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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Music for Buses - VIII

That your sigh
Cascaded through the light
Of frightened stars
And lifted entire galaxies
From their perch-
That would be the softness
Of seeing you awake
In the morning-
The serene disruption of
The cataclysmic touch of
That floods and caresses
The luminous revelation
Of your face.

-Arturo Vasquez

Monday, July 30, 2007

On Breathing


Arturo Vasquez

If I could lie next to you
Like death
And drink in the sound
Of your breathing
Like waves-

I would write a song
That no one could sing,
Put it in a bottle,
And throw it
Into the sea.

Only I would know
The music that it is
To watch you sleep-
To behold heaven collapse
Under the weight
Of flower petals,
To drown in the hapiness
That only the hottest tears
To no longer wait for
The coming of a savior-

But rather to immerse
Myself in the blanket
Of your hair
And dance the dream
Of your slow-moving eyes,
Hidden by the most delicate

To close my eyes,
Put my head back,
And breath...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Reading Christianity

Plato used mathematical language as a cloaking device, casting it as it were over the terms, and [veiling] the true nature of things, just as the Theologians used myths, and the Pythagoreans used symbols for the same purpose.

-Proclus, Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements. Cited in Sara Rappe's Reading Neoplatonism

Granted, these are the words of a pagan, but they can give us some insight into how we read and assimiliate what we believe, and whether or not we are doing it correctly. Even in the Gospels, Our Lord spoke in parables so that "in seeing they may not perceive, and hearing they may hear but not understand". In the ancient world, a text was not just venerated for what it revealed, but also for what it hid. What was hidden was deemed to be ineffable, wonderful, and far above anything the un-transformed human mind could conceive.

Of course, the first approach that comes to mind in thinking of these things is the Protestant approach. If we take into consideration how a text was read in the ancient world, we will find that sola scriptura applies the ways of an apple to an orange. Or better yet, it is like reading Shakespeare as one would read a Japanese manual to program your DVD player. If the text is not merely trying to transmit a set of ideas or propostions, but rather at times is a manifestation of verbal symbolism that transmits a new divine life, then one cannot simply sit down and read it as one's whim dictates. Nor is it intended for mass distribution so that anyone, no matter how uninitiated, can pick the Scriptures up and pontificate on them. Need we be reminded that even the epistles of St. Paul were meant to be read out loud in the assembly of the faithful? To read them privately using one's own criterion of interpretation is thus not really normal; again, it is like reading the lyrics of a song to oneself instead of listening to the song itself.

But I would not simply limit this critique to Protestantism, lest I leave us Catholics off the hook. For we have our own version of distorting the ancient approach to truth, but we use catechisms and acts of the Magisterium to do it instead of just using the Scriptures. Anyone who has perused Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma will know what I am talking about. Here, we acheive a stale transmission of the Gospel in which Christianity is a set of propostions and procedures that must be passed down in technical code. I have decried this phenomenon many times on this blog; a sense that we Catholics have the only true immaculate data set, and all others are defective. Christianity as communion and as a way of life is thus confined to the background, forever a phenomenon that we have lost since we apply the same criteria of knowledge that we use in analyzing a computer program to contemplating the things of God.

Certainly I will concede that Faith comes through hearing, and in hearing we are supposed to understand. But we must understand with humility. The act of reading all things that touch upon our Faith puts us, the reader, in a position of weakness and submission to something much greater and more powerful than our lowly mortal minds. If only we would approach these things with reverence, as direct images of the Divine, then we would better understand what the Gospels are all about.

The soul therefore was never a writing-tablet bare of inscriptions; she is a tablet that has always been inscribed and is always writing itself and being written on by the Nous.

-Proclus, ibid

Let us then let the Gospel, the Eternal Word, read and write us...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Why I Love Jesus

A Response to This Meme

I love Jesus because I am a wretched and proud person who deserves nothing but the contempt of others. I love Jesus because I sin constantly and can do nothing right. I love Jesus because I have learned the height and depth of “theology”, but have learned nothing of the Cross, of suffering, and of love. I love Jesus because I complain, because I am full of self-pity and vainglory. I love Jesus because I am a man who is lost and seemingly without hope.

