treat him well)
What about the Jesuit Redacciones (sic?) seen in the movie THE MISSION.

What about the work of Vasco de Quiroga in Michoacan Mexico that even non (and sometimes anti) Catholic writer Jennings of Aztec and Aztec autumn writes about with respect--or the (I think Jesuit) who helped unearth Teotihuacan and wanted to combine indigeneous Mexican and Catholic thought like Greek thought and Roman (and later even Barbarian) customs were combined. What is actually the deposit of Faith and what is culture? What is substance and what is "superficial" (not saying culture is superficial).
What about language? Mass in Nuahtl? or Mass in Mayan dialect? or Divine Liturgy in Eskimo (that may be done already in Alaska with the Orthodox)--Tridentine Rite in Latin but readings and sermon in Navajo or Hopi dialects--now some of this was already done but much not.

What about the Chinese Rites controversy? (which I think was about the "rites" of ancestory veneration and not liturgical rites of doing the Mass in Chinese as many people think)
or the work of Matteo Ricci SJ
or Roberto di Nobili SJ--di Nobili may have gone to far on some things.

Could we have a Cathedral that is beautiful, not Baroque, not Gothic, not looking like a post Vatican II gymnasium--but looking like a Tibetan Buddhist monastery except with Crucifixes and statues of Michael the Archangel and images of Mary (Maria) but with slanted eyes--with some different words and terminology but the same substance?
(Some of the Catholic Churches in Rome and even some in the US one I can think of in Chicago look like ancient Roman temples to pagan gods or even government buildings--Romans worshipped the Emporer) Or a Catholic Cathedral in Mexico that was not rectangular or cruciform but actually like a pyramid?
or incense from different roots like those used in Mexico or China or India in their ancient and other even pagan (or pantheistic or dualistic or whatever) ceremonies and customs?

Do some Native Americans have a sense of Monotheism? Some say the Apaches were Monotheists (I do not know enough to comment and while I respect and admire Native American culture--I know enough not to be naive or glorify any human culture)

Do "White" Catholics have devotions to Blessed Kateri (many do), or St. Charles Luanga and the Ugandan Martyrs?
Do "White" Catholics have a sense that Mexico was not just screwed up by anti-Catholic Masons (which there is some truth to) but also rich oligarchic greedy monarchist "white" Mexicans and even the US owning 25% of all Mexican land not even 100 years ago and all the railroads? or assasinating Mexican Presidents?--our government. Or the tremendous poverty there and other countries and the lack of portable water, basic sanitation etc.

Do we as Catholics really understand the anthropology of Pope John Paul II? or the respect of cultures that Vatican II taught--or that Jesus taught in dealing with the Samaritan woman or the Roman soldier or St. Paul and passages of "neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female" and many like them?

Did Roman Catholicism become too Triumphalist (at least at times) and too Monatist (at least at times) to have the Latin Rite way of doing things (a great and beautiful way by the way) to the exclusion of native cultures and organic development? Did this help overlook the sins of those who exploited other human beings and the natural land?

I see a lot of real Faith, Real Catholic Faith, even if syncretic, and flawed--in the Mexicans and Peruvians and others who have suffered much at the hands of those who claimed to be Catholic--still accepted their religion--and retained some old customs, words, and even inner meanings--inner meanings that don't or at least most don't or don't necessarily contradict any inner meaning of any doctrine of the Deposit of Faith--and many more inner meanings and subconcsious beliefs of our overly sexualized and materialistic culture are internally reflected even among those who outwardly profess the most orthodox of Catholicism with the most Traditional of symbolism.
There is salvation or rights to error--but through God all things are possible--and we should look at our own error and over judgement.

Graham Greene did not convert from the brilliant intellectual writings of the very intelligent English cradle hidden or convert Catholics but he converted in Mexico when he saw the simple faith in the bloody Man on the Cross and the faith in the image of Mary the Mother of God as an Indian peasant, dark skinned, and yet the Queen of the Americas--a paradox--and a simple yet profound and intense faith of simple and poor people who were darker than the British that Graham Greene was used to.

Nuestra Senora de Coatlaxupeuh (Guadalupe)Madre de Dios
Madre de Mexico, Reina de los Americas, Madre de Nosotros,

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Jay said...

"Maybe in that sense, our society is de-evolving"

Ugh. Poor word choice. Unless, I suppose you mean "un-blooming"

Same goes for "We may be living (and thinking) unnaturally" Perhaps you do not mean "unnatural" but "unusual"? There is no "unnatural," unless you're referring to God and those things seemingly beyond or outside nature. But in that case, you usually use the equally useless term, "Supernatural"

Anyway, sorry to be a bug about this, but I'm tired of seeing the word "unnatural" thrown around.

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