I spite of this, I bask in the rays of His face, I rejoice that I have known Him, and that He knows me. For so long in my life, even in my life as a conscious Christian, I have thought that my task was to live by and defend a set of propositions. These propositions were determined by smart theologians and intellectual style; they gave one a sense of belonging, of certainty, and of pride. Often, they are highly logical, remarkable in their composition, and airtight in their construction. But I am trying to fold them all up and put them away. They are not Jesus. So why should I care about them?

The main concept that I am trying to assimilate, and will always try to assimilate, is the concept that the truth is a face and not an idea. This is indeed very, very scary. You can manipulate ideas; you can justify yourself with ideas. You can’t with a face. A face merely is. A face demands your attention. A face grimaces, a face smiles. And that is what God is, that is how God reveals Himself. If there is any profound crisis of thought in modern man, it is that he cannot grasp this. And even when he thinks he understands, he really does not. In all things, the vice of abstraction and the distance of information put a barrier between us and the true knowledge of God.

A face forgives. A face does not obey absolute laws of action and reaction. A face cannot be quantified; it cannot be measured in a laboratory. When the Pharisees brought Jesus the woman caught in adultery, what must have His face been like? She broke the Law, she deserved to be punished by the Law. But what was Christ’s face like when faced with that woman? Who could have predicted what His face would be like at that moment?

Why do I love Jesus? Because even now, when I so deserve it, He has not turned His face from me. Is that a selfish reason? Of course it is! I am no saint, and I will not be anytime soon. Jesus has always been by my side. He has cured me when I was sick, sustained me when I was tired, and fed me when I was hungry. And I have been ungrateful, and He has continued to be merciful. AND I DON’T DESERVE IT!!! I love Him because He has loved me, and He continues to love me. And His love for me is unconditional, as it is unconditional for all who call upon and turn towards Him. I love Jesus because I see myself in those crowds of sick people, at His feet with the harlots and publicans, and in the tombs with the dead. I love Jesus because I know no other way out of my misery but to trust and love Him. Otherwise I am lost. Completely lost.

Final Doxology

Glory to God for all things!
For the cat’s gray tail
And the crow’s wings-
For the unsteady voice
That His praises sings,
Glory to God!

Glory to God
For my falls and my pains-
Glory to God
When I wallow in my shame-
Glory to God
In the starless night-
Glory to God
When I am wounded
In the fight-

Glory to God
For a note that is
Glory to God
For the times
I want to flee-

Glory to God
When death comes knocking-
Glory to God
When the gates of Heaven
Are locking-

Glory to God!

Glory to God
When all abandon me-
Glory to God
When I am bound in chains
No longer free-

Glory to God
When I am betrayed-
Glory to God
When my neck is given
To the blade-

Glory to God!

Glory to God
For all things-
For the serpent’s head
That with it Hell brings-
For in all this,
My heart to Jesus
Still clings-

Glory to God!

-Newberry Springs, CA
August 3rd, 2004

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Surge et Veni

Wine of Light


Simin Behbahani

The stars have closed their eyes, come.
The wine of light flows through the veins of the night, come.
I have poured out so many tears waiting in the night's lap,
that twilight has blossomed and the morning has bloomed, come.
In my mind's sky your memory etches lines of gold
like a shooting star, come.
I've sat so long with the night telling my tale of woe
that the night and I have turned pale with sorrow, come.
If you are waiting to see me again when I die,
understand, this is the time, come.
If I hear anyone's footsteps, I imagine they are yours,
with all this beating, my heart is bursting out of my breast, come.
You didn't come when the sky was full of stars like grapes,
now that the dawn has picked them one by one, come.

You're the hope in the heart of Simin-the-broken-hearted,
put an end to my misery, come.

-from the collection, A Cup of Sin, translated from the Persian by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Reply

Sometimes the best way to post something new is merely to reply to a comment. This is in reply to this comment:
It's "whack"! Whack! "Whacked" means something else!

Anyway, the answer is, no, I can't. I can't tie any of this together, and I would like to keep it that way. Some thoughts:

1. I am beginning to think that the Marxist thing was an aesthetic decision as well. Having been rather angry at God as a teenager, I decided to go for the most beautiful system a Godless universe can have: dialectical materialism. One can be very consumed with indignation and a thirst for justice as the only way to justify an absurd existence. Unfortunately in our time, Nietzsche is more a paradigm to be followed by godless intellectuals, not Marx. I find this most unfortunate, since at least Marxist intellectuals are engaged and committed, and not too busy staring at their protruding navel to care about anyone else.

2. I have been to a Coptic monastery since I used to go there as a monk. In the Mojave Desert, we were virtually neighbors. I have a great admiration for Copts, in spite of their Christology.
3. Anglicanism was something I stumbled on while I was working out some issues in my life. To tell the truth, I was angry at the Roman Catholic Church, so maybe being an Anglican provided a bit of a breather for me while I worked some stuff out. I was never in communion with the C of E or the Anglican Communion; my time was spent among the mavericks of the Anglican Continuum that don't ordain women and don't do any of those other silly things.

I found in Anglicanism a beauty in simplicity and an orthodoxy in freedom that I thought I could never have as a Catholic or Orthodox Christian. In truth, though, I found a lot of it artificial. I think Christianity must be more "constricting" than what Orthodoxy and Anglicanism say it should be; that is, you must struggle in your mind and heart with the rest of the Body of Christ. And that means having a Pope, a Magisterium, etc. I just think that we know more than Anglicans or Orthodox would like to concede, that in the end, the authority of Christ is more present.

4. We all have to go through life the best we can. I have hoped to be honest with what I believe and what I have difficulty with. I think we live in a world of such plurality that we can't give a smug answer as to what is the truth and what is a lie. We can stake our lives on it and our own consciences, but to go throwing your intellectual weight around in order to convince people of what YOU believe is a tiresome exercise in my opinion. You should be able to formulate and defend the Truth, but you should not use it as a bludgeoning device that will probably end up boosting your own ego and not augmenting your virtue. I can say this because I am one of the worst offenders, and those closest to me know this. The best way to convince is by example and love; that will bring people to you in a receptive and fertile spirit. To go around trying to pick fights, even under the guise of dialogue, is for me is a waste of time.

I am going to post a poem tomorrow. That is far more important than anything I can write.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Against "Information"

The wise men of Egypt, I think, also understood this, either by scientific or innate knowledge, and when they wished to signify something wisely, did not use the forms of letters which follow the order of words and propositions and imitate sounds and the enunciations of philosophical statements, but by drawing images and inscribing in their temples one particular image of one particular thing they manifested the non-discursiveness of the intelligible world, that is, that every image is a kind of knowledge and wisdom and is a subject of statements, all together one, and not discourse or deliberation.

-Plotinus, Enneads V.8.6

I remember reading an analysis of the concept of the superiority of visible signs to phonetic signs when I read Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology as a teenager. Funny how one's reading always comes back to the same themes, but this time with a newer sense of what is entailed.

One of the recurring themes on this blog is a distrust for the discursive and a sense that we must attempt to return to a more intuitive sense of how we view and interpret the world. While arguing may be a great impulse in human nature, the interminible and indefinitve nature of contemporary arguments may be a very recent phenomenon. The inability to appeal to the symbolic and experimental founts of knowledge may play a huge part in this; now knowledge must be reduced to quantitative criteria, to "code", and arguments are never really won (since no one convinces anyone else of anything), but rather merely stalemated. Wisdom, beauty, and beatitude are thus excluded from our highest faculties, and the monotony and tyrrany of information withers away at the human sense.

At least in my opinion...

Friday, July 20, 2007

De amor y rosas

Poema LXIV

De amar mucho tienes
la palabra que persuade,
la mirada que vence
y que turba...

De amar mucho
dejas en torno tuyo,
y el que pasa cerca
y se huele el
perfume en el pecho,
viene a creer que
tiene la rosa dentro...

-Dulce Maria Loynaz

(Of loving you very much have
The word that persuades,
The gaze that conquers
And troubles...

Of loving you have
Much surrounding you,
And he who passes by closely
And smells the perfume in the chest,
Comes to believe that
He has a rose within.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Against Aesthetic Radicalism

…There is so much beauty in music, in dance, in art, in drama; so much human beauty that nearly touches the divine. But the key is: nearly! Nearly! How hollow and fragile human beauty is! The beauty of singing, the beauty of movement, the beauty of a note from a violin, of a face of a young woman… fragile like a Ming vase! Like a multi-colored explosion of fireworks, it appears out of the darkness of mundane life, expands in many directions, seizes dominion of the sky, robs you of your breath and life itself, and takes you out of yourself and into its light. But then, nothing. Gone. Smoke and once again, darkness. How fragile!

-May 17th, 2004

I wrote these lines over three years ago, and reading them now I feel as if they were written by a different person. I suppose a lot has happened between then and now, but I do not know if I am any wiser, experienced, or anything else. I am certainly not any holier…

If I am anything now, I am much more skeptical of what such terms as eternity, transcendence, or detachment mean. Maybe it is my own wounded pride that cannot accept a failure of a dream. Or maybe it is the blindness of the world, its occupations and endless bustle that drown out the appeal of Christian ascetical virtue. But now I am different, and perhaps a chamber of my heart has been closed. It’s a lot noisier in there now.

Then again, it may have nothing to do with the heart. It might have everything to do with having to take the longer road home. It might have to do with no longer lying to myself about the essence of life. As I have said before, there is so much artificiality in religion today precisely because it is no longer seen as anything to do with real life. We can be tempted to immerse even our Faith in a Technicolor dream, where everything is far more romanticized and simpler than it really is. It may not be a matter of us being sinners or saints. It may be a matter of us simply being real. And if we refuse to immerse ourselves in this reality, we do damage to ourselves, and thus we do damage to the Gospel.

I thought about these confusing lines as I sat with AG in a chamber concert of works by Schumann and Glinka. I remembered what I had written before I had gone off into the desert to spiritually die at the age of 24. I remembered the lofty dreams that I had of being a hermit in the desert, a great staretz, to love without images or mediation. There is a great din in my soul now, it is the din of having to worry about what all of you worry about, it is the din of having a future, having a life, trying to cope with the uncertainty of love that normal people cope with.

But at that one moment, during the piano quartet, I looked over at AG, and I touched its face again. Its Face, His Face. It may be a poor image of what real beauty is, but real happiness consists in the knowledge of one’s own poverty. Instead of ecstasies, insights, and elevations into the heights, perhaps what we really want is a good meal, a warm bed, and a sweet embrace to wake with us every morning. And to be thankful for all of it, the glass of milk, the creaking door, and the smile…

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Tetragrammaton

Why does everybody call God by four letters? The Hebrews by the four vowels "he ho ha hi"; the Egyptians by "Theuth"; the Persians by "Syre"; the Magi by "Orsi"; whence "Oromasis"; the Greeks by "Theos"; ourselves by "Deus"; the Arabs by "Alla"; Mahomet by "Abgdi." Again, we accept "Jesu" from Gabriel... Surely, such diverse races would not otherwise have agreed on the one name of the unknown God, unless they were divinely inspired? And if they received it from Adam, it was by divine inspiration they received that name rather than others.

The Hebrews say that, if pronounced correctly, all miracles can be wrought in that name- which is the most difficult thing of all to do; it takes a miracle alone to pronounce it.... God puts all things in order by means of four: essence, being, power, action. Celestial things He orders by means of four sets of three, sub-celestial things by means of the four elements. Accordingly, He wanted to be represented by four letters.

-Marsilio Ficino. The Philebus Commentary. translated by Michael J.B. Allen.

Monday, July 16, 2007

New Blog

The Anastasis Dialogue is a new blog from the monks of Holy Resurrection Monastery. Please read it and add it to your links pages if you also have the vice of blogging.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Church As One


La verdad hace la Fe; y algunas veces la Fe hace o arrastra la verdad reacia.

-Dulce Maria Loynaz

(The truth makes Faith; and sometimes Faith makes or drags the reluctant truth.)

The other latest buzz going around the Catholic world is this clarification of the doctrine of the Church by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The issue of course is the nature of the Church, its unity and the role of the Petrine office within it. Many non-Catholics have felt that this is an affront to ecumenism, even though it says substantially what Dominus Iesus said back in 2000: the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church, other Churches are in imperfect communion, and Protestant congregations are no churches at all.

People who know me know that I am not the most ultramontanist person in the world. I have done my share of ecclesial and theological wayfaring in my life. I can concede that discerning the "true Church" in this day and age can often look like a gamble in which a lot of personal and non-theological factors enter into play. But at the end of the day, one must choose, and even if rhetorically my words do not seem the most decisive, in my actions I am very much so. I worship in what I firmly believe is the one Church that Christ founded.

The most interesting aspect of the question for me is not the historical or even directly theological questions. As I have said before, the most fascinating question for me to ask is: what does the encounter between God and man look like? Because that is what the Church is. For me, that is what I ask intellectually when I think about religion in this postmodern age. And the Roman Catholic Church seems the most likely to be the image that answers my question. Above all, this is true because it exists as an authoritative enitity outside of my own conscience that I have to constantly wrestle and deal with whether I like it or not. That for me is Faith: not the absolute and unconditional assent to a party line, but an uncomfortable conversation with an ancient institution that is much older and wiser that I am.

I am glad in one sense that the Vatican has made what we believe about the Church a little more clear, even if it was just re-stating what everybody suspected. At the end of the day, the gamble that we all make on what is truth may not be as absolute as in the days before the Second Vatican Council where popular notions conceived that all non-Catholics were going to Hell. It is a serious gamble nontheless. And the only way to surely win is to be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Everyone else is playing with some rather uncomfortable odds.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Okay, So Here's Something About the Motu Proprio:

...But since in this dialogue Socrates is about to derogate pleasure and Philebus has called pleasure, "Venus," he hastens to make atonement, fearing a goddess' name especially as a pious man should. Atonement is the restoration of holiness that has been destroyed. Holiness is devotion to holy things...

-Marsilio Ficino, The Philebus Commentary

Eneadum genetrix hominum divumque voluptas,
Alma Venus coeli subter labentia signa
Quae mare navigerum quae terras frugiferentes
Concelebras; per te quoniam genus omne animatum
Concipitur, visitque exortum lumina solis.

-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura

The sanctuary at the seminary church in La Reja has an area between two pillars that leads to the apse with the side altars. There, on the epistle side, the professor of liturgy was waiting in the wings and watching attentively. On the altar, a recently ordained priest was saying the 11:30 a.m. Mass. I watched my professor watch the new priest. He was making sure that the man on the altar was saying his Mass right: that he was making all of the Signs of the Cross correctly, that the genuflections were graceful and not twitchy, that he was saying not his Mass too quickly, etc., etc. This was a Mass you had to learn how to say, and new priests were game to be critiqued if they are not performing the cult properly.

This was in the Society of St. Pius X, but I am sure every traditionalist religious order has some of these concerns. The flip side of the Motu Proprio cheerleading has been expressed by some, but I will say it explicitly. Oftentimes the old Mass, for better or for worse, was a chore that had to be endured and far from a spiritual experience. Many priests hated saying the old Mass, and many who remember it now probably said, "good riddance" to it back then. The fact is that the liturgical reform of the 1960's was the destruction of the old liturgical ethos of the Roman Church and the creation of a new one. I would summarize it very briefly by saying that before, liturgy was something you had to DO, and now it is something that you have to UNDERSTAND.

Indeed, when the divine causes and the human preparations resembling them are united in one and the same act, the acomplishment of the sacrifice achieves all things and bestows great blessings.

-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis

Catechisms from the 1950's often talked about the necessity of sacrifice in human culture, and those sacrifices needing to be accomplished through a certain set of rules. Sacrifice, for better of for worse, always has a cause and effect mechanism behind it: the sacrifice is done correctly, and the blessings are bestowed. The SSPX put out a document earlier this decade stating that the reform of the liturgy had much to do with the putting aside of the idea of Anselm's idea of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross being primarily vicarious satisfaction for the sins of the world and its replacement with the idea of the "Paschal Mystery", something supposedly more ill-defined and Patristic. This is, according to the Lefebvrist theologians, the reason why the idea of the Mass as a sacrifice that takes away sins is no longer emphasized.

In this sacrificial culture, then, the actions of my seminary professor-priest make much more sense. Even if it is not explicitly stated, the very human (read: pagan) idea of accomplishing the cult correctly was at the heart of the rubricism before the Second Vatican Council. The Mass was something that had to appease the wrath of God against sinful humanity. Therefore, it had to be accomplished according to a complicated set of rules, in a language no one could understand, and having parts that were uttered secretly by the priest. (One commenter said that he likes the Mass for the text, which I find highly ironic since most of the "text" was not meant to be heard by the laity anyway.) These were principals that were never defined, but they were nevertheless in the "back of the mind" of Western civilization.

I will not say one way or the other whether or not this idea is correct. And it is still present to some extent even in many Masses said according to the Pauline Missal. (People still have Masses said for particular intentions.) But the Liturgical Movement and the Novus Ordo Missae were very much concessions to the idea of liturgy that was first put forward by the Reformers and some Catholic voices. Having moved away from the theology of vicarious satisfaction, liturgy is conceived of as something more for the people as the Body of Christ and less for a wrathful and distant God receiving again the Blood of His Son. It is the remembrance of what Christ has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection. Hence, the greater freedom in how it is carried out, the vernacular tongue, and the general emphasis on interaction between the people. It is admitted by virtually all that this has led to abuses and many undignified things take place during these ceremonies. The degree of gravity, however, of the wrongness of what goes on during these ceremonies depends on what you conceive the liturgy as primarily being. If it is an act of the cult of sacrifice, it is a grave transgression against the order of things. If it is a manifestation of the synaxis of the People of God, it is just people behaving rowdily. Has anyone gone to Hell because of a liturgical abuse?

The bottom line is that these divergent cultures are so distinct now that to think that one can influence the other amounts to wishful thinking. The ethos behind one is completely different from the ethos behind the other. While aesthetic radicals like myself love Gregorian chant, Latin, and all of the highly stylized gestures of the old rite, many Catholics who remember them are just glad they do not have to "do that crap" anymore. The ecclesial cultures behind both rites are just too divergent now, and let us face facts: traditionalists constitute a tiny fraction of total Catholics in the world. Even with a greater allowance of the old rite, the only thing that will emerge in my opinion is a niche market style of liturgies similar to Anglican praxis of "churchmanships". Perhaps it will not fracture the Church, but it will not serve to unite it either. Then again, maybe nothing will.

So I am glad that the Holy Father finally put out his Motu Proprio. I even read it in the original Latin. But part of me fears that this is just "his thing". He may have very good reasons for it, but it may all just be a case of trying to put something back into Pandora's liturgical box.

Monday, July 09, 2007

On Liturgy and Getting Over It

At a very devoutly celebrated Novus Ordo Mass yesterday (done by the Dominicans here in Berkeley), I reached the conclusion that the only reason I have been so obsessed with liturgy for so long is because I have expected for much of my life to do liturgy for a living. When you are a young man, at least in my case, the traditional Mass seemed cooler, more complicated, and much more involved. Who wants to stand behind a table and act as an MC for a friendly get-together? Perhaps I wanted to be a priest for all the wrong reasons. I (emphasis on "I") wanted to offer a sacrifice to God; I wanted it to be MY job. The Novus Ordo was just not any fun; it was banal and at its worst not very devout.

Now I stand in the congregation well aware that I will never be up at that altar to say Mass. It will never be MY turn. And I have pretty much gotten over it. And with this, my enthusiasm for liturgy is waning more and more.

Liturgy has been property of a select few. Pace Jungmann and Dix, this has probably always been the case. The fact that so many can fret about it now is the result of the same phenomenon that causes all of the ills in society and the Church. It is our modern society that allows us to pass three Catholic churches in the morning (and countless other non-Catholic churches) in order to find the Mass that most fits MY taste. I do this, so I am just as guilty as anyone else. That does not make it right, nor does it make it horribly wrong. But I would argue that it is abnormal. It is a symptom that Faith is no longer part of life, but just another item on the shelf of universal consumerism.

So liturgy, like the air we breath or the water we drink, is hardly a cause for celebration or malaise. It is not the primary manifestation of the Incarnation in the world. I am beginning to think more and more that it is the result of a vibrant Faith and not its source.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Instead of the Mandatory Motu Proprio Post...

For just as the sun illuminates any star directly and also one through another indirectly, so God illuminates any intelligence directly and also one through another indirectly.

Certainly you can learn from Plato's
Timeaus that the divine intelligence itself, which the Hebrews call the Seraphim, has some three offices. For first, it lifts its head towards the good from which it emanates... Next, it keeps its breast to itself in the process of contemplating the beauty of itself. In the Timeaus, Plato refers to this as "remaining in its own seat and sight." Finally, in providing and creating it extends its thigh towards the lower things. On this account, Plato calls it "father" and "creator"...

So the ray of the good itself, although one in itself, becomes triple as well in the triple intelligence. When it strives towards the good, which some call the Sky, it is Saturn. When it turns back into itself, it is Jupiter. When it turns towards lower things, it is Prometheus, that is, providence. And when it descends, the same ray produces in matter every species of forms. It pours into the soul a similar number of principles. These are for judging the things which are produced and for fabricating the products of human skill.

-Marsilio Ficino. The Philebus Commentary. Translated by Michael J.B. Allen

Friday, July 06, 2007

De Bono

The power of the good itself spreads further than the power of being; for formless matter and privation and flux aren't said "to be", for being comes through form and they are devoid of form. Yet they are in a way said to be good, in so far as they tend towards act and towards the good, because of some power instilled in them by the good. Therefore, when you say "the good itself", you must mean the good alone, not a good body, or good soul, or intelligence, life, essence, or good being. For you stain the good's purity by mixing it; you reduce its integrity by a subject; you refuse its fulness by adding to it. So do away with this good or that good, as Augustine tells you in the On the Trinity and accept the good which is the good of all good, and you will know what God is. As Dionysius says in the On the Mystical Theology, we can't reach Him by affirmation. For whatever we affirm about Him has been conceived in intelligence, therefore it is something peculiar to us and limited. Therefore God is exalted above every concept. So what He is not we can find out by negation; and how He acts and how others exist with regard to Him we find out by analogy. But what God is is a secret.
-Marsilio Ficino. The Philebus Commentary, translated by Michael J.B. Allen

Monday, July 02, 2007


I came up with a post over a year ago where I criticized the "Walmart" idea of a church, that is, the true church is the true church regardless of what goes on inside of it. As long as the sign on the front is right, the church must be right. I scoffed at this idea, and now I retract my scoffing.

It is not that somehow I now see things much differently. It is rather that now I think it is perfectly okay to treat the Church like Walmart since we don't LIVE in Walmarts or any other department store. The church as building and institution should only be your life if you are clergy. Otherwise, we "lowly" laypeople should not fret in angst over what the Church is or isn't like. Just as we would enter a store we have always entered in order to get what we need in order to get through our day, so we must use the Church not as a club that suits our views and aesthetic tastes, but rather as a sacramental feeding ground that can enable us to realize the mystery of the Church, the encounter between God and man, in our daily lives. If you worry too much about where you do your shopping, you will never get anything else done.

The true religious crisis in modern man is that he has too much choice, so much that it can make him indecisive. It is only when religion is conceived of as obligation and not a mode of individual expression does it become truly authentic. I have seen too much use of religion as personal expression in my life to condone it any longer, especially in myself. I am perfectly content to "shop" at the Roman Catholic Church, regardless of what it looks like on the inside. That does not mean I have to "enjoy" it nor pretend what is banal and flawed is not banal and flawed. It does mean that I can thank God that I only have to endure it for so little time during my week, and that I can receive the sacraments during these times. The latter, in the end, is what is most important. The institutional Church is for life, life is not for the institutional Church.
Deo gratias!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

De Mysteriis

Fr. Maximos (Davies) of Holy Resurrection Monastery has written a paper on the sacramental differences between East and West that can be read here (go to the link and then download it as a PDF).

And these monks need a new vehicle. If you want to donate one, your reward will be great in Heaven.